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 The Wanderobo—Visit from the Wanderobo chief—Native bartering—A grand meeting of surrounding tribes for blood brotherhood under my auspices—Dancing frenzy—Native ideas of a future life—Again trek for the unknown—Attacked by natives—Chief’s admonition—Decide to visit the Wanderobo chief Olomondo—Wanderobo gluttony—The honey bird—Wanderobo methods of hunting—Massacre of a Goanese safari—My narrow escape—General uprising of hostile tribes—Rise of the Chinga tribe against me—My precarious position—Successful sally and total defeat of the enemy—My blood brother, the Kikuyu chieftain, comes to my aid with thousands of armed men—Total extinction of the Chinga people
During my stay at Wagombi’s another chief turned up, who proved to be a man named Olomondo, chief of the Wanderobo tribe. The Wanderobo are a race of hunters, who live entirely by hunting, and inhabit the country round Mount Kenia and on the great plain adjoining Wagombi’s country, down towards the Guasa Nyero River. Olomondo came to see me, and, according to the custom of the country, brought me a present of honey. It is always customary when making a visit to a stranger to bring a present, and the
recipient is himself expected to return the compliment by giving a present of at least an equal value to the one he has received. This man was plainly quite a different type of native to Wagombi’s people, being rather sharp-featured and practically the same as the Masai. I found out, in the course of conversation, that his clan numbered about six hundred men, besides women and children, and that their kraal was about two days’ march to the north-west of us. He mentioned the Maswatch-wanya, and told me that in the course of his hunting he had seen these pigmy people, but had never got into communication with them. It was Wagombi’s boast that Mount Kenia belonged to him and the Wanderobo were his people, and joined him if there was a fight. I afterwards found that they were a very timid people, but, judging from the quality of their weapons, I should imagine that they could put up a good fight, Olomondo’s bow and arrows being much larger and stronger than those of the Kikuyu, which were like toys in comparison, while as a proof of their ability to use them, I saw Olomondo put an arrow clean through an antelope as big as a sheep. He invited me out to his camp, saying that he had some ivory for sale, and also saying that there was any amount of game out on the plain, and asking me to go hunting with him. This I promised to do later on. Incidentally, he complained
of the Kikuyu getting his ivory, as many of the elephants his people wounded strayed away and died in the forest, and the Kikuyu would find their bodies and take the ivory. I told him that I was afraid I could not do anything in the matter, as it was quite impossible to trace the ivory. The Wanderobo knew the commercial value of ivory, and had sold it to the Arab and Swahili traders.
After some discussion it was arranged that Olomondo should make blood brotherhood with me at the same time as the other chiefs, and the difficulty then arose as to where the ceremony should take place. Wagombi, being the biggest chief, naturally wanted it to take place at Mount Kenia, but on messages being sent to Karkerrie and Muga-wa-diga, they refused to come to Wagombi’s, saying that they were enemies of each other, and that they had no guarantee that they would not be murdered on the way. I then suggested to Wagombi that he should send them each a present of a goat or a sheep, but he said that he would sooner eat them himself. He was a bigger man than either of the other chiefs, and it was for them to send him a present first. For some time there was a deadlock, but I finally got out of the difficulty by asking Wagombi if he would give me the presents. He replied, “Certainly, you can have a hundred if you like. My place is yours, take
anything you want.” I said that I did not want anything out of the ordinary; if he would give me one or two sheep, that was all that I wanted; so he had the sheep brought in. I then said, “All right, you have given me these sheep, I can do anything I like with them.” He replied, “Yes, they are yours, I have given them to you.” So I then told him that I intended to send one sheep to Karkerrie and one to Muga-wa-diga, telling them that they were presents from him and myself, and I also arranged with them that we should meet about half-way, and selected a place for the ceremony. Eventually they all agreed to this and the day was fixed.
The site I had chosen formed a natural amphitheatre, and was a spot I had noted on my way to Wagombi’s from Tato. It was an open space, which I was told was used at certain times as a market-place, and I had an opportunity later on of seeing one of these markets held. On that occasion hundreds of natives collected there for the purpose of exchanging their various goods. The noise of haggling and bargaining was terrific. One thing I noticed was that there was no livestock in the market, but all other kinds of produce were to be seen, and it was amusing to watch a couple of old women arguing as to how many sweet potatoes ought to be exchanged for so many beans. One crowd would have loads of calabashes, while another would be selling
piles of cooking-pots made of a sort of clay, only to be found in certain parts of the country, which was especially suitable for that purpose; while in another part of the market large quantities of the red ochre—or siriga, as it is called—which the natives used for painting their bodies was to be had. Another peculiar thing I noticed was the selling of the native drink njohi, in exchange for a hornful of which I saw a native pay over a hornful of beans. Having no money, everything was bought and sold by means of a system of barter, which was not accomplished without much arguing and haggling, everybody gesticulating and shouting at once.
