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The Country of the Dwarfs by  Paul du Chaillu


 

 

QUENGUEZA'S DIPLOMACY

[41] THE day after the arrival of Quengueza, word was sent to me by the canoe-men on the shore that the surf was quiet, and that canoes could go to sea and return in perfect safety.

During the day seven large canoes were carried over the narrow tongue of land to the beach, and twenty-one remained on the river-side to take to my new settlement the goods that would be landed.

It was important to expedite as much as possible the landing of the goods, for this would only be safe for a few days, till the change of the moon.

The next morning, at daylight, seven canoes left for the vessel, and each canoe made that day three trips, so that twenty-one canoe-loads of goods were landed and carried across to the canoes on the riven Then we got ready to go home, but not before hauling high up on the beach our seven sea-canoes.

After four days' hard work, seventy canoe-loads haft been landed, and the cargo was all ashore. I breathed freely once more; not a load had been swamped. We had just finished when the breakers became dangerous [42] again, and in a day or two more it would have been impossible to go through them.

Not an article was missing. Captain Vardon was amazed. I said to him, "Did I not tell you that my Commi men would not steal?

You would have laughed to see the miscellaneous articles which formed part of the cargo. Many of them were specially manufactured for the African market, and the heavy goods were to be given to Quengueza, Ranpano, Olenga-Yombi, Obindji, and the chiefs living on the banks of the Rembo and Ovenga rivers.

The great trouble was to put all the goods under shelter. They had to be stored in several huts. There were no locks on the doors, but I was not afraid of the people, and my confidence was justified, for not an article was stolen. Captain Vardon wondered at it; he had been a trader for a good many years on the Coast, and said it was marvelous. So it was, there is no city in any Christian country where these thousands of dollars' worth of goods could be as safe. I loved the Commi, and the Commi loved me.

After every thing had been housed, I thought it was time to make a distribution of the presents I intended for my friends. Quengueza's presents will give you a fair idea of the articles I had brought into the country.

So one afternoon I went for friend Quengueza when every body was taking their afternoon nap. He followed me, accompanied by several of his great men, nephews, and wives; for a great king like Quengueza could not walk alone; he must have a retinue, or escort. Quengueza was very fond of this sort of thing, but that day he did not like it a bit; he did not want his people to [43] see what I was going to give him, but he did not dare to send them away, so he whispered into my ear, "Chally, send them away when you come to your house, for I do not want any body inside."

So I dismissed Quengueza's people, and, after Quengueza and I had entered the hut, he closed the door himself, to make sure, and peeped through the crevices to see that nobody was trying to look in. Then he seated himself and awaited developments.

I opened a chest filled with presents for him. The first thing I displayed before his wide-open eyes was a huge long coat, similar to those worn by the London beadles. This coat had been made specially for his majesty, and to fit his tall figure, for Quengueza was over six feet high. It was of the most glaring colors—bite, with yellow fringe, and lined with red. There was also a splendid plush waistcoat, with big brass buttons. His coat fell to his feet. I gave him no pantaloons, for Quengueza never liked to wear them.

After Quengueza's admiring eyes had looked with amazement on his splendid coat and bright yellow waistcoat, he must try them on; but, before doing so, he went again to see that no one was peeping in. I wondered why his majesty, who was a perfect despot, was so much afraid.

Having put on his robe or morning-gown, I gave him an enormous drum-major's cane, with a tremendous gilded head, to be used as a staff. He stiffened himself at the sight, and asked for a looking glass, in which he regarded himself with an air of supreme satisfaction. Then I took out of my trunk my opera hat, which of course [44] was flat when shut up, and gave it a slight punch, when the springs immediately threw it out into the shape of a splendid stove-pipe hat, to the utter astonishment and bewilderment of King Quengueza. Then I put the hat on his head, and his majesty walked to and fro, drawing himself to his full height. After some minutes he took off his imperial costume, putting the clothes back in the chest where they came from, and proceeded to inspect the other presents, among which were:

6pieces of silk, of different colors.
100pieces of calico prints.
6silver spoons, knives, and forks.
1silver goblet.
1magnificent red, blue, and yellow silk umbrella.

