Concerning the way in which the voyager goes from the island of M’fetta to no one knows exactly where, in doubtful and bad company, and of what this led to and giving also some accounts of the Great Forest and of those people that live therein.
I will not bore you with my diary in detail regarding our land journey, because the water-washed little volume attributive to this period is mainly full of reports of law cases, for reasons hereinafter to be stated; and at night, when passing through this bit of country, I was usually too tired to do anything more than make an entry such as: “5 S., 4 R. A., N.E Ebony. T. 1–50, etc., etc.” — entries that require amplification to explain their significance, and I will proceed to explain.
Our first day’s march was a very long one. Path in the ordinary acceptance of the term there was none. Hour after hour, mile after mile, we passed on, in the under-gloom of the great forest. The pace made by the Fans, who are infinitely the most rapid Africans I have ever come across, severely tired the Ajumba, who are canoe men, and who had been as fresh as paint, after their exceedingly long day’s paddling from Arevooma to M’fetta. Ngouta, the Igalwa interpreter, felt pumped, and said as much, very early in the day. I regretted very much having brought him; for, from a mixture of nervous exhaustion arising from our M’fetta experiences, and a touch of chill he had almost entirely lost his voice, and I feared would fall sick. The Fans were evidently quite at home in the forest, and strode on over fallen trees and rocks with an easy, graceful stride. What saved us weaklings was the Fans’ appetites; every two hours they sat down, and had a snack of a pound or so of meat and aguma apiece, followed by a pipe of tobacco. We used to come up with them at these halts. Ngouta and the Ajumba used to sit down, and rest with them, and I also, for a few minutes, for a rest and chat, and then I would go on alone, thus getting a good start. I got a good start, in the other meaning of the word, on the afternoon of the first day when descending into a ravine.
I saw in the bottom, wading and rolling in the mud, a herd of five elephants. I remembered, hastily, that your one chance when charged by several elephants is to dodge them round trees, working down wind all the time, until they lose smell and sight of you, then to lie quiet for a time, and go home. It was evident from the utter unconcern of these monsters that I was down wind now, so I had only to attend to dodging, and I promptly dodged round a tree, and lay down. Seeing they still displayed no emotion on my account, and fascinated by the novelty of the scene, I crept forward from one tree to another, until I was close enough to have hit the nearest one with a stone, and spats of mud, which they sent flying with their stamping and wallowing came flap, flap among the bushes covering me.
One big fellow had a nice pair of 40 lb. or so tusks on him, singularly straight, and another had one big curved tusk and one broken one. Some of them lay right down like pigs in the deeper part of the swamp, some drew up trunkfuls of water and syringed themselves and each other, and every one of them indulged in a good rub against a tree. Presently when they had had enough of it they all strolled off up wind, through the bush in Indian file, now and then breaking off a branch, but leaving singularly little dead water for their tonnage and breadth of beam. When they had gone I rose up, turned round to find the men, and trod on Kiva’s back then and there, full and fair, and fell sideways down the steep hillside until I fetched up among some roots.
It seems Kiva had come on, after his meal, before the others, and seeing the elephants, and being a born hunter, had crawled like me down to look at them. He had not expected to find me there, he said. I do not believe he gave a thought of any sort to me in the presence of these fascinating creatures, and so he got himself trodden on. I suggested to him we should pile the baggage, and go and have an elephant hunt. He shook his head reluctantly, saying “Kor, kor,” like a depressed rook, and explained we were not strong enough; there were only three Fans — the Ajumba, and Ngouta did not count — and moreover that we had not brought sufficient ammunition owing to the baggage having to be carried, and the ammunition that we had must be saved for other game than elephant, for we might meet war before we met the Rembwe River.
We had by now joined the rest of the party, and were all soon squattering about on our own account in the elephant bath. It was shocking bad going — like a ploughed field exaggerated by a terrific nightmare. It pretty nearly pulled all the legs off me, and to this hour I cannot tell you if it is best to put your foot into a footmark — a young pond, I mean — about the size of the bottom of a Madeira work arm-chair, or whether you should poise yourself on the rim of the same, and stride forward to its other bank boldly and hopefully. The footmarks and the places where the elephants had been rolling were by now filled with water, and the mud underneath was in places hard and slippery. In spite of my determination to preserve an awesome and unmoved calm while among these dangerous savages, I had to give way and laugh explosively; to see the portly, powerful Pagan suddenly convert himself into a quadruped, while Gray Shirt poised himself on one heel and waved his other leg in the air to advertise to the assembled nations that he was about to sit down, was irresistible. No one made such palaver about taking a seat as Gray Shirt; I did it repeatedly without any fuss to speak of. That lordly elephant-hunter, the Great Wiki, would, I fancy, have strode over safely and with dignity, but the man who was in front of him spun round on his own axis and flung his arms round the Fan, and they went to earth together; the heavy load on Wiki’s back drove them into the mud like a pile-driver. However we got through in time, and after I had got up the other side of the ravine I saw the Fan let the Ajumba go on, and were busy searching themselves for something.
I followed the Ajumba, and before I joined them felt a fearful pricking irritation. Investigation of the affected part showed a tick of terrific size with its head embedded in the flesh; pursuing this interesting subject, I found three more, and had awfully hard work to get them off and painful too for they give one not only a feeling of irritation at their holding-on place, but a streak of rheumatic-feeling pain up from it. On completing operations I went on and came upon the Ajumba in a state more approved of by Praxiteles than by the general public nowadays. They had found out about elephant ticks, so I went on and got an excellent start for the next stage.
By this time, shortly after noon on the first day, we had struck into a mountainous and rocky country, and also struck a track — a track you had to keep your eye on or you lost it in a minute, but still a guide as to direction.
The forest trees here were mainly ebony and great hard wood trees,20 with no palms save my old enemy the climbing palm, calamus, as usual, going on its long excursions, up one tree and down another, bursting into a plume of fronds, and in the middle of each plume one long spike sticking straight up, which was an unopened frond, whenever it got a gleam of sunshine; running along the ground over anything it meets, rock or fallen timber, all alike, its long, dark-coloured, rope-like stem simply furred with thorns. Immense must be the length of some of these climbing palms. One tree I noticed that day that had hanging from its summit, a good one hundred and fifty feet above us, a long straight ropelike palm stem.
The character of the whole forest was very interesting. Sometimes for hours we passed among thousands upon thousands of gray-white columns of uniform height (about 100–150 feet); at the top of these the boughs branched out and interlaced among each other, forming a canopy or ceiling, which dimmed the light even of the equatorial sun to such an extent that no undergrowth could thrive in the gloom. The statement of the struggle for existence was published here in plain figures, but it was not, as in our climate, a struggle against climate mainly, but an internecine war from over population. Now and again we passed among vast stems of buttressed trees, sometimes enormous in girth; and from their far-away summits hung great bush-ropes, some as straight as plumb lines, others coiled round, and intertwined among each other, until one could fancy one was looking on some mighty battle between armies of gigantic serpents, that had been arrested at its height by some magic spell. All these bush-ropes were as bare of foliage as a ship’s wire rigging, but a good many had thorns. I was very curious as to how they got up straight, and investigation showed me that many of them were carried up with a growing tree. The only true climbers were the calamus and the rubber vine (Landolphia), both of which employ hook tackle.
