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Modern History Sourcebook:
Paul du Chaillu:
Travels in Africa, 1868-1870

[Tappan Introduction]

DU CHAILLU had an exceedingly good preparation for his work as an African explorer, for he spent his youth on the West Coast of Africa, where his father was trader and consul. When only twenty years of age, he set out on an exploration of that part of West Africa lying between 2° N. and 2° S. He knew the native languages, and with only African helpers he traveled on foot more than eight thousand miles. He was probably the first white man who ever saw gorillas, and his reports of the behavior of these animals, and of the tribes of pygmies that he had met,---indeed, of the extent of his explorations in general,---were bitterly attacked. Du Chaillu had used only a compass, and so could not prove his records of travel, but he now set to work to learn how to use a camera and various kinds of astronomical instruments. Then he started on a second trip. Meanwhile, others had followed in his footsteps, and proof of his accuracy was afforded in generous supply. Nevertheless, he made a second journey to Equatorial Africa. Later he made explorations in Scandinavia and in Russia. He died in 1903, at the age of sixty-eight.

The Pygmies.

THE day after I had done before the Ashangos the wonderful things I have described to you, as I was seated under the veranda of the king with Mokounga and a few Ashango elders, I began to talk of the country, and I said to them, "People say that there are dwarfs living in the forest. Is it so, Ashangos? How far are they from Niembouai?" "At no great distance from this spot," said the chief, "there is a village of them; but, Oguizi, if you want to see them you must not go to them with a large number of attendants. You must go in a small party. Take one of your Commi men, and I will give you my nephew, who knows the dwarfs, to go with you. You must walk as cautiously as possible in the forest, for those dwarfs are like antelopes and gazelles; they are shy and easily frightened. To see them you must take them by surprise. No entreaty of ours could induce them to stay in their settlements if they knew you were coming. If you are careful, tomorrow we shall see them, for as sure as I live there are dwarfs in the forest, and they are called Obongos."

Early the next morning the Ashango chief called one of his nephews and another Ashango, and ordered them to show me the way to the country of the dwarfs. So we got ready to start, I taking three of my Commi men with me---Rebouka, Igalo, and Macondai. I had put on a pair of light India-rubber boots in order not to make any noise in the forest. Before leaving I gave a large bunch of beads to one of the Ashango men, and told him as soon as we made our appearance in the village to shout, "Obongos, do not run away. Look here at the beads which the Spirit brings to you. The Spirit is your friend; do not be afraid; he comes only to see you."

After leaving Niembouai we walked through the forest in the most cautious manner, and as we approached the settlement the Ashango man who was in the lead turned his head toward us, put a finger on his lips for us to be silent, and made a sign for us to walk very carefully, and we advanced with more circumspection than ever. After a while we came to the settlement of the dwarfs. Over a small area the undergrowth had been partially cut away, and there stood twelve queer little houses, which were the habitations of these strange people, but not a dwarf was to be seen. They had all gone. "Nobody here," shouted the Ashangos, and the echo of their voices alone disturbed the stillness of the forest. I looked around at this strange little settlement of living dwarfs. There was no mistake about it. The fires were lighted, the smoke ascended from the interior of their little shelters; on a bed of charcoal embers there was a piece of snake roasting; before another were two rats cooking; on the ground there were several baskets of nuts, and one of berries, with some large wild fruits that had been gathered by the dwarfs in the woods; while near by stood several calabashes filled with water, and some bundles of dried fish.

There was, indeed, no mistake: the huts I had seen on my way to Niembouai were the same as these, and had been made surely by the same race of dwarfs. The Ishogos had told me no idle stories. I wish you could have seen the faces of Rebouka, Igalo, and Macondai. "Oh! oh! oh!" they exclaimed. "Chally, what are we not going to see in the wild countries you bring us to? These people must be niamas (beasts); for, look," said they, pointing to their huts, "the shelters of the nshiego-mbouvé are quite as good."

I lingered a long while in the hope that the dwarfs would return, but they did not. We called for them, but our voices were lost; we followed some of their tracks, but it was of no use. "You cannot overtake them," said the Ashangos, "for they can run through the jungle as fast as the gazelle and as silently as a snake, and they are far off now. They are afraid of you." Before leaving their settlement I hung on the lower branches of trees surrounding their village strings of beads of bright colors which I carried with me in my hunting-bag, for I always had some ready to give away whenever I wanted to do so. I had red, white, and yellow beads with me that day, and the trees looked gay with these strings hanging from them. We had taken goat-meat for the dwarfs, and I hung up three legs of goats also, and several plantains, and I put a little salt on a leaf near a hut, and we departed. So I hoped that the dwarfs, seeing what we had left behind us, would become emboldened, and see that we did not desire to do them harm, and that the next time they would not be afraid of us.

I was pleased to perceive on our arrival in the evening at Niembouai that the Ashangos seemed glad to see us again, though the chief was quite disappointed that we had not seen the little Obongos. That evening the Ashangos clustered around me, and wanted me to talk to them, not in their own language, but in the language of the Oguizis (spirits). So I talked to them, and their wonder was great, and I read to them from a book, all of them listening the while with their mouths wide open. Then I took my journal, and read to them aloud in English, and after reading the part which related to what I had done in the Ishogo village of Mokenga, I translated it to them, to the great delight of the Ishogos. The part I read related to my arrival in Mokenga; how the people were afraid of me, and what warm friends we became, and how the villagers said I had moved the big boulder of granite. At this there was a tremendous shout. Then I said, "Ashangos, the Oguizis do not forget any thing. What I write will always be remembered. Now I will read you something we have from an Oguizi who wrote about Dwarfs. The name of that Oguizi was Herodotus." "And yours," shouted the Ishogos, "is Chally!"

