INTO THE HEART OF THE BIG GAME COUNTRY WITH A RETINUE OF MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED NATIVES. A SAFARI AND WHAT IT IS
When I first expressed my intention of going to East Africa to shoot big game some of my friends remarked, in surprise: "Why, I didn't know that you were so bloodthirsty!" They seemed to think that the primary object of such an expedition was to slay animals, none of which had done anything to me, and that to wish to embark in any such project was an evidence of bloodthirstiness. I tried to explain that I had no particular grudge against any of the African fauna, and that the thing I chiefly desired to do was to get out in the open, far from the picture post-card, and enjoy experiences which could not help being wonderful and strange and perhaps exciting.
The shooting of animals merely for the sake of killing them is, of course, not an elevating sport, but the by-products of big game hunting in Africa are among the most delightful and inspiring of all experiences. For weeks or months you live a nomadic tent life amid surroundings so different from what you are accustomed to that one is both mentally and physically rejuvenated. You are among strange and savage people, in strange and savage lands, and always threatened by strange and savage animals. The life is new and the scenery new. There is adventure and novelty in every day of such a life, and it is that phase of it that has the most insistent appeal. It is the call of the wild to which the pre-Adamite monkey in our nature responds.
Even if one never used his rifle one would still enjoy life on safari. Safari is an Arabic word meaning expedition as it is understood in that country. If you go on any sort of a trip you are on safari. It need not be a shooting trip.
Of course everybody who has read the magazines of the last year has been more or less familiarized with African hunting. He has read of the amount of game that the authors have killed and of the narrow escapes that they have had.
He also has read about expeditions into districts with strange names, but naturally these names have meant nothing to him. I know that I read reams of African stuff about big game shooting and about safari, yet in spite of all that, I remained in the dark as to many details of such a life. I wanted to know what kind of money or trade stuff the hunter carried; what sort of things he had to eat each day; what he wore, and how he got from place to place. Most writers have a way of saying: "We equipped our safari in Nairobi and made seven marches to such and such a place, where we ran into some excellent eland." All the important small details are thus left out, and the reader remains in ignorance of what the tent boy does, who skins the game that is killed, and what sort of a cook stove they use.
The purpose of this chapter is to tell something about the little things that happen on safari. First of all, at the risk of repeating what has been written so often before, I will say a few words about the personnel of a safari, such as the one I was with.
There were four white people in our expeditionMr. and Mrs. Akeley, Mr. Stephenson, and myself. Mr. Akeley's chief object was to get a group of five elephants for the American Museum of Natural History and incidentally secure photographic and moving picture records of animal life. Both he and Mrs. Akeley had been in Africa before and knew the country as thoroughly perhaps as any who has ever been there. Mr. Akeley undoubtedly is the foremost taxidermist of the world, and his work is famous wherever African animal life has been studied. Mr. Stephenson went for the experience in African shooting, and I for that experience and any other sort that might turn up.
To supply an expedition of four white people, we had one head-man, whose duty it was to run the safarithat is, to get us where we wanted to go. The success and pleasure of the safari depends almost wholly upon the head-man. If he is weak, the discipline of the camp will disappear and all sorts of annoyances will steadily increase. If he is strong, everything will run smoothly.
The CookA TotoThe Head-Man
Our head-man was a young Somali, named Abdi. For several years he was with Mr. McMillan of Juja farm, and he spoke English well and knew the requirements of white men. He was strikingly handsome, efficient, and ruled the native porters firmly and kindly. Each day we patted ourselves on the back because of Abdi.
It Is Tropical Along the Athi River
Hippos in the Tana River
Our Camp Down on the Tana
Second in the list came our four gunbearers, all Somalis, they being considered the best gunbearers. The duty of the gunbearer is always to be with you when you are hunting, to carry your gun, and to have it in your hand the instant it is needed. Then there were four second gunbearers, who came along just behind the first gunbearers. The second men were, in our case, selected from the native porters, and were subject to the orders of the first gunbearer. The first gunbearer carries your field-glasses and your light, long-range rifle; the second gunbearer carries your camera, your water bottle, and your heavy cordite double-barreled rifle. In close quarters, as in a lion fight, the first gunbearer crouches at your elbow, hands the big rifle to you; you fire, and he immediately takes the rifle and places in your hands the other rifle, ready for firing. By the time you have fired this one the first is again ready, and in this way you always have a loaded rifle ready for use. There frequently is no time for turning around, and so the first gunbearer is at your elbow with the barrel of one rifle pressed against your right leg that you may know that he is there. Sometimes they run away, but the Somali gunbearers are the most fearless and trustworthy, and seldom desert in time of need. The gunbearer has instructions never to fire unless his master is disarmed and down before the charge of a beast. When an animal is killed the gunbearers skin it and care for the trophy. Usually when on a shooting jaunt of several hours from camp several porters go along to carry home the game.
