Part 1 out of 6
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THE LAND OF FOOTPRINTS
by Stewart Edward White
I. ON BOOKS OF ADVENTURE
Books of sporting, travel, and adventure in countries little
known to the average reader naturally fall in two
classes-neither, with a very few exceptions, of great value. One
class is perhaps the logical result of the other.
Of the first type is the book that is written to make the most of
far travels, to extract from adventure the last thrill, to
impress the awestricken reader with a full sense of the danger
and hardship the writer has undergone. Thus, if the latter takes
out quite an ordinary routine permit to go into certain
districts, he makes the most of travelling in "closed territory,"
implying that he has obtained an especial privilege, and has
penetrated where few have gone before him. As a matter of fact,
the permit is issued merely that the authorities may keep track
of who is where. Anybody can get one. This class of writer tells
of shooting beasts at customary ranges of four and five hundred
yards. I remember one in especial who airily and as a matter of
fact killed all his antelope at such ranges. Most men have shot
occasional beasts at a quarter mile or so, but not airily nor as
a matter of fact: rather with thanksgiving and a certain amount
of surprise. The gentleman of whom I speak mentioned getting an
eland at seven hundred and fifty yards. By chance I happened to
mention this to a native Africander.
"Yes," said he, "I remember that; I was there."
This interested me-and I said so.
"He made a long shot," said I.
"A GOOD long shot," replied the Africander.
"Did you pace the distance?"
He laughed. "No," said he, "the old chap was immensely delighted.
'Eight hundred yards if it was an inch!' he cried."
"How far was it?"
"About three hundred and fifty. But it was a long shot, all
And it was! Three hundred and fifty yards is a very long shot. It
is over four city blocks-New York size. But if you talk often
enough and glibly enough of "four and five hundred yards," it
does not sound like much, does it?
The same class of writer always gets all the thrills. He speaks
of "blanched cheeks," of the "thrilling suspense," and so on down
the gamut of the shilling shocker. His stuff makes good reading;
there is no doubt of that. The spellbound public likes it, and to
that extent it has fulfilled its mission. Also, the reader
believes it to the letter-why should he not? Only there is this
curious result: he carries away in his mind the impression of
unreality, of a country impossible to be understood and gauged
and savoured by the ordinary human mental equipment. It is
interesting, just as are historical novels, or the copper-riveted
heroes of modern fiction, but it has no real relation with human
life. In the last analysis the inherent untruth of the thing
forces itself on him. He believes, but he does not apprehend; he
acknowledges the fact, but he cannot grasp its human quality. The
affair is interesting, but it is more or less concocted of
pasteboard for his amusement. Thus essential truth asserts its
All this, you must understand, is probably not a deliberate
attempt to deceive. It is merely the recrudescence under the
stimulus of a brand-new environment of the boyish desire to be a
hero. When a man jumps back into the Pleistocene he digs up some
of his ancestors' cave-qualities. Among these is the desire for
personal adornment. His modern development of taste precludes
skewers in the ears and polished wire around the neck; so he
adorns himself in qualities instead. It is quite an engaging and
diverting trait of character. The attitude of mind it both
presupposes and helps to bring about is too complicated for my
brief analysis. In itself it is no more blameworthy than the
small boy's pretence at Indians in the back yard; and no more
praiseworthy than infantile decoration with feathers.
In its results, however, we are more concerned. Probably each of
us has his mental picture that passes as a symbol rather than an
idea of the different continents. This is usually a single
picture-a deep river, with forest, hanging snaky vines,
anacondas and monkeys for the east coast of South America, for
example. It is built up in youth by chance reading and chance
pictures, and does as well as a pink place on the map to stand
for a part of the world concerning which we know nothing at all.
As time goes on we extend, expand, and modify this picture in the
light of what knowledge we may acquire. So the reading of many
books modifies and expands our first crude notions of Equatorial
Africa. And the result is, if we read enough of the sort I
describe above, we build the idea of an exciting, dangerous,
extra-human continent, visited by half-real people of the texture
of the historical-fiction hero, who have strange and interesting
adventures which we could not possibly imagine happening to
This type of book is directly responsible for the second sort.
The author of this is deadly afraid of being thought to brag of
his adventures. He feels constantly on him the amusedly critical
eye of the old-timer. When he comes to describe the first time a
rhino dashed in his direction, he remembers that old hunters, who
have been so charged hundreds of times, may read the book.
Suddenly, in that light, the adventure becomes pitifully
unimportant. He sets down the fact that "we met a rhino that
turned a bit nasty, but after a shot in the shoulder decided to
leave us alone." Throughout he keeps before his mind's eye the
imaginary audience of those who have done. He writes for them, to
please them, to convince them that he is not "swelled head," nor
"cocky," nor "fancies himself," nor thinks he has done, been, or
seen anything wonderful. It is a good, healthy frame of mind to
be in; but it, no more than the other type, can produce books
that leave on the minds of the general public any impression of a
country in relation to a real human being.
As a matter of fact, the same trouble is at the bottom of both
failures. The adventure writer, half unconsciously perhaps, has
been too much occupied play-acting himself into half-forgotten
boyhood heroics. The more modest man, with even more
self-consciousness, has been thinking of how he is going to
appear in the eyes of the expert. Both have thought of themselves
before their work. This aspect of the matter would probably
vastly astonish the modest writer.
If, then, one is to formulate an ideal toward which to write, he
might express it exactly in terms of man and environment. Those
readers desiring sheer exploration can get it in any library:
those in search of sheer romantic adventure can purchase plenty
of it at any book-stall. But the majority want something
different from either of these. They want, first of all, to know
what the country is like-not in vague and grandiose "word
paintings," nor in strange and foreign sounding words and
phrases, but in comparison with something they know. What is it
nearest like-Arizona? Surrey? Upper New York? Canada? Mexico? Or
is it totally different from anything, as is the Grand Canyon?
When you look out from your camp-any one camp-how far do you
see, and what do you see?-mountains in the distance, or a screen
of vines or bamboo near hand, or what? When you get up in the
morning, what is the first thing to do? What does a rhino look
like, where he lives, and what did you do the first time one came
at you? I don't want you to tell me as though I were either an
old hunter or an admiring audience, or as though you were afraid
somebody might think you were making too much of the matter. I
want to know how you REALLY felt. Were you scared or nervous? or
did you become cool? Tell me frankly just how it was, so I can
see the thing as happening to a common everyday human being.
Then, even at second-hand and at ten thousand miles distance, I
can enjoy it actually, humanly, even though vicariously,
speculating a bit over my pipe as to how I would have liked it
Obviously, to write such a book the author must at the same time
sink his ego and exhibit frankly his personality. The paradox in
this is only apparent. He must forget either to strut or to blush
with diffidence. Neither audience should be forgotten, and neither
should be exclusively addressed. Never should he lose sight of
the wholesome fact that old hunters are to read and to weigh;
never should he for a moment slip into the belief that he is
justified in addressing the expert alone. His attitude should be
that many men know more and have done more than he, but that for
one reason or another these men are not ready to transmit their
knowledge and experience.
To set down the formulation of an ideal is one thing: to fulfil
it is another. In the following pages I cannot claim a
fulfilment, but only an attempt. The foregoing dissertation must
be considered not as a promise, but as an explanation. No one
knows better than I how limited my African experience is, both in
time and extent, bounded as it is by East Equatorial Africa and a
year. Hundreds of men are better qualified than myself to write
just this book; but unfortunately they will not do it.
In looking back on the multitudinous pictures that the word
Africa bids rise in my memory, four stand out more distinctly
than the others. Strangely enough, these are by no means all
pictures of average country-the sort of thing one would describe
as typical. Perhaps, in a way, they symbolize more the spirit of
the country to me, for certainly they represent but a small
minority of its infinitely varied aspects. But since we must make
a start somewhere, and since for some reason these four crowd
most insistently in the recollection it might be well to begin
Our camp was pitched under a single large mimosa tree near the
edge of a deep and narrow ravine down which a stream flowed. A
semicircle of low mountains hemmed us in at the distance of
several miles. The other side of the semicircle was occupied by
the upthrow of a low rise blocking off an horizon at its nearest
point but a few hundred yards away. Trees marked the course of the
stream; low scattered bushes alternated with open plain. The
grass grew high. We had to cut it out to make camp.
Nothing indicated that we were otherwise situated than in a very
pleasant, rather wide grass valley in the embrace of the
mountains. Only a walk of a few hundred yards atop the upthrow of
the low rise revealed the fact that it was in reality the lip of
a bench, and that beyond it the country fell away in sheer cliffs
whose ultimate drop was some fifteen hundred feet. One could sit
atop and dangle his feet over unguessed abysses.
For a week we had been hunting for greater kudu. Each day Memba
Sasa and I went in one direction, while Mavrouki and Kongoni took
another line. We looked carefully for signs, but found none
fresher than the month before. Plenty of other game made the
country interesting; but we were after a shy and valuable prize,
so dared not shoot lesser things. At last, at the end of the
week, Mavrouki came in with a tale of eight lions seen in the low
scrub across the stream. The kudu business was about finished, as
far as this place went, so we decided to take a look for the
We ate by lantern and at the first light were ready to start. But
at that moment, across the slope of the rim a few hundred yards
away, appeared a small group of sing-sing. These are a beautiful
big beast, with widespread horns, proud and wonderful, like
Landseer's stags, and I wanted one of them very much. So I took
the Springfield, and dropped behind the line of some bushes. The
stalk was of the ordinary sort. One has to remain behind cover,
to keep down wind, to make no quick movements. Sometimes this
takes considerable manoeuvring; especially, as now, in the case
of a small band fairly well scattered out for feeding. Often
after one has succeeded in placing them all safely behind the
scattered cover, a straggler will step out into view. Then the
hunter must stop short, must slowly, oh very, very slowly, sink
down out of sight; so slowly, in fact, that he must not seem to
move, but rather to melt imperceptibly away. Then he must take up
his progress at a lower plane of elevation. Perhaps he needs
merely to stoop; or he may crawl on hands and knees; or he may
lie flat and hitch himself forward by his toes, pushing his gun
ahead. If one of the beasts suddenly looks very intently in his
direction, he must freeze into no matter what uncomfortable
position, and so remain an indefinite time. Even a hotel-bred
child to whom you have rashly made advances stares no longer nor
more intently than a buck that cannot make you out.
I had no great difficulty with this lot, but slipped up quite
successfully to within one hundred and fifty yards. There I
raised my head behind a little bush to look. Three does grazed
nearest me, their coats rough against the chill of early morning.
Up the slope were two more does and two funny, fuzzy babies. An
immature buck occupied the extreme left with three young ladies.
But the big buck, the leader, the boss of the lot, I could not
see anywhere. Of course he must be about, and I craned my neck
cautiously here and there trying to make him out.
