Abbildungen der Seite

and arrows. There were a lot of men, it is true; still, their audacity was marvelous; they were like king crows. The same people also hunt elephants by hamstringing them and then finishing them off with spears.

Not many years ago, an English officer in Uganda, who had been seized by a lion, was rescued by his own native servant, who beat the animal off with a whip of hippo hide; and a little later, in German East, a German officer whom I personally knew was saved in the same way by an Askari, who, afraid to shoot, drove the lion away with the butt-end of his rifle.

A missionary told me how, in Kondeland, an unarmed native saved a little girl who had been seized by a lion. The latter was playing with the child as a cat plays with a mouse, carrying her in its mouth for a few yards without hurting her, then putting her down and moving away to some distance, to sit down and watch. The native picked up the child and walked slowly backward, step by step, stopping dead still whenever the lion made a rush, and so at last reached a place of safety. I know of several instances when natives have beaten off adult leopards with cudgels, and in the great, lion-infested plains of East Africa, the killing of lions with spears by natives, as was done by Malikanoi's young son, is by no means un


When the Masai, bravest and most romantic of natives, walk through the Nyika alone at night, and become aware that lions are near, they sit down and pull their mantles over their heads. They assert that no lion in the open attacks a motionless man whose face he cannot see. The hunting offshoot of the Masai people, the Wandorobbo, who roam through the Nyika in search of game as the Redskins roamed through the American prairie, never sleep in their huts, temporary shelters meant

[ocr errors]

to last but a few days, but always in the open, between the huts, and without fires. They pretend that no wild beast has ever carried one of them away at night.

Very few natives fear snakes, that last resource of the adventureless traveler, although, as a rule, they kill them, as they kill lizards or rats. In certain tribes natives exist who have been forbidden by their doctor, after a successful cure, not necessarily from the effects of snake-bite, never again to kill a snake, and they religiously obey the command. The dreaded puff-adder, no doubt on account of its sluggishness, is everywhere treated with contempt. This snake is to some a fetish, and these will not molest it, even if it chooses to take up its temporary residence in one of their huts. I have known one living under these happy circumstances, and growing fat on the ubiquitous rat. The Wanyamwesi and Warukuma, born snake-charmers, handle puff-adders without the slightest fear. Many of these people, it is true, are, or believe themselves to be, immune against snake poison, having undergone, at the hand of their medicine-men, a prolonged and dangerous treatment resulting in Mithradatism.

Where crocodiles abound, natives, in accordance with the saying that familiarity breeds contempt, grow exasperatingly foolhardy, women as well as men, and frequently have to pay the penalty of their imprudence. Relations between the natives and the crocodile, however, are of a complicated and even mysterious nature. Some wear charms against the monsters, in which they implicitly believe; and I must admit that I have never heard of any one of them coming to grief. Also, there undoubtedly are crocodiles that are not man-eaters, although the common assertion that crocodiles that get plenty of fish will not eat man falls flat before the many casualties on the great lakes,

which teem with fish. A curious phenomenon is, that there are well-defined stretches in several East African rivers where the crocodiles are perfectly harmless, while above and below these sanctuaries no one, except the above-mentioned bearer of charms, can enter the water with impunity.

Some fifteen years ago I accompanied Lieutenant W, of the battalion of the King's African Rifles stationed in Jubaland, on a trip up the Juba River, in the flat-bottomed government steamer which was then, besides native dugouts, the only means of communication on that river. The steamer had to be made fast to the shore every night; and one morning we stopped near a village called Ali Sungura - Ali the rabbit after its chief. There was at that time living on the Juba a famous wizard, who was looked upon as a sort of paramount chief of all the crocodiles in Jubaland, the which, so it was said, on certain nights of the year, repaired to his hut en masse, to hold a Baraza. On the morning after our arrival in Ali Sungura, we walked ashore, where we were greeted by the chief, whom we asked if the wizard was there. He said that he was not; and, pointing to a man standing near him, he added, "This is his son.'

My companion asked the young fellow if he, too, was immune against crocodiles.

Thereupon the chief pointed to a creek, about two hundred yards in width, and extending some way inland. 'He swims through here every day,' he said. 'He works on the other side.'

We looked, and saw, near the opposite shore, the eye-knobs of many crocodiles protruding from the water. We then asked the wizard's son himself if the chief had spoken the truth; and, on his replying in the affirmative, we asked him further if he would swim through now, for a rupee. To this he readily

assented, and we asked Ali Sungura if it was really safe.

Ali Sungura laughed and declared that there was not the slightest danger. So we promised the man his rupee, and he, after fastening tight around his body the white cloth he was wearing, immediately walked into the water, while Lieutenant W cocked his rifle and stood ready to shoot.

