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

A Terrific Thunder-Storm

Bustle in camp.—A magic horn.—Quengueza's idol.—A living skeleton.—Terrific thunder-storm.—A gorilla family.—Stupendous cataract.

The next, morning after this fine speech of Quengueza all was bustle in the camp, and every thing was now ready. Quengueza stood by my side, wearing a coat, and having a green cloth around his loins; from his shoulder hung his bag, in which there was a large supply of tobacco and his kendo; close by him stood a slave and one of his nephews, carrying his gun and the sword I had given him. Adouma, Ouendogo, and Quabi were also near at hand.

I was in walking trim, with leggings on, carrying by my side a superb pair of revolvers. I bore also a double-barreled rifle, and in my bag were 100 cartridges for my revolvers, and 150 bullets for my gun. Every man of my company was armed to the teeth, and they seemed greatly to enjoy looking formidable.

A gun is fired, the echo of which reverberates from mountain to mountain, and then more guns are fired by the Bakalai, who know that King Quengueza and his friend Chally are now on their journey.

We paddled up the Ofoubou for a little while, when we went ashore, and pursued our journey overland. That night we slept at the Bakalai village of Ndjali-Coudie.

The next morning we continued our journeying, Quengueza and I sticking close together. We had left Ndjali-Coudie a little before six o'clock, just at daybreak, and after a little more than two hours we reached the top of a steep hill (369 feet in height), called by the people Nomba-Rigoubou, where we stopped for breakfast. Immediately after breakfast we marched onward, and as toward four o'clock poor Quengueza appeared tired, I thought it best to stop for the night at the base of a hill called Ecourou. Here there were the remains of an Ashira encampment, which was nothing but an old shed, loosely covered with pieces of bark, in many places of which I could see through. I had not much faith in its excellence for shelter, and wanted to send the men to collect leaves, but they were so tired that I let them rest. It did not rain every evening, and perhaps it would not rain that evening; besides, we had an Ashira doctor with us, who blew his magic horn to drive the rain away.

Quengueza was an excellent companion on the march; full of pride, he would never complain of being tired, and disliked above all things to appear old. He was, indeed, an odd sort of person, and the eccentricities of his character were endless. Of course he never traveled without his idol, which was an ugly, pot-bellied image of wood, four or five inches in height, with a row of four cowries imbedded in its abdomen, and was generally carried, when traveling, in one of his coat pockets or in his bag. Walking or sleeping, the idol was never suffered to be away from him. Whenever he ate or drank, he would take the wooden image and gravely pass his tongue and lips over its abdomen, and before drinking any of the native beer he would always take it out of his pocket or bag, lay it on the ground, and pour a libation over its feet. Poor Quengueza! I used to talk enough to him about his superstitions; I tried to shake his blind faith in them, and to teach him to adore the true God and Creator. That evening he held a long parley with the idol.

The next morning old Quengueza appeared to feel stiff as he got up, but he took care not to tell it to any body, and immediately we started. That day we reached the Ashira Land, which was the country to which Quengueza purposed to escort me himself on my way to the interior. It is a mark of great friendship here to accompany a man part of his journey, and Quengueza, though a man beyond threescore and ten, went with me over rough mountains, through rushing streams, and along thorny, bad roads, to show me how much he loved me.

As we emerged from the forest into the prairies of Ashira Land, the magnificent mountains of Igoumbi-Andelé and Ofoubou-Orèrè burst upon our view in the south, while in the north the lofty ridge of Nkoumou-Nabouali stood out in majestic grandeur against the sky.

Old king Olenda received us with great demonstrations of joy; he came to meet us beating his kendo, and seemed delighted to meet me again. How glad he was to see Quengueza! They had not seen each other for forty dry seasons and forty rainy seasons (forty years).

I have given you before, in two of my works, a description of old Olenda, the oldest man I ever saw. He was much the same now as when I last saw him: his cheeks sunken, his legs and arms thin and bony, and covered with wrinkled skin. He appeared, in fact, a living skeleton, yet retained, his sight and hearing unimpaired.

After we had come to the ouandja (palaver house), Quengueza said, "I have come to see you again, Olenda; I have come to see you, to bring you with my own hands my friend Chally, the spirit, and I want you to provide him with an escort to conduct him on to the next tribe."

Olenda promised every thing. The Ashira came to us in great crowds, for they wanted not only to meet me, but to see the great Quengueza.

The next day presents of slaves were brought to Quengueza. I begged the old chief not to take them; but the trouble was, that, according to the customs of the country, it would be an insult for him to refuse them, for he was the guest. Nevertheless, I took the responsibility, and I said I did not desire Quengueza to take away any slaves from the country. Immense quantities of supplies were brought to us—goats, plantains, fowls, pea-nuts, sugar-cane, wild pine-apple, berries, and fruits of all sorts. After a few days I held a palaver, and said, "I must see the great waterfall of Samba-Nagoshi."

