Lost in the Jungle - Paul du Chaillu

A Heathen Funeral


Now the people were to bury the man who had been killed by that big gorilla. His kindred arrived to get the body to carry it to his village. Every man had his body and face painted in all sorts of colors. They also wore their fetiches, and looked like so many devils coming out of the woods.

After traveling the whole day we came to a strange village on the top of a hill, at the foot of which there was a beautiful little stream, the water of which never dried during the season when there was no rain.

As soon as we made our appearance the sounds of wailing and weeping filled the air. The body was taken to the house of the deceased, where his widows—for he had three wives—mourned, and wept, and cried so that I felt the greatest sympathy for them.

At sunset silence reigned in the village. All the women had gone into their huts, while the men seated themselves on the ground or on their little stools. But suddenly a great wailing rent the air, and from every hut came lamentations—sounds that were heart-rending. Then they sang songs, praising the departed one—songs such as I have described to you young folks in "Stories of the Gorilla Country."

At last, after two days, six stout men, covered with fetiches and painted in the most fantastic manner, came to take the body, to leave it in the woods under some big tree.

As soon as they were ready the tam-tams began to beat, and songs of sorrow were chanted as they disappeared from the village. I followed the body, for I wished to see what they would do. After a while we got into the jungle, and soon came to a spot where the body was left. A fire was lighted by its side, no doubt with the idea of keeping him warm; then some boiled plantains, and a piece of cooked elephant and some smoked fish, were put in a dish of wicker-work and placed at his head. All the while the men kept muttering words I did not understand.

The day after the funeral, toward sunset, while I was looking for birds in the forest, trying to obtain some new specimens which I might never have seen before, I fell in with the brother of the deceased, and saw that he was carrying something carefully packed—something which I could not make out. I asked him what it was. At first he replied, "Nothing." Then I said, "You must tell me." Thinking that I was getting angry, he then answered, "Moguizi, I will tell you what it is. It is the head of my brother  who was buried yesterday, and I have just been to get it." "The head of your brother!" I exclaimed; "and why have you cut off the head of your brother?" "Because," he answered, in a low whisper, "my brother was a great hunter, a mighty warrior, and I want to put his head in the house of the Alumbi. Moguizi, do not tell any one that you have seen me with this head, for we never tell any one when we do this thing, though we all do it. After we have been in the village I will show you the house of the Alumbi."

So I let him go back to his village, and I went hunting for my birds.

As I was returning to my home in the village, I stopped on the bank of the little stream, and there I perceived a very large snake enjoying a bath. As the water was quite clear, I could see him perfectly. I thought I would watch his movements rather than kill him.

The back of this snake was black, and his belly striped yellow and black. It was of a very venomous kind, and one most dreaded by the natives. I could not help a cold shudder running through me as I looked at the reptile. By-and-by it came out of the water and remained still for a little while. Then I saw a beautiful Guinea-fowl coming toward the stream to drink. How beautiful the bird looked! I have before described it in "Stories of the Gorilla Country." He came toward the water, and just as it stood on the brink of the little stream, ready to drink, I saw the huge snake crawling silently toward the bird. It crawled so gently that I could not even hear the noise its body made as it glided over the dead leaves that had fallen from the trees. It came nearer and nearer, and it certainly did not make the noise that it does when not in search of prey.

The poor Guinea-fowl, in the mean time, was unaware of the approach of its enemy, and how greatly its life was in danger. So it lowered its neck and dipped its bill into the water; once, twice, and the snake was getting nearer and nearer; thrice, and the snake was close at hand; and now the snake began to coil itself for a spring. Then the bird took one drink more, and just as it turned its head back its eyes met those of the snake, which stood glaring at the bird. The poor Guinea-fowl stood still, moving not a step, and it was not more than half a yard from the snake, when suddenly the monster sprang with a dart on the poor bird, and before I had time to wink, part of its shiny black body was round the fowl.

How pitiful were the cries of the poor Guinea-fowl! Quick, quick, quick, and all was over. The snake's mouth distended, for he had begun to swallow the bird by the head. Just then I fired in such a way as not to hit the snake, and in his fright he disgorged the bird and left him and the field, crawling out of the way as quick as possible. This time I could hear the noise of the leaves. Indeed, it went off very fast, and I was just on the point of losing sight of it, when I managed to send a load of shot into its body, breaking the spine, as it was about half way across the stream. Then I took a look at the dead Guinea-fowl. Toward the neck the feathers were very slimy from the snake-froth. The snake was now twisting about in all directions, but could neither advance nor retreat, for you know that, its spine being cut, it could not swim, and therefore soon died.

I picked up my Guinea-fowl, cut off the head of the snake, made a parcel of its body, and took the trophies of my day's sport into the village, where I gave a treat to some of my friends.

Soon after my return I went to see my friend Oyagui, who told me in a most mysterious way to wait, and that he would show me the house of the Alumbi  on the next day.

The next morning I did not see Oyagui, but toward sunset he came with the same mysterious air, and told me to come with him. Then he led me to the rear of his hut, where there was a little dwarfish house, which we entered. There I saw three skulls of men resting on the ochre with which he rubbed his body. One cake was red, another yellow, and another white. There lay the skull of his father, of an uncle, and of a brother. As for the fresh head he had cut the day before, it was not to be seen. There were several fetiches hung above the skulls—fetiches which were famous, and had led his ancestors to victory, gave them success in the hunt, and had prevented them from being bewitched. One of these fetiches had two claws of the eagle called guanionien, and three scales of an animal called ipi, an ant-eater, the scales on which are very large and thick. This ipi I had thus far never been able to see, though I had heard of it. In the hut was also a plain iron chain, and in the foreground the remains of a burning fire. Oyagui never spoke a word, and after looking round I left, and he closed the door, which was made of the bark of trees.

The people of the village were comparatively strange, and regarded me with some fear. That day there was a new moon. In the evening all was silent; hardly a whisper could be heard. The men had painted their bodies, and there was no dancing or singing, so I retired to my hut, and was soon soundly sleeping.

By this time I began to feel tired of my hard and exciting life, and thought of gradually returning toward the sea-coast. In the morning I had made up my mind to leave, and made preparations accordingly, and on the following day I bade these people good-by, and started on my return.