Some stretches of this forest were made up of thin, spindly stemmed trees of great height, and among these stretches I always noticed the ruins of some forest giant, whose death by lightning or by his superior height having given the demoniac tornado wind an extra grip on him, had allowed sunlight to penetrate the lower regions of the forest; and then evidently the seedlings and saplings, who had for years been living a half-starved life for light, shot up. They seemed to know that their one chance lay in getting with the greatest rapidity to the level of the top of the forest. No time to grow fat in the stem. No time to send out side branches, or any of those vanities. Up, up to the light level, and he among them who reached it first won in this game of life or death; for when he gets there he spreads out his crown of upper branches, and shuts off the life-giving sunshine from his competitors, who pale off and die, or remain dragging on an attenuated existence waiting for another chance, and waiting sometimes for centuries. There must be tens of thousands of seeds which perish before they get their chance; but the way the seeds of the hard wood African trees are packed, as it were in cases specially made durable, is very wonderful. Indeed the ways of Providence here are wonderful in their strange dual intention to preserve and to destroy; but on the whole, as Peer Gynt truly observes, “Ein guter Wirth — nein das ist er nicht.”
We saw this influence of light on a large scale as soon as we reached the open hills and mountains of the Sierra del Cristal, and had to pass over those fearful avalanche-like timber falls on their steep sides. The worst of these lay between Efoua and Egaja, where we struck a part of the range that was exposed to the south-east. These falls had evidently arisen from the tornados, which from time to time have hurled down the gigantic trees whose hold on the superficial soil over the sheets of hard bed rock was insufficient, in spite of all the anchors they had out in the shape of roots and buttresses, and all their rigging in the shape of bush ropes. Down they had come, crushing and dragging down with them those near them or bound to them by the great tough climbers.
Getting over these falls was perilous, not to say scratchy work. One or another member of our party always went through; and precious uncomfortable going it was, I found, when I tried it in one above Egaja; ten or twelve feet of crashing creaking timber, and then flump on to a lot of rotten, wet debris, with more snakes and centipedes among it than you had any immediate use for, even though you were a collector; but there you had to stay, while Wiki, who was a most critical connoisseur, selected from the surrounding forest a bush-rope that he regarded as the correct remedy for the case, and then up you were hauled, through the sticks you had turned the wrong way on your down journey.
The Duke had a bad fall, going twenty feet or so before he found the rubbish heap; while Fika, who went through with a heavy load on his back, took us, on one occasion, half an hour to recover; and when we had just got him to the top, and able to cling on to the upper sticks, Wiki, who had been superintending operations, slipped backwards, and went through on his own account. The bush-rope we had been hauling on was too worn with the load to use again, and we just hauled Wiki out with the first one we could drag down and cut; and Wiki, when he came up, said we were reckless, and knew nothing of bush ropes, which shows how ungrateful an African can be. It makes the perspiration run down my nose whenever I think of it. The sun was out that day; we were neatly situated on the Equator, and the air was semisolid, with the stinking exhalations from the swamps with which the mountain chain is fringed and intersected; and we were hot enough without these things, because of the violent exertion of getting these twelve to thirteen-stone gentlemen up among us again, and the fine varied exercise of getting over the fall on our own account.
When we got into the cool forest beyond it was delightful; particularly if it happened to be one of those lovely stretches of forest, gloomy down below, but giving hints that far away above us was a world of bloom and scent and beauty which we saw as much of as earth-worms in a flower-bed. Here and there the ground was strewn with great cast blossoms, thick, wax-like, glorious cups of orange and crimson and pure white, each one of which was in itself a handful, and which told us that some of the trees around us were showing a glory of colour to heaven alone. Sprinkled among them were bunches of pure stephanotis-like flowers, which said that the gaunt bush-ropes were rubber vines that had burst into flower when they had seen the sun. These flowers we came across in nearly every type of forest all the way, for rubber abounds here.
I will weary you no longer now with the different kinds of forest and only tell you I have let you off several. The natives have separate names for seven different kinds, and these might, I think, be easily run up to nine.
A certain sort of friendship soon arose between the Fans and me. We each recognised that we belonged to that same section of the human race with whom it is better to drink than to fight. We knew we would each have killed the other, if sufficient inducement were offered, and so we took a certain amount of care that the inducement should not arise. Gray Shirt and Pagan also, their trade friends, the Fans treated with an independent sort of courtesy; but Silence, Singlet, the Passenger, and above all Ngouta, they openly did not care a row of pins for, and I have small doubt that had it not been for us other three they would have killed and eaten these very amiable gentlemen with as much compunction as an English sportsman would kill as many rabbits. They on their part hated the Fan, and never lost an opportunity of telling me “these Fan be bad man too much.” I must not forget to mention the other member of our party, a Fan gentleman with the manners of a duke and the habits of a dustbin. He came with us, quite uninvited by me, and never asked for any pay; I think he only wanted to see the fun, and drop in for a fight if there was one going on, and to pick up the pieces generally. He was evidently a man of some importance from the way the others treated him; and moreover he had a splendid gun, with a gorilla skin sheath for its lock, and ornamented all over its stock with brass nails. His costume consisted of a small piece of dirty rag round his loins; and whenever we were going through dense undergrowth, or wading a swamp, he wore that filament tucked up scandalously short. Whenever we were sitting down in the forest having one of our nondescript meals, he always sat next to me and appropriated the tin. Then he would fill his pipe, and turning to me with the easy grace of aristocracy, would say what may be translated as “My dear Princess, could you favour me with a lucifer?”
I used to say, “My dear Duke, charmed, I’m sure,” and give him one ready lit.
I dared not trust him with the box whole, having a personal conviction that he would have kept it. I asked him what he would do suppose I was not there with a box of lucifers; and he produced a bush-cow’s horn with a neat wood lid tied on with tie tie, and from out of it he produced a flint and steel and demonstrated.
The first day in the forest we came across a snake 21 — a beauty with a new red-brown and yellow-patterned velvety skin, about three feet six inches long and as thick as a man’s thigh. Ngouta met it, hanging from a bough, and shot backwards like a lobster, Ngouta having among his many weaknesses a rooted horror of snakes. This snake the Ogowe natives all hold in great aversion. For the bite of other sorts of snakes they profess to have remedies, but for this they have none. If, however, a native is stung by one he usually conceals the fact that it was this particular kind, and tries to get any chance the native doctor’s medicine may give. The Duke stepped forward and with one blow flattened its head against the tree with his gun butt, and then folded the snake up and got as much of it as possible into his bag, while the rest hung dangling out. Ngouta, not being able to keep ahead of the Duke, his Grace’s pace being stiff, went to the extreme rear of the party, so that other people might be killed first if the snake returned to life, as he surmised it would. He fell into other dangers from this caution, but I cannot chronicle Ngouta’s afflictions in full without running this book into an old fashioned folio size. We had the snake for supper, that is to say the Fan and I; the others would not touch it, although a good snake, properly cooked, is one of the best meats one gets out here, far and away better than the African fowl.
The Fans also did their best to educate me in every way: they told me their names for things, while I told them mine. I found several European words already slightly altered in use among them, such as “Amuck” — a mug, “Alas” — a glass, a tumbler. I do not know whether their “Ami” — a person addressed, or spoken of — is French or not. It may come from “Anwe” — M’pongwe for “Ye,” “You.” They use it as a rule in addressing a person after the phrase they always open up conversation with, “Azuna” — Listen, or I am speaking.