Suddenly, with one accord, all turned and began to trot rapidly
away to the right, their heads high. In the strange manner of
animals, they had received telepathic alarm, and had instantly
obeyed. Then beyond and far to the right I at last saw the beast
I had been looking for. The old villain had been watching me all
The little herd in single file made their way rapidly along the
face of the rise. They were headed in the direction of the
stream. Now, I happened to know that at this point the
stream-canyon was bordered by sheer cliffs. Therefore, the
sing-sing must round the hill, and not cross the stream. By
running to the top of the hill I might catch a glimpse of them
somewhere below. So I started on a jog trot, trying to hit the
golden mean of speed that would still leave me breath to shoot.
This was an affair of some nicety in the tall grass. Just before
I reached the actual slope, however, I revised my schedule. The
reason was supplied by a rhino that came grunting to his feet
about seventy yards away. He had not seen me, and he had not
smelled me, but the general disturbance of all these events had
broken into his early morning nap. He looked to me like a person
who is cross before breakfast, so I ducked low and ran around
him. The last I saw of him he was still standing there, quite
disgruntled, and evidently intending to write to the directors
Arriving at the top, I looked eagerly down. The cliff fell away
at an impossible angle, but sheer below ran out a narrow bench
fifty yards wide. Around the point of the hill to my right-where
the herd had gone-a game trail dropped steeply to this bench. I
arrived just in time to see the sing-sing, still trotting, file
across the bench and over its edge, on some other invisible game
trail, to continue their descent of the cliff. The big buck
brought up the rear. At the very edge he came to a halt, and
looked back, throwing his head up and his nose out so that the
heavy fur on his neck stood forward like a ruff. It was a last
glimpse of him, so I held my little best, and pulled trigger.
This happened to be one of those shots I spoke of-which the
perpetrator accepts with a thankful and humble spirit. The
sing-sing leaped high in the air and plunged over the edge of the
bench. I signalled the camp-in plain sight-to come and get the
head and meat, and sat down to wait. And while waiting, I looked
out on a scene that has since been to me one of my four
symbolizations of Africa.
The morning was dull, with gray clouds through which at wide
intervals streamed broad bands of misty light. Below me the cliff
fell away clear to a gorge in the depths of which flowed a river.
Then the land began to rise, broken, sharp, tumbled, terrible,
tier after tier, gorge after gorge, one twisted range after the
other, across a breathlessly immeasurable distance. The prospect
was full of shadows thrown by the tumult of lava. In those
shadows one imagined stranger abysses. Far down to the right a
long narrow lake inaugurated a flatter, alkali-whitened country
of low cliffs in long straight lines. Across the distances proper
to a dozen horizons the tumbled chaos heaved and fell. The eye
sought rest at the bounds usual to its accustomed world-and went
on. There was no roundness to the earth, no grateful curve to
drop this great fierce country beyond a healing horizon out of
sight. The immensity of primal space was in it, and the
simplicity of primal things-rough, unfinished, full of mystery.
There was no colour. The scene was done in slate gray, darkening
to the opaque where a tiny distant rain squall started;
lightening in the nearer shadows to reveal half-guessed peaks;
brightening unexpectedly into broad short bands of misty gray
light slanting from the gray heavens above to the sombre tortured
immensity beneath. It was such a thing as Gustave Dore might have
imaged to serve as an abiding place for the fierce chaotic spirit of
the African wilderness.
I sat there for some time hugging my knees, waiting for the men
to come. The tremendous landscape seemed to have been willed to
immobility. The rain squalls forty miles or more away did not
appear to shift their shadows; the rare slanting bands of light
from the clouds were as constant as though they were falling
through cathedral windows. But nearer at hand other things were
forward. The birds, thousands of them, were doing their best to
cheer things up. The roucoulements of doves rose from the bushes
down the face of the cliffs; the bell bird uttered his clear
ringing note; the chime bird gave his celebrated imitation of a
really gentlemanly sixty-horse power touring car hinting you out
of the way with the mellowness of a chimed horn; the bottle bird
poured gallons of guggling essence of happiness from his silver
jug. From the direction of camp, evidently jumped by the boys, a
steinbuck loped gracefully, pausing every few minutes to look
back, his dainty legs tense, his sensitive ears pointed toward
the direction of disturbance.
And now, along the face of the cliff, I make out the flashing of
much movement, half glimpsed through the bushes. Soon a fine
old-man baboon, his tail arched after the dandified fashion of
the baboon aristocracy stepped out, looked around, and bounded
forward. Other old men followed him, and then the young men, and
a miscellaneous lot of half-grown youngsters. The ladies brought
up the rear, with the babies. These rode their mothers' backs,
clinging desperately while they leaped along, for all the world
like the pathetic monkey "jockeys" one sees strapped to the backs
of big dogs in circuses. When they had approached to within fifty
yards, remarked "hullo!" to them. Instantly they all stopped.
Those in front stood up on their hind legs; those behind
clambered to points of vantage on rocks and the tops of small
bushes: They all took a good long look at me. Then they told me
what they thought about me personally, the fact of my being
there, and the rude way I had startled them. Their remarks were
neither complimentary nor refined. The old men, in especial, got
quite profane, and screamed excited billingsgate. Finally they
all stopped at once, dropped on all fours, and loped away, their
ridiculous long tails curved in a half arc. Then for the first
time I noticed that, under cover of the insults, the women and
children had silently retired. Once more I was left to the
familiar gentle bird calls, and the vast silence of the
The second picture, also, was a view from a height, but of a
totally different character. It was also, perhaps, more typical
of a greater part of East Equatorial Africa. Four of us were
hunting lions with natives-both wild and tame-and a scratch
pack of dogs. More of that later. We had rummaged around all the
morning without any results; and now at noon had climbed to the
top of a butte to eat lunch and look abroad.
Our butte ran up a gentle but accelerating slope to a peak of big
rounded rocks and slabs sticking out boldly from the soil of the
hill. We made ourselves comfortable each after his fashion. The
gunbearers leaned against rocks and rolled cigarettes. The
savages squatted on their heels, planting their spears
ceremonially in front of them. One of my friends lay on his back,
resting a huge telescope over his crossed feet. With this he
purposed seeing any lion that moved within ten miles. None of the
rest of us could ever make out anything through the fearsome
weapon. Therefore, relieved from responsibility by the presence
of this Dreadnaught of a 'scope, we loafed and looked about us.
This is what we saw:
Mountains at our backs, of course-at some distance; then plains
in long low swells like the easy rise and fall of a tropical sea,
wave after wave, and over the edge of the world beyond a distant
horizon. Here and there on this plain, single hills lay becalmed,
like ships at sea; some peaked, some cliffed like buttes, some
long and low like the hulls of battleships. The brown plain
flowed up to wash their bases, liquid as the sea itself, its
tides rising in the coves of the hills, and ebbing in the valleys
between. Near at hand, in the middle distance, far away, these
fleets of the plain sailed, until at last hull-down over the
horizon their topmasts disappeared. Above them sailed too the
phantom fleet of the clouds, shot with light, shining like
silver, airy as racing yachts, yet casting here and there
exaggerated shadows below.
The sky in Africa is always very wide, greater than any other
skies. Between horizon and horizon is more space than any other
world contains. It is as though the cup of heaven had been
pressed a little flatter; so that while the boundaries have
widened, the zenith, with its flaming sun, has come nearer. And
yet that is not a constant quantity either. I have seen one edge
of the sky raised straight up a few million miles, as though some
one had stuck poles under its corners, so that the western heaven
did not curve cup-wise over to the horizon at all as it did
everywhere else, but rather formed the proscenium of a gigantic
stage. On this stage they had piled great heaps of saffron yellow
clouds, and struck shafts of yellow light, and filled the spaces
with the lurid portent of a storm-while the twenty thousand foot
mountains below, crouched whipped and insignificant to the earth.
We sat atop our butte for an hour while H. looked through his
'scope. After the soft silent immensity of the earth, running
away to infinity, with its low waves, and its scattered fleet of
hills, it was with difficulty that we brought our gaze back to
details and to things near at hand. Directly below us we could
make out many different-hued specks. Looking closely, we could
see that those specks were game animals. They fed here and there
in bands of from ten to two hundred, with valleys and hills
between. Within the radius of the eye they moved, nowhere crowded
in big herds, but everywhere present. A band of zebras grazed the
side of one of the earth waves, a group of gazelles walked on the
skyline, a herd of kongoni rested in the hollow between. On the
next rise was a similar grouping; across the valley a new
variation. As far as the eye could strain its powers it could
make out more and ever more beasts. I took up my field glasses,
and brought them all to within a sixth of the distance. After
amusing myself for some time in watching them, I swept the
glasses farther on. Still the same animals grazing on the hills
and in the hollows. I continued to look, and to look again, until
even the powerful prismatic glasses failed to show things big
enough to distinguish. At the limit of extreme vision I could
still make out game, and yet more game. And as I took my glasses
from my eyes, and realized how small a portion of this great
land-sea I had been able to examine; as I looked away to the
ship-hills hull-down over the horizon, and realized that over all
that extent fed the Game; the ever-new wonder of Africa for the
hundredth time filled my mind-the teeming fecundity of her bosom.
"Look here," said H. without removing his eye from the 'scope,
"just beyond the edge of that shadow to the left of the bushes in
the donga-I've been watching them ten minutes, and I can't make
'em out yet. They're either hyenas acting mighty queer, or else
We snatched our glasses and concentrated on that important
To catch the third experience you must have journeyed with us
across the "Thirst," as the natives picturesquely name the
waterless tract of two days and a half. Our very start had been
delayed by a breakage of some Dutch-sounding essential to our ox
wagon, caused by the confusion of a night attack by lions: almost
every night we had lain awake as long as we could to enjoy the
deep-breathed grumbling or the vibrating roars of these beasts.
Now at last, having pushed through the dry country to the river
in the great plain, we were able to take breath from our mad
hurry, and to give our attention to affairs beyond the limits of
mere expediency. One of these was getting Billy a shot at a lion.
Billy had never before wanted to shoot anything except a python.
Why a python we could not quite fathom. Personally, I think she
had some vague idea of getting even for that Garden of Eden
affair. But lately, pythons proving scarcer than in that favoured
locality, she had switched to a lion. She wanted, she said, to
give the skin to her sister. In vain we pointed out that a zebra
hide was very decorative, that lions go to absurd lengths in
retaining possession of their own skins, and other equally
convincing facts. It must be a lion or nothing; so naturally we
had to make a try.
There are several ways of getting lions, only one of which is at
all likely to afford a steady pot shot to a very small person
trying to manipulate an over-size gun. That is to lay out a kill.
The idea is to catch the lion at it in the early morning before
he has departed for home. The best kill is a zebra: first,
because lions like zebra; second, because zebra are fairly large;
third, because zebra are very numerous.
Accordingly, after we had pitched camp just within a fringe of
mimosa trees and of red-flowering aloes near the river; had eaten
lunch, smoked a pipe and issued necessary orders to the men, C.
and I set about the serious work of getting an appropriate bait
in an appropriate place.
