Part 3 out of 6
and has to be rounded up; he works three months and, on a whim,
deserts two days before the end of his journey, thus forfeiting
all his wages. Once two porters came to us for money.
"What for?" asked C.
"To buy a sheep," said they.
For two months we had been shooting them all the game meat they
could eat, but on this occasion two days had intervened since the
last kill. If they had been on trading safari they would have had
no meat at all. A sheep cost six rupees in that country, and they
were getting but ten rupees a month as wages. In view of the
circumstances, and for their own good, we refused. Another man
once insisted on purchasing a cake of violet-scented soap for a
rupee. Their chief idea of a wild time in Nairobi, after return
from a long safari, is to SIT IN A CHAIR and drink tea. For this
they pay exorbitantly at the Somali so-called "hotels." It is a
strange sight. But then, I have seen cowboys off the range or
lumberjacks from the river do equally extravagant and foolish
On the other hand they carry their loads well, they march
tremendously, they know their camp duties and they do them. Under
adverse circumstances they are good-natured. I remember C. and I,
being belated and lost in a driving rain. We wandered until
nearly midnight. The four or five men with us were loaded heavily
with the meat and trophy of a roan. Certainly they must have been
very tired; for only occasionally could we permit them to lay
down their loads. Most of the time we were actually groping, over
boulders, volcanic rocks, fallen trees and all sorts of
tribulation. The men took it as a huge joke, and at every pause
In making up a safari one tries to mix in four or five tribes.
This prevents concerted action in case of trouble, for no one
tribe will help another. They vary both in tribal and individual
characteristics, of course. For example, the Kikuyus are docile
but mediocre porters; the Kavirondos strong carriers but
turbulent and difficult to handle. You are very lucky if you
happen on a camp jester, one of the sort that sings, shouts, or
jokes while on the march. He is probably not much as a porter,
but he is worth his wages nevertheless. He may or may not aspire
to his giddy eminence. We had one droll-faced little Kavirondo
whose very expression made one laugh, and whose rueful remarks on
the harshness of his lot finally ended by being funny. His name
got to be a catchword in camp.
"Mualo! Mualo!" the men would cry, as they heaved their burdens
to their heads; and all day long their war cry would ring out,
"Mualo!" followed by shrieks of laughter.
Of the other type was Sulimani, a big, one-eyed Monumwezi, who
had a really keen wit coupled with an earnest, solemn manner.
This man was no buffoon, however; and he was a good porter,
always at or near the head of the procession. In the great jungle
south of Kenia we came upon Cuninghame. When the head of our
safari reached the spot Sulimani left the ranks and, his load
still aloft danced solemnly in front of Cuninghame, chanting
something in a loud tone of voice. Then with a final deep
"Jambo!" to his old master he rejoined the safari. When the day
had stretched to weariness and the men had fallen to a sullen
plodding, Sulimani's vigorous song could always set the safari
sticks tapping the sides of the chop boxes.
He carried part of the tent, and the next best men were entrusted
with the cook outfit and our personal effects. It was a point of
honour with these men to be the first in camp. The rear, the very
extreme and straggling rear, was brought up by worthless porters
with loads of cornmeal-and the weary askaris whose duty it was
to keep astern and herd the lot in.
XIV. A DAY ON THE ISIOLA
Early one morning-we were still on the Isiola-we set forth on
our horses to ride across the rolling, brush-grown plain. Our
intention was to proceed at right angles to our own little stream
until we had reached the forest growth of another, which we could
dimly make out eight or ten miles distant. Billy went with us, so
there were four a-horseback. Behind us trudged the gunbearers,
and the syces, and after them straggled a dozen or fifteen
The sun was just up, and the air was only tepid as yet. From
patches of high grass whirred and rocketed grouse of two sorts.
They were so much like our own ruffed grouse and prairie chicken
that I could with no effort imagine myself once more a boy in the
coverts of the Middle West. Only before us we could see the
stripes of trotting zebra disappearing; and catch the glint of
light on the bayonets of the oryx. Two giraffes galumphed away to
the right. Little grass antelope darted from clump to clump of
grass. Once we saw gerenuk-oh, far away in an impossible
distance. Of course we tried to stalk them; and as usual we
failed. The gerenuk we had come to look upon as our Lesser
The beast is a gazelle about as big as a black-tailed deer. His
peculiarity is his excessively long neck, a good deal on the
giraffe order. With it he crops browse above high tide mark of
other animals, especially when as often happens he balances
cleverly on his hind legs. By means of it also he can, with his
body completely concealed, look over the top of ordinary cover
and see you long before you have made out his inconspicuous
little head. Then he departs. He seems to have a lamentable lack
of healthy curiosity about you. In that respect he should take
lessons from the kongoni. After that you can follow him as far as
you please; you will get only glimpses at three or four hundred
We remounted sadly and rode on. The surface of the ground was
rather soft, scattered with round rocks the size of a man's head,
and full of pig holes.
"Cheerful country to ride over at speed," remarked Billy. Later
in the day we had occasion to remember that statement.
The plains led us ever on. First would be a band of scattered
brush growing singly and in small clumps: then a little open
prairie; then a narrow, long grass swale; then perhaps a low,
long hill with small single trees and rough, volcanic footing.
Ten thousand things kept us interested. Game was everywhere,
feeding singly, in groups, in herds, game of all sizes and
descriptions. The rounded ears of jackals pointed at us from the
grass. Hundreds of birds balanced or fluttered about us, birds of
all sizes from the big ground hornbill to the littlest hummers
and sun birds. Overhead, across the wonderful variegated sky of
Africa the broad-winged carrion hunters and birds of prey
wheeled. In all our stay on the Isiola we had not seen a single
rhino track, so we rode quite care free and happy.
Finally, across a glade, not over a hundred and fifty yards away,
we saw a solitary bull oryx standing under a bush. B. wanted an
oryx. We discussed this one idly. He looked to be a decent oryx,
but nothing especial. However, he offered a very good shot; so
B., after some hesitation, decided to take it. It proved to be by
far the best specimen we shot, the horns measuring thirty-six and
three fourths inches! Almost immediately after, two of the rather
rare striped hyenas leaped from the grass and departed rapidly
over the top of a hill. We opened fire, and F. dropped one of
them. By the time these trophies were prepared, the sun had
mounted high in the heavens, and it was getting hot.
Accordingly we abandoned that still distant river and swung away
in a wide circle to return to camp.
Several minor adventures brought us to high noon and the heat of
the day. B. had succeeded in drawing a prize, one of the Grevy's
or mountain zebra. He and the gunbearers engaged themselves with
that, while we sat under the rather scanty shade of a small thorn
tree and had lunch. Here we had a favourable chance to observe
that very common, but always wonderful phenomenon, the gathering
of the carrion birds. Within five minutes after the stoop of the
first vulture above the carcass, the sky immediately over that
one spot was fairly darkened with them. They were as thick as
midges-or as ducks used to be in California. All sizes were
there from the little carrion crows to the great dignified
vultures and marabouts and eagles. The small fry flopped and
scolded, and rose and fell in a dense mass; the marabouts walked
with dignified pace to and fro through the grass all about. As
far as the eye could penetrate the blue, it could make out more
and yet more of the great soarers stooping with half bent wings.
Below we could see uncertainly through the shimmer of the mirage
the bent forms of the men.
We ate and waited; and after a little we dozed. I was awakened
suddenly by a tremendous rushing roar, like the sound of a not
too distant waterfall. The group of men were plodding toward us
carrying burdens. And like plummets the birds were dropping
straight down from the heavens, spreading wide their wings at the
last moment to check their speed. This made the roaring sound
that had awakened me.
A wide spot in the shimmer showed black and struggling against
the ground. I arose and walked over, meeting halfway B. and the
men carrying the meat. It took me probably about two minutes to
reach the place where the zebra had been killed. Hundreds,
perhaps thousands, of the great birds were standing idly about; a
dozen or so were flapping and scrambling in the centre. I stepped
into view. With a mighty commotion they all took wing clumsily,
awkwardly, reluctantly. A trampled, bloody space and the larger
bones, picked absolutely clean, was all that remained! In less
than two minutes the job had been done!
"You're certainly good workmen!" I exclaimed, "but I wonder how
you all make a living!"
We started the men on to camp with the meat, and ourselves rested
under the shade. The day had been a full and interesting one; but
we considered it as finished. Remained only the hot journey back
After a half hour we mounted again and rode on slowly. The sun
was very strong and a heavy shimmer clothed the plain. Through
this shimmer we caught sight of something large and black and
flapping. It looked like a crow-or, better, a
scare-crow-crippled, half flying, half running, with waving
wings or arms, now dwindling, now gigantic as the mirage caught
it up or let it drop. As we watched, it developed, and we made it
out to be a porter, clad in a long, ragged black overcoat,
running zigzag through the bushes in our direction.
The moment we identified it we spurred our horses forward. As my
horse leaped, Memba Sasa snatched the Springfield from my left
hand and forced the 405 Winchester upon me. Clever Memba Sasa! He
no more than we knew what was up, but shrewdly concluded that
whatever it was it needed a heavy gun.
As we galloped to meet him, the porter stopped. We saw him to be
a very long-legged, raggedy youth whom we had nicknamed the
Marabout because of his exceedingly long, lean legs, the fact
that his breeches were white, short and baggy, and because he
kept his entire head shaved close. He called himself Fundi, which
means The Expert, a sufficient indication of his confidence in
He awaited us leaning on his safari stick, panting heavily, the
sweat running off his face in splashes. "Simba!"* said he, and
immediately set off on a long, easy lope ahead of us. We pulled
down to a trot and followed him.
At the end of a half mile we made out a man up a tree. Fundi, out
of breath, stopped short and pointed to this man. The latter, as
soon as he had seen us, commenced to scramble down. We spurred
forward to find out where the lions had been last seen.
Then Billy covered herself with glory by seeing them first. She
apprised us of that fact with some excitement. We saw the long,
yellow bodies of two of them disappearing in the edge of the
brush about three hundred yards away. With a wild whoop we tore
after them at a dead run.
Then began a wild ride. Do you remember Billy's remark about the
nature of the footing? Before long we closed in near enough to
catch occasional glimpses of the beasts, bounding easily along.
At that moment B.'s horse went down in a heap. None of us thought
for a moment of pulling up. I looked back to see B. getting up
again, and thought I caught fragments of encouraging-sounding
language. Then my horse went down. I managed to hold my rifle
clear, and to cling to the reins. Did you ever try to get on a
somewhat demoralized horse in a frantic hurry, when all your
friends were getting farther away every minute, and so lessening
your chances of being in the fun? I began to understand perfectly
B.'s remarks of a moment before. However, on I scrambled, and
soon overtook the hunt.
