Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu
THE KING RECEIVES ME.
ANOTHER EXPEDITION TO LAKE ANENGUE.—DIFFICULT PASSAGE UP THE RIVER.—THE CROCODILES.—KING DAMAGONDAI AND HIS TROUBLES.—I BUY MBUITI, OR IDOL.
One fine morning there was a great bustle on the banks of the river at Washington, where two canoes were loading. I was about to start on another expedition. I called King Rampano and his people together, and gave them charge of my property; I declared that if any thing was stolen during my absence I should surely punish the thief.
They all protested that I need not even lock the doors of my house; and I believed them. The Biagano people loved me, and did not steal from me.
Then I counted my ten goats in their presence, and said that I wanted no leopard stories told me when I came back. At this they shouted and laughed. They declared that neither they nor the leopards should touch my goats.
I counted the fowls, and told them I wanted no snake stories about them. Another hearty laugh, and they all shouted that no snakes should gobble up my fowls. These matters having been satisfactorily arranged, I started with my canoe and a well-armed crew.
I was bound again for Lake Anengue, where I had been a few months before. It was now the dry season. We had armed ourselves well, for fear we might be interrupted, as some people came up this way to make plantations during the dry season, and might dispute our advance; I determined to let no man bar the road to me.
The dry season was at its height, and I found the Npoulounay shallower than before. There was about fifteen feet less depth of water in the Ogobai during the dry season than there was in the rainy season. At this time the river was covered with muddy or sandy islands, many of which were left dry. The muddy islands were covered with reeds, among which sported the flamingo, a bird not seen here in the rainy season.
We pulled hard all day, and slept the that night on a sandy island of the Ogobai River, under our mosquito-nets, of which I had laid in a store. These nets, which the natives also use, are made of grass cloth, which comes from the far interior, and does very well outdoors, where it keeps out the dew as well as the mosquitoes, and protects the sleeper against the cold winds which prevail.
The next morning when I awoke, I saw, for the first time, a fog in this part of Africa; it was very thick, but the sun drove it off. I sent out my fishing-net, and in a few minutes the men caught fish enough for supper and breakfast.
After our breakfast of fish and plantain, we paddled on up the stream. Though we had seen a few villages, we had not met a single canoe on the water, and nothing human except a corpse that came down the river, and ran against our canoe. It was probably the body of some poor wretch who hid been drowned on account of witchcraft. The hands and feet were tied, so that when they threw him into the water he could not swim.
Finally we entered the Anengue; but this river, we found, was entirely changed since May. Then it was a deep, swift stream. Now its surface was dotted with numberless black mud islands, on which swarmed incredible numbers of crocodiles. We actually saw many hundreds of these disgusting monsters sunning themselves on the black mud, and slipping off into the water to feed. I never saw such a horrible sight. Many were at least twenty feet long; and when they opened their frightful mouths they seemed capable of swallowing our little canoes without trouble. I wondered what would become of us all if, perchance, our canoe should capsize.
I determined to have a shot at these crocodiles, which seemed nowise frightened at our approach. Making my men paddle the boat quite near to them, I singled out the biggest, and lodged a ball in his body, aiming at the joints of his fore legs, where the thick armor is defective. He tumbled over, and after struggling in the water for a moment, sank into the mud. His companions turned their hideous snaky eyes down at him in momentary surprise, but did not know what to make of it, and dropped back to their sluggish comfort. I shot another, but he sank also, and as my men did not like to venture into the black mud after them, we got neither.
As we ascended the stream it branched off in several places, and became gradually narrower. Crocodiles were seen every where. At length we found ourselves pushing laboriously along through a deep crooked ditch, not more than two yards wide, and overhung with tall reeds, on which a great number of birds balanced themselves, as though enjoying our dilemma. We found this time, to my surprise, a tremendous current running. In May, the water of the lake had overflowed its shores, and its regular outlets had therefore no great pressure upon them. Now this outlet was choked with water, which rushed through at such a rate that, at some of the turns in the crooked channel, we were actually swept back several times before we could make our way ahead. At one point, where the true outlets joined, we could not pass till I made the men smoke their condouguai, a long reed pipe, which seems to give them new vigor; I also gave them a sup of my brandy. This done, they gave a great shout, and pushed through, and in an hour after we emerged into the lake, but not without tremendous exertions.
