Gateway to the Classics: The Country of the Dwarfs by Paul du Chaillu
The Country of the Dwarfs by  Paul du Chaillu

First Sight of the Village of the Dwarfs

First sight of a village of the dwarfs.—A strange and interesting spectacle.—An abandoned town.—A reverie beside a stream.—The leaf, the butterfly, and the bird.—The blessing of water.

Early the next morning we started again on our journey through the great forest, passing many hills and several rivulets with queer names. Suddenly we came upon twelve strange little houses scattered at random, and I stopped and asked Kombila for what use those shelters were built. He answered, "Spirit, those, are the house of a small people called Obongos."

"What!" said I, thinking that I had not understood him.

"Yes," repeated Kombila, "the people who live in such a shelter can talk, and they build fires."

"Kombila," I replied, "why do you tell me a story? How can people live in such little places? These little houses have been built for idols. Look," said I, "at those little doors. Even a child must crawl on the ground to get into them."

"No," said Kombila, "the Dwarfs have built them."

"How can that be?" I asked; "for where are the Dwarfs now? There are no plantain-trees around; there are no fires, no cooking-pots, no water jugs."

"Oh," said Kombila, "those Obongos are strange people. They never stay long in the same place. They cook on charcoal. They drink with their hands, or with large leaves."

"Then," I answered, "do you mean to say that we are in the country of the Dwarfs?"

"Yes," said Kombila, "we are in the country of the Dwarfs. They are scattered in the forest. Their little villages, like the one you see before you, are far apart. They are as wild as the antelope, and roam in the forest from place to place. They are like the beasts of the fields. They feed on the serpents, rats mid mice, and on the berries and nuts of the forest."

"That can not be," I said.

"Yes, Oguizi, this is so," replied the porters. "Look for yourself;" and they pointed to the huts.

"Is it possible," I asked myself, "that there are people so small that they can live in such small buildings as those before me?"


Huts of the dwarfs.

How strange the houses of the Dwarfs seemed! The length of each house was about that of a man; and the height was just enough to keep the head of a man from touching the roof when he was seated. The materials used in building were the branches of trees bent in the form of a bow, the ends put into the ground, and the middle branches being the highest. The shape of each house was very much like that of an orange cut in two. The frame-work was covered with large leaves, and there were little doors which did not seem to be more than eighteen inches high, and about twelve or fifteen broad. Even the Dwarfs must have laid almost flat on the ground in order to pass through. When I say door I mean simply an opening, a hole to go through. It was only a tiny doorway. But I managed to get inside one of these strange little houses, and I found there two beds, which were as curious as every thing else about the premises. Three or four sticks on each side of the hut were the beds. Each bed was about eight inches, or, at the most, ten, inches in width. One was for the wife and the other for the husband. A little piece of wood on each bed made the pillows. It was almost pitch dark inside, the only light coming from the opening or door. Between the two beds were the remains of a fire judging by the ashes and the pieces of burnt wood.

These huts did really look like the habitations of men—the homes of a race of Dwarfs. But had Kombila told me a falsehood? Were not these huts built for the fetiches and idols? It was true the great historian Herodotus had described a nation of Dwarfs as living on the head waters of the Nile; Homer had spoken of the cranes and of the land of the Pigmies; and Strabo thought that certain little men of Ethiopia were the original Dwarfs, while Pomponius Mela placed them far south, and, like Homer, spoke of their fighting with cranes; but then nobody had believed these stories. Could it be possible that I had discovered these people, spoken of thousands of years before, just as I had come face to face with the gorilla, which Hanno had described many centuries before?

How excited I became as I thought this strange matter over and over! Finally, however, my mind became settled, and I said to myself, "No, these mean shelters could never have been built by man, for the nshiego-mbouvé builds as good a house. Kombila tells me a story. These houses are built for a certain purpose, and he does not want to tell me the reason,"

So we left the so-called abandoned village of the Dwarfs, and onward we traveled toward the east, and soon came to a river called Ogoulou, on the bank of which was situated an Ishogo village of the name of Yengué.