The plains stretched straight away from the river bank to some
indefinite and unknown distance to the south. A low range of
mountains lay blue to the left; and a mantle of scrub thornbush
closed the view to the right. This did not imply that we could
see far straight ahead, for the surface of the plain rose slowly
to the top of a swell about two miles away. Beyond it reared a
single butte peak at four or five times that distance.
We stepped from the fringe of red aloes and squinted through the
dancing heat shimmer. Near the limit of vision showed a very
faint glimmering whitish streak. A newcomer to Africa would not
have looked at it twice: nevertheless, it could be nothing but
zebra. These gaudily marked beasts take queer aspects even on an
open plain. Most often they show pure white; sometimes a jet
black; only when within a few hundred yards does one distinguish
the stripes. Almost always they are very easily made out. Only
when very distant and in heat shimmer, or in certain half lights
of evening, does their so-called "protective colouration" seem to
be in working order, and even then they are always quite visible
to the least expert hunter's scrutiny.
It is not difficult to kill a zebra, though sometimes it has to
be done at a fairly long range. If all you want is meat for the
porters, the matter is simple enough. But when you require bait
for a lion, that; is another affair entirely. In the first place,
you must be able to stalk within a hundred yards of your kill
without being seen; in the second place, you must provide two or
three good lying-down places for your prospective trophy within
fifteen yards of the carcass-and no more than two or three; in
the third place, you must judge the direction of the probable
morning wind, and must be able to approach from leeward. It is
evidently pretty good luck to find an accommodating zebra in just
such a spot. It is a matter of still greater nicety to drop him
absolutely in his tracks. In a case of porters' meat it does not
make any particular difference if he runs a hundred yards before
he dies. With lion bait even fifty yards makes all the difference
in the world.
C. and I talked it over and resolved to press Scallywattamus into
service. Scallywattamus is a small white mule who is firmly
convinced that each and every bush in Africa conceals a
mule-eating rhinoceros, and who does not intend to be one of the
number so eaten. But we had noticed that at times zebra would be
so struck with the strange sight of Scallywattamus carrying a
man, that they would let us get quite close. C. was to ride
Scallywattamus while I trudged along under his lee ready to
We set out through the heat shimmer, gradually rising as the
plain slanted. Imperceptibly the camp and the trees marking the
river's course fell below us and into the heat haze. In the
distance, close to the stream, we made out a blurred, brown-red
solid mass which we knew for Masai cattle. Various little
Thompson's gazelles skipped away to the left waggling their tails
vigorously and continuously as Nature long since commanded
"Tommies" to do. The heat haze steadied around the dim white
line, so we could make out the individual animals. There were
plenty of them, dozing in the sun. A single tiny treelet broke
the plain just at the skyline of the rise. C. and I talked
low-voiced as we went along. We agreed that the tree was an
excellent landmark to come to, that the little rise afforded
proper cover, and that in the morning the wind would in all
likelihood blow toward the river. There were perhaps twenty zebra
near enough to the chosen spot. Any of them would do.
But the zebra did not give a hoot for Scallywattamus. At five
hundred yards three or four of them awoke with a start, stared at
us a minute, and moved slowly away. They told all the zebra they
happened upon that the three idiots approaching were at once
uninteresting and dangerous. At four hundred and fifty yards a
half dozen more made off at a trot. At three hundred and fifty
yards the rest plunged away at a canter-all but one. He remained
to stare, but his tail was up, and we knew he only stayed because
he knew he could easily catch up in the next twenty seconds.
The chance was very slim of delivering a knockout at that
distance, but we badly needed meat, anyway, after our march
through the Thirst, so I tried him. We heard the well-known plunk
of the bullet, but down went his head, up went his heels, and
away went he. We watched him in vast disgust. He cavorted out
into a bare open space without cover of any sort, and then
flopped over. I thought I caught a fleeting grin of delight on
Mavrouki's face; but he knew enough instantly to conceal his
satisfaction over sure meat.
There were now no zebra anywhere near; but since nobody ever
thinks of omitting any chances in Africa, I sneaked up to the
tree and took a perfunctory look. There stood another,
providentially absent-minded, zebra!
We got that one. Everybody was now happy. The boys raced over to
the first kill, which soon took its dismembered way toward camp.
C. and I carefully organized our plan of campaign. We fixed in
our memories the exact location of each and every bush; we
determined compass direction from camp, and any other bearings
likely to prove useful in finding so small a spot in the dark.
Then we left a boy to keep carrion birds off until sunset; and
We were out in the morning before even the first sign of dawn.
Billy rode her little mule, C. and I went afoot, Memba Sasa
accompanied us because he could see whole lions where even C.'s
trained eye could not make out an ear, and the syce went along to
take care of the mule. The heavens were ablaze with the thronging
stars of the tropics, so we found we could make out the skyline
of the distant butte over the rise of the plains. The earth
itself was a pool of absolute blackness. We could not see where
we were placing our feet, and we were continually bringing up
suddenly to walk around an unexpected aloe or thornbush. The
night was quite still, but every once in a while from the
blackness came rustlings, scamperings, low calls, and once or
twice the startled barking of zebra very near at hand. The latter
sounded as ridiculous as ever. It is one of the many
incongruities of African life that Nature should have given so
large and so impressive a creature the petulant yapping of an
exasperated Pomeranian lap dog. At the end of three quarters of
an hour of more or less stumbling progress, we made out against
the sky the twisted treelet that served as our landmark. Billy
dismounted, turned the mule over to the syce, and we crept slowly
forward until within a guessed two or three hundred yards of our
Nothing remained now but to wait for the daylight. It had already
begun to show. Over behind the distant mountains some one was
kindling the fires, and the stars were flickering out. The
splendid ferocity of the African sunrise was at hand. Long bands
of slate dark clouds lay close along the horizon, and behind them
glowed a heart of fire, as on a small scale the lamplight glows
through a metal-worked shade. On either side the sky was pale
green-blue, translucent and pure, deep as infinity itself. The
earth was still black, and the top of the rise near at hand was
clear edged. On that edge, and by a strange chance accurately in
the centre of illumination, stood the uncouth massive form of a
shaggy wildebeeste, his head raised, staring to the east. He did
not move; nothing of that fire and black world moved; only
instant by instant it changed, swelling in glory toward some
climax until one expected at any moment a fanfare of trumpets,
the burst of triumphant culmination.
Then very far down in the distance a lion roared. The
wildebeeste, without moving, bellowed back an answer or a
defiance. Down in the hollow an ostrich boomed. Zebra barked, and
several birds chirped strongly. The tension was breaking not in
the expected fanfare and burst of triumphal music, but in a
manner instantly felt to be more fitting to what was indeed a
wonder, but a daily wonder for all that. At one and the same
instant the rim of the sun appeared and the wildebeeste, after
the sudden habit of his kind, made up his mind to go. He dropped
his head and came thundering down past us at full speed. Straight
to the west he headed, and so disappeared. We could hear the beat
of his hoofs dying into the distance. He had gone like a Warder
of the Morning whose task was finished. On the knife-edged
skyline appeared the silhouette of slim-legged little Tommies,
flirting their rails, sniffing at the dewy grass, dainty,
slender, confiding, the open-day antithesis of the tremendous and
awesome lord of the darkness that had roared its way to its lair,
and to the massive shaggy herald of morning that had thundered
down to the west.
III. THE CENTRAL PLATEAU
Now is required a special quality of the imagination, not in
myself, but in my readers, for it becomes necessary for them to
grasp the logic of a whole country in one mental effort. The
difficulties to me are very real. If I am to tell you it all in
detail, your mind becomes confused to the point of mingling the
ingredients of the description. The resultant mental picture is a
composite; it mixes localities wide apart; it comes out, like the
snake-creeper-swamp-forest thing of grammar-school South America,
an unreal and deceitful impression. If, on the other hand, I try
to give you a bird's-eye view-saying, here is plain, and there
follows upland, and yonder succeed mountains and hills-you lose
the sense of breadth and space and the toil of many days. The
feeling of onward outward extending distance is gone; and that
impression so indispensable to finite understanding-"here am I,
and what is beyond is to be measured by the length of my legs and
the toil of my days." You will not stop long enough on my plains
to realize their physical extent nor their influence on the human
soul. If I mention them in a sentence, you dismiss them in a
thought. And that is something the plains themselves refuse to
permit you to do. Yet sometimes one must become a guide-book, and
bespeak his reader's imagination.
The country, then, wherein we travelled begins at the sea. Along
the coast stretches a low rolling country of steaming tropics,
grown with cocoanuts, bananas, mangoes, and populated by a happy,
half-naked race of the Swahilis. Leaving the coast, the country
rises through hills. These hills are at first fertile and green
and wooded. Later they turn into an almost unbroken plateau of
thorn scrub, cruel, monotonous, almost impenetrable. Fix thorn
scrub in your mind, with rhino trails, and occasional openings
for game, and a few rivers flowing through palms and narrow
jungle strips; fix it in your mind until your mind is filled with
it, until you are convinced that nothing else can exist in the
world but more and more of the monotonous, terrible, dry,
onstretching desert of thorn.
Then pass through this to the top of the hills inland, and
journey over these hills to the highland plains.
Now sense and appreciate these wide seas of and the hills and
ranges of mountains rising from them, and their infinite
diversity of country-their rivers marked by ribbons of jungle,
their scattered-bush and their thick-bush areas, their grass
expanses, and their great distances extending far over
exceedingly wide horizons. Realize how many weary hours you must
travel to gain the nearest butte, what days of toil the view from
its top will disclose. Savour the fact that you can spend months
in its veriest corner without exhausting its possibilities. Then,
and not until then, raise your eyes to the low rising transverse
range that bands it to the west as the thorn desert bands it to
And on these ranges are the forests, the great bewildering
forests. In what looks like a grove lying athwart a little hill
you can lose yourself for days. Here dwell millions of savages in
an apparently untouched wilderness. Here rises a snow mountain on
the equator. Here are tangles and labyrinths, great bamboo
forests lost in folds of the mightiest hills. Here are the
elephants. Here are the swinging vines, the jungle itself.
Yet finally it breaks. We come out on the edge of things and look
down on a great gash in the earth. It is like a sunken kingdom in
itself, miles wide, with its own mountain ranges, its own rivers,
its own landscape features. Only on either side of it rise the
escarpments which are the true level of the plateau. One can
spend two months in this valley, too, and in the countries south
to which it leads. And on its farther side are the high plateau
plains again, or the forests, or the desert, or the great lakes
that lie at the source of the Nile.
So now, perhaps, we are a little prepared to go ahead. The
guide-book work is finished for good and all. There is the
steaming hot low coast belt, and the hot dry thorn desert belt,
and the varied immense plains, and the high mountain belt of the
forests, and again the variegated wide country of the Rift Valley
and the high plateau. To attempt to tell you seriatim and in
detail just what they are like is the task of an encyclopaedist.
