My Apingi Kingdom - Paul du Chaillu

Palm-oil and a Leopard


The people had learned that I wanted no war, and promised to remain peaceful. I left the village the next day, and continued my journey through the jungle, visiting the Apingi villages, and at the same time studying the natural resource of the country, the crowd accompanying me increasing all the time as I passed village after village. We came at length to a village surrounded with immense groves of palm-trees, which, indeed, were scattered all over the forest in great numbers. These palm-trees were covered with large bunches of yellow nuts, from which palm-oil is derived, which forms, perhaps, the most important article of trade on the west coast of Africa. Knowing it to be very abundant, I concluded that a good trade in palm-oil could be made with the Coast, and that, if it was conducted on the right principle, and not by exchanging oil for rum, the Apingi would do very well. So I fixed my head-quarters in a village where the manufacture of palm-oil was carried on on a large scale, the inhabitants selling it to the people of all the other villages. It is used very extensively among the Africans. Every woman in a village must have a little calabash of palm-oil to make her toilet with. They rub their bodies with it, it is used as a kind of pomade for their hair, and they use it as we do butter in food. I can assure you that the heads of these people do not smell very agreeably, as they never wash, while they keep putting palm-oil on their hair day after day, month after month, year after year; the fragrance is any thing but delightful.

I was much pleased to see these people industrious in the manufacture of palm-oil. Perhaps you would like to have a description of the town where this manufacture was carried on. You must not expect to hear about huge smoking chimneys, tall buildings with a great number of windows, and a great many men and women at work.

How beautiful is the sight of these palm-trees! How tall and graceful they are, and how splendid their fruit looks! The palm-trees about the village were kept very carefully, and were never destroyed, for every year they bore fruits which brought a great revenue to the village. The forest was filled with knots of women seated on the ground, who had clubbed together for the manufacture of the oil. After it had been manufactured they divided the proceeds.

Making palm oil


Each little company was very busy. There would be seated women having three or four large earthenware cooking-pots filled up with palm-oil nuts, which they were boiling. After being thoroughly boiled, these were given to other women, who had before there a large wooden mortar some five or six feet long, about twelve or eighteen inches broad, and a foot deep, made of a single piece of wood. The boiled nuts were put into these mortars, and pounded by the women with heavy pestles made of the hardest kind of wood. The palm-oil nut has a very large and heavy kernel, of the size of our walnuts, which is very thick, and exceedingly hard, so much so that I doubt very much, though I have never tried it, whether a nut-cracker could break it. The kernel is covered with a fibrous pulp, which is about the fourth or fifth part of an inch thick, and which is almost literally made of oil. It is hard, but when the nut is boiled becomes soft. The nuts grow in large bunches, and each palm-tree bears several of these bunches. They grow near the trunk, where the branches spring out; and the nuts are very close together, several hundred of them growing in a single bunch.

These nuts at first are blackish, then, as they ripen, and especially on the side toward the sun, become of a bright yellow, from which the palm-oil derives its color.

After the nuts have been boiled and pounded, the oil is put into another cooking-pot, and then put over the fire, and the oil allowed to boil for a little while. They then let it rest and cool, and then carefully pour it out, taking great care not to disturb the dregs at the bottom, which is chiefly composed of the fibres of the nuts. Then the oil is put carefully in little calabashes and carried to market.

The men take but a small share in the work. They have only to climb the trees; and cut off the bunches, and bring them to the women. The nuts are picked from the bunches before boiling. Before they have attained their full growth, these nuts have thorny points at the end. They are not round, and not even in size or shape, on account of being pressed against each other closely while growing in the bunches.

It was pleasant to see these people hard at work, and I had a real nice time with them. When night came on I slept in the midst of them; and one of the men came and kindly presented me with two fat rats for my dinner.

But I could see at a glance how little the African trade could be increased. Here was a region that could have little or no trade whatever with the Coast, for there were too many tribes between it and the sea.

How cheap was the oil! A few beads would buy a gallon of it. A factory established here could do a large if not very profitable business, and in course of time more ready intercourse might be established with the Coast. The business, once set on foot, would require but little care. The trees bear every year, and the only thing to be done would be to gather the nuts and make the oil in the manner I have described.

Palm-oil has always a ready sale in civilized countries. It is used extensively in the manufacture of soap, candles, and in some countries of Europe it is used instead of tallow to grease railway and carriage wheels, and machinery.

I forgot to mention that there is in the kernel of the palm-nut a large seed, from which a great quantity of oil can be extracted.

The next morning, before my departure, I received presents of many calabashes of oil.

In proceeding to another village I saw what I had noticed before, that the whole forest was filled with India-rubber vines. As the vines are very plentiful in these forests, an enormous quantity of India-rubber could be extracted from them in the manner which I have already described to you in Stories of the Gorilla Country. This might be made a large trade. The India-rubber could be bought for next to nothing, and the profits would be enormous, and a good market could be found. So here were two productions which the Apingi could collect in great quantities. There were also immense numbers of ebony-trees, the wood of which is so beautiful, and which could be exported in large quantities, if we could only have a free road to the Coast.