We dodged in and out of bushes, and around and over holes. Every
few moments we would catch a glimpse of one of those silently
bounding lions, and then we would let out a yell. Also every few
moments one or the other of us would go down in a heap, and would
scramble up and curse, and remount hastily. Billy had better
luck. She had no gun, and belonged a little in the rear anyway,
but was coming along game as a badger for all that.
My own horse had the legs of the others quite easily, and for
that reason I was ahead far enough to see the magnificent sight
of five lions sideways on, all in a row, standing in the grass
gazing at me with a sort of calm and impersonal dignity. I
wheeled my horse immediately so as to be ready in case of a
charge, and yelled to the others to hurry up. While I sat there,
they moved slowly off one after the other, so that by the time
the men had come, the lions had gone. We now had no difficulty in
running into them again. Once more my better animal brought me to
the lead, so that for the second time I drew up facing the lions,
and at about one hundred yards range. One by one they began to
leave as before, very leisurely and haughtily, until a single old
maned fellow remained. He, however, sat there, his great round
head peering over the top of the grass.
"Well," he seemed to say, "here I am, what do you intend to do
The others arrived, and we all dismounted. B. had not yet killed
his lion, so the shot was his. Billy very coolly came up behind
and held his horse. I should like here to remark that Billy is
very terrified of spiders. F. and I stood at the ready, and B.
Riding fast an exciting mile or so, getting chucked on your head
two or three times, and facing your first lion are none of them
conducive to steady shooting. The first shot therefore went high,
but the second hit the lion square in the chest, and he rolled
We all danced a little war dance, and congratulated B. and turned
to get the meaning of a queer little gurgling gasp behind us.
There was Fundi! That long-legged scarecrow, not content with
running to get us and then back again, had trailed us the whole
distance of our mad chase over broken ground at terrific speed in
order to be in at the death. And he was just about all in at the
death. He could barely gasp his breath, his eyes stuck out; he
looked close to apoplexy.
"Bwana! bwana!" was all he could say. "Master! master!"
We shook hands with Fundi.
"My son," said I, "you're a true sport, and you'll surely get
He did not understand me, but he grinned. The gunbearers began to
drift in, also completely pumped. They set up a feeble shout when
they saw the dead lion. It was a good maned beast, three feet six
inches at the shoulder, and nine feet long.
We left Fundi with the lion, instructing him to stay there until
some of the other men came up. We remounted and pushed on slowly
in hopes of coming on one of the others.
Here and there we rode, our courses interweaving, looking
eagerly. And lo! through a tiny opening in the brush we espied
one of those elusive gerenuk standing not over one hundred yards
away. Whereupon I dismounted and did some of the worst shooting I
perpetrated in Africa, for I let loose three times at him before
I landed. But land I did, and there was one Lesser Hoodoo broken.
Truly this was our day.
We measured him and started to prepare the trophy, when to us
came Mavrouki and a porter, quite out of breath, but able to tell
us that they had been scouting around and had seen two of the
lions. Then, instead of leaving one up a tree to watch, both had
come pell-mell to tell us all about it. We pointed this out to
them, and called their attention to the fact that the brush was
wide, that lions are not stationary objects, and that, unlike the
leopard, they can change their spots quite readily. However, we
remounted and went to take a look.
Of course there was nothing. So we rode on, rather aimlessly,
weaving in and out of the bushes and open spaces. I think we were
all a little tired from the long day and the excitement, and
hence a bit listless. Suddenly we were fairly shaken out of our
saddles by an angry roar just ahead. Usually a lion growls, low
and thunderous, when he wants, to warn you that you have gone
about far enough; but this one was angry all through at being
followed about so much, and he just plain yelled at us.
He crouched near a bush forty yards away, and was switching his
tail. I had heard that this was a sure premonition of an instant
charge, but I had not before realized exactly what "switching the
tail" meant. I had thought of it as a slow sweeping from side to
side, after the manner of the domestic cat. This lion's tail was
whirling perpendicularly from right to left, and from left to
right with the speed and energy of a flail actuated by a
particularly instantaneous kind of machinery. I could see only
the outline of the head and this vigorous tail; but I took
instant aim and let drive. The whole affair sank out of sight.
We made a detour around the dead lion without stopping to examine
him, shouting to one of the men to stay and watch the carcass.
Billy alone seemed uninfected with the now prevalent idea that we
were likely to find lions almost anywhere. Her skepticism was
justified. We found no more lions; but another miracle took place
for all that. We ran across the second imbecile gerenuk, and B.
collected it! These two were the only ones we ever got within
decent shot of, and they sandwiched themselves neatly with lions.
Truly, it WAS our day.
After a time we gave it up, and went back to measure and
photograph our latest prize. It proved to be a male, maneless,
two inches shorter than that killed by B., and three feet five
and one half inches tall at the shoulder. My bullet had reached
the brain just over the left eye.
Now, toward sunset, we headed definitely toward camp. The long
shadows and beautiful lights of evening were falling across the
hills far the other side the Isiola. A little breeze with a touch
of coolness breathed down from distant unseen Kenia. We plodded
on through the grass quite happily, noting the different animals
coming out to the cool of the evening. The line of brush that
marked the course of the Isiola came imperceptibly nearer until
we could make out the white gleam of the porters' tents and wisps
of smoke curling upward.
Then a small black mass disengaged itself from the camp and came
slowly across the prairie in our direction. As it approached we
made it out to be our Monumwezis, twenty strong. The news of the
lions had reached them, and they were coming to meet us. They
were huddled in a close knot, their heads inclined toward the
centre. Each man carried upright a peeled white wand. They moved
in absolute unison and rhythm, on a slanting zigzag in our
direction: first three steps to the right, then three to the
left, with a strong stamp of the foot between. Their bodies
swayed together. Sulimani led them, dancing backward, his wand
"Sheeka!" he enunciated in a piercing half whistle.
And the swaying men responded in chorus, half hushed, rumbling,
with strong aspiration.
"Goom zoop! goom zoop!"
When fifty yards from us, however, the formation broke and they
rushed us with a yell. Our horses plunged in astonishment, and we
had hard work to prevent their bolting, small blame to 'em! The
men surrounded us, shaking our hands frantically. At once they
appropriated everything we or our gunbearers carried. One who got
left otherwise insisted on having Billy's parasol. Then we all
broke for camp at full speed, yelling like fiends, firing our
revolvers in the air. It was a grand entry, and a grand
reception. The rest of the camp poured out with wild shouts. The
dark forms thronged about us, teeth flashing, arms waving. And in
the background, under the shadows of the trees were the
Monumwezis, their formation regained, close gathered, heads bent,
two steps swaying to the right-stamp! two steps swaying to the
left-stamp!-the white wands gleaming, and the rumble of their
lion song rolling in an undertone:
"Goom zoop! goom zoop!"
XV. THE LION DANCE
We took our hot baths and sat down to supper most gratefully, for
we were tired. The long string of men, bearing each a log of
wood, filed in from the darkness to add to our pile of fuel.
Saa-sita and Shamba knelt and built the night fire. In a moment
the little flame licked up through the carefully arranged
structure. We finished the meal, and the boys whisked away the
Then out in the blackness beyond our little globe of light we
became aware of a dull confusion, a rustling to and fro. Through
the shadows the eye could guess at movement. The confusion
steadied to a kind of rhythm, and into the circle of the fire
came the group of Monumwezis. Again they were gathered together
in a compact little mass; but now they were bent nearly double,
and were stripped to the red blankets about their waists. Before
them writhed Sulimani, close to earth, darting irregularly now to
right, now to left, wriggling, spreading his arms abroad. He was
repeating over and over two phrases; or rather the same phrase
in two such different intonations that they seemed to convey
quite separate meanings.
"Ka soompeele?" he cried with a strongly appealing interrogation.
"Ka soompeele!" he repeated with the downward inflection of
And the bent men, their dark bodies gleaming in the firelight,
stamping in rhythm every third step, chorused in a deep rumbling
"Goom zoop! goom zoop!"
Thus they advanced; circled between us and the fire, and withdrew
to the half darkness, where tirelessly they continued the same
Hardly had they withdrawn when another group danced forward in
their places. These were the Kikuyus. They had discarded
completely their safari clothes, and now came forth dressed out
in skins, in strips of white cloth, with feathers, shells and
various ornaments. They carried white wands to represent spears,
and they sang their tribal lion song. A soloist delivered the
main argument in a high wavering minor and was followed by a deep
rumbling emphatic chorus of repetition, strongly accented so that
the sheer rhythm of it was most pronounced:
"An-gee a Ka ga An-gee a Ka ga An-gee a Ka ga Ki ya Ka ga Ka
ga an gee ya!"
Solemnly and loftily, their eyes fixed straight before them they
made the circle of the fire, passed before our chairs, and
withdrew to the half light. There, a few paces from the stamping,
crouching Monumwezis, they continued their performance.
The next to appear were the Wakambas. These were more
histrionic. They too were unrecognizable as our porters, for they
too had for the lion discarded their work-a-day garments in
favour of savage. They produced a pantomime of the day's doings,
very realistic indeed, ending with a half dozen of dark swaying
bodies swinging and shuddering in the long grass as lions, while
the "horses" wove in and out among the crouching forms, all done
to the beat of rhythm. Past us swept the hunt, and in its turn
melted into the half light.
The Kavirondos next appeared, the most fantastically caparisoned
of the lot, fine big black men, their eyes rolling with
excitement. They had captured our flag from its place before the
big tent, and were rallied close about this, dancing
fantastically. Before us they leaped and stamped and shook their
spears and shouted out their full-voiced song, while the other
three tribes danced each its specialty dimly in the background.
The dance thus begun lasted for fully two hours. Each tribe took a
turn before us, only to give way to the next. We had leisure to
notice minutiae, such as the ingenious tail one of the "lions"
had constructed from a sweater. As time went on, the men worked
themselves to a frenzy. From the serried ranks every once in a
while one would break forth with a shriek to rush headlong into
the fire, to beat the earth about him with his club, to rush over
to shake one of us violently by the hand, or even to seize one of
our feet between his two palms. Then with equal abruptness back
he darted to regain his place among the dancers. Wilder and
wilder became the movements, higher rose the voices. The mock
lion hunt grew more realistic, and the slaughter on both sides
something tremendous. Lower and lower crouched the Monumwezi,
drawing apart with their deep "goom"; drawing suddenly to a
common centre with the sharp "zoop!" Only the Kikuyus held their
lofty bearing as they rolled forth their chant, but the mounting
excitement showed in their tense muscles and the rolling of their
eyes. The sweat glistened on naked black and bronze bodies. Among
the Monumwezi to my astonishment I saw Memba Sasa, stripped like
the rest, and dancing with all abandon. The firelight leaped high
among the logs that eager hands cast on it; and the shadows it
threw from the swirling, leaping figures wavered out into a
great, calm darkness.
