. . .This only is certain, that there is nothing certain; and nothing more miserable and yet more arrogant than man. — Pliny the Elder

With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas




Troubles in the Forest

Every difficulty passed seemed only to leave the way clear for some new misfortune. The stings of the wasps encountered at the rapids in many cases produced a sharp attack of fever; but a worse trouble, and one which affected the whole column, was the scarcity of food. It was reported that above the Wasp Rapids there was a long stretch of uninhabited country, where little or nothing eatable could be procured. It was therefore imperative that a supply of food should be laid in; but when the travellers attempted to barter, provisions were found to be at famine prices. A brass rod, twenty-eight inches long, only purchased three heads of Indian corn, four rods were the price of a fowl, and a cartridge pouch fetched a couple of plantains. As the trading proceeded several men were detected in the act of selling their cartridges; then tools began to go; and finally, in order that the camp might not be completely denuded, it became necessary to order off the natives. One of their principal men was seized as a hostage, and his friends were informed that, unless they traded fairly on the following day, the captive would be carried away, and the fields and gardens would be raided.

Morning came, and as there was no sign of the natives a party of foragers was ordered out, and in a few hours returned with an abundant supply of provisions. One difficulty was thus solved; but on August 1st, when the advance was resumed, one of the Zanzibari boatmen managed to capsize his canoe by careless steering. The result was the loss of a quantity of valuable beads and other property, including half a dozen rifles.

So far, notwithstanding the hardships of the route, not a single death had occurred since the column left Yambuya, but short commons, added to constant work in the damp dreariness of the forest, began to tell on both men and animals, and on August 2nd a man and a donkey died. Later that same day a large abandoned village was reached, and the men were proceeding to make themselves comfortable for the night, when the report went round that a dead body had been discovered in a hut. Shortly afterwards two or three others were found, and as it seemed pretty clear that the surviving inhabitants had been frightened away by the outbreak of some malignant disease, the intended camp was transferred to a healthier locality.

The native boy Bakula had had a good deal to tell about some falls which he called Panga, where, he said, the water fell from a height equal to that of the tallest tree; and on August 4th the foot of the cataract was reached. The actual fall was about thirty feet in height, though at first sight it appeared to be considerably greater, as for some distance above the fall the water descended a steep slope. A portage was unavoidable, so the boats were taken out of the water, a road was cut, and three days later the pioneers, with their boat and canoes, encamped at the head of the cataract. During this time a foraging party had been busily engaged in a search for provisions; but their endeavours were not crowned with any marked success, though the neighbourhood was comparatively thickly inhabited. The natives were said to be cannibals, who did not cultivate the land, but picked up any sort of living they could, eating human flesh as a dainty, and at other times feeding on snails, mushrooms, banana stalks, fish, or roots.

Above this none too agreeable camp navigation proved difficult and dangerous, owing to the strength and swiftness of the current flowing down to the cataract. A canoe was upset, but fortunately no lives were lost, though, owing to the carelessness of the Zanzibari crew, a couple of rifles and two cases of gunpowder, which formed part of the cargo, went to the bottom of the stream. At this part of the river the construction of the villages completely changed. Below Panga Falls most of the huts were built with high conical roofs ; but here they were much lower, with low pitched roofs and strong log palisades, which could easily be held against an invading force, even if armed with rifles. The people, too, were warlike and unapproachable; and on August 10th, when the foragers were out, one of them was shot in the throat by a wooden arrow, which was evidently poisoned, for though the wound did not appear to be serious the poor fellow grew worse and worse, and died of lockjaw a few days later.

A large settlement, called Avisibba, was reached on August 13th. The river column was the first to arrive, and the men encamped in a village situated on the bank of a creek called the Ruku. It was a prosperous-looking place, consisting of a wide, open street bordered on each side by low palisaded huts, beyond which grew a flourishing thicket of plaintains backed by dense uncleared forest, where the villagers, who had deserted their houses, lay in ambush to attack the unwelcome strangers. All unsuspicious of danger, the boats' crews, rifle in hand, searched through the houses and plantain groves, and finding them deserted gave no thought to the forest beyond. The officers, too, were busy ; for on the previous day a Zanzibari had been shot near the camp, and it was supposed that one of his comrades was guilty of the murder. A court-martial was therefore summoned to investigate the case; and while the inquiry was in progress a party of men was detailed to cross the Ruku, with the view to foraging on the farther side. They had not been long gone when the court-martial was disturbed by sounds of firing; and as the land column had now arrived, Lieutenant Stairs, with a reinforcement of fifty men, hurried off to see what was the matter.