Perhaps more indirectly you may be able to fill in the picture of
the country, the people, and the beasts.
IV. THE FIRST CAMP
Our very first start into the new country was made when we piled
out from the little train standing patiently awaiting the good
pleasure of our descent. That feature strikes me with ever new
wonder-the accommodating way trains of the Uganda Railway have
of waiting for you. One day, at a little wayside station, C. and
I were idly exchanging remarks with the only white man in sight,
killing time until the engine should whistle to a resumption of
the journey. The guard lingered about just out of earshot. At the
end of five minutes C. happened to catch his eye, whereupon he
ventured to approach.
"When you have finished your conversation," said he politely, "we
are all ready to go on."
On the morning in question there were a lot of us to
disembark-one hundred and twenty-two, to be exact-of which four
were white. We were not yet acquainted with our men, nor yet with
our stores, nor with the methods of our travel. The train went
off and left us in the middle of a high plateau, with low ridges
running across it, and mountains in the distance. Men were
squabbling earnestly for the most convenient loads to carry, and
as fast as they had gained undisputed possession, they marked the
loads with some private sign of their own. M'ganga, the headman,
tall, fierce, big-framed and bony, clad in fez, a long black
overcoat, blue puttees and boots, stood stiff as a ramrod,
extended a rigid right arm and rattled off orders in a high
dynamic voice. In his left hand he clasped a bulgy umbrella, the
badge of his dignity and the symbol of his authority. The four
askaris, big men too, with masterful high-cheekboned
countenances, rushed here and there seeing that the orders were
carried out. Expostulations, laughter, the sound of quarrelling
rose and fell. Never could the combined volume of it all override
the firecracker stream of M'ganga's eloquence.
We had nothing to do with it all, but stood a little dazed,
staring at the novel scene. Our men were of many tribes, each
with its own cast of features, its own notions of what befitted
man's performance of his duties here below. They stuck together
each in its clan. A fine free individualism of personal adornment
characterized them. Every man dressed for his own satisfaction
solely. They hung all sorts of things in the distended lobes of
their ears. One had succeeded in inserting a fine big glittering
tobacco tin. Others had invented elaborate topiary designs in
their hair, shaving their heads so as to leave strange tufts,
patches, crescents on the most unexpected places. Of the
intricacy of these designs they seemed absurdly proud. Various
sorts of treasure trove hung from them-a bunch of keys to which
there were no locks, discarded hunting knives, tips of antelope
horns, discharged brass cartridges, a hundred and one valueless
trifles plucked proudly from the rubbish heap. They were all
clothed. We had supplied each with a red blanket, a blue jersey,
and a water bottle. The blankets they were twisting most
ingeniously into turbans. Beside these they sported a great
variety of garments. Shooting coats that had seen better days, a
dozen shabby overcoats-worn proudly through the hottest
noons-raggety breeches and trousers made by some London tailor,
queer baggy homemades of the same persuasion, or quite simply the
square of cotton cloth arranged somewhat like a short tight
skirt, or nothing at all as the man's taste ran. They were many
of them amusing enough; but somehow they did not look entirely
farcical and ridiculous, like our negroes putting on airs. All
these things were worn with a simplicity of quiet confidence in
their entire fitness. And beneath the red blanket turbans the
half-wild savage faces peered out.
Now Mahomet approached. Mahomet was my personal boy. He was a
Somali from the Northwest coast, dusky brown, with the regular
clear-cut features of a Greek marble god. His dress was of neat
khaki, and he looked down on savages; but, also, as with all the
dark-skinned races, up to his white master. Mahomet was with me
during all my African stay, and tested out nobly. As yet, of
course, I did not know him.
"Chakula taiari," said he.
That is Swahili. It means literally "food is ready." After one
has hunted in Africa for a few months, it means also "paradise is
opened," "grief is at an end," "joy and thanksgiving are now in
order," and similar affairs. Those two words are never forgotten,
and the veriest beginner in Swahili can recognize them without
the slightest effort.
We followed Mahomet. Somehow, without orders, in all this
confusion, the personal staff had been quietly and efficiently
busy. Drawn a little to one side stood a table with four chairs.
The table was covered with a white cloth, and was set with a
beautiful white enamel service. We took our places. Behind each
chair straight as a ramrod stood a neat khaki-clad boy. They
brought us food, and presented it properly on the left side,
waiting like well-trained butlers. We might have been in a London
restaurant. As three of us were Americans, we felt a trifle
dazed. The porters, having finished the distribution of their
loads, squatted on their heels and watched us respectfully.
And then, not two hundred yards away, four ostriches paced slowly
across the track, paying not the slightest attention to us-our
first real wild ostriches, scornful of oranges, careless of
tourists, and rightful guardians of their own snowy plumes. The
passage of these four solemn birds seemed somehow to lend this
strange open-air meal an exotic flavour. We were indeed in
Africa; and the ostriches helped us to realize it.
We finished breakfast and arose from our chairs. Instantly a half
dozen men sprang forward. Before our amazed eyes the table
service, the chairs and the table itself disappeared into neat
packages. M'ganga arose to his feet.
"Bandika!" he cried.
The askaris rushed here and there actively.
"Bandika! bandika! bandika!" they cried repeatedly.
The men sprang into activity. A struggle heaved the varicoloured
multitude-and, lo! each man stood upright, his load balanced on
his head. At the same moment the syces led up our horses, mounted
and headed across the little plain whence had come the four
ostriches. Our African journey had definitely begun.
Behind us, all abreast marched the four gunbearers; then the four
syces; then the safari single file, an askari at the head bearing
proudly his ancient musket and our banner, other askaris
flanking, M'ganga bringing up the rear with his mighty umbrella
and an unsuspected rhinoceros-hide whip. The tent boys and the
cook scattered along the flank anywhere, as befitted the free and
independent who had nothing to do with the serious business of
marching. A measured sound of drumming followed the beating of
loads with a hundred sticks; a wild, weird chanting burst from
the ranks and died down again as one or another individual or
group felt moved to song. One lot had a formal chant and response.
Their leader, in a high falsetto, said something like
"Kuna koma kuno,"
and all his tribesmen would follow with a single word in a deep
All of which undoubtedly helped immensely.
The country was a bully country, but somehow it did not look like
Africa. That is to say, it looked altogether too much like any
amount of country at home. There was nothing strange and exotic
about it. We crossed a little plain, and up over a small hill,
down into a shallow canyon that seemed to be wooded with live
oaks, across a grass valley or so, and around a grass hill. Then
we went into camp at the edge of another grass valley, by a
stream across which rose some ordinary low cliffs.
That is the disconcerting thing about a whole lot of this
country-it is so much like home. Of course, there are many wide
districts exotic enough in all conscience-the jungle beds of the
rivers, the bamboo forests, the great tangled forests themselves,
the banana groves down the aisles of which dance savages with
shields-but so very much of it is familiar. One needs only
church spires and a red-roofed village or so to imagine one's
self in Surrey. There is any amount of country like Arizona, and
more like the uplands of Wyoming, and a lot of it resembling the
smaller landscapes of New England. The prospects of the whole
world are there, so that somewhere every wanderer can find the
countryside of his own home repeated. And, by the same token,
that is exactly what makes a good deal of it so startling. When a
man sees a file of spear-armed savages, or a pair of snorty old
rhinos, step out into what has seemed practically his own back
yard home, he is even more startled than if he had encountered
them in quite strange surroundings.
We rode into the grass meadow and picked camp site. The men
trailed in and dumped down their loads in a row.
At a signal they set to work. A dozen to each tent got them up in
a jiffy. A long file brought firewood from the stream bed. Others
carried water, stones for the cook, a dozen other matters. The
tent boys rescued our boxes; they put together the cots and made
the beds, even before the tents were raised from the ground.
Within an incredibly short space of time the three green tents
were up and arranged, each with its bed made, its mosquito bar
hung, its personal box open, its folding washstand ready with
towels and soap, the table and chairs unlimbered. At a discreet
distance flickered the cook campfire, and at a still discreeter
distance the little tents of the men gleamed pure white against
the green of the high grass.
V. MEMBA SASA
I wish I could plunge you at once into the excitements of big
game in Africa, but I cannot truthfully do so. To be sure, we
went hunting that afternoon, up over the low cliffs, and we saw
several of a very lively little animal known as the Chandler's
reedbuck. This was not supposed to be a game country, and that
was all we did see. At these we shot several
times-disgracefully. In fact, for several days we could not
shoot at all, at any range, nor at anything. It was very sad, and
very aggravating. Afterward we found that this is an invariable
experience to the newcomer. The light is new, the air is
different, the sizes of the game are deceiving. Nobody can at
first hit anything. At the end of five days we suddenly began to
shoot our normal gait. Why, I do not know.
But in this afternoon tramp around the low cliffs after the
elusive reedbuck, I for the first time became acquainted with a
man who developed into a real friend.
His name is Memba Sasa. Memba Sasa are two Swahili words meaning
"now a crocodile." Subsequently, after I had learned to talk
Swahili, I tried to find out what he was formerly, before he was
a crocodile, but did not succeed.
He was of the tribe of the Monumwezi, of medium height, compactly
and sturdily built, carried himself very erect, and moved with a
concentrated and vigorous purposefulness. His countenance might
be described as pleasing but not handsome, of a dark chocolate
brown, with the broad nose of the negro, but with a firm mouth,
high cheekbones, and a frowning intentness of brow that was very
fine. When you talked to him he looked you straight in the eye.
His own eyes were shaded by long, soft, curling lashes behind
which they looked steadily and gravely-sometimes fiercely-on
the world. He rarely smiled-never merely in understanding or for
politeness' sake-and never laughed unless there was something
really amusing. Then he chuckled from deep in his chest, the most
contagious laughter you can imagine. Often we, at the other end
of the camp, have laughed in sympathy, just at the sound of that
deep and hearty ho! ho! ho! of Memba Sasa. Even at something
genuinely amusing he never laughed much, nor without a very
definite restraint. In fact, about him was no slackness, no
sprawling abandon of the native in relaxation; but always a taut
efficiency and a never-failing self-respect.
Naturally, behind such a fixed moral fibre must always be some
moral idea. When a man lives up to a real, not a pompous, dignity
some ideal must inform it. Memba Sasa's ideal was that of the
He was a gunbearer; and he considered that a good gunbearer stood
quite a few notches above any other human being, save always the
white man, of course. And even among the latter Memba Sasa made
great differences. These differences he kept to himself, and
treated all with equal respect. Nevertheless, they existed, and
Memba Sasa very well knew that fact. In the white world were two
classes of masters: those who hunted well, and those who were
considered by them as their friends and equals. Why they should
be so considered Memba Sasa did not know, but he trusted the
Hunter's judgment. These were the bwanas, or masters. All the
rest were merely mazungos, or, "white men." To their faces he
called them bwana, but in his heart he considered them not.
