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

A Warlike Race of Savages

Grotesque head-dresses.—Curious fashions in teeth.—A venerable granite boulder.—Interior of a hut.—A warlike race of savages.—Giving them an electric shock.

How strange were those Ishogos! They were unlike all the other savages I met. What a queer way to arrange their hair! It requires from twenty-five to thirty years for Ishogo woman to be able to build upon her head one of their grotesque head-dresses. The accompanying pictures will show, you how they look. But you will ask how they can arrange hair in such a manner. I will tell you: A frame is made, and the hair is worked upon it; but if there is no frame, then they use grass-cloth, or any other stuffing, and give the shape they wish to the head-dress. A well-known hair-dresser, who, by the way, is always a female, is a great person in an Ishogo village, and is kept pretty busy from morning till afternoon. It takes much time to work up the long wool on these negroes' heads, but, when one of these heads of hair, or chignons, is made, it lasts for a long time—sometimes for two or three months—without requiring repair. I need not tell you that after a few weeks the head get filled with specimens of natural history. The Ishogo women use a queer comb: it is like a sharp-pointed needle from one to eighteen inches in length, and, when the insects bite, the point is applied with vigor.


Horizontal Chignon.

A great quantity of palm oil is used in dressing the hair, and, as the natives never wash their heads, the odor is not pleasant. When a woman comes out with a newly-made chignon, the little Ishogo girls exclaim, "When shall I be old enough to wear one of these? How beautiful they are?"


Vertical Chignon.

Every morning, instead of taking a bath, the Ishogos rub themselves with oil, mixed with a red dye made from the wood of a forest tree.

All the people have their two upper middle incisor teeth taken out, with the two middle lower ones, and often the four upper incisors are all extracted. They think they look handsome without front teeth. Their bodies are all tattooed. Their eyebrows are shaved at intervals of a few days, and their eyelashes are also pulled out from time to time.


Oblique Chignon.

Many who can afford it wear round the neck a loose ring of iron of the size of a finger, and if they are rich they wear on their ankles and wrists three or four loose iron or copper rings, with which they make music when they dance. Not an Ishogo woman has her ears pierced ear-rings. This is extraordinary, for all savages seem fond of ear-rings.


Male head-dress.

The days passed pleasantly while I was in the village of Mokenga. I loved the villagers, and, besides, the country was beautiful. The mountains were lovely; the streams of clear water were abundant; around the village were immense groves of plantain-trees, in the midst of which, giant-like, rose gracefully a great number of palm-trees; the lime-trees were covered with ripe yellow limes; wild Cayenne pepper grew every where; and back of all stood the great tall trees of the forest, with their dark foliage, and with creepers hanging down from their branches, while underneath the trees was the thick jungle, into which man could hardly penetrate. All was romantic and wonderful.

Not far from the village stood a very large solitary boulder of granite. How did it come there? The people looked at the huge stone with veneration. They said a spirit brought it there long, long ago. This boulder stood by the path leading to the spring which supplied the villagers with drinking water, and the women of the village were constantly going with their calabashes to get the cool water. When I ascended the hill in returning from my walks, I was fond of stopping to rest upon this boulder, and it was a perpetual wonder to me.

But one day there was a great excitement in Mokenga. The people would go toward the boulder, and then come back with a frightened aspect, and look toward my hut apparently in great fear. Indeed, they were so alarmed that they fled from me when I looked at them The Oguizi, they said, had got up from his slumber during the night, and had gone to the boulder, and taken it upon his shoulders and moved it away; for all said it was not in the same place that it had formerly occupied. "How strong is the Oguizi!" they said; "he can move mountains!" During the day they came, covered with the chalk of the alumbi, and danced around my hut while I was in the forest, shouting, "Great Oguizi, do not be angry with us!"

The hut which the Mokenga people gave me was quite a sight. The furniture of an Ishogo house is unique, and I am going to give you an inside view of it.


African goat, parrot, and idol.

My own house was twenty-one feet long and eight feet wide. In the middle there was a door, with twelve carved round spots, painted black; the outside ring was painted white, and the background was red. The door was twenty-seven inches in height. The house had three rooms, and from the roof were suspended great numbers of baskets and dishes of wicker-work, made from a kind of wild rotang.  Baskets and dishes constitute a part of the wealth of an Ishogo household, and great numbers of them are given to the girls when they marry. Hung to the roof were also large quantities of calabashes which had been hardened by the smoke. A large cake of tobacco had also been hung up, and all around were earthenware pots and jars, used for cooking purposes, with cotton bags, several looms, spears, bows, arrows, battle-axes, and mats.

The Ishogos and I gradually became very friendly. We had many nice talks together, and I heard strange tales, and more stories about the Dwarfs.

"Yes," said the Ishogos, "but a little while ago there was a settlement of the Dwarfs not far from Mokenga, but they have moved, for they are like the antelope; they never stay long at the same place."

"You are in the country of the Dwarfs, Oguizi," they continued; "their villages are scattered in our great forest, where they move from place to place, and none of us know where they go after they leave."

An Ashango man was in Mokenga on a visit while I stayed there. An Ishogo had married his daughter. He, too, said that there were many settlements of Dwarfs in his country, and he promised that I should see them when I went there. The name of his village is Niembouai, and he said he should tell his people that we were coming; for the Ishogos were to take me there, and leave me in the hands of the Ashangos, who, in their turn, were to take me, as the Ishogos often say, where my heart led me.

