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

A Strange Passenger

Down the river in a canoe.—A strange passenger.—Talk with a gorilla.—Landing through the breakers.—Preparing to cross the continent.—The departure.

On the 18th of August,1864, I sent back the vessel to England to the Messrs. Baring, and early that morning we left my settlement and sailed down the river in my largest canoe. We had a strange lot of passengers with us. The most remarkable of them was Master Tom Gorilla; not far from him, at the bottom of the canoe, alive and kicking, was a yellow wild boar, which I had raised from a little bit of a fellow; and near the boar were two splendid fishing eagles. Another canoe contained the skins and skeletons of several gorillas, the skins of chimpanzees and other animals, besides a great many insects, butterflies and shells.

Tom had managed to get on top of the little house I had made for him, and there he sat screaming. It was a good thing that the chain around his neck kept him at a safe distance from us. This morning, as we came down the river, he was fiercer than I had ever before seen him. Tom was much stronger than Fighting Joe, with whom you became acquainted in one of my preceding volumes, and consequently a more formidable fellow to deal with. Happily, he could not come down upon us and bite any of us. I could not help laughing when I saw him so angry. He could not understand why he had been disturbed; he did not like the looks of things around him, and his fierce and treacherous eyes did not bode us any good.

I said to him, "Tom, you are going to the white man's country; I wish you health. You are an ugly little rascal; all my kindness to you has not made you grateful. The day that I am to bid you good-by sees you as intractable as ever. You always snatch from my hands the food I give you, and then bolt with it to the farthest corner of your abode, or as far as the length of your chain will allow. I have to be very careful with you, for fear of your biting me. Tom, you have a very bad temper. When you are angry you beat the ground with your hands and feet, just like a big, grown-up gorilla. I suppose, if you were a full-grown gorilla, you would beat your chest. Tom," said I, "many times you have woke me in the night by your sudden screams; often you have tried to take your own life—I suppose it was because you could not bear captivity. I have rescued you several times from death in your attempts to strangle yourself with your chain, through rage at being kept a prisoner. Oh, Tom, how often you have twisted that chain around and around the post to which you were attached, until it became quite short, and then until it became quite short, and then pressed with your feet the lower part of the post, till you almost succeeded in committing suicide by strangulation, and would have succeeded if I had not come to your rescue. Tom, I have been patient with you, I have taken care of you, you have my best wishes for a prosperous voyage, and I hope you will reach the white man's country in safety."

The moment I paused in this address Tom would answer me with a growl.

"Tom, I have laid in a great deal of food for you on shipboard: there are two hundred bunches of bananas and plantains, a great many pine-apples, a lot of sugar-cane, and many barrels of berries and nuts; so you will have plenty of food. But, Tom, you must try to eat the white man's food, for the bananas and the berries will not last all the voyage. Thus far I have not been able to cook you any of the white man's food, though I have nearly starved you, and kept you for days with hardly any food at all."

Another growl greeted this talk, as if to say, "I know what you say to me."

"The captain will take you, Tom." Then I looked at Captain Berridge.

"Yes," said he; "Tom, all I ask of you is to keep well, and to reach safely the country of the white men, so they may see how a young gorilla looks."

By the time I had ended this queer conversation with Tom we had reached our place of landing, and on the sea-shore several canoes were waiting for us. The breakers were high; several canoes had been upset, and their contents lost.

When I saw the state of the breakers, I concluded not to ship my photographs, and I tried to prevail on the captain not to go on board that day; "but," said he, "I have my life-preserver with me, and I will run the risk." The surf-canoe was got ready; Tom was put on board with his house, and the first thing the did was to get on top of it, where for a moment he yelled in affright at the foaming billows around him, and then hid himself in his house. The men had to be on the alert, and in the twinkling of an eye two stout fellows took Captain Berridge in their arms and put him in the canoe. They started off at once, passing the first breaker without accident; but the second, a huge one, broke over the canoe, filling it with water, and very nearly upsetting it. The wave went right over Master Tom, who gave a most terrific howl, and the bath, instead of cooling his rage, made him more violent than ever. The yellow wild boar gave several piercing screams, and the poor eagles were almost drowned, for the live-stock were all together.

I could not restrain my laughter at the rage of Tom; he did not seem at all to like the taste of salt water. When the canoe returned, for upon this attempt it was found impossible to pass the breakers, he jumped on the top of his house, shaking himself, and looking fiercely all around. No one dared to approach him after the canoe had landed, though really I could not help laughing to see poor Tom in such a plight—it was so unlike the woods where he had lived. I gave him a fine ripe banana, which he ate voraciously, and he became more quiet afterward.

In the afternoon, just at low tide, before the sea began to rise again, the captain, Tom, the wild pig, and the eagles went safely through the breakers.