"That Oguizi, Herodotus," I continued, " wrote about what he heard and what he saw, just as I do. Long, long ago, before any tree of the forest round you had come out of the ground " (I could not count in their language, and say about 2300 years ago),"that Oguizi, Herodotus, traveled just as I am traveling to-day "--- "Oh! oh!" shouted the Ashangos. "Mamo! mamo!" shouted the Ishogos. "Listen! listen!" said my Commi men in English, for they all now could talk a little English---"and he writes:

I did hear, indeed, what I will now relate, from certain natives of Cyrene. Once upon a time, when they were on a visit to the oracular shrine of Ammon, when it chanced in the course of conversation with Etearchus, the Ammonian king, the talk fell upon the Nile---how that its source was unknown to all men. Etearchus, upon this, mentioned that some Nasamonians had come to his court, and, when asked if they could give any information concerning the uninhabited parts of Libya, had told the following tale (the Nasamonians are a Libyan race who occupy the Syrtes and a tract of no great size toward the east). They said there had grown up among them some wild young men, the sons of certain chiefs, who, when they came to man's estate, indulged in all manner of extravagances, and, among other things, drew lots for five of their number to go and explore the desert parts of Libya, and try if they could not penetrate farther than any had done previously. (The coast of Libya, along the sea, which washes it to the north throughout its entire length from Egypt to Cape Soloeis, which is its farthest point, is inhabited by Libyans of many distinct tribes, who possess the whole tract except certain portions which belong to the Phoenicians and the Greeks.) Above the coast-line and the country inhabited by the maritime tribes, Libya is full of wild beasts, while beyond the wild-beast region there is a tract which is wholly sand and very scant of water, and utterly and entirely a desert. The young men, therefore, dispatched on this errand by their comrades, with a plentiful supply of water and provisions, traveled at first through the inhabited region, passing which they came to the wild beast tract, whence they finally entered upon the desert, which they proceeded to cross in a direction from east to west. After journeying for many days over a wide extent of land, they came at last to a plain where they observed trees growing: approaching them and seeing fruit on them, they proceeded to gather it; while they were thus engaged there came upon them some dwarfish men under the middle height, who seized them and carried them off. The Nasamonians did not understand a word of their language, nor had they any acquaintance with the language of the Nasamonians. They were carried across extensive marshes, and finally came to a city in which all the men were of the height of their conductors, and dark complexioned. A great river flowed by the city, running from west to east, and containing crocodiles. Etearchus conjectured this river to be the Nile, and reason favors this idea.'"

"Oh! oh!" shouted my Commi men. "It is no wonder that the white man forgets nothing. Chally, will what you write about the strange things we see be remembered in the same manner with what that man Herodotus wrote?" "I do not know," said I. "If the white people think that what we saw is worthy of preservation, it will be remembered; if not, it will be forgotten. But never mind," I said; "let us see for ourselves, and what a tale we shall have to tell to our people on our return; for what we see no other men have ever seen before us." After my story of Herodotus the shades of evening had come, and a great Ashango dance took place. How wild, how strange the dancing was in the temple or house of the mbuiti (idol)! The idol was a huge representation of a woman, and it stood at the end of the temple which was about fifty feet in length, and only ten feet broad. The extremity of the building, where the mbuiti was kept, was also dark, and looked weird by the light of the torches as I entered. It was painted in red, white, and black.

Along the walls on each side were Ashango men seated on the ground, each having a lighted torch before him. In the center were two mbuiti-men (doctor, priest) dressed with fibers of trees round their waist; each had one side of his face painted white and the other side red. Down the middle of the breast they had a broad yellow stripe, and the hollow of the eye was painted yellow. They make these different colors from different woods, the coloring matter of which they mix with clay. All the Ashangos were also streaked and daubed with various colors, and by the light of their torches they looked like a troop of devils assembled on the earth to celebrate some diabolical rite. Round their legs were bound sharp-pointed white leaves from the heart of the palm tree; some wore feathers, others had leaves behind their ears, and all had a bundle of palm leaves in their hands. They did not stir when I came in. I told them not to stop; that I came only to look at them.

They began by making all kinds of contortions, and set up a deafening howl of wild songs. There was an orchestra of instrumental performers near the idol, consisting of three drummers beating as hard as they could with their sticks on two ngomas (tam-tams), one harper, and another man strumming with all his might on a sounding-board. The two mbuiti-men danced in a most fantastic manner, jumping and twisting their bodies into all sorts of shapes and contortions. Every time the mbuiti-men opened their mouths to speak a dead silence ensued. Now and then the men would all come and dance round the mbuiti-men, and then they would all face the idol, dance before it, and sing songs of praise to it.

I could not stand this noise long, so I left my Ashangos to enjoy themselves, and, as usual before retiring, ordered my men to keep their watch in a proper manner. "Don't be disheartened," said the chief of Niembouai to me after my unsuccessful attempt to see the dwarfs. "I told you before that the little Obongos were as shy as the antelopes and gazelles of the woods. You have seen for yourself how that what I said was true. If you are careful when you go again to their settlement, you will probably surprise them, only don't wait long before going again, for they may move away."

