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

A Killer Gorilla

The cascade of Niama-Biembai.—A native camp.—Starting for the hunt.—A man attacked by a gorilla.—His gun broken.—The man dies.—His burial.

After wandering through the forest, at times coming back to the Bakalai village for food, Gambo suggested that we should go and see his father, who was an Ashira chief, and who had built an olako in the forest not far from the Bakalai village of Ndjali-Coudie.

We traveled through the forest until we reached a beautiful cascade, called Niama-Biembai. How gracefully Niama-Biembai wanders through the hills, falling from rock to rock! Its bed is gravelly, and its water clear and pure, like some Northern brook. How I loved to look at Niama-Biembai, and, by the gentle noise its waters made in falling, to think of friends who were far away!

Just in sight of this charming cascade was the encampment of Gambo's father, whom I had met before. We were received with great joy by the people. The evening of my arrival the olako was busy with preparations. Meat was scarce—very scarce; gouamba (hunger for meat) had seized the people, and the great hunters were getting ready for the hunt, and the people were joyful in the belief that plenty of game would be brought into the camp.

In the evening the hunters spoke with hollow and sonorous voices, and called upon the spirits of their ancestors to protect them. They covered themselves with the chalk of the Alumbi, and then bled their hands.

Then we seated ourselves round the fire, and the eleven hunters who were going with me began to tell their wonderful stories.

The next morning we made for the hunting-paths. Seven men were to go off in one direction for gazelles, and three others, among whom I was one, were to hunt for gorillas. Malaouen and Querlaouen went by themselves; Gambo and another man accompanied me.

Before starting, Igoumba, the chief of the Olako, told us to be careful, for there were some bad and ferocious gorillas in the woods. After walking some distance, we finally made toward a dark valley, where Gambo said we should find our prey. We were soon in one of the most dense jungles I ever met in Africa. My poor pantaloons received several rents from the thorns; at last one of the legs was taken clean off, so I was left with one-leg pantaloons. We were at times in the midst of swamps, so this was one of the hardest days I had had for a long time.

The gorilla chooses the darkest and gloomiest forest for his home, and is found on the outskirts of the clearings only when in search of plantains, bananas, sugar-cane, or pine-apples. Often he chooses for his peculiar haunt a wood so dark that, even at midday, one can scarcely see ten yards. Oh young folks! I wish you could have been with me in some part of that great jungle, then you could have seen for yourselves.

Our little party had separated. My friends Malaouen and Querlaouen said they were going to seek for elephants. Gambo, his friend, and myself were to hunt for gorillas. Gambo and I kept together; for really, if I had lost him, I should never have found my way back. All at once Gambo's friend left us, saying that he was going to a spot where the tondo  (a fruit) was plentiful, and there might be gorillas there; so he went off.

He had been gone but a short time when I heard a gun fired only a little way from us, and then I heard the tremendous roar of the gorilla, which sounded like distant thunder along the sky. The whole forest seemed filled with the din. Oh how pale I must have looked! a cold shudder ran through me. When I looked at Gambo, his face looked anxious. We gazed in each other's faces without saying a word, but instinctively we made for the spot where we had heard the roar of the gorilla and detonation of the gun. When I first heard the gun I thought the gorilla had been slain, and my heart was filled with joy; but the joy was of short duration, for the roar immediately followed, to tell us that the gorilla was not dead.

Then through the forest resounded once more the crack of a gun, and immediately afterward the most terrific roars of the beast. He roared three times, and then all became silent; no more roars were heard, no more guns were fired. This time Gambo seized my arm in great agitation, and we hurried on, both filled with a dreadful and sickening alarm. We had not to go far before our worst fears were realized. We pressed through the jungle in search of our companion, and at last found him. The poor brave fellow, who had gone off alone, was lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood, and, I at first thought, quite dead. Beside him lay his gun; the stock was broken, and the barrel bent almost double. In one place it was flattened, and it bore plainly the marks of the gorilla's teeth.