The night guard understood a little of the native languages, so
he stood behind our chairs and told us in Swahili the meaning of
some of the repeated phrases.
"This has been a glorious day; few safaris have had so glorious a
"The masters looked upon the fierce lions and did not run away."
"Brave men without other weapons will nevertheless kill with a
"The masters' mothers must be brave women, the masters are so
"The white woman went hunting, and so were many lions killed."
The last one pleased Billy. She felt that at last she was
We sat there spellbound by the weird savagery of the
spectacle-the great licking fire, the dancing, barbaric figures,
the rise and fall of the rhythm, the dust and shuffle, the ebb
and flow of the dance, the dim, half-guessed groups swaying in
the darkness-and overhead the calm tropic night.
At last, fairly exhausted, they stopped. Some one gave a signal.
The men all gathered in one group, uttered a final yell, very
like a cheer, and dispersed.
We called up the heroes of the day-Fundi and his companion-and
made a little speech, and bestowed appropriate reward. Then we
Fundi, as I have suggested, was built very much on the lines of
the marabout stork. He was about twenty years old, carried
himself very erect, and looked one straight in the eye. His total
assets when he came to us were a pair of raggedy white breeches,
very baggy, and an old mesh undershirt, ditto ditto. To this we
added a jersey, a red blanket, and a water bottle. At the first
opportunity he constructed himself a pair of rawhide sandals.
Throughout the first part of the trip he had applied himself to
business and carried his load. He never made trouble. Then he and
his companion saw five lions; and the chance Fundi had evidently
long been awaiting came to his hand. He ran himself almost into
coma, exhibited himself game, and so fell under our especial and
distinguished notice. After participating whole-heartedly in the
lion dance he and his companion were singled out for Our
Distinguished Favour, to the extent of five rupees per. Thus far
Fundi's history reads just like the history of any ordinary
Captain of Industry.
Next morning, after the interesting ceremony of rewarding the
worthy, we moved on to a new camp. When the line-up was called
for, lo! there stood Fundi, without a load, but holding firmly my
double-barrelled rifle. Evidently he had seized the chance of
favour-and the rifle-and intended to be no longer a porter but
a second gunbearer.
This looked interesting, so we said nothing. Fundi marched the
day through very proudly. At evening he deposited the rifle in
the proper place, and set to work with a will at raising the big
The day following he tried it again. It worked. The third day he
marched deliberately up past the syce to take his place near me.
And the fourth day, as we were going hunting, Fundi calmly fell
in with the rest. Nothing had been said, but Fundi had definitely
grasped his chance to rise from the ranks. In this he differed
from his companion in glory. That worthy citizen pocketed his five
rupees and was never heard from again; I do not even remember his
name nor how he looked.
I killed a buck of some sort, and Memba Sasa, as usual, stepped
forward to attend to the trophy. But I stopped him.
"Fundi," said I, "if you are a gunbearer, prepare this beast."
He stepped up confidently and set to work. I watched him closely.
He did it very well, without awkwardness, though he made one or
two minor mistakes in method.
"Have you done this before?" I inquired.
"How did you learn to do it?"
"I have watched the gunbearers when I was a porter bringing in
*Except in the greatest emergencies a gunbearer would never
think of carrying any sort of a burden.
This was pleasing, but it would never do, at this stage of the
game, to let him think so, neither on his own account nor that of
the real gunbearers.
"You will bring in meat today also," said I, for I was indeed a
little shorthanded, "and you will learn how to make the top
When we had reached camp I handed him the Springfield.
"Clean this," I told him.
He departed with it, returning it after a time for my inspection.
It looked all right. I catechized him on the method he had
employed-for high velocities require very especial
treatment-and found him letter perfect.
"You learned this also by watching?"
"Yes, bwana, I watched the gunbearers by the fire, evenings."
Evidently Fundi had been preparing for his chance.
Next day, as he walked alongside, I noticed that he had not
removed the leather cap, or sight protector, that covers the end
of the rifle and is fastened on by a leather thong. Immediately I
called a halt.
"Fundi," said I, "do you know that the cover should be in your
pocket? Suppose a rhinoceros jumps up very near at hand: how can
you get time to unlace the thong and hand me the rifle?"
He thrust the rifle at me suddenly. In some magical fashion the
sight cover had disappeared!
"I have thought of this," said he, "and I have tied the thong,
so, in order that it come away with one pull; and I snatch it
off, so, with my left hand while I am giving you the gun with my
right hand. It seemed good to keep the cover on, for there are
many branches, and the sight is very easy to injure."
Of course this was good sense, and most ingenious; Fundi bade
fair to be quite a boy, but the native African is very easily
spoiled. Therefore, although my inclination was strongly to
praise him, I did nothing of the sort.
"A gunbearer carries the gun away from the branches," was my only
Shortly after occurred an incident by way of deeper test. We were
all riding rather idly along the easy slope below the foothills.
The grass was short, so we thought we could see easily everything
there was to be seen; but, as we passed some thirty yards from a
small tree, an unexpected and unnecessary rhinoceros rose from an
equally unexpected and unnecessary green hollow beneath the tree,
and charged us. He made straight for Billy. Her mule,
panic-stricken, froze with terror in spite of Billy's attack with
a parasol. I spurred my own animal between her and the charging
brute, with some vague idea of slipping off the other side as the
rhino struck. F. and B. leaped from their own animals, and F.,
with a little .28 calibre rifle, took a hasty shot at the big
brute. Now, of course a .28 calibre rifle would hardly injure a
rhino, but the bullet happened to catch his right shoulder just
as he was about to come down on his right foot. The shock tripped
him up as neatly as though he had been upset by a rope. At the
same instant Billy's mule came to its senses and bolted,
whereupon I too jumped off. The whole thing took about two finger
snaps of time. At the instant I hit the ground, Fundi passed the
double rifle across the horse's back to me.
Note two things to the credit of Fundi: in the first place, he
had not bolted; in the second place, instead of running up to the
left side of my mount and perhaps colliding with and certainly
confusing me, he had come up on the right side and passed the
rifle to me ACROSS the horse. I do not know whether or not he had
figured this out beforehand, but it was cleverly done.
The rhinoceros rolled over and over, like a shot rabbit, kicked
for a moment, and came to his feet. We were now all ready for
him, in battle array, but he had evidently had enough. He turned
at right angles and trotted off, apparently-and probably-none
the worse for the little bullet in his shoulder.
Fundi now began acquiring things that he supposed befitting to
his dignity. The first of these matters was a faded fez, in which
he stuck a long feather. From that he progressed in worldly
wealth. How he got it all, on what credit, or with what hypnotic
power, I do not know. Probably he hypothecated his wages,
certainly he had his five rupees.
At any rate he started out with a ragged undershirt and a pair of
white, baggy breeches. He entered Nairobi at the end of the trip
with a cap, a neat khaki shirt, two water bottles, a cartridge
belt, a sash with a tasseI, a pair of spiral puttees, an old pair
of shoes, and a personal private small boy, picked up en route
from some of the savage tribes, to carry his cooking pot, make
his fires, draw his water, and generally perform his lordly
behests. This was indeed "more-than-oriental-splendour!"
>From now on Fundi considered himself my second gunbearer. I had
no use for him, but Fundi's development interested me, and I
wanted to give him a chance. His main fault at first was
eagerness. He had to be rapped pretty sharply and a good number
of times before he discovered that he really must walk in the
rear. His habit of calling my attention to perfectly obvious
things I cured by liberal sarcasm. His intense desire to take his
own line as perhaps opposed to mine when we were casting about on
trail, I abated kindly but firmly with the toe of my boot. His
evident but mistaken tendency to consider himself on an equality
with Memba Sasa we both squelched by giving him the hard and
dirty work to do. But his faults were never those of voluntary
omission, and he came on surprisingly; in fact so surprisingly
that he began to get quite cocky over it. Not that he was ever in
the least aggressive or disrespectful or neglectful-it would
have been easy to deal with that sort of thing-but he carried
his head pretty high, and evidently began to have mental
reservations. Fundi needed a little wholesome discipline. He was
forgetting his porter days, and was rapidly coming to consider
himself a full-fledged gunbearer.
The occasion soon arose. We were returning from a buffalo hunt
and ran across two rhinoceroses, one of which carried a splendid
horn. B. wanted a well developed specimen very much, so we took
this chance. The approach was easy enough, and at seventy yards
or so B. knocked her flat with a bullet from his .465 Holland.
The beast was immediately afoot, but was as promptly smothered by
shots from us all. So far the affair was very simple, but now
came complication. The second rhinoceros refused to leave. We did
not want to kill it, so we spent a lot of time and pains shooing
it away. We showered rocks and clods of earth in his direction;
we yelled sharply and whistled shrilly. The brute faced here and
there, his pig eyes blinking, his snout upraised, trying to
locate us, and declining to budge. At length he gave us up as
hopeless, and trotted away slowly. We let him go, and when we
thought he had quite departed, we approached to examine B.'s
Whereupon the other craftily returned; and charged us, snorting
like an engine blowing off steam. This was a genuine premeditated
charge, as opposed to a blind rush, and it is offered as a good
example of the sort.
The rhinoceros had come fairly close before we got into action.
He headed straight for F. and myself, with B. a little to one
side. Things happened very quickly. F. and I each planted a heavy
bullet in his head; while B. sent a lighter Winchester bullet
into the ribs. The rhino went down in a heap eleven yards away,
and one of us promptly shot him in the spine to finish him.
Personally I was entirely concentrated in the matter at hand-as
is always the way in crises requiring action-and got very few
impressions from anything outside. Nevertheless I imagined,
subconsciously that I had heard four shots. F. and B. disclaimed
more than one apiece, so I concluded myself mistaken, exchanged
my heavy rifle with Fundi for the lighter Winchester, and we
started for camp, leaving all the boys to attend to the dead
rhinos. At camp I threw down the lever of my Winchester-and drew
out an exploded shell!
Here was a double crime on Fundi's part. In the first place, he
had fired the gun, a thing no bearer is supposed ever to do in
any circumstances short of the disarmament and actual mauling of
his master. Naturally this is so, for the white man must be able
in an emergency to depend ABSOLUTELY on his second gun being
loaded and ready for his need. In the second place, Fundi had
given me an empty rifle to carry home. Such a weapon is worse
than none in case of trouble; at least I could have gone up a
tree in the latter case. I would have looked sweet snapping that
old cartridge at anything dangerous!
