The Outbreak of the Plague
The death of Remandji.—A singular superstition.—Outbreak of the plague.—A touching incident.—Dying off by the scores.—Death of Olenda.
While on my way from the Falls of Samba-Nagoshi to Olenda a secret deputation had been sent to him from the Apingi country, where, as you are aware, I had been made king, and where the people were so superstitious about me. The King of Apingi had sent word that Olenda must endeavor to dissuade me from going into Apingi Land.
It appears that, after I had left the Apingi country, the people could not comprehend what had become of me. They would come to Remandji and ask him if he knew where I was. They declared that he had hid me in the forest for himself; that he was jealous, and did not want his people to see me. They came and asked for presents, but poor Remandji told them that the Spirit had not left him many things, and that really he did not know where I had gone; that they had seen me disappear in the forest, and had heard me say good-by to the people just as he had.
A few days after my departure Remandji was found dead in his little hut, on his bed. A cry of anguish rose from one end of the village to the other when the news of Remandji's death spread; the people felt sorry, for they loved him. There was mourning and lamentation in the Apingi tribe.
A party among the people rose and exclaimed that some of the neighboring people had killed their chief by aniemba (witchcraft), because they were jealous of him—jealous that he was my great friend jealous; that he possessed me.
Another party, and a very powerful one, having on its side the great doctors of the tribe, who had been consulted about Remandji's death, declared that the Spirit himself, meaning me, had killed Remandji, for I loved him so much I could not part with him, and I wanted to take his spirit with me wherever I went.
A few days after Remandji's death his son Okabi died also. Fear seized upon the Apingi people. "Surely," said they, "the Spirit has killed Okabi and Remandji," and many were oppressed with a presentiment of death, for many had been my friends, and from that day they believed that when I left a country I killed my friends in order not to part from them. The present chief of the Apingi Land, having heard of my arrival, sent a deputation to Olenda with the words "I do not want to see the Spirit. I do not want to follow him, as Remandji and his son have done, but rather prefer to stop at home and eat plantain. This present world is good enough for me."
The Apingi messengers were afraid of me, and had gone back to their own country without waiting for my appearance. So, after the departure of the Apingi messengers, great council of all the Ashira, chiefs was held to decide by which route I should be sent into the far country,
It was determined at last that I should go through the Otando country, and that messengers should be sent at once to the king of that far-off land, telling him that Olenda was to send me to him. Quengueza then made his preparations to return to Goumbi.
I sent my men out hunting every day to drill them and accustom them to fire-arms. I made them practice shooting every day, so that they might become better marksmen. I do not speak of Igala, who was what might have been called a dead shot.
A few days after what I have just related to you, a man called Elanga, a grand-nephew of Olenda, was taken ill with a disease which the natives had never seen. Elanga lived a long distance from our village, but his people came to me to see what I could do for him. The description they gave me was that of the small pox. I promised to go and see him the next day, but that day the news came that Elanga had died. There was a great deal of mourning and wailing among the people; they all went to Elanga's village except Olenda, my Commi men, and Quengueza's people.
Elanga had been to our camp to fetch our baggage, so immediately the people said Elanga had been bewitched. I went to see the body of Elanga; it could not have been recognized. I was not mistaken; the worst type of confluent or black small-pox had killed him. So when I saw the people around him I tried to burn every thing with which he had ever come in contact, even the house where he slept. Nevertheless, the mourning ceremonies took place as usual. My worst fears were realized. Soon after, two cases occurred among the mourners; then it spread like wildfire. Pestilence had come over the land. It came from the interior, and was working its way toward the sea.
The plague broke out with terrible violence all over the country. Olenda's village was attacked; Olenda's favorite wife was the first victim. Every body who was attacked died. It was in vain that I begged them to stop their "mourning" ceremonies. Almost every body who had attended Elanga's funeral had caught the plague and died. A cry of anguish rose over the land. I established a quarantine camp, and forbid my men to move out of it. I was full of anxiety on account of poor Quengueza.
Half of the people of Olenda had died; half of the Ashira had gone down to their graves. Olenda is still well.
I implored Quengueza to go back to his country. "If you love me, Quengueza," I said, "go home." "No" said the old chief; "to leave you when you are in trouble! I, Quengueza, do such a thing! No, Chally; the people would laugh at me, and say 'Quengueza had no power to help Chally on his way.'"
Things had now become gloomy indeed; the storm is threatening. Rigoli, Quengueza's favorite little slave, had taken the plague, which had at last invaded our premises. Quengueza took him into his own hut. I was horror-struck at the idea, and cried, "Do you want to die, Quengueza?" His answer was beautiful. "I love Rigoli," said he; "he is the child of an old slave my brother Oganda left me. I can take better care of him here. If I get the plague it will be God's palaver." I looked at this savage king, and his noble reply made me love him more than ever. A few days afterward Rigoli was dead.
