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Paul du Chaillu

A Wounded Gorilla and her Young Ones

Wounded gorilla and her young ones.—Taking their photographs.—Tom and Minnie.—Arrival of my vessel.—Hurra for Baring brothers.—A smoking ship.—King Quengueza goes on board.—Preparations for journey.

A few days after my return home, one evening a strange sight presented itself in front of my house—a sight which I firmly believe had never before been witnessed since the world began. There was great commotion and tremendous excitement, among the Commi people.

There stood in front of my bamboo house a large female gorilla, bound hand and foot, and alive, but frightfully wounded. A large gash might have been seen on her scalp, and her body was covered with clotted blood. One of her arms had been broken, and she bore wounds on the head and chest. Now and then the creature would give a sharp scream of pain, which lent horror to the darkness by which we were surrounded, the half dozen lighted torches making the scene still more wild.

This adult female gorilla had been mortally wounded in the morning, and lay on the ground senseless for a long time. A bullet from one of my hunters had fractured her skull, and in that state of insensibility she had been securely tied to a stout stick, and in such an ingenious is manner that there was no chance of her escaping. Her wrists and ankles had been tied strongly together, while the stick had been adjusted between her mouth and feet and hands in such a way that she could not reach out to sever the cords with her teeth.

Hanging from her bosom was a baby gorilla (her child). The little creature was a female but a few months old, and now and then, after feeding from its mother's breast, it would give a plaintive wail. By the side of both stood a young live male gorilla, a fierce-looking fellow, which seemed afraid of nothing, and looked around with its deep grayish, fiendish eyes as if to say, "What does all this mean? I have not seen this sight in the woods before." Not far off lay the corpse of a large female gorilla, quiet in the embrace of death, her face yet distorted by the death-agony.

It was dark, as I have told you, and the scene was so strange and so wild that I will never forget it. The fiendish countenances of the living calibanish trio, one of them—the wounded one—with a face distorted by pain, were lit up by the ruddy glare of the native's torches, and they seemed even more repulsive than their dead companion. "What a commotion this sight would create," I said to myself, "in a civilized land!"

There was no sleep for me that night; the terrific screams of the wounded mother kept me awake. Two or three times I got up and went out to see what was the matter, for I was in constant dread of the big gorilla's untying the cords.

The next morning I immediately prepared my photographic apparatus, and took an excellent photograph of the wounded mother with her child on her lap. As for Master Tom (I gave that name to the fierce-looking young male), I could not succeed in taking a very good likeness of him; he would not keep still long enough. I untied his hands and feet after putting a chain round his neck, and to show his gratitude he immediately made a rush at me to the length of his chain, screaming with all his might. Happily, the chain was too short for him to reach me, or I should have come off minus a little piece of the calf of my leg.

The night after I had taken the photograph of the mother her moanings were more frequent, and in the morning they gradually became weaker as her life ebbed out, and about ten o'clock she died. Her death was painfully like that of a human being, and her child clung to her to the last, and even tried to obtain milk after she was dead. How still was that fierce, scowling black face! There was something so vindictive in it, and at the same time so human, that I almost shrunk from the sight as I contemplated that wonderful creature which God has made almost in the image of man.


Photographing gorillas.

Now all I had to do was to take care of Tom and of Minnie. Tom gave me no trouble, for he was quite old enough to feed upon the nuts and the berries that were gathered for him; but with little Minnie it was a different thing, as she was too young to eat berries. Happily, I had a goat that gave milk, and I fed her on that milk, but I am sorry to say that she lived only three days after her mother's death. She died the fourth day toward noon, having taken an unconquerable dislike to the goat's milk. She died gently; her tiny legs and arms had become shriveled, her ribs could all be seen, and small hands had wasted almost to nothing. She died on the little bed of straw I made for her as if she went sleep, without a struggle.

No one was now left of my family of gorillas but Master Tom, and he was healthy and strong enough, and ate all the berries, nuts, and fruits we brought to him. For days I tried to take the little demon's photograph, but all in vain. The pointing of the camera toward him threw him into a perfect rage, and I was several times on the point of giving him a severe thrashing. At last I succeeded in taking two views, not very perfect; but this was better than nothing.

The place where these gorillas had been captured was about thirty miles above my settlement, up the river; at this point a low, narrow promontory projects into the stream. This spot, was my favorite hunting-ground for gorillas, which came there to eat the wild pine-apple, and it was there I intended to take my good friend Captain Burton, the great African traveler, the man who made the pilgrimage to Mecca, for he was now at Fernando Po, and had promised to make me a visit.

The gorillas were discovered in this way: A woman passing through that region came to her village and said had seen two squads of female gorillas, some of them followed by their children;  they were going, she thought, to her plantain field. My hunters were on the spot where I had left them the day before, and with the villagers, who armed themselves with guns, axes, and spears, at once sallied forth in pursuit. The situation was very favorable for the hunters, who formed a line across the narrow strip of land, and pressed forward, shouting and driving the animals to the edge of the water, their terrific noise bewildering the gorillas, which were shot and beaten down in their endeavors to escape. There were eight adult females together, but not a single male.

Time now began to weigh heavily upon me, and a weary interval passed by. I did not know how long it might be before a vessel would come to me. Had my letter to Messrs. Baring reached them? If it had not, what should I do?

I begun to feel very lonely despite hunting excursions and the gorilla scene I have just described to you. I would go almost every day on the sea-shore and watch for a sail; now and then I would see one, but it was the sail of a whaler or of a trader, who took good care not to come to anchor near this wild part of the western coast.

