Toils enroute to Apingi
A gorilla.—How he attacked me.—I kill him.—Minsho tells a story of two gorillas fighting.—We meet king Remandiji.—I fall into an elephant-pit.—Reach Apingi land.
The next morning we felt much refreshed, and once more entered the forest, following a footpath which was sometimes good, but oftener very bad. The country became more rugged and mountainous. On every side we met beautiful little streams of water wending their way through the woods. Very often we had to march in the bed of some purling brook, as the easiest way we could find. This second day was exceedingly trying to our feet, for we made our way the greatest part of the time through a dense and gloomy forest. Several times we heard, at a great distance, the roar of the gorilla and the heavy footsteps of elephants. We heard also the cries of the nshiego-mbouvé, and now and then the shrill cry of a monkey.
In the afternoon I was startled by the roar of a gorilla, and it was three quarters of an hour before we came near him. He was then close to the path we were following, and roared incessantly. I find that I can not get accustomed to the roar of the gorilla, notwithstanding the number I have hunted and shot; it is still an awful sound to me. The long reverberations coming from his powerful chest, the vindictive bark by which each roar is pre- ceded when about to attack, the hollow monotone of the first explosion, the ugly, ferocious look which he gives to his enemies, all are awe-inspiring, and proclaim the great beast the monarch of the forest of Equatorial Africa.
When we came near him, he, in turn, at once made toward us, uttering a succession of bark-like yells, denoting his rage, and reminding me of the inarticulate ravings of a maniac. Balancing his huge body with his arm, the animal approached us, every few moments stopping to beat his breast, and throwing his head back to utter his tremendous roar. His fierce, gloomy eyes glared upon us, the short hair on the top of his head was rapidly agitated, and the wrinkled face was contorted with rage. It was like a very devil, and I do not wonder at the superstitious terror with which the natives regard the monster.
His manner of approach gave me once more an opportunity of seeing with how much difficulty he maintains himself in an erect posture. His short legs are not able firmly to support the vast body. They totter beneath the great weight, and the walk is a sort of waddle, in which the long and prodigiously strong arms are used in a clumsy way to balance the body, and keep up the ill-sustained equilibrium. Twice he sat down to roar.
My gun had, of course, been loaded in the morning (I always took care to reload my guns each day), and could thus be depended upon, so I shouldered it, feeling easy. I waited till he was close enough, and then, as he once more stopped to roar, I delivered my fire, and brought him down on his face—dead.
His huge body proclaimed his giant strength. There is enough humanity in the beast to make a dead one an awful sight, even to accustomed eyes, as mine were by this time. It was as though I had killed some monstrous creature which had something of the man in it.
We could do nothing with the gorilla, so the Ashiras took as much meat out of his body as they could conveniently carry. We cut his head off and carried it with us. It was a huge and horrible head. Looking at his enormous canine teeth, I saw at once that the monster must have had a tremendous fight a year or two before, for one of them had been broken off in the socket of the jaw. What a grand sight it must be to see a gorilla fight! This reminded me of the stories I had some-times heard from the natives regarding the fearful conflicts the male gorillas have among themselves for the possession of a wife. Indeed, the fight that this one was engaged in must have been a severe one, for not only had one of his large teeth been broken, but one of his arms was shorter than the other, and had evidently been broken and united again, not, I am sure, by a surgeon-gorilla, for I do not believe they have any, but nature and time were the healing processes. There is a skeleton of a gorilla in the British Museum, the arm of which had been broken, no doubt, in some conflict, but when the animal was killed the wound had healed, and the bones of the arm had united.
Minsho promised to tell us the story of a fight between two gorillas in the evening by the camp-fire.
How tremendous that blow must have been, I thought, in order to break that powerful muscular and thick-set bony arm! The forest must have been filled with the loud yells of the monster as he fought desperately against his enemy.
We continued our way after fording a stream about one hundred and twenty feet wide, called the Louvendji, carrying our gorilla's head with us, and toward dusk built our camp. After we had seated ourselves by the fireside, and I had taken my own modest meal, Minsho got up, after filling himself with gorilla meat, and said, "Moguizi, I promised you, after you had killed this big gorilla this morning, that I would tell you a gorilla story. Are you ready to hear it?" "I am ready to hear it," I said, "and all the party shouted "All are ready to hear it."
"Long ago," said he, "before I was born, and in the time of my father—for the story I am going to tell you is from my father—there was a terrible gorilla fight in the woods. My father had been cutting down trees in the forest in order to make a plantation, and was returning home, when suddenly he heard, not far from him, the yells of gorillas, and he knew that the beasts were coming quickly toward him.
