Gateway to the Classics: Wild Life Under the Equator by Paul du Chaillu
Wild Life Under the Equator by  Paul du Chaillu

In Hostile Territory

In the wild forest.—Hostile tribes.—An intrenched camp.—Forays for provisions.

I am in the midst of the densest and wildest part of the forest, situated not far from the Ashankolo Mountains.

Who are these three wild-looking men that are with me?

They are Querlaouen, Malaouen, and Gambo.

What are we doing seated on the ground, each one of us seeming so thoughtful?

We are holding a grand council.

The country to which we have come is a very dangerous one, for war is raging in the Ashankolo land; and though the Ovenga River lies between us and the Ashankola people, and though we are at a good distance from them, we do not feel safe. They might come to hunt in this very region. The Bakalais of the Ovenga were at war with them, or rather the Ashankolo had declared war against the people of the Ovenga, and had killed two men a few weeks before belonging to the village of a chief called Anguilai.

We ran the chance of being killed at night when asleep if these fellows discovered where we were; and during the day they might lie in ambush for us, or they might go and fetch a great number of people to attack us.

These were some of the many thoughts that suggested themselves to us as we talked matters over together.

Besides Malaouen, Querlaouen, and Gambo, we had two boys with us; one was named Njali and the other Nola.

We agreed that the first thing we must do was to build an intrenched camp.

You will all say at once, "What a wild and reckless set of fellows you were to choose such a place for a hunting-ground!"

So we were. We seemed to delight in danger for the sake of the excitement it afforded.

So, having made up our minds what to do, we rose, and taking in one hand our gun and in the other an axe, we went bravely to work and cut long poles about fifteen feet in length, which we brought to the place we had chosen for our camp. As we cut these young trees we laid our guns close by; we did not stop cutting these poles until we had a few hundreds of them, and for three days we were at work as hard as we could.

After we had collected all the poles we commenced building. We had chosen a place where four large trees made the four corners of a square. They were about thirty feet apart from each other. We then begun to drive palisades, making them go down about six inches into the ground; these we tied close together with strong lianas we had collected, until at last the square was finished. We cut all the underbrush inside, and made a very clean place for the interior of our fort.

Then the question was how to get inside? So we made two ladders, one of creepers, flexible like ropes, for the outside; the other, for the inside, was a very strong step-ladder. For the latter we cut two poles, and tied crossed sticks upon them for steps. This ladder, as we have said, was for the inside, so that after we should reach the top of the palisade we could pull inside our ladder made of creepers, and that would thus be quite safe, for we knew that no one could leap over the palisade.

We then, in the inside of the palisade, stuck leaves upon the walls, so that if perchance any one came they could not get a peep at us.

In the interior of our square there was a somewhat tall slender tree, up which we could climb and observe our enemies, and get a good shot at them in case we should be attacked; besides this, we had made a good many loop-holes about seven feet above the ground, so that no one outside could see through them, and before each we had made a high stand from which we could fire upon them at our ease.

How glad we were when it was over! We had then to build some huts inside for ourselves, to shelter us from the rain. We built roofs for these huts, which we covered with the bark of trees, and under it we built an orala, to smoke the meat we might get from the game we should kill. These oralas are made in the following manner. Four sticks about four feet in height, which are forked, are stuck in the ground, then cross sticks join these, and across them are laid quite a number of sticks. This orala was of course one of the most useful and necessary things we required.

Then we built another shelter for myself, and how careful they were about this; it was a real hut, eight feet long, six feet broad, with walls five feet high, and the ridge of the roof about eight feet in height from the ground. There I slept; the powder was carefully stored, and much of it, together with bullets, were buried in the ground, so that if any one should come when we were absent they would not know where our ammunition was. My four men built also another hut for themselves.

These huts were in the centre of the yards. By the time we had finished our camp, our plantains and our smoked cassada were stored away carefully; fortunately the coola nut was there abundant, and we would have plenty to eat.

