Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

Hunting Crocodiles

crocodile hunt



I resolved to embark again on the waters of the Anengue Lake, and make a little journey of exploration. Damagondai went in the canoe with me. He was to take me to another king, a friend of his.

We reached the residence of King Shimbouvenegani, a king with a long name and a small village. We had to paddle through very shallow water before reaching this place.

When we arrived, the king with the long name was not at his village. We were told he was at his olako—a place temporarily erected in the woods when villagers go out to hunt, or fish, or pursue agriculture.

They had chosen a charming spot in the woods, just upon the shores of the lake, which here had abrupt banks. The mosquito nets were hung up under the trees; every family had a fire built, and from the pots came the fragrant smell of plantain and fish cooking. The savor was very pleasant to me, for I was hungry.

Presently Shimbouvenegani came up. He was rejoiced to see me, and thanked his friend Damagondai for bringing his white man to visit him.

The appearance of Shimbouvenegani was comical. He was between sixty and seventy years of age, and was quite lean. His only garment was a very dirty swallow-tailed coat, which certainly must have belonged to the time of my grandfather. The buttons were all gone. On his head he wore a broad beaver hat, which dated nearly as far back as the coat itself. The fur was entirely worn off, and the hat had a very seedy appearance. But the king seemed very proud when he made his appearance. He thought his costume was just the thing, and he looked around, as if to say, "Am I not a fine-looking fellow?" And truly, though his dress did not amount to much according to our notions, I doubt not it had cost him several slaves.

He asked me how I liked his costume, at the same time taking one of the smaller tails in his hand and shaking it.

Presently some large pots of palm wine were brought, with which all hands proceeded to celebrate my arrival. Damagondai and Shimbouvenegani soon got drunk, and swore to each other eternal friendship, and Shimbouvenegani promised to give one of his daughters in marriage to Damagondai.

Meantime Damagondai had presented me to his eldest son, Okabi, who resided in the village of Shimbouvenegani. Okabi arranged a nice little place for me, with branches of trees, and made a kind of bed for me. He then gave me his two wives to take care of me, and to cook for me.

I had a very agreeable time in hunting while I was with Shimbouvenegani. It was during my stay there that I discovered the nshiego mbouvé, of which I will speak by-and-by.

We also had a great crocodile hunt, which pleased the people very much, as they are extravagantly fond of the meat. Now and then, during my travel; for lack of something better, I have been obliged to eat crocodiles. I have tried it in all sorts of ways—steaks, stews, boiled, and broth, but I must say I was never fond of it.

They killed more or fewer crocodiles every day at this village, but the negroes were so lazy that they were glad to have me go and save them the trouble. Moreover, the crocodile has not much meat on him; so that, though some were killed every day, the village was never sufficiently supplied.

We went in canoes. These canoes on the Anengue are of very singular construction. They are quite flat-bottomed and of very light draught; many of them are about fifty feet long, with a breadth of not more than two feet, and a depth of ten or twelve inches. They are made of a single tree. They are ticklish craft The oarsmen stand up, and use paddles seven feet long, with which they can propel one of these canoes at a very good rate. They are, of course, easily capsized, the gunwale being but a very few inches above the water; but they do not often tip over. What surprised me most was the way in which the negro paddlers stood up at their work all day without tiring.

The negroes on the Anengue hunt the crocodile both with guns and with a kind of harpoon. The vulnerable part of the animal is near the joints of his fore legs, and there they endeavor to wound it. Though so many are killed they do not decrease in numbers, nor, strange to say, do they seem to grow more wary. They were to be seen every where during the dry season; when the rainy season comes they disappear.

As we started out, we saw them swimming in all directions, and lying on the mud banks sunning themselves. They took no notice of our canoe at all. As we were to shoot them we were obliged to look for our prizes on the shore, for if killed in the water they sink and are lost Presently we saw one immense fellow extended on the bank among some reeds. We approached cautiously. I took good aim and knocked him over. He straggled hard to get to the water, but his strength gave out ere he could reach it, and, to our great joy, he expired. We could not think of taking his body into our canoe, for he was nearly twenty feet long.

We killed another which measured eighteen feet. I never saw more savage-looking jaws; they were armed with most formidable rows of teeth, and looked as though a man would scarcely be a mouthful for them.

We had brought another canoe along, and capsizing this upon the shore, we rolled the dead monsters into it, and paddled off for the village. Then we returned to the olako.

During the heat of the day these animals retire to the reeds, where they lie sheltered. In the morning, and late in the afternoon, they come forth to seek their prey. They swim very silently, and scarcely make even a ripple on the water, though they move along quite rapidly. The motion of their paws in swimming is like those of a dog, over and over. They can remain quite still on the top of the water, where they may be seen watching for prey with their dull, wicked-looking eyes. When they are swimming the head is the only part of the body visible; and when they are still, it looks exactly like an old piece of wood which has remained long in the water, and is tossing to and fro. They sleep among the reeds. Their eggs they lay in the sand on the island, and cover them over with a layer of sand. It is the great abundance of fish in the lake which makes them multiply so fast as they do. The negroes seemed rather indifferent to their presence.

On my journey back to Damagondai's I saw an example of the manner in which the crocodile seizes upon his prey. As we were paddling along I perceived in the distance ahead a beautiful gazelle, looking meditatively into the waters of the lagoon, of which from time to time it took a drink. I stood up to get a shot, and we approached with the utmost silence, but just as I raised my gun to fire a crocodile leaped out of the water, and, like a flash, dived back again, with the struggling animal in its powerful jaws. So quickly did the beast take its prey that, though I fired at him, I was too late. I do not think my bullet hit him.

After hunting on the water I thought I would have a few rambles in the forest near the olako. I killed a beautiful monkey, which the natives call nkago, whose head is crowned with a cap of bright red, or rather brown hair. The nkagos are very numerous in these woods.

While walking in the forest I found, near the water, the hole or burrow of an ogata. This is a species of cayman, which lives near the pools, and makes a long hole in the ground with two entrances. In this hole it sleeps and watches for its prey. The ogata is very unlike the crocodile in its habits. It is a night-roving animal, and solitary in its habits. It scrapes out its hole with its paws with considerable labor. It lives near a pool, for the double reason, I imagine, that it may bathe, and because thither come gazelles and other animals for whom it lies in wait. The negroes told me that they rush out with great speed upon any wandering animal, and drag it into the hole to eat it When the negroes discover one of these holes they come with their guns, which are generally loaded with iron spikes, and watch at one end, while a fire is built at the other entrance. When it becomes too hot, the ogata rushes out and is shot. I killed one, which proved to be seven feet in length. It had great strength in its jaws, and its teeth were very formidable. Like the crocodile, its upper jaw is articulated, and is raised when the mouth is opened.

Sometimes fire is put at both ends of the hole, and the animal is smoked to death. At other times a trap is made at the end where there is no fire, and when the ogata rushes out it is ensnared.