Observe, I say those who hunted well. Memba Sasa, in his
profession as gunbearer, had to accompany those who hunted badly.
In them he took no pride; from them he held aloof in spirit; but
for them he did his conscientious best, upheld by the dignity of
For to Mamba Sasa that profession was the proudest to which a
black man could aspire. He prided himself on mastering its every
detail, in accomplishing its every duty minutely and exactly. The
major virtues of a gunbearer are not to be despised by anybody;
for they comprise great physical courage, endurance, and loyalty:
the accomplishments of a gunbearer are worthy of a man's best
faculties, for they include the ability to see and track game, to
take and prepare properly any sort of a trophy, field taxidermy,
butchering game meat, wood and plainscraft, the knowledge of how
properly to care for firearms in all sorts of circumstances, and
a half hundred other like minutiae. Memba Sasa knew these things,
and he performed them with the artist's love for details; and his
keen eyes were always spying for new ways.
At a certain time I shot an egret, and prepared to take the skin.
Memba Sasa asked if he might watch me do it. Two months later,
having killed a really gaudy peacocklike member of the guinea
fowl tribe, I handed it over to him with instructions to take off
the breast feathers before giving it to the cook. In a half hour
he brought me the complete skin, I examined it carefully, and
found it to be well done in every respect. Now in skinning a bird
there are a number of delicate and unusual operations, such as
stripping the primary quills from the bone, cutting the ear
cover, and the like. I had explained none of them; and yet Memba
Sasa, unassisted, had grasped their method from a single
demonstration and had remembered them all two months later! C.
had a trick in making the second skin incision of a trophy head
that had the effect of giving a better purchase to the knife. Its
exact description would be out of place here, but it actually
consisted merely in inserting the point of the knife two inches
away from the place it is ordinarily inserted. One day we noticed
that Memba Sasa was making his incisions in that manner. I went
to Africa fully determined to care for my own rifle. The modern
high-velocity gun needs rather especial treatment; mere wiping
out will not do. I found that Memba Sasa already knew all about
boiling water, and the necessity for having it really boiling,
about subsequent metal sweating, and all the rest. After watching
him at work I concluded, rightly, that he would do a lot better
job than I.
To the new employer Memba Sasa maintained an attitude of strict
professional loyalty. His personal respect was upheld by the
necessity of every man to do his job in the world. Memba Sasa did
his. He cleaned the rifles; he saw that everything was in order
for the day's march; he was at my elbow all ways with more
cartridges and the spare rifle; he trailed and looked
conscientiously. In his attitude was the stolidity of the wooden
Indian. No action of mine, no joke on the part of his companions,
no circumstance in the varying fortunes of the field gained from
him the faintest flicker of either approval, disapproval, or
interest. When we returned to camp he deposited my water bottle
and camera, seized the cleaning implements, and departed to his
own campfire. In the field he pointed out game that I did not
see, and waited imperturbably the result of my shot.
As I before stated, the result of that shot for the first five
days was very apt to be nil. This, at the time, puzzled and
grieved me a lot. Occasionally I looked at Memba Sasa to catch
some sign of sympathy, disgust, contempt, or-rarely-triumph at a
lucky shot. Nothing. He gently but firmly took away my rifle,
reloaded it, and handed it back; then waited respectfully for my
next move. He knew no English, and I no Swahili.
But as time went on this attitude changed. I was armed with the
new Springfield rifle, a weapon with 2,700 feet velocity, and
with a marvellously flat trajectory. This commanding advantage,
combined with a very long familiarity with firearms, enabled me
to do some fairish shooting, after the strangeness of these new
conditions had been mastered. Memba Sasa began to take a dawning
interest in me as a possible source of pride. We began to develop
between us a means of communication. I set myself deliberately to
learn his language, and after he had cautiously determined that I
really meant it, he took the greatest pains-always gravely-to
teach me. A more human feeling sprang up between us.
But we had still the final test to undergo-that of danger and
the tight corner.
In close quarters the gunbearer has the hardest job in the world.
I have the most profound respect for his absolute courage. Even
to a man armed and privileged to shoot and defend himself, a
charging lion is an awesome thing, requiring a certain amount of
coolness and resolution to face effectively. Think of the
gunbearer at his elbow, depending not on himself but on the
courage and coolness of another. He cannot do one solitary thing
to defend himself. To bolt for the safety of a tree is to beg the
question completely, to brand himself as a shenzi forever; to
fire a gun in any circumstances is to beg the question also, for
the white man must be able to depend absolutely on his second gun
in an emergency. Those things are outside consideration, even,
of any respectable gunbearer. In addition, he must keep cool. He
must see clearly in the thickest excitement; must be ready
unobtrusively to pass up the second gun in the position most
convenient for immediate use, to seize the other and to perform
the finicky task of reloading correctly while some rampageous
beast is raising particular thunder a few yards away. All this in
absolute dependence on the ability of his bwana to deal with the
situation. I can confess very truly that once or twice that
little unobtrusive touch of Memba Sasa crouched close to my elbow
steadied me with the thought of how little right I-with a rifle
in my hand-had to be scared. And the best compliment I ever
received I overheard by chance. I had wounded a lion when out by
myself, and had returned to camp for a heavier rifle and for
Memba Sasa to do the trailing. From my tent I overheard the
following conversation between Memba Sasa and the cook:
"The grass is high," said the cook. "Are you not afraid to go
after a wounded lion with only one white man?"
"My one white man is enough," replied Memba Sasa.
It is a quality of courage that I must confess would be quite
beyond me-to depend entirely on the other fellow, and not at all
on myself. This courage is always remarkable to me, even in the
case of the gunbearer who knows all about the man whose heels he
follows. But consider that of the gunbearer's first experience
with a stranger. The former has no idea of how the white man will
act; whether he will get nervous, get actually panicky, lose his
shooting ability, and generally mess things up. Nevertheless, he
follows his master in, and he stands by. If the hunter fails, the
gunbearer will probably die. To me it is rather fine: for he does
it, not from the personal affection and loyalty which will carry
men far, but from a sheer sense of duty and pride of caste. The
quiet pride of the really good men, like Memba Sasa, is easy to
And the records are full of stories of the white man who has not
made good: of the coward who bolts, leaving his black man to take
the brunt of it, or who sticks but loses his head. Each new
employer must be very closely and interestedly scrutinized. In
the light of subsequent experience, I can no longer wonder at
Memba Sasa's first detached and impersonal attitude.
As time went on, however, and we grew to know each other better,
this attitude entirely changed. At first the change consisted
merely in dropping the disinterested pose as respects game. For
it was a pose. Memba Sasa was most keenly interested in game
whenever it was an object of pursuit. It did not matter how
common the particular species might be: if we wanted it, Memba
Sasa would look upon it with eager ferocity; and if we did not
want it, he paid no attention to it at all. When we started in
the morning, or in the relaxation of our return at night, I would
mention casually a few of the things that might prove acceptable.
"To-morrow we want kongoni for boys' meat, or zebra; and some
meat for masters-Tommy, impala, oribi," and Memba Sasa knew as
well as I did what we needed to fill out our trophy collection.
When he caught sight of one of these animals his whole
countenance changed. The lines of his face set, his lips drew
back from his teeth, his eyes fairly darted fire in the fixity of
their gaze. He was like a fine pointer dog on birds, or like the
splendid savage he was at heart.
"M'palla!" he hissed; and then after a second, in a restrained
fierce voice, "Na-ona? Do you see?"
If I did not see he pointed cautiously. His own eyes never left
the beast. Rarely he stayed put while I made the stalk. More
often he glided like a snake at my heels. If the bullet hit,
Memba Sasa always exhaled a grunt of satisfaction-"hah!"-in
which triumph and satisfaction mingled with a faint derision at
the unfortunate beast. In case of a trophy he squatted anxiously
at the animal's head while I took my measurements, assisting very
intelligently with the tape line. When I had finished, he always
looked up at me with wrinkled brow.
"Footie n'gapi?" he inquired. This means literally, "How many
feet?", footie being his euphemistic invention of a word for the
tape. I would tell him how many "footie" and how many "inchie"
the measurement proved to be. From the depths of his wonderful
memory he would dig up the measurements of another beast of the
same sort I had killed months back, but which he had remembered
accurately from a single hearing.
The shooting of a beast he always detailed to his few cronies in
camp: the other gunbearers, and one or two from his own tribe. He
always used the first person plural, "we" did so and so; and took
an inordinate pride in making out his bwana as being an
altogether superior person to any of the other gunbearer's
bwanas. Over a miss he always looked sad; but with a dignified
sadness as though we had met with undeserved misfortune sent by
malignant gods. If there were any possible alleviating
explanation, Memba Sasa made the most of it, provided our fiasco
was witnessed. If we were alone in our disgrace, he buried the
incident fathoms deep. He took an inordinate pride in our using
the minimum number of cartridges, and would explain to me in a
loud tone of voice that we had cartridges enough in the belt.
When we had not cartridges enough, he would sneak around after
dark to get some more. At times he would even surreptitiously
"lift" a few from B.'s gunbearer!
When in camp, with his "cazi" finished, Memba Sasa did fancy
work! The picture of this powerful half-savage, his fierce brows
bent over a tiny piece of linen, his strong fingers fussing with
little stitches, will always appeal to my sense of the
incongruous. Through a piece of linen he punched holes with a
porcupine quill. Then he "buttonhole" stitched the holes, and
embroidered patterns between them with fine white thread. The
result was an openwork pattern heavily encrusted with beautiful
fine embroidery. It was most astounding stuff, such as you would
expect from a French convent, perhaps, but never from an African
savage. He did a circular piece and a long narrow piece. They
took him three months to finish, and then he sewed them together
to form a skull cap. Billy, entranced with the lacelike delicacy
of the work, promptly captured it; whereupon Memba Sasa
philosophically started another.
By this time he had identified himself with my fortunes. We had
become a firm whose business it was to carry out the affairs of a
single personality-me. Memba Sasa, among other things, undertook
the dignity. When I walked through a crowd, Memba Sasa zealously
kicked everybody out of my royal path. When I started to issue a
command, Memba Sasa finished it and amplified it and put a
snapper on it. When I came into camp, Memba Sasa saw to it
personally that my tent went up promptly and properly, although
that was really not part of his "cazi" at all. And when somewhere
beyond my ken some miserable boy had committed a crime, I never
remained long in ignorance of that fact.
Perhaps I happened to be sitting in my folding chair idly smoking
a pipe and reading a book. Across the open places of the camp
would stride Memba Sasa, very erect, very rigid, moving in short
indignant jerks, his eye flashing fire. Behind him would sneak a
very hang-dog boy. Memba Sasa marched straight up to me, faced
right, and drew one side, his silence sparkling with honest
"Just look at THAT!" his attitude seemed to say, "Could you
believe such human depravity possible? And against OUR authority?"
