The African Heavens
Departure from the Otando country.—Talk with Mayolo.—Living on monkey-meat.—Astronomical studies.—Lunar observations.—Intense heat.
The day of my departure from the Otando country was approaching. Mayolo was getting better and better every day. So, two days after the ceremony I have described in the preceding chapter, I summoned Mayolo and his people, and received them in state. I was dressed for the occasion, as if ready to start, with my otaitai on my back. I was surrounded by my body-guard, and they also were ready for the start, each man carrying his otaitai. I spoke to the people in similitudes, in the African fashion:
"Mayolo, I have called you and your people, that you may have my mouth. You black people have a saying among yourselves that a man does not stand alone—that he has friends. You Otando people have friends among the Apono and Ishogo people." "We will take you there!" shouted the Otandos. "I come to ask you the road through the Apono country. Come and show me the road. It is the one I like best; it is the shortest. I will make your heart glad if you make my heart glad. I have nice things to give you all, and I want the news to spread that Mayolo and I are two great friends, so that after I am gone people may say, 'Mayolo was the friend of the Oguizi.'" The last part of the speech was received with tremendous shouts of applause, and cries of "Rovano! Rovano!"
Mayolo deferred his answer till the next day. I suppose he wanted to prepare himself for a great speech. The following morning he came before my hut, surrounded by his people. Mayolo began:
"When a hunter goes into the forest in search of game, he is not glad until he returns home with meat; so Chally's heart will not be glad until he finishes what he wishes to do." Then he continued to speak for more than an hour, and ended by saying, "Chally, we shall soon be on the long road, and go toward where the sun rises."
As soon as the recovery of Mayolo seemed certain, the people prepared to celebrate the event. Jar after jar of native beer came in, and in the evening the people of the village had a grand time. Mayolo was the most uproarious of all, dancing, slapping his chest, and shouting, "Here I am, alive! The Otando people said I should die because the Spirit had come, but here I am! Here I am, Chally, well at last! I tell you I am well, Oguizi!" and, to show me that he was well, he began to leap about, and to strike the ground with his feet, saying, "Don't you see I am well? The Otando people said, the Apono said, as soon as they heard you had arrived in my village, Mayolo is a dead man!' As soon as I fell ill, they said, 'Mayolo will never get up again! Has not the Oguizi killed Remandji and Olenda?' But here I am, alive and well! Fire guns, that the people of the villages around may know that. Mayolo is well!" As he went, he shouted, "I knew that the Oguizi did not like to see me ill. I am Mayolo! I will take him farther on!"
I never knew how good Mayolo was till I saw him in better health. He had a good, kind heart, though he was a savage, and we had nice talks together. He asked me all sorts of questions. When I told him that him that in my country we had more cattle than he, but that they remained on our plantations, just as his goats did, he seemed incredulous. Then I told him that as I went inland I would meet tribes of blacks who kept tame cattle. He said he had never heard of such people; he could not believe what I said. But when I told him that there were countries where elephants were tamed, and that the people rode on their backs, the astonishment of Mayolo and of his people became great. Then I showed him an illustrated paper. "Oh! oh! oh!" they shouted. In the evening Mayolo presented me with a splendid fat monkey.
I should tell you that all this time I had really splendid food. The monkeys were delicious, and so plentiful in the woods near Mayolo's village that we could have them whenever we pleased. It was in the season when were fat. The nchègai, the nkago, the miengai, and the ndova were also abundant, and we enjoyed eating them, for those creatures seemed, in the months of April and May, to be nothing but balls of fat. It was the time of the year, too, when the forest trees bore most fruit, berries, and nuts. The miengai and the ndova were the species of animals which I preferred for food. I defy any one to find nicer venison in any part of the world. A haunch grilled on a bright charcoal fire was simply delicious. "Horrible!" you will say, "the idea of eating monkeys! It is perfectly dreadful!" and at the same time I am sure you will make a face so ugly that it would frighten you if you were to look at yourself in the glass. You may say, "Oh, a roast monkey must look so much like a roasted little baby! Fy!" Never mind. I can only say that if you ever go into the forests of Equatorial Africa, and taste of a monkey in the season when those animals are fat, you will exclaim with me, "What delicious and delicate food! how exquisite!" As I am writing these lines, the recollection of those meals makes me hungry. I wish I had a monkey here, ready for cooking. I would invite you to partake of it; and I think you could eat the monkey without being accused of cannibalism.
The first time after my arrival at Mayolo's village that I took my photographic tent out of its japanned tin box, I called him to look at it after I had fixed it ready for use, but it was not easy to get him to come. He had a suspicion that there was witchcraft in it. Finally I succeeded in getting him to look at the apparatus. I made him look at the prairie through the yellow window-glass by which the light came into the little tent while I was working with the chemicals or the plates. As he looked, the trees, the grass, the sunlight, the ant-hills, the people, the fowls, the goats, all appeared yellow to him. The good old fellow was frightened out of his wits. He thought I was practicing witchcraft. I believe if he had gone into the tent he would have died of fright. He stepped back, looked at me with fear and amazement, and went away, raising his hands, and with his mouth wide open. After a while he said that I had turned the world to another color. The next day all the people came to see the wonderful thing.