Third in the social scale came the askarisarmed natives in uniforms who guard the camp at night. One or more patrol the camp all night long, keep up the fires and scare away any marauding lion or hyena that may approach the camp. We had four askaris, one of whom was the noisiest man I have ever heard. He reminded me of a congressman when congress is not in session.
Then came the cook, who is always quite an important member of the community, because much of the pleasure of the safari depends upon him. Our cook was one that the Akeleys had on their former trip. His name was Abdullah, he had a jovial face and a beaming smile, cooked well, and was funny to look at. He wore a slouch hat with a red band around it, a khaki suit and heavy shoes. When on the march he carried his shoes and when in camp he wore a blue jersey and a polka-dotted apron which took the place of trousers. He was good-natured, which atoned somewhat for his slowness. The suggestion may be made that he might not have been slow, but that our appetites might have been so fast that he seemed slow.
The cook usually picks out a likely porter to help him, or a toto, which means "little boy" in Swahili. There are always a lot of boys who go along, unofficially, just for the fun and the food of the trip. They are not hired, but go as stowaways, and for the first few days out remain much in the background. Gradually they appear more and more until all chance of their being sent back has disappeared, and then they become established members of the party. They carry small loads and help brighten up the camp. Then there are the tent boys, personal servants of the white people. Each white person has his tent boy, who takes care of his tent, his bedding, his bath, his clothes, and all his personal effects. A good tent boy is a great feature on safari, for he relieves his master of all the little worries of life. The tent boys always wait on the table and do the family washing. They also see that the drinking water is boiled and filtered and that the water bottles are filled each evening.
Last of all come the porters, of whom we had eighty. There were Swahilis, Wakambas, Kikuyus, Masai, Minyamwezis, Lumbwas, Bagandas, Kavirondos, and doubtless members of various other tribes. It was their duty to carry the camp from place to place, each porter carrying sixty pounds on his head. When they arrive at the spot selected for camp they put up the tents, get in firewood, and carry in what game may later be shot by the white men.
Then, lowest in the social scale, are the saises, or grooms. There is one for each mule or horse, of which we had four. The sais is always at hand to hold the mount and is supposed to take care of it after hours.
The foregoing members of our personally conducted party, therefore, included:
The head-man and the four gunbearers get seventy-five rupees a month, the askaris fifteen rupees, the cook forty rupees, the tent boys twenty and twenty-five rupees, depending upon experience, the porters ten rupees, and the saises twelve rupees. The totos get nothing except food and lodging, as well as experience, which may be valuable when they grow up to be porters at ten rupees a month. A rupee is about thirty-three cents American. We were also required by law to provide a water bottle, blanket, and sweater for each porter, as well as uniforms and water bottles, shoes and blankets for all the other members of the party. We also supplied twenty tents for them.
For the first day or two on safari there may be little hitches and delays, but after a short time the work is reduced to a beautiful system, and camp is broken or pitched in a remarkably short time. The porters get into the habit of carrying a certain load and so there is usually little confusion in distributing the packs.
At the Edge of the Athi River
The Totos Are Not Fastidious
Life and activity begin early in camp. You go to bed early and before dawn you are awakened by the singing of countless birds of many kinds. The air is fresh and cool, and you draw your woolen blankets a little closer around you. The tent is closed, but through the little cracks you can see that all is still dark. In a few moments a faint grayness steals into the air, and off in the half darkness you hear the Somali gunbearers chanting their morning prayerssoft, musical, and soothing. Then there are more voices murmuring in the air and the camp slowly awakens to life. Some one is heard chopping wood, and by that time day breaks with a crash. All is life, and the birds are singing as though mad with the joy of life and sunshine. A little later a shadowy figure appears by your cot and says, "Chai, bwana" which means, "Tea, master."
You turn over and slowly sip the hot tea, while outside in the clear morning air the sound of voices grows and grows until you know that eighty or a hundred men are busy getting their breakfasts. The crackling of many fires greets your ears and the pungent smell of wood fires salutes your nostrils. You look at your watch and it is perhaps five or half past. The air is still cold and you hasten to slip out of your cot. It is never considered wise to bathe in the morning here.