Therefore after supper we stationed ourselves in a row before the
fire, seated in our canvas chairs, and with due formality sent
word that we wanted all the gunbearers. They came and stood
before us. Memba Sasa erect, military, compact, looking us
straight in the eye; Mavrouki slightly bent forward, his face
alive with the little crafty, calculating smile peculiar to him;
Simba, tall and suave, standing with much social ease; and Fundi,
a trifle frightened, but uncertain as to whether or not he had
been found out.
We stated the matter in a few words.
"Gunbearers, this man Fundi, when the rhinoceros charged, fired
Winchi. Was this the work of a gunbearer?"
The three seasoned men looked at each other with shocked
astonishment that such depravity could exist.
"And being frightened, he gave back Winchi with the exploded
cartridge in her. Was that the work of a gunbearer?"
"No, bwana," said Fundi humbly.
"You, the gunbearers, have been called because we wish to know
what should be done with this man Fundi."
It should be here explained that it is not customary to kiboko,
or flog, men of the gunbearer class. They respect themselves and
their calling, and would never stand that sort of punishment.
When one blunders, a sarcastic scolding is generally sufficient;
a more serious fault may be punished on the spot by the white
man's fist; or a really bad dereliction may cause the man's
instant degradation from the post. With this in mind we had
called the council of gunbearers. Memba Sasa spoke.
"Bwana," said he, "this man is not a true gunbearer. He is no
longer a true porter. He carries a gun in the field, like a
gunbearer; and he knows much of the duty of gunbearer. Also he
does not run away nor climb trees. But he carries in the meat;
and he is not a real gunbearer. He is half porter and half
"What punishment shall he have?"
"Kiboko," said they.
"Thank you. Bass!"
They went, leaving Fundi. We surveyed him, quietly.
"You a gunbearer!" said we at last. "Memba Sasa says you are half
gunbearer. He was wrong. You are all porter; and you know no more
than they do. It is in our mind to put you back to carrying a
load. If you do not wish to taste the kiboko, you can take a load
"The kiboko, bwana," pleaded Fundi, very abashed and humble.
"Furthermore," we added crushingly, "you did not even hit the
So with all ceremony he got the kiboko. The incident did him a
lot of good, and toned down his exuberance somewhat. Nevertheless
he still required a good deal of training, just as does a
promising bird dog in its first season. Generally his faults were
of over-eagerness. Indeed, once he got me thoroughly angry in
face of another rhinoceros by dancing just out of reach with the
heavy rifle, instead of sticking close to me where I could get at
him. I temporarily forgot the rhino, and advanced on Fundi with
the full intention of knocking his fool head off. Whereupon this
six feet something of most superb and insolent pride wilted down
to a small boy with his elbow before his face.
"Don't hit, bwana! Don't hit!" he begged.
The whole thing was so comical, especially with Memba Sasa
standing by virtuous and scornful, that I had hard work to keep
from laughing. Fortunately the rhinoceros behaved himself.
The proud moment of Fundi's life was when safari entered Nairobi
at the end of the first expedition. He had gone forth with a load
on his head, rags on his back, and his only glory was the
self-assumed one of the name he had taken-Fundi, the Expert. He
returned carrying a rifle, rigged from top to toe in new garments
and fancy accoutrements, followed by a toro, or small boy, he had
bought from some of the savage tribes to carry his blanket and
cooking pot for him. To the friends who darted out to the line of
march, he was gracious, but he held his head high, and had no
time for mere persiflage.
I did not take Fundi on my second expedition, for I had no real
use for a second gunbearer. Several times subsequently I saw him
on the streets of Nairobi. Always he came up to greet me, and ask
solicitously if I would not give him a job. This I was unable to
do. When we paid off, I had made an addition to his porter's
wages, and had written him a chit. This said that the boy had the
makings of a gunbearer with further training. It would have been
unfair to possible white employers to have said more. Fundi was,
when I left the country, precisely in the position of any young
man who tries to rise in the world. He would not again take a
load as porter, and he was not yet skilled enough or known enough
to pick up more than stray jobs as gunbearer. Before him was
struggle and hard times, with a certainty of a highly considered
profession if he won through. Behind him was steady work without
outlets for ambition. It was distinctly up to him to prove
whether he had done well to reach for ambition, or whether he
would have done better in contentment with his old lot. And that
is in essence a good deal like our own world isn't it?
Up to this time, save for a few Masai at the very beginning of
our trip, we had seen no natives at all. Only lately, the night
of the lion dance, one of the Wanderobo-the forest hunters-had
drifted in to tell us of buffalo and to get some meat. He was a
simple soul, small and capable, of a beautiful red-brown, with
his hair done up in a tight, short queue. He wore three skewers
about six inches long thrust through each of his ears, three
strings of blue beads on his neck, a bracelet tight around his
upper arm, a bangle around his ankle, a pair of rawhide sandals,
and about a half yard of cotton cloth which he hung from one
shoulder. As weapons he carried a round-headed, heavy club, or
runga, and a long-bladed spear. He led us to buffalo, accepted a
thirty-three cent blanket, and made fire with two sticks in about
thirty seconds. The only other evidences of human life we had
come across were a few beehives suspended in the trees. These
were logs, bored hollow and stopped at either end. Some of them
were very quaintly carved. They hung in the trees like strange
Now, however, after leaving the Isiola, we were to quit the game
country and for days travel among the swarming millions of the
A few preliminary and entirely random observations may be
permitted me by way of clearing the ground for a conception of
these people. These observations do not pretend to be
ethnological, nor even common logical.
The first thing for an American to realize is that our own negro
population came mainly from the West Coast, and differed utterly
from these peoples of the highlands in the East. Therefore one
must first of all get rid of the mental image of our own negro
"dressed up" in savage garb. Many of these tribes are not negro
at all-the Somalis, the Nandi, and the Masai, for example-while
others belong to the negroid and Nilotic races. Their colour is
general cast more on the red-bronze than the black, though the
Kavirondos and some others are black enough. The texture of their
skin is very satiny and wonderful. This perfection is probably
due to the constant anointing of the body with oils of various
sorts. As a usual thing they are a fine lot physically. The
southern Masai will average between six and seven feet in height,
and are almost invariably well built. Of most tribes the physical
development is remarkably strong and graceful; and a great many
of the women will display a rounded, firm, high-breasted physique
in marked contrast to the blacks of the lowlands. Of the
different tribes possibly the Kikuyus are apt to count the most
weakly and spindly examples: though some of these people, perhaps
a majority, are well made.
Furthermore, the native differentiates himself still further in
impression from our negro in his carriage and the mental attitude
that lies behind it. Our people are trying to pattern themselves
on white men, and succeed in giving a more or less shambling
imitation thereof. The native has standards, ideas, and ideals
that perfectly satisfy him, and that antedated the white man's
coming by thousands of years. The consciousness of this reflects
itself in his outward bearing. He does not shuffle; he is not
either obsequious or impudent. Even when he acknowledges the
white man's divinity and pays it appropriate respect, he does not
lose the poise of his own well-worked-out attitude toward life
and toward himself.
We are fond of calling these people primitive. In the world's
standard of measurement they are primitive, very primitive
indeed. But ordinarily by that term, we mean also undeveloped,
embryonic. In that sense we are wrong. Instead of being at the
very dawn of human development, these people are at the end-as
far as they themselves are concerned. The original racial impulse
that started them down the years toward development has fulfilled
its duty and spent its force. They have worked out all their
problems, established all their customs, arranged the world and
its phenomena in a philosophy to their complete satisfaction.
They have lived, ethnologists tell us, for thousands, perhaps
hundreds of thousands of years, just as we find them to-day. From
our standpoint that is in a hopeless intellectual darkness, for
they know absolutely nothing of the most elementary subjects of
knowledge. From their standpoint, however, they have reached the
highest DESIRABLE pinnacle of human development. Nothing remains
to be changed. Their customs, religions, and duties have been
worked out and immutably established long ago; and nobody dreams
of questioning either their wisdom or their imperative necessity.
They are the conservatives of the world.
Nor must we conclude-looking at them with the eyes of our own
civilization-that the savage is, from his standpoint, lazy and
idle. His life is laid out more rigidly than ours will be for a
great many thousands of years. From childhood to old age he
performs his every act in accord with prohibitions and
requirements. He must remember them all; for ignorance does not
divert consequences. He must observe them all; in pain of
terrible punishments. For example, never may he cultivate on the
site of a grave; and the plants that spring up from it must never
be cut.* He must make certain complicated offerings before
venturing to harvest a crop. On crossing the first stream of a
journey he must touch his lips with the end of his wetted bow,
wade across, drop a stone on the far side, and then drink. If he
cuts his nails, he must throw the parings into a thicket. If he
drink from a stream, and also cross it, he must eject a mouthful
of water back into the stream. He must be particularly careful
not to look his mother-in-law in the face. Hundreds of omens by
the manner of their happening may modify actions, as, on what
side of the road a woodpecker calls, or in which direction a hyena
or jackal crosses the path, how the ground hornbill flies or
alights, and the like. He must notice these things, and change
his plans according to their occurrence. If he does not notice
them, they exercise their influence just the same. This does not
encourage a distrait mental attitude. Also it goes far to explain
otherwise unexplainable visitations. Truly, as Hobley says in his
unexcelled work on the A-Kamba, "the life of a savage native is a
complex matter, and he is hedged round by all sorts of rules and
prohibitions, the infringement of which will probably cause his
death, if only by the intense belief he has in the rules which
guide his life."
*Customs are not universal among the different tribes. I am
For these rules and customs he never attempts to give a reason.
They are; and that is all there is to it. A mere statement: "This
is the custom" settles the matter finally. There is no necessity,
nor passing thought even, of finding any logical cause. The
matter was worked out in the mental evolution of remote
ancestors. At that time, perhaps, insurgent and Standpatter,
Conservative and Radical fought out the questions of the day, and
the Muckrakers swung by their tails and chattered about it.
Those days are all long since over. The questions of the world
are settled forever. The people have passed through the struggles
of their formative period to the ultimate highest perfection of
adjustment to material and spiritual environment of which they
were capable under the influence of their original racial force.
