Hunting For Manga
Harpooning a manga.—A great prize.—Our canoe capsized.—Description of the manga.—Return to Camp.
The next morning, very early, if you had been on the banks of the Niembouai, you would have seen me on one of those long flat-bottomed canoes which I have described to you, and in it you would likewise have seen two long manga harpoons.
A man by the name of Ratenou, who had the reputation of being one of the best manga harpooners, and of knowing where they were to be found, was with me. He was covered with fetiches, and had in a pot a large quantity of leaves of a certain shrub, which had been mashed with water and then dried. This mixture, when scattered on the water, is said to attract the manga.
When we left the shore, being less of an expert than Ratenou, and not being able to stand up so easily as he did, I seated myself at the bottom of the canoe. Ratenou recommended me not to move at all, and while he paddled I could not even hear the dip of his paddle in the water, so gently did our boat glide along.
We crossed the Niembouai to the opposite shore, where we lay by among the reeds. By that time the twilight had just made its appearance, and you know the twilight is of short duration under the equator; indeed, there is hardly any at all.
Ratenou threw on the water, not far from where we lay in watch, some of the green stuff he had in the pot, and we had not waited long before I saw, coming along the surface of the water, a huge beast, which gave two or three puffs and then disappeared. My man watched intently, and in the mean time moved the canoe toward the spot. We came from behind, so that the animal could not see us, and, just as the manga came to the surface of the water once more, and gave three gentle puffs, Ratenou sent the harpoon with tremendous force into his body. The huge creature, with a furious dash and jerk at the line, made for the bottom of the river. Ratenou let the line slip, but held back as much as he dared, in order thus to increase the pain inflicted on the beast. The suspense and excitement were great. The animal dashed down to the bottom with impetuous haste, but the harpoon was fast in him, and held him. We watched the rope going out with the utmost anxiety. The harpoon has hardly struck the manga when our canoe goes with fearful rapidity. The native's rope proved too short; there was not enough of it to let it go. Every moment I fully expected to upset, and did not relish the idea at all. Finally the rope slackened; the manga was getting exhausted. At last no strain was observable; the beast was dead. Without apparently much effort, the line was hauled in, and presently I saw the huge beast alongside the canoe.
"Let us upset the canoe," said Ratenou.
"What!" said I.
"Let us upset the canoe." The good fellow, who was not overloaded with clothes, thought that to be an easy task; but I did not look at the proposal quite in the same light; so I said, "Ratenou, let us paddle the canoe to the shore, and I will get out." It was hardly said before it was done. I landed, and then the huge manga was tied to the canoe, the latter was capsized over its back, and then we turned it over again.
This was a big prize, for there is no meat so much thought of among the savages as that of the manga. We immediately made for the camp, and were received with uproarious cheers.
The canoe was upset once more, and the big fresh-water monster was dragged ashore. It was hard work, for the huge beast must have weighed from fifteen to eighteen hundred pounds.
What a queer-looking thing it was? The manga is a new species of manatee. Its body is of a dark lead-color; the skin is very thick and smooth, and covered in all parts with single bristly hairs, from half an inch to an inch in length; but the hairs are at a distance from each other, so that the skin appears almost smooth. The eyes are small—very small; it has a queer-looking head, the upper and lower parts of the lips having very hard and bristly hair.
The manga is unlike the whale in this, that it has two paddles, which are used as hands; and, when the flesh or skin is removed, the skeleton of the paddles looks very much like the bony frame of a hand. I have named this curious species after my most esteemed friend, Professor Owen, of London, Manatus Oweni.
The skin of the manga, when dried, is of a most beautiful amber color; the nearer the middle of the back, the more beautiful and intense the yellow. The skin is there more than one inch in thickness. When fresh it has a milky color, but when it dries, and the water goes off, it turns yellow. That part of the back is carefully cut in strips by the natives, who make whips with it, just in the same way as they do with the hippopotamus hide, and these whips are used extensively on the backs of their wives.
The large, broad tail, which is shown in the engraving, is used by them as a rudder, while their hands are used as paddles. These hands, unlike those of seals, have no claws or nails. This manga was eleven feet long, and the body looked quite huge.
Mangas feed entirely on grass and the leaves of trees, the branches of which fall into the water; they feed, also, on the grass found at the bottom of the rivers.
In looking at such curious shaped things, I could not help thinking what queer animals were found on our globe.
The doctor was greatly rejoiced at our success. Then name the ceremony of cutting up the beast; but, before commencing, Ratenon, the manga doctor, went through some ceremony round the carcase which he did not want any one to see. After a little he began to cut up the meat.
It was very fat; on the stomach the fat must have been about two inches thick. The lean meat was white, with a reddish tinge, and looked very nice. It is delicious, something like pork, but finer grained and of sweeter flavor. It must be smoked for a few days in order to have it in perfection.
We out the body into pieces of about half a pound each, and put them on the oralas and smoked Master Manga. The fragrance filled our camp.
The manga belongs to the small but singular group of animals classed as sirenia.
I have often watched these manga feeding on the leaves of trees, the branches of which hung close to the water. The manga's head only shows above the water. When thus seen, the manga bears a curious resemblance to a human being. They never go ashore, and do not crawl even partly out of the water. They must sometimes weigh as much as two to three thousand pounds.