Before sunrise the next morning we started again for the settlement of the little dwarfs. We were still more cautious than before in going through the jungle. This time we took another direction to reach them, lest perhaps they might be watching the path by which we had come before. After a while I thought I saw through the trunks of the trees ahead of us several little houses of the dwarfs. I kept still, and immediately gave a sign to make my guides maintain silence. They obeyed me on the instant, and we lay motionless on the ground, hardly daring to breathe. There was no mistake about it; we could see, as we peeped through the trees, the houses of the dwarfs, but there seemed to be no life there, no Obongos. We kept watching for more than half an hour in breathless silence, when lo! Rebouka gave a tremendous sneeze. I looked at him. I wish you had seen his face. Another sneeze was coming, and he was trying hard to prevent it, and made all sorts of faces, but the look I gave him was enough, I suppose, and the second sneeze was suppressed. Then we got up and entered the little settlement of the dwarfs. There was not one of them there. The village had been abandoned. The leaves over the little houses were dry, and, while we were looking all round, suddenly our bodies were covered with swarms of fleas, which drove us out faster than we came. It was awful, for they did bite savagely, as if they had not had anything to feed upon for a whole month.

We continued to walk very carefully, and after a while we came near another settlement of the dwarfs, which was situated in the densest part of the forest. I see the huts; we cross the little stream from which the dwarfs drew their water to drink. How careful we are as we walk toward their habitations, our bodies bent almost double, in order not to be easily discovered. I am excited---oh, I would give so much to see the dwarfs, to speak to them! How craftily we advance! how cautious we are for fear of alarming the shy inmates! My Ashango guides hold bunches of beads. I see that the beads we had hung to the trees have been taken away. All our caution was in vain. The dwarfs saw us, and ran away in the woods. We rushed, but it was too late; they had gone. But as we came into the settlement I thought I saw three creatures lying flat on the ground, and crawling through their small doors into their houses. When we were in the very midst of the settlement I shouted, "Is there anybody here?" No answer. The Ashangos shouted, "Is there anybody here?" No answer. I said to the Ashangos, "I am certain that I have seen some of the dwarfs go into their huts." Then they shouted again, "Is there anybody here?" The same silence. Turning toward me, my guides said, "Oguizi. Your eyes have deceived you; there is no one here; they have all fled. They are afraid of you." "I am not mistaken," I answered. I went with one Ashango toward one of the huts where I thought I had seen one of the dwarfs go inside to hide, and as I came to the little door I shouted again, "Is there anybody here?" No answer. The Ashango shouted, "Is there anybody inside?" No answer. "I told you, Oguizi, that they have all run away." It did seem queer to me that I should have suffered an optical delusion. I was perfectly sure that I had seen three dwarfs get inside of their huts. "Perhaps they have broken through the back part, and have escaped," said I; so I walked round their little houses, but everything was right---nothing had gone outside through the walls.

In order to make sure, I came again to the door, and shouted, " Nobody here?" The same silence. I lay flat on the ground, put my head inside of the door, and again shouted, "Nobody here?" It was so dark inside that, coming from the light, I could not see, so I extended my arm in order to feel if there was any one within. Sweeping my arm from left to right, at first I touched an empty bed, composed of three sticks; then, feeling carefully, I moved my arm gradually toward the right, when---hallo! what do I feel? A leg! which I immediately grabbed above the ankle, and a piercing shriek startled me. It was the leg of a human being, and that human being a dwarf! I had got hold of a dwarf! "Don't be afraid; the Spirit will do you no harm," said my Ashango guide.

"Don't be afraid," I said, in the Ashango language, and I immediately pulled the creature I had seized by the leg through the door, in the midst of great excitement among my Commi men. "A dwarf!" I shouted, as the little creature came out. "A woman!" I shouted again---"a pygmy!" The little creature shrieked, looking at me. "Nchendé! Nchendé! Nchendé!" said she. "Oh! oh! oh! Yo! yo! yo!" and her piercing wail rent the air. What a sight! I had never seen the like. "What!" said I, "now I do see the dwarfs of Equatorial Africa---the dwarfs of Homer, Herodotus---the dwarfs of the ancients."

How queer the little old woman looked! How frightened she was! she trembled all over. She was neither white nor black; she was of a yellow, or mulatto color. "What a little head! what a little body! what a little hand! what a little foot!" I exclaimed. "Oh, what queer-looking hair! " said I, bewildered. The hair grew on the head in little tufts apart from each other, and the face was as wrinkled as a baked apple. I cannot tell you how delighted I was at my discovery. So, giving my little prize to one of the Ashangos, and ordering my Commi men to catch her if she tried to run away, I went to the other little dwelling where I thought I had seen another of the dwarfs hide himself. The two little huts stood close together. I shouted, "Nobody here?" No answer. Then I did what I had done before, and, getting my head inside of the hut through the door, again shouted, "Nobody here?" No answer. I moved my right hand to see if I could feel anybody, when, lo! I seized a leg, and immediately heard a shriek. I pulled another strange little dwarf out of the door. It was also a woman, not quite so old as the first, but having exactly the same appearance. The two dwarf-women looked at each other, and began to cry and sing mournful songs, as if they expected to be killed. I said to them, "Be not frightened!"