"Not far from where he stood there was a large hollow tree, into which he at once entered and hid himself, for he was afraid of the gorillas. He had with him only his axe, and of course could not dream of fighting the gorillas, especially as there were two of them. He had hardly entered his hiding-place before the gorillas made their appearance. My father trembled with fear lest they should discover where he was, but they were so enraged at each other that they did not busy themselves about what surrounded them."
Minsho was getting excited, and his eyes began to sparkle as he came to the fighting part of his story. There was a pause and a dead silence, for we wanted to hear about the fight of the two gorillas. Minsho suddenly gave a tremendous yell in the Ashira fashion. "Now," said he, "open your ears, for you are going to hear what my father saw.
"The two gorillas seized each other and rolled on the ground, yelling. One at last gave the other a bite, which made his enemy give an awful shriek of pain. They then got up, their faces covered with blood, their bodies lacerated, and, looking fiercely at one another with their deep-sunken eyes, each gave a yell of defiance, and both slowly advanced again; then the larger, which was probably the elder, stopped, both wanting rest in order to breathe, and then they pounced upon each other, screaming, yelling, bellowing, beating their chests, retreating, and advancing. At last they both stood on their hind legs a few rods from each other, their eyes seeming to flash fire, and advanced once more for a deadly fight, when the older and bigger one raised his hand and gave his antagonist a most fearful blow, which broke the other's arm. Immediately the badly-wounded gorilla fled, leaving the old gorilla master of the field; but then the victor was also covered with blood. My father still trembled, for he was afraid of being discovered. After a time, when all was silent, he looked round, and saw that the victorious gorilla had also gone off."
By this time Minsho was covered with perspiration; he fancied, I suppose, that he had seen the fight himself. He concluded by saying, "I have no doubt the gorilla we killed this morning lost one of his big tusks in a great fight with another gorilla," in which opinion we all coincided.
After this story we lay down on our beds of leaves, and, surrounded by blazing fires, all went to sleep, hoping to rest well, for we had a hard day's work before us on the morrow.
In the morning the songs of birds awoke us from our sleep. After roasting a ripe plantain and eating it, I started once more, following a path by which we traveled all day. Again no game was seen; we did not even meet the footsteps of an elephant; and a little before sunset we came to a bando or olako, built by the Ashira and Apingi people especially for the convenience of travelers.
The bando was roofed with peculiar and very large leaves, here called the shayshayray and the quaygayray. Here we concluded to stop for the night. Not even the cry of an owl or of a hyena disturbed the stillness; no elephant's footstep came to awake us from our slumber; the howls of the leopard were not to be heard.
Several days had been thus spent in the jungle, but we were now compelled to hurry along, for we had no food. In the mean time we had a view of some small prairies, and in one of them had seen villages, which the Ashiras said were those of the Bakalai; but as Minsho and the rest of the Ashiras did not want to go near them, we re-entered the forest. "The Bakalai here," said Minsho, who I could see was not gifted with any great amount of bravery, "always stop and fight people." So we managed to pass their villages unseen.
Minsho said we were approaching the country of the Apingi. He was not mistaken. In the afternoon, while we were passing through dense woods, we heard people talking not far from us, and I came suddenly on a man who turned out to be Remandji, king of the Apingi.
At the sight of me he and his company stood silent and amazed for a few minutes, when he began to dance about me in a most unroyal and crazy manner, shouting again and again, "The spirit has come to see me! the spirit has come to see my country!" He kept looking at me steadfastly, and for a while I thought his majesty had gone out of his mind.
King Remandji looked like a very fine old negro. The question that arose in my mind was, "How did the king happen to be in the woods?" His majesty had come to fish in a neighboring creek, for kings here are modest in their tastes, and was on his way to meet his wives, who had been sent on before him. He knew Olenda's sons, and directed them to a certain spot, and said he would be back that evening and bring his wives with him.
We parted with the king, rejoicing in the prospect of having fish and plantain for dinner. Meantime we went on, and when the evening came we all began to feel somewhat anxious about our quarters. Game was said to be plentiful in the forest, so I pushed a little out of the path, and, thinking I had seen something like a gazelle, I stepped forward toward it, when down into an elephant-trap I went, feeling quite astonished at finding myself at the bottom of it. It was a wonder my gun did not go off.
This trap I had fallen into was about ten feet deep, eight feet long, and six feet wide. As soon as I recovered sufficiently to comprehend my position, I began to holler and shout for help. No one answered me. I shouted and shouted, but no reply came. I was in a pretty fix. "Suppose," said I to myself, "that a huge snake, as it crawls about, should not see this hole, and tumble down on top of me." The very thought made me shout louder and louder. At times I would call, "Ayagui! Ayagui! Minsho! Minsho!" Finally I fired a gun, and then another, and soon I heard the voices of my men shouting "Moguizi, where are you? Moguizi, where are you?" "Here I am!" I cried. "Where?" I heard Minsho repeat. "Close by—here, Minsho, in a big elephant-pit; look out, lest you fall into it yourself." Minsho by this time knew where I was, and called all the men. They immediately cut a creeper and let it down. I fired off my gun, and sent it up first, and then, holding fast to the creeper, I was lifted out of the pit, and very glad I was too, I assure you. The wonder to me was that I did not break my neck in getting into it.
