My Apingi Kingdom - Paul du Chaillu

Preventing a War in My Kingdom


The day after my return from our hunting expedition, I thought it was time for me to visit the villages belonging to the country over which I had been made king; so I spoke to Remandji, who was, if I may use the expression, my minister, or major general, and the people were ordered to get ready to start the next day.

I wanted to learn the resources of the country; see what the people could do, what they manufactured, and what the agricultural productions were, and thus become acquainted with the sort of commerce to which the country was best adapted. I must explore the forests to find out what precious woods they contained, and if we could obtain valuable gums and minerals for our market. It was arranged that I should leave with a large retinue of followers. My procession was to be headed by a band of more than one hundred horn-men. The natives are very fond of blowing these horns, and many of them have been handed down from father to son for several generations. They are from one to two feet in length, and are made of the horns of an antelope called the kambi. The kambi is a species of antelope, of a gray color, with whitish stripes on the sides. The full-grown specimens are almost as large as a cow. The business of the horn-men was to sound the horn whenever we approached a village, in order to let the people know I was coming. All the horn-men were painted with yellow, red, and white ochre, and covered with their fetiches. Remandji himself was to be followed by almost all his sons and many of his wives. They also were all covered with fetiches, and all invoked the Spirit of the Alumbi to be with them.

Remandji insisted that I should take my splendid housekeeper with me, whose likeness you saw in my last volume. "For," said he, "she must take care of you; she has nothing else to do but to get your food ready, to watch over you, to drive the flies away during your sleep, to fetch water for you, and to scratch your head when you want it done." I did not like the insinuation in the last part of Remandji's speech, and I said to him, "You know very well that I have nothing on my head."

"But you know," replied Remandji, "that it would be a disgrace to me if she did not follow you." So I gave way at last to the earnest entreaties of Remandji, and it was agreed that my housekeeper should follow me. It was of no use for me to fight against it. I could not get rid of her.

Blowing kambi horns


The following morning there was a great stir in the village, for we were all prepared to start. As I was getting ready, what should I see but my beautiful housekeeper. She, too, was ready, and was bound not to let us go without her. The order for departure at length arrived. I wore on my shoulder my emblem of royalty (the "kendo"), of which I gave you a description and picture in my last volume. I was followed by Remandji. I took the kendo from my shoulder, and rang it. There was a dead silence at once, and then a wild shout, "The Spirit, our king, is going to speak!" rung through the village. In order to impress them with awe, I fired two guns, loaded with tremendous charges of powder, which made a very loud report. Then, taking hold of my revolvers, I fired and fired in the air. The Apingi fell upon the ground, filled with fear. Remandji bowed down in front of me, and looked me steadily in the face. The people all at once began to sing, "Oh Spirit, oh Spirit, thou art our king. Oh Spirit, oh Spirit, we never saw thee before. Oh Spirit, oh Spirit, do not send disease and death among us. Oh Spirit, all the beasts of the forest will come to thee! Oh Spirit, now thou art going to visit all the Apingi land. Oh Spirit, we say good-by to thee! Oh Spirit, oh Spirit, we will wait for thee. Remandji goes with thee—take care of him. Many of our people go with thee—oh take care of them all." Then the horns blew again, and what a noise they made! And with the drums beating in the village, we soon disappeared in the forest, amid the wild shouts of the people that had remained behind. Forty Apingi warriors, armed with spears, took the lead, then the horn-men, and immediately after came Remandji and myself, followed by the women, and also some warriors as a rear-guard.

It was easy to see that we were not going on a hunting expedition.

After walking about an hour and a half, the horn-men again began to blow their horns, and a wild Apingi shout followed up. We were approaching a village. Soon we came in sight of it, and then all the horn-men sounded the horns, and all the party shouted, "The great Spirit is coming to you. Remandji is with him. Be not afraid." When we came to the village there was not a soul in sight. The people had all gone inside of their houses. They were afraid till the voice of Remandji bade them take courage, and then, one by one, they came out. In the mean time I went to the ouandja, and there waited. I fired two guns to announce my arrival. In the mean time the people had all assembled at the extreme end of the village, but as soon as they heard the guns they bent themselves low, and, in a hopping sort of a way, they advanced toward me, singing songs of praise. They carried their huge idol with them; and finally, when they came quite close, they put the Mbuiti (" idol") before me, and said to it, "Look at the Spirit! Behold, look at the Spirit! Look, look at our king!" This idol was the imitation of a man, and had been carved from a very large piece of wood. My goodness gracious! it did look ugly enough.