Then the Ashangos called to the last dwarf who had hid to come out; that it was no use, I had seen them all. They had hardly spoken when I saw a little head peering out of the door, and my Ashangos made the creature come out. It was a woman also, who began crying, and the trio shrieked and cried, and cried and shrieked, wringing their hands, till they got tired. They thought their last day had come."Don't be afraid," said the Ashangos; "the Oguizi is a good Oguizi." "Don't be afraid," said my Commi men. After a while they stopped crying, and began to look at me more quietly.

For the first time I was able to look carefully at these little dwarfs. They were yellow, their faces being exactly of the same color as the chimpanzee; the palms of their hands were almost as white as those of white people; they seemed well-proportioned, but their eyes had an untamable wildness that struck me at once; they had thick lips and flat noses, like the Negroes; their foreheads were low and narrow, and their cheek-bones prominent; and their hair, which grew in little, short tufts, was black, with a reddish tinge. After a while I thought I heard a rustling in one of the little houses, so I went there, and, looking inside, saw it filled with the tiniest children. They were exceedingly shy. When they saw me they hid their heads just as young dogs or kittens would do, and got into a huddle, and kept still. These were the little dwarfish children who had remained in the village under the care of the three women, while the dwarfs had gone into the forest to collect their evening meal---that is to say, nuts, fruits, and berries---and to see if the traps they had set had caught any game.

I immediately put beads around the necks of the women, gave them a leg of wild boar and some plantains, and told them to tell their people to remain, and not to be afraid. I gave some meat to the little children, who, as soon as I showed it to them, seized it just in thc same manner that Fighting Joe or Ugly Tom would have done, only, instead of fighting, they ran away immediately. Very queer specimens these little children seemed to be. They were, if anything, lighter in color than the older people, and they were such little bits of things that they reminded me---I could not help it---of the chimpanzees and nshiego-mbouves I had captured at different times, though their heads were much larger.

I waited in vain---the other inhabitants did not come back; they were afraid of me. I told the women that the next day I should return and bring them meat (for they are said to be very fond of it), and plenty of beads. After several visits to the settlement of the dwarfs we became friends, but it took time. My great friend among them was Misounda, an old woman, the first one I had seen, and whom I pulled out of her own house; but I had some trouble before I could tame friend Misounda. One day I thought I would surprise the dwarfs, and come on them unawares, without having told my friend Misounda I was coming. When I made my appearance I just caught a glimpse of her feet as she was running into her house. That was all I saw of Misounda. At all the other huts little branches of trees had been stuck up in front to show that the inmates were out, and that their doors were shut, and that nobody could get in. These were, indeed, queer doors. I had never seen the like. They were of little use except for keeping out the dogs and wild beasts. When I went in Misounda's hut and got hold of her, she pretended to have been asleep. "So, after all, these little dwarfs," said I, "know how to lie and how to deceive just as well as other people."

Upon one of my visits to the village I saw two other women, a man, and two children; all the other Obongos had gone. So I made friends with them by giving them meat and beads. I saw that the women were not the mothers of the children. I looked at the doors of all the huts; they all had branches put at the entrance to signify that the owner was out. I do not know why, but I began to suspect that the mother of the children was in the settlement, and close by where they stood. I had my eyes upon one of the little houses as the one where she was hiding; so I put aside the branches at the entrance, and, putting half of my body into the hut, I succeeded in discovering in the dark something which I recognized after a while as a human being.

"Don't be afraid," I said. "Don't be afraid," repeated my Ashango guides. The creature was a woman.

She came out with a sad countenance, and began to weep. She had over her forehead a broad stripe of yellow ocher. She was a widow, and had buried her husband only a few days before. "Where is the burial-ground of the dwarfs?" I asked of my Ashango guides. "Ask her," said I to them. "No, Spirit," said they, "for if you ask them such a question, these dwarfs will fear you more than ever, and you will never see them any more. They will flee far away into the thickest part of the forest. We Ashango people do not know even where they bury their dead. They have no regular burial-ground. How could they?" added my guide; "for they roam in the forest like the gorilla, the nshiego-mbouve, the kooloo-kamba, and the nshiego. I believe," said the Ashango, "that all these dwarfs have come from the same father and the same mother long, long ago."

Another time I came to the village of the Obongos with two legs of goats, a leg of wild boar, ten house-rats which had been trapped, a large dead snake, and two land turtles, which I intended to give as a feast to the Obongos. Rebouka, Macondai, and Igalo were with me, and several Ashango women accompanied us. We had several bunches of plantain, for I had resolved to give them a regular banquet, and we had set out to have a good time in their settlement. I had brought beads, a looking-glass, some spoons, knives, forks, and one of my little Geneva musical boxes. Guns were also to be fired, for I was going to show the dwarfs what the Oguizi could do. When they saw us with food they received us with great joy. "What a queer language," I thought, "these dwarfs have!" There was a wild dwarf hurra, "Ya! ye! yo! Oua! oua! Ke! ki-ke-ki!" when they saw the good things that were to be eaten.

Nearly all the dwarfs were here; very few of them were absent. Misounda, who was my friend, and who seemed to be less afraid of me than anybody else, stood by me, and kept her eyes upon the meat. There were fifty-nine dwarfs all told, including men, women, children, and babies. What little things the babies were! Smoke came out of every hut, fires were lighted all round, nuts were roasting, berries and fruits had been collected in great abundance, and snake-flesh was plentiful, for the dwarfs had been the day before on a feeding excursion. Rats and mice had also been trapped. "Obongos," said I, "we have come to have a good time. First I am going to give to every one of you beads." Then the Ashangos brought before them a basket containing the beads, and I asked who was the chief. I could not find him, and they would not tell me. Among them were several old people.