They also showed me many things: how to light a fire from the pith of a certain tree, which was useful to me in after life, but they rather overdid this branch of instruction one way and another; for example, Wiki had, as above indicated, a mania for bush-ropes and a marvellous eye and knowledge of them; he would pick out from among the thousands surrounding us now one of such peculiar suppleness that you could wind it round anything, like a strip of cloth, and as strong withal as a hawser; or again another which has a certain stiffness, combined with a slight elastic spring, excellent for hauling, with the ease and accuracy of a lady who picks out the particular twisted strand of embroidery silk from a multi-coloured tangled ball. He would go into the bush after them while other people were resting, and particularly after the sort which, when split, is bright yellow, and very supple and excellent to tie round loads.
On one occasion, between Egaja and Esoon, he came back from one of these quests and wanted me to come and see something, very quietly; I went, and we crept down into a rocky ravine, on the other side of which lay one of the outermost Egaja plantations. When we got to the edge of the cleared ground, we lay down, and wormed our way, with elaborate caution, among a patch of Koko; Wiki first, I following in his trail.
After about fifty yards of this, Wiki sank flat, and I saw before me some thirty yards off, busily employed in pulling down plantains, and other depredations, five gorillas: one old male, one young male, and three females. One of these had clinging to her a young fellow, with beautiful wavy black hair with just a kink in it. The big male was crouching on his haunches, with his long arms hanging down on either side, with the backs of his hands on the ground, the palms upwards. The elder lady was tearing to pieces and eating a pine-apple, while the others were at the plantains destroying more than they ate.
They kept up a sort of a whinnying, chattering noise, quite different from the sound I have heard gorillas give when enraged, or from the one you can hear them giving when they are what the natives call “dancing” at night. I noticed that their reach of arm was immense, and that when they went from one tree to another, they squattered across the open ground in a most inelegant style, dragging their long arms with the knuckles downwards. I should think the big male and female were over six feet each. The others would be from four to five. I put out my hand and laid it on Wiki’s gun to prevent him from firing, and he, thinking I was going to fire, gripped my wrist.
I watched the gorillas with great interest for a few seconds, until I heard Wiki make a peculiar small sound, and looking at him saw his face was working in an awful way as he clutched his throat with his hand violently.
Heavens! think I, this gentleman’s going to have a fit; it’s lost we are entirely this time. He rolled his head to and fro, and then buried his face into a heap of dried rubbish at the foot of a plantain stem, clasped his hands over it, and gave an explosive sneeze. The gorillas let go all, raised themselves up for a second, gave a quaint sound between a bark and a howl, and then the ladies and the young gentleman started home. The old male rose to his full height (it struck me at the time this was a matter of ten feet at least, but for scientific purposes allowance must be made for a lady’s emotions) and looked straight towards us, or rather towards where that sound came from. Wiki went off into a paroxysm of falsetto sneezes the like of which I have never heard; nor evidently had the gorilla, who doubtless thinking, as one of his black co-relatives would have thought, that the phenomenon favoured Duppy, went off after his family with a celerity that was amazing the moment he touched the forest, and disappeared as they had, swinging himself along through it from bough to bough, in a way that convinced me that, given the necessity of getting about in tropical forests, man has made a mistake in getting his arms shortened. I have seen many wild animals in their native wilds, but never have I seen anything to equal gorillas going through bush; it is a graceful, powerful, superbly perfect hand-trapeze performance. 22
After this sporting adventure, we returned, as I usually return from a sporting adventure, without measurements or the body.
Our first day’s march, though the longest, was the easiest, though, providentially I did not know this at the time. From my Woermann road walks I judge it was well twenty-five miles. It was easiest however, from its lying for the greater part of the way through the gloomy type of forest. All day long we never saw the sky once.
The earlier part of the day we were steadily going up hill, here and there making a small descent, and then up again, until we came on to what was apparently a long ridge, for on either side of us we could look down into deep, dark, ravine-like valleys. Twice or thrice we descended into these to cross them, finding at their bottom a small or large swamp with a river running through its midst. Those rivers all went to Lake Ayzingo.
We had to hurry because Kiva, who was the only one among us who had been to Efoua, said that unless we did we should not reach Efoua that night. I said, “Why not stay for bush?” not having contracted any love for a night in a Fan town by the experience of M’fetta; moreover the Fans were not sure that after all the whole party of us might not spend the evening at Efoua, when we did get there, simmering in its cooking-pots.
Ngouta, I may remark, had no doubt on the subject at all, and regretted having left Mrs. N. keenly, and the Andande store sincerely. But these Fans are a fine sporting tribe, and allowed they would risk it; besides, they were almost certain they had friends at Efoua; and, in addition, they showed me trees scratched in a way that was magnification of the condition of my own cat’s pet table leg at home, demonstrating leopards in the vicinity. I kept going, as it was my only chance, because I found I stiffened if I sat down, and they always carefully told me the direction to go in when they sat down; with their superior pace they soon caught me up, and then passed me, leaving me and Ngouta and sometimes Singlet and Pagan behind, we, in our turn, overtaking them, with this difference that they were sitting down when we did so.
About five o’clock I was off ahead and noticed a path which I had been told I should meet with, and, when met with, I must follow. The path was slightly indistinct, but by keeping my eye on it I could see it. Presently I came to a place where it went out, but appeared again on the other side of a clump of underbush fairly distinctly. I made a short cut for it and the next news was I was in a heap, on a lot of spikes, some fifteen feet or so below ground level, at the bottom of a bag-shaped game pit.
It is at these times you realise the blessing of a good thick skirt. Had I paid heed to the advice of many people in England, who ought to have known better, and did not do it themselves, and adopted masculine garments, I should have been spiked to the bone, and done for. Whereas, save for a good many bruises, here I was with the fulness of my skirt tucked under me, sitting on nine ebony spikes some twelve inches long, in comparative comfort, howling lustily to be hauled out. The Duke came along first, and looked down at me. I said, “Get a bush-rope, and haul me out.” He grunted and sat down on a log. The Passenger came next, and he looked down. “You kill?” says he. “Not much,” say I; “get a bush-rope and haul me out.” “No fit,” says he, and sat down on the log. Presently, however, Kiva and Wiki came up, and Wiki went and selected the one and only bush-rope suitable to haul an English lady, of my exact complexion, age, and size, out of that one particular pit. They seemed rare round there from the time he took; and I was just casting about in my mind as to what method would be best to employ in getting up the smooth, yellow, sandy-clay, incurved walls, when he arrived with it, and I was out in a twinkling, and very much ashamed of myself, until Silence, who was then leading, disappeared through the path before us with a despairing yell. Each man then pulled the skin cover off his gun lock, carefully looked to see if things there were all right and ready loosened his knife in its snake-skin sheath; and then we set about hauling poor Silence out, binding him up where necessary with cool green leaves; for he, not having a skirt, had got a good deal frayed at the edges on those spikes. Then we closed up, for the Fans said these pits were symptomatic of the immediate neighbourhood of Efoua. We sounded our ground, as we went into a thick plantain patch, through which we could see a great clearing in the forest, and the low huts of a big town. We charged into it, going right through the guard-house gateway, at one end, in single file, as its narrowness obliged us, and into the street-shaped town, and formed ourselves into as imposing a looking party as possible in the centre of the street. The Efouerians regarded us with much amazement, and the women and children cleared off into the huts, and took stock of us through the door-holes. There were but few men in the town, the majority, we subsequently learnt, being away after elephants. But there were quite sufficient left to make a crowd in a ring round us. Fortunately Wiki and Kiva’s friends were present, and as a result of the confabulation, one of the chiefs had his house cleared out for me. It consisted of two apartments almost bare of everything save a pile of boxes, and a small fire on the floor, some little bags hanging from the roof poles, and a general supply of insects. The inner room contained nothing save a hard plank, raised on four short pegs from the earth floor.
