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

We Return to Camp

How we were received at camp.—Threatened with starvation.—A night in camp.—Malaouen's story.

We left the gorilla scene I have just described to you in the preceding chapter, and made for our camp. As we came in sight of it Querlaouen gave the peculiar whistle agreed upon to announce our arrival, and soon after we saw the head of Gambo and Malaouen peeping out above the fence, also the heads of the two boys Njali and Nola.

The ladder was handed down to us; soon we were inside, and, before I knew it, Malaouen was hugging me as hard as he could; when he had done, and before I had time to breathe and free myself from his embrace entirely, I was hugged by friend Gambo. The boys jumped around, and there was tremendous excitement in the camp. The poor fellows had been very anxious, and did not know what had become of us. When night came they became very uneasy; perhaps we had been killed by the Ashankolo Bakalai, or by some wild beasts.

Gambo, looking with pride into Malaouen's face, said, "Did I not tell you that they would come back all safe?" They were washed with the chalk of the Alumbi, covered with their fetiches, and had gone through all sorts of heathen ceremonies to find out whether we were safe. The little wooden idol of Gambo had also been consulted. Gambo is a celebrated doctor who can tell future events; and, as a proof, he pointed us to his friend, shouting, "Did I not tell you that they would return safely?"

Both Gambo and Malaouen had been looking at us with keen eyes upon our arrival, to know if we had come with a well-provided larder, and seemed somewhat disappointed when they saw us empty-handed, for they had fancied us coming back with a fat monkey or a nice gazelle.

There was nothing in the camp, with the exception of the nchombi and ncheri gazelles which we had kept alive, and these I did not wish to kill then. So we concluded that Gambo and the two boys should go to a secluded plantation belonging to Malaouen and gather plantains, while Malaouen, Querlaouen, and myself would go hunting and try to kill a wild boar. It was the season when these latter were splendid eating. In the mean time we would collect nuts and live upon them; if we could not find these, we would then quietly starve, waiting for Gambo and the boys with their plantains.

We all bade good-by to friend Gambo, and to Njali and Nola, wishing them good luck and plenty of nuts on the road to fill their empty stomachs; and as they disappeared they reciprocated our wishes about the nuts, and we had a jolly laugh.


Arrival at the stockade.

After Gambo's departure we held a great council, and agreed that we had better empty the little creek we had dammed to prevent the fish from going out, and see if we would meet with good fortune there. So we took our kettle with us, and every thing else that could draw water, and started, leaving our camp entirely unprotected. I need not tell you that we had our guns, and plenty of powder, shot, and bullets.

It was no small work to empty this creek or little pond, I can assure you. For hours we went on dipping our kettles and baskets and throwing the water out, until at last the water became shallow, and we could see great quantities of ground fish, called niozi, together with other large ones whose names I forget. These niozi are splendid little fishes, and the natives think a great deal of them. In the dry season a great many are caught, and they are smoked and kept for hard times.

We made a bountiful harvest, and had to make baskets with the branches of trees in order to carry our loads to the camp. Then we lighted fires under our oralas to smoke the fish, and after cooking we ate some of them.

We had had a grand success with the fish, and now we determined to try our hands at a wild boar hunt, which is certainly one of the most difficult, for the wild boar is very shy in these forests; but when fat, the animal is the nicest game one can kill, for the flesh is very savory and delicious.

And successful we were. Two large enormous wild boars were bagged, one of them by myself—a splendid fellow, weighing several hundred pounds. We were very thankful that these two fellows were killed within about two miles from the camp. We disemboweled them, cut their hind and fore quarters apart, and the rest of the body in large pieces, and brought the meat to the camp. We had to make several journeys, till I began to feel so tired that I wished the boar meat anywhere else, but we must make hay while the sun shines.

In the evening we had bright fires under the oralas. This is the way to smoke meat here: we boil the meat for a short time, and then put it over the fire on the oralas, and leave it there until it is perfectly smoked.