Parenthetically, it is now a question whether or not an added
impulse can be communicated from without. Such an impulse must
(a) unsettle all the old beliefs, (b) inspire an era of
skepticism, (c) reintroduce the old struggle of ideas between the
Insurgent and the Standpatter, and Radical and the Conservative,
(d) in the meantime furnish, from the older civilization,
materials, both in the thought-world and in the object-world, for
building slowly a new set of customs more closely approximating
those we are building for ourselves. This is a longer and slower
and more complicated affair than teaching the native to wear
clothes and sing hymns; or to build houses and drink gin; but it
is what must be accomplished step by step before the African
peoples are really civilized. I, personally, do not think it can
Now having, a hundred thousand years or so ago, worked out the
highest good of the human race, according to them, what must they
say to themselves and what must their attitude be when the white
man has come and has unrolled his carpet of wonderful tricks? The
dilemma is evident. Either we, as black men, must admit that our
hundred-thousand-year-old ideas as to what constitutes the
highest type of human relation to environment is all wrong, or
else we must evolve a new attitude toward this new phenomena. It
is human nature to do the latter. Therefore the native has not
abandoned his old gods; nor has he adopted a new. He still
believes firmly that his way is the best way of doing things, but
he acknowledges the Superman.
To the Superman, with all races, anything is possible. Only our
Superman is an idea, and ideal. The native has his Superman
before him in the actual flesh.
We will suppose that our own Superman has appeared among us,
accomplishing things that apparantly contravene all our
established tenets of skill, of intellect, of possibility. It
will be readily acknowledged that such an individual would at
first create some astonishment. He wanders into a crowded hotel
lobby, let us say, evidently with the desire of going to the bar.
Instead of pushing laboriously through the crowd, he floats just
above their heads, gets his drink, and floats out again! That is
levitation, and is probably just as simple to him as striking a
match is to you and me. After we get thoroughly accustomed to him
and his life, we are no longer vastly astonished, though always
interested, at the various manifestations of his extraordinary
powers. We go right along using the marvellous wireless,
aeroplanes, motor cars, constructive machinery, and the like that
make us confident-justly, of course-in that we are about the
smartest lot of people on earth. And if we see red, white, and
blue streamers of light crossing the zenith at noon, we do not
manifest any very profound amazement. "There's that confounded
Superman again," we mutter, if we happen to be busy. "I wonder
what stunt he's going to do now!"
A consideration of the above beautiful fable may go a little way
toward explaining the supposed native stolidity in the face of
the white man's wonders. A few years ago some misguided person
brought a balloon to Nairobi. The balloon interested the white
people a lot, but everybody was chiefly occupied wondering what
the natives would do when they saw THAT! The natives did not do
anything. They gathered in large numbers, and most interestedly
watched it go up, and then went home again. But they were not
stricken with wonder to any great extent. So also with
locomotives, motor cars, telephones, phonographs-any of our
modern ingenuities. The native is pleased and entertained, but
not astonished. "Stupid creature, no imagination," say we,
because our pride in showing off is a wee bit hurt.
Why should he be astonished? His mental revolution took place
when he saw the first match struck. It is manifestly impossible
for any one to make fire instantaneously by rubbing one small
stick. When for the first time he saw it done, he was indeed
vastly astounded. The immutable had been changed. The law had
been transcended. The impossible had been accomplished. And then,
as logical sequence, his mind completed the syllogism. If the
white man can do this impossibility, why not all the rest? To
defy the laws of nature by flying in the air or forcing great
masses of iron to transport one, is no more wonderful than to
defy them by striking a light. Since the white man can provedly
do one, what earthly reason exists why he should not do anything
else that hits his fancy? There is nothing to get astonished at.
This does not necessarily mean that the native looks on the white
man as a god. On the contrary, your African is very shrewd in the
reading of character. But indubitably white men possess great
magic, uncertain in its extent.
That is as far as I should care to go, without much deeper
acquaintance, into the attitude of the native mind toward the
whites. A superficial study of it, beyond the general principals
I have enunciated, discloses many strange contradictions. The
native respects the white man's warlike skill, he respects his
physical prowess, he certainly acknowledges tacitly his moral
superiority in the right to command. In case of dispute he likes
the white man's adjudication; in case of illness the man's
medicine; in case of trouble the white man's sustaining hand. Yet
he almost never attempts to copy the white man's appearance or
ways of doing things. His own savage customs and habits he
fulfils with as much pride as ever in their eternal fitness. Once
I was badgering Memba Sasa, asking him whether he thought the
white skin or the black skin the more ornamental. "You are not
white," he retorted at last. "That," pointing to a leaf of my
notebook, "is white. You are red. I do not like the looks of red
They call our speech the "snake language," because of its hissing
sound. Once this is brought to your attention, indeed, you cannot
help noticing the superabundance of the sibilants.
A queer melange the pigeonholes of an African's brain must
contain-fear and respect, strongly mingled with clear estimate
of intrinsic character of individuals and a satisfaction with his
Nor, I think, do we realize sufficiently the actual fundamental
differences between the African and our peoples. Physically they
must be in many ways as different from our selves as though they
actually belonged to a different species. The Masai are a fine
big race, enduring, well developed and efficient. They live
exclusively on cow's milk mixed with blood; no meat, no fruit, no
vegetables, no grain; just that and nothing more. Obviously they
must differ from us most radically, or else all our dietetic
theories are wrong. It is a well-known fact that any native
requires a triple dose of white man's medicine. Furthermore a
native's sensitiveness to pain is very much less than the white
man's. This is indubitable. For example, the Wakamba file-or,
rather, chip, by means of a small chisel-all their front teeth
down to needle points, When these happen to fall out, the warrior
substitutes an artificial tooth which he drives down into the
socket. If the savage got the same effects from such a
performance that a white man's dental system would arouse, even
"savage stoicism" would hardly do him much good. There is nothing
to be gained by multiplying examples. Every African traveller can
recall a thousand.
Incidentally, and by the way, I want to add to the milk-and-blood
joke on dietetics another on the physical culturists. We are all
familiar with the wails over the loss of our toe nails. You know
what I mean; they run somewhat like this: shoes are the curse of
civilization; if we wear them much longer we shall not only lose
the intended use of our feet, but we shall lose our toe nails as
well; the savage man, etc. , etc. , etc. Now I saw a great many of
said savage men in Africa, and I got much interested in their toe
nails, because I soon found that our own civilized "imprisoned"
toe nails were very much better developed. In fact, a large
number of the free and untramelled savages have hardly any toe
nails at all! Whether this upsets a theory, nullifies a
sentimental protest, or merely stands as an exception, I should
not dare guess. But the fact is indubitable.
XVIII. IN THE JUNGLE (a) THE MARCH TO MERU
Now, one day we left the Isiola River and cut across on a long
upward slant to the left. In a very short time we had left the
plains, and were adrift in an ocean of brown grass that concealed
all but the bobbing loads atop the safari, and over which we
could only see when mounted. It was glorious feed, apparently,
but it contained very few animals for all that. An animal could
without doubt wax fat and sleek therein: but only to furnish
light and salutary meals to beasts of prey. Long grass makes easy
stalking. We saw a few ostriches, some giraffe, and three or four
singly adventurous oryx. The ripening grasses were softer than a
rippling field grain; and even more beautiful in their umber and
browns. Although apparently we travelled a level, nevertheless in
the extreme distance the plains of our hunting were dropping
below, and the far off mountains were slowly rising above the
horizon. On the other side were two very green hills, looking
nearly straight up and down, and through a cleft the splintered
snow-clad summit of Mt. Kenia.
At length this gentle foothill slope broke over into rougher
country. Then, in the pass, we came upon many parallel beaten
paths, wider and straighter than the game trails-native tracks.
That night we camped in a small, round valley under some glorious
trees, with green grass around us; a refreshing contrast after
the desert brown. In the distance ahead stood a big hill, and at
its base we could make out amid the tree-green, the straight slim
smoke of many fires and the threads of many roads.
We began our next morning's march early, and we dropped over the
hill into a wide, cultivated valley. Fields of grain, mostly
rape, were planted irregularly among big scattered trees. The
morning air, warming under the sun, was as yet still, and carried
sound well. The cooing, chattering and calling of thousands of
birds mingled with shouts and the clapping together of pieces of
wood. As we came closer we saw that every so often scaffolds had
been erected overlooking the grain, and on these scaffolds naked
boys danced and yelled and worked clappers to scare the birds
from the crops. They seemed to put a great deal of rigour into
the job; whether from natural enthusiasm or efficient direful
supervision I could not say. Certainly they must have worked in
watches, however; no human being could keep up that row
continuously for a single day, let alone the whole season of
ripening grain. As we passed they fell silent and stared their
On the banks of a boggy little stream that we had to flounder
across we came on a gentleman and lady travelling. They were a
tall, well formed pair, mahogany in colour, with the open,
pleasant expression of most of these jungle peoples. The man wore
a string around his waist into which was thrust a small leafy
branch; the woman had on a beautiful skirt made by halving a
banana leaf, using the stem as belt, and letting the leaf part
hang down as a skirt. Shortly after meeting these people we
turned sharp to the right on a well beaten road.
For nearly two weeks we were to follow this road, so it may be as
well to get an idea of it. Its course was a segment of about a
sixth of the circle of Kenia's foothills. With Kenia itself as a
centre, this road swung among the lower elevations about the base
of that great mountain. Its course was mainly down and up
hundreds of the canyons radiating from the main peak, and over the
ridges between them. No sooner were we down, than we had to climb
up; and no sooner were we up, than once more down we had to
plunge. At times, however, we crossed considerable plateaus. Most
of this country was dense jungle, so dense that we could not see
on either side more than fifteen or twenty feet. Occasionally,
atop the ridges, however, we would come upon small open parks. In
these jungles live millions of human beings.
At once, as soon as we had turned into the main road, we began to
meet people. In the grain fields of the valley we saw only the
elevated boys, and a few men engaged in weaving a little house
perched on stilts. We came across some of these little houses all
completed, with conical roofs. They were evidently used for
granaries. As we mounted the slope on the other side, however,
the trees closed in, and we found ourselves marching down the
narrow aisle of the jungle itself.
It was a dense and beautiful jungle, with very tall trees and the
deepest shade; and the impenetrable tangle to the edge of the
track. Among the trees were the broad leaves of bananas and
palms, the fling of leafy vines. Over the track these leaned, so
that we rode through splashing and mottling shade. Nothing could
have seemed wilder than this apparently impenetrable and yet we
had ridden but a short distance before we realized that we were
in fact passing through cultivated land. It was, again, only a
difference in terms. Native cultivation in this district rarely
consists of clearing land and planting crops in due order, but in
leaving the forest proper as it is, and in planting foodstuffs
haphazard wherever a tiny space can be made for even three hills
of corn or a single banana. Thus they add to rather than subtract
from the typical density of the jungle. At first, we found, it
took some practice to tell a farm when we saw it.