It was on the site of this market-ground that the ceremony of blood brotherhood was to take place, and it was looked upon as a great event in the country, and the occasion for much feasting and rejoicing. Thousands of the natives attended, each chief bringing a large crowd of followers, while all the tribes in the neighbourhood were fully represented, but no women or children were present. Wagombi took quite a large number of his people, and I took the bulk of mine, leaving only a few in charge of the camp; while Olomondo, the Wanderobo chief, had about ten of his men with him. An immense crowd had already gathered when we arrived, Karkerrie and Muga-wa-diga—each attended by hundreds of warriors—having got there in
advance of us. It was a stirring spectacle to see these thousands of warriors gathered together in all their savage glory, their bodies elaborately painted and oiled, and each man armed with spear and shield, while their dress of skins added to their savage appearance. The natives were for the most part standing about, but a few of the older men were sitting down talking matters over, and our arrival was greeted with shouting and singing. Such an event as this was, of course, entirely new to them, nothing like it having ever taken place before in the Kikuyu country, and as it was through my influence that it had been brought about, I was naturally the centre of interest. I had the union Jack with me as usual, and as we advanced there was a lull in the conversation, and all became quiet and expectant.
Noticing that some had already begun drinking njohi, I advised the chiefs that it would be much better to leave the drinking until their return to their homes, because, as all these natives had previously been hostile to each other, and knowing the native character, I was afraid that they would be getting drunk and starting to quarrel, which would spoil everything. The chiefs readily fell in with my suggestion, and at once put a stop to the drinking. At my suggestion also, all the weapons were placed on the ground, the warriors depositing their swords and spears in
heaps, which four of my men were told off to guard.
When all the people were grouped round in a circle, with the chief actors in the middle, I addressed them through an interpreter, and explained the object of the gathering, telling them that they were met together on friendly terms to make blood brotherhood with the chiefs of the country, and that it was for this reason that they had been asked to lay aside their weapons. While this was going on a fire had been lighted, and a sheep was brought in and killed. Each chief supplemented what I had said with some words to the same effect—the old witch doctor, Muga-wa-diga, being the most loquacious, and taking full advantage of the opportunity thus afforded him of indulging his vanity—and then the chief orators of the tribes voiced their opinions in turn. During the speech-making the chiefs and myself were grouped round the fire talking together while the process of cooking certain parts of the sheep was going on. The heart and liver were taken out and cut into little pieces, which were then roasted separately on a skewer, carefully cut and shaved clean before the meat was put on, the result being something like the Oriental mutton kabobs.
When the cooking was finished the orators ceased talking, and all attention was turned on us. Olomondo, the hunter chief, was the first
to take a prominent part in the ceremony. Taking one of his sharp arrows, he made an incision in the flesh of each one who was to be joined in blood brotherhood just above the heart. When this had been done the meat was passed round, each one receiving a piece, which he first rubbed in the blood from the wound made by the arrow, and then handed it to his neighbour, who had already done the same with the meat he had received. The meat was then eaten, and this went on until each one had eaten the blood from each and all in turn. This completed the ceremony, and every one turned to dancing and rejoicing, sheep and goats being killed and roasted, and a big feast was held. In the excitement some of my men lost their heads and started firing their rifles in the air, an incident which nearly precipitated a fight, and threatened to undo all the good that had been done. As soon as I heard the firing I rushed up, and at once realized what had happened; but some of the natives thought there was an intention of foul play and began hunting for their spears, and in spite of my explanation things looked ugly, and it was some time before all were reassured and things calmed down.
I advised the chiefs not to delay too long before returning to their homes, as the temper of the people might change, in which case there would probably be trouble. The natives get very
excited when dancing, and work themselves into hysterics, when they are not responsible for what they may do. Among my own people I had put a stop to that sort of thing by putting any man who showed signs of getting into that state under restraint at once. Before taking these steps I had seen as many as twenty men at one time all mad with excitement, first one and then another going clean off his head. They would gradually work themselves up into a perfect state of frenzy, until they trembled from head to foot, and after jumping up and down would draw in their breath in great gulps and suddenly grip their spears and run amok. The other natives thought they were possessed of a devil,[14] and
their method of treating a man so affected was to bear him to the ground by sheer force, and then half a dozen or more would sit on him. I found, however, that a little salutary punishment very quickly cured them of that sort of thing.
