Gateway to the Classics: Lost in the Jungle by Paul du Chaillu
Lost in the Jungle by  Paul du Chaillu

A Gorilla Family

We hear the cry of a young gorilla.—Start to capture him.—Fight with "his father".—We kill him.—Kill the mother.—Capture the baby.—Strange camp scene.

One very fine morning, just at the dawn of day, when the dew-drops were falling from leaf to leaf, and could hardly reach the ground; just as the birds were beginning to sing, the insects to hum, the bee to buzz, the butterflies to awake, I suddenly heard the cry of a young gorilla for his mother. Malaouen and Querlaouen were with me. They heard the cry as well as I did, and immediately gave a kind of chuck  for me to remain still. We listened attentively to ascertain the exact spot in the forest whence the noise proceeded. Another cry from the young gorilla told us the precise direction, and we made for the place.

The jungle was so thick that we had to be most careful in order to avoid arousing the suspicions of the gorilla. Happily, we came to a little rivulet which seemed to flow from the direction in which we had heard the noise. So we waded into it and followed its course instead of a path. The water at times reached as high as our knees; it was cool and limpid, and the bed of the stream was gravelly.

The noise made by the young gorilla had for some time ceased, and we wondered if he had gone. When lo! I heard a heavy chuckle—it was the mother! We were not far off. We left the stream, passing through the jungle most carefully. At last we lay flat on our bellies, looking more like snakes than human beings. I had that morning painted my face and hands black, so I appeared of the same color as my men. We crawled to a spot where we remained quite still, for we could then hear the noise the mother gorilla made in taking the berries from the lower branches of the trees, or in tearing down some wild kind of cane. We were watching and peering through the jungle—my eyes were almost sore from the exertion.

By-and-by we heard a noise in our rear. It was the male gorilla! What a terrific roar he gave as he saw us close by, and watching his wife. The whole forest resounded with it. Goodness gracious! I thought we ought to have been more careful. We ought to have considered that perhaps the male gorilla was with his wife. But in less time than I take to write it we were facing the gorilla, who advanced toward us, his face convulsed with rage. Just as he was close upon us we fired, and he fell forward on his face, uttering a most frightful groan. After a few movements and twitchings of the limbs, he was silent, for he was dead.

In the mean time the mother and her young had gone off, leaving the "big fellow" to fight their battles.

It was a good thing that the big gorilla came first, for he might have come after we had fired, and while we were trying to catch "his child," and then pounced upon us.

"The female gorilla and her young have gone; but first," said Malaouen, "let us hide ourselves close by and wait; perhaps she will come back; let us see if we can not find them." We hid ourselves on the lower branches of a tree, not far from the dead body of the big gorilla. We waited and waited—not a sound—nothing to show that the female gorilla was coming back to see if her mate was there.

Beginning to feel somewhat tired of waiting, I said, "Boys, let us see if we can find the gorilla. You know, as well as I do, that female gorilla are timid—indeed, that most of them are great cowards. The 'men' gorilla fight, but the 'women' gorilla do not."

"That is so," replied Malaouen. "Querlaouen, let us go after the female and try to capture her."

So we descended the tree upon which we had hidden ourselves. We left the big gorilla dead on the ground, bidding him good-by, and telling him that we were coming again; Malaouen adding in a queer way, "Kombo" (that is the name they give to a male gorilla)," who told you to come and fight us? If you had not come, perhaps at this time you might have been by the side of your wife and child, instead of being asleep for all time to come. The forest is not going to hear your 'talk' any more, and you are not going to frighten any body." So we left the big fellow dead on the ground, and went immediately in search of the female gorilla and her young.

In order not to lose our dead gorilla, as we advanced in the jungle, we broke, here and there, young branches of the trees, and from time to time collected leaves in our hands, which we dropped on the ground, and then, on our return, we would look after the boughs of the trees we had broken, and the leaves we had scattered, and thus find our way back to the gorilla.

We traveled on through the jungle for a long time, and no gorilla. At last we were startled. We heard a roar. It was the female calling for her mate. It was the female that had escaped from us in the morning. She was calling for the "old man," who would not hear her any more, for, as you know, he was dead. She called and called, but there was no answer for her.