After a very pleasant time in Mokenga, we left that place for the Ashango country, inhabited by the new people who were said by the Ishogos to speak the same language as the Aponos. The villagers had begun to love me, for I had given them many things; having too much luggage, I was rather generous with them, and had given the women great quantities of beads. There was great excitement in Mokenga before we left, and, as my Ishogo porters, headed by Mokounga, took up their loads the people were wild with agitation.

During the day we crossed a mountain called Migoma, and saw Mount Njiangala. From Migoma I could see the country all around. As far as my eye could reach I saw nothing but mountains covered with trees. "There," said the Ishogos to me, "live gorillas, chimpanzees, Dwarfs, elephants, and all kinds of wild beasts."

The traveling was hard, but on we went, still toward the east, and before dark of the first day we came to a mountain called Mou´da. At its base was a beautiful stream called Mabomina. We encamped for the night, all feeling very tired. We had to keep watch carefully over our fires, for leopards were plentiful. The next morning we started, glad to get out of the haunts of these animals, which had been prowling around our camp all night.

After some severe traveling we arrived at the bank of a river called Odiganga. After crossing the stream we came upon a new tribe of wild Africans called the Ashangos. There was a scream of fear among them when I made my appearance; but the Ishogos cried out, "Ashango, do not be afraid; we are with the Oguizi." I could see at a glance that the Ashangos were a warlike race. The village was called Magonga, meaning "spear." Back of it was a mountain, towering high in the air, called Madombo. We spent the night in the village, and after leaving it we had an awful task in ascending Mount Madombo. The path was so steep that we had to aid ourselves by using the bushes and creepers, hanging from the trees. It was all we could do to succeed. I would not have liked any fighting at that spot.

On our journey we found that these wild Ashangos were very numerous in these mountains. Village after village was passed by us in the midst of a profound silence, sometimes broken by the people who had heard of our approach, and were hiding themselves in their huts. At other times, after we had passed, they would shout, "The Oguizi has black feet and a white face!" (They thought my boots were my own skin.) "He has no toes! What queer feet the Oguizi has!"

My seven Commi were perfectly delighted with their journey; our misfortunes were forgotten.

After a long journey over the mountains and through a wild region, we came at last to the village of Niembouai. I was glad to reach it, for there seemed to be no dry season in that part of the world. It rains all the year round. The people, though shy, did not run away, but were very difficult of approach. Our Ashango friend, whom we had met at Mokenga, had done his best to allay their fears, and he and a deputation of the Niembouai had come to Magonga to meet us, and to take us to their own country. So every thing was ready for my reception. When I reached Niembouai the best house of the village was given to me. It belonged to the elder who had seen me at Mokenga, and who claimed the right to have me as his guest.

The next day after my arrival the supposed chief came. I had no way of knowing if he was the true chief. A grand palaver was held, and I gave presents of beads, trinkets, etc., to him and to forty-three elders, and to the queen and other women. After the presents had been given I thought I would show them my power, and ordered guns to be fired. This filled them with fear. "He holds the thunder in his hand!" they said. "Oh, look at the great Oguizi! look at his feet! look at his hair! look at his nose! Look at him! Who would ever have thought of such a kind of oguizi, for he is so unlike other oguizis?

After the excitement was over I told the Ashangos to keep still. I then went into my hut and brought out a Geneva musical box of large size, and when I touched the spring it began to play. I moved off. A dead silence prevailed. By instinct the Ashangos moved off too, and a circle was formed by them around the box. They all listened to "the spirit," to "the devil that was inside of that box" talking to me. Fear had seized upon them. I walked away. They stood like statues, not daring to move a step. They were spellbound.

After a few moments I took the box back into my hut and brought out a powerful electric battery. Then I ordered the forty-three elders and the king to come and stand in a line They came, but were evidently awed. The people dared not say a word. Every thing being ready, told them to hold the ninety feet of conducting wire, "Hold hard!" I cried.

The people looked at the old men with wonder, and could not understand how they dared to hold that charmed string of the Oguizi. The Ishogos, my guides, were themselves bewildered, for they had not seen this thing in their village. My Commi men did not utter a word, but their faces were as long as if they never had seen any thing.


Shocking the Ashangos.

"Hold on!" I repeated; "do not let the string go out of your hands." I then gave a powerful continuous shock. The arms of the elders twisted backward against their will, and their bodies bent over; but they still held the wire, which; indeed, now they had not the power to drop. Their mouths were wide open; their bodies trembled from the continuous electric shock; they looked at me and cried "Oh! oh! oh! Yo! yo! yo!" I had really given a too powerful shock. The people fled.

In an instant all was over. I stopped the current of electricity. The wire fell from the elders' hands, and they looked at me in perfect bewilderment. The people came back. The elders explained their electric sensation, and then a wild hurra and a shout went up. "There is not another great oguizi like the, one in our village," was the general exclamation; and they came and danced around me, and sang mbuiti songs, bending their bodies low, and looking at me in the face as if I had been one of their idols. "Great Oguizi, do not be angry with us," they cried repeatedly.

"Don't be afraid, Ashangos," I said. I then ordered my men to fire their guns again, and, to add to the noise, our dogs began to bark; so that, with the barking, the shouting, the firing, and the beating of drums by the natives, Niembouai was very lively for a few minutes.

"Come again!" shouted the Ishogos. "The Oguizi we brought to you has more things to show you." Then I came out with a powerful magnet, which held many of the implements of iron used by the Ashangos. Up and down went the knives; the magnet sometimes held them by the end, sometimes by the blade. The people were so afraid of the magnet that not one of them dared to touch it when I asked them to do so.

That night I hung a large clock under the piazza, and the noise it made frightened the Ashangos very much.

My power was established. The electric battery had been effective. How droll the sight was when they received the shock! You would have laughed heartily if you could have seen them.

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