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

A Panic-Stricken Village

Saying good-by.—A panic-stricken village.—Pacifying the people's fears.—A tipsy scene.—Majesty on a spree.—Lunch by a river side.

On the 30th of May, early in the morning, there was great excitement in Mayolo's village. That morning we were to leave for the Apono country. Mayolo himself was to take me there, and we were all getting ready, the men carefully arranging their otaitais. The horns were blown as the signal for our departure, and we took the path in single file, Igala leading, and Mayolo and I bring-up the rear.

"Good-by, Oguizi!" shouted the people. "Don't forget us, Oguizi! Come back, Oguizi!"

Following a path in the prairie, we traveled directly east. Our road lay among the ant-hills, which could be counted by tens of thousands, of which I gave you a description in my "Apingi Kingdom." After a march of seven miles we came to Mount Nomba-Obana. Mayolo once lived on the top of this mountain, but moved his village to its base, and afterward went to the place where I found him. At the foot of Nomba-Obana, on the somewhat precipitous side, were great quantities of blocks of red sandstone, and in this neighborhood we saw the ruins of Mayolo's former village. Mayolo is always changing his home, for he fancies that the places he occupies are bewitched.

At a distance of about three miles from Nomba-Obana we came to a stream called Ndooya, which we forded, but in the rainy season it must be a considerable body of water. We were approaching the Apono villages, and I felt somewhat anxious; for I did not know what kind of reception the people would give me. Groves of palm-trees were very abundant, and I could see numerous calabashes hanging at the tree-tops, ready to receive the sap, which is called palm wine.

At last we came in sight of the village of Mouendi, where we intended to stay. The chief was a great friend of Mayolo. As soon as the inhabitants saw me a shout rent the air. All the people fled, the women carrying their children, and weeping. The cry was, "Here is the Oguizi! Oguizi! Now that we have seen him, we are going to die." I saw and heard all this with dismay.

We entered the village. Not a soul was left in it; it was as still as death. I could see the traces of hurried preparations for flight as we continued our march through the street of this silent village till we came near the ouandja. There I saw Nchiengain, the chief, and two other men, who had not deserted him. These were the only inhabitants we could see. The body of the chief was marked, striped, and painted with the chalk of the alumbi. He seemed filled with fear; but the sight of Mayolo, his nkaga, "born the same day," seemed somewhat to reassure him.

Mayolo said, "Nchiengain, do not be afraid; come nearer. Do not be afraid. Come!" Then we went under the ouandja, and seated ourselves. In the mean time, I had taken a look at Nchiengain. He was a tall, slender old negro, with a mild and almost timid expression of countenance.

Then Mayolo said, "I told you, Nchiengain, that I was coming with the Oguizi. Here we are. The Spirit has come here to do you good—to give you beads, and many nice things. Then he will leave you after a while, and go still farther on."

Then I spoke to Nchiengain in his own language, for the Aponos speak the same language as the Ashira and Otando people. I said, "Nchiengain, do not be afraid of me. I come to be a friend; I come to do you good. I come to see you, and then will pass on, leaving beads and fine things for your women and yourselves. Look here"—pointing to all the loads which my Otando porters had laid on the ground—"part of these things will be for your people," and immediately I put around his neck a necklace of very large beads, and placed a red cap on his head. I then gave necklaces of smaller beads to the two other men, and said, "Nchiengain, you will have more things, but your people must come back; I do not like to live in a village from which all the people have run away. Mayolo's people did not run away, and you do not know what great friends we are. Call your people back."

I then went around the village, and hung a few strings of beads to the trees, and Nchiengain shouted, "Come back, Aponos; come back! Do not be afraid of the Spirit. As you come back, look at the trees, and you will see the beads the Spirit has brought for us, and which he will give to us," The two men then went out upon the prairie and into the woods, and before sunset a few men and women, braver than the rest, returned to the village, taking with them the beads which they had seen hanging from the branches of the trees.

In the evening the bright fires blazing in all directions showed that the fears of the people had been allayed, and that many of them had returned to their homes.

