Adventures In Puny Canoes
A large fleet of canoes.—We ascend the river.—The king paddles my canoes.—Agobi's village.—We upset.—The king is furious.—Okabi, the charmer.—I read the bible.—The people are afraid.
Remandji and I had been talking of traveling together, and I had told him that I wished to ascend the river. He promised to have a fleet of canoes prepared, and that his people would turn out en masse.
He was as good as his word. The appointed day came. Quite a little fleet had been brought together. But what canoes! my goodness! what a difference between them and the canoes of the Commi country! They were very small—mere nut-shells. Remandji proudly pointed to the fleet he had collected to take me up. While he was talking to me I was thinking seriously of the great probability of capsizing, and the prospect was not exactly cheering, for the current of the river was strong. Though sometimes I have no objection to a ducking, I had strong objections to getting it in that manner, with all my clothes on.
Then the order for departure was given by the king. There was no help for it. I had asked canoes to go up. Remandji had done the thing in great style. I could not back out.
I was led in front of the royal canoe. Half a dozen of these could have been easily put inside of one of Quengueza's canoes. The royal canoe was not much better than any other canoe, though the largest one had been chosen for me.
I made my preparations against accident—that is to say, ready in case we capsized. I tied my compass to a cord about my neck; then I tied my gun fast by a long rope to the canoe, which would float at any rate; and I had a small box of clothes, a shirt, and two pairs of shoes, which I tied also. I tied a handkerchief round my head, and put my watch inside on the top, so that it would not get wet.
There was not a host of people to go in the royal canoe—Remandji, a paddler, and myself—that was all. No more could get in with safety. There was not so much royalty and state as you see in the department of the navy. The admiral of the fleet I could not find.
Rafts are used extensively, but only for crossing the river or in going down the stream.
Each canoe has two or three men in it. How small they all were! quite flat on the bottom, and floating only a few inches above the water. They are very well designed for the swift current of the river, which runs, at this time of the year (December), at the rate of four miles an hour after a heavy rain.
Remandji was dressed in the flaming red waistcoat I had given him. The king paddled the canoe. As for me, I was perfectly satisfied to seat myself in the bottom, expecting all the time to upset, for steadiness was not part of our programme. I was quite uncomfortable, and as the canoe leaked, the part of my pantaloons upon which I was seated was a little more than damp; but no matter, it was cooling. But I could not help wishing the Apingi canoes at the bottom of the river; this hard wish of mine, of course, to be fulfilled when I should not be in one of them.
Remandji shouted with all his might to the fleet of small canoes to keep out of our way, for surely if a canoe had knocked against ours we should have been in the water before we had time to give the fellows our blessing.
We went gayly up the river, the royal canoe being ahead of all the others, Remandji and his man paddling as hard as they could. The people of the villages we passed begged Remandji to stop; but our fleet was bound for a village whose chief was called Agobi, the father-in-law of Remandji, and who had made friends with me. We at last reached his village.
Loud cheers from the villagers welcomed us. Several canoes were upset at the landing by being knocked against each other; but the Apingi swim like fish, and the suit of clothes they wore (their own skin) dried so quickly that a wetting was of very little moment to them.
There was a grand Apingi dance that night, and no sleep for me.
After two days spent at Agobi's village we began to ascend the river again, but the current was so swift that we hardly seemed to make any headway. There was a good deal of shouting, hollering, and cursing in the Apingi language before we fairly left the shore. The banks of this noble stream, down to the water's edge, were a mass of verdure. I began to congratulate myself that there would be no capsizing, and that I was not going to take a bath in the river. Our canoe was, as I have said, ahead of all the others, when suddenly a canoe, which was crossing the river from the left bank, came close to us. We thought, however, that it would pass above our bow, but it was borne down by the current, and, before we could get out of the way, swept down upon us in spite of the shouts of Remandji and his man. The canoe had only an old woman in it. Bang! bang! and before I had time to say "Look out," both canoes were capsized, and there we were in the river.
Remandji was perfectly frantic, cursing the old woman while he was swimming. She did not in the least mind what he said, but swam off down stream like a buoy, shouting continually, "Where is my bunch of plantains? Give me back my plantains!" for I must say that, if we were angry at her, and blamed her for the accident, she was equally angry at us for the same reason, each thinking it was the other's fault.
