Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

Yet More Gorilla Stories




We established ourselves in a deserted Bakalai village a few miles from the banks of the Ovenga, and about ten miles above Obindji. I was glad that I had no olako to build.

There were with me several Bakalai, among whom, of course, were my good friends Querlaouen and Malaouen. Gambo was also one of our party.

After our camp was arranged we went out to look for gorilla tracks. It was too late to hunt; besides, we were too tired. In the evening Malaouen came in after dark, and said he had heard the cry of the kooloo, and knew where to find it in the morning.

Of course I asked what this kooloo was, for I had not the slightest idea of what he meant. I had never heard the name before. I received, in answer, a description of the animal, which threw me into the greatest excitement; for I saw this was most certainly a new species of ape, or man-like monkey—a new man of the woods, of which I had not even heard as yet. It was called kooloo-kamba by the Goumbi people from its cry or call, "Kooloo," and the Commi word kamba, which means "speak." The Bakalai call it simply koola.

I scarce slept all night, with fidgeting over the morrow's prospects. The Bakalai said the kooloo-kamba was very rare here, and there was only a chance that we should find the one whose call had been heard.

At last the tedious night was gone. At the earliest streak of dawn I had my men up. We had fixed our guns the night before. All was ready, and we set out in two parties. My party had been walking through the forest about an hour by a path which led I knew not where, when suddenly I stepped into a file of Bashikouay ants, whose fierce bites nearly made me scream. The little rascals were infuriated at my disturbance of their progress, and they held on to my legs and to my trowsers till I picked them off. Of course I jumped nimbly out of the way of the great army of which they formed part, but I did not get off without some severe bites.

We had hardly got clear of the Bashikouays when my ears were saluted by the singular cry of the ape I was after. "Koola-kooloo, koola-kooloo," it said several times. Only Gambo and Malaouen were with me. Gambo and I raised our eyes, and saw, high up on a tree-branch, a large ape. It looked almost like a black hairy man. We both fired at once, and the next moment the poor beast fell with a heavy mash to the ground. I rushed up, anxious to see if, indeed, I had a new animal. I saw in a moment that it was neither a nshiego mbouvé, nor a common chimpanzee, nor a gorilla. Again I had a happy day. This kooloo-kamba was undoubtedly a new variety of chimpanzee.

We at once disemboweled the animal, which was a full-grown male. We found in his stomach nothing but berries, nuts, and fruits. He had, no doubt, just begun to take his breakfast.

This kooloo-kamba was four feet three inches high. He was powerfully built, with strong and square shoulders. He had a very round head, with whiskers running quite round the face and below the chin. The face was round; the cheek-bones prominent; the cheeks sunken. The roundness of the head, and the prominence of the cheek-bones, were so great as to remind me of some of the heads of Indians or Chinamen. The hair was black and long on the arms, which, however, were partly bare. His ears were large, and shaped like those of a human being. Of its habits the people could tell me nothing, except that it was found more frequently in the far interior. I brought the skin of this kooloo-kamba to New York, and some years ago many people saw it.

On our return to Obindji we were overtaken by my good friend Querlaouen, who had shot a wild pig, of which the good fellow gave me half. The negroes feasted on the kooloo meat, which I could not touch. So the pig was welcome to me, as indeed it was to Quengueza, whom we found almost crying with an affection which is common in this part of Africa, and is called gouamba, but for which we happily have no name. Gouamba is the inordinate longing and craving of exhausted nature for meat. For days, and sometimes for weeks, a man does not get any meat at all, and whenever other food is brought before him, you will hear him say, looking at the food with disgust, "Gouamba," which means, literally, "I am sick of food; I have a craving for meat; I care for nothing else."

I had some glorious gorilla-hunting while in the Bakalai country, in the upper regions of the Ovenga River. Malaouen, Querlaouen, Gambo, and I often started out together, and remained for days in the thickest part of the forest. Now and then we would return to Obindji to get a supply of plantain, and then would go off again. We roamed over the forest in all directions; we explored some new regions; and sometimes we got lost in the, midst of impenetrable mountains, where often for days we killed nothing.

In these excursions we suffered sometimes a good deal, for we had to endure many hardships. We often had very poor fare, and fever sometimes prostrated me.

One day, I remember well, we were out for gorillas, which we knew were to be found thereabouts by the presence of a pulpy pear-shaped fruit, the tondo, of which the animal is very fond. I also am very fond of the subdued and grateful acid of this fruit, which is eaten by the negroes as well as by the gorilla.

We found every where gorilla-marks, and so recent that we began to think the animals must be avoiding us. This was really the case, I believe, though I am not sure. At any rate, we beat the bush for two hours before, at last, we found the game. Suddenly an immense gorilla advanced out of the wood straight toward us, and gave vent, as he came up, to a terrible howl of rage, as much as to say, "I am tired of being pursued, and will face you"

It was a lone male, the kind which are always most ferocious. This fellow made the woods resound with his roar, which is really an awful sound, resembling very much the rolling and muttering of distant thunder.

He was about twenty yards off when we first saw him. We at once gathered together; and I was about to take aim and bring him down where he stood, when Malaouen stopped me, saying in a whisper, "Not time yet."

We stood, therefore, in silence, gun in hand. The gorilla looked at us for a minute or so out of his evil gray eyes, then beat his breast with his gigantic arms—and what arms he had!—then he gave another howl of defiance, and advanced upon us. How horrible he looked! I shall never forget it.

Again he stopped, not more than fifteen yards away. Still Malaouen said "Not yet." Good gracious! what is to become of us if our guns miss fire, or if we only wound the huge beast?

Again the gorilla made an advance upon us. Now he was not twelve yards off. I could see plainly his ferocious face. It was distorted with rage; his huge teeth were ground against each other, so that we could hear the sound; the skin of the forehead was drawn forward and back rapidly, which made his hair move up and down, and gave a truly devilish expression to the hideous face. Once more he gave out a roar, which seemed to shake the woods like thunder; I could really feel the earth trembling under my feet. The gorilla, looking us in the eyes, and beating his breast, advanced again.

"Don't fire too soon," said Malaouen; "if you do not kill him, he will kill you."

This time he came within eight yards of us before he stopped. I was breathing fast with excitement as I watched the huge beast.

Malaouen said only "Steady" as the gorilla came up. When he stopped, Malaouen said "Now!" And before he could utter the roar for which he was opening his mouth, three musket-balls were in his body. He fell dead almost without a struggle.

He was a monstrous beast indeed, though not among the tallest. His height was five feet six inches. His arms had a spread of seven feet two inches. His broad brawny chest measured fifty inches round. The big toe of his foot measured five inches and three quarters in circumference. His arms seemed like immense bunches of muscle only; and his legs and claw-like feet were so well fitted for grabbing and holding, that I could see how easy it was for the negroes to believe that these animals, when they conceal themselves in trees and watch for prey, can seize and pull up with their feet any living thing, leopard, ox, or man, that passes beneath.

The face of this gorilla was intensely black. The vast chest, which proved his great power, was bare, and covered with a parchment-like skin. His body was covered with gray hair. While the animal approached us in its fierce way, walking on its hind legs and facing us as few animals dare face man, it really seemed to me to be a horrid likeness of man.