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- IN THE HEART OF AFRICA - 30/42 -
Commoro.--"Certainly. An ox is stronger than a man, but he dies, and his bones last longer; they are bigger. A man's bones break quickly; he is weak."
"Is not a man superior in sense to an ox? Has he not a mind to direct his actions?"
Commoro--"Some men are not so clever as an ox. Men must sow corn to obtain food, but the ox and wild animals can procure it without sowing."
"Do you not know that there is a spirit within you different from flesh? Do you not dream and wander in thought to distant places in your sleep? Nevertheless your body rests in one spot. How do you account for this?"
Commoro (laughing)--"Well, how do YOU account for it? It is a thing I cannot understand; it occurs to me every night."
"The mind is independent of the body. The actual body can be fettered, but the mind is uncontrollable. The body will die and will become dust or be eaten by vultures; but the spirit will exist forever."
Commoro--"Where will the spirit live ?"
"Where does fire live? Cannot you produce a fire* (* The natives always produce fire by rubbing two sticks together.) by rubbing two sticks together? Yet you SEE not the fire in the wood. Has not that fire, that lies harmless and unseen in the sticks, the power to consume the whole country? Which is the stronger, the small stick that first PRODUCES the fire, or the fire itself? So is the spirit the element within the body, as the element of fire exists in the stick, the element being superior to the substance."
Commoro--"Ha! Can you explain what we frequently see at night when lost in the wilderness? I have myself been lost, and wandering in the dark I have seen a distant fire; upon approaching the fire has vanished, and I have been unable to trace the cause, nor could I find the spot."
"Have you no idea of the existence of spirits superior to either man or beast? Have you no fear of evil except from bodily causes?"
Commoro.--"I am afraid of elephants and other animals when in the jungle at night; but of nothing else."
"Then you believe in nothing--neither in a good nor evil spirit! And you believe that when you die it will be the end of body and spirit; that you are like other animals; and that there is no distinction between man and beast; both disappear, and end at death?"
Commoro.--"Of course they do."
"Do you see no difference in good and bad actions?"
Commoro.--"Yes, there are good and bad in men and beasts."
"Do you think that a good man and a bad must share the same fate, and alike die, and end?"
Commoro.--"Yes; what else can they do? How can they help dying? Good and bad all die."
"Their bodies perish, but their spirits remain; the good in happiness, the bad in misery. If you leave no belief in a future state, WHY SHOULD A MAN BE GOOD? Why should he not be bad, if he can prosper by wickedness?"
Commoro.--"Most people are bad; if they are strong they take from the weak. The good people are all weak; they are good because they are not strong enough to be bad."
Some corn had been taken out of a sack for the horses, and a few grains lying scattered on the ground, I tried the beautiful metaphor of St. Paul as an example of a future state. Making a small hole with my finger in the ground, I placed a grain within it: "That," I said, "represents you when you die." Covering it with earth, I continued, "That grain will decay, but from it will rise the plant that will produce a reappearance of the original form."
Commoro.--"Exactly so; that I understand. But the original grain does NOT rise again; it rots like the dead man, and is ended. The fruit produced is not the same grain that we buried, but the PRODUCTION of that grain. So it is with man. I die, and decay, and am ended; but my children grow up like the fruit of the grain. Some men have no children, and some grains perish without fruit; then all are ended."
I was obliged to change the subject of conversation. In this wild naked savage there was not even a superstition upon which to found a religious feeling; there was a belief in matter, and to his understanding everything was MATERIAL. It was extraordinary to find so much clearness of perception combined with such complete obtuseness to anything ideal.
Disease in the camp--Forward under difficulties--Our cup of misery overflows--A rain-maker in a dilemma--Fever again--Ibrahim's quandary--Firing the prairie.
Sickness now rapidly spread among my animals. Five donkeys died within a few days, and the rest looked poor. Two of my camels died suddenly, having eaten the poison-bush. Within a few days of this disaster my good old hunter and companion of all my former sports in the Base country, Tetel, died. These terrible blows to my expedition were most satisfactory to the Latookas, who ate the donkeys and other animals the moment they died. It was a race between the natives and the vultures as to who should be first to profit by my losses.
Not only were the animals sick, but my wife was laid up with a violent attack of gastric fever, and I was also suffering from daily attacks of ague. The small- pox broke out among the Turks. Several people died, and, to make matters worse, they insisted upon inoculating themselves and all their slaves; thus the whole camp was reeking with this horrible disease.