The whole fleet was in great excitement, and Remandji was in a fearful rage at the idea of any one upsetting his moguizi. I was still in the water, holding on to the canoe as hard as I could, looking after the old woman, who soon reached the shore, and, climbing out at a bend of the river, waited for her capsized canoe to float along, which having secured, she got in and paddled off, full of complaints at losing her plantains, and, of course, blaming us for it. Remandji kept telling her all the time (I give you the literal translation, for the negroes do not mince words) to shut her mouth; but the more he told her to keep still, the more she talked.
As for me, I at last succeeded in reaching the shore, Remandji securing the canoe. Nothing was lost, and my gun was safe; it was not loaded, for which I was thankful.
It was a good thing that we had kept close to the banks of the river, for if we had capsized in the middle of the stream we should have gone a mile or two down the river before reaching the shore. I was not sorry when we got back to Remandji's village, and his people were very glad to see us return.
I do not know what these Apingis will think about me next. Remandji was a very intelligent fellow. As I am writing about him, I fancy I see his face and that I am talking to him. Remandji was not a very tall negro. He was white-headed, with a mild expression of countenance, very kind to his people, and respected by all his tribe. If there was any quarrel among them, they would come to him to settle it.
As you have seen, there was some fine hunting in his country. Leopards were somewhat plentiful in the forest, and one day I said to the king, "Remandji, I must go and hunt leopards, for I want their skins." He immediately asked, pointing to my coat, if I wanted a coat made of leopard's skin. I said no. Then he left me, and a little while after came back with a man, and said, "It is of no use for you to go into the jungle, for we want to see you all the time. Here is a man who has a big fetich, which enables him to kill all the leopards he wants without the fear of being killed by them." I burst out laughing. The man said, "Laugh, O spirit; but you will see."
The next morning, before starting, he came to show himself. When he made his appearance he began a most curious dance, talking sometimes very loud, at other times in a whisper, and making as many contortions as it is possible for a man to do. I could hardly recognize him. He did not look at all like the man of the day before. He was painted with ochre—half the body yellow, the other half red; one side of his face was red, the other white. On his head he had a covering made entirely of long feathers from the tails of strange birds. Round his neck and shoulders hung an iron chain, each link being about one inch long, and oval. To this chain was suspended the skin of an animal which I had never seen, called ndesha, a species of large wild-cat found in the forest. It was spotted somewhat like the skin of a leopard, but the ground part was reddish. The only portion that could be seen was that part near the tail, which hung down. In this skin was tied a wonderful fetich, which no other man possessed, and by which he was able, as I have said, to slay the leopards. The name of the man was Okabi. So I said, "Okabi, show me this monda." He replied that no one could see that monda, for if they did they would try to make one like it.
Round his waist he wore a belt made of a leopard's skin, which had been cut from the head, along the spine, to the tail. They believe that no spear can go through such belts. They are very much prized, each warrior placing great value upon his personal safety.
This leopard-charmer started quite alone, and I thought no more about him during the day.
In the evening I was seated on one of those little round Apingi stools, and Remandji and I were talking about the back country. I felt very much interested in the account he gave me of it, as he spoke of a tribe of people I had never seen, when lo! what did I see? Okabi, carrying on his back a dead leopard! I rubbed my eyes, thinking it was a mistake. No; it was Okabi himself, and a dead leopard.
How Okabi got the leopard I could not imagine, but surely he had it, and there was no mistake about it. He placed the leopard at my feet, saying, "Did I not tell you I had a fetich to kill leopards?" Remandji also said, "Did I not tell you I had a man who had a big fetich to kill leopards?"
"I believe," said I to Remandji, "that when he promised to kill a leopard for me he had a trap set, and he knew that a leopard was in it. For," said I, "no man can make leopards come to him." "Oh yes," said Remandji, "there are men who have fetiches which have power to make game come to them."
I coaxed Okabi to show me his leopard fetich. He promised to do so the next day. He came, but I have very little doubt that he took something off from it he did not want me to see.
He entered my hut and then untied the skin, and after he spread it out I saw the contents which made the fetich. There were ashes of different plants, little pieces of wood, the small head of a young squirrel, claws of the wonderful guanionien, feathers of birds, bones of animals I could not recognize, bones of birds, dried intestines of animals, some dried brain of young chimpanzee, a very rare land-shell, scales of fishes, a little bit of scrapings from the skull of one of his ancestors. These were the things that made the leopards come to him.