What a splendid flavor, and how nice the meat would have been if we could only have some plantains to eat with it! When is Gambo coming? How near is he on the road? Have the elephants or gorillas destroyed the plantation of plantain-trees where they have gone? Such were the questions we asked ourselves. People can not live on fish and meat alone. That evening we fed on boar's meat, thankful for having been so successful.

The next morning the voice, or rather the peculiar whistle agreed upon outside, told us that Gambo had come. I was the first to peep my head above the fence, when I saw friend Gambo and Njali and Nola loaded with plantain and cassada, and we gave them a grand hurrah of welcome.

I wish you could have seen the face of Gambo as he looked at the wild-boar meat which was being smoked; he was tremendously hungry, he said, as soon as he saw the meat. So we prepared food ourselves for them, as we wanted them to rest, they looked so tired. They ate such quantities of wild boar! I was glad they had brought some Cayenne pepper with them and some lemons. I had some salt, but no one could take any without my permission.

We remained in the camp all day, lying down on our beds of leaves and taking naps from time to time, my men meanwhile smoking their pipes and telling stories. Gambo swore that he saw a ghost, a real evil spirit, and they all believed it except myself. We had a grand time listening to Gambo's stories. The boys swore that what Gambo said was all true. They had seen the ghost too.

If you could have had a peep at us, you would have seen us inside of our fortress by the side of a bright fire round our orala, enjoying and warming ourselves. We were perfectly happy; how the men seemed to enjoy their smoke of tobacco! Malaouen had been collecting some palm wine, and each of them had had a good draught of the beverage—the empty calabash was now lying by their side.

Our nchombi and ncheri were getting somewhat tame, and were lying on the ground not far from us. They had got accustomed to the fire and to ourselves. Our dogs were there also; the poor fellows had had a hard fare of late.

Each one of us had one hand resting on his gun, which was supported by a forked stick, stuck in the ground for that purpose, and our hunting-bag was hung by the side of the gun. In our bags we had each of us a flask full of powder, two or three scores of bullets, and shot of two or three sizes. We could seize all these in an instant, if danger were to threaten us. In such a wild country people must never fancy themselves secure, and must be always ready for any emergency, for any fighting against the savages, or against the attacks of the ferocious leopard; and I got so accustomed to carry arms that I never left my gun by itself if I went anywhere, however short the distance might be; my revolvers, of course, hanging always by my side.

I was dressed with the clothes I had made from the skins of wild animals. I wish I could have gone into the woods like my men, that is to say, with almost nothing to cover them.

If you could have had a peep at us, you would have seen us as I have just been describing ourselves to you; and I have no doubt many of you would have been glad to join our party. I love to look back upon those days. It was a wild life indeed, one that no civilized man had led before me, for no one had ever gone into such a country.

Friend Malaouen then told us the story of a leopard, and began thus:

"When I was a boy our clan lived on the banks of the Rembo Ngouyai, a river which flows the other side of the Ashankolo Mountains, and which you have not seen, Chaillee.

"The village where my parents lived was very large, and, as the people were always at war, it was fenced about. While there, one of our men disappeared, and was changed into a leopard. From that time people from time to time began to disappear; they were carried away by that leopard, and we could only see the clots of blood left behind, but could not trace them into the woods. We were afraid—for nothing is so terrible as a leopard that was once a man. No spear can go through him, no trap can ever catch him, and woe to the man who ever tries to face the beast;" and, as Malaouen said this, his face and that of Querlaouen and Gambo contracted themselves with fear; their superstitions were very strong, and overcame the great courage they possessed. I could hear distinctly the breathing of each man, as by instinct each seized his gun near by.

Then Malaouen continued:

"One day several women had gone to the plantation with me, and as we returned to the village, it was just getting dark, when lo! I heard a tremendous, a fearful scream from the woman ahead of me, and I had just time to see through the darkness a tremendous leopard carrying her away into the woods. We all shouted, but in vain. All became silent; the leopard had disappeared with its prey. Fear seized upon us, and we made off for the village with the utmost speed.

"When we brought the news, there was great consternation and wailing, for the woman who had been taken away was very beautiful.

"The next day we danced round the mbuiti, and the mbuiti told us that we should kill the leopard.