Carefully we went through the jungle, stepping gently on the dead leaves of the trees till we came near the female gorilla, which we saw just behind an old tree that had fallen on the ground. There she was, looking at her babe, giving now and then a kind of chuckle, her old, wrinkled black face looking so ugly. Her gray eyes followed the young gorilla as he would move round; then she would pick a berry, giving another kind of chuckle for the baby to come and get it. After eating it he would climb on his mother, and she would pass her thick black hand over the little body. Then he cause down and seated himself between her legs, and gazed at her, his little black face looking so queer. Then he moved off again, but only to return once more. As I was very intently watching, my gun slipped from the tree along which it rested, and fell on the ground. The gorilla heard it, gave a shriek, and, followed by her babe, was starting to run. The gun of Querlaouen was too quick for her. Bang! The poor mother fell in her gore, but the little fellow disappeared in the woods.

We leaped over the tree, and did not even take a look at the poor dead gorilla, but rushed in pursuit of the young fellow, who was the prize we wanted the most.

At last we saw him; a stream had stopped his flight, He could not get any farther, and was looking toward the other side. But he soon spied us, and took to a young sapling, and when he had reached the top he looked at us with glaring eyes, and—would you believe it?—howled again and again at us!

There was no way to get at him, so Malaouen took his axe, and down came the tree, with the gorilla on it, howling and shrieking. At the same instant Querlaouen threw over his head a little net we carried with us for the purpose of capturing gorillas, and so we caught him.

We hollered and shouted also, so our shouts, mixed with the howls and shrieks of the gorilla, made a charming concert in the jungle. After giving vent to our joyous feelings by shouts, and had sobered down again, I wish you could have seen that gorilla kicking under its net. The question was how to take the fellow from under the net and get it home. I cried, "Give me the axe; I see a branch close by which will make a splendid forked stick." The words were hardly uttered before the axe was in my hands, and in the wink of an eye I had hold of a stick about five feet long, with a pronged fork. Malaouen had in the mean time cut a little stick to tie across it, and collected some creepers to be used as cords.

I wish you could have heard his howls as Querlaouen seized the little villain by the back of his head, while I put the forked stick on his neck, holding it fast to the ground while Malaouen was tying the little stick, now and then taking his hands off for fear of a bite, the little rascal kicked up such a row. Querlaouen, who had become free to act after I got the forked stick firm over his neck, had all he could do to hold the legs of the little fellow on the ground, who kicked up, hollered, and shrieked; his muscles worked, and he tried to catch hold of us with his hands, but the forked stick was too much for him, and then we succeeded in tying his hands behind his back.

I was sorry to hurt his poor neck, but the first thing the little rascal attempted as soon as I raised the stick from the ground was to start at us. But he could not even turn his head round. He had to walk off a prisoner, and his shouts and shrieks were of no avail. His father and mother had been killed, and he had no one to defend him from his enemies.

How proud we felt of our prize! We returned by the way we had come, being guided by the broken boughs of young trees and the leaves we had thrown on the ground. As soon as we came to the female gorilla, and the little fellow saw his mother, he tried to rush toward her. I dropped the forked stick and let him go. He at once jumped on his mother, and began sucking her breasts, and then looked in her face, and appeared to feel quite sorrowful. When he saw she was dead, he gave a howl at us, as if to say, "You fellows have killed my mother!"

It was utterly impossible for us to carry to our camp all our spoil, so we concluded to hang her to a branch of a tree, and come for her the next morning, which we did.

Then we continued our march, and toward sunset came to the large male we had killed in the morning. We were so tired that we did not wish to do any thing with the big gorilla that night. I felt I was too tired to take his skin off. The little fellow did not seem to care for his father; he looked at him well, and gave only a single plaintive cry. I could not help thinking of the poor old fellow. How many times he had slept at the foot of some big tree, and kept watch over his wife and baby! Now he was dead, nothing but his huge body and his tremendous face showed the giant strength he once possessed; now a little insect was stronger than he was.

What had he died for? He had died bravely defending his wife and baby from an enemy whom he knew had come to do them harm. He was right. May I and every man of us always have the same motive that big gorilla had!

I could not help feeling sorry. Here lay dead before me a wonderful beast, one of the most strange creatures of the forest God has created. His mate lay dead in another part of the forest, and their offspring was my prisoner.