I had so little to do that I gave my whole heart to the contemplation of the heavens. Many hours of the night were spent by me looking at the stars. When every one had gone to sleep, I stood all alone on the prairie, with a gun by my side, watching. There was no place upon our earth where one could get a grander view of the heavens than that I now occupied, for I stood almost under the equator, and the months of April and May in Mayolo were the months when the atmosphere is the purest; for after the storms the azure of the sky was so intensely deep that it made the stars doubly bright in the blue vault 'of heaven.
At that period the finest constellations of the southern hemisphere were within view at the same time—the constellations of the Ship, the Cross, the Centaur, the Scorpion, and the Belt of Orion, and also the three brightest stars in the heavens, Sirius, Canopus, and α Centauri.
How fond I was of looking at the stars! I loved many of them; they were my great friends, for they were my guides in their apparently ascending and descending course. How glad I was when one of these lovely, friends again made its appearance after a few months' absence! how anxiously I watched toward the east for its return! and at last, as it rose from the dim horizon, and became brighter and brighter in ascending the heavens, how it delighted my heart. Do not wonder at it when I say I love the stars, for without them I would not have known where to direct my steps. I watched them as a tottering child watches his mother.
Venus shone splendidly, and threw her radiance all around; red Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were in sight; the Southern Cross (so named on account of the four bright stars which form a cross); not far from the cross were the "Coal-sac," like two dark patches. No telescope powerful enough has ever been made to see any star there. There is no other spot of the kind in the starry heavens.
The Magellanic clouds were also seen; they were like two white-looking patches—especially the larger one—brightly illuminated as they revolve round the starless South Pole. Then, as if the scene was not beautiful enough, there stood that part of the Milky Way between the 50th and the 80th parallel, so beautiful and rich in crowded nebulae and stars that it seemed to be in a perfect blaze; between Sirius and the Centaur the heavens appeared most brilliantly illuminated, and as if they were a blaze of light.
At the same time, looking northward, I could see the beautiful constellation of the Great Bear, which was about the same altitude above the horizon as the constellation of the Cross and of the Centaur, some of the stars in the two constellations passing the meridian within a short time of each other: γ Ursæ Majoris half an hour before α Crucis, and Benetnasch eleven minutes before β Centauri.
Where could any one have a grander view of the heavens at one glance? From α Ursæ Majoris to α Crucis there was an arc of 125º; and, as if to give a still grander view of the almost enchanting scene, the zodiacal light rose after the sun had set, increasing in brilliancy, of a bright yellow color, and rising in a pyramidal shape high into the sky, often so bright that the contrast between the blue sky and this yellow glow was most beautiful. It often became visible half an hour after the sun had disappeared, and was very brilliant, like a second sunset; it still increased in brilliancy, and often attained a bright orange-color at the base, gradually becoming fainter and fainter at the top. It could be seen almost every night during the months of April and May. So if, under the equator, I had not the splendid Aurora Borealis to behold, I had the soft zodiacal light to contemplate.
I would take astronomical observations whenever I could, so that I might know my latitude and longitude, and I took a great many at Mayolo. In the evening I would bring out my sextant, my policeman's lantern, my artificial horizon, my thermometer, and would work for hours.
I will explain to you the use of the artificial horizon. It is so called on account of being an imitation of the natural horizon. Quicksilver is the best material. The heavenly bodies are reflected upon it, and you must lay your artificial horizon in such a way that the object you are watching is reflected on it, and then, with your sextant, you bring the direct object to its reflected image on the quicksilver, and the reading of the sextant gives you the number of degrees, minutes, and seconds of altitude.
It is always good to take two stars, one north and the other south of the zenith of the place. While at Mayolo I would often take one of the stars of the constellation of the Great Bear and one of the constellation of the Cross the same evening. You have to watch carefully when the star has reached its highest altitude, that is to say, when it appears neither to ascend or descend.
But the most difficult observations were those of the lunar distances for longitude. In those observations I generally used three sextants, one for the altitude of the moon, another for the altitude of a star, and another for the distance between the moon and the star. My watch, my slate, my pencil, and my policeman's lantern were also placed near me. The two artificial horizons were in front of me, and when every thing was ready I would take an altitude of the moon, then that of the star, then look at, my watch, and note down the exact time of each observation; then take four distances, and note the exact time each distance was taken, and then again the altitude of the star and moon in the reverse order of the first portion of the observation.
The following example will show you how a lunar distance tame is taken with a sextant:
Take as many lunar observations as you can east and west of the moon—the more the better—and you will be able to know your exact longitude with more certainty. It would be here too complicated to tell you how to make the calculations, but I am sure that after a while many of you would be able to make them.
By lunar observations, if sickness or some other cause has made you forget the day of the month, or even the year, you can find it again. Several times I lost my days while traveling.
The heat was intense at Mayolo. The rays of the sun were very powerful, and raised the mercury nearly to 150 º. Just think of it! In order to know the heat of the sun, the thermometer was only a glass tube supported by two little sticks. I had to take care that the rays of the sun fell always perpendicularly on the mercury.