Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

A Jolly Excursion Party

fishing expedition



Not long after we returned from our hunting expedition I prepared to go to Fetich Point on a fishing excursion. For this purpose it was necessary to have canoes. I had called on King Bango since I returned, but, remembering the rats, had respectfully declined the hospitality of his palace. Nevertheless, he remained my friend, and gave me all the men I wanted.

I not only wanted to fish, but I also wished to see the burial-ground of the Oroungous, which is not far from Fetich Point. There were also some enormous turtles on Fetich Point, I was told, and I wished to catch some of them.

My old hunting friend, Fasiko, had got together a party of forty men. Besides Fetich Point, I was to visit the Fetich River and the end of Cape Lopez. There being no houses whatever there, the women had prepared for us a great quantity of powdered manioc, baskets of ground-nuts, sweet potatoes, and bunches of plantain. We had a very large outfit. Fasiko got together a lot of mats to sleep upon, and kettles to cook in, and a great quantity of salt, with which to salt the fish we hoped to catch. We had several fish-nets made of the fibre of a vine. We also had fish-hooks; and I took an enormous hook to catch sharks. I always had a hatred of sharks, they are such savage and voracious monsters.

We had a great number of baskets. The women carried these to put the fish in. We did not forget guns; for leopards lurk in the jungle, on the south side of the cape, and the boa hangs from the trees, waiting for his prey. If you got up early there, as every body at a watering-place should, you could see huge elephants trotting down along the beach, and cooling their tender toes in the surf.

It was a very jolly party, for Cape Lopez is the Cape May, or Nahant of Sangatanga. The dry season there answers to our July, when "every body that is any body" is supposed to be "out of town and down by the sea-side."

Niamkala and Aboko were of the party, for we were great friends, and wherever I went they wanted to go. They were slaves of King Bango; but we had shared the same dangers, we had shared the same pleasures.

At last every thing was ready. I embarked in the biggest canoe, which was manned by sixteen oarsmen. As usual, there was a good deal of shouting and bustle before we got off. The sails, made with matting, were unfurled, and we set out across the bay. We had an exciting race to see which canoe was the fastest. There was a stiff breeze; but, unfortunately, the wind was nearly in our faces, so that our sails were of little use. The men worked lustily at their paddles, and, as they paddled, they sang their wild canoe songs. The morning was clear and bright, but in the afternoon the sky became clouded. We reached Fetich Point a little before sunset, and the men, who seemed as lively and jolly as could be, at once cast their net, in a way not materially different from our mode of using the hand-net, and made a great haul of fish, the principal part of which were mullets. How beautiful they looked! They seemed like silver fish.

The men went immediately in search of firewood. We lighted our fires, and, having cooked and eaten our fish, which were delicious, we prepared for a night's rest by spreading mats upon the sand. It was terribly cold, for we were not sheltered from the wind, which went right through my blanket.

Not far from Fetich Point is the River Tetica, one of the tributaries of the Nazareth River. The Nazareth falls into the bay through a tangled, dreary, and poisonous tract of back country, consisting of mangrove swamps, like those I have described on the Monde River, and where, I dare say, no animals except serpents are to be found. There are no human habitations there.

In the morning I wished to see the Oroungou burial-ground before starting for Cape Lopez itself. It lay about a mile from our camp, toward Sangatanga, from which it is distant about half a day's pull in a canoe.

It was only by the promise of a large reward that I persuaded Niamkala to accompany me. The negroes visit the place only on funeral errands, and hold it in the greatest awe, conceiving that here the spirits of their ancestors wander about, and that they are not lightly to be disturbed.

Niamkala and I left the camp, and, following the sea-shore, soon reached the place. It is in a grove of noble trees, many of them of magnificent size and shape. As I have said, the natives hold the place in great reverence.

The grove is by the sea. It is entirely cleared of underbrush; and, as the wind sighs through the dense foliage of the trees, and whispers in their darkened, some, what gloomy recesses, them is something awful about the place. I thought how many lives had been sacrificed on these graves.

Niamkala stood in silence by the strand, while I entered the domain of the Oroungou dead.

The corpses are not put below the surface. They lie about beneath the trees, in huge wooden coffins, many of which were made of trees. By far the greater number were crumbling away. Some new ones betokened recent arrivals. The corpses of some had only been surrounded with a mat. Here was a coffin falling to pieces, and disclosing a grinning skeleton within. On the other side were skeletons, already without their covers, which lay in the dirt beside them. Every where were bleached bones and mouldering remains. It was curious to see the brass anklets and bracelets, in which some Oroungou maiden or wife had been buried, still surrounding her whitened bones, and to note the remains of articles which had been laid in the coffin or put by the side of some wealthy fellow now crumbling to dust. What do you think these articles were? Umbrellas, guns, spears, knives, bracelets, bottles, cooking-pots, swords, plates, jugs, glasses, etc.

In some places there remained only little heaps of shapeless dust, from which some copper, or iron, or ivory ornaments, or broken pieces of the articles I have just mentioned, gleamed out, to prove that here, too, once lay a corpse, and exemplifying the saying of the Bible, "Dust to dust thou shalt return." I could not help saying to myself, "Man, what art thou?"

Suddenly I came to a corpse that most have been put there only the day before. The man looked asleep, for death does not show its pallor in the face of the negro as it does in that of the white man. This corpse had been dressed in a coat, and wore a necklace of beads. By his side stood a jar, a cooking-pot, and a few other articles, which his friend, or his heir, had put by his side.

Passing on into a yet more sombre gloom, I came at last to the grave of old King Pass-all, the brother of the present king. Niamkala had pointed out to me the place where I should find it. The huge coffin lay on the ground, and was surrounded on every side with great chests, which contained some of the property of his deceased majesty. Many of them were tumbling down, and the property destroyed. The wood, as well as the goods, had been eaten up by the white ants. Among some of the chests, and on the top of them, were piled huge earthenware jugs; glasses, mugs, plates, iron pots, and brass kettles. Iron and copper rings, and beads, were scattered around, with other precious things which Pass-all had determined to carry to the grave with him. There lay also the ghastly skeletons of the poor slaves, who, to the number of one hundred, were killed when the king died, that he might not pass into the other world without due attendance.

It was a grim sight, and one which filled me with a sadder feeling than even the disgusting slave barracoons had given me.

The land breeze was blowing when I returned, and we started for the sandy point of the cape. It is a curious beach, very low; and covered with a short scrub; which hides a part of the view, while the sand ahead is indistinguishable at a distance from the water, above which it barely rises. I was repeatedly disappointed, thinking we had come to the end, when, in fact, we had before us a long narrow sand-spit. Finally we reached the extreme end, and landed in smooth water on the inside of the spit.

The point gains continually upon the sea. Every year a little more sand appears above the water, while the line of short shrubs, which acts as a kind of dam or breakwater, is also extended, and holds the new land firm against the encroachments of old Neptune.

Among these shrubs we built our camp, and here for some days we had a very pleasant and lively time. The weather was delightful; we had no rain, it being the dry season, and we were not afraid of the awful tornadoes.