I did not go on board. I took a bill of lading for Tom, and gave a draft for one hundred pounds sterling to the captain, to be paid to hire by Messrs. Baring Brothers on the receipt of a live, gorilla.

Would you like to hear the end of the story of Tom, which I heard on my return?

After three weeks all the bananas, plantains, berries, nuts which he had not consumed were spoiled, and there was nothing left to give Tom but white man's food, though, as long as he could get his native aliment, the captain had tried in vain to make him eat of it. But when the fruits had been exhausted Captain Berridge called the cook, whereupon pies and puddings were made, and rice was boiled, plain and with molasses, but all these dainties Tom rejected. Crackers were offered with no better result. Tom refused all kinds of for three days, and the fourth day he died of starvation, and to the day of his death he was as ugly as the day he was captured.

A few days after the departure of the vessel, all the Commi chiefs met at my request, for I was ready to leave the country, and we held a grand palaver.

"I am your friend," said I to them; "I know that you love me. The vessel has gone, and now I am ready to go to the other side of your island" (I tried to make them understand that Africa was almost an island). "The journey will be a long one. I may have to go through a hundred tribes; there may be war; I may encounter hunger and starvation. We shall sail and paddle over many rivers; I shall cross over many mountains, and see many valleys and prairies. I am going toward the spot where the sun rises."

"Oh! oh! oh!" shouted the chiefs.

"Yes," said I, "I have told you the truth; and now I want some of your people to go with me. At the end of the long journey they will find all that they most desire—all the coats, all the hats, all the shirts, all the beads, all the guns, all the powder they want, and then a vessel will bring them back to you. It will be a rough journey, and perhaps some of those who go with me will never return again to you. But so it is with you when you go trading; one after another dies on the road, but it is not long before you go trading again. I want no man to come with me by force—sent by his chief or father; I want free men, with strong and brave hearts, who have heard all that I have said, so that when we are pinched for food there may be no grumbling. I do not go to make war, for war would stop our progress."

"What a talker our white man is!" they shouted. "Yes," said all the Commi chiefs at once, "we will not forbid any one to go with you. You have talked to us right; you have told us no lies. If a man comes back, he will come back rich."

Great excitement prevailed among the Commi for several days after my speech. Many young men wanted to follow me, but their families objected. In the mean time I was busy packing up my large outfit.

"I will be satisfied," said I to myself, "if I can get twenty-five Commi men to accompany me." But many had been frightened at my speech. Nevertheless, a few days after what I have related to you, there might have been seen several canoes on the river bank just opposite my settlement. Among them were two very large war-canoes, the largest in the country, which sat deep into the water, laden with the bulky equipment which was to be used by me in crossing the immense wilderness of Equatorial Africa. We were all ready to leave the country.

Many of the Commi people were to accompany me as far as Goumbi, while the men who were to follow me but few; but we were great friends. My companions for the great expedition were ten altogether.

There was Igala, whom I considered my right-hand man, a warrior of great repute, one of the most famous hunters of the country. He was a negro of tall figure and noble bearing, cool and clear-headed in face of danger, fierce as a lion. Igala was to be my leader; he was to be foremost in the fight, if fighting had to be done. He or I were to lead the van into the jungle, and he was to keep a sharp look-out and see that the porters did not run away with their loads. With twenty such men as Igala I would have been afraid of nothing in Africa. Igala had a great reputation as a fetich-man, and his war and hunting-fetiches especially were thought by the people to be very potent.

Next to Igala came Rebouka, a big, strapping negro, whose chief fault was that he always bragged about the amount he could eat; and he had really sometimes too good an appetite, for the fellow could eat an enormous quantity of food. But Rebouka had many good qualities, one of which was that he was a good fighting man, a very important one for me.

Igalo, bearing almost the same name with the fierce Igala, was a tall young man, full of spirit and dash, impetuous, excitable, and I had always, my eye upon him for fear that he would get us into trouble. He could fight well too.

My good boy Macondai, a fellow I had almost brought up, the only sea-shore boy whom Quengueza had allowed to be with me in the country of the Bakalai in former times, was also of my party.

Then came Mouitchi, a powerful negro, not a Commi, but a slave, who had come into the Commi country when a mere boy. Mouitchi had been a slave of Djombouai, Ranpano's nephew, but his freedom had been given him, and now he wanted to be five years on the road, and to see the white man's country. Mouitchi was very black, not very tall, a short-necked fellow, and was the very type of the negro, with thick lips, and a big nose, almost as flat as that of a gorilla.

Another of my fellows was Rapelina, a short, stout negro, young, but strong as an ox. One of the chief faults of Rapelina was that he was sulky and obstinate. He was a slave of Sholomba, another nephew of Ranpano, who did not want to be behindhand in manifesting an interest in my expedition, and, as Rapelina wished to accompany me, Sholomba gave him his freedom.