14. This devil, whom they called Ngoma, appeared to correspond more to the Christian idea of the devil than is often the case with the deities of savage tribes. The Kikuyu were monotheists, regarding Ngai as a benevolent deity, from whom all benefits came, and to whom they offered sacrifices and paid homage, with a view to favours to come; while Ngoma, on the other hand, was a deity who brought only evil and disaster upon them, and to whom they offered no sacrifices and paid no homage, wherein they would appear to be a good deal more like consistent Christians should be than the majority of the modern professors of that faith, including a good many native clergy, who, in spite of their orders and profession of Christianity, still practise in secret the heathen rites and superstitions of their ancestors.
The Kikuyu are also firm believers in a future life, though possibly from a somewhat materialistic point of view. Their belief is that their “heaven” is situated under the earth, while the abode of Ngoma is above it, and that when they die their spirit goes to the world below, where they will lead a similar life to that which they have left on earth, possessing the same herds of sheep, cattle, and goats as they then had, and being joined again by their wives as they die.
It was pretty late in the afternoon when we left the camp to return to Wagombi’s, after seeing that all the others had started for their homes.
I prolonged my stay at Wagombi’s for some time, and continued to trade in ivory, which, as I have said, I bought at a very cheap rate. I happened to have the right sort of trade goods, and the natives were very anxious to deal. I remember that they took a particular liking for one special fancy cloth that I had, and there was quite a run on it. It was a very gaudy material, in a variety of colours, and after they had wrapped a piece loosely round them, they would run about like children, being delighted to see it fluttering in the wind as it streamed behind them like a huge blanket.
I was told that some natives living more down towards the coast had quite a lot of ivory, and that the trade goods which I had still left with me—chiefly iron and brass wire—would be very
suitable for trading with them. I also gathered that these people were living in the part of the country where Gibbons’s safari had been cut up, and that if I went there I would have to take every precaution, as I should probably find them hostile. Wagombi agreed to provide me with guides and gave me all the information in his power.
As I was anxious to see the country, and to get into touch with the people with whom Gibbons fared so badly, I arranged to make the journey, and proceeded to get my expedition together. Having buried the ivory I had bought at Wagombi’s, as I had done that at Tato, when all was in readiness I said goodbye to the friendly chief, and once again trekked off to parts unknown.
The country was very much the same as that through which I had already passed, being very hilly and thickly wooded, but the natives had heard of my coming and had evidently no desire to meet me. They had deserted all their villages, and I could not get into touch with them at all, although at different times I got glimpses of some of them on the tops of the hills, and though we shouted to them that we were friends, they would not come near us. As their attitude was threatening, I came to the conclusion that they were enemies of Wagombi, and each night when we camped I took the precaution of erecting a
boma, and would not allow any man outside the camp unless it was absolutely necessary. The first trouble came when the men went out to get water. We were camped on some high ground at a considerable distance from the river, so I sent a good guard with the party going for water, and as they were returning up the hill I suddenly heard a lot of shouting. Taking some more of my men, I rushed down to see what was happening, and found that the party was being attacked by a big crowd of savages, who were shooting at them with arrows. In this part of the country they use bows and arrows more than spears, and I actually saw some women armed with these weapons and using them as well as the men. Some of the savages had got up in the trees and were firing on my men as they passed beneath, and before we managed to clear them out and drive them away, one of my men had been killed and another wounded by the arrows. Getting back to the camp, we found that it was surrounded by another howling mob of niggers, and we had great difficulty in fighting our way through and getting in. Once safely in the camp, we turned and poured a steady fire into the mass. This fusillade eventually drove them off, though several very ugly rushes were made before they finally gave up the attempt to overpower us.
From the height on which the camp was
pitched we could see dozens of villages all round us, and it was very evident that the country was very thickly populated; but feeling absolutely safe as long as we stuck together, we were not alarmed at the hostile demonstrations on the part of the natives, who still threatened us from a safe distance, so we slept there that night, nothing happening to disturb our rest, but of course a strict guard was kept.
The next morning the natives again gathered round us; but it was a very half-hearted attack that they made this time, however, as they chiefly contented themselves with shouting insulting remarks at us from a distance, only now and then making a combined rush, which we easily beat off. Not that my men did very much damage, as the native has no idea of shooting straight, and it is very difficult to make them understand the sights of a rifle. My men were all right up to a hundred yards, as I had taught them always to aim low, whereas the native is apt to fire high; while the ordinary native who has had no training with a gun is absolutely useless, generally turning his head the other way when he pulls the trigger.