We entered, but the villagers received us in profound silence. Kombila all the time said to them, "Do not be afraid. We have come here as friends." At last we reached the ouandja, and there I seated myself. I could not find out who the chief was, but the people evidently knew the Mokaba tribe. The old men, after a while, gave me a house for myself and my Commi, while my Aponos went to lodge with their friends. I heard that the chief had fled.

Nothing important took place that day. In the evening, while in my hut, in the midst of a profound silence, I heard a voice exclaiming "Beware! We have an oguizi among us! Beware! There is no monda  (fetich) to prevent us from seeing him during the day, but let no one try to see him in his house at night, for whoever does so is sure to die." So no one dared to come. After hearing this speech, in order to give the savages an idea of my great power, I fired a gun. Its report filled the people with awe.

After resting in Yengué we made preparations to cross the beautiful Ogoulou River, and when I stood upon its bank I said, "Ogoulou—such is thy Ishogo name; but, as I am the first white man who sees thy waters, I call thee Eckmühl, in remembrance of a dear friend!"

We crossed the river in canoes, and then continued our way, and after about six miles' journeying came to an Ishogo village called Mokenga. It was the last Ishogo village to which the Apono were to take me. They had fulfilled their mission, and had led me toward the east as far as they could go.

Mokenga was a beautiful, village, with a wide and clean street; but as we walked through it we saw that the doors of the houses were all shut, and there was not one Ishogo to be seen. Nevertheless, we marched through the village until we came to the ouandja. A few men were then seen peeping at us from afar with frightened looks. Kombila called to them, saying, "How is it that when strangers come to your village you do not hasten to salute them?" Then they recognized some of my porters, and shouted back, "You are rights you are right!" Some of the elders came to us, and saluted us in the Ishogo fashion—that is, by clapping the hands together, and then stretching them out again, showing the palms.

Kombila made a speech, and other Aponos also spoke. Kombila cried out, in his stentorian voice, "If you are not pleased, tell us, and we will take the Spirit to another village where the people will be glad to welcome us." Then the elders of the village withdrew together, and presently came back, saying, "We are pleased, and gladly welcome the Oguizi;" and then huts were given to us.

The Ishogos have really good large huts, many of which were adorned with roomy piazzas. The forest round the village of Mokenga was filled with leopards, so that the people could not sleep outside their huts in very warm weather, and every goat was carefully guarded in order not to become the prey of those beasts. In the centre of the village were two goat-houses, built so strongly that the leopards could not get in, and every evening the goats were shut up. The Ishogos not only have goats, but also a small species of poultry, and almost every house has a parrot of the gray variety with red tail. Bee-hives were also plentiful.

Not far from the goat-house were found two large trees that were planted when the village was built, and upon them were thousands of birds' nest, with myriads of birds, which made a fearful noise. These birds lived all the year round in Mokenga. I have given you a description of their colony in "Wild Life under the Equator."

One morning, before the people were up, I took the road leading to the spring from which the villagers got their water, for I wanted to see it. The path led down the hill, and soon a charming sight met my eye. The landscape was lovely. A rill of water, clear, cold, and pure, leaped from the lower part of a precipitous hill, and, with a fall of about nine feet, fell into a crystal basin filled with beautiful pebbles. From the basin a rivulet crawled along a bed of small pebbles down to the lower level, winding through a most beautiful forest. The scene was very beautiful.

One day, when I had seated myself below the fall, the rays of the sun, peeping through an opening, happened to shine upon the water, and made it look like running crystal. Below the cascade, the bed of the little stream, filled with pebbles of quartz, sparkled as if the pebbles had been diamonds; they might have been taken for gems while the sun was shining upon them. Water-lilies, white as snow, grew here and there, and moved to and fro, tossed by the water flowing toward the great river Rembo. The water looked like the water of life, and so it was. I said to myself, "When God is good to man, he is good to all; for all kinds of living creatures come to this stream, and drink of the water which is life to them."

