Wild Life Under the Equator - Paul du Chaillu

An Enormous Gorilla


I am in the densest part of the jungle!

What am I doing in that jungle, armed to the teeth, and loaded with provisions?

If you could have looked closely you would have seen three black men with me. They also were armed to the teeth and were loaded with provisions. Their bodies were painted and they were covered with war-fetiches; and if they thought their fetiches had any power it was time to wear them, for if we were not going to make war with man, we were to hunt and try to meet the terrible and ferocious gorilla.

Yes, we were in fighting trim, and we intended to remain in the forest as long as our provisions would hold out.

I had my best gun with me, which had been loaded in the most careful manner that very morning. My three men, Miengai, Makinda, and Yeava, had also loaded their guns, which were flint-locks. They had loaded them tremendously, and instead of lead bullets had rammed down four or five pieces of iron bar or rough broken cast-iron pieces, making the whole charge eight or ten fingers deep.

The country was very rough, hilly, and densely crowded with trees, and under the trees the jungle was almost impassable, consequently our hunting could hardly be counted sport, for we had to work fearfully hard and with the greatest care; but I felt strong, for I had rested for two or three days and the fever had let me alone.

We saw several gorilla tracks, and about noon divided our party in the hope of surrounding the resting-place of one whose tracks were very plain. I had scarcely got away from my party when I heard a report of a gun, then of three more going off one after the other. Of course I ran back as fast as I could, hoping to see a dead animal before me, but was disappointed: my Mbondemo fellows had fired at a female, and had wounded her, as I saw by the clots of blood which marked her tracks, but she had made good her escape. We set out in pursuit; but these woods were too thick, she knew their depths better than we did, and could go through them much faster.

I was greatly disappointed. This was the second time I had seen gorillas and they had run away.

I had heard of the fierce courage of the gorilla and his attacking man. I began to believe that all that had been told me was untrue; and said so to Miengai, who for sole answer said—"We have not yet seen a man gorilla. The mother gorilla does not fight."

Night came upon us as we were still beating the bush, and it was determined a little before sunset to camp by the side of a beautiful stream of clear water and to try our luck the next day. We had shot some monkeys and two beautiful guinea-fowls. After our fire had been lit the men roasted their monkey-meat over the coals; I roasted my birds before the blaze on a stick. I was very hungry and enjoyed them.

Then I fixed my two fires in such a way that they would last for a long time. I laid between them, and instead of a roof of leaves I made one with the bark of trees, and soon fell asleep; but the roars of the leopards and the dismal cries of the owls awoke me several times.

We started early the next day, not discouraged, and pushed for the most dense and impenetrable part of the forest, for there, in those deep recesses, we hoped we might find a gorilla. Hour after hour we travelled, and yet no signs of gorillas—we had hardly met a track. We could only hear at long intervals the little chattering of monkeys, and occasionally of birds. The solitude was grand, the silence profound, so much so that we could hear our panting breath as we ascended hill after hill. I was beginning to despair.

Suddenly Miengai uttered a little cluck with his tongue, which is the native's way of showing that something is stirring, and that a sharp lookout is necessary; in a word, to keep ourselves on our guard, or that danger was surrounding us. Presently I noticed, ahead of us seemingly, a noise as of some one breaking down branches or twigs of trees.

We stopped and came close together. I knew at once by the eager and excited looks of the men that it was a gorilla. They looked once more carefully at their guns, to see if by any chance the powder had fallen out of the pans; I also examined mine, to make sure that all was right, and then we marched on cautiously.

The singular noise of the breaking of the branches continued. We walked with the greatest care, making no noise at all. The countenances of the men showed that they thought themselves engaged in a very serious undertaking; but we pushed on, until I thought I could see through the woods the moving of the branches and small trees which the great beast was tearing down, probably to get from them the berries and fruits he lives on.

I remember how close we were to each other.

Suddenly, as we were still creeping along, in a silence which made a heavy breath seem loud and distinct, the woods were at once filled with the tremendous barking roar of the gorilla.

Then the underbrush swayed rapidly ahead, and presently there stood before us an immense male gorilla. He had come through the jungle on all-fours, to see who dared to disturb him; but when he saw our party he stood up and looked us boldly in the face. He stood about a dozen yards from us, and it was a sight I shall never forget. He looked so big! Nearly six feet high, with immense body, huge chest, and great muscular arms, with fiercely-glaring, large, deep, gray eyes, and a hellish expression of face, which seemed to me like some nightmare vision. Thus stood before me the king of the African forest.

How black his face was!

He was not afraid of us. He stood there, and beat his breast with his huge fists till it resounded like an immense bass-drum, which is their mode of offering defiance; meantime giving vent to roar after roar.

This roar was the most singular and awful noise I had ever heard in the African forests. It began with a sharp bark, like that of an angry dog; then glided into a deep bass roll  which literally and closely resembled the roll of distant thunder along the sky. I have heard the lion roar, but greater, deeper, and more fearful is the roar of the gorilla. So deep is it that it seems to proceed less from the mouth and throat than from the deep chest and vast paunch of the beast.

The earth was literally shaking under my feet as he roared, and for a while I knew not where I was. Was it an apparition from the infernal regions? Was I asleep or not? I was soon reminded that it was not a dream.

I said quietly to myself—"Du Chaillu, if you do not kill this gorilla, as sure as you are born he will kill you."

His eyes began to flash fierce fire as we stood motionless on the defensive, and the crest of short hair which stands on his forehead began to twitch rapidly up and down and was perfectly frightful to look at. His powerful fangs, or enormous canines, were shown as he again sent forth a thunderous roar: the red inside of his mouth contrasted singularly with his intensely black face.