The natives kept up their hostile attitude for some days, occasionally creeping up and dropping arrows into the camp, while we waited, expecting that they would either make friends or put forth a big effort to wipe us out altogether. Our great
difficulty was that food was beginning to run short, our supply having been only a small one to start with; so feeling that it was useless to hope to make friends with these people, and that therefore nothing was to be gained by staying there, I decided to trek back to Wagombi’s. Breaking camp, we started back, and although the natives shouted at us from a safe distance, as usual, they made no attempt to cut us off, so we got safely back to our old camp. When Wagombi had heard my account of what had happened, he said that, if I liked, he would muster his people and, as he expressively put it, “go and clear up the whole country.” I thanked him, but declined his kind offer, as I felt that it was taking on too big a job, and I was also anxious to get back to my old quarters at Karuri’s, from which I had now been away about six months. During the time I had been away I had heard no definite news of what was going on there, but it was reported that we were all killed, and that long ago they had given up all hope of seeing us again.
When I declined Wagombi’s offer to make war on the tribe that had attacked us, I told him that my idea was to get on friendly terms with the natives without any shooting or anything of that sort, and after I had explained this to him he was rather disappointed with me, and said, “Why all this humbug? The country is yours.
What’s the use of humbugging about like a woman?” We had a lot of talk about it, and after a time he gave in and seemed to be convinced, remarking that I was a white man and must know better than he what was the best thing to do.
Olomondo, the hunter chief of the Wanderobo, was still staying at Wagombi’s, but he and his people were getting restless, and wanted to get back to their families. He was anxious that I should accompany him, promising me plenty of ivory and hunting if I would go with him; so, thinking the opportunity of making friends with his tribe, and at the same time securing more ivory, was too good to be lost, I decided to defer my return to headquarters until after I had paid him my promised visit. I had left some good men in charge at Karuri’s, who would be still buying food in my absence, and as I had taken a good supply into the Government stations before I left, I had no fear that they would be running short. I also took into consideration the fact that I was making more money by ivory trading, and this partly influenced me in deciding to accompany Olomondo. In addition to all these reasons I had a strong desire to get more into the wilds and out amongst the game. I was not feeling too well, as the strain of the past few months was beginning to tell on me, and I felt that the change from the thickly-populated
district to the practically uninhabited country which was the hunting-ground of the Wanderobo would be very welcome.
We had to take a lot of food with us, and every man had to carry a load, as no flour was to be bought from the Wanderobo, who live entirely upon flesh. I also got a few of Wagombi’s people to carry some flour and other things that we should require, but they were to return home when we had decided upon the site for our headquarter camp, as we should make a food station there. Of course, I could have shot plenty of game, but the Kikuyu would not eat it, being in most cases vegetarians.
Having got everything ready for the expedition and said a lot of farewells—Wagombi being very sorry that I was leaving his part of the country—we started off. The first part of our journey led through forest country, and at the end of the first day’s march all signs of human habitation had disappeared, and we camped that night at the edge of the forest, while before us stretched a beautiful park-like country, open plain with patches of forest here and there, which struck me as an ideal district for farming. The change from the thickly populated Kikuyu country and the absence of native villages was most refreshing, and I slept very comfortably that night, with the thought of the prospect before us, and awoke to a cool,
fresh morning and a beautiful sunrise. Going out of my tent, I revelled in the beauty of the scene spread out before me, and once more experienced the exhilarating feeling of gipsy-like freedom, the liberty to roam where I would at will, hunting the wild game which could be seen in plenty from the door of my tent.
Watering the rich pasture-lands of the plain were numerous cool streams coming down from the mountains, and flowing through the valley to form the Guasa Nyero. All around were the virgin forests, while out on the open plain were many most inviting spots for camping. The whole country was free for us to go wherever we wished, without any fear of interference. One felt that one was in a different world, and wondered how any one who had experienced this sense of freedom from the trammels of civilization could ever wish to go back to the crowded cities, or be cooped up within the four walls of a house. At that moment of exhilaration I certainly did not envy the civilized citizen at home.
