My Apingi Kingdom - Paul du Chaillu

Pottery and Plantains


The next morning I started again on my journey, and visited a good many small Apingi villages. At length I came to one where the manufacture of earthenware was carried on extensively by the people. Cooking utensils and water jars were made in great numbers with a kind of grayish clay. Pipes were also manufactured, for I must tell you that the Apingi cultivate tobacco extensively in their country, and are very much given to smoking.

The people of the village had seen me at Remandji's, and were not afraid. I had hardly entered the village when the good chief came to meet me with thirteen women, and courteously insisted that I should take them for wives and cooks. Of course I declined, but the chief insisted that they should follow me, with the other sixty-four, wherever I traveled in the Apingi country.

The way these simple people worked their pottery was very primitive. They would work and pound the clay till it was thoroughly mixed, and every particle of it very fine. Then they would mould it into the shape of the vases or pots they wanted to have, and, when these had been fashioned and finished exactly as they wished, they would put them in the shade under a veranda or shed. When hardened a little they are gradually exposed to the sun till they are quite hard, and then they are baked over a fire. I give you the shape of these vases in the annexed engraving. I found that among all the tribes they were of the same shape. The cannibals made pottery exactly as these Apingi.

Cooking pot, calabash


The large water-jugs are the most difficult to manufacture, and are rather fragile. They have to make a frame of wicker-work, upon which they lay the clay. Calabashes are used extensively for water-vessels.

I was pleased to find that many of the Apingi villages had remained long at the same place; for the Apingi, unlike almost all the tribes that surround them, do not feel the necessity of moving their village after a death or two. The people would show me trees bearing berries or fruits in the shape of an olive, which had often been planted by their fathers, or by themselves when young. So ovation after ovation kept following me as I came to village after village. I was a real king, and was treated as such. Feast after feast was given me by the chiefs, and such queer bills of fare as we had! Such dainties as came upon the table! Why, there were mice, rats, squirrels, monkeys, snakes, turtles, fish, eels, hyena, etc.; but not one of them could give me such a feast as good old Obindji had given to me and to my powerful friend King Quengueza.

I do not know why, but every day in that far Apingi country I loved to think of good old Quengueza. I loved to think of Gambo, of Malaouen, and of poor Querlaouen. Poor Querlaouen, how much I miss him since his death! I can hardly believe that he is no more. How brave he was! This you know as well as I do. What a kind heart God had given to his poor savage nature! But you will no more read of our hunting together when I return to his country.

On my way home, after a few more days of travel in my new kingdom, I felt tired as I came in the evening to a large plantation where there was an innumerable number of plantain-trees, and a great many bore immense bunches. The plantain bunch is much like that of the banana, and ripens like it by turning yellow or red, according to the variety. It is much larger than the banana, coarser, very sweet when ripe, and delightful eating when roasted. There are a great number of varieties of plantain, far more so than of banana. Some of the trees bear after six or eight months, others take a year, some a year and a half. There are varieties that bear prodigious bunches, weighing from one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds. In the interior they flourish splendidly, and now and then you see bunches much heavier than one hundred and fifty pounds.

Now I will explain to you how the best plantain plantations are, made, and you will see that there is no other species of food that can be raised in such a quantity on so small a lot of land.

Of course you are aware that the banana and plantain trees, without exception, bear only a single bunch, and then die. The varieties that bear the quickest have the smallest bunches. A great many of these weigh only from twenty to twenty-five pounds, and sometimes even less. But judge of the quantity of food which an acre of ground can bear when planted with the varieties of trees that bear the heaviest bunches. A plantation is stocked with the shoots of the plantain-tree. The plantain shoots are set out about six feet apart, and sometimes more. Other shoots spring from them—sometimes as many as six or eight before the tree has done bearing and dies. Each of these shoots become trees themselves, and bear; a few of these are retransplanted, in order to give the others more room to grow.

The shade of plantain-trees, after they have grown to a certain height, prevents every kind of weeds from growing under them; hence, after a plantation has been started well—that is to say, that the young plantain-trees have grown healthy and strong, and the foliage has become thick, it requires no care at all.

Now let us say that six square feet of land will give six plantain-trees, which bear six bunches of plantains within two years. If the plantains belong to the heavy-bunch variety, these will weigh about from eighty to one hundred and twenty pounds—to make an average, we will say one hundred pounds. So in two years six hundred pounds of food have been produced on six square feet of land. But then the weight of the skin and of the stem must be deducted, and the average weight of these is a third of the gross weight. All the calculations I made did bear that proportion.

So food to the amount of four hundred pounds is raised on six feet square of land in two years, or at an average of two hundred pounds of food a year; so I think we may safely say that the plantain-tree gives more food to the human race in proportion to space than any other plant.

The natives eat the plantain green. It is then tasteless, and when coming out of the boiling pot it is very mellow and quite palatable when once accustomed to it.

Nothing if more beautiful than a cluster of plantain-trees protected by the forest from the winds; the immense leaves, some of them over eight feet long, make a superb appearance.

In despite of all this luxuriance, the negroes are at times straitened for food, for the plantains, unlike grain, do not keep long after being picked from the tree in that hot climate. In four or five days after they have been cut they begin to be too ripe to eat, and rot very soon after. So, if your plantation bears more than you want, you must give them away, for there is no market in that part of the world, no real starving people, no poor, for these people, though not Christians, never allow a stranger to be hungry.

The land for a new plantation is cleared in the following manner: The trees of the forest are cut down in the dry season; then, after a while, fire is set to them, and afterward the young plantain-trees are transplanted in the midst of the numberless trunks and limbs of trees that the fire had not been able to destroy.