I shook hands with and thanked the chief, and directed that all the loads should be placed inside the huts. I must admit my good friend was a villainous-looking savage, but he behaved most hospitably and kindly. From what I had heard of the Fan, I deemed it advisable not to make any present to him at once, but to base my claim on him on the right of an amicable stranger to hospitality. When I had seen all the baggage stowed I went outside and sat at the doorway on a rather rickety mushroom-shaped stool in the cool evening air, waiting for my tea which I wanted bitterly. Pagan came up as usual for tobacco to buy chop with; and after giving it to him, I and the two chiefs, with Gray Shirt acting as interpreter, had a long chat. Of course the first question was, Why was I there?
I told them I was on my way to the factory of H. and C. on the Rembwe. They said they had heard of “Ugumu,” i.e., Messrs Hatton and Cookson, but they did not trade direct with them, passing their trade into towns nearer to the Rembwe, which were swindling bad towns, they said; and they got the idea stuck in their heads that I was a trader, a sort of bagman for the firm, and Gray Shirt could not get this idea out, so off one of their majesties went and returned with twenty-five balls of rubber, which I bought to promote good feeling, subsequently dashing them to Wiki, who passed them in at Ndorko when we got there. I also bought some elephant-hair necklaces from one of the chiefs’ wives, by exchanging my red silk tie with her for them, and one or two other things. I saw fish-hooks would not be of much value because Efoua was not near a big water of any sort; so I held fish-hooks and traded handkerchiefs and knives.
One old chief was exceedingly keen to do business, and I bought a meat spoon, a plantain spoon, and a gravy spoon off him; and then he brought me a lot of rubbish I did not want, and I said so, and announced I had finished trade for that night. However the old gentleman was not to be put off, and after an unsuccessful attempt to sell me his cooking-pots, which were roughly made out of clay, he made energetic signs to me that if I would wait he had got something that he would dispose of which Gray Shirt said was “good too much.” Off he went across the street, and disappeared into his hut, where he evidently had a thorough hunt for the precious article. One box after another was brought out to the light of a bush torch held by one of his wives, and there was a great confabulation between him and his family of the “I’m sure you had it last,” “You must have moved it,” “Never touched the thing,” sort. At last it was found, and he brought it across the street to me most carefully. It was a bundle of bark cloth tied round something most carefully with tie tie. This being removed, disclosed a layer of rag, which was unwound from round a central article. Whatever can this be? thinks I; some rare and valuable object doubtless, let’s hope connected with Fetish worship, and I anxiously watched its unpacking; in the end, however, it disclosed, to my disgust and rage, an old shilling razor. The way the old chief held it out, and the amount of dollars he asked for it, was enough to make any one believe that I was in such urgent need of the thing, that I was at his mercy regarding price. I waved it off with a haughty scorn, and then feeling smitten by the expression of agonised bewilderment on his face, I dashed him a belt that delighted him, and went inside and had tea to soothe my outraged feelings.
The chiefs made furious raids on the mob of spectators who pressed round the door, and stood with their eyes glued to every crack in the bark of which the hut was made. The next door neighbours on either side might have amassed a comfortable competence for their old age, by letting out seats for the circus. Every hole in the side walls had a human eye in it, and I heard new holes being bored in all directions; so I deeply fear the chief, my host, must have found his palace sadly draughty. I felt perfectly safe and content, however, although Ngouta suggested the charming idea that “P’r’aps them M’fetta Fan done sell we.” As soon as all my men had come in, and established themselves in the inner room for the night, I curled up among the boxes, with my head on the tobacco sack, and dozed.
After about half an hour I heard a row in the street, and looking out, — for I recognised his grace’s voice taking a solo part followed by choruses, — I found him in legal difficulties about a murder case. An alibi was proved for the time being; that is to say the prosecution could not bring up witnesses because of the elephant hunt; and I went in for another doze, and the town at last grew quiet. Waking up again I noticed the smell in the hut was violent, from being shut up I suppose, and it had an unmistakably organic origin. Knocking the ash end off the smouldering bush-light that lay burning on the floor, I investigated, and tracked it to those bags, so I took down the biggest one, and carefully noted exactly how the tie-tie had been put round its mouth; for these things are important and often mean a lot. I then shook its contents out in my hat, for fear of losing anything of value. They were a human hand, three big toes, four eyes, two ears, and other portions of the human frame. The hand was fresh, the others only so so, and shrivelled.
Replacing them I tied the bag up, and hung it up again. I subsequently learnt that although the Fans will eat their fellow friendly tribesfolk, yet they like to keep a little something belonging to them as a memento. This touching trait in their character I learnt from Wiki; and, though it’s to their credit, under the circumstances, still it’s an unpleasant practice when they hang the remains in the bedroom you occupy, particularly if the bereavement in your host’s family has been recent. I did not venture to prowl round Efoua; but slid the bark door aside and looked out to get a breath of fresh air.
It was a perfect night, and no mosquitoes. The town, walled in on every side by the great cliff of high black forest, looked very wild as it showed in the starlight, its low, savage-built bark huts, in two hard rows, closed at either end by a guard-house. In both guard-houses there was a fire burning, and in their flickering glow showed the forms of sleeping men. Nothing was moving save the goats, which are always brought into the special house for them in the middle of the town, to keep them from the leopards, which roam from dusk to dawn.
Dawn found us stirring, I getting my tea, and the rest of the party their chop, and binding up anew the loads with Wiki’s fresh supple bush-ropes. Kiva amused me much; during our march his costume was exceeding scant, but when we reached the towns he took from his bag garments, and attired himself so resplendently that I feared the charm of his appearance would lead me into one of those dreadful wife palavers which experience had taught me of old to dread; and in the morning time he always devoted some time to repacking. I gave a big dash to both chiefs, and they came out with us, most civilly, to the end of their first plantations; and then we took farewell of each other, with many expressions of hope on both sides that we should meet again, and many warnings from them about the dissolute and depraved character of the other towns we should pass through before we reached the Rembwe.
Our second day’s march was infinitely worse than the first, for it lay along a series of abruptly shaped hills with deep ravines between them; each ravine had its swamp and each swamp its river. This bit of country must be absolutely impassable for any human being, black or white, except during the dry season. There were representatives of the three chief forms of the West African bog. The large deep swamps were best to deal with, because they make a break in the forest, and the sun can come down on their surface and bake a crust, over which you can go, if you go quickly. From experience in Devonian bogs, I knew pace was our best chance, and I fancy I earned one of my nicknames among the Fans on these. The Fans went across all right with a rapid striding glide, but the other men erred from excess of caution, and while hesitating as to where was the next safe place to plant their feet, the place that they were standing on went in with a glug. Moreover, they would keep together, which was more than the crust would stand. The portly Pagan and the Passenger gave us a fine job in one bog, by sinking in close together. Some of us slashed off boughs of trees and tore off handfuls of hard canna leaves, while others threw them round the sinking victims to form a sort of raft, and then with the aid of bush-rope, of course, they were hauled out.
