Wild Life Under the Equator - Paul du Chaillu

The Paradise of Flies


Now, though we have not left our hunting grounds of the preceding chapter, we have moved toward the Ovenga River, and have built our camp not far from its shore. We are now really in the heart of Kanga-Niaré, the name which Quengueza people give to the land. Niaré means buffalo, but I have forgotten the meaning of Kanga.

We have changed our camp, for Malaouen was fearful that some of our guns might have been heard by the warlike Bakalais of the Ashankolo; and as their clans had had some trouble with them, he was afraid that they might come in ambush and shoot some of us. This, of course, was not a very pleasant prospect. These Bakalai are so treacherous that they are capable of any thing; they kill without warning any one that comes in their way, whatever they may be, even women, children or old men.

As we worked hard all day we could not keep watch all night, so we had concluded to move.

Our little camp is pleasantly situated on the edge of the forest in front of a beautiful little prairie. There are several of these, and rambling about I saw that traces of wild buffaloes were abundant. I had not tasted buffalo for a long time, and I thought it would be a nice thing if I could kill one.

Querlaouen, Gambo, and Malaouen had been feasting on gorilla meat, though I had not. Not only had they feasted on it, but they had smoked a good deal of it to take back with them.

The first day we kept quiet. The soil was sandy, the grass was very luxuriant, growing at least two feet high. The sun is very oppressive in these clear spots or little prairies. We were tormented terribly by flies; the country of the Ovenga seems to be the paradise of flies. During the day they often wear a man's life out. They sting you, they suck your blood, and they plague you beyond expression.

As for musquitoes, they were swarming at this time of the year, and I would defy any one to sleep at night without musquito-nets, unless his skin were bullet proof, or as hard as the skin of an elephant or hippopotamus; and as mine was not, I always carried with me a net made of the grass cloth of the interior.

Three of these day-flies might have almost been called the three plagues; in fact, in these parts there was always some kind of insect to annoy one.

Early in the morning, just at sunrise, the igooguai  makes its appearance and only disappears when the sun becomes too warm, as it does toward nine or ten o'clock. The igooguai is a small, almost imperceptible gnat, which appears in incredible numbers in the morning in certain regions. From ten o'clock it is seen no more till four, when its operations are recommenced, and last till sunset.

It is a very, very small fly, which can hardly be noticed; it might be called a sand-fly, and a dreadful little creature it is. In some regions it is found in such great numbers that it is almost impossible to secure quiet in the morning, hence the people have to surround themselves with smoke to drive them away; and one must remain in his hut, which must be filled entirely with smoke, in order to be free from them. If I stood still outside for a while, my face and hands were covered with them. After they have fed themselves their bodies become almost of a blood color. You have hardly killed one hundred on your hand or face, when a few minutes after the same number is found. Of course you can not kill them one by one, so the only way is to pass your hand right over them all on your face. My unprotected skin was covered then with little red spots as if I had the measles.

I really can not tell you how these igooguai troubled me; sometimes they almost made me crazy. They are most determined blood-suckers, leaving a bite which itches terribly and for a considerable time. They are only found in open places generally.

The heat of the sun had hardly driven the igooguai out of the field and obliged them to take shelter in the forest or somewhere else (for during the heat of the day they do not trouble any one), than the flies—which we might call the three plagues—the iboco, the nchouna, and the ibolai, began to make their appearance. These are quiet in the morning, and remain so until the sun has warmed the atmosphere, then they begin to buzz around the people; hence, as you see, there was no peace for poor me. I had hardly got rid of one kind of the igooguai when I got into the hands of these three other suckers by way of a change.

In certain regions, from eleven o'clock till three, I certainly thought I should lose my senses, especially when living on the banks of rivers. The most dreaded of all, and the most savage of these three species of flies, is the iboco. I shall never forget the iboco as long as I live. I have been stung too many times by them to forget it. A hot day, and under a powerful sun, these insects attacked us with a terrible persistency that left us no peace.

The iboco is a large fly of the size of a hornet, with yellow body and a large green head; it flies with a wonderful rapidity; and when it wants to rest on somebody it whirls round and round so rapidly that the eyes become quite bewildered, and in the wink of an eye they rest on the bare back of some poor negro, and give a sting which draws often from him a cry of anguish. There is always great rejoicing when an iboco is killed. They are very plentiful in the regions of the Ovenga River; indeed, I have never seen them in such great numbers anywhere else. They like to be by the water and in open places. I have never seen them except in the clearings.

Many and many times have I started as if stung by a scorpion or centipede, when it was nothing but an iboco, whose bill had gone through two or three of my garments. Their bite is quite as painful as that of a scorpion, but happily it is not venomous, and the pain does not last long; but its sharpness makes up for the shortness of its duration. Often the blood has run down my face or arm, from their savage attacks, and even the well-tanned skin of the negroes is punctured till it bleeds, so that one would almost think that a leech had been at work on them.

The nchouna  has quite another sort of tactics. It is not so large as the iboco, is far more sly, and is also found in greater numbers. If the iboco were as numerous as the nchouna, the people would surely not be able to live in the regions of the Ovenga. The nchouna is somewhat of the shape of our common flies, but of at least twice the size; it is of a yellowish color, and perhaps more elongated, resembling very much the tsetche  of Southern Africa, of which species it may be a variety.

As one is seated, he sees several nchounas flying in a quiet way round about him. They are very sly, and the least movement one makes sends them off. As they fly around one they do not appear as if intent upon an attack, but before you know it the fly has come, and in such a gentle way that you do not notice it at all, for they insert their bill very gently into your body. They will stay until they have sucked your blood and filled themselves with it, and generally I never knew of their attack till I felt the itch which follows the bite when the fly has gone. Then this is followed by a little painful swelling. The itching begins, and lasts often for several hours, especially if the fly has been disturbed before its full allowance has been taken. In the height of the rainy season in the country of the Ovenga no day passed without my being bitten several times by the nchouna.

The negroes usually have a little broom, made of the stem of the leaves of certain trees, to keep off this insect; often the tail of an elephant is used for the same purpose.

The third species, I remember well, is called ibolai. It is an insect twice as large as our common house-fly. The wings cross each other. This fly is black, more elongated than the nchouna, and quicker on the wing; its sting is long, and strong enough to pierce the thickest clothes one can wear in the heat of an African summer. The sting is so terribly sharp that I have often jumped up with the sudden pain, which was as if a pin had been stuck savagely into my person; but the bite of this insect, if painful, does not last like that of the nchouna. You need not think for a moment that the day is over with the flies, and that one is going to rest. Toward four o'clock, when the sun begins to go down and lays hidden back of the hills, the iboco, nchouna, and ibolai disappear. The igooguai, as I have said before, makes again its appearance to plague and annoy; toward sunset they retire for parts unknown to me, and several varieties of musquitoes make their appearance to remind man that he is made of flesh and blood. In some parts of the country they are very plentiful, and absolutely terrible, but I am happy to say that on the banks of the Ovenga, where the flies I have described to you are very abundant, the musquitoes are not so very numerous. The rainy season is the time when all those flies are most abundant; the dry season is almost free from them, and in many places they then become almost unknown.

Such is, I assure you, a faithful picture of the flies of that region. The best way to get rid of them is to keep in motion. If you stand still they are sure to come upon you.

You will ask yourselves, How can people live in such a country? It is wonderful how one gets accustomed to snakes, ants, flies, musquitoes, scorpions, and centipedes. To be sure, they are not pleasant companions.