"So thirty men prepared themselves for the hunt. We cooked the war dish, bled our hands, covered ourselves with our war fetiches, marked our bodies with the ochre of the Alumbi, invoked the spirits of our ancestors to be with us, and departed.

"The day before some people came to the place where they had seen the leopard's foot-prints, and not far off was a tremendous jungle, very thick, and several trees had been brought down by a tornado. The leopard's lair was there.

"At last we came round the lair. Some said the leopard was not there, while others said he was. In the mean time we shouted, and all the time our spears were in readiness, and the dogs were barking; we had a hope that it would spring on one of them, then we would transpierce it with our spears.

"When a man who said the leopard was not there first entered the jungle, he had hardly made a step into it, when lo! a terrible cry sprung from among us. The leopard, which was probably watching, with a tremendous leap sprung on the intruder, his claws fastened deeply into his shoulder, and the teeth of his powerful jaws holding the neck of the man, who uttered a fearful shriek. In less time than I can tell you the leopard was covered with the spears that had gone through him; he dropped down dead with the man whom he had killed."

They all shouted, "Yes; this leopard had been once a man who was possessed with witchcraft."

My breath was becoming short with excitement, and I was glad when the story was over, for the sweat was fast coming down from my face.

We turned the meat on the other side on the orala, and left our three native dogs, Kambi, Goa and Andeko, to take care of the premises (they were now lying by the fires, enjoying the heat thoroughly), and then we went to sleep.

During the night I woke, thinking I heard a booming sound like that of heavy footsteps, when the dogs began to bark, and soon I heard a crash through the forest. It was a herd of elephants which was wandering not far from us, and then the forest resumed its wonted stillness.

Now I had remained a long time at the head-waters of the Ovenga—a long time has gone by since the last chapter. Months had been spent in that region, and I thought now of descending the river to visit my settlement of Washington on the sea-side. It was high time. I was still suffering from fever attacks, and had not quinine enough left for a large dose.

Not only was I sick, but also poor and ragged. My clothes were torn and patched, and I looked in reality very little better than my negro friends. My stock of powder was small, my bullets were nearly exhausted, and my small shot were almost gone. I was wearing my last pair of shoes. My goods were all gone, and skins of animals made a great part of my garments.

The numerous hardships of this long trip; the sleeping night after night in wet clothes; the tramping through rain, through rivers, and under the hot sun; the sufferings from the intolerable gouamba, and the still less tolerable starvation; the attacks of fever that followed one upon the other—all these had done their work upon me. Food had been scarce, very scarce for a long time, and I began to feel as if I wanted a long rest. I wanted to breathe the salt air; I wanted to see the deep blue sea, and to look at the waves which came in heavy surfs upon the beach; I wanted to see that sea on which I expected to sail one day for home.

Do you not think that I deserved to go back? I had worked hard, very hard. I had made beautiful collections; and I was to carry with me gorillas, hippopotami, manitee, nshiego-mbouvé, kooloo-kamba, no end of birds (more than two thousand), a great many monkeys, and the skins of several hundreds of animals. I had worked hard to kill them, and worked still harder to stuff them, hunting them during the day, and preparing their skins during the night. So I told friend Quengueza we must go.

I called the Bakalai together and told friend Obindji that his Ntangani must leave him. As soon as I said this, the old chief said, "Neshi (no). What will Obindji do without his Ntangani?" They all shouted, "What shall we do without our Ntangani?" The women shouted, "Chaillee, you must not go!"

Gambo, Malaouen, and Querlaouen made long faces and were sad, for we had a real affection for each other, we were such great friends, and how could it be otherwise? We had braved danger together; we had gone through hardships and starvation together; many and many a night had we spent together in the forest. Of any wild animal they killed I was sure to have a piece; the best plantains were sure to be mine; the nicest fishes their women caught they brought to me. How kind they were to me, how gentle! No children could have been more docile, and yet how fierce, how brave, when the day of battle or of danger came!