The worst sort of swamp, and the most frequent hereabouts, is the deep narrow one that has no crust on, because it is too much shaded by the forest. The slopes of the ravines too are usually covered with an undergrowth of shenja, beautiful beyond description, but right bad to go through. I soon learnt to dread seeing the man in front going down hill, or to find myself doing so, for it meant that within the next half hour we should be battling through a patch of shenja. I believe there are few effects that can compare with the beauty of them, with the golden sunlight coming down through the upper forest’s branches on to their exquisitely shaped, hard, dark green leaves, making them look as if they were sprinkled with golden sequins. Their long green stalks, which support the leaves and bear little bunches of crimson berries, take every graceful curve imaginable, and the whole affair is free from insects; and when you have said this, you have said all there is to say in favour of shenja, for those long green stalks of theirs are as tough as twisted wire, and the graceful curves go to the making of a net, which rises round you shoulder high, and the hard green leaves when lying on the ground are fearfully slippery. It is not nice going down through them, particularly when Nature is so arranged that the edge of the bank you are descending is a rock-wall ten or twelve feet high with a swamp of unknown depth at its foot; this arrangement was very frequent on the second and third day’s marches, and into these swamps the shenja seemed to want to send you head first and get you suffocated. It is still less pleasant, however, going up the other side of the ravine when you have got through your swamp. You have to fight your way upwards among rough rocks, through this hard tough network of stems; and it took it out of all of us except the Fans.
These narrow shaded swamps gave us a world of trouble and took up a good deal of time. Sometimes the leader of the party would make three or four attempts before he found a ford, going on until the black, batterlike ooze came up round his neck, and then turning back and trying in another place; while the rest of the party sat upon the bank until the ford was found, feeling it was unnecessary to throw away human life, and that the more men there were paddling about in that swamp, the more chance there was that a hole in the bottom of it would be found; and when a hole is found, the discoverer is liable to leave his bones in it. If I happened to be in front, the duty of finding the ford fell on me; for none of us after leaving Efoua knew the swamps personally. I was too frightened of the Fan, and too nervous and uncertain of the stuff my other men were made of, to dare show the white feather at anything that turned up. The Fan took my conduct as a matter of course, never having travelled with white men before, or learnt the way some of them require carrying over swamps and rivers and so on. I dare say I might have taken things easier, but I was like the immortal Schmelzle, during that omnibus journey he made on his way to Flaetz in the thunder-storm — afraid to be afraid. I am very certain I should have fared very differently had I entered a region occupied by a powerful and ferocious tribe like the Fan, from some districts on the West Coast, where the inhabitants are used to find the white man incapable of personal exertion, requiring to be carried in a hammock, or wheeled in a go-cart or a Bath-chair about the streets of their coast towns, depending for the defence of their settlement on a body of black soldiers. This is not so in Congo Francais, and I had behind me the prestige of a set of white men to whom for the native to say, “You shall not do such and such a thing;” “You shall not go to such and such a place,” would mean that those things would be done. I soon found the name of Hatton and Cookson’s agent-general for this district, Mr. Hudson, was one to conjure with among the trading tribes; and the Ajumba, moreover, although their knowledge of white men had been small, yet those they had been accustomed to see were fine specimens. Mr. Fildes, Mr. Cockshut, M. Jacot, Dr. Pelessier, Pere Lejeune, M. Gacon, Mr. Whittaker, and that vivacious French official, were not men any man, black or white, would willingly ruffle; and in addition there was the memory among the black traders of “that white man MacTaggart,” whom an enterprising trading tribe near Fernan Vaz had had the hardihood to tackle, shooting him, and then towing him behind a canoe and slashing him all over with their knives the while; yet he survived, and tackled them again in a way that must almost pathetically have astonished those simple savages, after the real good work they had put in to the killing of him. Of course it was hard to live up to these ideals, and I do not pretend to have succeeded, or rather that I should have succeeded had the real strain been put on me.
But to return to that gorilla-land forest. All the rivers we crossed on the first, second, and third day I was told went into one or other of the branches of the Ogowe, showing that the long slope of land between the Ogowe and the Rembwe is towards the Ogowe. The stone of which the mountains were composed was that same hard black rock that I had found on the Sierra del Cristal, by the Ogowe rapids; only hereabouts there was not amongst it those great masses of white quartz, which are so prominent a feature from Talagouga upwards in the Ogowe valley; neither were the mountains anything like so high, but they had the same abruptness of shape. They look like very old parts of the same range worn down to stumps by the disintegrating forces of the torrential rain and sun, and the dense forest growing on them. Frost of course they had not been subject to, but rocks, I noticed, were often being somewhat similarly split by rootlets having got into some tiny crevice, and by gradual growth enlarged it to a crack.
Of our troubles among the timber falls on these mountains I have already spoken; and these were at their worst between Efoua and Egaja. I had suffered a good deal from thirst that day, unboiled water being my ibet and we were all very nearly tired out with the athletic sports since leaving Efoua. One thing only we knew about Egaja for sure, and that was that not one of us had a friend there, and that it was a town of extra evil repute, so we were not feeling very cheerful when towards evening time we struck its outermost plantations, their immediate vicinity being announced to us by Silence treading full and fair on to a sharp ebony spike driven into the narrow path and hurting himself. Fortunately, after we passed this first plantation, we came upon a camp of rubber collectors — four young men; I got one of them to carry Silence’s load and show us the way into the town, when on we went into more plantations.
There is nothing more tiresome than finding your path going into a plantation, because it fades out in the cleared ground, or starts playing games with a lot of other little paths that are running about amongst the crops, and no West African path goes straight into a stream or a plantation, and straight out the other side, so you have a nice time picking it up again.
We were spared a good deal of fine varied walking by our new friend the rubber collector; for I noticed he led us out by a path nearly at right angles to the one by which we had entered. He then pitched into a pit which was half full of thorns, and which he observed he did not know was there, demonstrating that an African guide can speak the truth. When he had got out, he handed back Silence’s load and got a dash of tobacco for his help; he left us to devote the rest of his evening by his forest fire to unthorning himself, while we proceeded to wade a swift, deepish river that crossed the path he told us led into Egaja, and then went across another bit of forest and downhill again. “Oh, bless those swamps!” thought I, “here’s another,” but no — not this time. Across the bottom of the steep ravine, from one side to another, lay an enormous tree as a bridge, about fifteen feet above a river, which rushed beneath it, over a boulder-encumbered bed. I took in the situation at a glance, and then and there I would have changed that bridge for any swamp I have ever seen, yea, even for a certain bush-rope bridge in which I once wound myself up like a buzzing fly in a spider’s web. I was fearfully tired, and my legs shivered under me after the falls and emotions of the previous part of the day, and my boots were slippery with water soaking.