After breakfast we set out again on the march, and continued until the heat of the sun began to be oppressive, when we rested for lunch, continuing our journey afterwards through further stretches of most beautiful scenery. Three days’ march from Wagombi’s we came to the village of the Wanderobo, who had been
warned of our coming by messengers sent on ahead of the caravan. They gave us a friendly welcome, but it was evident that they were a very timid people, and I was convinced that, had Olomondo not been with me, I should never have come in contact with them, as they would certainly have kept out of my way entirely. They seemed a bit scared at seeing so many of my followers, but the chief assured them that there was no cause for alarm. Their kraal was a very primitive affair, being simply a lean-to shed, without the slightest attempt at privacy—all the married men and their wives occupying one portion, and the young men and girls another—while I found them the laziest and dirtiest people I had ever met. They will not go out hunting until they are absolutely starving, and when they have killed some big animal, they simply gorge themselves on it, sitting round it, and never leave the spot until every scrap of the meat has been devoured. I was to have an early example of this practice. I had brought with me ten big bullocks, and, as these people had a fair amount of ivory, they were able to buy the whole lot. To my surprise, no sooner had they got the bullocks into their possession than they killed the whole ten at once, and fires having been lighted, a circle of savages gathered round each bullock, and, as it cooked, cut off huge strips of the flesh and ate them, not moving away
until each bullock had been absolutely disposed of. A more disgusting spectacle I never witnessed. They live entirely on meat, but have a drink which they make from the wild honey. A remarkable thing in connexion with this honey is that they are often shown where to find it by following a bird, which they call the honey bird. One day, when out hunting, I noticed a small bird of a brownish colour, not much larger than a sparrow, which was twittering on a bush close at hand. Presently it flew towards me, twittering overhead, and afterwards alighted on a tree, still twittering, and the Wanderobo began to talk to it. I had heard of the honey bird before, but this was the first time that I had seen one, and I was very much interested. The natives continued to talk to it, and when it began to fly again, they followed it as it went twittering along, keeping just a little in advance of us, for perhaps a couple of miles, until we came to a hollow tree, where it stopped, and the Wanderobo, saying that we should find some honey there, began chopping the tree away until they found a considerable store of wild honey. After taking the honey out, they gave a certain quantity to the bird—or rather, left some in the tree for it, as they said that if they did not do that, the bird would, on another occasion, lead them on to a dangerous animal or a big snake. Of course this was simply a piece of
native superstition, which I satisfactorily proved to have no truth in it, as I took the trouble to test it one day when I had followed the honey bird, by taking every bit of the honey to which it led me, without leaving any for the bird. After flying round two or three times, it went twittering on again for another two or three miles, and when it finally stopped, fluttering round a tree as before, I found that it had simply led me to another store of honey; so I disposed of one native belief.
The Wanderobo women were fairly well dressed—in skins—but the men wore hardly any clothing at all. When necessity compels them to move they are fairly good hunters, and will creep up to within ten yards of an elephant, to spear it. The spear is fashioned something after the manner of a harpoon, the head being fixed to the shaft in such a way that, on striking the elephant, it becomes detached, and remains in the wound, while the shaft falls to the ground. It would not, of course, be sufficient to kill an elephant but for the fact that it is poisoned; and even then the elephant will often travel a considerable distance before succumbing to the poison. Singularly enough, the poison used appears only to affect the part immediately in the neighbourhood of the wound, and when this has been cut out, the natives eat the remainder of the flesh with perfect safety. Of course, as
I mentioned before, the Wanderobo do not get the benefit of all the elephants they wound fatally, as many of the wounded animals manage to wander too far away into the forest to be tracked before they die, and any one finding them gets the benefit of the ivory.
The Wanderobo are very skilful with the bow and arrow, and can easily send an arrow right through a buck at fifty yards’ range, while their method of hunting these animals is distinctly novel. Taking a donkey, they fix a pair of horns to its head, and having carefully marked it with charcoal, to make it look as much like an ordinary buck as possible, they then crawl up on the lee side of it until they get close up to the game, which falls to an easy shot. The donkey seems to know the business, and is a very clever decoy.
I learned during my stay that some of the Wanderobo had once mustered up courage to attack some Swahili, whom they had murdered, some of the tribe giving my men the details of their treachery; but, as a rule, they were much too timid to engage in anything of the sort.
One peculiar point about these people was that they all seemed to have a cast in the eye, which I was a good deal puzzled to account for. Whether the meat diet on which they lived so exclusively had anything to do with it, or whether it was owing to their dirty habits—and
they certainly were most abominably dirty—I cannot say; but the peculiarity seemed almost universal in the tribe.
I made my camp at a good distance from the village, to escape the unpleasant odour of the decaying meat which was left about, and to escape the vermin, as their huts simply swarmed with fleas, and I well remember the first time that this was brought to my notice. I had been going through the village, and found my clothes covered with what I at first took to be grass seeds; but what was my disgust to find, when I attempted to brush them off with my hand, that I was literally alive with fleas!
Like all the natives, the Wanderobo are very superstitious, and if, on one of our hunting trips, we should happen to come across the carcass or skull of an elephant, every one of them would spit on it, at th............
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