Among the larger articles were:

1common brass kettle.
100iron bars, 6 feet long, 11 wide.
50large copper plates 24 inches in diameter.
50small brass kettles.
50iron pots.
50guns.
50kegs of powder.
25wash-basins.
12dozen plates.
6dozen glasses.
300pounds of beads, of different colors and sizes.
50pine chests.
200pairs of ear-rings for his wives.
 Several chests containing trinkets, mirrors, files, forks, knives, etc.
 A chest filled with nice presents sent to him by some of my friends.

[45] The chests were his delight, for the wealth of a king here is composed chiefly of chests, which, of course, are supposed to be filled with goods.

King Quengueza never thought that his friend Chally would have remembered him so profitably.

After showing him all these things, I made him a speech, and said, in a low tone, "Quengueza, Chally has a heart (ore'ma); he has a heart that loves you. When he left you the last time he was poor, and had nothing to give you, but you loved him the same as if he had possessed a thousand chests filled with goods. Now he is rich, and has just come back from the white man's country, and he brings you all these fine presents, for Chally loves you;" and when I said "loves you" I looked at him steadily in the face. The sight of all this wealth had almost dumbfounded the old man, and for a while he could not speak. Finally he said,

"Do you love me, Chally? If you do, do not tell the people what you have given me, or they will bewitch me to have my property."

The fear of witchcraft was a great defect in the character of poor Quengueza. He was always in dread of being bewitched, and consequently of dying.

Then he knelt down and clasped my feet with his hands, and, with his face distorted by fear, begged me again not to tell any body in the country what I had given him. This taking hold of a man's feet is the most imploring way of asking a favor; it was the first time in his life that Quengueza, the great chief of the Abouya clan, had done such a thing. I promised him, of course, never to tell any thing to his people.

After a while he went away, and his subjects crowded [46] round him, expecting fully to hear what fine things his friend Chally had brought him, when I heard him shout, with the loudest voice he could summon,

"My friend Chally knows nothing but talk, and has brought me nothing." Coming toward me, he repeated the statement just as loudly, and looked at me at the same time with an imploring sort of a look, as if to say, "Do not say any thing." But Quengueza's people knew me better; they knew very well that Chally, the great friend of Quengueza, would not come back from the white man's country without bringing him something, and they were smiling all the while, for they were well acquainted with the ways of their beloved old chief, who was a miser, and never wanted his people to know what he possessed. I kept his presents till his departure.

I gave presents also to good old Ranpano, to the chiefs that had come to see me, to their wives, and to my old friends, and then the people returned to their different villages. Quengueza's people were busy every day collecting the long bamboo-like branches of palm-trees for my new settlement, which they were to build for me.

Before the departure of the chiefs, I assembled them, and we held a grand palaver, at which they agreed that the Mentor should not leave their country until they had laden her with their products—woods, India-rubber, ivory, wax, etc.

The night Quengueza took leave his confidential slaves were busy taking his presents from my hut to the large canoes they had with them, which having been safely accomplished, they departed before daylight. Quengueza threatened with death any one of his men who should say a word of what had passed.

[47] Then, for the first time since my arrival, it looked as if I was going to have a quiet time. I was glad of it, for I had been ill with fever, and wanted rest and quiet in order to get well. Old Ranpano would stay for hours by my bedside, hardly ever uttering a word, but I could see by his face that the old man felt anxiety on my account. He would say sometimes, "Chally, Chally, you must not be ill; none of my people want to see you ill;" and when he went away he muttered words which no doubt were invocations to spirits, for Ranpano, like the rest of his people, was very superstitious.

The superstition of the natives being so great about the site of my old settlement of Washington, I found it was impossible to build there again. Not far from it there was a nice spot, just on the bank of the river, which I liked very much; but at that spot there was a little Commi village, whose chief was called Rabolo. The only thing to be done was to buy Rabolo out, and I succeeded in purchasing the whole village for several guns, some kegs of powder, a brass kettle, a few brass rings and iron bars, and two or three pieces of cloth. I allowed the people to take the houses away with them, and I set to work immediately to build my new settlement.

Quengueza's people went at it vigorously, and, with the help of Ranpano's people, we began building in earnest, Captain Vardon, myself, and a negro being the carpenters. The doors and windows we made with the bottoms large canoes.

The smaller buildings were soon finished, and the people were hard at work on my large dwelling-house; but when we came to the veranda, and the posts had to be [48] to be put in the ground, my men were suddenly seized with fear.

There was in the ground a formidable monda, or fetich, which my friend Rabolo had buried in his village before I purchased it, and which happened to be exactly upon the site of my house, and almost in front of my door.

