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

Terrible Storms of Thunder

Terrible storms of thunder.—Days of anxiety.—Shooting an antelope.—Brighter prospects.—Mayolo has a hard time with his doctors.—Basket making.

How strange the Otando prairie looks since the fire has burnt the grass! Tens of thousands of gigantic mushroom-like ant-hills are seen every where. I had never met such a great number before. I have given you a picture of these queer ant-hills in my a Apingi Kingdom."

We are in the season of tornadoes, of thunder and lightning. Hardly a day passes that some terrible storm does not burst upon us; and such thunder—how terrific! We, have not the slightest idea at home of what thunder is. Among the mountains here it is perfectly appalling and terrific. It is grand and sublime, and fills one with awe. The whole of the heavens at times seems entirely illuminated by the lightning; and I find that it rains quite often during the day. The heaviest tornadoes in these regions seem to occur in the month of April.

Days pass in the Otando country which are full of anxiety for me. Mayolo is sick, and some of my Commi men are down with the plague. Oh dear, how the time is going! How far the head waters of the Nile are! What tremendous journey ahead! How many days of hunger do I see looming before me; how many days of sickness and of anxious care! But my heart is strong. God has been kind do me. The plague has spared me; it has been around me; it has lived with me, and in my own dwelling; and I stand safe amid the desolation that it has spread over the country. I am surrounded here by savage men. May I live uprightly, so that, after I have left, the people may think well of me!

But when am I ever to leave this Otando country? Just as I am wondering over this, and thinking of the principal events that have taken place since I left the sea-shore, my revery is broken by the barking of my dogs in the prairie. I look, and what do I see? A beautiful antelope closely pursued by my six dogs. Andčko, and Ncommi-Nagoumba, and Rover cling to the neck of the antelope, with their teeth in the flesh, while Turk, Fierce, and Ndjčgo are barking and biting the poor creature wherever they can. I run with the villagers in chase. Soon I am on the spot, and, aiming carefully at the beast, I bring it down with a single shot. It is a very fine hart. There is great joy in the village, and I divide the meat among the villagers, giving a big piece to friend Mayolo, who is delighted, for he says he is very fond of antelope's meat.


Hunting an antelope.

By the end of April things began to look bright. Mayolo was getting well; Macondai was improving very fast, and Igala and Rebouka were almost recovered. But, as soon as Mayolo got better, he was more afraid than ever of witchcraft, and he and his people had a great time in "pona oganga." Pona oganga is a strange ceremony, which I am about to describe to you. It was performed because Mayolo wanted to know who were the people who had bewitched his place, and made the plague come among his people.

A great doctor had been sent for, and, after his arrival, he went into a hut, carrying with him a large bag. Soon afterward he came out, looking horribly. He was dressed in a most fantastic manner: his body was painted with ochre of three different colors—red, white, and black; he wore a necklace formed of bones, the teeth of animals, and seeds; around his waist was a belt of leather, from which dangled the feathers of the ogoloungoo; and his head-dress was made of a monkey's skin. As he came out he spoke in an unnatural and hollow voice, then filled a large basin with water, looked intently into it, and shook his head gravely, as if the signs were bad. Then he lighted a big torch, and looked steadily at the flame, as if trying to discover something, moved the torch over the water, shook his body terribly, smoked a condoquai, made a number of contortions and gestures, and again spoke in a loud tone, repeating the same words over and over. The people, in the mean time, were silent, and looked at the great man attentively. Then he gazed steadily into the water again, and said, while the people listened in breathless silence, "There are people in your own village who want to bewitch it, and bring the plague and kill people." Immediately a great commotion took place. The crowd shouted, "Death to the sorcerers!" and rose up and swore vengeance. "The mboundou must be drunk!" cried Mayolo; "we want no wizards or witches among us." The paths leading to the village were closed. No strangers were to be admitted.

The next morning the village was empty; the people had all gone into the woods. I could hear their voices; they had gone to make some of their number drink the mboundou.

Poor Mayolo really had a hard time with his different doctors. He was continually changing them, and they came from all the adjacent villages. At last he gave up the men doctors, and had a celebrated female doctor, an old, wrinkled woman, who had gained a great reputation. The visit of a physician among these people is very unlike that of a physician at home. This female doctor was a very singular person. She appeared to be about sixty years of age, and was short, and tattooed all over. When she came to make her visit she was dressed for the occasion. Her body was painted, and she carried a box filled with charms. When Mayolo expected her he was always ready, seated on a mat, and with a genetta-skin by him. The female doctor would come in muttering words which nobody could understand; then she would rub Mayolo's body with her hand, and mark his forehead with the chalk of the alumbi; then she made a broad mark with the chalk on his chest, and drew stripes the whole length of his arms, muttering unintelligibly all the time; she then chewed the leaves of some medicinal plant, and spat the juice over Mayolo's body, especially on the affected part, near the heart, still muttering magical words. Afterward she lighted a bunch of a peculiar kind of grass, and as it burned, made the flames almost touch the body of poor Mayolo. Two or three times it seemed as if the fire was burning him. She began the fire-ceremony at the sole of his foot, gradually ascending to the head, and, when the flames ceased, she made the smouldering fire touch his person.


Otaitai, or porter's basket.

When I asked her why she used fire, she said it was to prevent disease from coming into Mayolo's body from the outside.

All this time the Otando people were busy making otaitais, or porters' baskets. The otaitai is a very ingenious contrivance for carrying loads in safety on the backs of men. I have brought one of these baskets home, and preserve it as a keepsake. It is long and narrow; the wicker-work is made of strips of a very tough climbing plant; the length is about two and a half feet, and the width nine inches; the sides are made of open cane-work, capable of being expanded or drawn in, so as to admit of a larger or smaller load. Cords of bast are attached to the sides, for the purpose of securing the contents. Straps made of strong plaited rushes secure the basket to the head and arms of the carrier, as shown in the preceding picture.

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