Three several times a gang of men had been sent for the transportation of my baggage to the Otando country; three times within a few days the plague had carried away the greater number of them.
I succeeded in making Quengueza send a large number of his people back to Goumbi. Then thirty Ashira men were mustered. I wanted them to go with my men to the Otando country with part of the luggage. To this my Commi men demurred. "How can we leave you here? Who, in the midst of this, fearful disease, shall cook for you? Some of us must remain with you. These Ashira may poison you by putting the gall of a leopard into your food. Some of us will stay with you, come what may; if we are to die, we will die by you." Noble fellows!
So, with the thirty men which Olenda could now place at my disposition, I sent Igala, Rebouka, Mouitchi, Rapelina, Rogueri. Poor Olenda could only give me thirty men, for his people were either down with the plague or dead. Olenda promised solemnly to Quengueza that as soon as the men came back he would send them with me to the Otando.
In the mean time intelligence had been received that the plague had reached the banks of the Rembo-Ovenga, and that Bakalai and Commi were dying fast; so old Quengueza took his departure for Goumbi, but not before I took a good photograph of him.
Before he left us he said, "Chally, when you come back with your people, bring me a big bell that rings ding, dang, dong, a silver sword that will never rust, a brass chest, and plenty of fine things."
I accompanied Quengueza part of the way over the prairie. How sad I felt! for if I ever loved a friend I loved friend Quengueza, and just before we were to turn our backs upon each other there was a pause. "Chally, go back to Olenda," said Quengueza to me. Then he took my two hands in his own, blew upon them, and invoked the spirits of his ancestors to follow me as they had followed him. We looked in each other's face once more for an instant, and parted, he going toward the sea, and I toward the interior. I stood still as the old man moved away; he turned several times to get a glimpse of me, but soon disappeared in the tall grass of the prairie. He had but few of his people with him, for the plague had come heavily on Goumbi, and many had died of it.
Quengueza had hardly left the country when the plague became yet more terrible; not a day passed without its hundreds of victims. A cry of anguish was all over the land; the wailings, the mournful songs were heard every where.
At last there were not left well people enough to fetch food, and famine succeeded to the pestilence. My poor Commi men, who went in search of food in the neighboring villages, were driven back, threatened with death by the terrified inhabitants, who shouted, "The Spirit with whom you came has brought this eviva (plague) upon us. What have we done to him?"
Not one of Olenda's numerous wives was well, but the king remained my steadfast friend. He said to his sick people that he remembered that when he was a boy the same thing had come over the land. How glad I was to have Olenda on my side!
A few days after the departure of Quengueza, if you had been in my little hut, you would have seen me seated on the side of my bed, my head resting on my hands, in utter loneliness and desolation of heart.
My boy Retonda had died and been buried that day. How could I feel otherwise than unhappy when a whole country was cursing me, and the people were more afraid of me than of the plague itself?
In my own little hut Ngoma was lying near unto death; the crisis had come to him; his pulse was low. Was he to die also?
After a while I approached Ngoma, and said, "Ngoma, my boy, how do you feel?" He could hardly speak; the disease had gone also into his throat; he could not see—he was blind; mortification had set in, and the smell emanating from him was dreadful, and yet there I had to sleep.
In the next hut to mine lay Igala-Yengo; he too was taken with the plague. Poor Igala-Yengo was one of Quengueza's slaves, and had said to his master that he would go with me.
Those were indeed dark days for me. One morning, as I went to ask old Olenda how he was, he said, "My head pains me, and I am so thirsty." That day he laid him down on his bed never to get up again For two days the fever increased, and part of the time I was by his bedside. The good chief, seeing my sorrowful countenance, would say, "Chally, do not grieve. It is not your fault if I am sick. You have not made me ill."
Oh, these words sounded sweetly to me. I left him toward nine o'clock in the evening to go to my hut to a little rest, and found poor Ngoma a little better.
I did not want Macondai to sleep in my hut; he was the only one besides myself that had not been seized by the plague.
As I lay wide awake on my couch, suddenly I heard a cry of anguish, a shriek from house to house. A shudder came over me. Olenda was dead—Olenda, my only friend, was dead.
As soon as that shriek was heard, Macondai, in despite of my former orders, rushed into my hut and said," Chally, are your guns loaded? are your revolvers ready? for I do not know what the Ashira may do, since the great Olenda is dead."
I confess that I partook of Macondai's apprehensions, but I said to him, "Be of good cheer, my boy; there is but one God, and he will battle for us. Men can only kill the body."
This was a terrible blow for me, the consequences of which I could not foresee. Olenda, before dying, ordered his people to take care of me, and in a short time passed away as peacefully as if he had gone to sleep.