We had three very nice dogs with us, splendid hunters; besides, they would keep watch at night and warn us of danger.

We had also four Ashinga nets; each one of us had his own gun and a spare gun also.

Malaouen, Gambo, Querlaouen, and I were to hunt, while the boys were to attend to the fire-wood and to our cooking, and also were to collect the wild nuts or berries of the forest.

All this work was finished, and we went into the forest and collected a large quantity of fire-wood, and I can assure you that we had real hard work, and I wish you could have seen us. I stood on the top and threw in the inside of the fort the wood that was handed to me by the others.

At last a great pile of fire-wood was safely stored inside, and we could withstand a siege. A little brook rose from under a rock inside of our palisade not far from one of the big trees, so that we had plenty of water to drink; it was a beautiful little spring.

We felt very cosy and safe. We had only two cooking-pots with us. I had a good deal of tobacco, for I knew Querlaouen, Malaouen, and Gambo to be tremendous smokers; and they seemed to enjoy their pipes so much in the evening when the day's work was over.

The medicines I had taken with me were quinine, laudanum, rhubarb, and a few other articles. I had also a bottle of brandy, which I intended to preserve most carefully for a case of need.

So, after every thing was built, one fine morning we ascended the inside steps, hung down our outside ladder, and came out. We had with us the Ashinga nets, with which we were going to hunt. We spread them in the forest in the same manner as I have described to you in "Stories of the Gorilla Country;" but instead of being many we were only four people, and we had only four Ashingas, yet we were very successful; we trapped two charming gazelles, called ncheri; and a nchombi, another beautiful little gazelle of reddish color, and captured also a kind of wild-cat, which got entangled, and which we had to kill on the spot with the butt-end of our guns.

I ordered the men not to kill the nchombi and one of the ncheri, which we seized and tied with native creepers and carried to our camp, since I wished to keep them alive if possible.

It was a pretty good day's hunt, considering that we had not fired a gun, and that we had not been more than three miles from our camp.

As we approached our fort we gave the signal agreed upon, which was three separate whistles, imitating the cry of a certain bird called pipiyo.

Soon the heads of the boys peeped out; they brought and fastened the rope-ladder outside, and greeted us with a smile which showed their nice filed teeth, and cast sly glances at the game which we had brought.

We were glad when we were inside, for our live stock had not been very easy to carry; besides, the Ashingas were heavy.

We immediately loosened the cords of the ncheri and nchombi, who for a few minutes could not walk, but soon afterward found their legs and made most tremendous leaps, cutting up wonderful capers. They were perfectly wild, but it was of no use, they could not leap over the palisades.

Part of the ncheri that had been killed was cut and cooked, and we had a most delicious meal. We went to sleep in safety, but nevertheless we kept our guns by our sides.

Early the next morning Querlaouen and I went to see if our little canoe, that had carried us up the river, and which we had hidden in a little narrow creek somewhat remote from the main river, was still there, and also to see if we would not meet with strange human foot-prints, which might indicate the near presence of an enemy and that we had been discovered. We came back perfectly satisfied that no one had discovered our whereabouts and that our canoe was quite safe. So we returned to tell the news, and in the afternoon we went and set traps for monkeys, which were evidently somewhat abundant, as we could hear their chattering all day long. Querlaouen, besides his gun, had an axe with him, and I carried my huge hunting-knife.

We came to a little spring and felled a small tree across for the monkey to use as a bridge; then not far from the end of the tree or bridge we bent a bough, at the extremity of which we made a ring. This ring, touching the bridge, was fixed in such a manner that the monkey would have to pass through it to go to the other side, and in doing so would start a spring, when the ring would fly up before the monkey could get through it, and thus the animal would be hung by the neck and choked to death.

We made two of these traps.

Then we went and looked for wild honey, but could not at first see any bee-hive in the hollows of trees. I had just made up my mind that I should like to have some honey. Besides, I wanted to get some wax in order to make some candles.

