Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu


return from a hunt



At last I got better. I could not stand hunger and gouamba any longer, and determined to make up a regular hunting-party, and stay out till we got something to eat. Malaouen told me that if we went off about twenty miles we should come to a better game country. So we started in the direction he pointed out, and where he thought we should find the gorilla, or perhaps the nshiego mbouvé.

The men were covered with greegrees, or fetiches, and had cut their hands for luck. Aguailai told me that his ogana  (idol) had told him that tomorrow the heart of the otanga  (the white man) would be made glad, for we should kill game.

For some hours after we started we saw nothing but old tracks of different wild beasts, and I began to think that Aguailai's ogana had been too sanguine. Finally, toward twelve o'clock, when we were crossing a kind of high table-land, we heard the cry of a young animal, which we recognized to be a nshiego mbouvé. At once all my troubles left me. I no longer felt either sick or hungry.

We crawled through the bush as silently as possible, still hearing the baby-like cry. At last, coming out into a little place where there was very little undergrowth, we saw something running along the ground toward where we stood concealed We hardly dared to breathe for fear of awakening the animal's suspicions.

When it came nearer, we saw it was a female nshiego mbouvé, running on all-fours, with a young one clinging to her breast. She was eagerly eating some berries, while with one arm she supported her little one.

Querlaouen, who had the fairest chance, fired, and brought her down. She dropped without a struggle. The poor little one cried "Hew! hew! hew!" and clung to the dead body, sucking her breasts, and burying his head there, in alarm at the report of the gun.

We hurried up in great glee to secure our capture. I can not tell my surprise when I saw that the nshiego baby's face was as white as that of a white child.

I looked at the mother, but found her black as soot in the face. What did it mean?—the mother black, the child white! The little one was about a foot in height. One of the men threw a cloth over its head, and secured it till we could make it fast with a rope; for, though it was quite young, it could walk. The old one was of the bald-headed kind, of which I had secured the first known specimen some months before.

I immediately ordered a return to the camp, which we reached toward evening. The little nshiego had been all this time separated from its dead mother, and now, when it was put near her body, a most touching scene ensued. The little fellow ran instantly to her. Touching her on the face and breast, he saw evidently that some great change had happened. For a few minutes he caressed her, as though trying to coax her back to life. Then he seemed to lose all hope. His little eyes became very sad, and he broke out in a long, plaintive wail, "Ooee! ooee! ooee!" which made my heart ache for him. He looked quite forlorn, and as though he really felt his forsaken lot. All in the camp were touched at his sorrows, and the women especially were much moved.

All this time I stood wonderingly staring at the white face of the creature. It was really marvelous, and quite incomprehensible. A more strange and weird-looking animal I never saw.

While I stood there, up came two of my hunters and began to laugh at me. "Look, Chaillie," said they, calling me by the name I am known by among them, "look at your friend. Every time we kill gorilla, you tell us look at your black friend, your first cousin. Now, you see, look at your white friend." Then camp a roar of laughter at what they thought a tremendous joke.

"Look! he got straight hair, all same as you! See white face of your cousin from the bush! He is nearer to you than the gorilla is to us!"

Then they roared again.

"Gorilla no got woolly hair like me. This one straight hair like you."

"Yes," said I; "but when he gets old his face is black; and do you not see his nose, how flat it is, like yours?"

Whereat there was a louder roar than before.

The mother was old, to judge by her teeth, which were much worn; but she was quite black in the face; in fact, her skin was black. Like all the nshiego mbouvé, she was bald-headed.

Now I must give you an account of the little fellow who excited all this surprise and merriment. He lived five months, and became perfectly tame and docile. I called him "Tommy," to which name he soon began to answer.

Three days after his capture he was quite tame. He then ate crackers out of my hands, devoured boiled rice and roasted plantain, and drank the milk of a goat. Two weeks after his capture he was perfectly tamed, and no longer required to be tied up. He ran about the camp, and, when we went back to Obindji's town, he found his way about the village and into the huts just as though he had been raised there.

He had a great affection for me, and used to follow me about. When I sat down, he was not content till he had climbed upon me, and hid his head in my breast. He was extremely fond of being petted and fondled, and would sit by the hour while any one stroked his head or back.

He soon began to be a very great thief. When the people left their huts, he would steal in, and make off with their plantains or fish (for he could then eat any thing). He watched very carefully till all had left a house, and it was difficult to catch him in the act. I flogged him several times, and, indeed, brought him to the conviction that it was wrong to steal; but he could never resist the temptation.

From me he stole constantly. He soon found out that my hut was the best supplied with ripe bananas and other fruit. He also discovered that the best time to steal from me was when I was asleep in the morning. At that time he used to crawl slowly and carefully on tiptoe toward my bed, and look at my closed eyes. If he saw no movement, with an air of great relief he would go and pick up several ripe plantains. If I stirred in the least he was off like a flash, and would presently re-enter for another inspection.

If my eyes were open when he came in on such a predatory trip, he would come directly to me, with an honest face, and would climb upon me, and caress me; but I could easily detect an occasional wistful glance toward the bunch of plantains.

My hut had no door, but was closed with a mat. It was very funny to see Tommy gently raising one corner of this mat, and popping his head in to see if I was asleep. Sometimes I feigned sleep, and then stirred just as he was in the act of taking off his prize. Then he would drop every thing, and make off in the utmost consternation.

He kept the run of meal-times, and was present at as many meals as possible; that is, he would go from my breakfast to half a dozen others, and beg sometimes at each. But he never missed my own breakfast and dinner, knowing by experience that he fared best there.