How strange his huge shadow looked as he hung by the neck to the limb of a tree near our camp, and how small our bodies looked by the side of his!

That night I could not sleep. That big gorilla was always before my eyes. He seemed to grin at me; his long, powerful arm, his huge hands, appeared as if they were moving and trying to seize me. I could see his big black nails ready to go into my flesh; his mouth seemed ready to open and give one of those terrific roars which shake the whole forest. And then I would see his enormous canines come out from his sharp-cut lips, and how red his mouth was inside. There were his deep sunken eyes, wide open, looking at me, and, though dead, he had a scowl of defiance and intense ferocity on his face. It so happened that his face was turned toward the bed of leaves on which I lay, and he was hung not far from me.

The young gorilla during the whole night moaned for his mother. He would look at the fires before him, then at us, and then give a howl, as if he was saying, "What have I before me?" I decidedly frightened him more than Malaouen and Querlaouen could, for, in despite of the noise the young gorilla made, and of the shadow of the big gorilla, they had fallen sound asleep. But now and then they would awake, look at the fires, put on more wood to make a blaze, would perhaps smoke a pipe, and then go to sleep again.

Toward four o'clock in the morning Querlaouen arose, took from his bag a little idol, and put it on the ground, muttering words I could not hear, all the time thinking I was sound asleep. Then he took a piece of chalk of the Ahunbi, and rubbed it on his forehead between his two eyes; then he rubbed it in the hollow of his chest, and along both his arms; then he chewed a piece of a certain soft cane, which he spat on the idol; and then he talked to it. Now and then he muttered my name. At last I understood that the ignorant but good fellow was begging his idol to take care of me.

Then, with his sharp-pointed knife, he cut his two hands slightly in many places, and took the blood that fell and rubbed his body with it, also the idol, and then laid down once more by the fires and took another sleep.


Querlaouen and his idol.

Gambo had left us to go after wild honey, but not before making us a solemn promise not to hunt gorilla, for I was afraid that some accident might happen to him. The next morning when he returned to our camp, and saw our big gorilla hanging to the tree, and heard that the mother of the young gorilla had been killed also, he cried, "Why did I go after wild honey instead of remaining with you? But he quietly seated himself, and after a while wanted a piece of gorilla for his breakfast, for we had to skin the beast, as I wanted his hide and skeleton.

The next evening I saw the shelter of a nshiego-mbouvé (Troglodytes calvus). I crept within shot of the shelter, lay down flat in the jungle—I am sure a snake or leopard could not have lain more quiet—and there I waited. My men had covered themselves with dry leaves and brush, scarce daring to breathe, lest the approaching animal should hear us.

From the calls there were evidently two. It was getting dark in the forest, and I began to feel afraid that the animals had smelt us, when I saw a nshiego-mbouvé approach the tree where the shelter was. It ascended by a hand-over-hand movement, and with great rapidity. Then it crept carefully under the shelter, seated itself in the crotch made by a projecting bough, its feet and haunches resting on this bough, then put one arm round the trunk of the tree for security. Thus they rest all night, and this posture accounts for some singular abrasions of the hair on the side of this variety of chimpanzee, which could be seen on the specimens I brought home.

No sooner was it seated than it began again to utter its call. It was a male, and was calling for its female. It was answered, when an unlucky motion of one of my men made a noise, and roused the suspicions of the ape in the tree. It looked round. It began preparations to descend and clear out. I fired, and it fell to the ground dead, with a tremendous crash.

These nshiego-mbouvé are very shy, and far more difficult to approach than gorillas. How queer they look with their bald heads! The black skin on the top of the head is quite shiny. They must attain great age, and I have often wondered how long the gorilla, chimpanzee, kooloo-kamba, and nshiego-mbouvé live. I should not be surprised if they sometimes live to be a hundred years old.

All the varieties of chimpanzees often inhabit the same woods as the gorilla, and they seem to live in harmony with each other. There is food enough for them all; besides, nuts and fruits are very plentiful. When they get old they feed on leaves, for a time comes when their teeth are quite decayed. In one very old nshiego-mbouvé I killed, nearly all of his teeth had dropped out, and he had but four or five left.

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