Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

Hunting with Nets




On my way to the sea-shore from the Cannibal country I had a good deal of trouble. I had taken quite another route to come back; Mbéné and his people left me on the banks of a river called the Noya, at the village of a chief called Wanga. From there I pushed my way toward Yoongoolapay, a village whose chief is called Alapay. But before reaching that place we came one evening to a village called Ezongo. The inhabitants, seeing our heavy loads, turned out with the greatest amount of enthusiasm to receive me. Their ardor cooled somewhat when they learned the contents of my packages, for they were the birds and animals I had collected. The rascally chief, thinking I must place a great value on things I had gone so far to get, determined to detain me till I paid a heavy price to get away, and for a while things looked as if I should have a good deal of trouble. The king, urged on by his people, who seemed to be a greedy set of rascals; insisted on his price, which would have left me empty-handed.

At last my Mbicho guides from the Noya tried to settle the matter. They were wise enough to get the king to come to me with them alone. I gave the rascal a coat and an old shirt, and told him what was literally true, that I was very poor, and could not pay what his people wanted. After this palaver, he went out at once and harangued the turbulent extortioners.

So I passed on safely to the village of my old friend, King Alapay, whom I had known before, and who was very glad to see me again. He asked me to stay some days; and, being really worn out with constant exposure, much anxiety, and frequent annoyance, I determined to do so. His village is charmingly situated upon a high hill, which overlooks the surrounding country, and has a beautiful stream skirting its base. Moreover, I found the people very kind, peaceable, and hospitable.

A considerable number of independent Mbicho villages lay within a circuit of a few miles, the inhabitants of which lived in great harmony with one another, having prudently intermarried to such a degree that they really constitute a large family. I was made welcome among them all, and spent some very pleasant days in hunting with these kind-hearted people, and particularly in that kind of sport called by them asheza, or net-hunting; a practice very common among the Bakalai, who called it ashinga.

This singular sport is very much practiced in this part of Africa; and as it is generally successful, it is a local amusement, and brings out the best traits of the natives. I was always very fond of it.

The ashinga nets are generally made of the fibres of the bark of a kind of tree, which are twisted into stout cords. They are from sixty to eighty feet long, and four to five feet high, and every well-to-do village owns at least one. But, as few villages have enough nets to make a great spread, it generally happens that several unite in a grand hunt, and divide the proceeds, the game caught in any particular net falling to the share of its owners.

The first day we went out, the people of half a dozen villages met together at an appointed place, the men of each bringing their nets. Then we set out for a spot about ten miles off, where they had a clearing in the dense woods, which had been used before, and was one of their hunting-grounds. We moved along in silence, so as not to alarm the animals which might be near our ground. The dogs—for dogs are used in this hunt—were kept still, and close together.

Finally, we arrived on the ground, and the work of spreading the toils began. Each party stretched a single net, tying it up by creepers to the lower branches of trees. As all worked in the same direction, and each took care to join his net to that of his neighbor, in a very short time we had a line of netting running in a wide half circle, and at least half a mile long.

This done, a party went out on each side to guard against the chance of escape, and the rest of us were ready to beat the bush. We started at about a mile from the nets, and, standing about fifty yards from each other, we advanced gradually, shouting and making all the noise we could, at the same time keeping our arms in readiness to shoot or spear down any thing which might come in our way.

Though this very spot had been frequently used for net-hunting, and was therefore better cleared than the neighboring woods, yet we were obliged to proceed almost step by step. Nearly every native carried, besides his gun, a heavy cutlass or bill, with which it was necessary literally to hew out a way, the vines and creepers making a network which only the beasts of the forest could glide through without trouble.

As we advanced, so did the men that guarded the flanks; and thus our party gradually closed round the prey. Presently we began to hear shouts, but we could see nothing; and I could only hold my gun in readiness, and pray that my neighbors might not shoot me by mistake, for they are fearfully reckless when on a chase.

The dogs had for some time been let loose. At last we came in sight of the nets. We had caught a gazelle of very minute size, called ncheri. It is a very graceful little animal, and would make a pretty pet, though I have never seen one tamed. A large antelope also was brought to bay, and shot before I came up; and another antelope, being shot at and missed, rushed forward and got entangled in the net.

Having drawn this cover, we gathered up the nets and went off with the dogs, who enjoyed the sport vastly, to try another place. After walking about three quarters of an hour we again spread our nets. Here we had better luck, catching a considerable number of antelopes, gazelles, and some smaller animals. It was pretty busy work for us. Nearly all the animals got very much entangled, and the more they tried to get through the nets the more they became bewildered.

Before breaking up, all the game caught was laid together, that all might see it. And now I had an opportunity to notice the curious little sharp-eared dogs, about a foot high, which had been so useful in driving the animals into our toils. They stood looking at their prizes with eager and hungry eyes. These dogs often go and hunt for themselves; and it is no unusual thing for half a dozen dogs to drive an antelope to the neighborhood of their village, when their barking arouses the hunters, who come out and kill their quarry.

It was almost dark when we returned to the village of Alapay. One antelope was put aside for me, being a peculiar species which I wanted to stuff, and the rest of the meat was immediately divided. The villagers were delighted at our luck. We were all very hungry, and cooking began at once. I could hardly wait for the dinner, which was one worthy of an emperor's palate. It consisted of plantain, cooked in various ways, and venison of the tenderest sort, stewed in lemon-juice, and afterward roasted on charcoal.

I was glad to go to bed early, for I felt very tired. I had traveled during the day very nearly thirty miles.

But I had scarcely got sound asleep when I was fairly turned out of the house by a furious attack of the Bashikouay ants. They were already upon me when I jumped up, and I was bitten by them terribly. I ran out into the street, and called for help and torches. The natives came out, the lights were struck, and presently I was relieved. But now we found that the whole village was attacked. A great army of ants was pouring in on us, attracted doubtless by the meat in the houses, which they had smelt afar off. My unfortunate antelope had probably brought them to my door. All hands had to turn out to defend themselves. We built little cordons of fires, which kept them away from places they had not entered, and in this way protected our persons from their attacks. We scattered hot ashes and boiling water right and left; and toward morning, having eaten every thing they could get at, they left us in peace. As was to be expected, my antelope was literally eaten up—not a morsel was left.

The vast number, the sudden appearance, and the ferocity of these frightful creatures never ceased to astonish me. On this occasion they had come actually in millions. The antelope on which they fed was a vast mass of living ants, which we could not approach; and it was only when many fires were lighted that they were forced from their onward and victorious course, which they generally pursue. Then, however, they retreated in parties with the greatest regularity, vast numbers remaining to complete the work of destruction. Little would I give for the life of a man who should be tied up to a tree when these ants pass that way and attack him; in two or three hours nothing would be left of him but the bare bones.