My Apingi Kingdom - Paul du Chaillu

A Heard of Monkeys


"HARK!" said I, "hark! What is the noise I hear? It must come from a band of monkeys traveling in the forest from tree to tree. It is no use to go to them," said I to Okabi; "let us hide ourselves in the direction where the noise comes from, and if they, come in a straight line they may pass over our heads, and we may then have a good shot at them." This was hardly said before it was done. We hid ourselves under a thick little bush. The noise came nearer and nearer. Ho! ho! I thought, they are going to pass just over our heads. This was a great piece of good fortune.

I hid myself the best way I could, squatting close to the ground, and sinking my neck into my shoulders as much as possible, and hardly dared to breathe, when, by jingo, I felt like sneezing! It would have been nice work to sneeze just when the monkeys were close by, and to frighten them away, for the monkeys are shy here, being much hunted by the natives. Many and many hundreds of them have met their death by the arrows and traps of the skillful hunters. But here they come! I see the branches at the top of the trees moving. There must be at least fifteen or twenty monkeys, belonging to the white-nosed tribe, upon a journey. It was marvelous to see them seize the branches and swing themselves, in order to leap farther, just like a man on a trapeze. As they came down to the extremity of the light branches, these would bend several feet under their weight. They would leap to another branch, seize one, and then to an-other, never stopping to rest. Sometimes they would run a few steps on some long and stout branch, and leap again. In some places where the trees were not very near together in the direction in which they wished to travel, they would take flying leaps of fifteen to twenty feet, straight through the air, from branch to branch, without stopping to measure the distance. I was so deeply interested in watching their movements that I quite forgot that I had a gun, and that I was hungry. One by one they passed on, flying along like as if they had wings, or by magic, reaching the branch they aimed at with unerring certainty. Not one of them made a mistake; not one of them fell short of the branch he was after. In this manner monkeys journey for miles through the woods. Sometimes they make tremendous jumps from the upper boughs of high trees down to lower ones. I do not exaggerate at all when I say that sometimes I have surprised monkeys on high trees, and, after firing at them, I have seen them fall, apparently taking no heed, to a distance of thirty, forty, and perhaps fifty feet below, and disappear in the twinkling of an eye. Unless the monkeys shriek, there is no way to discover that they are about in the woods except by the noise occasioned by their tremendous leaps when on a journey, which sounds very strangely in the silence of these equatorial forests. On they go, leap after leap, for hours without resting. At other times, when they are only on a feeding excursion, and have reached a place where berries are abundant on the trees, they take it easy, and make their leaps slowly as they go along. It is by this noise chiefly that the hunters are guided when on the lookout for them. When there are many of them together they are difficult to approach, as they always have a sentinel on the watch, and at the least noise they decamp as fast as they can go; but when only two, three, or four of them are together, they are easier to approach, especially if they are hungry.

The white-nosed monkey, the ndova, and the white-mustached monkey, the "miengai," are tremendous leapers in those forests. I doubt very much whether the nkago ("cercocebus") is quite as good a leaper as the two others. They attain all of them to a very large size in the wild state, and a good many must weigh more than thirty or forty-five pounds. The enormous canines the big ones possess show what they can do in the way of biting.



I think that to see one of these flocks of monkeys on the march is one of the most interesting sights that ever gladdened my eyes in the great jungles of Africa. It is certainly a wonderful spectacle, for they seem to continue their flight without cessation, and without heeding what is before them. Their sight is so quick and keen, and their motion so rapid, that, on this occasion, I was unable to get within shot of them again after coming to my wits. It was a pleasure to watch them. So expert are they in their motions that they can stop at will: taking a firm grasp of the branch with the hind feet. The fore feet are only used in leaps to catch the branches toward which they spring.

Each of these three species of monkey has a very peculiar and distinct voice, the nkago having the most powerful. How often I have heard them, I should think almost a mile off, either calling for their absent mate, or, like other wild beasts, doing it merely for the pleasure of trying the strength of their lungs.

The cercopitheci and the cercocebi have very large pouches, which possess great power of distension, and they use them as store-houses, where they keep their nuts and berries when not hungry.