The wizard's son soon got out of his depth and took to swimming. He swam toward the opposite side, deliberately, without displaying any hurry and right across the school of crocs, some, but not all, of which dived on his approach. He scrambled ashore, and, after a short rest, came back the same way. He took his rupee with obvious pleasure.

The chief, Ali Sungura himself, had the reputation of being a mchawi, or wizard, specializing as a werewolf. According to rumor, he was in the habit of walking about, at night, in the shape of a wolf, and of doing, in this disguise, as the wolf does. The old superstition, that certain people have the power to assume the shape of some animal, is as widespread in Tropical Africa, as it is in other parts of the world; and the natives of a village can be very positive and quite convinced when they assure you that such and such a lion, or such and such a leopard, is not really an animal, but a mchawi, who is in the habit of taking its shape.

Not long ago, in Nyasaland, I asked an old Yao, who had just returned from Fort Johnston, if the lions had made themselves very unpleasant there of late. He replied that only one had committed depredations, and even killed people, but that he was known to be a mchawi. He added: "They have caught the man, they will take him to the Resident.'

'And what will happen to him?' I asked.

'Oh, nothing,' he replied with a sigh,

'they will do nothing to him; the English always want to see everything,' putting the emphasis on the word 'see.'

I said to myself that it was rather fortunate for that were-lion that the English always want to 'see everything.'


That there exists, principally in the region of the great lakes, a category, or class, or sect, of people who habitually indulge in satisfying a perverse inclination to feed on the flesh of human corpses is an indisputable fact, to which several administrators and explorers have born testimony, I need mention here, chosen from many others, only Sir Harry Johnston, Mr. J. F. Cunningham, and Mr. Dutkevich, in his contribution to Mr. Peter Macqueen's book, In Wildest Africa. The best known are the Bachichi, an organized secret society on the Sese Islands in Lake Victoria, who have for many years occupied the authorities. But they are by no means isolated. I am inclined to think that in other parts of Tropical Africa, where these ghouls occur, they, too, form a fraternity among themselves. This is undoubtedly the case in Buanji, at the northern end of the Livingstone Range, where they are known as Niambuddas. These, however, according to native report, differ from their colleagues in other countries by the sinister detail, that they kill, and then season in a pool of water, those whom they have selected as their victims and decoyed with all the artifices of a thug. In Buanji, no man dares, at night, to go however short a distance from the camp or village by himself, while across the boundary, in Ukinga, the same man will walk about alone, at night, with as little fear as if it were day.

The Bachichi and other corpse-eaters dig out the bodies of people who have died a natural death, and then eat

them. They may, otherwise, be perfectly harmless members of the community. In Nyasaland a corpse-eater is called a mchawi, although that is really the Swahili name for wizard. Here, unless otherwise explained, the first interpretation is always that of corpse-eater. As in the case of the were-carnivores, so in this latter case, but here, I am afraid, with more justification, public opinion always pretends to be accurately posted concerning the identity of the mchawi. Although feared, however, and treated with a measure of respect, they are not always demonstratively shunned. I know of one case in which a whole village transported its penates half a mile away from the hut of a mchawi, after it had burned to the ground all its own dwellings. The occurrence that gave rise to this wholesale desertion was, so I was told by the people themselves, that some time after the death and burial of one of the mchawi's two wives, the second one ran away, giving as a reason that, the night before, her husband had brought back into the hut the lifeless body of the deceased. Perhaps a friendly neighbor, who did not weigh overmuch, had helped in a stratagem to get rid of the runaway. But the man's little boy also ran away; he said that his father kept him walking about all night, and that he could not stand the fatigue. He never went back to his old home to stay. I knew the whole family, and met them often. The mchawi married a third wife, who, as long as I knew her, appeared to be perfectly content and happy; but then, people say that she shares her husband's tastes. Be all this as it may, Ndalawisi - such is the man's name had undoubtedly le physique de l'emploi: bloodshot eyes, lantern-jaws, and a large mouth with protruding yellow fangs and visible gums.

All the men who have been pointed

out to me as corpse-eaters have the same type of visage, and it is quite possible that many an innocent man owes his evil reputation only to the fortuitous shape of his face.

Weird and frightful legends have been woven by folklore around these creatures. One thing, however, is certain: natives, when brought in contact with corpses and putrefaction, do not feel the same horror that we do. A bright, intelligent young fellow once asked me, in a matter-of-fact way, if I had never tasted a corpse. To my indignant protest, 'The smell alone is sufficient to drive a man away,' he replied, 'No, the smell is very pleasant!' And on another occasion I was asked quite seriously if, among the many tinned stuffs' brought into the country by Europeans, there is not also tinned human meat.