He always stood, quite rigid, waiting for me to speak.
"Well, Memba Sasa?" I would inquire, after I had enjoyed the show
In a few restrained words he put the case before me, always
briefly, always with a scornful dignity. This shenzi has done
We will suppose the case fairly serious. I listened to the man's
story, if necessary called a few witnesses, delivered judgment.
All the while Memba Sasa stood at rigid attention, fairly
bristling virtue, like the good dog standing by at the punishment
of the bad dogs. And in his attitude was a subtle triumph, as one
would say: "You see! Fool with my bwana, will you! Just let
anybody try to get funny with US!" Judgment pronounced-we have
supposed the case serious, you remember-Memba Sasa himself
applied the lash. I think he really enjoyed that; but it was a
restrained joy. The whip descended deliberately, without
The man's devotion in unusual circumstances was beyond praise.
Danger or excitement incite a sort of loyalty in any good man;
but humdrum, disagreeable difficulty is a different matter.
One day we marched over a country of thorn-scrub desert. Since
two days we had been cut loose from water, and had been depending
on a small amount carried in zinc drums. Now our only reasons for
faring were a conical hill, over the horizon, and the knowledge
of a river somewhere beyond. How far beyond, or in what
direction, we did not know. We had thirty men with us, a more or
less ragtag lot, picked up anyhow in the bazaars. They were soft,
ill-disciplined and uncertain. For five or six hours they marched
well enough. Then the sun began to get very hot, and some of them
began to straggle. They had, of course, no intention of
deserting, for their only hope of surviving lay in staying with
us; but their loads had become heavy, and they took too many
rests. We put a good man behind, but without much avail. In open
country a safari can be permitted to straggle over miles, for
always it can keep in touch by sight; but in this thorn-scrub
desert, that looks all alike, a man fifty yards out of sight is
fifty yards lost. We would march fifteen or twenty minutes, then
sit down to wait until the rearmost men had straggled in, perhaps
a half hour later. And we did not dare move on until the tale of
our thirty was complete. At this rate progress was very slow, and
as the fierce equatorial sun increased in strength, became always
slower still. The situation became alarming. We were quite out of
water, and we had no idea where water was to be found. To
complicate matters, the thornbrush thickened to a jungle.
My single companion and I consulted. It was agreed that I was to
push on as rapidly as possible to locate the water, while he was
to try to hold the caravan together. Accordingly, Memba Sasa and
I marched ahead. We tried to leave a trail to follow; and we
hoped fervently that our guess as to the stream's course would
prove to be a good one. At the end of two hours and a half we
found the water-a beautiful jungle-shaded stream-and filled
ourselves up therewith. Our duty was accomplished, for we had
left a trail to be followed. Nevertheless, I felt I should like
to take back our full canteens to relieve the worst cases. Memba
Sasa would not hear of it, and even while I was talking to him
seized the canteens and disappeared.
At the end of two hours more camp was made, after a fashion; but
still four men had failed to come in. We built a smudge in the
hope of guiding them; and gave them up. If they had followed our
trail, they should have been in long ago; if they had missed that
trail, heaven knows where they were, or where we should go to
find them. Dusk was falling, and, to tell the truth, we were both
very much done up by a long day at 115 degrees in the shade under
an equatorial sun. The missing men would climb trees away from
the beasts, and we would organize a search next day. As we
debated these things, to us came Memba Sasa.
"I want to take 'Winchi,'" said he. "Winchi" is his name for my
"Why?" we asked.
"If I can take Winchi, I will find the men," said he.
This was entirely voluntary on his part. He, as well as we, had
had a hard day, and he had made a double journey for part of it.
We gave him Winchi and he departed. Sometime after midnight he
returned with the missing men.
Perhaps a dozen times all told he volunteered for these special
services; once in particular, after a fourteen-hour day, he set
off at nine o'clock at night in a soaking rainstorm, wandered
until two o'clock, and returned unsuccessful, to rouse me and
report gravely that he could not find them. For these services he
neither received nor expected special reward. And catch him doing
anything outside his strict "cazi" except for US.
We were always very ceremonious and dignified in our relations on
such occasions. Memba Sasa would suddenly appear, deposit the
rifle in its place, and stand at attention.
"Well, Memba Sasa?" I would inquire.
"I have found the men; they are in camp."
Then I would give him his reward. It was either the word
"assanti," or the two words "assanti sana," according to the
difficulty and importance of the task accomplished. They mean
simply "thank you" and "thank you very much."
Once or twice, after a particularly long and difficult month or
so, when Memba Sasa has been almost literally my alter ego, I
have called him up for special praise. "I am very pleased with
you, Memba Sasa," said I. "You have done your cazi well. You are
a good man."
He accepted this with dignity, without deprecation, and without
the idiocy of spoken gratitude. He agreed perfectly with
everything I said! "Yes" was his only comment. I liked it.
On our ultimate success in a difficult enterprise Memba Sasa set
great store; and his delight in ultimate success was apparently
quite apart from personal considerations. We had been hunting
greater kudu for five weeks before we finally landed one. The
greater kudu is, with the bongo, easily the prize beast in East
Africa, and very few are shot. By a piece of bad luck, for him, I
had sent Memba Sasa out in a different direction to look for
signs the afternoon we finally got one. The kill was made just at
dusk. C. and I, with Mavrouki, built a fire and stayed, while
Kongoni went to camp after men. There he broke the news to Memba
Sasa that the great prize had been captured, and he absent. Memba
Sasa was hugely delighted, nor did he in any way show what must
have been a great disappointment to him. After repeating the news
triumphantly to every one in camp, he came out to where we were
waiting, arrived quite out of breath, and grabbed me by the hand
in heartiest congratulation.
Memba Sasa went in not at all for personal ornamentation, any
more than he allowed his dignity to be broken by anything
resembling emotionalism. No tattoo marks, no ear ornaments, no
rings nor bracelets. He never even picked up an ostrich feather
for his head. On the latter he sometimes wore an old felt hat;
sometimes, more picturesquely, an orange-coloured fillet. Khaki
shirt, khaki "shorts," blue puttees, besides his knife and my own
accoutrements: that was all. In town he was all white clad, a
long fine linen robe reaching to his feet; and one of the
lacelike skull caps he was so very skilful at making.
That will do for a preliminary sketch. If you follow these pages,
you will hear more of him; he is worth it.
VI. THE FIRST GAME CAMP
In the review of "first" impressions with which we are concerned,
we must now skip a week or ten days to stop at what is known in
our diaries as the First Ford of the Guaso Nyero River.
These ten days were not uneventful. We had crossed the wide and
undulating plains, had paused at some tall beautiful falls
plunging several hundred feet into the mysteriousness of a dense
forest on which we looked down. There we had enjoyed some duck,
goose and snipe shooting; had made the acquaintance of a few of
the Masai, and had looked with awe on our first hippo tracks in
the mud beside a tiny ditchlike stream. Here and there were small
game herds. In the light of later experience we now realize that
these were nothing at all; but at the time the sight of
full-grown wild animals out in plain sight was quite wonderful.
At the close of the day's march we always wandered out with our
rifles to see what we could find. Everything was new to us, and
we had our men to feed. Our shooting gradually improved until we
had overcome the difficulties peculiar to this new country and
were doing as well as we could do anywhere.
Now, at the end of a hard day through scrub, over rolling bold
hills, and down a scrub brush slope, we had reached the banks of
the Guaso Nyero.
At this point, above the junction of its principal tributary
rivers, it was a stream about sixty or seventy feet wide, flowing
swift between high banks. A few trees marked its course, but
nothing like a jungle. The ford was in swift water just above a
deep still pool suspected of crocodiles. We found the water about
waist deep, stretched a rope across, and forcibly persuaded our
eager boys that one at a time was about what the situation
required. On the other side we made camp on an open flat. Having
marched so far continuously, we resolved to settle down for a
while. The men had been without sufficient meat; and we desired
very much to look over the country closely, and to collect a few
heads as trophies.
Perhaps a word might not come amiss as to the killing of game.
The case is here quite different from the condition of affairs at
home. Here animal life is most extraordinarily abundant; it
furnishes the main food supply to the traveller; and at present
is probably increasing slightly, certainly holding its own.
Whatever toll the sportsman or traveller take is as nothing
compared to what he might take if he were an unscrupulous game
hog. If his cartridges and his shoulder held out, he could easily
kill a hundred animals a day instead of the few he requires. In
that sense, then, no man slaughters indiscriminately. During the
course of a year he probably shoots from two hundred to two
hundred and fifty beasts, provided he is travelling with an
ordinary sized caravan. This, the experts say, is about the
annual toll of one lion. If the traveller gets his lion, he plays
even with the fauna of the country; if he gets two or more lions,
he has something to his credit. This probably explains why the
game is still so remarkably abundant near the road and on the
very outskirts of the town.
We were now much in need of a fair quantity of meat, both for
immediate consumption of our safari, and to make biltong or
jerky. Later, in like circumstances, we should have sallied forth
in a businesslike fashion, dropped the requisite number of zebra
and hartebeeste as near camp as possible, and called it a job.
Now, however, being new to the game, we much desired good
trophies in variety. Therefore, we scoured the country far and
wide for desirable heads; and the meat waited upon the
acquisition of the trophy.
This, then, might be called our first Shooting Camp. Heretofore
we had travelled every day. Now the boys settled down to what the
native porter considers the height of bliss: a permanent camp
with plenty to eat. Each morning we were off before daylight,
riding our horses, and followed by the gunbearers, the syces, and
fifteen or twenty porters. The country rose from the river in a
long gentle slope grown with low brush and scattered candlestick
euphorbias. This slope ended in a scattered range of low rocky
buttes. Through any one of the various openings between them, we
rode to find ourselves on the borders of an undulating grass
country of low rounded hills with wide valleys winding between
them. In these valleys and on these hills was the game.
Daylight of the day I would tell about found us just at the edge
of the little buttes. Down one of the slopes the growing half
light revealed two oryx feeding, magnificent big creatures, with
straight rapier horns three feet in length. These were most
exciting and desirable, so off my horse I got and began to sneak
up on them through the low tufts of grass. They fed quite calmly.
I congratulated myself, and slipped nearer. Without even looking
in my direction, they trotted away. Somewhat chagrined, I
returned to my companions, and we rode on.
Then across a mile-wide valley we saw two dark objects in the
tall grass; and almost immediately identified these as
rhinoceroses, the first we had seen. They stood there side by
side, gazing off into space, doing nothing in a busy morning
world. After staring at them through our glasses for some time,
we organized a raid. At the bottom of the valley we left the
horses and porters; lined up, each with his gunbearer at his
elbow; and advanced on the enemy. B. was to have the shot
According to all the books we should have been able, provided we
were downwind and made no noise, to have approached within fifty
or sixty yards undiscovered. However, at a little over a hundred
yards they both turned tail and departed at a swift trot, their
heads held well up and their tails sticking up straight and stiff
in the most ridiculous fashion. No good shooting at them in such
circumstances, so we watched them go, still keeping up their
slashing trot, growing smaller and smaller in the distance until
finally they disappeared over the top of a swell.