On the 30th of June, as I came down the River Commi from a hunting excursion, having bade adieu to Olenga-Yombi, and was returning to my own settlement, expecting to remain there and wait for the coming vessel, I saw a canoe with sail set coming up the river and making for us. I immediately ordered my paddlers to go toward the canoe. Soon we met, when Kombé shouted, "Chally, your vessel has come!" I jumped from my seat and cried back, "What do you say, Kombé?" He repeated, "Your vessel has arrived." I was wild; I was crazy with joy; no news could have been more welcome. I shouted (I could not help it), "Good for you, Baring Brothers! You have acted like true friends. Three cheers," I called to the boys, "three for Baring Brothers, who have sent the ship to me, Let us paddle with all our might," said I; "let us not stop; I must reach Plateau before morning."

On my arrival at that place Ranpano handed me two letters which the captain of the ship had sent for me. One was from the captain himself, announcing his arrival; the other was from Baring Brothers. Yes, they had sent me all the goods I wanted—a second supply of scientific instruments. These great bankers and merchants had taken the trouble to send to Paul Du Chaillu all he had asked for, and they did not know when they would be paid. I assure you I was so overjoyed that for a few minutes I did not know what I was doing.

I ordered at once all the sea-canoes to be ready. I must go on board; no time must be lost. The next morning it was hardly daylight when I had left for the mouth of the river. Soon after our canoes were put over to the sea-side, we passed the surf smoothly, and I was on board the vessel shaking hands with Captain Berridge, the commander.

Oh, what an enjoyment I had! how many letters from friends told me that I was not forgotten! Then newspapers came, and my heart became sad when I saw that the civil war was still raging in America; "but," said the captain, "there is a prospect that it will soon be over."

My vessel had only arrived two days when a native entered my hut in great consternation, and said that a smoking vessel with ten guns was in the river, and they thought it had come to make war. After a while, a flat-bottomed steamer, forty feet in length, put out anchor in front of my settlement, and fired off a gun to salute me.

I need not tell you that there was tremendous excitement among the natives now that an ouatanga otouton (smoking ship) had entered their river. The name of this little vessel was the Leviathan.

A few days after I was on board of the Leviathan steaming for Goumbi, for I wanted Quengueza to see what a steamer was. The appearance of this little boat, which did not draw more than two feet of water, created the most intense excitement. The Leviathan was a screw steamer. "Oh," exclaimed the people, "look! look! the vessel goes by itself, without sails, without paddles! Oh! oh! oh! what does that mean?" They would spy us far off, and then would crowd the banks of the river. Many were stupefied at the sight, and could not make out what it meant, especially when they recognized me, while others would deny that it was me, and others exclaimed, "Chally, is that you? Do not our eyes belie us? Tell us—shout back to us!" and then I would say, "It is I—Chally." Then they would recognize me, put out in their canoes, and paddle with all their might in order to catch us.

As we approached Goumbi, where the river, in descending from the interior, bends in its westerly course, the banks were high and wooded, and the river very tortuous. Here the steamer puffed its way right up to the villages before it could be seen, and the alarmed natives, who heard the strange noise of the steam-pipe and machinery, were much frightened, and, as we came in sight, peeped cautiously from behind the trees, and then ran away.

At last we came in sight of Goumbi. The excitement was intense. From Goumbi the people could see well down the river. The drums began to beat, and the people were greatly frightened. Then we cast anchor, and as I landed the people shouted, "It is Chally; so let us not be afraid, for no one will harm us when Chally is with them."

Captain Labigot and Dr. Touchard, who had landed with me, received an ovation; guns were fired, and in a short time we found ourselves in the presence of the great King Quengueza. He did not know what all this meant, but he felt big. Hundreds of Bakalai and Ashira were around him; he looked at them, and said, "Do you see? do you see? I am Quengueza; my fame is great, and the white man comes to see me," and he turned away without saying another word.

My great desire was to persuade Quengueza to come on board and I was afraid I would not be able to effect this. I said, "Quengueza, I have brought you white people who want to see your river, and I want you to come with us; they want to see the Niembouai and Bakalai." The old chief said he would go; "for," said he, "Chally, I know that no one will hurt me when I am with you." Good Quengueza knew me quite well; he had perfect faith in me; he knew that I loved him as he loved me. I said, "Quengueza, you are right."

Early the next morning the steam was up, and, in despite of the protestations of his people, the old king came on board, and was received with a royal salute from the two small guns. The excitement on the shore was intense; the booming of the guns re-echoed 'from hill to hill, and lost itself in the immense forest. Many a wild beast must have been astonished; gorillas must have roared, and thought that it was strange that there was any thing besides thunder that could make a noise louder than their own roars. The old African, chieftain accompanied us unattended, and as the anchor was raised and we began to steam up the river, he looked backward toward his people, who were dumb with astonishment, as if to say, "Do you see? your old chief is afraid of nothing." I had induced good Quengueza to wear a coat, though he was in deep mourning.

You would have liked to see King Quengueza seated on a chair on deck. As we passed village after village, he looked at the Bakalai with silent contempt, and they could hardly believe their own eyes. The crafty old king took care to let the people see him, for it was to give him great fame: the people would say, "We saw Quengueza on a vessel of fire and smoke, going up the river without sails or paddles."

After two days we came back to Goumbi, and I said to the people, "I bring your old chief back to you." A feast was given us by Quengueza, and we steamed once more down the river. Then I ordered every thing to be got ready for I was soon to set out upon my long journey.