>From the track narrow little paths wound immediately out of
sight. Sometimes we saw a wisp of smoke rising above the
undergrowth and eddying in the tops of the trees. Long vine ropes
swung from point to point, hung at intervals with such matters as
feathers, bones, miniature shields, carved sticks, shells and
clappers: either as magic or to keep off the birds. From either
side the track we were conscious always of bright black eyes
watching us. Sometimes we caught a glimpse of their owners
crouched in the bush, concealed behind banana leaves, motionless
and straight against a tree trunk. When they saw themselves
observed they vanished without a sound.
The upper air was musical with birds, and bright with the flutter
of their wings. Rarely did we see them long enough to catch a
fair idea of their size and shape. They flashed from shade to
shade, leaving only an impression of brilliant colour. There were
some exceptions: as the widower-bird, dressed all in black, with
long trailing wing-plumes of which he seemed very proud; and the
various sorts of green pigeons and parrots. There were many
flowering shrubs and trees, and the air was laden with perfume.
Strange, too, it seemed to see tall trees with leaves three or
four feet long and half as many wide.
We were riding a mile or so ahead of the safari. At first we were
accompanied only by our gunbearers and syces. Before long,
however, we began to accumulate a following.
This consisted at first of a very wonderful young man, probably a
chief's son. He carried a long bright spear, wore a short sword
thrust through a girdle, had his hair done in three wrapped
queues, one over each temple and one behind, and was generally
brought to a high state of polish by means of red earth and oil.
About his knee he wore a little bell that jingled pleasingly at
every step. From one shoulder hung a goat-skin cloak embroidered
with steel beads. A small package neatly done up in leaves
probably contained his lunch. He teetered along with a mincing up
and down step, every movement, and the expression of his face
displaying a fatuous self-satisfaction. When we looked back again
this youth had magically become two. Then appeared two women and
a white goat. All except the goat were dressed for visiting, with
long chains of beads, bracelets and anklets, and heavy ornaments
in the distended ear lobes. The manner people sprang apparently
out of the ground was very disconcerting. It was a good deal like
those fairy-story moving pictures where a wave of the wand
produces beautiful ladies. By half an hour we had acquired a long
retinue-young warriors, old men, women and innumerable children.
After we had passed, the new recruits stepped quietly from the
shadow of the jungle and fell in. Every one with nothing much to
do evidently made up his mind he might as well go to Meru now as
any other time.
Also we met a great number of people going in the other
direction. Women were bearing loads of yams. Chiefs' sons minced
along, their spears poised in their left hands at just the proper
angle, their bangles jingling, their right hands carried raised
in a most affected manner. Their social ease was remarkable,
especially in contrast with the awkwardness of the lower
poverty-stricken or menial castes. The latter drew one side to
let us pass, and stared. Our chiefs' sons, on the other hand,
stepped springingly and beamingly forward; spat carefully in
their hands (we did the same); shook hands all down the line:
exchanged a long-drawn "moo-o-ga!" with each of us; and departed
at the same springing rapid gait. The ordinary warriors greeted
us, but did not offer to shake hands, thank goodness! There were
a great many of them. Across the valleys and through the open
spaces the sun, as it struck down the trail, was always flashing
back from distant spears. Twice we met flocks of sheep being
moved from one point to another. Three or four herdsmen and
innumerable small boys seemed to be in charge. Occasionally we
met a real chief or headman of a village, distinguished by the
fact that he or a servant carried a small wooden stool. With
these dignitaries we always stopped to exchange friendly words.
These comprised the travelling public. The resident public also
showed itself quite in evidence. Once our retainers had become
sufficiently numerous to inspire confidence, the jungle people no
longer hid. On the contrary, they came out to the very edge of
the track to exchange greetings. They were very good-natured,
exceedingly well-formed, and quite jocular with our boys.
Especially did our suave and elegant Simba sparkle. This resident
public, called from its daily labours and duties, did not always
show as gaudy a make-up as did the dressed-up travelling public.
Banana leaves were popular wear, and seemed to us at once pretty
and fresh. To be sure some had rather withered away; but even
wool will shrink. We saw some grass skirts, like the
At noon we stopped under a tree by a little stream for lunch.
Before long a dozen women were lined up in front of us staring at
Billy with all their might. She nodded and smiled at them.
Thereupon they sent one of their number away. The messenger
returned after a few moments carrying a bunch of the small eating
bananas which she laid at our feet. Billy fished some beads out
of her saddle bags, and presented them. Friendly relations having
been thus fully established, two or three of the women scurried
hastily away, to return a few moments later each with her small
child. To these infants they carefully and earnestly pointed out
Billy and her wonders, talking in a tongue unknown to us. The
admonition undoubtedly ran something like this:
"Now, my child, look well at this: for when you get to be a very
old person you will be able to look back at the day when with
your own eyes you beheld a white woman. See all the strange
things she wears-and HASN'T she a funny face?"
We offered these bung-eyed and totally naked youngsters various
bribes in the way of beads, the tinfoil from chocolate, and even
a small piece of the chocolate itself. Most of them howled and
hid their faces against their mothers. The mothers looked
scandalized, and hypocritically astounded, and mortified.
They made remarks, still in an unknown language, but which much
past experience enabled me to translate very readily:
"I don't know what has got into little Willie," was the drift of
it. "I have never known him to act this way before. Why, only
yesterday I was saying to his father that it really seemed as
though that child NEVER cried-"
It made me feel quite friendly and at home.
Now at last came two marvellous and magnificent personages before
whom the women and children drew back to a respectful distance.
These potentates squatted down and smiled at us engagingly.
Evidently this was a really important couple, so we called up
Simba, who knew the language, and had a talk.
They were old men, straight, and very tall, with the hawk-faced,
high-headed dignity of the true aristocrat. Their robes were
voluminous, of some short-haired skins, beautifully embroidered.
Around their arms were armlets of polished buffalo horn. They
wore most elaborate ear ornaments, and long cased marquise rings
extending well beyond the first joints of the fingers. Very fine
old gentlemen. They were quite unarmed.
After appropriate greetings, we learned that these were the chief
and his prime minister of a nearby village hidden in the jungle.
We exchanged polite phrases; then offered tobacco. This was
accepted. From the jungle came a youth carrying more bananas. We
indicated our pleasure. The old men arose with great dignity and
departed, sweeping the women and children before them.
We rode on. Our acquired retinue, which had waited at a
respectful distance, went on too. I suppose they must have
desired the prestige of being attached to Our Persons. In the
depths of the forest Billy succumbed to the temptation to
bargain, and made her first trade. Her prize was a long water
gourd strapped with leather and decorated with cowry shells. Our
boys were completely scandalized at the price she paid for it, so
I fear the wily savage got ahead of her.
About the middle of the afternoon we sat down to wait for the
safari to catch up. It would never do to cheat our boys out of
their anticipated grand entrance to the Government post at Meru.
We finally debouched from the forest to the great clearing at the
head of a most impressive procession, flags flying, oryx horns
blowing, boys chanting and beating the sides of their loads with
the safari sticks. As there happened to be gathered, at this
time, several thousand of warriors for the purpose of a council,
or shauri, with the District Commissioner we had just the
audience to delight our barbaric hearts.
The Government post at Meru is situated in a clearing won from the
forest on the first gentle slopes of Kenia's ranges. The clearing
is a very large one, and on it the grass grows green and short,
like a lawn. It resembles, as much as anything else, the rolling,
beautiful downs of a first-class country club, and the illusion
is enhanced by the Commissioner's house among some trees atop a
hill. Well-kept roadways railed with rustic fences lead from the
house to the native quarters lying in the hollow and to the
Government offices atop another hill. Then also there are the
quarters of the Nubian troops; round low houses with conical
These, and the presence everywhere of savages, rather take away
from the first country-club effect. A corral seemed full of a
seething mob of natives; we found later that this was the market,
a place of exchange. Groups wandered idly here and there across
the greensward; and other groups sat in circles under the shade
of trees, each man's spear stuck in the ground behind him. At
stated points were the Nubians, fine, tall, black, soldierly men,
with red fez, khaki shirt, and short breeches, bare knees and
feet, spiral puttees, and a broad red sash of webbing. One of
these soldiers assigned us a place to camp. We directed our
safari there, and then immediately rode over to pay our respects
to the Commissioner.
The latter, Horne by name, greeted us with the utmost cordiality,
and offered us cool drinks. Then we accompanied him to a grand
shauri or council of chiefs.
Horne was a little chap, dressed in flannels and a big slouch
hat, carrying only a light rawhide whip, with very little of the
dignity and "side" usually considered necessary in dealing with
wild natives. The post at Meru had been established only two
years, among a people that had always been very difficult, and
had only recently ceased open hostilities. Nevertheless in that
length of time Horne's personal influence had won them over to
positive friendliness. He had, moreover, done the entire
construction work of the post itself; and this we now saw to be
even more elaborate than we had at first realized. Irrigating
ditches ran in all directions brimming with clear mountain water;
the roads and paths were rounded, graded and gravelled; the
houses were substantial, well built and well kept; fences, except
of course the rustic, were whitewashed; the native quarters and
"barracks" were well ranged and in perfect order. The place
looked ten years old instead of only two.
We followed Horne to an enclosure, outside the gate of which were
stacked a great number of spears. Inside we found the owners of
those spears squatted before the open side of a small,
three-walled building containing a table and a chair. Horne
placed himself in the chair, lounged back, and hit the table
smartly with his rawhide whip. From the centre of the throng an
old man got up and made quite a long speech. When he had finished
another did likewise. All was carried out with the greatest
decorum. After four or five had thus spoken, Horne, without
altering his lounging attitude, spoke twenty or thirty words,
rapped again on the table with his rawhide whip, and immediately
came over to us.
"Now," said he cheerfully, "we'll have a game of golf."
That was amusing, but not astonishing. Most of us have at one
time or another laid out a scratch hole or so somewhere in the
vacant lot. We returned to the house, Horne produced a
sufficiency of clubs, and we sallied forth. Then came the surprise
of our life! We played eighteen holes-eighteen, mind you-over
an excellently laid-out and kept-up course! The fair greens were
cropped short and smooth by a well-managed small herd of sheep;
the putting greens were rolled, and in perfect order; bunkers had
been located at the correct distances; there were water hazards
in the proper spots. In short, it was a genuine, scientific,
well-kept golf course. Over it played Horne, solitary except on
the rare occasions when he and his assistant happened to be at
the post at the same time. The nearest white man was six days'
journey; the nearest small civilization 196 miles.* The whole
affair was most astounding.
*Which was, in turn, over three hundred miles from the next.