Poor Rabolo had never dreamed that I would build my house just on that very spot.

Rabolo was not in town, and the builders did not dare to remove the monda, declaring that there would be a great palaver if they touched Rabolo's monda; "for," said they, "Rabolo's monda, which he has put in the ground, is a very good one; for, since his village has been established, twelve dry and twelve rainy seasons, ago, no one has died there." This was no great monda after all, for Rabolo's village was only composed of his family, and there were fifteen inhabitants in all, not including the dogs, goats, fowls, and parrots.

Rabolo was sent for. He was loth to agree to have the monda removed; "for," said he, "not one of us has died since I made it. You can not take it." "Then," said I, "Rabolo, give me back the goods I have given you; I must go somewhere else." But poor Rabolo had given away the goods—had bought two more wives—and could not give me back my money. I knew it, and was firm. I insisted that the whole place belonged to me; that I bought it, above the ground and under the ground, to the very water's edge. So at last Rabolo, with a sad face, consented to have the monda removed.

To enter Rabolo's settlement you had to go under a portal, which was made of two upright poles and a cross-bar. Round the poles grew a talismanic creeper, which [49] had been planted immediately after the queer gate had been erected; but at the erection of the gate there were great ceremonies, for Rabolo's powerful monda was to be buried in the ground, and that monda was to protect the village, and Rabolo and his family, from aniemba (witchcraft) and death; so I did not, wonder that it was with a frightened face poor Rabolo allowed me to take away what he considered the protector of himself and family.

Rabolo was a quiet man—a good man; not a blood-thirsty savage. His little village lived at peace with all the Commi villages around him.

Rabolo asked to be allowed to take the monda away himself. This I granted. Then he began to cut the bushes and the creeper, which was of the same kind that grew on the gate, that in the course of time had, grown over his talisman, and, digging a hole in the ground, soon came to the spot where the wonderful monda lay. The first thing he turned up was the skull of a chimpanzee; then came the skull of a man, probably of one of the ancestors of Rabolo. The people were looking in silence at the scene before them; they seemed to think that Rabolo was doing a wonderful thing, and some thought that he would have to pay with his life for his daring deed. Poor superstitious fellow! around the skulls were pieces of pottery and crockery of all sorts, which had been put there as an offering, or to keep company with the skulls.

Then we went to the entrance, and he removed the upright posts of the gate, and cut away the creeper that twined itself around it. This creeper was a long-lived species, and the superstition was that as long as it kept alive the monda would retain its power. Rabolo dug in the sandy soil of the prairie near where the creeper grew, [50] and turned up more skulls of chimpanzees and broken pieces of pottery. The two idols on either side of the gate were removed also.

A few days after, I head the people say that it was Rabolo's monda that had made me come to that spot; for, they believe, in that far-away country which is the land of the chimpanzee, that the chimpanzee and the he man have something to do with each other, the pale yellow face of the chimpanzee seeming somewhat to resemble ours, while the dark face of the gorilla leads them to believe that the gorilla sprung from the black man. Skulls of chimpanzees were just now in great demand, as mondas were to be made with them in many villages, for they were fully persuaded that if they had them people from the land of the white man would come and settle among them.

Four weeks after my arrival in the Commi country my new settlement was built, and was exactly like my old settlement of Washington, a picture of which I gave you in my Apingi Kingdom, and I gave to it the name of Plateau, on account of the country being flat.

After the completion of my house there was great excitement in the settlement. Ranpano had declared that he could not enter my house; a doctor had told him that some person who was an aniemba, a wizard, had made a monda, a charm, and had put it under the threshold of the door of my house, so that if he entered my hut the witch or aniemba would go into him, and he would die.

I got furious at Ranpano's superstition, and said to him that, while he pretended to love, me, he insulted me by not coming to see me. His answer was that he loved me. His people felt badly about it. Doctors were sent [51] for; they drank the mboundou, and declared that it was true that some a wanted to bewitch him, and had put a monda under my door to kill him.

Immediately ceremonies for driving away the witch were begun. For three days they danced almost incessantly, making a terrible noise near my premises, which almost set me crazy; drums were beating day and night. At the end of the third day I heard suddenly a tremendous noise made with the drums, and a gun was fired at my door. Ranpano entered muttering invocations, and wild with excitement, and the people declared that the aniemba under my door that was to kill the king had been driven away.


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