The dwarfs were now eager for beads, and surrounded me, and, though I am a man of short stature, I seemed a giant in the midst of them; and as for Rebouka and Igalo, they appeared to be colossal. "Ya! ya! yo! yo! ye! qui! quo! oh! ah! ri! ri! ke! ke! ki! ke! ki!" seemed to be the only sounds they could make in their excitement. Their appearance was singular, indeed, the larger number of them being of a dirty yellow color. A few of them were not more than four feet in height; others were from four feet two inches to four feet seven inches in height. But if they were short in size, they were stoutly built; like chimpanzees, they had big, broad chests, and, though their legs were small, they were muscular and strong. Their arms were also strong in proportion to their size. There were gray-headed men, and gray-headed, wrinkled old women among them, and very hideous the old dwarfs were. Their features resembled very closely the features of a young chimpanzee. Some had gray, others hazel eyes, while the eyes of a few were black.

As I have said before, their hair was not like that of the Negroes and Ashangos among whom the dwarfs live, but grew in little short tufts apart from each other, and the hair, after attaining a certain length, could not grow longer. These little tufts looked like so many little balls of wool. Many of the men had their chest and legs covered with these little tufts of woolly hair. The women's hair was no longer than that of the men, and it grew exactly in the same manner. I could not keep my eyes from the tiny babies. They were ridiculously small, and much lighter in color than the older people. Their mothers had a broad string of leather hanging from their shoulders to carry them in. There was great excitement among them as I distributed the beads, and they would shout, "Look at his djivie (nose); look at his mouna (mouth); look at his diarou (head); look at his nchouie (hair); look at his mishou (beard)!" and, in spite of my big mustache, they would shout, "Is he a bagala oguizi (man spirit), or an oguizi mokasho (woman spirit)?" Some declared that I was a mokasho, others that I was a bagala. I did not forget my friend Misounda.

After I had given them beads I took out a large looking-glass which I had hidden, and put it in front of them. Immediately they trembled with fright, and said, "Spirit, don't kill us!" and turned their heads from the looking-glass. Then the musical box was shown, and when I had set it playing the dwarfs lay down on the ground, frightened by the brilliant, sparkling music of the mechanism, and by turns looked at me and at the box. Some of them ran away into their little huts. After their fears were allayed I showed them a string of six little bells, which I shook, whereat their little eyes brightened, and their joy was unbounded when I gave them the bells. One, of course, was for friend Misounda, who hung it by a cord to her waist, and shook her body in order to make it ring.

After this I ordered Igalo to bring me the meat, and taking from my sheath my big, bright, sharp hunting-knife, I cut it and distributed it among the dwarfs. Then I gave them the plantains, and told them to eat. I wish you had seen the twisting of their mouths; it would have made you laugh. Immediately the little dwarfs scattered round their fires, and roasted the food I had given them, and it was no sooner cooked than it was eaten, they seemed to be so fond of flesh.

When they had finished eating, the Obongos seemed more sociable than I had ever seen them before. I seated myself on a dead limb of a tree, and they came round me and asked me to talk to them as the spirits talk. So I took my journal, and read to them in English what I had written the day before. After speaking to them in the language of the Oguizis, I said, "Now talk to me in the language of the dwarfs "; and, pointing to my fingers, I gave them to understand that I wanted to know how they counted. So a dwarf, taking hold of his hand, and then one finger after another, counted, one, moï; two, beï, three, metato; four, djimabongo; five, djio; six, samouna; seven, nchima; eight, misanoumo; nine, nchouma; ten, mbò-ta; and then raised his hands, intimating that he could not count beyond ten.

One of them asked me if I lived in the soungui (moon) then another if I lived in a niechi (star), another if I had been long in the forest. Did I make the fine things I gave them during the night? "Now, Obongos," I said to them, "I want you to sing and to dance the dwarf dance for me." An old dwarf went out, and took out of his hut a ngoma (tam-tam), and began to beat it; then the people struck up a chant, and what queer singing it was! what shrill voices they had! After a while they got excited, and began to dance, all the while gesticulating wildly, leaping up, and kicking backwards and forwards, and shaking their heads. Then I fired two guns, the noise of which seemed to stun them and fill them with fear. I gave them to understand that when I saw an elephant, a leopard, a gorilla, or any living thing, by making that noise I could kill them, and to show them I could do it I brought down a bird perched on a high tree near their settlement. How astonished they seemed to be! "After all," I said to myself, "though low in the scale of intelligence, like their more civilized fellow-men, these little creatures can dance and sing."

"Now, Obongos, that you have asked me about the Oguizis," I said to them, "tell me about yourselves. Why do you not build villages as other people do?" "Oh," said they, "we do not build villages, for we never like to remain long in the same place, for if we did we should soon starve. When we have gathered all the nuts, nuts, and berries around the place where we have been living for a time, and trapped all the game there is in the region, and food is becoming scarce, we move to some other part of the forest. We love to move; we hate to tarry long at the same spot. We love to be free like the antelopes and gazelles." "Why don't you plant for food, as other people do?" I asked them. "Why should we work," said they, "when there are plenty of fruits, berries, and nuts around us? when there is game in the woods, and fish in the rivers, and snakes, rats, and mice are plentiful? We love the berries, the nuts, and the fruits which grow wild much better than the fruits the big people raise on their plantations. And if we had villages," they said, "the strong and the people who live in the country might come and make war upon us, kill us, and capture us."