Our caddies were grinning youngsters a good deal like the Gold
Dust Twins. They wore nothing but our golf bags. Afield were
other supernumerary caddies: one in case we sliced, one in case
we pulled, and one in case we drove straight ahead. Horne
explained that unlimited caddies were easier to get than
unlimited golf balls. I can well believe it.
F. joined forces with Horne against B. and me for a grand
international match. I regret to state that America was defeated
by two holes.
We returned to find our camp crowded with savages. In a short
time we had established trade relations and were doing a brisk
business. Two years before we should have had to barter
exclusively; but now, thanks to Horne's attempt to collect an
annual hut tax, money was some good. We had, however, very good
luck with bright blankets and cotton cloth. Our beads did not
happen here to be in fashion. Probably three months earlier or
later we might have done better with them. The feminine mind here
differs in no basic essential from that of civilization. Fashions
change as rapidly, as often and as completely in the jungle as in
Paris. The trader who brings blue beads when blue beads have
"gone out" might just as well have stayed at home. We bought a
number of the pretty "marquise" rings for four cents apiece (our
money), some war clubs or rungas for the same, several spears,
armlets, stools and the like. Billy thought one of the short,
soft skin cloaks embroidered with steel beads might be nice to
hang on the wall. We offered a youth two rupees for one. This
must have been a high price, for every man in hearing of the
words snatched off his cloak and rushed forward holding it out.
As that reduced his costume to a few knick-knacks, Billy retired
from the busy mart until we could arrange matters.
We dined with Horne. His official residence was most interesting.
The main room was very high to beams and a grass-thatched roof,
with a well-brushed earth floor covered with mats. It contained
comfortable furniture, a small library, a good phonograph,
tables, lamps and the like. When the mountain chill descended,
Horne lit a fire in a coal-oil can with a perforated bottom. What
little smoke was produced by the clean burning wood lost itself
far aloft. Leopard skins and other trophies hung on the wall. We
dined in another room at a well-appointed table. After dinner we
sat up until the unheard of hour of ten o'clock discussing at
length many matters that interested us. Horne told us of his
personal bodyguard consisting of one son from each chief of his
wide district. These youths were encouraged to make as good an
appearance as possible, and as a consequence turned out in the
extreme of savage gorgeousness. Horne spoke of them carelessly
as a "matter of policy in keeping the different tribes well
disposed," but I thought he was at heart a little proud of them.
Certainly, later and from other sources, we heard great tales of
their endurance, devotion and efficiency. Also we heard that
Horne had cut in half his six months' leave (earned by three
years' continuous service in the jungle) to hurry back from
England because he could not bear the thought of being absent
from the first collection of the hut tax! He is a good man.
We said good-night to him and stepped from the lighted house into
the vast tropical night. The little rays of our lantern showed us
the inequalities of the ground, and where to step across the
bubbling, little irrigation streams. But thousands of stars
insisted on a simplification. The broad, rolling meadows of the
clearing lay half guessed in the dim light; and about its edge
was the velvet band of the forest, dark and mysterious,
stretching away for leagues into the jungle. From it near at
hand, far away, came the rhythmic beating of solemn great drums,
and the rising and falling chants of the savage peoples.
(C) THE CHIEFS
We left Meru well observed by a very large audience, much to the
delight of our safari boys, who love to show off. We had acquired
fourteen more small boys, or totos, ranging in age from eight to
twelve years. These had been fitted out by their masters to
alleviate their original shenzi appearance of savagery. Some had
ragged blankets, which they had already learned to twist turban
wise around their heads; others had ragged old jerseys reaching
to their knees, or the wrecks of full-grown undershirts; one or
two even sported baggy breeches a dozen sizes too large. Each
carried his little load, proudly, atop his head like a real
porter, sufurias or cooking pots, the small bags of potio, and
the like. Inside a mile they had gravitated together and with the
small boy's relish for imitation and for playing a game, had
completed a miniature safari organization of their own.
Thenceforth they marched in a compact little company, under
orders of their "headman." They marched very well, too, straight
and proud and tireless. Of course we inspected their loads to see
that they were not required to carry too much for their strength;
but, I am bound to say, we never discovered an attempt at
overloading. In fact, the toto brigade was treated very well
indeed. M'ganga especially took great interest in their education
and welfare. One of my most vivid camp recollections is that of
M'ganga, very benign and didactic, seated on a chop box and
holding forth to a semicircle of totos squatted on the ground
before him. On reaching camp totos had several clearly defined
duties: they must pick out good places for their masters'
individual camps, they must procure cooking stones, they must
collect kindling wood and start fires, they must fill the
sufurias with water and set them over to boil. In the meantime,
their masters were attending to the pitching of the bwana's camp.
The rest of the time the toto played about quite happily, and did
light odd jobs, or watched most attentively while his master
showed him small details of a safari-boy's duty, or taught him
simple handicraft. Our boys seemed to take great pains with
their totos and to try hard to teach them.
Also at Meru we had acquired two cocks and four hens of the
ridiculously small native breed. These rode atop the loads: their
feet were tied to the cords and there they swayed and teetered
and balanced all day long, apparently quite happy and interested.
At each new camp site they were released and went scratching and
clucking around among the tents. They lent our temporary quarters
quite a settled air of domesticity. We named the cocks Gaston and
Alphonse and somehow it was rather fine, in the blackness before
dawn, to hear these little birds crowing stout-heartedly against
the great African wilderness. Neither Gaston, Alphonse nor any of
their harem were killed and eaten by their owners; but seemed
rather to fulfil the function of household pets.
Along the jungle track we met swarms of people coming in to the
post. One large native safari composed exclusively of women were
transporting loads of trade goods for the Indian trader. They
carried their burdens on their backs by means of a strap passing
over the top of the head; our own "tump line" method. The labour
seemed in no way to have dashed their spirits, for they grinned
at us, and joked merrily with our boys. Along the way, every once
in a while, we came upon people squatted down behind small stocks
of sugarcane, yams, bananas, and the like. With these our boys
did a brisk trade. Little paths led mysteriously into the jungle.
Down them came more savages to greet us. Everybody was most
friendly and cheerful, thanks to Horne's personal influence. Two
years before this same lot had been hostile. From every hidden
village came the headmen or chiefs. They all wanted to shake
hands-the ordinary citizen never dreamed of aspiring to that
honour-and they all spat carefully into their palms before they
did so. This all had to be done in passing; for ordinary village
headmen it was beneath Our Dignity to draw rein. Once only we
broke over this rule. That was in the case of an old fellow with
white hair who managed to get so tangled up in the shrubbery that
he could not get to us. He was so frantic with disappointment
that we made an exception and waited.
About three miles out, we lost one of our newly acquired totos.
Reason: an exasperated parent who had followed from Meru for the
purpose of reclaiming his runaway offspring. The latter was
dragged off howling. Evidently he, like some of his civilized
cousins, had "run away to join the circus." As nearly as we could
get at it, the rest of the totos, as well as the nine additional
we picked up before we quitted the jungle, had all come with
their parents' consent. In fact, we soon discovered that we could
buy any amount of good sound totos, not house broke however, for
an average of half a rupee (16-1/2 cents) apiece.
The road was very much up and down hill over the numerous ridges
that star-fish out from Mt. Kenia. We would climb down steep
trails from 200 to 800 feet (measured by aneroid), cross an
excellent mountain stream of crystalline dashing water, and climb
out again. The trails of course had no notion of easy grades. It
was very hard work, especially for men with loads; and it would
have been impossible on account of the heat were it not for the
numerous streams. On the slopes and in the bottoms were patches
of magnificent forest; on the crests was the jungle, and
occasionally an outlook over extended views. The birds and the
strange tropical big-leaved trees were a constant delight-exotic
and strange. Billy was in a heaven of joy, for her specialty in
Africa was plants, seeds and bulbs, for her California garden.
She had syces, gunbearers and tent boys all climbing, shaking
branches, and generally pawing about.
This idiosyncracy of Billy's puzzled our boys hugely. At first
they tried telling her that everything was poisonous; but when
that did not work, they resigned themselves to their fate. In
fact, some of the most enterprising like Memba Sasa, Kitaru, and,
later, Kongoni used of their own accord to hunt up and bring in
seeds and blossoms. They did not in the least understand what it
was for; and it used to puzzle them hugely until out of sheer
pity for their uneasiness, I implied that the Memsahib collected
"medicine." That was rational, so the wrinkled brow of care was
smoothed. From this botanical trait, Billy got her native name of
"Beebee Kooletta"-"The Lady Who Says: Go Get That." For in
Africa every white man has a name by which he is known among the
native people. If you would get news of your friends, you must
know their local cognomens-their own white man names will not do
at all. For example, I was called either Bwana Machumwani or
Bwana N'goma. The former means merely Master Four-eyes, referring
to my glasses. The precise meaning of the latter is a matter much
disputed between myself and Billy. An N'goma is a native dance,
consisting of drum poundings, chantings, and hoppings around.
Therefore I translate myself (most appropriately) as the Master
who Makes Merry. On the other hand, Billy, with true feminine
indirectness, insists that it means "The Master who Shouts and
Howls." I leave it to any fairminded reader.
About the middle of the morning we met a Government runner, a
proud youth, young, lithe, with many ornaments and bangles; his
red skin glistening; the long blade of his spear, bound around
with a red strip to signify his office, slanting across his
shoulder; his buffalo hide shield slung from it over his back;
the letter he was bearing stuck in a cleft stick and carried
proudly before him as a priest carries a cross to the heathen-in
the pictures. He was swinging along at a brisk pace, but on
seeing us drew up and gave us a smart military salute.
At one point where the path went level and straight for some
distance, we were riding in an absolute solitude. Suddenly from
the jungle on either side and about fifty yards ahead of us
leaped a dozen women. They were dressed in grass skirts, and
carried long narrow wooden shields painted white and brown. These
they clashed together, shrieked shrilly, and charged down on us
at full speed. When within a few yards of our horses noses they
came to a sudden halt, once more clashed their shields, shrieked,
turned and scuttled away as fast as their legs could carry them.
At a hundred yards they repeated the performance; and charged back
at us again. Thus advancing and retreating, shrieking high,
hitting the wooden shields with resounding crash, they preceded
our slow advance for a half mile or so. Then at some signal
unperceived by us they vanished abruptly into the jungle. Once
more we rode forward in silence and in solitude. Why they did it
I could not say.
Of this tissue were our days made. At noon our boys plucked us
each two or three banana leaves which they spread down for us to
lie on. Then we dozed through the hot hours in great comfort,
occasionally waking to blue sky through green trees, or to peer
idly into the tangled jungle. At two o'clock or a little later we
would arouse ourselves reluctantly and move on. The safari we had
dimly heard passing us an hour before. In this country of the
direct track we did not attempt to accompany our men.
