Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

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Quengueza had a slave named Mombon whom he loved greatly. Mombon was his overseer, chamberlain, steward, man of business, and general factotum, the man whose place it was to take care of the king's private affairs, set his slaves to work, oversee his plantations, and who had the care of the keys of the royal houses. Mombon was to see that I was made comfortable in town.

Quengueza had also another slave named Etia. Etia was his favorite hunter, and he gave him to me for a guide in the bush. This Etia was a fine-looking old man, belonging to a tribe far in the interior, who had never heard that there was such a thing as a white man in the world. He was living on a little plantation outside the town, where he had a neat house, and a nice old wife, who always treated me in a kind, motherly way; she always had something to give me to eat. Etia's business was to supply the royal larder with "bush meat," and he went out hunting almost every week for that purpose.

Etia and I became great friends, and loved each other much. I gave to Etia and to his wife many little presents, with which they always seemed very much pleased. Around the house of Etia were arranged skulls of elephants, hippopotami, leopards, and gorillas, as trophies of his prowess.

Among the numerous guests of Quengueza was an Ashira chief, who had come on a visit to the king. He had a son called Gambo, a noted hunter. Gambo was a very ill-looking fellow, but he had a fiery eye, great courage, and a kind heart. I became very fond of Gambo, and Gambo became very fond of me. Sometimes Quengueza could not help saying to his people, "See how hunters love each other, no matter if they come from different countries. See how my white man loves the black hunters." In fact, we were always together. I had never seen the Ashira tribe to which Gambo belonged.

One day we had been going through the woods about three hours when at last we came upon fresh gorilla tracks. Etia now set out alone, while Gambo and I walked silently in another direction. The gorilla is so difficult to approach that we had literally to creep through the thick woods when in their vicinity. The hunter can not expect to see his enemy till he is close upon him. The forest is so thick and gloomy that even when quite near the animal is but dimly visible. All this makes hunting for the gorilla very trying to the nerves; for it is in the hunter's mind that if he misses—if his bullet does not go to the most fatal point—the wounded and infuriated brute will make short work of his opponent.

As we crept silently along, suddenly the woods resounded with the report of a gun. We sped at once toward the quarter whence the report came, and there we found old Etia sitting complacently upon the dead body of the largest female gorilla I ever saw. The total height of the animal was four feet seven inches. This was a huge gorilla for a female, for they are always much smaller than the males.

Another time we made up a large party. We were to go a considerable distance to a spot where Etia gave me hopes that we should catch a young gorilla alive. I would have gone through any hardship and peril to get one large enough to be kept alive, and to be sent to Europe.

Etia, Gambo, myself, and ten men composed our party. Each was armed, and laden with provisions for a couple of days. The men were covered with fetiches. They had painted their faces red, and had cut their hands in more than fifty different places. This bleeding of the hands was done for luck. The fellows were nearly naked; but this is their usual habit.

As for me, I had also made extra preparations. I had blackened my face and hands with powdered charcoal and oil; and my blue drilling shirt and trowsers and black shoes made me as dark as any of them. My revolvers hung at my side, with my ammunition bag and brandy flask; my rifle lay upon my shoulder. All this excited the admiration of the crowd which assembled to see us go out.

Quengueza was greatly delighted, and exclaimed, "What kind of ntangani (white man) is this? He fears nothing; he cares for neither sun nor water; he loves nothing but the hunt."

The old king charged the people to take great care of his white man, and to defend him with their lives, if need be.

We traveled all day, and about sunset came to a little river. Here we began at once to make a fire and build leafy shelters for the night Scarcely was the fire-wood gathered, and we were safely bestowed under our shelter, when a storm came up which lasted half an hour. Then all was clear once more. We cooked plantains and smoked some dried fishes.

In the evening the men told stories about gorillas.

"I remember," said one, "my father told me he once went out to the forest, when just in his path he met a great gorilla. My father had his spear in his hand. When the gorilla saw the spear he began to roar; then my father was terrified, and dropped the spear. When the gorilla saw that my father had dropped the spear he was pleased. He looked at him, and then left him and went into the thick forest. Then my father was glad, and went on his way."

Here all shouted together, "Yes; so we must do when we meet the gorilla. Drop the spear; that appeases him."

Next Gambo spoke. "Several dry seasons ago a man suddenly disappeared from my village after an angry quarrel. Some time after an Ashira of that village was out in the forest. He met a very large gorilla. That gorilla was the man who had disappeared; he had turned into a gorilla. He jumped on the poor Ashira, and bit a piece out of his arm; then he let him go. Then the man came back with his bleeding arm. He told me this. I hope we shall not meet such gorillas."

Chorus—"No; we shall not meet such wicked gorillas."

I myself afterward met that man in the Ashira country. I saw his maimed arm, and he repeated the same story.

Then one of the men spoke up: "If we kill a gorilla to-morrow, I should like to have a part of the brain for a fetich. Nothing makes a man so brave as to have a fetich of gorilla's brain. That gives a man a strong heart."

Chorus of those who remained awake—"Yes; that gives a man a strong heart."

Then we all gradually dropped to sleep.

Next morning we cleaned and reloaded our guns, and started off for the hunting ground. There is a particular little berry of which the gorilla is very fond, and where this is found in abundance you are sure to meet the animal.

We had divided. Etia, Gambo, two other men, and I kept together, and we had hardly gone more than an hour when we heard the cry of a young gorilla after his mother. Etia heard it first, and at once pointed out the direction in which it was.

Immediately we began to walk with greater caution than before. Presently Etia and Gumbo crept ahead, as they were expert with the net, and were also the best woodsmen. I unwillingly remained behind, but dared not go with them, lest my clumsier movements should betray our presence. In a short time we heard two guns fired. Running up, we found the mother gorilla shot, but her little one had escaped; they had not been able to catch it.

The poor mother lay there in her gore, but the little fellow was off in the woods; so we concealed ourselves hard by to wait for its return. Presently it came up, jumped on its mother, and began sucking at her breasts and fondling her. Then Etia, Gambo, and I rushed upon it. Though evidently less than two years old, it proved very strong, and escaped from us. But we gave chase, and in a few minutes had it fast, not, however, before one of the men had his arm severely bitten by the savage little beast.

It proved to be a young female. Unhappily, she lived but ten days after capture. She persistently refused to eat any cooked food, or any thing else except the nuts and berries which they eat in the forest. She was not so ferocious as "Fighting Joe," but was quite as treacherous and quite as untamable. She permitted no one to approach her without trying to bite. Her eyes seemed somewhat milder than Joe's, but had the same gloomy and treacherous look, and she had the same way as Joe of looking you straight in the eyes when she was meditating an attack. I remarked in her also the same manœuvre practiced by the other when she wished to seize something—my leg, for instance, which, by reason of the chain around her neck, she could not reach with her arm. She would look me straight in the face, then quick as a flash would throw her body on one leg and one arm, and reach out with the other leg. Several times I had narrow escapes from the grip of her strong big toe. I thought sometimes that when she looked at me she appeared cross-eyed, but of this I could not make certain. All her motions were remarkably quick, and her strength was very great, though she was so small.