Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

Voyage Up the River

Witchcraft trial



King Quengueza accompanied me on my voyage up the Rembo and Ovenga Rivers. We were followed by a great many canoes, and by chiefs of the Ashira and Bakalai tribes. We were going to the Bakalai country. The weather was intensely hot; even the negroes suffered; and, though I had a thick umbrella over my head, and sat quite still, I had frequently to bathe my head and keep wet handkerchiefs in my banana hat; for I feared a sunstroke.

The river was narrow and deep, flowing generally between high lands and hills, and now and then in the midst of flats.

Every body complained except Macondai. He was the most spirited little negro I ever saw—a real little hero. I tell you that many, very many, of these African boys have a good deal of pluck, although they are black.

Two days after starting we arrived, a little before sunset, at the village of Obindji, a Bakalai chief who was a great friend of Quengueza. Wherever we passed a Bakalai village the people rushed down to the banks to see me. As we approached the village of Obindji, our men fired guns and sang songs. Obindji came down in great state, dressed in his silk hat, a shirt, and a nice cloth. He was ringing his kendo—a bell, which is the insignia of kingship there—a sort of royal sceptre. The high-crowned silk hat, also, as I have said before, is worn only by the chiefs.

I said to Obindji, "Why do you ring your kendo?"

He replied, "Obindji's heart is glad, and he thanks his Mboundji (a spirit) that he has to-day come up higher than he ever stood before—a ntangani  (white man) has come to see Obindji."

When we had landed, and the two kings and I were seated on the stools used in that country, the grand reception began. Quengueza gave to his friend Obindji, and to all the Bakalai who surrounded us, an account of his entire intercourse with me, from the time he came down to see me at the sea-shore to the present hour.

Then Obindji replied, giving, in like manner (in short sentences), a statement of his feelings when he heard that Quengueza was to bring a ntangani to see him. This closed the conference.

The village of Obindji was small, and was beautifully situated at the foot of a high hill, just on the banks of the Ovenga. The Ovenga River belonged to Quengueza, and, except at its head waters, it had been inhabited by the Bakalai only since the time of Quengueza's eldest brother, whom he had succeeded. These Bakalai are very warlike; they are much dreaded by the other tribes.

The region of the Ovenga is a grand and wild country. It consists of hills and mountains, covered with impenetrable forests, which teem with all kinds of insects. Many animals, curious birds, and a great number of snakes are found there, together with those extraordinary ants, the Bashikouay. There also are the chimpanzees and gorillas.

As I intended to remain some time I set about building another village. The men all went into the forest to collect bark, palm leaves, and posts.

When Sunday came, I requested Quengueza to make the men rest on this day, explaining to him that white men do not work on the Sabbath.

The old man was puzzled for a moment, and then said, "We are much hurried now. Suppose you put off the Sunday for three or four weeks. Then we can have as many Sundays as you want. We will keep four or five days following each other as Sundays. It will be just the same."

He seemed quite proud of his discovery, and was quite disappointed when I told him it would not do.

I worked very hard in building my house. The labor was the more trying because the heat was so intense; there was not a breath of wind in this Bakalai country. Besides, the fever had got hold of me again; but I did not give way to it.

Obindji became very friendly to me. I may say that all these negroes seemed to take a liking for me. I made quite a number of friends among the Bakalai. Two of them, indeed, were very dear friends of mine ; they were called Malaouen and Querlaouen. I really do not know which of the two I liked the best. They were ready to do any thing I wished them to do. If I proposed a hunt, they immediately offered to accompany me; if they killed game, they presented me with the best piece. Their wives were sure to bring me, almost every day, sugar-cane, plantain, or something else. As for Obindji, he did all in his power to please me. Moreover, Quengueza was always close to me. He said that wherever I went he would follow me, and build his shed by the side of mine. I was now Quengueza's white man and Obindji's white man. They all seemed to take pride in me. I am sure I also tried my best to be kind to them. Above all things, I wanted them to believe my word implicitly. Hence, whatever I promised, I kept my word. They noticed this, and therefore no one doubted me. These poor people, though they had no word to describe "an honest man," know the difference between lying and truth-telling; and they appreciate truthfulness.

One day I saw a trial by ordeal performed. A little boy, a son of Aquailai, the doctor who had driven the aniemba, or witch, from the main street at Goumbi, reported that one of Quengueza's men had damaged a Bakalai's canoe. The owner demanded compensation for the injury. The Goumbi men denied that he had injured the canoe, and asked for trial. An Ashira doctor who was in the village was called. He said that the only way to make the truth appear was by the trial of the ring boiled in oil. Thereupon the Bakalai and the Goumbi men gathered together, and the trial was at once made.

The Ashira doctor stuck three little billets of wood into the ground, with their top ends together; then he piled some smaller pieces between, till all were laid as high as the three pieces. A native earthenware pot, half full of palm oil, was set upon the wood, which had been set on fire; and the oil was set on fire also. When it had burned up brightly, a brass bracelet or ring from the doctor's hand was cast into the pot. The doctor stood by with a little vase full of grass soaked in water, of which he threw in, now and then, some bits. This made the oil blaze up afresh. At last all was burned out, and now came the trial. The accuser, the little boy, was required at once to take the ring out of the pot. He hesitated, but was pushed on by his father. The people cried out, "Let us see whether he lied or told the truth." Finally he put his hand in and seized the almost red-hot ring, but quickly dropped it, having severely burned his fingers. At this there was a shout, "He lied! he lied!" and the Goumbi man was declared innocent. I ventured to suggest that he also would burn his fingers if he touched the ring, but nobody seemed to consider this view of the subject.