Then presents of food were brought before me, plantains, bananas, pine-apples, pea-hats, fowls, dried fish, and a goat.

Remandji seemed to be in his glory. At night a grand ball was given in my honor, but, being somewhat weary, I retired early, for in the morning a great palaver was to take place, and I was to settle it.

Early the next morning I seated myself under a very large tree to receive the people of the village and hear the palaver. After a while the village drums began to beat. The drummers were at the other end of the village. Afterward the people began to sing, and at last I saw a crowd coming toward me. In the mean time Remandji had made his appearance, accompanied by the hundred horn-men, who began to blow their horns, so that, between the noise of the tam-tam and the music of the horns, I found myself in not a very quiet place. The chief of the village then came before me, followed by forty-three girls. He talked to Remandji, and said that he was so glad the Spirit had come to see him. Like the other chiefs with Remandji, he had made him their king. He himself was poor. He had not many things to give away, as the Spirit had, like the sand. The black man is poor. He has only plenty to eat, and his coat—pointing to mine—is his own skin. Then, turning himself toward me, he said, "Here are forty-three nice girls. Some of them are my daughters, others are nieces, others are my childrens' children, and some are the children of the big men of my village. Take them, Spirit; we give them all to thee to be thy wives." There was a tremendous shout of approbation. Immediately the drums began to beat, the men began to blow their horns, and the people began to dance round me, and they danced and danced till I thought they must be crazy. Old Remandji himself got so excited that he could not withstand the temptation, and, getting on his feet, he cut up any amount of capers. The whole village was wild with excitement. Single persons would come and speak to me before the people with a sonorous voice, but I could not understand what they said. At last I fired a gun into the air. In an instant all became quiet, and I said, "Apingi, I will sleep in many of your villages; I will eat plantains with you, for I want you to, remember me, for you made me your king. Now go away to your houses. When the sun will go down, when the heat of the day will have passed away, you will come back under this big tree, and if you have any palaver, Remandji and I will talk about it." The people at once scattered. I wondered what there was in me to fill these poor people with so much wonder and astonishment, and I thanked a kind Providence that took such great care of me, and that had directed my steps in such a manner that I could safely visit countries that had never been seen before by civilized man.

To my utter astonishment, when the people went away, the forty-three girls did not move. I remembered that I had not said a word about them. It was evident they considered themselves my wives, as they had been given away to me. Woman in that country has no will of her own; her father, uncles, and other male members of her family have to guide her and tell her what to do; so, if I was willing, they were to belong to me. While I was thinking it over they all got into a quarrel, as the old housekeeper insisted on being the head of them all, and I wandered away, leaving them to settle the dispute among themselves.

When I returned to my seat under the big tree in the afternoon, the women were still there waiting for me, just as I had left them in the morning. The quarrel was not settled, and the old housekeeper was still cross and ugly. Then the villagers came about me again. I said to them, "I must go. I have slept in your village one night, and now I must go to see other villages." But the people, as soon as they heard me, shouted, "Spirit, do not go away! Spirit, do not go away!" I rang my kendo as loud as I could to make them quiet, and, when silence was restored, told them that if there was trouble among them, if there was quarreling and palavers to settle, they must come to me and to Remandji, with the old men of villages, and we would settle them. They answered, "Good Spirit, we have no quarrel just now."

Then I got up, and, turning to the horn-blowers, I ordered them to blow the signal for our departure. The horns sounded, and I was ready to start for a village not far away. A short walk would take us there. But here a sad dilemma arose. "Oh Spirit," said the chief to me, "take all of thy wives with thee; they will follow thee through the Apingi country." And all the women began to sing, "We will follow the good Spirit through the Apingi country; we will prepare food for him; we will catch fish for him; we will fetch water for him; we will get wild berries for him!" And so they went on singing, and I thought I was merely going to have forty-three cooks to accompany me, for it seemed as if I could never get rid of them. But at last I pacified them by distributing a great number of trifling presents among them, and then took my departure amidst great cheering. I had not proceeded far on my route to the next village, however, when, turning round, I saw, to my great consternation, that we were followed by the forty-three women, and many warriors besides!

After walking about an hour I came to a queer village. There were very many huts, and the walls of these were built of the bark of trees, and the roofs were thatched with palm leaves. There were no windows, and only one door to each hut; they were all built alike, about ten feet long, and only seven or eight feet broad. The natives had been expecting us, and welcomed me with the sounds of drums, and with wild Apingi shouts. It was a big village, built in a single street. The name of the old man who was chief over the village was Andeko. I went to bed very early, for I was tired, and the noise they had made was so great. There was a dead silence during the night, for it was announced that the Spirit was tired, and wanted to rest.

