Country of the Dwarfs - Paul du Chaillu

An Unlucky Shot


Several days have passed away since I have left the Pigmies and the village of Niembouai, and I am traveling toward the rising sun. The country is getting more and more mountainous as we advance eastward, the forests are very thick, the jungle is very dense, and many of the trees are of immense size. An apparently perpetual mist shrouds the summit of many of the hills, where it rains almost every day, though on the sea-shore it is the dry season. Village after village of the wild Ashango inhabitants of the country have been passed by us; many are deserted. The people are afraid of me, and do not wish to see me.

Some of the mountains we passed had queer names. One was called Birougou-Bouanga. I remember well Birougon-Bonanga; it was 2574 feet in height.

In order to know the elevation of the country as I traveled along, I had two kinds of instruments with me—aneroids, and an apparatus for ascertaining at what point water boils. The boiling apparatus was a queer-looking instrument, and was a great object of fright to the negroes. The illustration gives you an idea of the instrument. Here is a policeman's lantern; in it is a lamp, and on, the top is a kind of kettle in which water is put when to be used. To the kettle is attached by a screw a thermometer, the bulb of which is immersed in the water. A short time after the lamp is lit, the water boils and forces the mercury along the tube; then the degrees are read off on the instrument. With this reading entered on the tables which are made for this instrument, the height of the place where you are is obtained.

observation instruments


1.Iron bottle for Quicksilver. 2. Aneroid. 3. Thermometer. 4. Artificial horizon, 5. Sextant. 6. Glass to measure the cubic inches of rain. 7. Rain-gauge and bottle. 8. Policeman's Lantern with Thermometer, a. 9.Brass tube in which to keep the thermometer, a.

The aneroid looks very much like a large watch, but having only one hand. The higher you ascend, the lower the reading, on account of the atmospheric pressure. This reading, referred to a table, gives the height, as by boiling water. May one of you, procuring these instruments when going in the country, can amuse himself when he travels in taking the height of the hills and mountains he passes over.

On, my return from the country of the Dwarfs I found improvements in the boiling apparatus, and also in the artificial horizon. There is now a very small artificial horizon, invented by my friend Captain George, of the British Navy, and it is very portable, especially when compared with the old one travelers had to use. It will be a great boon to explorers. I doubt that a more useful and safe one to the traveler can be made. Captain, George, I am very happy to say, is the gentleman who taught me how to take astronomical observations, and how to calculate them.

At the foot of Birougou-Bouanga was the village of Niembouai-Olomba, which meant Upper Niembouai. The head men of Niembouai and of Upper Niembouai were two brothers, so the people consented to receive me, and we tarried there a few days. The village was situated just at the junction of two gorges or valleys, one of which ran almost directly north and south, and the other east and west. From the village, looking up, I could see the sun as it rose almost from the natural horizon. The wind during the day blew all the time from the south, and early in the morning the temperature was quite cool—69º Fahrenheit.

After leaving Niembouai-Olomba, and traveling through the great and dense forest, we came to a village called Mobana, the inhabitants belonging to the Ashango tribe, for we were still in the Ashango territory. The chief of Mobana was called Rakombo. The village was situated at the summit of a mountain 2369 feet in height at the foot of which ran a beautiful stream called Bembo. The Bembo was the first river I had reached which ran toward the east, toward where the sun rose. How glad I was! "It no doubt falls into the Congo River," I said, for I began to hear of a large stream in our line of march going toward the rising sun.

The great embarrassment now was that the people were so much afraid of me, not as a spirit who brings the plague, but as a spirit whose evil eye they dared not meet. I succeeded in leaving Mobana, as I had left scores of villages before, without trouble, and Rakombo had taken me to a village farther east with the name of Mouaou-Kombo. The name of the village proper was Mouaou, and the chief's name was Kombo. If the people of the wild tribes I had passed before had been afraid of me, the people of Mouaou-Kombo stood in still greater dread of my coming. The people of Mobana, who had taken me to that village, had disappeared one by one, and Rakombo himself, their chief, had deserted me. So I was left all alone with my Commi men among the Mouaou-Kombo people.

A few days after my arrival at Mouaou-Kombo, if you had sought me or my Commi men in the village, you would not have found us there. Where were we? We were encamped by ourselves not far from the village, from which we had withdrawn to show the people that we were tired of remaining there, and impatient to take our departure. We had been busy that day in cutting down trees around our camp to serve as an abatis and safeguard, so that nobody could approach us without making us aware of it by their noise in penetrating the dense branches. We passed the night in reasonable security, though without much fire, for our dogs, Andèko, Ncommi-Nagoumba, Rover, Turk, Fierce, and Ndjègo, would have in an instant apprised us by their barking of any strange visitor attempting to enter the camp. All our luggage was by us. The path from Mouaou-Kombo to our retreat was very steep.