How tired I felt that evening! for not only had I been excited all day, but I had left Mayolo's village in the morning with a heavy load on my back. Besides my revolvers, I carried a double-barreled gun, and in my bag had fifty cartridges for revolvers, ten bullets for a long-range Enfield rifle, ten bullets for smooth-bore guns, ten steel-pointed bullets, and more than twenty pounds of small shot, buck-shot, powder, etc. In all, I carried a weight of over sixty pounds, besides my food, and my aneroids, barometers, policeman's lantern, and prismatic compass. I was so weary that I could not sleep. I resolved not to carry such big loads any more.

But my work was not yet done: in the evening I had to make astronomical observations. As I was afraid of frightening the people, I had to do this slyly. I was glad when I had finished it, but I found by my observations that we had gone directly east from Mayolo's village.

The next morning I walked from one end of the village of Mouendi to the other. The street was four hundred and forty-seven yards long, and eighteen yards broad. The soil was clay, and not a blade of grass could be seen. The houses were from five to seven yards long, and from seven to ten feet broad; the height of the walls was about four feet, and the distance from the ground to the top of the roof was seven or eight feet. Back of the houses were immense numbers of plantain trees. In the morning many of the people returned. Mayolo and Nchiengain had a long talk together. Nchiengain was fully persuaded that I could do any thing I wished; consequently, that I could make any amount of goody and beads for him. A grand palaver took place, and Mayolo began the day by making a speech. He said,

"The last moon I sent some of my people to buy salt from you Apono. You refused to sell salt, and sent word that you did not want the Oguizi to come into your country, because he brought the plague, sickness, and death. So I said to the Oguizi, 'Never mind; there is a chief in the Apono country who is my nkaga  (born the same day); I will send messengers to him; he has big canoes, and I am sure he will let us cross the river with them. Then I sent three of my nephews to you, Nchiengain, my nkaga, with beads and nice things, and I said to them, 'Go and tell Nchiengain that I am coming with the Oguizi, who is on his way to the country of the Ishogos.' You sent back your kendo, Nchiengain, with the words, 'Tell Mayolo to come with his Oguizi.' Here we are, Nchiengain, in your village, and I am sure you and your people will not slight us" (mpouguiza).

I gave to Nchiengain one shirt, six yards of prints, one coat, a red cap, one big bunch of white beads and one of red, a necklace, of very large beads, files, fire-steels, spoons, knives and forks, a large looking-glass, and some other trinkets, and then called the leading men and women, and gave them presents also. This settled our friendship, for the people were pleased with the wonderful things I gave them.

The news of my untold wealth spread far and wide. People from a neighboring village, who had been very much opposed to my journey through their country, made their appearance. When Nchiengain saw them, he said, "Go away! go away! now you come because you have smelt the niva  (goods and nice things). You are not afraid now."

After two or three days the people of Mouendi began to say, "How is it that two or three days ago we were so afraid of the Spirit? Now our fears are gone, and we love him. He plays with our children, and gives beads to our women." When I heard them utter these words, I said, "Apono, that is the way I travel. Those fine things that I give you are the plague I leave behind me! I bring not death, but beads; so do not be afraid of me." They replied, "Rovano! Rovano!" ("That is so!")

A few days passed away, and then the Apono and I became great friends. They began to wonder why they had been so frightened by the Ibamba  (a new name given me by the Apono), and soon all the people had returned to the village. Good old Nchiengain and Mayolo had at last a jolly frolic together, and got quite tipsy with palm wine. I wish you had heard them talk. The way they were going to travel with me was something wonderful. Such fast traveling on foot you never heard of before. Tribe after tribe were to be passed by them. They were not afraid; they did not care. We were even to travel by night over the prairie, for the full moon was coming.

After a few days at Mouendi, Nchiengain with his Aponos, and Mayolo with his own people, took me farther on; but before our departure Nchiengain and the Apono went out before daylight to obtain the palm wine which had fallen into their calabashes during the night. By sunrise they were all tipsy, and Nchiengain was reeling, but he was full of enthusiasm for the journey; Mayolo also was tipsy, but not quite so far gone as his friend Nchiengain. When I saw this state of things I demolished all the mbomi  (calabashes), spilling on the ground the palm wine they contained, to the great sorrow of the Aponos.