The Fans went into the river, and half swam, half waded across. All the Ajumba, save Pagan, followed, and Ngouta got across with their assistance. Pagan thought he would try the bridge, and I thought I would watch how the thing worked. He got about three yards along it and then slipped, but caught the tree with his hands as he fell, and hauled himself back to my side again; then he went down the bank and through the water. This was not calculated to improve one’s nerve; I knew by now I had got to go by the bridge, for I saw I was not strong enough in my tired state to fight the water. If only the wretched thing had had its bark on it would have been better, but it was bare, bald, and round, and a slip meant death on the rocks below. I rushed it, and reached the other side in safety, whereby poor Pagan got chaffed about his failure by the others, who said they had gone through the water just to wash their feet.
The other side, when we got there, did not seem much worth reaching, being a swampy fringe at the bottom of a steep hillside, and after a few yards the path turned into a stream or backwater of the river. It was hedged with thickly pleached bushes, and covered with liquid water on the top of semi-liquid mud. Now and again for a change you had a foot of water on top of fearfully slippery harder mud, and then we light-heartedly took headers into the bush, sideways, or sat down; and when it was not proceeding on the evil tenor of its way, like this, it had holes in it; in fact, I fancy the bottom of the holes was the true level, for it came near being as full of holes as a fishing-net, and it was very quaint to see the man in front, who had been paddling along knee-deep before, now plop down with the water round his shoulders; and getting out of these slippery pockets, which were sometimes a tight fit, was difficult.
However that is the path you have got to go by, if you’re not wise enough to stop at home; the little bay of shrub overgrown swamp fringing the river on one side and on the other running up to the mountain side.
At last we came to a sandy bank, and on that bank stood Egaja, the town with an evil name even among the Fan, but where we had got to stay, fair or foul. We went into it through its palaver house, and soon had the usual row.
I had detected signs of trouble among my men during the whole day; the Ajumba were tired, and dissatisfied with the Fans; the Fans were in high feather, openly insolent to Ngouta, and anxious for me to stay in this delightful locality, and go hunting with them and divers other choice spirits, whom they assured me we could easily get to join us at Efoua. I kept peace as well as I could, explaining to the Fans I had not enough money with me now, because I had not, when starting, expected such magnificent opportunities to be placed at my disposal; and promising to come back next year — a promise I hope to keep — and then we would go and have a grand time of it. This state of a party was a dangerous one in which to enter a strange Fan town, where our security lay in our being united. When the first burst of Egaja conversation began to boil down into something reasonable, I found that a villainous-looking scoundrel, smeared with soot and draped in a fragment of genuine antique cloth, was a head chief in mourning. He placed a house at my disposal, quite a mansion, for it had no less than four apartments. The first one was almost entirely occupied by a bedstead frame that was being made up inside on account of the small size of the door.
This had to be removed before we could get in with the baggage at all. While this removal was being effected with as much damage to the house and the article as if it were a quarter-day affair in England, the other chief arrived. He had been sent for, being away down the river fishing when we arrived. I saw at once he was a very superior man to any of the chiefs I had yet met with. It was not his attire, remarkable though that was for the district, for it consisted of a gentleman’s black frock-coat such as is given in the ivory bundle, a bright blue felt sombrero hat, an ample cloth of Boma check; but his face and general bearing was distinctive, and very powerful and intelligent; and I knew that Egaja, for good or bad, owed its name to this man, and not to the mere sensual, brutal-looking one. He was exceedingly courteous, ordering his people to bring me a stool and one for himself, and then a fly-whisk to battle with the evening cloud of sand-flies. I got Pagan to come and act as interpreter while the rest were stowing the baggage, etc. After compliments, “Tell the chief,” I said, “that I hear this town of his is thief town.”
“Better not, sir,” says Pagan.
“Go on,” said I, “or I’ll tell him myself.”
So Pagan did. It was a sad blow to the chief.
“Thief town, this highly respectable town of Egaja! a town whose moral conduct in all matters (Shedule) was an example to all towns, called a thief town! Oh, what a wicked world!”
I said it was; but I would reserve my opinion as to whether Egaja was a part of the wicked world or a star-like exception, until I had experienced it myself. We then discoursed on many matters, and I got a great deal of interesting fetish information out of the chief, which was valuable to me, because the whole of this district had not been in contact with white culture; and altogether I and the chief became great friends.
Just when I was going in to have my much-desired tea, he brought me his mother — an old lady, evidently very bright and able, but, poor woman, with the most disgusting hand and arm I have ever seen. I am ashamed to say I came very near being sympathetically sick in the African manner on the spot. I felt I could not attend to it, and have my tea afterwards, so I directed one of the canoe-shaped little tubs, used for beating up the manioc in, to be brought and filled with hot water, and then putting into it a heavy dose of Condy’s fluid, I made her sit down and lay the whole arm in it, and went and had my tea. As soon as I had done I went outside, and getting some of the many surrounding ladies to hold bush-lights, I examined the case. The whole hand was a mass of yellow pus, streaked with sanies, large ulcers were burrowing into the fore-arm, while in the arm-pit was a big abscess. I opened the abscess at once, and then the old lady frightened me nearly out of my wits by gently subsiding, I thought dying, but I soon found out merely going to sleep. I then washed the abscess well out, and having got a lot of baked plantains, I made a big poultice of them, mixed with boiling water and more Condy in the tub, and laid her arm right in this; and propping her up all round and covering her over with cloths I requisitioned from her son, I left her to have her nap while I went into the history of the case, which was that some forty-eight hours ago she had been wading along the bank, catching crawfish, and had been stung by “a fish like a snake”; so I presume the ulcers were an old-standing palaver. The hand had been a good deal torn by the creature, and the pain and swelling had been so great she had not had a minute’s sleep since. As soon as the poultice got chilled I took her arm out and cleaned it again, and wound it round with dressing, and had her ladyship carried bodily, still asleep, into her hut, and after rousing her up, giving her a dose of that fine preparation, pil. crotonis cum hydrargi, saw her tucked up on her own plank bedstead for the night, sound asleep again. The chief was very anxious to have some pills too; so I gave him some, with firm injunctions only to take one at the first time. I knew that that one would teach him not to take more than one forever after, better than I could do if I talked from June to January. Then all the afflicted of Egaja turned up, and wanted medical advice. There was evidently a good stiff epidemic of the yaws about; lots of cases of dum with the various symptoms; ulcers of course galore; a man with a bit of a broken spear head in an abscess in the thigh; one which I believe a professional enthusiast would call a “lovely case” of filaria, the entire white of one eye being full of the active little worms and a ridge of surplus population migrating across the bridge of the nose into the other eye, under the skin, looking like the bridge of a pair of spectacles. It was past eleven before I had anything like done, and my men had long been sound asleep, but the chief had conscientiously sat up and seen the thing through. He then went and fetched some rolls of bark cloth to put on my plank, and I gave him a handsome cloth I happened to have with me, a couple of knives, and some heads of tobacco and wished him goodnight; blockading my bark door, and picking my way over my sleeping Ajumba into an inner apartment which I also blockaded, hoping I had done with Egaja for some hours. No such thing. At 1.45 the whole town was roused by the frantic yells of a woman. I judged there was one of my beauties of Fans mixed up in it, and there was, and after paying damages, got back again by 2.30 A.M., and off to sleep again instantly. At four sharp, whole town of Egaja plunged into emotion, and worse shindy. I suggested to the Ajumba they should go out; but no, they didn’t care a row of pins if one of our Fans did get killed, so I went, recognising Kiva’s voice in high expostulation. Kiva, it seems, a long time ago had a transaction in re a tooth of ivory with a man who, unfortunately, happened to be in this town to-night, and Kiva owed the said man a coat. 23
Kiva, it seems, has been spending the whole evening demonstrating to his creditor that, had he only known they were to meet, he would have brought the coat with him — a particularly beautiful coat — and the reason he has not paid it before is that he has mislaid the creditor’s address. The creditor says he has called repeatedly at Kiva’s village, that notorious M’fetta, and Kiva has never been at home; and moreover that Kiva’s wife (one of them) stole a yellow dog of great value from his (the creditor’s) canoe. Kiva says, women will be women, and he had gone off to sleep thinking the affair had blown over and the bill renewed for the time being. The creditor had not gone to sleep; but sat up thinking the affair over and remembered many cases, all cited in full, of how Kiva had failed to meet his debts; also Kiva’s brother on the mother’s side and uncle ditto; and so has decided to foreclose forthwith on the debtor’s estate, and as the estate is represented by and consists of Kiva’s person, to take and seize upon it and eat it.