Early the next morning I was awakened by wild shouts of war. I jumped from my couch, and, with my gun in hand, came out, looking as fierce as I could. I exclaimed, "Apingi, what do you mean? There must be no war among yourselves. Woe to the man who brings on war in the Apingi country, for I will slay him. I will kill him as sure as I kill that bird." For, luckily, just as I was speaking, a bird flew near the hut where I stood, and gave me the chance to impress the natives with a sense of my skill and power. I shot it flying, and it fell stone-dead just at the feet of the chief Andeko. A wild shout of fear was heard through the crowd, and many fled from me. "How can it be," they said, "that birds flying high in the sky should fall dead at our chief's feet when the great Spirit lets the thunder that he holds in his hands (meaning my gun) make a noise?" And then they sung, "Big Spirit, do not be angry. We do not want to make war. Some people want to make war upon us." I looked fierce, and, taking one of my revolvers in one hand, I fired and fired until the crowd shouted, "Spirit, our king, be not angry; Spirit, our king, do not kill the Apingi people."

Turning to Remandji, I said, "There must be no war. I must know the cause of this trouble." Then I rang my kendo, and ordered the people to come before me and I would hear the palaver.

They came, and brought before me a beautiful black girl; that is, she was beautiful for that country. I do not think you would say she was very handsome, for her teeth were filed into sharp points, and she was tattooed all over, Apingi fashion. She was young, only about fourteen years of age. Then they brought to her side a young man about twenty-four years of age. He was a nephew of the king. The young girl had fled from her own village one dark evening, in the midst of a tremendous rain-storm, and had come to this village. The name of the girl was Mishono, and the nephew of the king was called Ngooloo-Gani.

I eyed Mahone and Ngooloo-Gani with a look which told them plainly that there could be no war on this occasion. While they stood before me they trembled all over.

Then the king said, "Oh Spirit, in our land, when a girl runs away from a village and comes to another, that village can not give her back without feeling shame. In the Apingi country we never give back a woman that comes to us. In her village, they want her to marry somebody she does not like, and she loves my nephew, and she thought she would rather run away than to go and marry where she does not want. She has bola bongo, 'put her hand on my head,' and you know this is our way of claiming protection; and how can I, without shame, give her back?" And the people all shouted, "How can we, without shame, give her back?"

This custom of adoption is a singular one, and prevails in all this part of Africa. When a man or woman runs away to another village, the first thing they have to do is to put themselves under the protection of some man. So, when they reach the place where they want to stay, they go to the man and put their hands upon his head, and this ceremony is called bola bongo. Henceforth they belong to the man, and he is bound to protect them. You will agree with me that this is a singular custom.

I questioned the girl, and she said, while tears rolled down her cheeks, "Spirit, I am afraid of thee. Oh, why did not I die the day I was born! Now I do not want to marry the man my people want me to marry. Women, oh Spirit, are shame in this country, and can be given away like goats and wild game, for our laws are such that her people do not ask whom she wants to marry. She is even given away again after her husband is dead. After her time of mourning is past she has no choice, but must marry his brother, whether she likes him or not. If she does not, she had better not tell it, for she is flogged, and her body is torn with the whip. No, Spirit, I do not want to marry the man my people wants me to. I had rather be killed or be eaten up by the wild beasts. I do not want to go back." When she stopped speaking the people shouted, "We do not want to send her back, for shame would be upon us if we did; all the other villages would laugh at us, and call us 'chickens.' We do not want to be called chickens."

"Oh Spirit," said Mishono to me, "oh Spirit, do not be angry!" and the people also cried, "Oh Spirit, do not be angry! do not be angry!"

This was certainly a very complicated palaver, and in this part of Africa such things always bring on war. I wanted to avert war, and at the same time I had to give a just verdict. So I called Ngooloo-Gani, and said to him, "What have you to say for yourself?" "Spirit," said he, "this girl wants to marry me. She has run away from her village, and has bola bongo  on the head of our chief, and it would be a great shame for our people to give her back, for we never do such a thing in the Apingi country; but in the moon, where you come from, you may have other fashions. Oh Spirit, do not be angry! Do not kill me!" Then the poor fellow kneeled down and got hold of my feet, which is, as you know, the most imploring way of asking a great favor in the region of Equatorial Africa.

