Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

Adventures in Ngola

after dinner stories



Sunrise found us under way again; and before us lay a fine stretch of prairie, on the farther borders of which were quietly grazing several herds of buffaloes, which, as we approached them, quickly ran into the woods. While they remained in sight they gave the country a civilized appearance; it looked like a large grazing farm in June, with cattle, and hay almost ready for harvest; a fine, quiet, Old-country picture here in the wilds of Africa, that reminded me so much of home scenes that I felt happy and elated.

We pushed on rapidly in order to travel as far as possible before the heat of the day should set in. We came to a large pool or lakelet, and, while looking at the water, I suddenly saw something strange coming out from under its surface. It was a hippopotamus—the first I had seen. I thought it was a log of wood; then I fancied it was the head of a horse; for certainly, from a distance, the head of a hippopotamus looks like that of a horse. Then I heard a great grunt, and down went the head under water. Suddenly a number of the animals made their appearance; there were at least a dozen of them. They began sporting in the water, now popping their huge heads out and snorting, and then diving to the bottom, and remaining there for some time.

I watched them for a while, and then I took my gun, intending to send a bullet into the head of one and haul him ashore, but Aboko said they would sink to the bottom. Not wishing to kill one of these creature for nothing, I took Aboko's advice, and we went away.

We had not met a single human being since we left Sangatanga till now. As we journeyed, I saw in the distance what I at first took to be a herd of buffaloes, but soon perceived it was a caravan of natives coming in our direction. Immediately we looked at our guns; for in this country there is no law, and every man's hand is against his brother. We saw that they, too, prepared for an encounter; that most of them hid in the grass, watching. Four fellows' came toward us to reconnoitre, and to ask if it was peace or war; when suddenly they got a glimpse of me, and I do not know how, but they at once saw, from the fact of my being there, that there would be no war. They shouted to their companions to come and see the Otangani.

They were Shekianis, who, as I have said, are a very warlike people, and this part of the country, I was told, was thickly inhabited by them. We left them in the midst of their wonders, and traveled as fast as we could, for we wanted to reach a village of their tribe, named Ngola, whose chief was a friend of King Bango, and was his vassal, having married one of his daughters.

At last, after much traveling, we reached the village of Ngola. As we approached, and as soon as the women caught sight of me, they ran screaming into the houses. Njambai, the chief, received us very kindly, and gave me a house to live in.

Ngola was a very pretty village, and the house I lived in belonged to Shinshooko, the brother of the chief. You will agree with me that Shinshooko had a funny name. He was a worthy fellow, and tolerably honest too, for he gave me the key of one of his doors—(I wonder where he got the old padlock that was on it)—and he recommended me to shut my door every time I went away, as the people might steal something.

Sunday came; I remained in the village. They all understood the Oroungou language, so I could speak to them. I told them there was no such thing as witchcraft, and that it was very wrong to accuse people of it, and kill them; that there was only one God, who made both the whites and the blacks, and we should all love him. This elicited only grants of surprise and incredulity. They all shouted that there were two Gods—the God of the Ntangani  (white men), and the God of the Alombai  (black men). The God of the black men had never given them any thing, while the God of the white men had sent them guns, powder, and many other fine things. Then Shinshooko remarked," You have rivers of alongon  (rum) flowing through your land. When I go to Sangatanga I taste it at King Bango's; how much I should like to live on the banks of such rivers!" They would not believe that we had only rivers of water like theirs, and that we ourselves made our powder, and guns, and rum also.

I stayed for a few days in the village of Ngola, where the people were very kind to me. One day I heard a woman crying out as if she were in great pain. Asking what was the matter, a man told me the king was punishing one of his wives; and others said that, if I did not go to her help, she might be killed. I hurried to the king's house, and there, in front of the veranda, a spectacle met my eyes which froze my blood with horror. A woman was tied by the middle to a stout stake driven into the ground. Her legs were stretched out and fastened to other smaller stakes, and stout cords were bound round her neck, waist, ankles, and wrists. These cords were being twisted with sticks; and, when I arrived, the skin was bursting from the terrible compression. The poor woman looked at me. The king was in a perfect rage; he himself was the chief executioner. His eyes were bloodshot, and his lips were white with foam. I had to be careful in expostulating with the king, for fear that he might kill her at once in a fit of rage. I walked up, and, taking him by the arm, asked him, for my sake, to release the poor woman, and not to kill her. He seamed to hesitate; he did not answer, and went into his house. I threatened to leave if he did not release her. Finally he consented, and said, "Let her loose yourself; I give her to you."