Finally we reached the place where Remandji had directed Minsho to go. We lighted our fires, and soon after Remandji made his appearance. He looked again and again at me. His women were frightened, and did not show themselves. Happily, his majesty brought some plantains and fish with him.
I thought I had before known what musquitoes were, but I never saw the like of those we had in this spot. They certainly must have been a new kind, for their sting was like that of a bee, and very painful. Hundreds of them were buzzing around each one of us. My eyes, hands, and legs were swollen. I had a musquito-net with me, but inside of it they would get, how I could not tell. Several times I got out of the net, and when I thought I had shaken it well, and driven every one of them off, I would get under it again in the twinkle of an eye; but the musquitoes, which seemed perfectly famished, were like vultures, and would get in at the same time that I did. The Ashiras declared that they had never before seen such a place for musquitoes. Smoke and fire seemed to have no effect upon them. I never suffered such torture in my life. They beat all I had ever seen in the shape of musquitoes. The next morning I was so terribly bitten that I looked as if I had the measles or the chicken-pox.
Remandji, who had built his camp next to ours, came declaring that the people must have bewitched the place where we had slept, and off he took us to his village. After a three hours' march, we came at last, through a sudden opening in the forest, to a magnificent stream, the Rembo Apingi or Ngonyai. I stood in amazement and delight, looking at the beautiful and large river I had just discovered, and the waters of which were gliding toward the big sea, when a tremendous cheer from the Ashiras announced to the Apingi, Remandji's subjects, who had made their appearance on the opposite bank, that a spirit had come to visit them. The latter responded to the cheering, and presently a great number of exceedingly frail flat canoes and several rafts were pushed across, and soon reached our side of the river; they had come to ferry us over. The Apingi people live only on the right bank of this noble river.
I got into a very small canoe, which was managed with great skill by the Apingi boatman. I did not see how he could keep his equilibrium in the frail-looking shell.
The shouting on the Apingi side was becoming louder and louder, and when I landed the excitement was intense. "Look at the spirit!" shouted the multitude. "Look at his feet! look at his hair! look at his nose!" etc., etc.
They followed me till I was safely housed in one of the largest huts in the town, which was about twelve feet long and seven feet broad, with a piazza in front. When all my luggage was stored there was hardly room to move. I had indeed reached a strange country.
Presently Remandji came to me, followed by all the old men of his town and several chiefs of the neighboring villages. Twenty-four fowls were laid at my feet; bunches of plantains, with baskets of cassava. And Remandji, turning toward the old men, said, "I have beheld what our fathers never saw—what you and I never saw before. I bid thee welcome, O spirit! I thank your father, King Olenda," said he, turning to Minsho, "for sending this spirit to me." Then he added, "Be glad, O spirit, and eat of the things we give thee."
Whereupon, to my great astonishment, a slave was handed over to me, bound, and Remandji said, "Kill him; he is tender and fat, and you must be hungry."
I was not prepared for such a present. They thought I was a cannibal—an eater of human flesh—and there stood before me a fat negro, who during the night had been caught, for Remandji had sent word to the people of my coming, and in his forethought determined that I must have a good meal on my arrival.
Then I shook my head, spat violently on the ground, which is a great way of showing disgust, the people all the time looking at me with perfect astonishment. I made Minsho tell them that I abhorred people who ate human flesh, and that I, and those who were like me in the spirit-land, never did eat human flesh.
Just fancy! What a fine present! A nice fat negro, ready for cooking. It was like the presentation of a fat calf.
Remandji then said, "What becomes of all the people we sell, and that go down the river for you to take away? We hear you fatten them before they are killed. Therefore I gave you this slave, that you might kill him and make glad your heart."
A deep blush came over my face, I felt so ashamed. It was true, the white man had come into their country for hundreds of years and carried away their people.
After my refusal of the fat negro, who was glad to get free, Remandji's wives cooked the food for me which had before been presented. The king tasted of every thing that was laid before me, and drank of the water which was brought for me to drink. Such is the custom, for the people are afraid of poison; and the wife always tastes of the food she presents to her husband before he eats it, and the water he is going to drink.
The uproar in the village was something terrific. I thought I should be deafened, and that their wonder at seeing me would never cease.
For a bed I had but a few sticks, but I was glad that night to lay upon them, and to have one of those little huts to shelter me from rain, for I had had a hard time, I can assure you, since I had left Olenda's.
Before going to sleep I thanked the kind God who had watched over me and led me safely into the midst of tribes of men whom no white man had ever seen before.