The gentle ripple of the stream, as it glided down, sounded like music, and made me think. I could not help it. My thoughts wandered far over the mountains, and the lands I had crossed and discovered, and far beyond the sea, to the land where the great Mississippi flows. I looked intently at the water. Now and then I could see a little pebble rolling along; then it would stand still for a while, and again roll on, and every roll wore it away and rounded it. As it kept rolling down the stream day after day, year after year, it would become daily less and less in size. I said to myself, "What does keep still? Since the beginning of the world, nothing has stood still; every thing goes on and on, and will continue to do so till the end."

Just as I was beginning to think deeply on the subject, a leaf fell from a tree into the water, and was carried away down the stream. Now it would strand on the shore, or on some little island which seemed to have been made for a resting-place, and then it would be carried away again by the swift current. I wondered what would be the journey of that little leaf. Would it be carried all the way to the sea? Surely it could not tell, neither could I tell how long a time it would take to get to the sea, nor what would happen to it during the passage. Our life, I thought, is very much like the journey of that little leaf: it knew not what was before it, nor do we know what will happen to us.

Such is life. From the day we are born we know not how we shall be carried on by the stream of life. We may strand on the shore, or we may glide gently down the current; but, like this little leaf, on our journey we must meet with whirlpools and rocky shores, rapids and precipices, and many obstacles. Storms may overtake us and strand us, but the end of the journey is sure to come, and then the great and the learned, the rich and the poor, the Christian and the heathen, the Moslem and the Jew, are sure to meet.

I followed the little leaf till it disappeared from my sight forever. Another came and followed it, and another, and another, and they all vanished after a while never to come back to the same spot. So it is with man, I thought. One disappears from sight—Death has taken him. Another comes and takes his place; another and another follow each other, as these leaves did, and all go to the same goal—Death.

I said to myself, "I have drifted away like one of these leaves; sometimes tossed by the sea, sometimes by the wind, going to and fro, carried down the journey of life, meeting storms and breakers. I can not tell where I shall drift, for no man can tell what the future has in store for him. God alone knows whither the little leaf and I are drifting."

As I continued my reverie, thinking of life and its mysteries, and of the future, a beautiful butterfly made its appearance. Its colors were brilliant—red and white, blue and gold. It went from lily to lily, caring apparently for nothing but the sweets of life. I could not help saying to myself, "How many are like this little butterfly! but how little we know, for I am sure this butterfly has its troubles, and so have those who have made the world and its pleasures the flowers upon which they live."

The butterfly had hardly disappeared from sight when a bird came—what a sweet little bird! I see it still by that little stream of Mokenga, though years have passed away. Down the tree he came fluttering from branch to branch, looking at the water, calling for his mate, as if to say, "I have found water; come and let us drink together;" but the absent one did not come. Soon afterward the bird was on the shore, its little feet leaving prints upon the sand. It came to one spot and stopped, gave a warble of joy, then drank, and between each sip sang, as if to tell how happy he was, and to thank God for that beautiful water. After drinking, it spread its wings and bathed its little body in the spring of Mokenga, then flew away, hid in the thick leaves out of my sight, and for a while I heard it singing.

"How grateful you seemed to be, little birdie, to that God who gave you this nice water to drink!" I said; "but, though you are happy just now, I know that you have your sorrows and troubles, like every creature which God has made, from man down to the smallest insect."

After the little bird had gone I went to the spot where it had drank. Nothing could be seen but its footprints, and even these would remain but a short time, and after a while no one would ever know where its feet had been. So it is with the footprints of man—who can tell where they come upon the highways?

Not far from where I stood the stream was deeper. The little pebbles looked so pretty, the water so clear, so pure, and so cool, that I could not withstand the temptation, and, like the little bird, I drank, and thought there was not a beverage that over was so good, for God had made it for man and for his creatures. Many times, in these grand and beautiful regions of Equatorial Africa, I have exclaimed, on beholding the beautiful water which abounds every where, and after I had quenched my thirst, "There is nothing so good and so harmless as the water that God created!"

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