The end of the day's march found us in a little clearing where we
could pitch camp. Generally this was atop a ridge, so that the
boys had some distance to carry water; but that disadvantage was
outweighed by the cleared space. Sometimes we found ourselves
hemmed in by a wall of jungle. Again we enjoyed a broad outlook.
One such in especial took in the magnificent, splintered,
snow-capped peak of Kenia on the right, a tremendous gorge and
rolling forested mountains straight ahead, and a great drop to a
plain with other and distant mountains to the left. It was as
fine a panoramic view as one could imagine.
Our tents pitched, and ourselves washed and refreshed, we gave
audience to the resident chief, who had probably been waiting.
With this potentate we conversed affably, after the usual
expectoratorial ceremonies. Billy, being a mere woman, did not
always come in for this; but nevertheless she maintained what she
called her "quarantine gloves," and kept them very handy. We had
standing orders with our boys for basins of hot water to be
waiting always behind our tents. After the usual polite exchanges
we informed the chief of our needs-firewood, perhaps, milk, a
sheep or the like. These he furnished. When we left we made him a
present of a few beads, a knife, a blanket or such according to
the value of his contribution.
To me these encounters were some of the most interesting of our
many experiences, for each man differed radically from every
other in his conceptions of ceremony, in his ideas, and in his
methods. Our coming was a good deal of an event, always, and each
chief, according to his temperament and training, tried to do
things up properly. And in that attempt certain basic traits of
human nature showed in the very strongest relief. Thus there are
three points of view to take in running any spectacle: that of
the star performer, the stage manager, or the truly artistic. We
encountered well-marked specimens of each. I will tell you about
The star performer knew his stagecraft thoroughly; and in the
exposition of his knowledge he showed incidentally how truly
basic are the principles of stagecraft anywhere.
We were seated under a tree near the banks of a stream eating our
lunch. Before us appeared two tall and slender youths, wreathed
in smiles, engaging, and most attentive to the small niceties of
courtesy. We returned their greeting from our recumbent
positions, whereupon they made preparation to squat down
"Are you sultans?" we demanded sternly, "that you attempt to sit
in Our Presence," and we lazily kicked the nearest.
Not at all abashed, but favourably impressed with our
transcendent importance-as we intended-they leaned gracefully
on their spears and entered into conversation. After a few
trifles of airy persiflage they got down to business.
"This," said they, indicating the tiny flat, "is the most
beautiful place to camp in all the mountains."
We doubted it.
"Here is excellent water."
We agreed to that.
"And there is no more water for a journey."
"You are liars," we observed politely.
"And near is the village of our chief, who is a great warrior,
and will bring you many presents; the greatest man in these
"Now you're getting to it," we observed in English; "you want
trade." Then in Swahili, "We shall march two hours longer."
After a few polite phrases they went away. We finished lunch,
remounted, and rode up the trail. At the edge of the canyon we
came to a wide clearing, at the farther side of which was
evidently the village in question. But the merry villagers, down
to the last toro, were drawn up at the edge of the track in a
double line through which we rode. They were very wealthy
savages, and wore it all. Bright neck, arm, and leg ornaments,
yards and yards of cowry shells in strings, blue beads of all
sizes (blue beads were evidently "in"), odd scraps and shapes of
embroidered skins, clean shaves and a beautiful polish
characterized this holiday gathering. We made our royal progress
between the serried ranks. About eight or ten seconds after we
had passed the last villager-just the proper dramatic pause, you
observe-the bushes parted and a splendid, straight, springy young
man came into view and stepped smilingly across the space that
separated us. And about eight or ten seconds after his
emergence-again just the right dramatic pause-the bushes parted
again to give entrance to four of the quaintest little dolls of
wives. These advanced all abreast, parted, and took up positions
two either side the smiling chief. This youth was evidently in
the height of fashion, his hair braided in a tight queue bound
with skin, his ears dangling with ornaments, heavy necklaces
around his neck, and armlets etc., ad lib. His robe was of fine
monkey skin embroidered with rosettes of beads, and his spear was
very long, bright and keen. He was tall and finely built carried
himself with a free, lithe swing. As the quintette came to halt,
the villagers fell silent and our shauri began.
We drew up and dismounted. We all expectorated as gentlemen.
"These," said he proudly, "are my beebees."
We replied that they seemed like excellent beebees and politely
inquired the price of wives thereabout, and also the market for
totos. He gave us to understand that such superior wives as these
brought three cows and twenty sheep apiece, but that you could
get a pretty good toto for half a rupee.
"When we look upon our women," he concluded grandly, "we find
them good; but when we look upon the white women they are as
nothing!" He completely obliterated the poor little beebees with
a magnificent gesture. They looked very humble and abashed. I
was, however, a bit uncertain as to whether this was intended as
a genuine tribute to Billy, or was meant to console us for having
only one to his four.
Now observe the stagecraft of all this: entrance of diplomats,
preliminary conversation introducing the idea of the greatness of
N'Zahgi (for that was his name), chorus of villagers, and, as
climax, dramatic entrance of the hero and heroines. It was pretty
Again we stopped about the middle of the afternoon in an opening
on the rounded top of a hill. While waiting for the safari to
come up, Billy wandered away fifty or sixty yards to sit under a
big tree. She did not stay long. Immediately she was settled, a
dozen women and young girls surrounded her. They were almost
uproariously good-natured, but Billy was probably the first white
woman they had ever seen, and they intended to make the most of
her. Every item of her clothes and equipment they examined
minutely, handled and discussed. When she told them with great
dignity to go away, they laughed consumedly, fairly tumbling into
each other's arms with excess of joy. Billy tried to gather her
effects for a masterly retreat, but found the press of numbers
too great. At last she had to signal for help. One of us wandered
over with a kiboko with which lightly he flicked the legs of such
damsels as he could reach. They scattered like quail, laughing
hilariously. Billy was escorted back to safety.
Shortly after the Chief and his Prime Minister came in. He was a
little old gray-haired gentleman, as spry as a cricket, quite
nervous, and very chatty. We indicated our wants to him, and he
retired after enunciating many words. The safari came in, made
camp. We had tea and a bath. The darkness fell; and still no
Chief, no milk, no firewood, no promises fulfilled. There were
plenty of natives around camp, but when we suggested that they
get out and rustle on our behalf, they merely laughed
good-naturedly. We seriously contemplated turning the whole lot
out of camp.
Finally we gave it up, and sat down to our dinner. It was now
quite dark. The askaris had built a little campfire out in front.
Then, far in the distance of the jungle's depths, we heard a
faint measured chanting as of many people coming nearer. From
another direction this was repeated. The two processions
approached each other; their paths converged; the double chanting
became a chorus that grew moment by moment. We heard beneath the
wild weird minors the rhythmic stamping of feet, and the tapping
of sticks. The procession debouched from the jungle's edge into
the circle of the firelight. Our old chief led, accompanied by a
bodyguard in all the panoply of war: ostrich feather circlets
enclosing the head and face, shields of bright heraldry, long
glittering spears. These were followed by a dozen of the
quaintest solemn dolls of beebees dressed in all the white cowry
shells, beads and brass the royal treasury afforded, very
earnest, very much on inspection, every little head uplifted,
singing away just as hard as ever they could. Each carried a
gourd of milk, a bunch of bananas, some sugarcane, yams or the
like. Straight to the fire marched the pageant. Then the warriors
dividing right and left, drew up facing each other in two lines,
struck their spears upright in the ground, and stood at
attention. The quaint brown little women lined up to close the
end of this hollow square, of which our group was, roughly
speaking, the fourth side. Then all came to attention. The song
now rose to a wild and ecstatic minor chanting. The beebees,
still singing, one by one cast their burdens between the files
and at our feet in the middle of the hollow square. Then they
continued their chant, singing away at the tops of their little
lungs, their eyes and teeth showing, their pretty bodies held
rigidly upright. The warriors, very erect and military, stared
And the chief? Was he the centre of the show, the important
leading man, to the contemplation of whom all these glories led?
Not at all! This particular chief did not have the soul of a
leading man, but rather the soul of a stage manager. Quite
forgetful of himself and his part in the spectacle, his brow
furrowed with anxiety, he was flittering from one to another of
the performers. He listened carefully to each singer in turn,
holding his hand behind his ear to catch the individual note,
striking one on the shoulder in admonition, nodding approval at
another. He darted unexpectedly across to scrutinize a warrior,
in the chance of catching a flicker of the eyelid even. Nary a
flicker! They did their stage manager credit, and stood like
magnificent bronzes. He even ran across to peer into our own
faces to see how we liked it.
With a sudden crescendo the music stopped. Involuntarily we broke
into handclapping. The old boy looked a bit startled at this, but
we explained to him, and he seemed very pleased. We then accepted
formally the heap of presents, by touching them-and in turn
passed over a blanket, a box of matches, and two needles,
together with beads for the beebees. Then F., on an inspiration,
produced his flashlight. This made a tremendous sensation. The
women tittered and giggled and blinked as its beams were thrown
directly into their eyes; the chief's sons grinned and guffawed;
the chief himself laughed like a pleased schoolboy, and seemed
never to weary of the sudden shutting on and off of the switch.
But the trusty Spartan warriors, standing still in their
formation behind their planted spears, were not to be shaken.
They glared straight in front of them, even when we held the
light within a few inches of their eyes, and not a muscle
"It is wonderful! wonderful!" the old man repeated. "Many
Government men have come here, but none have had anything like
that! The bwanas must be very great sultans!"
After the departure of our friends, we went rather grandly to
bed. We always did after any one had called us sultans.
But our prize chief was an individual named M'booley.* Our camp
here also was on a fine cleared hilltop between two streams.
After we had traded for a while with very friendly and prosperous
people M'booley came in. He was young, tall, straight, with a
beautiful smooth lithe form, and his face was hawklike and
cleverly intelligent. He carried himself with the greatest
dignity and simplicity, meeting us on an easy plane of
familiarity. I do not know how I can better describe his manner
toward us than to compare it to the manner the member of an
exclusive golf club would use to one who is a stranger, but
evidently a guest. He took our quality for granted; and supposed
we must do the same by him, neither acting as though he
considered us "great white men," nor yet standing aloof and too
respectful. And as the distinguishing feature of all, he was
absolutely without personal ornament.
*Pronounce each o separately.
Pause for a moment to consider what a real advance in esthetic
taste that one little fact stands for. All M'booley's attendants
were the giddiest and gaudiest savages we had yet seen, with more
colobus fur, sleighbells, polished metal, ostrich plumes, and red
paint than would have fitted out any two other royal courts of