I had a kind of rude table made, on which my meals were served, in the open part of my house. This was too high for Tommy to see the dishes, so he used to come in before I sat down, when all was ready, and climb up on the pole that supported the roof. From here he would attentively survey every dish on the table, and having determined what to have, he would descend and sit down at my side. If I did not immediately pay attention to him he would begin to howl, "Hew! hew! hew!" louder and louder, till, for peace sake, his wants were satisfied. Of course I could not tell what he had chosen for dinner of my different dishes, and would offer him first one, then another, till the right one came. If he received what he did not want, he would throw it down on the ground with a little shriek of anger and a stamp of his foot, and begin to howl, and this was repeated till he was served to his liking. In short, he behaved very much like a spoiled child.

If I pleased him quickly, he thanked me by a kind of gentle murmur, like "hoohoo," and would hold out his hand to shake mine. He knew perfectly how to shake hands. He was very fond of boiled messes, particularly boiled fish, and was constantly picking the bones he found lying about the village. He wanted always to taste of my coffee, and when Macondai brought it, would beg some of me in the most serious manner.

I made him a little pillow to sleep on, and he became very fond of it. After he was accustomed to it, he would never part with it, but dragged it after him wherever he went. If by any chance it was lost, the whole camp knew it by his howls. Now and then, on some forest excursion, he would mislay it, and then I had to send people for it in order to stop his noise. At other times the people would hide it, just to tease him. He slept on it, coiled up in a little heap, and only relinquished it when I gave him permission to accompany me into the woods.

As he became more and more used to our ways, he grew more impatient of contradiction, and more fond of being caressed; and whenever he was thwarted he would howl in his disagreeable way. Now and then I gave him a flogging to teach him better manners.

As the dry season came on it became colder, and Tommy began to wish for company when he slept, to keep him warm. The negroes would not have him for a companion, for he seemed too much like one of themselves. I did not like to have him in bed with me. So poor Tommy was reduced to misery, as he seemed to think nobody would have him. But soon I found that he waited till every body was fast asleep at night, and then crawled in softly next to some of his black friends, and slept there till the earliest dawn. Then he would get up and get away undiscovered. At other times he felt too warm and comfortable to get up, and was caught and beaten, but he always tried it again.

He showed an extraordinary fondness for strong drink. Whenever a negro had palm wine Tommy was sure to know it. He had a decided taste for Scotch ale, of which I had a few bottles, and he even begged for brandy. Indeed, his last exploit was with a brandy bottle. One day, before going out to the hunt, I had carelessly left the bottle on my chest. The little rascal stole in and seized it; and, being unable to get out the cork, in some way he broke the bottle. When I returned, after some hours' absence, I found my precious bottle broken in pieces! It was the last; and to an African traveler brandy is as indispensable as quinine. Master Tommy was coiled up on the floor amid the fragments in a state of maudlin drunkenness. When he saw me he got up, and tried to stagger up to me; but his legs tottered, and he fell down several times. His eyes had the glare of human drunkenness; his arms were extended in vain attempts to reach me; his voice came thick; in fact, he looked disgustingly and yet comically human. It was the maudlin and sentimental stage of human drunkenness very well represented. I had seen men looking exactly as Tommy did, and I wished these drunkards, could have seen him; they might then, perhaps, have become so disgusted with themselves that they would have given up their horrid vice. I gave him a severe thrashing, which seemed to sober the little toper somewhat; but nothing could cure him of his love for liquor.

He was also very fond of tea and coffee, but wanted both to be well sweetened. He could drink out of a cup. Sometimes, to tease him, I would not put in any sugar; then he would throw down the cup and begin to howl, and he would make the whole place resound with his noise.

He had a great deal of intelligence; and, if I had had leisure, I think I might have trained him to some kind of good behavior, though I despaired of his thieving disposition. The older he grew, the greater thief he became.

He lived so long, and was growing so accustomed to civilized life, that I began to have great hopes of carrying him alive to America.

Sometimes he would come round the fire where my men were, and warm himself with them. How comical he then looked! At other times, when they took their meals, and ate out of a common dish, Master Tommy would join the party; and when they would all put their hands into the dish, he would put his in also, and take a little handful of cooked and smoked fish. In fact, he kept time with them.

But alas! poor Tommy! One morning he refused his food, seemed downcast, and was very anxious to be petted, and held in our arms. I got all kinds of forest berries for him, but he refused all. He did not seem to suffer, but he ate nothing; and next day, without a struggle, he died. Poor fellow! he seemed sorry to leave us. I was grieved; and even the negroes, though he had given them great trouble, were mournful at his death. He had hardly expired when the news spread through the village that little Tommy was no more. They all came to see him; he looked as if he were asleep.

It seemed as if we had lost a friend. We missed his mischief and noise; and for many days we all mourned for Tommy, and wished him back among us.

Tommy turned darker as he grew older. At the time of his death he was yellow rather than white. If he had lived to be old, he would, no doubt, have become black, like his mother.

And now, young friends, for the present I have done. I have told you many things about Africa, about its strange animals, its terrible gorillas, its savage Cannibals; and all that I have told you is true, for it is what I have seen with my own eyes.

But I have not told you all that I saw and heard in that far-distant country. I have many more singular sights to describe, and queer adventures to recount to you.

So I will not bid you farewell; I will say to you "Au revoir!"  That means, "Good-by till I come again."