We now lay on our paddles and gazed about us. On one side the lake is bounded by hills which come close down to the shore; on the other side the hills recede, and between them and the water lies a dreary extent of low marsh, covered with reeds. Several towns were in sight, all located on the summits of hills.
The lake, alas! had changed with the season too. It was still a beautiful sheet of water, but all over its placid face the dry season had brought out an eruption of those black mud islands which we had noticed before, and on these reposed I fear to say what number of crocodiles. Wherever the eye was turned, these disgusting creatures, with their dull leering eyes and huge savage jaws, appeared in prodigious numbers. The water was alive with fish, on which I supposed the crocodiles had fat living; but pelicans and herons, ducks and other water-birds also abounded, drawn hither by the abundance of their prey.
Paddling carefully past great numbers of crocodiles, into whose ready jaws I was by no means anxious to fall, and past several villages, whose people looked at us with mute amazement, we reached at last the town of Damagondai. A great crowd was assembled to receive us, headed by the king himself, who stood on the shore. Quarters were provided for me by his majesty, who, a short time after my arrival, presented me with a goat. He was dressed in the usual middle-cloth of the natives, and a tarnished scarlet soldier's coat, but was innocent of trowsers. His welcome, however, was not the less hearty because the pantaloons were absent.
His town, which contains about fifty huts, lies on some high ground, at a little distance from the water. I distributed presents among the graybeards, and beads among the women, and thus put them all in good-humor.
Damagondai, the king, then insisted that I must get married to at least two or three women. He was amazed when I declined this flattering proposal, and insisted upon it that my bachelor life must be very lonely and disagreeable.
The king was a tall, rather slim negro, over six feet high, and well shaped. In war or in the chase he had the usual amount of courage, but at home he was exceedingly superstitious. As night came on he seemed to get a dread of death, and at last began to groan that some of the people wanted to bewitch him, in order to get his property and his authority. Finally he would get excited, and begin to curse all witches and sorcerers. He would say that no one should have his wives and slaves, and that the people who wanted to kill him had better beware; the mboundou was ready.
Certainly poor Damagondai must have slept on the wrong side, as I told him afterward, for the old fellow began to lecture his wives, telling them to love him and feed him well, for he had given a great deal of goods and slaves to their parents for them, and they were a constant expense to him. To all this the poor women listened with respect.
Damagondai and I were very good friends. I really don't know why, but, wherever I went, these negroes seem to take a liking to me.
In the village of Damagondai there was an mbuiti, "an idol," representing a female figure with copper eyes, and a tongue made of a sharp, sword-shaped piece of iron. This explained her chief attribute; the cuts to pieces those with whom she is displeased. She was dressed in the Shekiani cloth, covering her from the neck down. She is said to speak, to walk, to foretell events, and to take vengeance on her enemies. Her house is the most prominent one in the whole village. She comes to people by night, and tells them in their sleep what is going to happen. In this way, they asserted, my coming had been foretold. They worship her by dancing around her and singing her praises, and their requests. Sometimes a single woman or man comes alone to prefer a request; and one evening I saw the whole village engaged in this rite, all dancing and singing around her. They offer her sugar-cane and other food, which they believe she eats.
I tried to buy this goddess, but, ugly as she was, Damagondai said that no amount of money would purchase her. He insinuated, however, in a very slight way, that for a proper price I might obtain the mbuiti of the slaves. Then a great council took place with the gray-beards of the village. The slaves were on the plantations. They agreed to tell them on their return that they had seen their mbuiti walk off in the woods, and that she had not returned. I could hear them laugh over what they thought to be their clever plot.
I paid them a good price for it. I packed the mbuiti up, and took her off with me, and her portrait, an exact likeness, taken in New York from the idol itself, is found in my book called "Equatorial Africa."
I have often thought since how much I should have enjoyed seeing the return of the slaves to the village. I should like to know if they really believed that their mbuiti had left them; if so, there must have been great wailing and mourning for fear that the wrath of the mbuiti would come upon them.