Porcupine hunting.—The come out of their burrows.—Fierce attack of the dogs.—Porcupine traps.—The legend of the porcupine and the leopard.
Early on the morning of the scene just described to you in the preceding chapter, Okabi and I resolved to go to a place not far from the village, which he had discovered while rambling in the forest, where porcupines were abundant. So we left, taking with us four dogs, and after about an hour's walk we came to a place in the forest, near the bottom of a hill, where the ground was very stony. It was not long before I discovered many burrows where the creatures were hidden. The dogs at once began to bark furiously at the entrance of the burrows, and to try to get in by scratching away the earth. The porcupine being a nocturnal animal, they had all retired into their holes. But we should have had to wait long if we had waited for the dogs to dig them out. We had provided ourselves with an implement for digging, and went to work in good earnest at one of the burrows. We soon started one of the animals, and off he went on a run, with the dogs after him. They speedily overtook him, and barked and jumped briskly round him, but were afraid to touch the creature. I did not blame them, for it would have done no good. This was a big one, and his long, sharp-pointed quills spread rapidly, and protected the animal as if they were so many bayonets. His little tufted tail, which was covered with most extraordinary little balls of quills of a yellowish color, which at first sight look like a horny substance or thick parchment, rattled as the porcupine moved about; and, if I had been in the land of rattle-snakes, and had not seen the porcupine, I might have then thought that one was near at hand. Some of the quills in the middle of the creature's back are five and six inches long, and sometimes even longer. They are very sharply pointed. There was no fear of the dogs getting hold of him. Indeed, no animal would relish such a mouthful. Neither the leopards nor hyenas would venture upon it. The dogs knew that it was of no use for them to try, and hence they were mad. We could not help laughing to see them. Their hair stood right up, so furious were they, so that their backs almost appeared like that of the porcupine, only with short quills. They would come near and bark furiously, show their teeth, and then back out. Finally the porcupine turned round, and, having a stone to protect him, showed fight; this made the dogs bark more furiously than ever. Nothing but a smart blow on the head of the porcupine would kill him, for we could not take hold of the animal with our hands. His quills would have gone through them. Seizing a piece of wood, I just gave the fellow a stunning blow on his head, which laid him out on the ground, and another blow on the head again finished him.
I saw that the longest quills were flexible, and could not do much harm to an enemy, the shorter ones being stiff. The porcupine feeds on roots, leaves, nuts, and different vegetable productions. The quills of the porcupine are often used as pen-holders, and very pretty ones they make.
They come out of their burrows about sunset, and wander during the night. When the natives have discovered a porcupine burrow, which is sometimes very deep, they set a trap that is so constructed that it catches the animal when it comes out. This trap is made of the bough of a tree, one end of which is firmly fixed on the ground; the other extremity is bent forward, and to it is attached a noose with a slip-knot just over the opening of the burrow. The porcupine, in coming out, puts his head into this noose, and at the same time loosens a peg that holds the spring lightly by pushing forward, and up he goes into the air, hang by the neck. The noose grows tighter and tighter the more he moves and shakes, and soon strangles him to death. I have often seen porcupines trapped in this way.
Immediately after the first blow the quills began to drop down flat on its back; at the second blow the animal was killed.
After killing two more porcupines we returned to the village. A little after my arrival I found that there was to be a fight among the villagers. They all wanted the tails of the porcupines, and every body thought he had a right to them. Every body was shouting at the top of his voice, as if they thought the one who could make the most noise had the best right to the spoils. This great fuss was made on account of the porcupines' tails being used for fetiches or charms. I stopped the noise by saying that if there were a fight for these tails, I should join in it, and knock down right and left. This talk of mine put a stop to their quarrel; and, in order to satisfy them and make them good-natured, I appropriated the three tails myself, so there might be no jealousy.
The porcupine is really good to eat. Having some nice, fresh palm oil, made the day before from nuts we had collected, I cooked my share in the oil, and, having seasoned it with salt and plenty of Cayenne pepper, I had a splendid dinner.
As we had been hunting porcupines all the morning, we were bound to have a porcupine story on my return. Okabi was a real good story-teller, and so he began:
"A long time ago, when my father was a boy, one day he got very greatly scared. He was coming back to the village from the forest, where he had gone in search of wild honey, when he suddenly saw, near the hunting path, an immense leopard lying flat on the ground. The leopard's back was turned towards him, and so the creature did not see him. His long tail wagged to and fro, and he lay very quiet. Father, seeing a big hollow tree close to him, hid himself in it. But he did not feel safe. He was afraid to stir or make any sound, for fear of alarming the leopard and betraying himself. Looking closely, he saw that the leopard was watching a porcupine about a yard in front of his nose. The poor porcupine was all drawn up in a bunch. His quills were all standing out like so many sharp-pointed spears, and it was evident that both were at a stand-still. The leopard, not a bit frightened, seemed to be lying in wait for the proper time to kill his prey, while the porcupine, knowing full well that, if it did not keep on the defensive, or tried to escape, the leopard would turn him over with one stroke of his huge paw, and expose the under part of his body, which is soft and undefended with quills. He would then fall an easy prey to the leopard's sharp claws. So the porcupine stood still, rolled up so tight that he could hardly turn his head, and thoroughly protected by his bristling quills.
"My father saw the leopard now and then try, with its big long paw, to draw the porcupine towards him, but he would instantly take it off, the quills pricking him in a way he did not like at all. There the leopard lay and lay, till at last he got up, and father became very much afraid, for he knew not if the leopard had smelt him. Nothing," said Okabi, "saved him but the monda (fetich) which he wore, and which came from my grandfather, for grandfather was a great hunter and a daring warrior." The people shouted with one voice, "So he was."
"The leopard, after a great while, went away, but not without giving a fearful growl of disappointment, but it was long before father left his, hiding-place, being afraid of the treachery of the leopard, for they are not to be trusted. It was a long time before the porcupine moved away, and my father did not want to kill him, 'or,' said he, 'the porcupine has escaped from such a dangerous enemy, why should I kill him?'"
I was quite ready for the great hunt to come off in the morning, and went to sleep, having before my eyes visions of great quantities of game.