I was sorry to leave, for I had come to love these wild men who had never seen a white man before. I had also a kind of affection for the country, where, in the discovery of new and strange animals, I had enjoyed one of the greatest pleasures a naturalist can have. The rough life was forgotten when I looked at my precious collections, and the thought of a gorilla even now enabled me to shake off the fever, and gave strength to my feeble limbs.

Quengueza, too, was tired of bush life, and had several times sworn that he had never known a man like me; that he could not understand what was moving me; that I had a heart of njego (leopard). His Majesty called those Bakalais his bushmen, and to whatever village he would set his foot he had a right at once to at least a wife.

Quengueza is the best friend I ever had in Africa, indeed one of the best friends I ever had anywhere. This old and powerful chief—the dread in his younger days of all the tribes around—the man whom every body respected, the man whose word was law, was gentle with me, was kind to me, and never did a single mean thing, never took any advantage of me; and whatever I said was sure to be attended to, if possible.


Good-bye to the Balakais.

Going to a hunt, his last words were always to those who went with me, "Take care of my white man;" and, as he often said, if he had been a young man he would have gone with us. Every fowl or goat he had he gave to me, every bit of game his slaves or his friends killed for him was mine, and when we travelled in company we always ate together, and we always managed to make a pleasant table. For I wanted to show these people the difference between civilized and savage life, and Quengueza always ate with a fork and on a plate. I love old Quengueza, and it makes me happy to think that he knows I love him.

As we were preparing to go, my Bakalai friends came in with presents of provisions. Baskets of cassava, smoked-boar hams, smoked fishes, sweet potatoes, were brought as free-will offerings.

Malaouen, Gambo, and Querlaouen were always near me, their wives came every day to see me, and their children were always around me. All the Bakalai seemed to me to be kinder than ever.

Good Obindji seemed so sorry! The evening before my departure I called him into my hut and gave him a nice coat and a red cap, which I had kept especially for him, and to his head wife I gave a necklace of large beads. I did not forget friends Malaouen, Gambo, and Querlaouen.

When the morning arrived, our canoes were on the beach. I was on the shore ready to embark; Obindji stood near me; every woman and man brought to me a parting gift. I was very much touched by their simple ways.

When all was ready for a start, Macondai, my boy, fired a gun, and then I swung the American flag to the breeze, the first time that it or any other flag of a civilized nation was over these waters. The people shouted, and we were off; and as we glided down, and before we disappeared by the bend of the river, I saw Obindji's hand waving farewell to me.

Presently several miles down the stream we passed Querlaouen's plantation. He and his kind wife and their children stood on the shore and beckoned me to stop. We paddled in, and the good fellow silently put into my canoe another smoked-boar ham, while his wife gave me a great basket of sweet potatoes. As we started away again, the wife shouted, "When you come back bring me some beads." The children cried out, "When you come back bring us some clothes." But old Querlaouen stood still and silent, like a black statue, until, by a turn of the river, he was lost to our sight.

Quengueza accompanied me to Washington and Biagano, and all of the Goumbi people that had canoes accompanied us, beating tam-tams, singing songs, and firing guns as we descended the stream.

Quengueza was bringing back safely to Ranpano his friend Chaillee. At last we reached the place where the old bamboo house was, and the whole population turned out to receive me, headed by King Ranpano and old Rinkimongani, my housekeeper, and brother to the King. I found my house undisturbed, all my valuables and goods safe, and my live stock on hand and in good condition, and made old Rinkimongani very proud by expressing my satisfaction. He said, "Now you tell me what I stole?" And King Ranpano exclaimed, "Ah I we don't steal from our white man. We are people, we have a heart that feels, we love our white man, for he is the first that ever came to live among us."

And now I must say good-by again to you; and I wish that, in reading this book, you may think that you have been travelling with me for a while in the great forests of the Equatorial regions of Africa. I have many more things to say to you, but will wait for another year before I do so.

I hope that I have been able to instruct as well as to amuse you, and that, as the years go by, and you become men and women, you may remember some of the stories I have told you. Some of you, no doubt, have seen me, while others do not know me. My great wish is that you may think kindly of me, and remember him who will always be happy to call himself the boys' and girls' friend.

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