It is always highly interesting to observe the germ of any of our own institutions existing in the culture of a lower race. Nevertheless it is trying to be hauled out of one’s sleep in the middle of the night, and plunged into this study. Evidently this was a trace of an early form of the Bankruptcy Court; the court which clears a man of his debt, being here represented by the knife and the cooking pot; the whitewashing, as I believe it is termed with us, also shows, only it is not the debtor who is whitewashed, but the creditors doing themselves over with white clay to celebrate the removal of their enemy from his sphere of meretricious activity. This inversion may arise from the fact that whitewashing a creditor who was about to be cooked would be unwise, as the stuff would boil off the bits and spoil the gravy. There is always some fragment of sound sense underlying African institutions. Kiva was, when I got out, tied up, talking nineteen to the dozen; and so was every one else; and a lady was working up white clay in a pot.
I dare say I ought to have rushed at him and cut his bonds, and killed people in a general way with a revolver, and then flown with my band to the bush; only my band evidently had no flying in them, being tucked up in the hut pretending to be asleep, and uninterested in the affair; and although I could have abandoned the band without a pang just then, I could not so lightheartedly fly alone with Kiva to the bush and leave my fishes; so I shouted Azuna to the Bankruptcy Court, and got a Fan who spoke trade English to come and interpret for me; and from him I learnt the above stated outline of the proceedings up to the time. Regarding the original iniquity of Kiva, my other Fans held the opinion that the old Scotch lady had regarding certain passages in the history of the early Jews — that it was a long time ago, and aiblins it was no true.
Fortunately for the reader it is impossible for me to give in full detail the proceedings of the Court. I do not think if the whole of Mr. Pitman’s school of shorthand had been there to take them down the thing could possibly have been done in word-writing. If the late Richard Wagner, however, had been present he could have scored the performance for a full orchestra; and with all its weird grunts and roars, and pistol-like finger clicks, and its elongated words and thigh slaps, it would have been a masterpiece.
I got my friend the chief on my side; but he explained he had no jurisdiction, as neither of the men belonged to his town; and I explained to him, that as the proceedings were taking place in his town he had a right of jurisdiction ipso facto. The Fan could not translate this phrase, so we gave it the chief raw; and he seemed to relish it, and he and I then cut into the affair together, I looking at him with admiration and approval when he was saying his say, and after his “Azuna” had produced a patch of silence he could move his tongue in, and he similarly regarding me during my speech for the defence. We neither, I expect, understood each other, and we had trouble with our client, who would keep pleading “Not guilty,” which was absurd. Anyhow we produced our effect, my success arising from my concluding my speech with the announcement that I would give the creditor a book on Hatton and Cookson for the coat, and I would deduct it from Kiva’s pay.
But, said the Court: “We look your mouth and it be sweet mouth, but with Hatton and Cookson we can have no trade.” This was a blow to me. Hatton and Cookson was my big Ju Ju, and it was to their sub-factory on the Rembwe that I was bound. On inquiry I elicited another cheerful little fact which was they could not deal with Hatton and Cookson because there was “blood war on the path that way.” The Court said they would take a book on Holty, but with Holty i.e. Mr. John Holt, I had no deposit of money, and I did not feel justified in issuing cheques on him, knowing also he could not feel amiable towards wandering scientists, after what he had recently gone through with one. Not that I doubt for one minute but that his representatives would have honoured my book; for the generosity and helpfulness of West African traders is unbounded and long-suffering. But I did not like to encroach on it, all the more so from a feeling that I might never get through to refund the money. So at last I paid the equivalent value of the coat out of my own trade-stuff; and the affair was regarded by all parties as satisfactorily closed by the time the gray dawn was coming up over the forest wall. I went in again and slept in snatches until I got my tea about seven, and then turned out to hurry my band out of Egaja. This I did not succeed in doing until past ten. One row succeeded another with my men; but I was determined to get them out of that town as quickly as possible, for I had heard so much from perfectly reliable and experienced people regarding the treacherousness of the Fan. I feared too that more cases still would be brought up against Kiva, from the resume of his criminal career I had had last night, and I knew it was very doubtful whether my other three Fans were any better than he. There was his grace’s little murder affair only languishing for want of evidence owing to the witnesses for the prosecution being out elephant-hunting not very far away; and Wiki was pleading an alibi, and a twin brother, in a bad wife palaver in this town. I really hope for the sake of Fan morals at large, that I did engage the three worst villains in M’fetta, and that M’fetta is the worst town in all Fan land, inconvenient as this arrangement was to me personally. Anyhow, I felt sure my Pappenheimers would take a lot of beating for good solid crime, among any tribe anywhere. Moreover, the Ajumba wanted meat, and the Fans, they said, offered them human. I saw no human meat at Egaja, but the Ajumba seem to think the Fans eat nothing else, which is a silly prejudice of theirs, because the Fans do. I think in this case the Ajumba thought a lot of smoked flesh offered was human. It may have been; it was in neat pieces; and again, as the Captain of the late s.s. Sparrow would say, “it mayn’t.” But the Ajumba have a horror of cannibalism, and I honestly believe never practise it, even for fetish affairs, which is a rare thing in a West African tribe where sacrificial and ceremonial cannibalism is nearly universal. Anyhow the Ajumba loudly declared the Fans were “bad men too much,” which was impolitic under existing circumstances, and inexcusable, because it by no means arose from a courageous defiance of them; but the West African! Well! “‘E’s a devil an’ a ostrich an’ a orphan child in one.”
The chief was very anxious for me to stay and rest, but as his mother was doing wonderfully well, and the other women seemed quite to understand my directions regarding her, I did not feel inclined to risk it. The old lady’s farewell of me was peculiar: she took my hand in her two, turned it palm upwards, and spat on it. I do not know whether this is a constant form of greeting among the Fan; I fancy not. Dr. Nassau, who explained it to me when I saw him again down at Baraka, said the spitting was merely an accidental by-product of the performance, which consisted in blowing a blessing; and as I happened on this custom twice afterwards, I feel sure from observation he is right.
The two chiefs saw us courteously out of the town as far as where the river crosses the out-going path again, and the blue-hatted one gave me some charms “to keep my foot in path,” and the mourning chief lent us his son to see us through the lines of fortification of the plantation. I gave them an equal dash, and in answer to their question as to whether I had found Egaja a thief-town, I said that to call Egaja a thief-town was rank perjury, for I had not lost a thing while in it; and we parted with mutual expression of esteem and hopes for another meeting at an early date.