How glad I was! I rushed out immediately, and began to untie the savage cords, and to cut them away with my knife. The poor creature was covered with blood. I sent her to my house, and took care of her. I learned that she had stolen some of her husband's beads.

After this I left the Shekiani village of Ngola, and went on my journey with my friends Aboko and Niamkala. We traveled on, till, on reaching a place in the midst of a forest, not far from a little lake, we determined to build an olako, for I liked the country so much that I did not want to leave it. There were a great many wild animals in the neighborhood, and we thought the place was likely to afford us good sport, especially as the lake would draw beasts down to its banks to drink. We were not only near water, but we had a wide stretch of forest and prairie-land about us. We worked very hard that day, building and arranging our encampment, in such a way as to make every thing comfortable and secure. Of course we selected the prettiest part of the forest, and where there were many tall and shady trees. We first cut the underbrush from under the trees, and also many of the vines or creepers, which looked very singular as they hung down over our beads. Then we collected a great number of large leaves, which are called by some tribes shayshayray, and guaygayrai, to roof our sheds with. After this we proceeded to cut a number of small sticks, seven or eight feet long, and began to construct our habitations. Then we cut branches of trees to shield us from the wind, and collected a great quantity of firewood, for we had made up our minds to keep ourselves warm. After we had arranged and lighted the fires, our camp looked quite like a little village. It was very romantic and beautiful. I had arranged my own shelter very nicely; and it was first in the row. To be sure, my bed was rather hard, being composed of sticks and leafy branches; while for a pillow I had merely a piece of wood.

In the midst of our work, ten slaves of Njambai came, laden with provisions, which the good fellow had sent after me. After doing a hard day's work, I think we deserved to rest comfortably in the evening. We began cooking our dinner, and a right good dinner it was. My men had monkey and buffalo meat, but I had a nice fat fowl which my friend Njambai had sent me.

Before dinner I warned my men to be honest, and keep their fingers at home. They were good fellows, but I found that all savages will steal. So I threatened to kill the first man I caught meddling with my property, and told them I would shoot without mercy; "and then," said I, with great sternness, "when I have blown your brains out, I will settle the matter with your king." To which Aboko coolly replied that the settlement was not likely to do them any particular good.

Of course they all protested that they were honest, but I knew them better than they knew themselves. I knew the effect of temptation on them, poor fellows! and had more confidence in their faith that I would kill the thief, than I had in their good resolutions.

When this little matter was settled, they drew round the blazing fire. By this time, the buffalo-meat, suspended in a huge kettle over the fire, was cooked and ready to be eaten; the monkeys had been roasted on charcoal; my fowl had been cooked; and before us was a great pile of roasted plantain. We enjoyed a hearty meal together; I eating of a plate, and using a fork, while the black fellows took fresh leaves for plates, and used the "black man's fork," as they call their five fingers. After dinner they drunk a large calabash-full of palm wine, that had been brought from Ngola; and then, to crown their feast with the greatest delight of all, I went to one of my boxes, and lifting the lid, while the shining black faces peered at me with saucer-eyes of expectation, I took out a huge plug of Kentucky tobacco. There was a wild hurrah of joy from them all. They shouted that I was their friend; they loved only me; they would go with nobody else; I was their good spirit; I was like one of themselves. I distributed the tobacco among them, and in a few minutes all were lying about the fire, or seated round it, with their pipes in their mouths.

After making the fire burn brightly, I, being tired, went and lay down, as you see me in the picture. My blanket was the only article of bedding I had; I wrapped this around me, and rested my head on the wooden pillow, which I assure you was not of the softest kind. I felt pleased to see my men so contented. Their wild stories of hunting adventures, of witchcraft, and evil spirits, well fitted the rude, picturesque surroundings; and they lay there talking away, till, at last, I was obliged to remind them that it was one o'clock, and time to go to sleep, especially as some of us were to get up very early and go hunting. Then all became silent, and soon we all fell asleep, except the men appointed to keep the fires bright on account of the leopards, and also to watch that we might not be surprised by some enemy.