Yes; the huge monster, in his rage, had bitten the barrel of the gun, and his powerful teeth had gone fiercely into that piece of steel. What a face he must have made as he held the barrel of that gun between his tremendous teeth! how he must have gnashed them with rage! how the wrinkles on his old face must have shown out! It must have been one of the most horrid and frightful pictures that one could ever behold.

Lowering my body and putting my ear to his heart, I remained for a while pale and speechless. At last I discovered that his heart beat. Oh how glad I was!

I immediately tore to pieces the old shirt I wore—it was one of the last I possessed—and the remaining leg of my pantaloons, and began to dress his wounds. I never was much of a surgeon, so I felt somewhat awkward and nervous. Then I poured into his mouth a little brandy, which I took from the small flask I always carried with me in case of need, which revived him a little, and he was able, with great difficulty, to speak. And then he told us that he was walking in the jungle just where the tondo grew, when he suddenly met, face to face, a huge male gorilla. As soon as the gorilla saw him he was literally convulsed with rage, and rushed at him. It was a very gloomy part of the wood, and there were a great many barriers between him and the gorilla. It was almost quite dark in that thicket, but he took good aim, and fired at the beast when he was about eight yards off. The ball, he thought, had wounded him in the side. The monster at once began beating his breast, giving three most impressive roars, which shook the earth, and, with the greatest rage, advanced upon him.

To run away was impossible. He would have been caught by the muscular arm of the gorilla, and held in his powerful and giant hand, before he could have taken a dozen steps in the jungle. "So," said the poor fellow, "I stood my ground, and reloaded my gun as quickly as I could, for the gorilla was slowly but steadily advancing upon me. As I raised my gun to fire, the gorilla, which was quite close to me, stretched out his long and powerful arm, and dashed the gun from my grasp. It struck the ground with great violence and went off. Then, in an instant, and with a terrible roar, the animal raised his arm and came at me with terrific force. I was felled to the ground by a heavy blow from his immense open paw."

Here the poor fellow tried to raise his arm to his abdomen, and continued: "He cut me in two; and while I lay bleeding on the ground, the monster seized my gun, and I thought he would dash my brains out with it. That is all I remember. I know that I am going to die."

This huge gorilla thought the gun was his enemy, so he had seized it and dashed it on the ground, and then, not satisfied, had taken it up again and given it a tremendous bite—a bite which would have crushed the arm of a man more easily than we crush the bones of a young spring chicken.

The great strength of the gorilla seems to lie in that big, long, and gigantic muscular arm of his, and in his immense hands—which we may call paws—with which he strikes, the hand always being almost wide open as it strikes.


Gambo's friend killed by a gorilla.

When we reached the spot the gorilla was gone, so Gambo blew his antelope-horn, calling upon the other men to rejoin us. We then made, with branches of trees, a kind of bed, laying lots of leaves over it, upon which we carried the pour fellow back to the camp of the Ashiras.

I still remember the heart-rending, piercing wail I heard when I entered the camp; how his poor wife came rushing out to meet him, holding his hand and crying, "Husband, do speak to me—do speak to me once more!" But he never spoke again, for at last his heart ceased to beat, and he was dead. He had been killed by a gorilla.

How sorry I was. I felt truly unhappy. They entreated me to give the poor fellow medicine. They seemed persuaded that I could prevent his dying; but I was far from my head-quarters, where all my medicines were, and I had nothing to suit his case.

The people declared, with one accord, that it was no true gorilla that had attacked him, but a man—a wicked man that had been turned into a gorilla. Such a being no one could escape, for he can not be killed.

The next morning I got up, and, taking my large bag, put into it provisions for three days, adding two or three pounds of powder, with forty or fifty large bullets. I took my best gun, and placed, as usual, my two revolvers in the belt fastened round my waist, then painted my hands and face with powdered charcoal, mixed with palm oil, so that I might appear black. I took Querlaouen with me, telling him that I must kill that gorilla. Querlaouen, at first, did not want to go, "for," said he, "we will never be able to kill that man gorilla." But Querlaouen always obeyed me.