"They do not desire to kill you," I said to them. "See how friendly they are with you! When you trap much game you exchange it for plantains with them. Why don't you wear clothing?" "Why," said they, "the fire is our means of keeping warm, and then the big people give us their grass-cloth when they have done wearing it." "Why don't you work iron, and make spears and battle-axes, so that you might be able to defend yourselves, and be not afraid of war?" "We do not know how to work iron; it takes too much time, it is too hard work. We can make bows, and make arrows with hard wood, and can poison them. We know how to make traps to trap game, and we trap game in far greater number than we can kill it when we go hunting; and we love to go hunting."

"Why don't you make bigger cabins?" "We do not want to make bigger cabins; it would be too much trouble, and we do not know how. These are good enough for us; they keep the rain from us, and we build them so rapidly." "Don't the leopards sometimes come and eat some of you?" "Yes, they do!" they exclaimed. "Then we move off far away, several days' journey from where the leopards have come to eat some of us; and often we make traps to catch them. We hate the leopards!" the Obongos shouted with one voice. "How do you make your fires? tell me." And I could not help thinking that, however wild a man was, even though he might be apparently little above the chimpanzee, he had always a fire, and knew how to make it. They showed me flint-stones, and a species of oakum coming from the palm tree, and said they knocked these stones against each other, and the sparks gave them fire. Then, to astonish them, I took a match from my match-box and lighted it. As soon as they saw the flame a wild shout rang through the settlement.

"Obongos, tell me," said I, "how you get your wives, for your settlements are far apart and you have no paths leading through the forest from one to another. You never know how far the next settlement of the dwarfs may be from yours." "It is true," said they, "that sometimes we do not know where the next encampment of the Obongos may be, and we do not wish to know, for sometimes we fight among ourselves, and if we lived near together we should become too numerous, and find it difficult to procure berries and game. Our people never leave one settlement for another. Generation after generation we have lived among ourselves, and married among ourselves. It is but seldom we permit a stranger from another Obongo settlement to come among us." "How far," said I, pointing to the east, "do you meet Obongos?" "Far, far away," they answered, "toward where the sun rises, Obongos are found scattered in the great forest. We love the woods, for there we live, and if we were to live anywhere else we should starve."

"As you wander through the forest," I asked, "don't you sometimes come to prairies?" "Yes," said they, and here an old Obongo addressed himself to my Ashango interpreter. "When I was a boy, we had our settlement for a long time in the forest not far from a big prairie, and farther off there was a big, river. Since then," said the old Obongo, "as we moved, we have turned our backs upon where the sun rises, and marched in the direction where the sun sets [which meant that they had been migrating from the east toward the west]...."

As the time of our departure from Niembouai had arrived, I said to the dwarfs that I must bid them good-bye, for I was going away toward where the sun rises "Now, you see," said I, "you have always been afraid of me. Tell me, have I done harm to any one of you?" "No, no," they exclaimed; "no, no," said my friend Misounda. So I shook hands with them, and they said to me in parting, "You will see more little dwarfs in the countries where you are going. Be kind to them, as you have been to us."

Crossing an African Bridge

TOWARD noon we approached the Ovigui River, a mountain torrent which had now swollen into a river, and before reaching its natural banks we had to pass through a swamp in the forest for half an hour. The torrent had overflowed, and its waters were running swiftly down among the trees. I began to wonder how we were to cross the bridge. The Ashiras had been speaking of that bridge, and, in fact, we had delayed our start two or three days because they said the waters were too high.

At last we came to a spot where the ground was dry, and a little way farther I could see the swift waters of the Ovigui gliding down with great speed through the forest. I saw at once that even an expert swimmer would be helpless here, and would be dashed to pieces against the fallen trees which jutted out in every direction. Not being a very good swimmer, I did not enjoy the sight. There was one consolation, no crocodile could stand this current, and these pleasant "gentlemen" had therefore retired to parts unknown.

I wanted all the time to get a glimpse of the bridge, but had not succeeded in doing so. I called Minsho, who pointed out to me a queer structure which he called the bridge. It was nothing but a creeper stretched from one side to the other. Then Minsho told me that some years before the bed of the river was not where we stood, but some hundred yards over the other side. "This," he said, " is one of the tricks of the Ovigui." I found that several other of these mountain streams have the same trick. Of course Minsho said that there was a muiri (a spirit) who took the river and changed its course, for nothing else could do it but a spirit. The deep channel of the Ovigui seemed to me about thirty yards wide. Now in this new bed stood certain trees which native ingenuity saw could be used as "piers" for a bridge. At this point in the stream there were two trees opposite each other, and about seven or eight yards distant from each shore. Other trees on the banks were so cut as to fall upon these, which might have been called the piers. So a gap had been filled on each side. It now remained to unite the still open space in the center, between the two "piers," and here came the tug. Unable to transport heavy pieces of timber, they had thrown across this chasm a long, slender, bending limb, which they fastened securely to the "piers." Of course no one could walk on this without assistance, so a couple of strong vines (tiaras) had been strung across for balustrades. These were about three or four feet above the bridge, and about one foot higher up the stream. .

