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

King Olenda

King Olenda comes to receive me.—He is very old.—Never saw a man so old before.—He beats his kendo.—He salutes me with his kombo.—Kings alone can wear the kendo.

Olenda village was situated at the top of a high hill. The people, with the exception of a few, had fled. All were afraid to see the moguizi close by them.

"How could King Olenda run off, when his great friend Quengueza sent him a moguizi?" shouted Okendjo; "the people will return when they see Olenda facing you."

I was led to the ouandja, and had scarcely seated myself on a native stool when I heard the sound of the kendo—the king was coming. The kendo was ringing, and no one can possess or ring a kendo but a king. So, at every step the king made the kendo rang, and at last Olenda stood before me.


Reception of the king of the Ashiras.

Never in my life had I seen a man so old; never did I dream that a man could be so old, and I wondered not that his fame had spread far and wide on account of his age. He was a man with wool as white as snow, and his face was a mass of wrinkles. Every rib could be seen, for the skin was like parchment. His body was bent almost double with age, and the legs and arms were like sticks, apparently not bigger than broom-handles. His cheeks were so hollow that the skin seemed to cling to the bones. He had painted with the chalk of the Alumbi his haggard old face, red on one side and white on the other, in streaks, and, as he stood before me, I wondered as much at his appearance as he did at mine. He carried a long stick or cane to support himself. The like I had never seen. He seemed the apparition of some man who had lived in our world a couple of hundred years.

When we had gazed at each other (he looking at me with deep little eyes for at least five minutes, and beating his kendo all the time with his palsied hand), he suddenly spoke and said, "I have no bowels; I am like the Ovenga River—I can not be cut in two. I am also like the Niembai and Ovenga Rivers, which unite together. Thus my body is united, and nothing can divide it."

This gibberish had some deep mystic significance. It was the regular and invariable salutation of the Ashira kings, Olenda's predecessors, time out of mind. Each chief and important person has such a salutation, which they call kombo.

I will explain Olenda's kombo to you. If you had before you a map of the countries I have explored in Equatorial Africa, which are published in my larger works, you would see on it the River Ovenga. Olenda means, when he says that he can not be cut in two and is like the River Ovenga, that his body can not be divided any more than the River Ovenga can be cut in twain. The Niembai and Ovenga unite together and form one river, called Rembo; so, if his body was cut in two, it could not be separated, for, as the two rivers unite and form one, so the two parts of his body would reunite again and form one.

Then he continued, beating his kendo from time to time, "You, the spirit, have come to see Olenda; you, the spirit, have put your feet where none like you have ever been. You are welcome.

Here the old king's son, also a very old negro, with white wool on his head, handed over to the king two slaves, which his majesty formally presented to me, together with three goats, twenty bunches of plantains, twenty fowls, five baskets of ground-nuts, and several bunches of sugar-cane.

"This," said he, "is to salute you. Whatever else you want, tell me. I am the king of this country; I am older than any tree you see around you."

I replied that slaves I did not want, but the food and other presents I would take.

Then more of the old man's children came, all old, and wrinkled, and white-headed men. They stood before me, regarding me with wonder and awe, while the people, of whom thousands were gathered from all the villages of the plain, had returned while their old king was speaking to me. They looked on in silence, and expressed their surprise in whispers.

At last the old king turned to his people and said, "I have seen many things in my life—many wonderful things; but now I am ready to die, for I have received moguizi spirit, from whom we receive all things. It will always be said in our nation, by those coming after us, that in the time of Olenda the spirit first appeared and dwelt among us. You are welcome (turning to me). Keep this spirit well (to his people); he will do us good."

I was amazed; my eyes could not keep away from Olenda. I knew not that men could become so old.

Then Olenda began to beat his kendo again, invoking the spirits of his ancestors to be with him and his, and, with his body bent double, and supported by his cane, he returned to his hut, ejaculating "Ma-mo, ma-mo, ma-mo!"

The kendo is the symbol of royalty in most of the tribes of this part of the interior of Africa. It is a rude bell of iron, furnished with a long handle, also of iron, and of the same piece, as shown in the engraving. The sound, which at home announces the vicinity of a herd of cows or sheep, in Africa precedes the advent of the sovereign, who uses the kendo only when on visits of state or on business of importance. When not beating it they wear it on the shoulder. The bell may vary from six to eight inches in length, and the handle from twelve to fifteen inches. When they wear the kendo they fill it with a skin, generally of an oshengui, which contains monda, or charms, to keep away the aniemba.


A nice little hut was given to me, and I was soon safely housed in it. One of the chickens given to me by Olenda was killed, and a soup made with it. It was excellent, and did me good.

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