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Paul du Chaillu

Preparations for Hunting

Preparations for Hunting.—People ordered to get ready.—The idol is put in the street.—Dance with torchlights.—The idol says we will kill game.—The people believe it.

If you had been in the Apingi country on that same evening of the day when I heard the legend of the Fougamou and Samba-Nagoshi, which I have just related to you, you would have seen me under the little veranda of Remandji's hut, seated quietly by his side, and talking to him. Remandji is a great smoker, and did really enjoy his pipe. It was a splendid pipe, made of clay, and he smoked through a long reed, the pipe resting on the ground. It really did me good also to see Remandji enjoy his pipe. I was almost sorry I could not keep him company, but I do not use tobacco in any form.

We were talking about a hunt to be made. He said, "Moguizi, at some distance from our village we have built a fence in the forest with little sticks about so high;" then he raised his hand to show me how high it was, and I judged it was about five or six feet, and he added that it was of great length, but could not tell how long. He said it was many and many a time longer than the village. We built this fence the last rainy season, and from place to place, not far from each other, there are kind of loop-holes, in which the game we chase before us goes in, and then can not get out.

"The day after to-morrow," said he, "if you like we will form a large party to drive the game into there. To-morrow we will collect food, and start early the next morning. We will take a hunting path which passes through the fence, and we will continue to travel to the other side till we are a good long way from it, then we will sleep in the woods, and the next morning will separate from each other, but you and I will remain together."

The old men around us agreed to this, and people were sent to many of the Apingi villages to tell the inhabitants that the second day afterward they must come to our village, for the Spirit wanted to go and hunt, and Remandji was going with him.

That same evening I furbished up a double-barreled smooth-bore gun, which I intended to load with buck-shot for gazelles. Then I prepared another gun, which was to be loaded with bullets for larger game, such as elephants, gorillas, leopards, etc. In the afternoon hundreds of people came into the village; they were the men that were to start with Remandji and me for the hunt.

I remember well that night before our departure, though several years have passed since then. The night was clear, the stars were bright, and only a few fleecy white clouds, which moved overhead slowly, were to be seen. The huge idol, at eight o'clock by my watch, was taken from its house and put in front of it. Soon the moon rose, and its bright light shone upon the street, and every Apingi hut could be seen distinctly. Back of the huts the trees cast their huge shadows, and I could hear the whisper of the wind as it blew through the forest and over the village. The huge bats, commonly called vampires, flew above our heads as they passed into the forest to hang themselves to the branches of the trees. What a queer, cry they had! How strangely sounded the noise they made! The croaking of frogs in the neighboring swamps could be distinctly heard. That part of the village where I stood was almost as quiet as the night itself, for all the villagers and the strangers had gone to the other end, and were no doubt talking over their stories, or discussing the plans of the hunt for the morrow.

I was facing the idol, and thought what an ugly thing it was. It was a female, about three feet in height, carved of wood, having a tremendous chest, which was full of charmed powder. Its head-dress was made of the little bristles from the tail of a porcupine. It wore a necklace made of the teeth of monkeys; the eyes were made of pieces of polished iron; round its waist it had a belt of feathers of wild guinea-fowl, while at its feet lay skulls of monkeys and of other wild animals.

As I was looking at this strange, ugly thing, I wondered how it was that men could believe that such things, made with their own hands, could talk, walk, eat, and wink their eyes, and work their vengeance on people; but then I remembered that there were once nations far higher in civilization than these poor creatures, people who have left to us noble and magnificent works of art and skill, who were equally imbued with the same folly and superstition. As I stood there thinking of these strange things, friend Remandji came to me and said that the crowd were coming to dance round the idol, and ask it to make us have plenty of game.


Dancing before the idol.

After a while great numbers of people came with drums, and with a great quantity of torches made of the pitch produced from a certain tree. These were lighted and stuck in the ground surrounding the idol, excepting that there was a spot left open in front for the people to come close, so that they might speak to it. How strange the lurid glare of these torches made the idol appear! By the peculiar light the wooden god looked ten times as ugly as it appeared before.

About twenty yards in front of it the drummers put themselves in a row. There were about fifty of them, and they began to beat their drums, and the people began to sing to the idol, and promised to bring to it a great quantity of game, if they were fortunate enough to kill much.

Towards one o'clock in the morning the number of drummers and dancers became less and less, till at last no one was left on the dancing-ground but the idol. The next morning many of the villagers swore that during the night the idol walked in the street, and spoke aloud, and told the people that a large quantity of game was to be caught in the chase. So every body was joyous, and soon every thing was ready for our departure.