"And if one of all these things you see," said he to me, "were missing, the fetich or monda would be good for nothing."
Time passed pleasantly in that fine country, and one day, as I was quietly reading my Bible outside of my hut, a crowd assembled and watched me with wondering eyes. I told them that when I read this book it taught me that God was the Great Spirit who had made the stars, the moon, the rivers, the mountains, and all the wild beasts, and every thing that was in the world.
Then I read some verses aloud to them. I told them that God said people must not worship that which they had made with their own hands, but any thing they wanted they must ask of him. They must love him. He said people must not tell lies—must not kill.
Presently I let the leaves of the book slip through my hands to show them how many there were. As the leaves slipped quickly from between my hand they made a slight noise, when, to my great surprise, as soon as they heard it they fled. In an instant the whole crowd, Remandji and all, had disappeared, with symptoms of the greatest terror. It was who should run the fastest. I called them back, but it was in vain. The louder I shouted, the faster they ran. The whole village was soon entirely deserted.
I shouted, "Remandji, come back—people, come back. I will do you no harm."
By-and-by I saw Remandji's face peeping from behind a plantain-tree. I called him, saying "that he and his people ought to be ashamed of themselves for leaving me alone in the village." At last they came back, when Remandji said, "O spirit! we ran away, for the noise made by what you held in your hand (meaning the Bible) was like that made by Ococoo, and we knew not what was coming next. We did not know that you and Ococoo could talk together." Ococoo is one of the chief spirits of the Apingi.
I told them it was all nonsense, and took the book again, but they begged me to let it alone.
In my frequent hunting-trips through the jungle, I found a great many palm-trees of the kind that yields the oil known as palm oil. I had never before seen such numbers of palms, all hanging full of ripe nuts. The Apingi eat these nuts. Their women come loaded every day with baskets full. They eat them roasted or boiled.
The oil is used for the ladies' toilets, either as cold cream for the skin or pomade for the hair. This cold cream is rather peculiar. The oil is mixed with clay, and they rub their bodies with this clean and delightful mixture. As a pomade, they sometimes put more than half a pound of it on their hair. Every few days they oil their heads, often mixing clay with the oil, and, as they never wash, and soap is unknown, the fragrance coming therefrom is not of the most odoriferous kind, and made me often wish that I had a cold, or could not smell.
These ladies wear charming little ear ornaments in the shape of rings three or four inches in diameter, the wire being often of the size of a lady's little finger. Of course the hole in the lobe of the ear is quite large. Their faces are tattooed all over, and, to crown the whole of the description, they have, as has before been observed, a beautiful mouth, ornamented in front by two rows of teeth filed to a sharp point.
They have a peculiar form of tattooed lines which is thought by them to be most beautiful. A broad stripe is drawn from the back of the neck along the shoulders, and across the breasts, meeting in an acute angle in the hollow of the chest. The flesh is raised at least two lines from the level of the skin. Other stripes are drawn in curves along the back, and from the breast down on the abdomen. The legs and arms are tattooed all over, and their faces are literally cut to pieces.
I never saw so much tattooing in any of the tribes I visited as among the Apingi. They seemed to like it, and when I reproached them for spoiling their bodies in such a manner, they replied, "Why, we think it is beautiful." And, pointing to my clothes, "Why do you wear garments?" said they. "These tattooings are like your garments; we think they are very fine."
Trouble loomed in the distance for me. The people insisted that I must get married. Remandji said that he must give me a housekeeper to keep my house and cool food for me. It was so; I must have a cook. The weather was hot and unpleasant, and it would be rather nice to have some one to attend to the kitchen. I smiled; it was a good idea. "Yes," I said, "I want a house-keeper."
Remandji brought me a lot of women. I chose the ugliest, whose pretty good likeness you have below, and installed her as my housekeeper, cook, and maid-of-all-work. For two or three days all went well, when, one fine morning, a deputation of men and women from a neighboring village came to me, smiling and looking happy. They brought goats, fowls, and plantains; hailed me as their relative, and said that they came to ask for presents.
I confess that I lost my temper. I took a stick from my hut, the sight of which drove my would-be relatives and my housekeeper out of the village. They fled in the utmost consternation.
"Really," said I to myself, "these Apingi are a strange people."
Remandji laughed heartily at the adventurers, saying to them, "I told you not to go to the spirit, as he would get angry at you."