I had that day sent Igala, Rebouka, and Mouitchi, armed to the teeth, along the path leading eastward, telling them to look sharp, and to ascertain, if they came to a village, whether the inhabitants did not want us to pass through their country; in fact, to learn all the news the could, and make report to me. After two hours Igala came back laughing, and saying that he had entered big village, from which the people had fled in perfect terror, thinking I had come with him, but that finally he had succeeded in holding a parley with some of the inhabitants, and learned that they had trouble with the Mouaou-Kombo people. Igala told them not to afraid of me, and that they must not be alarmed if they should see me come to their village. So far all was right; we knew exactly what was ahead of us. "Well done," I said, "my boys."

The next morning a deputation of villagers of Mouaou-Kombo came to our camp and begged us to come back, saying that if I would return, in two days they would conduct me by another route to the southeast in order to avoid the hostile villages. So we returned to the village, the villagers helping my men in carrying luggage back. Now I regretted that I had no more Commi men with me, so that we might have been independent of strangers for the transportation of our luggage.

As I came back to Mouaou-Kombo, little did I know what a dark cloud was hanging over us, for my heart was filled with joy at the prospect of soon continuing our journey. Little did I dream of the storm that in a short time was to burst upon us. Little did I think, as I ascended the hill in the midst of the peals of laughter of my Commi men and of the Ashangos, that there was fighting and bloodshed in store; that I was soon to be engaged with my men in defending our lives, and in beating a disastrous retreat along the way we had come, and see the mournful end of that glorious journey upon which I had set my heart! Like the little leaf cast upon the stream of Mokenga, I was drifting I knew not whither. I had no knowledge then of the breakers ahead, and now I am going to relate to you the sad story.

I had entered again the village of Mouaou-Kombo; our luggage had been put back in the huts; Kombo, the chief, headed by his elders, had come to receive me, beating his kendo as he advanced. After a while the elders departed, and the chief and his queen were seated by my side in the street. The people were passing to and fro to their accustomed avocations, and every thing was going on as usual.

"Is it true," said Kombo to me, "that you Oguizis kill people as we Ashangos kill monkeys and the wild beasts of the forest? We Ashangos believe you do it, and that is the reason we are afraid of you. We are even afraid that your eye is an evil one, and that a look of yours can bring death." Then the chief stopped and looked at me.

"Nèshi, nèshi, nèshi," I repeated three times (no, no, no), and I spat on the ground to show him how I hated what he had said. "No," said I, "Kombo, the Oguizi loves people, loves the Ashangos, and kills no one."

As I was speaking, a goat, the peace-offering of the king, stood before me, and several bunches of plantain lay near by, which had been brought in a little before by his people. The king said, "Eat these, Spirit. In two days I will conduct you where you want to go. I am so glad to hear that you do not kill people, but surely us Ashangos are afraid of you, but in a day's journey you will reach the Njavi country."

Then the queen said, "I told you, my husband, that the Oguizi did not kill people as the Ashangos kill monkeys. Now don't you believe me? said she, looking at the king right in the face. Then, turning to me, she said, "Oguizi, I am cooking a pot of koa  (a root) for you and your men; will you eat them?"

"Certainly," said I.

I had hardly uttered those words when there appeared, before us four warriors of a hostile village, who said they would make war on the Mouaou-Kombo people if they dared to take me through their village; that they did not want me to pass that way.

Kombo, the chief, said to me, "Oguizi, go in your hut; I do not want these people to see you," and he asked men to fire guns to frighten the warriors. Igala fired, advancing toward the four warriors, who fled. I could not help laughing. Other guns were fired, when I heard, back of where the king and queen and myself were seated, the report of another gun, and I was startled to see the Mouaou villagers, with affrighted looks and shouts of alarm, running away in every direction. The king and queen got up, and fled along with the rest.

"Mamo! mamo!" was heard every where.

I got up, and, looking back in the direction where gun had been fired, I saw, not far from my hut, the lifeless body of a leading Ashango man.

Igalo had done the deed. He rushed toward me and shouted, "I did not do it on purpose; the gun went off before I had raised it."

Now, indeed, I might be sure that the Ashangos would believe that the Oguizi could kill people as they did monkeys.

What was to be done? I was hundreds of miles away from the sea.

I called the king back. "Do not be afraid," I said.

Kombo cried back to me, "You say you come here to do no harm, and you do not kill people. Is not this the dead body of a man?" and in an instant he was out of sight.

Oh, how sorry I felt! but there was but little time for melancholy reflections.

I shouted back, "Ashango people, I am very sorry. What can I do? I will pay you the price of twenty men for that man who has been killed."

In the mean time the war-drums began to beat furiously in every part of this large village, and the warriors came out by hundreds, armed with spears, bows and poisoned arrows, battle-axes, and other murderous implements of war.

My men held beads and goods in their hands, and shouted, "Come, we will pay you for that man that has been killed."

Then suddenly one of the elders, bolder than the rest, shouted, "Let there be no war; let us have peace. The Oguizi will pay for that man's life."

There was a lull. Some said," Let us make war; let us kill the people who have come with the Oguizi, for they have come to kill us," while another party shouted, "Let us have peace." The war-drums for a while-ceased to beat and the horns calling the warriors from the forest had ceased to blow.