Fortunately my camp was separate and to windward. I strictly forbade my men to inoculate themselves, and no case of the disease occurred among my people; but it spread throughout the country. Small-pox is a scourge among the tribes of Central Africa, and it occasionally sweeps through the country and decimates the population.
I had a long examination of Wani, the guide and interpreter, respecting the country of Magungo. Loggo, the Bari interpreter, always described Magungo as being on a large river, and I concluded that it must be the Asua; but upon cross-examination I found he used the word "Bahr" (in Arabic signifying river or sea) instead of "Birbe (lake). This important error being discovered gave a new feature to the geography of this part. According to his description, Magungo was situated on a lake so large that no one knew its limits. Its breadth was such that, if one journeyed two days east and the same distance west, there was no land visible on either quarter, while to the south its direction was utterly unknown. Large vessels arrived at Magungo from distant arid unknown parts, bringing cowrie-shells and beads in exchange for ivory. Upon these vessels white men had been seen. All the cowrie-shells used in Latooka and the neighboring countries were supplied by these vessels, but none had arrived for the last two years.
I concluded the lake was no other than the N'yanza, which, if the position of Mangungo were correct, extended much farther north than Speke had supposed. I determined to take the first opportunity to push for Magungo. The white men spoken of by Wani probably referred to Arabs, who, being simply brown, were called white men by the blacks. I was called a VERY WHITE MAN as a distinction; but I have frequently been obliged to take off my shirt to exhibit the difference of color between myself and men, as my face had become brown.
The Turks had set June 23d as the time for their departure from Latooka. On the day preceding my wife was dangerously ill with bilious fever, and was unable to stand, and I endeavored to persuade the trader's party to postpone their departure for a few days. They would not hear of such a proposal; they had so irritated the Latookas that they feared an attack, and their captain or vakeel, Ibrahim, had ordered them immediately to vacate the country. This was a most awkward position for me. The traders had incurred the hostility of the country, and I should bear the brunt of it should I remain behind alone. Without their presence I should be unable to procure porters, as the natives would not accompany my feeble party, especially as I could offer them no other payment than beads or copper. The rain had commenced within the last few days at Latooka, and on the route toward Obbo we should encounter continual storms. We were to march by a long and circuitous route to avoid the rocky passes that would be dangerous in the present spirit of the country, especially as the traders possessed large herds that must accompany the party. They allowed five days' march for the distance to Obbo by the intended route. This was not an alluring programme for the week's entertainment, with my wife almost in a dying state! However, I set to work and fitted an angarep with arched hoops from end to end, so as to form a frame like the cap of a wagon. This I covered with two waterproof Abyssinian tanned hides securely strapped, and lashing two long poles parallel to the sides of the angarep, I formed an excellent palanquin. In this she was assisted, and we started on June 23d.
On our arrival at Obbo both my wife and I were excessively ill with bilious fever, and neither could assist the other. The old chief of Obbo, Katchiba, hearing that we were dying, came to charm us with some magic spell. He found us lying helpless, and immediately procured a small branch of a tree, and filling his month with water he squirted it over the leaves and about the floor of the hut. He then waved the branch around my wife's head, also around mine, and completed the ceremony by sticking it in the thatch above the doorway. He told us we should now get better, and, perfectly satisfied, took his leave.
The hut was swarming with rats and white ants, the former racing over our bodies during the night and burrowing through the floor, filling our only room with mounds like molehills. As fast as we stopped the holes, others were made with determined perseverance. Having a supply of arsenic, I gave them an entertainment, the effect being disagreeable to all parties, as the rats died in their holes and created a horrible effluvium, while fresh hosts took the place of the departed. Now and then a snake would be seen gliding within the thatch, having taken shelter front the pouring rain.
The small-pox was raging throughout the country, and the natives were dying like flies in winter. The country was extremely unhealthy, owing to the constant rain and the rank herbage, which prevented a free circulation of air, and the extreme damp induced fevers. The temperature was 65 degrees Fahr. at night and 72 degrees during the day; dense clouds obscured the sun for many days, and the air was reeking with moisture. In the evening it was always necessary to keep a blazing fire within the hut, as the floor and walls were wet and chilly.
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