We started in light marching order, the only heavy baggage being my photographic apparatus, for I wanted to take accurate views of the splendid scenery which I expected to behold. I took only four of my faithful Commi boys—Rebouka, Igala, Macondai, and Ngoma. The rest of my followers were Ashiras; among them were three of Olenda's grand-nephews—Arangui, Oyagui, and Ayagui.

We pursued a northeast direction till we struck the Ovigui River, crossing it on an immense tree which had been felled for the purpose, and which had lodged about fifteen feet from the water. Then we took a path which was to lead us to the country of the Kambas. The forest was exceedingly dense. The first evening we had a fearful thunder-storm—the rainy season had begun in these mountains. The thunder was terrific, and the flashes of lightning vividly illuminated the thick woods by which we were surrounded. The next morning we resumed our march along the western foot of a hilly range, and not a sound was heard as we trudged steadily along in Indian file. On the way we passed through a little bit of prairie, the name of which was Opangano, and before noon we came to a village of Bakalai. The village was fenced; that is to say, each side of the street was barred with long poles. The street was very narrow, and none of the houses had outside doors.

The Ashiras were afraid to go into the villages. They said that after the people were in, sometimes the gates were shut, and then strangers were killed or plundered. A great panic seized the Bakalai as I entered the village, but their fears were somewhat allayed when they recognized Arangui. We remained but a little while, and continued our march northward, passing near several villages of the warlike Bakalai, two of which were entirely abandoned, and before, sunset we reached a little prairie called the Lambengue. We had had a hard day's work; it had been raining all the afternoon, and we had been compelled to travel through the mire and over miles of slippery stones so we built sheds, covering them with large leaves, and surrounded ourselves with roaring big fires to keep away the snakes and wild beasts.

The night's rest did little to refresh us, and the next morning we still felt weary. For myself, I was quite unwell, and found my gun too heavy to carry. The feet of my men were sore on account, of to pebbles with which the path was filled the day before: So took the lead to cheer them up, and we were soon lost again in that great jungle. Oh, how wild it was! how desolate! how solitary! There was not an elephant to be seen, nor did the chatter of a monkey break the silence of the forest. I was ahead of the party, trying to descry the future when suddenly I was startled by a loud noise of the breaking of branches of trees. It was a family of gorillas. They had seen me, and began to hurry down the trees which they had ascended to pick the berries. How queer their black faces looked as they peeped through the leaves to see what was the matter! As they came hastily down, the branches would bend with their weight. They were of different sizes. "It must be a family of gorillas," said I to myself. All at once I saw a huge black face looking through the foliage. There was no mistake—it was a huge male gorilla. He had caught sight of me, and I could distinctly see his hideous features; his ferocious eyes and projecting eyebrows. I was on the point of running away as fast as I could toward my men, when I heard their voices; they were coming up to the rescue. The shaggy monster raised a cry, of alarm, scrambled to the ground, and disappeared in the jungle, going, no doubt, where his mate or family had gone before him.


Surprising a family of gorillas.

A few days after meeting the gorillas I was seated on the banks of the River Rembo-Ngouyai; looking at a very grand and impressive scene. It was, indeed a magnificent freak of nature. The great body of water rushed through a narrow, gorge with headlong furl, and the whole stream was white with foam. To reach this spot we had gone through dense forests, having been led thither only by the roar of the rushing waters. We had passed two tribes before gaining the fall—the Kambas and the Aviia. The latter were our guides, and they said that the Fougamou, the real fall, was above; so we ascended the steep bank of the river for about a quarter of an hour, when we came upon the object of our search. The river here was about 150 yards wide. In the middle of it was an island, dividing the fall into two parts, and I could only see the half of the fall on our side. Between the island and the main land, where I stood, the distance was not more than 70 or 80 yards. The fall was hardly greater than 15 feet, and that was broken in the center by two huge granite boulders, which the water had not succeeded in wearing away or detaching from the bed of rock over which the river there descended. The water seemed to rush in an enormous volume down a steep incline. The cataract itself I thought was not imposing, but below it was one of the grandest sights I ever saw. A torrent of fearful velocity and great volume leaped madly along in huge billows, as though the whole river had dropped into a chasm, and bounded out again over ridges of rocks. The scene was rendered more magnificent by the luxuriant tropical foliage of the banks. Nothing could be heard but the noise of the cataract. The sky was cloudy, a fine rain was falling, and that day I could not take a photograph of the grand scene. I wanted to sleep that night near the fall, but my Aviia a guides were frightened, and said that the great Spirit Fougamou would come during the night and roar with such fury in our ears that we could not survive it; besides which, no one had ever slept there.

I gave you, in my Apingi Kingdom, the legend concerning the Samba-Nagoshi Falls just as I heard it from the Apingi, and the Aviia repeated it to me. I found that the Apingi had added nothing to it at all.

I had at last seen the famous Samba-Nagoshi Falls at the base of the towering Nkoumou-Nabouali Mountains. I was satisfied, and a few days after I was my way back to Olenda's village.

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