This total indifference to the smell of putrefaction and the contact with it had fostered awful customs among the Sakalawas on the southwest coast of Madagascar before the French government stopped, or tried to stop, them by legislation. Corpses were kept exposed for weeks above-ground before burial, the length of the period of exposure depending upon the rank of the individual. Even when you were camped a mile away from the village, the odor, when the wind blew your way, made a continued stay impossible. Dead chiefs were carried in state from village to village for months, and in each village were kept exposed for weeks on a wooden platform; Bacchanalian revelries went on as long as the visit lasted, and it was a common thing for the young men, at the height of the festivities, to go and stand under the platform and rub all over their bodies the liquid matter which oozed from the corpse and trickled through the planks.

Not only the dead, but death itself, seems not to inspire the Sakalawas with

any terror. Their burial rites are of the merriest, and anybody unacquainted with the customs of that nation would be convinced, on first witnessing the approach of a funeral cortège, with its gay music, its bullock-cart decorated with bunting, shining pieces of metal, and small mirrors, that it was a nuptial party. Again, suicide by one of the many deadly poisons that abound in every thicket of that island, where, as in Ireland, venomous snakes do not exist, is resorted to quite as a matter of course, on the least provocation, even by children when they have been scolded by their parents.

Nearly all natives, including most of the Mohammedan tribes, are, with the exception of the Somali and the warrior castes of the Nilotic tribes, passionately addicted to drink. There is much truth in what has been written: that the whole population of Tropical and Subtropical Africa is drunk after sunset. Many kinds of fermented liquor exist, some of which are very palatable, as, for instance, the honey-beer of the Wataweta, or a kind of champagne that the Wabena produce out of the sap of a bamboo, which, curiously enough, refuses to yield its precious liquid when it is transplanted from its own country. At the time of year when this sap is collected, both men and women drink it to excess, until they fall down senseless near their fires. I have been shown in Ubena many little children who had been badly burned because their mothers had collapsed too close to the fire, and many grown-up persons who, being unable from drunkenness to crawl back into their huts, had been shockingly mutilated by hyenas.

Pombe-beer made either from bananas or from maize and millet - is the curse of the African native. Entirely unable as he is by constitution to resist temptation, he drinks as long as the state of his finances and the existing pro

visions permit. It has always seemed to me as if the effects of intoxication on a native were different from what they are on a European. They may be similar when he gets hold of whiskey; but they undoubtedly differ in cases of drunkenness produced by pombe. In a native who has got drunk on pombe, the effect is none the less violent because it is less apparent in the beginning. Its climax is reached some twenty-four to thirty-six hours after the libation has ceased, and manifests itself in a nervous irritability which often leads to disastrous consequences. Some individuals in this state, although sober to all appearances, become a grave danger to their neighbors. It was in this condition, as I have been informed on good authority, that the Police Askaris in a certain East African colony committed all those wanton acts of cruelty which created such a sensation in Europe a few years before the war. One need not go very far, perhaps, to recover the recipe of the famous drink of the Assassins.

It is probable that the shortness of memory, with which most natives are afflicted to quite a remarkable degree as regards things which do not touch them directly, is due in part to this racial vice and in part to the abuse of the elixirs mentioned above. This deficiency of memory is a palpable evil, not, I think, sufficiently recognized as such by those who employ natives, and is the source of many mistakes and accidents that are attributed to culpable neglect or evil intent. The very tone of voice in which a native says, 'Nimesahau' (I have forgotten), implies that, for him at least, to forget is a conclusive excuse, which precludes all possibility of guilt and desert of reproach. Very frequently they do not remember what they have said a few minutes before; they will give you half a dozen different names in succession for the same moun

tain or river, and look quite surprised when, glancing at your notebook, you tell them that they have given you an entirely different name a little earlier in the day. This weak memory, added to the difficulty which, like Darwin's Aborigines of the Terra del Fuego, even comparatively civilized negroes have in 'understanding the simplest alternative,' is the chief obstacle that travelers encounter to getting correct information. And yet, another anomaly,African negroes are the greatest linguists on earth.

It has happened to me, not once only, but repeatedly, that I have come among a tribe accompanied by men who had never heard its idiom; and, before a month was over, they were, without a single exception, able to converse fluently with the inhabitants, and that even when that particular language differed from their own as much as does English from Italian.

But not that only; although I speak very indifferent Swahili, - a language which it is very easy to learn to speak badly, and almost impossible for a European to learn to speak faultlessly, new servants who entered my employ learned to speak it in a few weeks simply by my talking to them. That they learned it from me was quite evident from the fact that they acquired all my mistakes! This facility in learning new languages is, perhaps, connected with the extraordinary mimetic power of natives, which Darwin also mentions with regard to Kaffirs as well as Fuegians and Australians.

Besides their facility in learning new languages, negroes also have a remarkable gift for communicating with each other by signs. I have often been astounded to notice how all the inhabitants of a village, including the children, were able to converse fluently with a deaf-mute. A few signs with the lips and the fingers were sufficient to convey

« ZurückWeiter »