Just as we were returning to the camp we discovered two bee-hives; we smoked the bees, and then took the honey-combs.

The next morning I went right to work to make wax with the honey-comb we had collected. After having boiled it and made the wax, there was a new difficulty—I had no wick. I had never thought of it before; of course I had not a bit of cotton with me, and I finally concluded that I would tear off the lower part of one of the two only shirts I possessed to make wick. Acting with the thought, I tore the shirt I had a good deal of trouble to make these candles. First I dipped the whole length of the wick in the hot wax, holding each extremity by my hands; then I let the wax which had adhered to the wick get cold, and dipped again and again by the same process until I had obtained the size of a candle. I succeeded in making eight candles.

My clothes were getting very much worn; my pantaloons had been mended over and over again, and were getting so old and rotten that I did not know what to do. I wanted to save a pair for the sea-shore. So I resolved that we should go Ashinga hunting again, and that I would make clothes from the skins of the wild animals we should capture.


Smoking out the bees.

We all turned out with our Ashingas, leaving, of course, Njali and Nola to take charge of the premises. We left them the three spare guns. We took the dogs with us.

We captured, in the first place, a hyena, which I dispatched as it laid entangled in the net with a bullet through the head. It uttered a fearful groan. We captured a porcupine, which we killed with a club. Then we laid unsuccessfully the Ashingas three times, and I began to think that we would have nothing but hyena for dinner and supper, and no skins to make clothes with. We must make another trial.

We went a long distance to haul our nets again, and then captured two ncheris and two nchombis. We killed them on the spot with clubs, and then returned home.

I insisted on having these four animals skinned, for I wanted their skins to make a pair of trowsers. We had taken off the hyena skin and left its body on the spot, no one fancying the meat, especially as we had other game to eat.

Njali and Nola received us with open arms, but did not show their heads above the fence until they had heard our peculiar whistle. I was glad of our success, for I wanted some clothes very much.

I dried the skins, and then tried to tan them by beating them, and using the bark of a certain tree. Then with the fibres of the leaves of the pine-apple I made some thread; and I had with me strong needles, which I used in preparing the skins of animals. I cut these skins in such a shape that I thought I would make from them a pretty comfortable pair of pantaloons.

I wish you had seen me dressed-in those pantaloons. They were very tough and hard. Then I made a kind of shirt with the skin of the hyena; that is, I joined two flat pieces together, left a hole for my head to pass through, and on each side holes for my arms. I did not want any sleeves. This hyena shirt was short, and only reached my waist. How strangely I looked, dressed in these long shaggy skins!

Afterward we went to work, and closed with sticks and branches of trees a little shallow creek—almost a pond—which communicated with a larger one, in order to prevent the fish from going out, and thus there was a prospect of having plenty of fish to eat. Then, when this work was done, we went again in search of bee-hives, which are abundant in these forests. We discovered two, which were very high, and, of course, in the hollow of the trees. We concluded to come and smoke them out the next day.

These two hives were made by two different kinds of bees, one very small black kind, looking almost like a little fly, and the other by a bee of the size of our bees in America; the honey of the latter is excellent when the comb is white and new.

So after all we were, I thought, in a pretty good country, but unfortunately not very safe, on account of its warlike inhabitants; hence we were always on the alert for fear that they might find our whereabouts.

The next day Querlaouen and I, when visiting monkey traps, found that a beautiful ndova had been caught. He was hanging high in the air quite dead, but the body still warm. It had just been trapped.


Trapping the monkey.

These ndovas are most beautiful monkeys, being among the prettiest I have ever seen. This was very large, and such a fat one! The face of Querlaouen grinned with joy at the thought of the splendid feast he was to have on our return. The fur is splendid.

These ndovas are very abundant in the forests of Africa, and the hair is of a beautiful dark color.

The great peculiarity of the animal is his perfectly white nose. How strange they look while peeping at you in the forest with that strange white spot! They are called by naturalists white-nosed monkeys.

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