Retonda, Ngoma, Igala-Yengo, boys, were three other slaves that wanted to go to the white man's country, and so their freedom was also given them. Ngoma and Macondai were to be my servants; Ngoma was to be my cook, and Macondai was to wait upon me while eating.

Igala, Rebouka, Igalo, and Macondai belonged to the best blood of the country; they were descended from men who had been great in their tribe, but, as I said to them before we started, "Boys, there are to be no distinctions among you; we all have stout hearts, and the white men will thank us all alike if we succeed in our journey." I made Igala chief over them, and his orders were to be implicitly obeyed.

You have now a pretty good idea of the men and boys who were to follow me into that great equatorial jungle, and share my perils in countries so wild that we had not the slightest idea what we should meet with, either in the people or in the wild beasts.

I had a nice outfit for each one of my boys (for so I called them). Each one of them had three thick blue woolen shirts, of the best quality that I could find, and, with care, these would last the whole of the journey.

They had, besides, each two pairs of thick canvas trowsers, which they were to wear sometimes on the line of march to protect them against the stings of insects, from thorns, and many other injuries; but ordinarily the trowsers were to be worn only when making their appearance in the villages. At such times the boys were also to wear worsted caps.

So they were not to look like the olomeiga (bushmen), as they called the interior people, whom they despised most thoroughly, being, they said, the class from which the slaves came.

Every man had a good thick blanket to keep him warm at night, and to protect him from the musquitoes. I had given to each man a fine gun; besides, they had each a pair of pistols, a bag to contain their ammunition, and a huge hunting-knife.

For weeks before our departure I had drilled my men in the use of their guns, or in practicing target-shooting, so that they might be splendid shots from the start; and in this, of course, a great deal of ammunition was wasted.

As the hour for our departure approached, the banks of the river were crowded with people. It was on the 2nd of October, 1864. That unfortunate shipwreck had caused me a great loss of time, but at last we were ready, and the people had come to see us off and say good-by. Many a sad heart was on that shore; many a mother and sister thought it was the last time they should see the men and boys that were going with me. I felt the great responsibility I had assumed in taking away my men from their people.

Every thing was ready, good-by had been said a hundred times, the men had been in the canoes and had gone ashore again, when I said, "Boys, let us break off. I know it is hard to leave home. Don't you think it was hard for me to leave the white man's country?"

Igala, my right-hand man, my warrior, my hunter—Igala, with the heart of a lion, was the only one left ashore. He could not tear himself away from his little daughter, whom he tenderly loved, and who clung closely to her father, the tears streaming from her eyes, and begging him not to go with the white man on the okili mpolo (long road), for he would never come back. It was a great trial for Igala. I could see by the working of his face that his pangs at parting were severe. "Do not cry, ouana amée (my child); I am coming back; we shall reach the other side. I am going with Chally; I will bring plenty of beads from the white man's' country." Then, by a sudden effort, he left her and jumped into my canoe; I gave the order for departure, and in the midst of tremendous shouting and firing of guns we got in motion. I hoisted the Stars and Stripes at the stern of my big canoe, and turned my head toward the Mouth of the river as if to catch a glimpse of the sea once more.


The departure.

As I looked at my men in that canoe my heart melted with love for them. What a strong faith the must have had in me! They had left father, mother, wife, sister, to follow me. I swore to myself that their confidence in me should not be misplaced; henceforth they were to be brothers to me.

That night, as we stood by the fire in our camping ground, I said, "Boys, you have left fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, your children, for me, because you would not permit me to go alone from tribe to tribe; for you said, 'If you get sick, who shall take care of you? if you are hungry, who shall get food for you? We will follow you to the end of the journey to the other side of the island, for we know that if you reach the white man you will bring us back to our country; we know that even if one white man should be willing to give ten ship-loads of goods for one of us, you would not sell us.' Boys, you have always heeded what I said to you; we are friends. When you come back and walk in your village the people will say, 'Here are the men with strong hearts; they went with Chally, and have seen what neither black men nor white men had ever seen before.'"

Where we had stopped for the night lived a celebrated doctor who the people believed could foretell events. His name was Oune-jiou-e-maré (head of a bullock); he was about seventy years of age, and a kind-hearted old man. As he enjoyed the reputation of being a great prophet, my people asked him whether our journey would be prosperous. He replied that we should go very far, and that a big chief would ask Chally to marry his daughter, and then, if Chally married her, and gave her all she asked, and made her heart glad, she would lead us from tribe to tribe until we reached the far-off sea where we wished to go.

"Chally, you must marry that girl," they all shouted; "yes, you must."

The next day Ranpano left us, but not before I granted a strange request of his. He wanted me to take off the garment I wore next to my skin; "not," said he, "that I want it to wear, but I will keep it, and then you will he sure to come back."

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