Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

Attack of the Fever

African village



With Quengueza I resumed the ascent of the River Ovenga. We were bound to the town of a chief named Aguailai. The place was called N'calai Boumba.

We left Obindji early in the morning. On the way we passed several Bakalai villages, the largest of which, Npopo, I afterward visited. The river banks, all the way up, were densely wooded, but very sparsely inhabited by beasts. We saw no animals the whole day except one monkey and a few birds.

Aguailai, who was one of the vassals of Quengueza, and a powerful Bakalai chief, and whom I had met at Obindji's, received us well.

Aguailai's town is the hottest place I ever saw in Africa. N'calai Boumba was set in a hollow, and the houses were so small and close as to be quite unendurable to me. The village was only a little more than a year old. The people had come lately from the interior. Plantations of plantains were very abundant.

Toward the end of April I was brought down to my bed with fever. This was the severest attack I had yet experienced in Africa. It entirely prostrated me. I looked like a corpse. Not a single particle of color could be seen on my face. I had no strength. I could not eat. I could not walk.

For three days I had violent returns of the fever. The blood rushed to my head, and my mind wandered at times; so the natives told me. Of course I can not remember what I said. I only know that my head burned like fire, and that I was almost mad with pain. Between the attacks of fever I really thought I should die, and I commended my soul to God.

While I lay sick, people came and entreated me not to hunt so much and so constantly. They said, "Look at us; we hunt one day; we rest two. When we hunt three days, we rest for many days after it. But you go out every day."

I thought to myself, they are right, and I shall follow their rule hereafter. But it was hard to do so; for I felt that no one else was in the field; that in such an unhealthy climate no one can live very long, and I wanted to do as much work as I could. I wanted to bring all the wonders of that part of the world to light; and I felt that I was getting older and older, and there was yet very much work to be done. So I prayed God to give me strength for the work that was intrusted to my hands.

I shall never forget the kindness of those native women to me while I was sick. Poor souls! They are sadly abused by their task-masters. They are the merest slaves. They have to do all the drudgery. They receive blows and ill usage. And yet, at the sight of suffering, their hearts soften, just as women's hearts soften in our own more civilized lands. No sooner did sickness attack me than these kind souls came to nurse and take care of me. They sat by me to fan me; they brought more mats for my bed; they bathed my burning head with cold water; they got me refreshing fruits from the woods. At night, when I woke up from a feverish dream, I used to hear their voices, as they sat around in the darkness, pitying me and contriving ways to cure me.

When I think of these things I can not help thanking God for them; that, wherever I have gone, He has made human hearts tender and kind to me; that, even under the black skin of the benighted and savage African, He has implanted something of His own compassionate love.

Aguailai and Quengueza were sadly alarmed at my illness. Aguailai accused his people of wickedly bewitching me. One still night he walked up and down the village, threatening, in a loud voice, to kill the sorcerers if he could only find them. I had to get up and tell Aguailai that I was sure his people and the Bakalai loved me too much to wish me to be sick, whereupon they all shouted at once, "It is so; it is so."

After a few days I was able to walk again a little, and I went and lived in the forest, where I suffered less from the heat than in our little houses.

How sorry I often felt that these kind-hearted negroes were given to superstitions which led them to commit the most horrid cruelties. A little boy, about ten years old, had been accused of sorcery. On being examined, he confessed that he had made a witch. Thereupon the whole town seemed to be seized with the ferocity of devils. They took spears and knives, and actually cut the poor little fellow to pieces. I had been walking out, and returned just as the dreadful scene was over. I could not even make the wretched men feel shame at their bloody act. They were still frantic with rage at the thought that this little fellow had made a witch to kill some of them, and they were not quiet for some hours after.

I felt so badly that I went into the woods, and took the path that led to the village of Npopo, which was not far distant from N'calai Boumba. I wanted to see if the people had returned; I wanted to see Aguailai the chief. He was the doctor who had come to Goumbi to drive off the aniemba. When I went down to Npopo the first time I found the people all gone into the bush. Every thing was open and exposed to thieves; chickens and goats were walking about; and I wondered to see such carelessness in the village. But in the center, looking down on every thing, stood the mbuiti, or god of Npopo, a copper-eyed divinity, who, I was informed, safely guarded every thing. It seemed absurd; but I was assured that no one dared steal, and no one did steal, with the eyes of this mbuiti upon him.

This uncommonly useful idol was a rudely-shaped piece of ebony, about two feet high, with a man's face, the nose and eyes of copper, and the body covered with grass.

At last we started for the ebony woods. Our new location was about nine miles from the river, on the side of a long hill, and close by where a cool sparkling rivulet leaped from rock to rock down into the plain, making the pleasantest of music for me as I lay, weak and sick, in the camp. Five huge ebony-trees lifted their crowned heads together in a little knot just above us. All around were pleasant and shady woods. It was a very pleasant camp, but proved to have one drawback—we nearly starved to death. I sent out the hunters immediately on our arrival. They were gone two days, but brought back nothing. Game was very scarce there; and, without an ashinga, or net, such as many Bakalai villages have, not much was to be got.