That night we were to sleep in the forest; so, before sunset, we built a large camp for shelter. But there was no sleep for me; the leopards were too plentiful, and their dismal and ferocious howls resounding not far from the camp told me that we had better keep a bright look-out. I forbade any one to move out of the light of the fires during the night; but there was little need of the caution, as they knew very well that if they did they would never come back to the camp. The next day I proposed a leopard-hunt. The next morning, when I got up, and said we must find the lair of the leopard, the people seemed to back down; but I was not willing to give it up, as the leopards were evidently not far from us, and their lair must be near by. I wanted only four Apingi to go with me.

So I called four of the warriors. I gave two guns to them, and one preferred to go with his war spears.

After a while we came to the bank of a little stream, where I discovered the footprints of a huge leopard in the soft ground. What paws! It must be an old and ferocious animal. I have not the slightest doubt that the monster was an old fellow, and that it was the one that came so near our camp during the night, and nothing but the big fires we kept up had frightened him away and prevented him from pouncing upon us. Unless the leopard had caught something last night he must be fearfully hungry, and, consequently, very fierce. I must look out, for, in that case, if I see him I will have but very little time to fire, for in a jiffy he will spring upon me, said I to myself.

So I carefully followed along the banks of the stream the footprints of the huge cat. If he sees me first he may pounce upon me, as a cat does upon a mouse. I must be careful. The Apingi are watchful. They look all round; their ears are ready to hear the least noise. All at once I hear a cluck from one of the men. I stop; he points out to me a spot ahead, just by the stream, where the underbrush or jungle is very thick, huge trees have fallen one upon another, and it is impossible to see through the mass. The leopard must be there. This dark place must be his abode for the day. There he hides himself and sleeps, and from there he starts upon his depredations, spreading fear and terror among beasts and men. I stand ready to fire at a second's notice. I wish you could have seen me. I knew that it was a matter of life and death with me. I follow the track of the leopard, for it had walked all along the little stream. The Apingi men are not mistaken. Suddenly the footprints leave the river, and the last I see of them show that the animal has retired into that thick, dark, and almost impenetrable part of the jungle where the Apingi had told me that the leopard was concealed. This is dangerous game. I can not see the enemy. It is dangerous to go in. I can not back out; I dare not show the Apingi that I am afraid. But then I do not wish to be killed by an infuriated leopard.

The best thing I can do is to use caution as I enter the thicket. The Apingi are almost afraid to go in. But we must do it. I lead. Oh, I wish I had some native dogs with me; they would bark and show us the lair of the leopard. After a while I succeeded in climbing to the top of the huge tree that had been blown down by a tornado. It is at least ten feet in diameter. When once lodged there I take a view of the surroundings. The Apingi are close at my back. They are evidently afraid, and, for myself, I do not feel very comfortable, for you will agree with me that it is a difficult position to be in, not to see the exact location of such a dangerous enemy as the leopard, which at any moment might be down on my back, his claws fastened in my shoulders, and his big teeth in my neck. Such thoughts were not very reassuring to a worn traveler.

I must confess that I was very much excited. I looked round and round. The slightest noise made by the wind through the trees would startle me. I thought the leopard was close at hand and ready to spring upon me. I would have given a good deal to see him. Carefully I came down the trunk of the huge tree, and continued to press forward with my Apingi into the thickest part of this already very thick jungle.

Suddenly the faces of my Apingi men become excited. They stop walking. The strong odor of the leopard is clearly perceptible: he is evidently not far from us. We are upon the leopard, and he is probably eying us, and ready to make a spring. We must hurry to see him, for surely destruction is coming upon us unless we destroy the animal. I look ahead into a thick bush, where were a large number of broken branches. It seems almost dark, though it is not noon yet, and the sky is clear, and the sun shines resplendently. Every thing round is in gloom. A cold shiver runs through me. A feeling of insecurity begins to possess me. I must check it, for, if I do not, my arm will not be steady, and I shall miss the monster if I see him. The thought of home and friends rushed to my mind. The feeling of insecurity suddenly disappeared. I must conquer this big wild cat of the forest. If he is wary, I too must be wary.

Whew! hallo! I see the monster! He is lying on the dead branch of a tree. He leaps upon the ground and crouches upon it. His long tail wags to and fro, showing that he is enraged. His eyes glisten with a singular light; he is ready to spring. He springs, but, just as his body seems to rise from the ground, a tremendous and deadly steel-pointed bullet goes through his head, and three spears of the Apingi are plunged into his body. The monster rolls on the ground upon his back, uttering fearful yells of pain that fill the forest, and drive every living animal from the neighborhood. By this time my breath is taken away. I am so excited that my heart beats with fearful quickness. I must be pale as death, for the excitement is great; for, one second more, and the monster would have made its deadly spring, which would have been destruction to me.

I was glad when the chase was over, and I concluded that I would rather chase the leopard at night with a goat tied to a tree for a lure; but then I must not do as I did once before—fall asleep with the goat—as I have previously described to you, for, perhaps, instead of taking the goat, it might take me.

When we got back to the camp there was an immense excitement. The Apingi said that they had killed the leopard also, for three of their spears had been in his body. It was a huge old fellow. I wish you could have seen his teeth and his large paws. What tremendous claws it had! With a blow of his paw the monster could have killed the strongest man.



I was greatly pleased to secure this animal, for its skin was superb, and I knew that I would gladden the heart of some friend at home when I should present it to him.

Here, again, more cooks were to be fastened on me, the people insisting that twenty of their women should follow Remandji and myself. With my old housekeeper, and the forty-three cooks, I had now sixty-four cooks.