The court then resumed business, but as the firing continued the meeting was adjourned, and Stanley, with Dr. Parke, Captain Nelson, and a few men, hastened to the scene of action. As they approached a few flying arrows were seen, and Stairs met them with blood flowing fast from his chest. Parke at once took charge of him, and Stanley endeavoured to obtain some information, since, though his own men were firing volley after volley into the bushes on the farther side of the creek, not an enemy of any description was to be seen. It appeared that as the foragers attempted to cross the Ruku the villagers suddenly emerged from the farther side and sent a flight of arrows towards the boat. No one was hurt, but the men, alarmed at the sudden attack, paddled back to their own side of the creek and opened fire with their rifles. At this stage they were joined by Lieutenant Stairs, who had blazed away at the enemy until an arrow struck him and forced him to retire. Several men were also injured.

Scarcely had Stanley's informant finished his tale when a movement was seen on the farther bank, and something was observed to be creeping from one bush to another. It might be a man, and on the chance that it was Stanley fired. Though he could not see the result of his shot, a loud, wailing cry told that his bullet had taken effect, and within two minutes the shower of arrows completely ceased. A guard was set to keep watch along the banks, and the men were ordered into camp, though later in the day another party went out in a different direction, and succeeded in capturing seven goats.

The following morning two columns were dispatched to search for the antagonistic villagers, and punish them for the unprovoked attack of the previous day. It was not, however, very easy to find them; and though their whereabouts was discovered, all that the avenging columns could do was to fire at random into the thick bush. The chief result was the dispersal of the villagers, who retired farther into the forest. The remainder of the day was spent in foraging, and the next morning the march continued.

The last two days of the month were occupied in the uncongenial task of portaging the boats past a formidable cataract. The worst of the work had been done, and a camping-place had been found, when Stanley's servant raced up to his master, shouting at the top of his voice that Emin Pasha had arrived. Stanley could, not believe the news, but the man declared that Emin was coming in a canoe with the Egyptian flag floating at the stern. Unable to doubt further, Stanley dropped his work and rushed off in headlong haste to the river bank. The news spread through the camp, and the wildest excitement prevailed, when a sudden damper came, for the boat which was supposed to be Emin's proved to be manned by nine Manyuema, the servants of a slave and ivory dealer called Ugarrowwa. His camp, it was said, was about eight marches distant upstream, and there several hundred armed men were stationed. An advance camp belonging to Ugarrowwa's party was also said to be situated about six miles above Stanley's halting-place, and to this belonged the present visitors, who had been charged with the duty of exploring the stream, to discover if Stanley Falls could be reached by water. On this point Stanley was able to give them all the information they required, so they decided to return to their camp, to arrange, as they said, a proper reception for Stanley's men when they should arrive on the following day.

Every one was highly delighted at the prospect of reaching some sort of civilization, and shortly after dawn preparations for the advance were made. The six miles were covered in record time, but on arriving at the camp all was silent and deserted. The dead bodies of a woman and a child, both evidently murdered, lay on the ground; but the Manyuema with their slaves had disappeared, and the explorers could only suppose that they had been afraid of what the white men might say or do on reaching a slave camp. The Zanzibaris at least were bitterly disappointed. The damp, dark forest compared unfavourably with their own sunny land; they were sick of hard work and poor living; and five of them deserted that day, taking with them their loads of ammunition and salt. A day or two later five others deserted, with a miscellaneous assortment of ammunition, provisions, and clothing; and though a search-party was sent out to bring them back, only one man, one box of cartridges, and three rifles were recovered. So many desertions followed, that on September 4th it was found necessary to remove the springs of a number of the rifles, so as to render them useless, and thus deter several men known to be untrustworthy from deserting.

To reach Ugarrowwa's camp was now the immediate object in view, and day after day the weary travellers pushed forward, boating when possible, at other times clearing roads and dragging boats and canoes over-land. But at last, on September 16th, during the midday halt, several shots were heard. Scouts were sent out, and in the course of an hour the welcome news was brought in that Ugarrowwa's camp was so close at hand that the chief himself would visit Stanley when the column halted for the night. By four o'clock the longed-for destination was safely reached, and the camp was pitched in the immediate neighbourhood of the traders' station.

No sooner had the expedition come to a halt than, to the music of drums and the crashing of musketry, Ugarrowwa appeared in state, escorted by a whole fleet of canoes. The district in which his present camp was situated, he said, was called Bunda; but his followers had laid waste the whole neighbourhood, by way of retaliation for sundry outrages committed by the natives on various parties of ivory hunters. To the south-eastward the forest extended for hundreds of miles, rivers and lakes were few and far between, and during a journey extending over nine months he had only crossed one river before he reached the Ituri, as, at this part of its course, the Aruwimi was called.

His settlement approached more nearly to civilization than anything which had been seen on the Aruwimi. It was a large place, fortified with strong palisading, and in the centre the chief's house, strong enough to deserve the name of fort, was large and comfortable. Everything about the station betokened prosperity, and finding that Ugarrowwa was friendly disposed, Stanley arranged with him to leave the sick and disabled men under his charge until the rear column should arrive.