We set ourselves methodically to following them. It took us over
an hour of steady plodding before we again came in sight of them.
They were this time nearer the top of a hill, and we saw
instantly that the curve of the slope was such that we could
approach within fifty yards before coming in sight at all.
Therefore, once more we dismounted, lined up in battle array, and
Sensations? Distinctly nervous, decidedly alert, and somewhat
self-congratulatory that I was not more scared. No man can
predicate how efficient he is going to be in the presence of
really dangerous game. Only the actual trial will show. This is
not a question of courage at all, but of purely involuntary
reaction of the nerves. Very few men are physical cowards. They
will and do face anything. But a great many men are rendered
inefficient by the way their nervous systems act under stress. It
is not a matter for control by will power in the slightest
degree. So the big game hunter must determine by actual trial
whether it so happens that the great excitement of danger renders
his hand shaky or steady. The excitement in either case is the
same. No man is ever "cool" in the sense that personal danger is of
the same kind of indifference to him as clambering aboard a
street car. He must always be lifted above himself, must enter an
extra normal condition to meet extra normal circumstances. He can
always control his conduct; but he can by no means always
determine the way the inevitable excitement will affect his
coordinations. And unfortunately, in the final result it does not
matter how brave a man is, but how closely he can hold. If he
finds that his nervous excitement renders him unsteady, he has no
business ever to tackle dangerous game alone. If, on the other
hand, he discovers that IDENTICALLY THE SAME nervous excitement
happens to steady his front sight to rocklike rigidity-a
rigidity he could not possibly attain in normal conditions-then
he will probably keep out of trouble.
To amplify this further by a specific instance: I hunted for a
short time in Africa with a man who was always eager for exciting
encounters, whose pluck was admirable in every way, but whose
nervous reaction so manifested itself that he was utterly unable
to do even decent shooting at any range. Furthermore, his very
judgment and power of observation were so obscured that he could
not remember afterward with any accuracy what had happened-which
way the beast was pointing, how many there were of them, in which
direction they went, how many shots were fired, in short all the
smaller details of the affair. He thought he remembered. After
the show was over it was quite amusing to get his version of the
incident. It was almost always so wide of the fact as to be
little recognizable. And, mind you, he was perfectly sincere in
his belief, and absolutely courageous. Only he was quite unfitted
by physical make-up for a big game hunter; and I was relieved
when, after a short time, his route and mine separated.
Well, we clambered up that slope with a fine compound of tension,
expectation, and latent uneasiness as to just what was going to
happen, anyway. Finally, we raised the backs of the beasts,
stooped, sneaked a little nearer, and finally at a signal stood
upright perhaps forty yards from the brutes.
For the first time I experienced a sensation I was destined many
times to repeat-that of the sheer size of the animals. Menagerie
rhinoceroses had been of the smaller Indian variety; and in any
case most menagerie beasts are more or less stunted. These two,
facing us, their little eyes blinking, looked like full-grown
ironclads on dry land. The moment we stood erect B. fired at the
larger of the two. Instantly they turned and were off at a
tearing run. I opened fire, and B. let loose his second barrel.
At about two hundred and fifty yards the big rhinoceros suddenly
fell on his side, while the other continued his flight. It was
all over-very exciting because we got excited, but not in the
The boys were delighted, for here was meat in plenty for
everybody. We measured the beast, photographed him, marvelled at
his immense size, and turned him over to the gunbearers for
treatment. In half an hour or so a long string of porters headed
across the hills in the direction of camp, many miles distant,
each carrying his load either of meat, or the trophies.
Rhinoceros hide, properly treated, becomes as transparent as
amber, and so from it can be made many very beautiful souvenirs,
such as bowls, trays, paper knives, table tops, whips, canes, and
the like. And, of course, the feet of one's first rhino are
always saved for cigar boxes or inkstands.
Already we had an admiring and impatient audience. From all
directions came the carrion birds. They circled far up in the
heavens; they shot downward like plummets from a great height
with an inspiring roar of wings; they stood thick in a solemn
circle all around the scene of the kill; they rose with a heavy
flapping when we moved in their direction. Skulking forms flashed
in the grass, and occasionally the pointed ears of a jackal would
It was by now nearly noon. The sun shone clear and hot; the heat
shimmer rose in clouds from the brown surface of the hills. In
all directions we could make out small gameherds resting
motionless in the heat of the day, the mirage throwing them into
fantastic shapes. While the final disposition was being made of
the defunct rhinoceros I wandered over the edge of the hill to
see what I could see, and fairly blundered on a herd of oryx at
about a hundred and fifty yards range. They looked at me a
startled instant, then leaped away to the left at a tremendous
speed. By a lucky shot, I bowled one over. He was a beautiful
beast, with his black and white face and his straight rapierlike
horns nearly three feet long, and I was most pleased to get him.
Memba Sasa came running at the sound of the shot. We set about
preparing the head.
Then through a gap in the hills far to the left we saw a little
black speck moving rapidly in our direction. At the end of a
minute we could make it out as the second rhinoceros. He had run
heaven knows how many miles away, and now he was returning;
whether with some idea of rejoining his companion or from sheer
chance, I do not know. At any rate, here he was, still ploughing
along at his swinging trot. His course led him along a side hill
about four hundred yards from where the oryx lay. When he was
directly opposite I took the Springfield and fired, not at him,
but at a spot five or six feet in front of his nose. The bullet
threw up a column of dust. Rhino brought up short with
astonishment, wheeled to the left, and made off at a gallop. I
dropped another bullet in front of him. Again he stopped, changed
direction, and made off. For the third time I hit the ground in
front of him. Then he got angry, put his head down and charged
Five more shots I expended on the amusement of that rhinoceros;
and at the last had run furiously charging back and forth in a
twenty-yard space, very angry at the little puffing, screeching
bullets, but quite unable to catch one. Then he made up his mind
and departed the way he had come, finally disappearing as a
little rapidly moving black speck through the gap in the hills
where we had first caught sight of him.
We finished caring for the oryx, and returned to camp. To our
surprise we found we were at least seven or eight miles out.
In this fashion days passed very quickly. The early dewy start in
the cool of the morning, the gradual grateful warming up of
sunrise, and immediately after, the rest during the midday heats
under a shady tree, the long trek back to camp at sunset, the hot
bath after the toilsome day-all these were very pleasant. Then
the swift falling night, and the gleam of many tiny fires
springing up out of the darkness; with each its sticks full of
meat roasting, and its little circle of men, their skins gleaming
in the light. As we sat smoking, we would become aware that
M'ganga, the headman, was standing silent awaiting orders. Some
one would happen to see the white of his eyes, or perhaps he
might smile so that his teeth would become visible. Otherwise he
might stand there an hour, and no one the wiser, for he was
respectfully silent, and exactly the colour of the night.
We would indicate to him our plans for the morrow, and he would
disappear. Then at a distance of twenty or thirty feet from the
front of our tents a tiny tongue of flame would lick up. Dark
figures could be seen manipulating wood. A blazing fire sprang
up, against which we could see the motionless and picturesque
figure of Saa-sita (Six o'Clock), the askari of the first night
watch, leaning on his musket. He was a most picturesque figure,
for his fancy ran to original headdresses, and at the moment he
affected a wonderful upstanding structure made of marabout wings.
At this sign that the night had begun, we turned in. A few hyenas
moaned, a few jackals barked: otherwise the first part of the
night was silent, for the hunters were at their silent business,
and the hunted were "layin' low and sayin' nuffin'."
Day after day we rode out, exploring the country in different
directions. The great uncertainty as to what of interest we would
find filled the hours with charm. Sometimes we clambered about
the cliffs of the buttes trying to find klipspringers; again we
ran miles pursuing the gigantic eland. I in turn got my first
rhinoceros, with no more danger than had attended the killing of
B.'s. On this occasion, however, I had my first experience of the
lightning skill of the first-class gunbearer. Having fired both
barrels, and staggered the beast, I threw open the breech and
withdrew the empty cartridges, intending, of course, as my next
move to fish two more out of my belt. The empty shells were
hardly away from the chambers, however, when a long brown arm
shot over my right shoulder and popped two fresh cartridges in
the breech. So astonished was I at this unexpected apparition,
that for a second or so I actually forgot to close the gun.
VII. ON THE MARCH
After leaving the First Game Camp, we travelled many hours and
miles over rolling hills piling ever higher and higher until they
broke through a pass to illimitable plains. These plains were
mantled with the dense scrub, looking from a distance and from
above like the nap of soft green velvet. Here and there this
scrub broke in round or oval patches of grass plain. Great
mountain ranges peered over the edge of a horizon. Lesser
mountain peaks of fantastic shapes-sheer Yosemite cliffs, single
buttes, castles-had ventured singly from behind that same
horizon barricade. The course of a river was marked by a
meandering line of green jungle.
It took us two days to get to that river. Our intermediate camp
was halfway down the pass. We ousted a hundred indignant
straw-coloured monkeys and twice as many baboons from the tiny
flat above the water hole. They bobbed away cursing over their
shoulders at us. Next day we debouched on the plains. They were
rolling, densely grown, covered with volcanic stones, swarming
with game of various sorts. The men marched well. They were
happy, for they had had a week of meat; and each carried a light
lunch of sun-dried biltong or jerky. Some mistaken individuals
had attempted to bring along some "fresh" meat. We found it
advisable to pass to windward of these; but they themselves did
not seem to mind.
It became very hot; for we were now descending to the lower
elevations. The marching through long grass and over volcanic
stones was not easy. Shortly we came out on stumbly hills, mostly
rock, very dry, grown with cactus and discouraged desiccated
thorn scrub. Here the sun reflected powerfully and the bearers
began to flag.
Then suddenly, without warning, we pitched over a little rise to
No more marvellous contrast could have been devised. From the
blasted barren scrub country we plunged into the lush jungle. It
was not a very wide jungle, but it was sufficient. The trees were
large and variegated, reaching to a high and spacious upper story
above the ground tangle. From the massive limbs hung vines,
festooned and looped like great serpents. Through this upper
corridor flitted birds of bright hue or striking variegation. We
did not know many of them by name, nor did we desire to; but were
content with the impression of vivid flashing movement and
colour. Various monkeys swung, leaped and galloped slowly away
before our advance; pausing to look back at us curiously, the
ruffs of fur standing out all around their little black faces.