I could barely see the vine, and my heart failed me as I stood looking at this breakneck or drowning concern. To add to the pleasurable excitement, Minsho told me that, on a bridge below, half a dozen people had been drowned the year before by tumbling into the river. "They were careless in crossing," added Minsho, "or some person had bewitched them." The waters of the Ovigui ran down so fast that looking at them for any length of time made my head dizzy. I was in a pretty fix. I could certainly not back out. I preferred to run the risk of being drowned rather than to show these Ashira I was afraid, and to tell them that we had better go back. I think I should never have dared to look them in the face afterward. The whole country would have known that I had been afraid. The Oguizi would have then been nowhere. A coward I should have been called by the savages. Rather die, I thought, than to have such a reputation. I am sure all the boys who read this book would have had the same feelings, and that girls could never look at a boy who is not possessed of courage.

The party had got ready, and put their loads as high on their backs as they could, and in such a manner that these loads should slip into the river if an accident were to happen. The crossing began, and I watched them carefully. They did not look straight across, but faced the current, which was tremendous. The water reached to their waists, and the current was so swift that their bodies could not remain erect, but were bent in two. They held on to the creeper and advanced slowly sideways, never raising their feet from the bridge, for if they had done otherwise the current would have carried them off the structure.

One of the men slipped when midway, but luckily recovered himself. He dropped his load, among the articles in which were two pairs of shoes; but he held on to the rope and finished the " journey" by crossing one arm over the other. It was a curious sight. We shouted, "Hold on fast to the rope! hold on fast!" The noise and shouting we did was enough to make one deaf.

Another, carrying one of my guns, so narrowly escaped falling as to drop that, which was also swept off and lost. Meantime I wondered if I should follow in the wake of my shoes and gun. At any rate, I was bound to show the Ashira that I was not afraid to cross the bridge, even, as I have said, at the risk of being drowned. It would have been a pretty thing to have these people believe that I was susceptible of fear. The next thing would have been that I should have been plundered, then murdered. These fellows had a great advantage over me. Their garments did not trouble them.

At last all were across but Minsho, Adouma, and myself. I had stripped to my shirt and trousers, and set out on my trial, followed by Minsho, who had a vague idea that if I slipped he might catch me. Adouma went ahead. Before reaching the bridge I had to wade in the muddy water. Then I went upon it and marched slowly against the tide, never raising my feet, till at last I came to the tree. There the current was tremendous. I thought it would carry my legs off the bridge, which was now three feet under the water. I felt the water beating against my legs and waist. I advanced carefully, feeling my way and slipping my feet along without raising them. The current was so strong that my arms were extended to their utmost length, and the water, as it struck against my body, bent it. The water was really cold, but, do spite of that, perspiration fell from my face, I was so excited. I managed to drag myself to the other side, holding fast to the creeper, having made up my mind never to let go as long as I should have strength to hold on. Should my feet give way, I intended to do like the other man, and get over by crossing one arm over the other. At last, weak and pale with excitement, but outwardly calm, I reached the other side, vowing that I would never try such navigation again. I would rather have faced several gorillas, lions, elephants, and leopards, than cross the Ovigui bridge.

Putting ourselves in walking order again, we plunged into the great forest, which was full of ebony, barwood, India-rubber, and other strange trees. About two miles from the Ovigui we reached a little prairie, some miles long and a few hundred yards wide, which the natives called Odjiolo. It seemed like a little island incased in that great sea of trees. What a nice little spot it would have been to build a camp under some of the tall, long-spread branches of trees which bordered it! But there was no time for camping. There were to be no stops during the daytime till we reached the Apingi country.

A few miles after leaving the Odjiolo prairie we came to a steep hill called Mount Oconcou. As we ascended lve had to lay hold of the branches in order to help ourselves in the ascent, and we had to stop several times in order to get our breath. We finally reached a plateau from which we could see Nkoumou-Nabouali Mountains. Then we surmounted the other hills, with intervening plains and valleys, all covered with dense forest, and at last found ourselves on the banks of a most beautiful

little purling mountain brook, which skirted the base of our last hill. This nice little stream was called the Aloumy or Oloumy. Here we lit our fires, built shelters, and camped for the night, all feeling perfectly tired out, and I, for one, thankful for the nice camp we had succeeded in building, for I needed a good night's rest.

Consulting the Man in the Moon.

THE people declared they must find some means of ascertaining the cause of the king's sufferings. Quengueza had sent word himself that his people must try to find out from Ilogo why he was sick, and what he must do for his recovery. Ilogo is believed by the people to be a spirit living in the moon---a mighty spirit, who looks down upon the inhabitants of the earth---a spirit to whom the black man can talk. "Yes," they said, "Ilogo's face can be seen; look at it." Then they pointed out to me the spots on the moon which we can see with our naked eye. These spots were the indistinct features of the spirit.

One fine evening, at full moon (for, to consult Ilogo, the moon must be full, or nearly so), the women of the village assembled in front of the king's house. Clustered close together, and seated on the ground, with their faces turned toward the moon, they sang songs. They were surrounded by the men of the village. I shall not soon forget that wild scene. The sky was clear and beautiful; the moon shone in its brightness, eclipsing by its light that of the stars, except those of the first magnitude; the air was calm and serene, and the shadows of the tall trees upon the earth appeared like queer phantoms. The songs of the women were to and in praise of Ilogo, the spirit that lived in ogouayli (the moon). Presently a woman seated herself in the center of the circle of singers and began a solo, gazing steadfastly at the moon, the people every now and then singing in chorus with her. She was to be inspired by the spirit Ilogo to utter prophecies.