Your shoes or boots are by your bed, all oiled and cleaned, and your puttees are neatly rolled, ready to be wound around you from the tops of the shoes to the knee. Your clean flannels (one always wears heavy flannel underclothes and heavy woolen socks in this climate) are laid out and your clothes for the day's march are ready for you. You get into your clothes and boots, go out of your tent, and find there a basin of hot water and your toilet equipment. The basin is supported on a three-pronged stick thrust into the ground and makes a thoroughly satisfactory washstand. The fire in front of the cook's tent is burning merrily and he and his assistants are busily at work on the morning breakfast. Twenty other camp-fires are burning around the twenty small white tents that the porters and others occupy, and scores of half-clad natives are cooking their breakfasts. The ration that we were required to give them was a pound and a half of ground-corn a day for each man, but in good hunting country we got them a good deal of meat to eat. They are very fond of hartebeest, zebra, rhino, and especially hippo. In fact, they are eager to eat any kind of meat, so that anything we killed was certain to be of practical use as food for the porters. This fact greatly relieves the conscience of the man who shoots an animal for its fine horns. Six porters sleep in each of the little shelter tents which we were required to supply them, and this number sleeping so closely packed served to keep them warm through the cold African highland nights.
By six o'clock our folding table in the mess tent is laid with white linen and white enamel dishes for breakfast. So we take our places. If we are in a fruit country we have some oranges and bananas or papayas, a sort of pawpaw that is most delicious; it is a cross between a cantaloupe and a mango. Then we have oatmeal with evaporated cream and sugar; then we have choice cuts from some animal that was killed the day beforeusually the liver or the tenderloin. Then we have eggs and finish up on jam or marmalade and honey. We have coffee for breakfast and tea for the other meals.
While we are eating the tent boys have packed our tin trunks, our folding tent table, our cots and our pillows, cork mattresses and blankets. The gunbearer gets our two favorite rifles and cameras, field-glasses and water bottles. Then down comes the double-roofed green tents, all is wrapped into closely-packed bags, and before we are through with breakfast all the tented village has disappeared and only the mess tent and the two little outlying canvas shelters remain. It is a scene of great activity. Porters are busily making up their packs and the head-man with the askaris are busy directing them. In a half-hour all that remains is a scattered assortment of bundles, all neatly bound up in stout cords.
One man may carry a tent-bag and poles, another a tin uniform case with a shot-gun strapped on top; another may have a bedding roll and a chair or table, and so on until the whole outfit is reduced to eighty compact bundles which include the food for the porters, the ant-proof food boxes with our own food, and the horns and skins of our trophies. The work of breaking camp is reduced to a science.
Our gunbearers are waiting and the saises with the mules are in readiness. So we start off, usually walking the first hour or two, with gunbearers and saises and mules trailing along behind. Soon afterward we look back to see the long procession of porters following along in single file. Our tent boys carry our third rifle, and behind them all comes the head-man, ready to spur on any lagging porters.
Our Safari on the March
The early morning hours are bright and cool, but along about nine o'clock the equatorial sun begins to beat down upon our heavy sun helmets and our red-lined and padded spine protectors. But it is seldom hot for long. A cloud passes across the sun and instantly everything is cooled. A wave of wind sweeps across the hill and cools the moist brow like a camphor compress. An instant later the sun is out again and the land lies swimming in the shimmer of heat waves. Distant hills swim on miragic lakes, and if we are in plains country the mirages appear upon all sides.
We rarely shot while on a march from camp to camp. We walked or rode along, watching the swarms of game that slowly moved away as we approached. The scenery was beautiful. Sometimes we wound along on game trails or native trails through vast park-like stretches of rolling hills; at other times we climbed across low hills studded with thorn scrub, while off in the distance rose the blue hills and mountains. To the northward, always with us, was the great Mount Kenia, eighteen thousand feet high and nearly always veiled with masses of clouds. On her slopes are great droves of elephants, and we could pick out the spot where three years before Mrs. Akeley had killed her elephant with the record pair of tusks.
Our marches were seldom long. At noon or even earlier we arrived at our new camping place, ten or twelve miles from our starting of the morning. Frequently we loitered along so that the porters might get there first and the camp be fully established when we arrived. At other times we arrived early and picked out a spot, where ticks and malaria were not likely to be bothersome.