"Where is Nchiengain?" I inquired, when we were ready to start. He could not be found; and, suspecting that he was somewhere behind his hut, drinking more palm wine before starting, I went to hunt for him. The old rascal, thinking I was busy engaged in looking after my men, was quietly drinking from the mbomi itself, with his head up and his mouth wide open. Before he had time to think, I seized his calabash, and poured the contents on the ground. Poor Nchiengain! he supplicated me not to pour it all away, but to leave a little bit for him. "I will go with you at once," he said; "give me back my mug" (a mug I had given him); "oh, Spirit, give it back to me!" By this time all the villagers had gathered about us. I put the mug on the ground, and told Nchiengain's wife to come and take it; and this gave great joy to the people, who exclaimed, "Nchiengain, go quick! go quick!"

When we left I went to the rear, to see that all the porters were ahead; but old Nchiengain lagged behind, for he could not walk fast enough.

Three quarters of an hour afterward we found ourselves on the banks of a large river, the same which is described in my "Apingi Kingdom"—that kingdom being situated farther down the stream than the point at which we were now to cross. The river could not be seen from the prairie, for its banks were lined with a belt of forest trees. We found on the banks of the stream Nchiengain's big canoe waiting for us, together with some smaller ones. The large canoe was very capacious, but before all my luggage could be ferried over it was necessary to make seven trips. I sent Igala, Rebouka, and Mouitchi to the other side with the first load to keep watch. The canoe had just returned from its seventh trip, and the men were landing, when suddenly I heard the voice of Nchiengain in the woods shouting, "I am coming, Spirit! Nchiengain is coming!" It was half past four p.m. A whole day had been lost.

Not caring to take his majesty Nchiengain reeling drunk into my canoe, I jumped into it and ordered the men to push from the shore with the utmost speed. We started in good time, for we were hardly off when I began to distinguish the king's form through the woods, and when he reached the shore we were about fifty yards distant. We heard him shout "Come back! come back to fetch me;" but the louder he called the more deaf we were. "Go on, boys!" I ordered. As our backs were turned to, the king, of course we could not see him. Finally we landed, and, taking my glass, I saw poor Nchiengain gesticulating on the other side, apparently in a dreadful state, thinking that I had left him. The canoe was sent back for him, and a short time afterward he was landed on our side of the river, to his great delight. Two or three times during the passage he lost his equilibrium but he did not fall. When he joined us he was about as tipsy as when I left him in the morning.

Poor Mayolo, who had been continually tipsy since we had left his village, fell ill during the night, and a very high fever punished him for his sins.

We built our camp where we had landed. A thick wood grew on the bank of the river, and firewood was plentiful. In the evening Nchiengain was sober again, and before ten o'clock every body was fast asleep except three of my Commi men, who were on the watch. The dogs were lying asleep, and almost in the fire. Every thing now promised well, and I was anxious to hurry forward as rapidly as possible on the following day.

At a quarter past six o'clock A.M. we left our encampment, every body being perfectly sober. Soon afterward we emerged from the woods into a prairie, and passed several villages, the people of which seemed to have heard wonderful stories of my wealth. They came out, and followed me with supplies of goats and plantain, and begged Nchiengain and his people to remain with the Oguizi. In the villages they went so far as to promise several slaves to Nchiengain if he would do this. Hundreds of these villagers, while following us, gazed at me, but if I looked at them they fled in alarm. Finally, seeing that it was useless to follow, they went back, shouting to Nchiengain and to Mayolo that it was their fault if I did not stop. My porters joined them in their grumbling, for the fat goats tempted them.

About midday we halted in a beautiful wooded hollow, through which ran a little rivulet of clear water, and by its side we seated ourselves for breakfast. I was really famished. After spending an hour in eating and resting, we started again. When we came out of the wood we saw paths leading in different directions, one going directly east to several Apono villages. Nchiengain was opposed to our passage through them, and therefore we struck a path leading in a more southerly direction, or s.s.e. by compass. For three hours we journeyed over an undulating prairie dotted with clumps of woods, and then crossed a prairie called Matimbiť irimba (the prairie of stones), the soil of which was covered with little stones containing a good deal of iron. The men suffered greatly as they stepped upon them.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The African Heavens  |  Next: Escape Through a Burning Prairie
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.