At last she gave up singing, for she could not get into a trance. Then another woman took her place, in the midst of the most vociferous singing that could be done by human lips. After a while the second woman gave place to a third---a little woman, wiry and nervous. She seated herself like the others, and looked steadily at the moon, crying out that she could see Ilogo, and then the singing redoubled in fury. The excitement of the people had at that time become very great; the drums beat furiously, the drummers using all their strength, until covered with perspiration; the outsiders shouted madly, and seemed to be almost out of their senses, for their faces were wrinkled in nervous excitement, their eyes perfectly wild, and the contortions they made with their bodies indescribable.

The excitement was now intense, and the noise horrible. The songs to Ilogo were not for a moment discontinued, but the pitch of their voices was so great and so hoarse that the words at last seemed to come with difficulty. The medium, the women, and the men all sang with one accord:---

"Ilogo, we ask you,
Tell who has bewitched the king!
Ilogo, we ask you,
What shall we do to cure the king?
The forests are yours, Ilogo!
The rivers are yours, Ilogo!
The moon is yours!
O moon! O moon! O moon!
You are the home of Ilogo!
Shall the king die? O Ilogo!
O Ilogo! O moon! O moon!"

These words were repeated over and over, the people getting more terribly excited as they went on. The woman who was the medium, and who had been singing violently, looked toward the moon, and began to tremble. Her nerves twitched, her face was contorted, her muscles swelled, and at last her limbs straightened out. At this time the wildest of all wild excitement possessed the people. I myself looked on with intense curiosity. She fell on her back on the ground, insensible, her face turned up to the moon. She looked as if she had died in a fit.

The song to Ilogo continued with more noise than ever; but at last comparative quiet followed, compelled, I believe, by sheer exhaustion from excitement. But the people were all gazing intently on the woman's face. I shall not forget that scene by moonlight, nor the corpse-like face of that woman, so still and calm. How wild it all looked! The woman, who lay apparently dead before the savages, was expected at this time to see things in the world of Ilogo---that is to say, the moon---to see the great spirit Ilogo himself; and, as she lay insensible, she was supposed to be holding intercourse with him. Then, after she had conversed with the great spirit Ilogo, she would awake, and tell the people all she saw and all that Ilogo had said to her.

For my part, I thought she really was dead. I approached her, and touched her pulse. It was weak, but there was life. After about half an hour of insensibility she came to her senses, but she was much prostrated. She seated herself without rising, looking round as if stupefied. She remained quite silent for a while, and then began to speak. "I have seen Ilogo, I have spoken to Ilogo. Ilogo has told me that Quengueza, our king, shall not die; that Quengueza is going to live a long time; that Quengueza was not bewitched, and that a remedy prepared from such a plant [I forget the name] would cure him. Then," she added, "I went to sleep, and when I awoke Ilogo was gone, and now I find myself in the midst of you."

The people then quietly separated, as by that time it was late, and all retired to their huts, I myself going to mine, thinking of the wild scene I had just witnessed, and feeling that, the longer I remained in that strange country, the more strange the customs of the people appeared to me. Soon all became silent, and nothing but the barking of the watchful little native dogs broke the stillness of the night. The moon continued to shine over that village, the inhabitants of which had run so wild vith superstition.

King of the Apingi.

THE village was crowded with strangers once more. All the chiefs of the tribe had arrived. What did it all mean? They had the wildest notions regarding me. I was the most wonderful of creatures---a mighty spirit. I could work wonders---turn wood into iron, leaves of trees into cloth, earth into beads, the waters of the Rembo Apingi into palm wine or plantain wine. I could make fire, the matches I lighted being proof of it. What had that immense crowd come for? They had met to make me their king. A kendo, the insignia of chieftainship here, had been procured from the Shimba people, from whose country the kendo comes!

The drums beat early this morning; it seemed as if a fête-day was coming, for every one appeared joyous. I was quite unprepared for the ceremony that was to take place, for I knew nothing about it; no one had breathed a word concerning it to me. When the hour arrived I was called out of my hut. Wild shouts rang through the air as I made my appearance--- "Yo! yo! yo!" The chiefs of the tribe, headed by Remandji, advanced toward me in line, each chief being armed with a spear, the heads of which they held pointed at me. In rear of the chiefs were hundreds of Apingi warriors, also armed with spears. Were they to spear me? They stopped, while the drummers beat their tam-tams furiously. Then Remandji, holding a kendo in his hand, came forward in the midst of the greatest excitement and wild shouts of "The Oguizi is to be made our king! the Oguizi is to be made our king!"

When Remandji stood about a yard from me a dead silence took place. The king advanced another step, and then with his right hand put the kendo on my left shoulder, saying, "You are the spirit whom we have never seen before. We are but poor people when we see you. You are one of those of whom we have heard, who came from nobody knows where, and whom we never expected to see. You are our king. We make you our king. Stay with us always, for we love you!" Whereupon shouts as wild as the country around came from the multitude. They shouted, "Spirit, we do not want you to go away---we want you forever!" Immense quantities of palm wine contained in calabashes were drunk, and a general jollification took place in the orthodox fashion of a coronation.

From that day, therefore, I may call myself Du Chaillu the First, King of the Apingi. Just fancy, I am an African king ! Of all the wild castles I ever built when I was a boy, I never dreamed that I should one day be made king over a wild tribe of Negroes dwelling in the mountains of Equatorial Africa!


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. III: Egypt, Africa, and Arabia, pp. 401-433.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, November 1998