The defences of the fine series of plantations of Egaja on this side were most intricate, to judge from the zigzag course our guide led us through them. He explained they had to be because of the character of the towns towards the Rembwe. After listening to this young man, I really began to doubt that the Cities of the Plain had really been destroyed, and wondered whether some future revision committee will not put transported for destroyed. This young man certainly hit off the character of Sodom and Gomorrah to the life, in describing the towns towards the Rembwe, though he had never heard Sodom and Gomorrah named. He assured me I should see the difference between them and Egaja the Good, and I thanked him and gave him his dash when we parted; but told him as a friend, I feared some alteration must take place, and some time elapse before he saw a regular rush of pilgrim worshippers of Virtue coming into even Egaja the Good, though it stood just as good a chance and better than most towns I had seen in Africa.
We went on into the gloom of the Great Forest again; that forest that seemed to me without end, wherein, in a lazy, hazy-minded sort of way, I expected to wander through by day and drop in at night to a noisy savage town for the rest of my days.
We climbed up one hill, skirted its summit, went through our athletic sports over sundry timber falls, and struck down into the ravine as usual. But at the bottom of that ravine, which was exceeding steep, ran a little river free from swamp. As I was wading it I noticed it had a peculiarity that distinguished it from all the other rivers we had come through; and then and there I sat down on a boulder in its midst and hauled out my compass. Yes, by Allah! it’s going north-west and bound as we are for Rembwe River. I went out the other side of that river with a lighter heart than I went in, and shouted the news to the boys, and they yelled and sang as we went on our way.
All along this bit of country we had seen quantities of rubber vines, and between Egaja and Esoon we came across quantities of rubber being collected. Evidently there was a big camp of rubber hunters out in the district very busy. Wiki and Kiva did their best to teach me the trade. Along each side of the path we frequently saw a ring of stout bush rope, raised from the earth on pegs about a foot to eighteen inches. On the ground in the middle stood a calabash, into which the ends of the pieces of rubber vine were placed, the other ends being supported by the bush rope ring. Round the outside of some of these rings was a slow fire, which just singes the tops of the bits of rubber vine as they project over the collar or ring, and causes the milky juice to run out of the lower end into the calabash, giving out as it does so a strong ammoniacal smell. When the fire was alight there would be a group of rubber collectors sitting round it watching the cooking operations, removing those pieces that had run dry and placing others, from a pile at their side, in position. On either side of the path we continually passed pieces of rubber vine cut into lengths of some two feet or so, and on the top one or two leaves plaited together, or a piece of bush rope tied into a knot, which indicated whose property the pile was.
The method of collection employed by the Fan is exceedingly wasteful, because this fool of a vegetable Landolphia florida (Ovariensis) does not know how to send up suckers from its root, but insists on starting elaborately from seeds only. I do not, however, see any reasonable hope of getting them to adopt more economical methods. The attempt made by the English houses, when the rubber trade was opened up in 1883 on the Gold Coast, to get the more tractable natives there to collect by incisions only, has failed; for in the early days a man could get a load of rubber almost at his own door on the Gold Coast, and now he has to go fifteen days’ journey inland for it. When a Fan town has exhausted the rubber in its vicinity, it migrates, bag and baggage, to a new part of the forest. The young unmarried men are the usual rubber hunters. Parties of them go out into the forest, wandering about in it and camping under shelters of boughs by night, for a month and more at a time, during the dry seasons, until they have got a sufficient quantity together; then they return to their town, and it is manipulated by the women, and finally sold, either to the white trader, in districts where he is within reach, or to the M’pongwe trader who travels round buying it and the collected ivory and ebony, like a Norfolk higgler. In districts like these I was in, remote from the M’pongwe trader, the Fans carry the rubber to the town nearest to them that is in contact with the black trader, and sell it to the inhabitants, who in their turn resell it to their next town, until it reaches him. This passing down of the rubber and ivory gives rise between the various towns to a series of commercial complications which rank with woman palaver for the production of rows; it being the sweet habit of these Fans to require a life for a life, and to regard one life as good as another. Also rubber trade and wife palavers sweetly intertwine, for a man on the kill in re a wife palaver knows his best chance of getting the life from the village he has a grudge against lies in catching one of that village’s men when he may be out alone rubber hunting. So he does this thing, and then the men from the victim’s village go and lay for a rubber hunter from the killer’s village; and then of course the men from the killer’s village go and lay for rubber hunters from victim number one’s village, and thus the blood feud rolls down the vaulted chambers of the ages, so that you, dropping in on affairs, cannot see one end or the other of it, and frequently the people concerned have quite forgotten what the killing was started for. Not that this discourages them in the least. Really if Dr. Nassau is right, and these Fans are descendants of Adam and Eve, I expect the Cain and Abel killing palaver is still kept going among them.
Wiki, being great on bush rope, gave me much information regarding rubber, showing me the various other vines besides the true rubber vine, whose juice, mingled with the true sap by the collector when in the forest, adds to the weight; a matter of importance, because rubber is bought by weight. The other adulteration gets done by the ladies in the villages when the collected sap is handed over to them to prepare for the markets.
This preparation consists of boiling it in water slightly, and adding a little salt, which causes the gummy part to separate and go to the bottom of the pot, where it looks like a thick cream. The water is carefully poured off this deposit, which is then taken out and moulded, usually in the hands; but I have seen it run into moulds made of small calabashes with a stick or piece of iron passing through, so that when the rubber is set this can be withdrawn. A hole being thus left the balls can be threaded on to a stick, usually five on one stick, for convenience of transport. It is during the moulding process that most of the adulteration gets in. Down by the side of many of the streams there is a white chalky-looking clay which is brought up into the villages, powdered up, and then hung up over the fire in a basket to attain a uniform smuttiness; it is then worked into the rubber when it is being made up into balls. Then a good chunk of Koko, Arum esculentum (Koko is better than yam, I may remark, because it is heavier), also smoked approximately the right colour, is often placed in the centre of the rubber ball. In fact, anything is put there, that is hopefully regarded as likely to deceive the white trader. So great is the adulteration, that most of the traders have to cut each ball open. Even the Kinsembo rubber, which is put up in clusters of bits shaped like little thimbles formed by rolling pinches of rubber between the thumb and finger, and which one would think difficult to put anything inside of, has to be cut, because “the simple children of nature” who collect it and bring it to that “swindling white trader” struck upon the ingenious notion that little pieces of wood shaped like the thimbles and coated by a dip in rubber were excellent additions to a cluster.
The pure rubber, when it is made, looks like putty, and has the same dusky-white colour; but, owing to the balls being kept in the huts in baskets in the smoke, and in wicker-work cages in the muddy pools to soak up as much water as possible before going into the hands of the traders, they get almost inky in colour.
20 Diospyros and Copaifua mopane.
21 Vipera nasicornis; M’pongwe, Ompenle.
22 I have no hesitation in saying that the gorilla is the most horrible wild animal I have seen. I have seen at close quarters specimens of the most important big game of Central Africa, and, with the exception of snakes, I have run away from all of them; but although elephants, leopards, and pythons give you a feeling of alarm, they do not give that feeling of horrible disgust that an old gorilla gives on account of its hideousness of appearance.
23 An European coat or its equivalent value is one of the constant quantities in an ivory bundle.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52