The lower half of the forest jungle, however, had no spaciousness
at all, but a certain breathless intimacy. Great leaved plants as
tall as little trees, and trees as small as big plants, bound
together by vines, made up the "deep impenetrable jungle" of our
childhood imagining. Here were rustlings, sudden scurryings,
half-caught glimpses, once or twice a crash as some greater
animal made off. Here and there through the thicket wandered well
beaten trails, wide, but low, so that to follow them one would
have to bend double. These were the paths of rhinoceroses. The
air smelt warm and moist and earthy, like the odour of a
We skirted this jungle until it gave way to let the plain down to
the river. Then, in an open grove of acacias, and fairly on the
river's bank, we pitched our tents.
These acacia trees were very noble big chaps, with many branches
and a thick shade. In their season they are wonderfully blossomed
with white, with yellow, sometimes even with vivid red flowers.
Beneath them was only a small matter of ferns to clear away.
Before us the sodded bank rounded off ten feet the river itself.
At this point far up in its youth it was a friendly river. Its
noble width ran over shallows of yellow sand or of small pebbles.
Save for unexpected deep holes one could wade across it anywhere.
Yet it was very wide, with still reaches of water, with islands
of gigantic papyrus, with sand bars dividing the current, and
with always the vista for a greater or lesser distance down
through the jungle along its banks. From our canvas chairs we
could look through on one side to the arid country, and on the
other to this tropical wonderland.
Yes, at this point in its youth it was indeed a friendly river in
every sense of the word. There are three reasons, ordinarily, why
one cannot bathe in the African rivers. In the first place, they
are nearly all disagreeably muddy; in the second place, cold
water in a tropical climate causes horrible congestions; in the
third place they swarm with crocodiles and hippos. But this river
was as yet unpolluted by the alluvial soil of the lower
countries; the sun on its shallows had warmed its waters almost
to blood heat; and the beasts found no congenial haunts in these
clear shoals. Almost before our tents were up the men were
splashing. And always my mental image of that river's beautiful
expanse must include round black heads floating like gourds where
the water ran smoothest.
Our tents stood all in a row facing the stream, the great trees
at their backs. Down in the grove the men had pitched their
little white shelters. Happily they settled down to ease.
Settling down to ease, in the case of the African porter,
consists in discarding as many clothes as possible. While on the
march he wears everything he owns; whether from pride or a desire
to simplify transportation I am unable to say. He is supplied by
his employer with a blanket and jersey. As supplementals he can
generally produce a half dozen white man's ill-assorted garments:
an old shooting coat, a ragged pair of khaki breeches, a kitchen
tablecloth for a skirt, or something of the sort. If he can raise
an overcoat he is happy, especially if it happen to be a long,
thick WINTER overcoat. The possessor of such a garment will wear
it conscientiously throughout the longest journey and during the
hottest noons. But when he relaxes in camp, he puts away all
these prideful possessions and turns out in the savage simplicity
of his red blanket. Draped negligently, sometimes very
negligently, in what may be termed semi-toga fashion, he stalks
about or squats before his little fire in all the glory of a
regained savagery. The contrast of the red with his red bronze or
black skin, the freedom and grace of his movements, the upright
carriage of his fine figure, and the flickering savagery playing
in his eyes are very effective.
Our men occupied their leisure variously and happily. A great
deal of time they spent before their tiny fires roasting meat and
talking. This talk was almost invariably of specific personal
experiences. They bathed frequently and with pleasure. They
slept. Between times they fashioned ingenious affairs of ornament
or use: bows and arrows, throwing clubs, snuff-boxes of the tips
of antelope horns, bound prettily with bright wire, wooden swords
beautifully carved in exact imitation of the white man's service
weapon, and a hundred other such affairs. At this particular time
also they were much occupied in making sandals against the
thorns. These were flat soles of rawhide, the edges pounded to
make them curl up a trifle over the foot, fastened by thongs;
very ingenious, and very useful. To their task they brought song.
The labour of Africa is done to song; weird minor chanting
starting high in the falsetto to trickle unevenly down to the
lower registers, or where the matter is one of serious effort, an
antiphony of solo and chorus. From all parts of the camp come
these softly modulated chantings, low and sweet, occasionally
breaking into full voice as the inner occasion swells, then
almost immediately falling again to the murmuring undertone of
more concentrated attention.
The red blanket was generally worn knotted from one shoulder or
bound around the waist Malay fashion. When it turned into a cowl,
with a miserable and humpbacked expression, it became the
Official Badge of Illness. No matter what was the matter that was
the proper thing to do-to throw the blanket over the head and to
assume as miserable a demeanour as possible. A sore toe demanded
just as much concentrated woe as a case of pneumonia. Sick call
was cried after the day's work was finished. Then M'ganga or one
of the askaris lifted up his voice.
"N'gonjwa! n'gonjwa!" he shouted; and at the shout the red cowls
gathered in front of the tent. Three things were likely to be the
matter: too much meat, fever, or pus infection from slight
wounds. To these in the rainy season would be added the various
sorts of colds. That meant either Epsom salts, quinine, or a
little excursion with the lancet and permanganate. The African
traveller gets to be heap big medicine man within these narrow
All the red cowls squatted miserably, oh, very miserably, in a
row. The headman stood over them rather fiercely. We surveyed the
lot contemplatively, hoping to heaven that nothing complicated
was going to turn up. One of the tent boys hovered in the
background as dispensing chemist.
"Well," said F. at last, "what's the matter with you?"
The man indicated pointed to his head and the back of his neck
and groaned. If he had a slight headache he groaned just as much
as though his head were splitting. F. asked a few questions, and
took his temperature. The clinical thermometer is in itself
considered big medicine, and often does much good.
"Too much meat, my friend," remarked F. in English, and to his
boy in Swahili, "bring the cup."
He put in this cup a triple dose of Epsom salts. The African
requires three times a white man's dose. This, pathologically,
was all that was required: but psychologically the job was just
begun. Your African can do wonderful things with his imagination.
If he thinks he is going to die, die he will, and very promptly,
even though he is ailing of the most trivial complaint. If he
thinks he is going to get well, he is very apt to do so in face
of extraordinary odds. Therefore the white man desires not only
to start his patient's internal economy with Epsom salts, but
also to stir his faith. To this end F. added to that triple dose
of medicine a spoonful of Chutney, one of Worcestershire sauce, a
few grains of quinine, Sparklets water and a crystal or so of
permanganate to turn the mixture a beautiful pink. This
assortment the patient drank with gratitude-and the tears
running down his cheeks.
"He will carry a load to-morrow," F. told the attentive M'ganga.
The next patient had fever. This one got twenty grains of quinine
"This man carries no load to-morrow," was the direction, "but he
must not drop behind."
Two or three surgical cases followed. Then a big Kavirondo rose
to his feet.
"Nini?" demanded F.
"Homa-fever," whined the man.
F. clapped his hand on the back of the other's neck.
"I think," he remarked contemplatively in English, "that you're a
liar, and want to get out of carrying your load."
The clinical thermometer showed no evidence of temperature.
"I'm pretty near sure you're a liar," observed F. in the
pleasantest conversational tone and still in English, "but you
may be merely a poor diagnostician. Perhaps your poor insides
couldn't get away with that rotten meat I saw you lugging
around. We'll see."
So he mixed a pint of medicine.
"There's Epsom salts for the real part of trouble," observed F.,
still talking to himself, "and here's a few things for the fake."
He then proceeded to concoct a mixture whose recoil was the exact
measure of his imagination. The imagination was only limited by
the necessity of keeping the mixture harmless. Every hot, biting,
nauseous horror in camp went into that pint measure.
"There," concluded F., "if you drink that and come back again
to-morrow for treatment, I'll believe you ARE sick."
Without undue pride I would like to record that I was the first
to think of putting in a peculiarly nauseous gun oil, and thereby
acquired a reputation of making tremendous medicine.
So implicit is this faith in white man's medicine that at one of
the Government posts we were approached by one of the secondary
chiefs of the district. He was a very nifty savage, dressed for
calling, with his hair done in ropes like a French poodle's, his
skin carefully oiled and reddened, his armlets and necklets
polished, and with the ceremonial ball of black feathers on the
end of his long spear. His gait was the peculiar mincing teeter
of savage conventional society. According to custom, he
approached unsmiling, spat carefully in his palm, and shook
hands. Then he squatted and waited.
"What is it?" we asked after it became evident he really wanted
something besides the pleasure of our company.
"N'dowa-medicine," said he.
"Why do you not go the Government dispensary?" we demanded.
"The doctor there is an Indian; I want REAL medicine, white man's
medicine," he explained.
Immensely flattered, of course, we wanted further to know what
"Nothing," said he blandly, "nothing at all; but it seemed an
excellent chance to get good medicine."
After the clinic was all attended to, we retired to our tents and
the screeching-hot bath so grateful in the tropics. When we
emerged, in our mosquito boots and pajamas, the daylight was
gone. Scores of little blazes licked and leaped in the velvet
blackness round about, casting the undergrowth and the lower
branches of the trees into flat planes like the cardboard of a
stage setting. Cheerful, squatted figures sat in silhouette or in
the relief of chance high light. Long switches of meat roasted
before the fires. A hum of talk, bursts of laughter, the crooning
of minor chants mingled with the crackling of thorns. Before our
tents stood the table set for supper. Beyond it lay the pile of
firewood, later to be burned on the altar of our safety against
beasts. The moonlight was casting milky shadows over the river
and under the trees opposite. In those shadows gleamed many
fireflies. Overhead were millions of stars, and a little breeze
that wandered through upper branches.
But in Equatorial Africa the simple bands of velvet black, against
the spangled brightnesses that make up the visual night world,
must give way in interest to the other world of sound. The air
hums with an undertone of insects; the plain and hill and jungle
are populous with voices furtive or bold. In daytime one sees
animals enough, in all conscience, but only at night does he
sense the almost oppressive feeling of the teeming life about
him. The darkness is peopled. Zebra bark, bucks blow or snort or
make the weird noises of their respective species; hyenas howl;
out of an immense simian silence a group of monkeys suddenly
break into chatterings; ostriches utter their deep hollow boom;
small things scurry and squeak; a certain weird bird of the
curlew or plover sort wails like a lonesome soul. Especially by
the river, as here, are the boomings of the weirdest of weird
bullfrogs, and the splashings and swishings of crocodile and
hippopotamus. One is impressed with the busyness of the world
surrounding him; every bird or beast, the hunter and the hunted,
is the centre of many important affairs. The world swarms.
And then, some miles away a lion roars, the earth and air
vibrating to the sheer power of the sound. The world falls to a
blank dead silence. For a full minute every living creature of
the jungle or of the veldt holds its breath. Their lord has
After dinner we sat in our canvas chairs, smoking. The guard fire
in front of our tent had been lit. On the other side of it stood
one of our askaris leaning on his musket. He and his three
companions, turn about, keep the flames bright against the
After a time we grew sleepy. I called Saa-sita and entrusted to
him my watch. On the crystal of this I had pasted a small piece
of surgeon's plaster. When the hour hand reached the surgeon's
plaster, he must wake us up. Saa-sita was a very conscientious