We usually camped near a river. Our first camp was on the Athi Plains, near Nairobi; our second at Nairobi Falls, where the river plunges down a sixty-foot drop in a spot of great beauty. Our third camp was on the Induruga River, in a beautiful but malarious spot; our fifth was on the Thika Thika River, where it was so cold in the morning that the vapor of our breathing was visible; and our sixth on a wind-blown hill where a whirlwind blew down our mess tent and scattered the cook's fire until the whole grass veldt was in furious flames. It took a hundred men an hour to put out the flames.
Our next camp was at Fort Hall, where a poisonous snake came into my tent while I was working. It crawled under my chair and was by my feet when I saw it. It was chased out and killed in the grass near my tent, and a porter cut out the fangs to show me. For a day or two I looked before putting on my shoes, but after that I ceased to think of it.
After that time our camps were along the Tana River, in a beautiful country thronged with game, but, unhappily, a district into which comparatively few hunters come on account of the fever that is said to prevail there. We were obliged to leave our mules at Fort Hall because it was considered certain death to them if we took them into this fly belt.
When the porters arrive at a camping place a good spot is picked out for our four tents and mess tent, the cook tent is located, and in a short time the camp is ready. In my tent the cot is spread, with blankets airing; the mosquito net is up, the table is ready, with toilet articles, books and cigars laid out. The three tin uniform cases are in their places, my cameras are in their places, as are also the guns and lanterns. A floor cloth covers the ground and a long easy chair is ready for occupancy. Towels and water are ready, and pajamas and cholera belt are on the pillow of the cot. Everything is done that should be done, and I am immediately in a well established house with all my favorite articles in their accustomed places.
The Safari in Camp
A luncheon, with fruit, meat, curry and a pastry is ready by the time we are, and then we smoke or sleep through the broiling midday hours. Mr. Stephensonor "Fred," as he is with usand I go out on a scouting expedition and look for good specimens to add to our collection of horns or to get food for the porters. Sometimes the whole party went out, either photographing charging rhinos or shooting, but this part of the daily program was usually too varied to generalize as part of the daily doings. Several porters went with each of us to bring in the game, which there is rarely any uncertainty of securing.
In the evening we return and find our baths of hot water ready. We take off our heavy hunting boots and slip into the soft mosquito boots. After which dinner is ready and our menu is strangely varied. Sometimes we have kongoni steaks, at other times we have the heart of waterbuck or the liver of bushbuck or impalla. Twice we had rhino tongue and once rhino tail soup. We eat, and at six o'clock the darkness of night suddenly spreads over the land. We talk over our several adventures of the afternoon, some of which may be quite thrilling, and then, with camp chairs drawn around the great camp-fire, and with the sentinel askari pacing back and forth, we spend a drowsy hour in talking. Gradually the sounds of night come on. Off there a hyena is howling or a zebra is barking, and we know that through all those shadowy masses of trees the beasts of prey are creeping forth for their night's hunting. The porters' tents are ranged in a wide semicircle, and their camp-fires show little groups of men squatting about them. Somewhere one is playing a tin flute, another is playing a French harp, and some are singing. It is a picture never to be forgotten, and rich with a charm that will surely always send forth its call to the restless soul of the man who goes back to the city.
Sometimes the evening program is different. When one of us brings in some exceptional trophy there is a great celebration, with singing and native dances, and cheers for the Bwana who did the heroic deed. The first lion in a camp is a signal for great rejoicing and celebratinghowever, that is another storythe story of my first lion.
At nine o'clock the tents are closed and all the camp is quiet in sleep. Outside in the darkness the askari paces to and fro, and the thick masses of foliage stand out in inky blackness against the brilliant tropic night. We are far from civilization, but one has as great a feeling of security as though he were surrounded by chimneys and electric lights. And no sleep is sweeter than that which has come after a day's marching over sun-swept hills or through the tangled reed beds where every sense must always be on the alert for hidden dangers.
CHAPTER ONE | CHAPTER TWO | CHAPTER THREE | CHAPTER FOUR | CHAPTER FIVE | CHAPTER SIX | CHAPTER SEVEN | CHAPTER EIGHT | CHAPTER NINE| CHAPTER TEN | CHAPTER ELEVEN | CHAPTER TWELVE | CHAPTER THIRTEEN | CHAPTER FOURTEEN | CHAPTER FIFTEEN | CHAPTER SIXTEEN | CHAPTER SEVENTEEN | CHAPTER EIGHTEEN | CHAPTER NINETEEN | CHAPTER TWENTY | CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE | CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
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