I got up, and immediately ordered some Apingi to go and tell the people of the village where the girl came from, to come instantly to see me. I wanted to see the chief and the leading men, and I said, in order that they might not be afraid, "Two of you must remain in their village." So they went, and, as the village was not very far off, they came back in less than two hours, but with no one with them. The answer was that they did not want to talk the palaver. On receiving this message I rose to my feet, and, in a very loud tone of voice, began to speak in all the languages I knew—Apingi, Ashira, Commi, French, English, etc. I was very fierce. Oh, how they stared at me! "They dare me," I exclaimed. "They won't come when I bid them come!" I fired off my gun, I brandished it in the air, I flourished my revolver, I then rang my kendo, and told Remandji to prepare for a fight. Then I ordered the people of the village to go and fetch their spears, their battle-axes, and their bows and arrows, and their war-drums. The horns sounded the war tunes; messengers were sent to Remandji's village for more men to come. The idol was brought out, the men painted themselves and covered themselves with fetiches. Onward, Apingi! onward for that village!" I shouted. Over three hundred men took the war-path. I led the way, and, as they followed, they sang their war-songs, and brandished their spears and their knives. When we approached the villages the war-songs were sung louder and louder, and the warriors became more exasperated. I was glad to see this, because I wanted to make an example. As we came nearer I heard the war-drums in the village, and the people shouting. I fired a gun into the air as I entered the village. I had put in a tremendous charge, and it went off with a fearful detonation. The recoil was so great that it almost knocked me down. The detonation resounded from hill to hill, and carried terror to the hearts of the timid villagers, who, at sight of us, retreated to the farther end, from which position they fled as we approached. But I told Remandji to shout to them not to be afraid. I did not come to kill them; they had made me their king. I was their father. A father did not kill his children unless the children wanted to make war. So Remandji shouted, "The Spirit bids you come. He does not want to kill you unless you dare to make war upon us. He comes to talk the palaver over the girl that ran away."

They had all fled, but at last the chief came again; for I sent word that if he did not come I would burn his village. He was followed by his head wife. I went toward him. On looking at him, I recognized him as one who had brought me food, and had been my friend. Round his neck he wore the beads which I had given him, and as bracelets he wore two brass rings which I had also given him. I went up to him, I shook hands with him, and told him not to be afraid, but to call his people together, as I had come to hold a palaver. So he went away, and a little while afterward came back with his people. We went under the big ouandja, and, after every body had seated himself, Remandji got up, and, addressing himself to the people, said, "The Spirit wanted to come and see you in peace, and you have threatened to make war. But it is a good thing that you did not make war, for you would have been all killed by this time. By the breath of his nostrils he would have sent death unto you all. You know that many of your daughters, sisters, and nieces are married in our villages, and that war between ourselves must not take place, for there are not two villages in the whole tribe that are more friendly with each other than yours and ours. The Spirit and I have held the palaver this morning. You know that one of the girls of our village is soon to marry a man of yours." Here Remandji called the man. He proved to be an old man, and I wondered why he wanted to marry. He was very ugly-looking. Half of his file-teeth had dropped out, and what were left were very black and dirty. Remandji went on: "Well, we will ask no dowry for that girl—no more slaves, no more goats, and no more things. So the palaver will be settled, and Mishono will remain with Ngooloo-Gani." There was a tremendous shout of "Yo! Yo! Yo!" which meant "Yes, that is so."

So this offer was accepted at once, for the parents of the girl in Remandji's village wanted from the old fellow I have just described to you two slaves, three goats, ten fowls, five cooking-dishes, three water jars, five spears, and three large knives, before they would give away their daughter. So the people thought they had made a splendid bargain.

Immediately the two contending parties separated to a distance of about forty yards, then advanced with their spears in hand toward each other, just as if they were going to fight, uttering, at the same time, fierce Apingi shouts till they met; then the spears came down, the war-drums beat, the horns blew, the palaver was over, and I had stopped the threatened war. Then I presented the king with a waistcoat, which he wore in the midst of the most vociferous cheers of his people. That night there was a tremendous jollification in the real old Apingi style. A war-dance, and then all was over. Toward two o'clock in the morning all had become silent. The people had all returned, and nothing was to be heard except now and then the barking of the dogs, and the wild cries of hyenas lurking round in the forest. As I came out, as usual, to make an inspection of every thing round me, all was quiet, the sky was beautifully clear; and the southern stars were shining in all their glory.