Wild Life Under the Equator - Paul du Chaillu

Gorilla Hunting


We are merry. Our camp has been built; we are in a country where elephants, gorillas, leopards, and wild boars are abundant. There are also antelopes and gazelles, and other wild animals.

We are seated round the fire and talking of to-morrow, for we are going hunting.

We are far away from any village of the Ashankolo Mountains, and are near the Ovenga River. Our little canoe that took us there we have hidden in the forest. We are not very far from the land called Kanga Niaré.

There was Malaouen, the Bakalai hunter; there was Querlaouen, another savage who knew not what fear was. There was Gambo, the son of an Ashira chief, who was not behind any one in courage. Elephants, gorillas, and leopards had been killed by him, and he was the nimblest fellow I ever saw. To each I had given a present of a nice gun, to each I had given also a keg of powder and several flints. We were all very good friends, every body said so in the country. They were, they said, the good friends of the spirit.

Before we had started their wives had loaded our canoe with provisions. They had put sugar-cane in it for me, saying I must eat it on my return from the chase when I should feel tired. We had two little Bakalai boys to take care of our camp, to fetch fire-wood, and to cook our food. The only fear we had was that the Bakalai of the interior might come upon us on the sly and shoot some of us, but then we were far away from them. We all swore that if any one of us was killed we would avenge him.

The night came, the fires were kept bright, our meal of plantain was cooked, and I roasted on charcoal a piece of wild boar which friend Querlaouen had given me. Our guns were as clean and bright as buttons, the powder was safe, the bullets were right, and we were to have a jolly time. I went to sleep, and dreamed of whole herds of elephants being slaughtered, of gigantic gorillas being killed, of new animals being discovered.

Before daylight we were awake; my men cut their hands and made them bleed, in order, they said, to steady them. They also covered themselves with fetiches, to be protected from the evil spirits and to have luck in the chase.

I blackened my face and hands with charcoal mixed with oil, so that I might look like them. We looked at our guns, unloaded them, and then reloaded, and saw every thing was right. It was daylight when we started, and for the first day it was agreed that we should go gorilla hunting.

We had come to a country where we knew that gorillas were sure to be found, for there grew a pulpy pear-shaped fruit the tonda, of which the animal is very fond. It grows almost upon a level with the ground, and is of a splendid red color. Not only were gorillas fond of the tonda, but I myself liked it very much, as did also the negroes. I am very fond of the subdued and grateful acid of this fruit. The kind that grows on the sandy prairies of the seashore is not fit to eat. Many and many times I would have starved in the forest without the tonda.

We were not mistaken, for we found everywhere gorilla marks, and now and then we could see the huge foot-prints of some old monster, which probably would have come and offered us battle if he had been near at hand; at other places we saw where they had seated themselves and been eating the tonda. At another place near a little stream we discovered that a female gorilla and her baby had been drinking, for I could see the tiny feet of the little one.

"There must be gorillas not far off," whispered Malaouen into my ears, and at the same time he looked carefully at his gun. Querlaouen and Gambo gave a chuckle, and looked at Malaouen and at me. We all listened in silence; we were then in one of the thickest and densest parts of the forest; all was apparently still, but the quick ear of Malaouen had detected something, had heard a noise, and he wanted to know the cause of it.

We were so excited that our breathing was loud and distinctly audible. We were all close together and did not move. We at once cocked our guns, for we heard the moving of branches just ahead of us, when lo! the forest resounded with the terrific roar of the gorilla which made the very earth fairly shake under our feet. As soon as the gorilla saw us he stood up, and beat his chest with his powerful hands until it resounded like an immense bass drum. His intensely black face was something horrid to behold; his sunken deep gray eyes looked like the eyes of a demon, and he opened his mouth and gave vent to roar after roar, showing his powerful canine teeth. How big they were! They were frightful to look upon; the inside of his mouth was so red.

It was a male gorilla, a real fighting fellow, and was not afraid of us. How horrid he looked as the hair on the top of his head twitched up and down, and as he made the woods ring with his awful roar until the forest was full of the din!

We stood in silence, gun in hand, and I was ready to fire, when Malaouen, who is a cool fellow, said, "Not yet" The monster, according to them, was not near enough. He stopped for a minute or so, and then seated himself, for his legs did not seem well adapted to support his huge body. The gorilla looked at us with his evil gray eyes, then beat his breast with his long, powerful, and gigantic arms, giving another howl of defiance. How awful was that howl! He then advanced upon us. Now he stopped, and, though not far off, they all said, "Not yet." I must own to having been somewhat accustomed to see gorillas. I was terribly excited, for I always felt that, if the animal was not killed, some one of us would be killed.