There was a lull—just what I wanted. I knew it was utterly impossible to make those people believe that that man had been killed by accident. I might just as well have tried to make them believe that a spear would go through a man and kill him without being hurled by another man.

That lull was precious time to me, though it was but short. I encouraged my seven Commi men, who come close to me for advice. "Don't be afraid, boys," I said. "We are men; we can fight. Not one of you will be delivered to the Ashangos for this palaver. We will fight our way back; get ready. Though they may be inclined for peace, let us prepare for the worst, and woe to our enemies if they want to fight." Then, turning, ward Igalo, I said to him reproachfully, though kindly, "See what your carelessness has brought upon us."

In a very short time we had got out an additional a supply of ammunition, two hundred bullets extra for each man, and six one-pound cans of powder. We could not be taken unawares, for our guns had never left our hands and by the side of each man hung always a bag containing one hundred bullets and two or three pounds of powder; so you see we had ammunition enough to carry a desperate fight, and we were bound to sell our lives dearly, but not before having exhausted every means of conciliation.

Then, pointing to seven otaitais, I said, "Get ready to put them on at an instant's notice." They contained precious things—photographs, scientific instruments, valuable notes.

We were ready for our retreat in case war should be decided upon by the Ashangos.

The appearances were hopeful, and I began to think that the palaver would be settled satisfactorily, when suddenly a woman, whom afterward I recognized to be the queen, came wailing and tearing her hair. Stripping off her garment of grass-cloth, she rolled herself on the ground before me, crying, "Oguizi, what have I done to you? Why have you killed my sister? What had she done to you? She gave you food—that is the harm she has done you. Go and see her body behind the hut," and she wailed aloud. Then from afar the friendly elder, who did not desire at first to make war, shouted, "Why have you killed my wife, oh wicked Oguizi?"

The fatal bullet, had gone through the man, and then through a hut, killing the sister of the queen, who was busy behind her dwelling.

As the sad news spread, a general shout for war arose from the increasing multitude, and every man who had not his spear or bow rushed for it, and those who had them brandished them in sign of defiance. War was declared—there was no help for it. Oh dear, what was to be done? I had not come into that far country to kill these savages, but then my men, who had left their homes, their wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, must not be killed—they trusted in me. What Shall we do? Is Paul Du Chaillu to run away from the enemy? Shall these savages call him a coward? Such thoughts made the blood rash to my head. I shall never play the coward, but then there are many ways besides fighting to show one's courage. My mind was made up, so I girded my loins for the fight, sat at heart. First I thought I would set fire to the house where my baggage was, but there was so much powder there—several hundred pounds—that in exploding it more Ashangos would be killed. We had shed the first blood; we must be careful to shed no more without being obliged to do so, and I offered a silent prayer to God to guide me in what was to be done.

My seven Commi men stood by me, ready to start with their otaitais on their backs. "Be not afraid, boys," said I; "we are men."

We had to go through the whole length of the village before we could reach the path by which we had come to Mouaou-Kombo.

I shouted, "Ashangos, all the goods I have I give to you for the people that have been killed. Now we go away. We did not come here to make war; we did not come here to kill people. We don't wish to kill you, so do not compel us to do so."

My Commi boys were cool and steady, and, keeping a firm line, we marched through the street of the villa, a rain of spears and of poisoned arrows came from behind the huts, and showered all around us. I am wounded—a sharp-pointed arrow pierces me. Then Igala, my right-hand man, is wounded. "Don't fire, boys; let us shed no more blood in this village if we can help it," I said. "Press onward; do not be afraid. There is but one God, the ruler of, the universe; all will be for the best."

We advance steadily, the crowd ahead of us in street brandishing their spears and sending arrows at us; but they keep far away, while, with guns pointed toward them, we continue to advance. Rebouka and Mouitchi looking around toward the huts, for our hidden enemies were the ones we dreaded the most. Another shower of spears and arrows fell in the midst of us. I look around—no one is wounded; when, lo! Macondai is struck by an arrow. The infuriated savages, shouting their terrific war-cries, become bolder, and come nearer. Must more blood be shed? And now Rebouka is wounded. Five spears fall by me, and a perfect shower of them fly all around.

Igala says, "Chally, do you think we are going to let these savages wound you? A man in our country would be put to death if he dared to raise his hand against you. Don't you see our blood? May we not fire and kill some of them?"

"Be patient, my boys. Remember we shed the first blood. Wait a little while; perhaps they will desist. They dare not come too near; when they do we will kill them."

Oh dear, one of our dogs is killed—poor Andèko! three Spears go into him and lay him prostrate; he gives a shriek of pain, and he is dead. Our other dogs are by us. Ncommi-Nagoumba is in a great rage; he barks furiously at the Ashangos; a spear has just wounded him slightly on the back. Rover, Fierce, Turk, and Ndjègo are ready to help us; we have trouble to keep them in check. They are going to be useful in the forest—they will discover the men in ambush. The Ashangos know this, and they try to kill them. Just as we reach the end of the village, Rover and Fierce are wounded, each receiving an arrow in his body.