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

Lost Among the Plantations

Great excitement in the village.—A deserted town.—The inhabitants frightened away.—Afraid of the evil eye.—The author taken for an astrologer.—Lost among the plantations.

On the morning of the 10th of June there was great excitement in the village of Mokaba. The Apono, headed by Kombila, were ready to take me to the Ishogo country. All the porters wore the red caps I had given them, and had put on their necklaces of beads. At a quarter past ten o'clock, just as we started, I ordered guns to be fired, to the immense delight of the Mokaba people. Kombila gave the word for departure, and one by one we took the path leading to the hills which lay directly east of the village, and soon afterward we were in the woods, passing plantation after plantation that had been abandoned, for they never planted twice in the same place. We finally arrived at a plantation called Njavi, where thousands of plantain-trees were in bearing, and where sugar-cane patches were abundant, Fields of pea-nuts were also all around us soon afterward. We rested to take a meal, and, as Njavi was situated on the plateau, I had a good view of the country.


Apono and Ishogo Village.

When we resumed our march eastward the Apono were in great glee, for they had become accustomed to me. Kombila was filled with pride at the idea that he was going to take the Spirit to the Ishogo country. The men were talking loudly, and I saw that there was no chance for killing game. The country was splendid. The hills had been getting higher and higher till we had reached Njavi, but since leaving that point we had been going down the slope. We crossed a dry stream with a slaty bottom, and soon afterward came to a stream called Dougoundo, the Apono porters walking as fast as they could. Toward four o'clock we reached the large Ishogo village of Igoumbiť, but found it deserted. The few men who saw us ran into their houses and shut their doors—for they had doors in Igoumbiť. The people reminded me of frightened chickens hiding their heads in dark corners. A few men had been so alarmed that they had lost the power of walking, and as I passed did not utter a single word nor move a step. We walked through the whole length of the street, and stopped. Kombila said to me, "Let me, Spirit, go to the village; and he went with a few of his men. Soon afterward an Ishogo man came with Kombila, and asked me to remain in his village. "The Mokaba people are our friends," he said; "they marry our daughters; how can we let them pass without giving them food?" Rebouka being lame (one of my heavy brass kettles having fallen on one of his feet), I consented.

Now I found that I could no more know who was the chief of a village. Kombila, I began to suspect, was not the chief of Mokaba. The chiefs had a superstition that if I knew who they were I would kill them.

In the Ishogo village I was among a new people, and indeed, their appearance was strange to me. Little by little they came back to the village, for the Mokaba people were great friends of theirs, and they told the Ishogos not to be afraid. Many of the villagers, as they had to pass by me, would, put their; hands over their eyes so as not to see me. They were afraid.

I took a walk through the long street of that strange Ishogo village, and counted one hundred and ninety-one houses. The houses were much larger than those of many other tribes, and were from twenty to twenty-two feet in length, and from nine to twelve feet in width. Each had a door in the middle from two to two and a half feet in width, and about three and a half feet high. The height of the lower walls was four and a half feet, and the distance to the top of the roof eight or nine feet. The doors of the houses were very tasteful. Each owner seemed to vie with his neighbor in the choice of the prettiest patterns. Every door was carved and painted in different colors. On the opposite page is a representation of some of the patterns, so you may judge for yourself of the taste of the Ishogos.

As I walked through the village, I thought what a great Spirit I must have seemed to the savage people of the interior of Africa. When I passed the houses of Igoumbiť, some of the people, thinking I was not looking at them nor at their dwellings, partially opened their doors to get a peep at me; but if I happened to glance at them they immediately retired, evidently believing that I had an "evil eye."

I remained a day in the village of Igoumbiť to make friends, so that the news might spread among the Ishogos that I was not an evil spirit; but most of them were so shy that when they had to pass the door of my hut they put their hands up to the side of their face so that they might not see me. Yet, in spite of their shyness, I made friends with many, and gave them beads.

One night the village was filled with fear. The people could not understand my doings. They were unable to discover what I meant by looking at the stars and at the moon with each queer looking things as the instruments I held in my hand, and with dishes of quicksilver before me in which the moon and the stars were reflected. The aneroids, barometers, thermometers, boiling barometers, watches, and policemen's lanterns puzzled them extremely. They could not see why I should spend the greater part of the night with all those things around me.


Ishogo houses, with ornamental doors.

I could not afford to lose much time in this village, for I had been so much detained before by the plague and other impediments, which have already been described, that it became necessary for me to go. I had still to pass through the territory of tribe after tribe; the Congo River was far to the eastward of us; the sources of the Nile were far away. So I said to Kombila, "Let us hurry. Take me to the farthest Ishogo village that you can. There we will remain a little while, and then I shall know all about the Ishogos."

We left Igoumbiť, and once more plunged into the great forest. As I lost sight of the village, I heard the inhabitants crying loudly, "The Spirit has gone! the Spirit has gone!"

Suddenly, toward midday, the Apono porters stopped. I saw that a palaver was about to take place. I ordered my Commi men to be in readiness in case of any trouble. Kombila said, "Spirit, the people of Igoumbiť wanted to have you among them. We said neshi  (no). The, loads you have are heavy, and my people do not want to go farther unless you give them more beads, for their backs are sore."

I answered, "I have a heart to feel, and eyes to see. I intend to give to each of you a present before we part. Go ahead." The four elders or leaders of the party shouted, "It is so! it is so!" So we continued our march, and passed several villages, but the people were dumb with astonishment and fear.

In the country through which we were traveling, paths led from village to village, and when we came to a settlement we had to go through the whole length of it. Some of the villages in which the people had heard of my approach were perfectly deserted. In others the inhabitants had hidden themselves in their huts, and we saw none of them.

Once we lost our way, having taken the wrong path, and, being bewildered among the plantations of the natives, we had a hard time. Finally we came to a stream which the men recognized, and ascended it; but the day was then far advanced, and we concluded to build our camp. We all felt very tired, the men having sore feet on account of little ferruginous pebbles which covered the ground. After our fires had been lighted, and the men had smoked their pipes, and put the soles of their feet as near the fire as they could without burning them, we began to have a nice talk, and I asked the Aponos many questions.

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