We proceeded at once into the thick of the jungle, making for the spot where the poor man had been mortally wounded. I felt very sorry when I saw the place where the man had been killed. A flush came over my face. "Thou shalt be avenged!" I muttered. I looked at my gun with ferocious joy; I held it up, and fondled it, and I must have looked fierce, for poor Querlaouen appeared terrified. "Yes," said I to Querlaouen, "I shall kill that very gorilla."

I followed for a while the tracks of the beast by the marks of blood he had left on the trunks of the trees, but these became less and less noticeable as I removed from the scene of that sad catastrophe. Finally I lost those bloody hand-prints; but then I followed closely, and with great care, other marks he had left in the jungle as he went along. At times I would entirely lose these signs of the huge monster, then I would find them again. I lost them finally, and I searched and searched, but they were not to be seen. I had evidently gone astray. I was so annoyed, so disheartened; for I had set my heart on killing that gorilla, and I was on the point of giving up the chase. Querlaouen kept a few hundred yards from me, and he could see no traces of the gorilla.

Suddenly, and by sheer carelessness, I had stepped on a dead branch of a tree, and broke it. Of course, the breaking of that dry limb made a noise. Immediately I heard a tremendous rush in the jungle, and then saw an intensely black face peering through the leaves. The deep, gray, sunken eyes of the great beast seemed to emit fire when they got sight of me. Then he scattered the jungle with his two hands, raised himself (for he was on all-fours) on his hind legs, gave from that huge chest one of his deep, terrific roars, which shook the whole adjacent forest, and rushed toward me, showing his immense teeth as he opened his mouth.

I had never before seen a gorilla come so quickly to the attack as did this one. He walked in a waddling manner, his two arms extended toward me, his body bent in the same direction, and it seemed to me that at any moment I might see him tumble down on his face. This feeling was caused by his peculiar walk.

I was calm, but it was the calm that precedes death—the feeling that in one minute more I might be a dead man. I am sure not a muscle moved in my face. I was steady, and said to myself, "Paul B. Du Chaillu, you will never go home if you do not kill that creature on the spot, and before he has a chance to get hold of your poor body."

As he approached nearer and nearer, I know that I was cool and determined, but felt that within a few seconds all might be over with me; for, if the diabolical creature once had me in his grasp, he would crush me to death.

Here he is, only five yards distant, but the jungle is so thick that if I fire my bullet may strike the limb of a tree. I wait. I feel that I am as pale as death. I have raised my gun to my shoulder, and follow the movements of the beast, all the time with it pointed at his head. Now he is only four yards distant; I mean his body, for his arms are extended toward me, and are much nearer.

I wait a little longer. He has made one step more toward me; he is within three yards and a half of me. In three or four seconds more he will be a dead gorilla or I a dead man. Just as he opened his mouth to utter an other of his frightful roars, and I could feel his breath on my face, I fired, and shot him right through the heart.

He gave a leap, and fell, with a fearful groan, quite dead, his long, powerful arm almost reaching me as he lay extended on the ground, as if ready to clutch me; but it fell short by a few inches. I drew a heavy breath, for my respiration had become short through excitement. I had a narrow escape, for if the gorilla's hands in falling had reached me they would have lacerated me terribly.

Querlaouen was perfectly wild. While the gorilla was coming to the attack, he cried out with his powerful voice several times, and with all his might, "Kombo, come here if you dare! come here!" He gave a tremendous shout as the gorilla fell, advanced toward the dead monster, fired right into his body, and then whirled round toward me. I thought he had become insane, he looked so wild.

When we went up to the gorilla he was quite dead. His eyes were wide open, his lips shut, and his teeth clinched together. When I took hold of his hand a cold shiver ran through me, it was so big. The hand of Goliath, the giant, could not have been any larger.

When we returned to the camp, and told how we had slain the gorilla, there was immense rejoicing. Soon after a number of men went with Querlaouen to fetch the monster, and when it made its appearance in the village the people became intensely excited, and it was all I could do to prevent them from hacking the body to pieces. I am happy to say, however, that I was able to bring this big specimen to New York.

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