I now judged he was not more than ten or twelve yards from us, and I could see plainly the ferocious and fiendish face of the monstrous ape. It was working with rage; his huge teeth were ground against each other, so that we could hear the sound; the skin of the forehead was moved rapidly back and forth, bringing a truly devilish expression upon the hideous face; then once more he opened his mouth and gave a roar which seemed to shake the woods like thunder, and, looking us in the eyes and beating his breast, advanced again. This time he was within eight yards from us before he stopped again. My breath was growing short with excitement as I watched the huge beast. Malaouen said "Steady," as he came up. When he stopped, Malaouen said "Now;" and before he could utter the roar for which he was opening his mouth, three musket balls were in his body, and he fell dead almost without a struggle. Gambo had not fired; he had kept his gun in reserve in case of accident. "Do not fire too soon. If you do not kill him he will kill you," said friend Malaouen to me—a piece of advice which I found afterward to be literally true. It was a huge beast, and a very old one indeed. Gorillas vary in height like men. This one was over 5 feet 6 inches. Its arms spread out 7 feet and 2 inches. Its bare, huge, brawny chest measured 50 inches round; and the big toe or thumb of its foot measured nearly 6 inches in circumference. Its arm seemed only like an immense bunch of muscle, and its legs and claw-like feet were so well fitted for grabbing and holding on that I did not wonder that the negroes believed that this animal concealed itself in trees, and pulled up with his foot any living thing, leopard, ox, or man, that passed beneath. There is no doubt that the gorilla could do this, but that he does, I do not believe. They are ferocious and mischievous, but not carnivorous.

Though you see by the description I have given you that the animal is large, I have killed others much larger, about one of which I will speak to you.

The face of this gorilla was entirely black. The vast chest, which proved his great power, was bare, and covered with a parchment-like skin. Its body was covered with gray hair, the hair being longer on the arms.

Though there is much dissimilar between this animal and man, I never kill one without having a sickening realization of the horrid human likeness of the beast. This was particularly the case to-day when the animal approached us in its fierce way, and walking on its hind-legs and looking us boldly in the face, seemed to me like an incarnate fiend.

I stuffed and preserved its skin and skeleton, and a few years ago many of you saw them in New York or Boston.

I was delighted that we had killed a gorilla. We had the greatest trouble in bringing the beast to the camp. We had to disembowel him on account of his weight, in order to carry him. We cut a long pole, and then tied its body on it. Then at one end there was Querlaouen, and at the other Gambo and Malaouen, while I took the lead, and so we returned by the way we had come. That gorilla must have weighed between three and four hundred pounds.

You might ask how we could find our way back in this immense forests where the trees are so thick and close together. I will tell you.

As we advanced, we bent down or broke the boughs of trees which we passed. If afraid of making a noise, we quietly took the leaves, and as we went on we spread them on the ground, but above all we noticed every thing, especially the trees, and it is wonderful how quick one acquires this habit of observation. Yet, despite all this, now and then people get lost, but it is generally because they have not been careful enough, and have not followed the rules of which I have told you.

On the hunting grounds the Bakalai seemed to know every inch of ground, every tree and shrub.

At last we reached the camp. How glad we were! It was almost dark, and we were very tired; the two boys welcomed us and cooked our evening meal. Tremendous fires were lighted, and my three fellows laid flat on the ground, the soles of their feet almost touching the fire. It is wonderful how by doing this they rest them, and cure the soreness which a long march occasions.

I do not know how, but we all fell asleep without knowing it, leaving the boys to keep watch; and when I awoke during the night Gambo was snoring in a most fearful manner, Malaouen had almost his back in the fire and did not feel it, while the position of Querlaouen was something laughable, his arms being extended their full length; for he lay on his back, while his big fetich was resting on the middle of his chest; his gun lay by his side, and one of his knees was up, while the other limb was stretched out to its full length. All three carried on a little snoring musical concert, but that evening Gambo certainly carried off the palm for noise. I did not want to awake the good fellows, for they had worked hard, and we intended to have another tremendous hunt, for we designed to kill a leopard if possible. I told the boys to go to sleep, and I myself kept watch. It was soon four o'clock in the morning, and the singing of the gray partridge, a new species which I discovered, soon warned me that another day was about to begin.