And now truly he reminded me of nothing but some hellish dream-creature—a being of that hideous order, half man, half beast, which we find pictured by old artists in some representations of the infernal regions; but nothing they ever painted could approach this horrid monster in ugliness.



He advanced a few steps in a waddling way, for his short legs seemed incapable of supporting his huge body; then stopped to utter that hideous roar again—advanced again, and finally stopped when at a distance of five or six yards from us. And then—as he extended his arms as though ready to clutch us, and just as he began another of his frightful roars, beating his breast with rage—what a huge hand he had!—I fired, and killed him.

With a groan that had something terribly human in it, and yet was fall of brutishness, he fell forward on his face like a man when he is struck by a bullet in the chest. He shook convulsively for a few minutes, his limbs moved about in a struggling way, the tremor of the muscles ceased, and then all was quiet—death had done its work.

The monster was hardly dead when I suddenly began to tremble all over, my lower jaw met my upper one in a way I did not like at all, and my men looked at me with their mouths wide open in perfect amazement. They could hardly believe their eyes, but having recovered themselves, they asked me what was the matter. I answered that I did not know, and that I had asked myself the same question.

For fifteen minutes my jaws went on cracking against each other, and the more I tried to stop them the more they chattered. I felt awfully mortified; but there was no help for it.

I said—"Next time you will see; I shall not do it again." I kept my word, but I never met a large male gorilla without thinking that it might be the last of me.

There was great rejoicing, but it did not last long, for they soon began to quarrel about the apportionment of the meat. They really eat the creature, and the Fans told me that next to the flesh of man the gorilla meat was the best. It looked wonderfully like beef, only it seemed to be almost wholly composed of muscle.

I saw that they would come to blows presently if I did not interfere; hence I said that if they were going to fight I would join in; and taking the butt-end of my gun, I said I would smash the heads of the three while they were fighting with each other.

This saying of mine at once made them laugh and they became quiet. They knew that I meant what I said, and they did not fancy getting a thrashing.

The subject of the quarrel was about the brain of the gorilla. Miengai said he would have the whole of it, for he was the oldest. What would they have known about the spirit pointing out to me if it had not been for him? He said this with such complacency and self-satisfaction that I could not help smiling; but this argument of Miengai did not seem to satisfy Makinda and Yeava.

So I said I would give part of the brain to each of them, and when they had it they wrapped it most carefully in leaves, and I was told that monda  (charms) were to be made of this—charms of two kinds. Prepared in one way, and mixed with bone, claws, feathers, ashes of certain beasts, birds, and trees, the charm would give the wearer a strong hand for the hunt, after he had rubbed his hands and arms with the mixture. Prepared another way it gave the wearer success with women; he became irresistible, and all the pretty girls were willing to become his wives. I could not help thinking that if that latter charm was real, how much bachelors and widowers would like to possess it at home where pretty girls are so difficult to please.

My men in the evening fed on the gorilla meat, and I fed on the meat of a small and beautiful little gazelle which Makinda had killed.

The blazing fires shed their light through the beautiful forest, and I went to sleep happy: but during the night I awoke, uttering a tremendous shout which made my men laugh, for they had been up for some time in order to eat a little more of the gorilla meat. I had the nightmare, and had dreamed that I was pursued by half a dozen gorillas, and when I gave that awful shriek I had just fancied that one of these monsters was clutching me and was going to carry me away to the forest.

We were tired and worn out, but at last we reached a deserted village which we had found before our hunting and where we had our camp. Judge of our astonishment when I found the place in possession of a division of travelling Bakalais! The village was full of them: men, women, children and babies were there; they had quantities of food; all their baggage, composed of old baskets, cooking-pots, calabashes, mats; and all their farming implements. The men were all armed.

My apparition among them threw them into the utmost confusion, and if I had not been followed by Miengai, who shouted to them to keep still, they would have fled; but after a while we were great friends, especially after I had distributed a few beads among the women.

They had been living on the banks of a river called Noya, and were moving far from that place toward another village where the old chief had two or three sons-in-law and the same number of fathers-in-law.

These people seemed to be in dread of something. They seemed to be in retreat, as though they had fled from their former place of abode.

I learned that, a few days before, one of their men while bathing in the river had been killed by some unknown enemy. Hereupon they were seized with a panic, believed their village attacked by witches, that the Aniemba witchcraft was among them, and they must abandon it and settle elsewhere or they would all die one after the other.

Just a little before sunset I saw every one of them retire within doors; the children ceased to play, and all became very quiet in the camp, where just before there was so much noise and bustle. Then suddenly arose on the air one of those mournful, heart-piercing chants which you hear among all the tribes of this land. It was a chant for one of their departed friends. As they sang, tears rolled down the cheeks of the women, fright distorted their faces and cowed their spirits.

I listened and tried to gather the words of their chants. There was a very monotonous repetition of one idea—that of sorrow at the departure from among them of one of their friends and fellow-villagers.

Thus they sang:

We chi noli lubella pe na beshe

"Oh, you will never speak to us any more,

We can not see your face any more;

You will never walk with us again,

You will never settle our palavers for us."

And so on.

They sang until the sun had disappeared below the horizon, till the orb that gives gladness to the heart and life to the world had gone from sight, and they chose the time of its disappearance to pour out their mourning-songs. I thought there was something very poetical in the relationship of the time to the subject. For what should we do without the sun? It is the very heart of life!