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STANLEY., Issue 7921, 31 May 1889
HIS LETTER TO THE GEOGRAPHERS,
Mr Stanley’s letter to the Royal Geographical Society was read at a largelyj attended meeting of that body held in the theatre of the University of London recently. ; It gave a graphic description of his perilous ■ journey in Africa. The following extracts will be of interest:— ETERNAL GLOOM The path leading from Yambua was tolerable only for about five miles. We were then introduced into the difficulties, which more or less would impede our movements, and arrest rapid progress. These consisted of creepers varying from one-eighth of an inch to fifteen inches in diameter, springing across the path in bowlines or loops, sometimes massed and twisted together, also of a low dense bush occupying the site of old clearings, which had to be carved through before a passage was possible. Where years had elapsed since the clearings had been abandoned we found a young forest, and the spaces ; between the trees choked with climbing plants, vegetable creepers and tall plants; this kind had to be tunnelled through before an inch of progress could be made. The primeval forest offered least obstruction, but the atmosphere was close, stagnant, impure, and an eternal gloom reigned there, intensified every other day by the thick black clouds charged with rain, so characteristic of this forest region. SUBTLETIES OF HAVAGEDOM. We camped at Yankonde, a populous settlement opposite rapids, on the first day of departure, June 28. Along the river bank no path could bo found, besides, the river trended too much to the North-east for the course I proposed to take; we therefore cut a path through the manioc fields, and came upon a travelled road leading from village to village inland. In a few days we became fully initiated into the subtleties of savage warfare. Every art known to Native minds for annoying strangers was practised by these Natives—the path frequently had shallow pits, filled with sharpened splinters or skewers, deftly covered over with large leaves. For barefooted people this proved a terrible punishment. Often the skewers would perforate the feet quite through ; at other times the tops would be buried in the feet, resulting in gangrenous sores. We had ten men lamed by these skewers—so efficiently lamed that few of them recovered sufficiently to be of much use to us. One of the approaches to every village was a straight road, perhaps a hundred yards long and twelve feet wide, cleared of jungle, but bristling with these skewers carefully and cunningly hidden at every place likely to be trodden by an incautious foot. The real path was crook ed, and took a wide detour—the cut road appeared so tempting, so straight, and so short. At the village end was the watchman, to beat his drum and sound the alarm, when every Native would take his weapons and proceed to the appointed place to ply his bow at every opportunity. Yet, despite a formidable list of hostile measures and attempts, no life was lost, though our wounded increased in number. BUTTERFLIES AND OYSTER SHELLS. Such a land for flies, insects, and butterfliaaThe butterflies congregate around me as I write this letter, and flap their wings in approval of this statement. There are clouds of the latter sailing daily up and across the stream, which lasts for hours. . . . Ou July 9 we came to the rapids of Gwens were, another populous district. Near here I saw a stratum of oyster shells covered with three feet of alluvial soil. THE .STILLNESS OF DEATH, The mornings generally were stern and sombre, the sky covered with lowering and heavy clouds; at other times thick mist buried everything, clearing off about 9 a.m., sometimes not till 11 a.m. Nothing stirs then : Insect life is still asleep; the forest is still as death ; the dark river, darkened by lofty walls of thick forest and vegetation, is silent as a grave; our heartthrobs seem almost clamorous, and our inmost thoughts loud, If no rain follows this darkness, the sun appears from behind the cloudy masses, the mist disappears, life wakens up before its brilliancy. Butterflies scurry through the air, a solitary ibis croaks an alarm, a diver flies across the stream, the forest is full of a strange murmur, and somewhere up the river booms the alarum drum, POISONED ARROWS. At Avisibba, about half-way between Panya Falls and the Nepoko, the Natives attacked our camp in quite a resolute and determined fashion. Their stores of poisoned arrows they thought gave them every advantage ; and, indeed, when the poison is fresh it is most deadly. Lieutenant Stairs and five men were wounded by these. Lieutenant Stairs’ wound was from an arrow, the poison of which was dry—it must have been put on some days before. After three weeks or so he recovered strength, though the wound was not closed for months. One man received a slight puncture near the wrist; he died from tetanus five days after. Another received a puncture near the shoulder in the muscles of the arm ; he died six hours later than the first case—of tetanus also. One was wounded in the gullet—a slight puncture—he died on the seventh day. I believe one wounded in the side| died at night the same day. Tetanus ended the sufferings of all. HOW THE FATAL VENOM IS PREPARED, We were much exercised as to what this poison might be that was so deadly. On returning from the Nyanza to relieve the rear column under Major Barttelot, we halted at Avisibba, and, rummaging among the huts, found several packets of dried red ants or pismires, It was then we knew that the dried bodies of these, ground into powder, cooked in palm oil, and smeared over the wooden points of the arrows, was the deadly irritant by which we lost so many fine men with snoh terrible suffering. Now we wonder that we have been so long in the for we could create any number of poisons from such insects as* we have seen. The large black ant, for instance, whose bite causes a great blister, would be still more venomous prepared in the same way; the small grey caterpillars would make another irritant which, mixed with the blood, would torture a man to death ; the bloated spiders, an inch in length, which are covered with prickjes most painful to the touch, would form another terrible compound, the effect of which makes one shudder to think of. These poisons are prepared in the woods.
In the depths of the forest the savage makes his fire, and prepares the fatal venom which lays low even the huge elephant. It is forbidden to cook it near a village. In the forest he smears his arrows, and having covered the points with fresh loaves, lest he himself might be a victim, he is ready for war. HORRORS OF THE FOKEST. I could write a book almost upon the various species of bees found in this forest region, and several books might be written about the multitude of curious insects wo have seen. What with the bees of all kinds, the wasps, the various kinds of ticks, gnats, etc,, our lives have been made just as miserable as they could well be. We were prepared to encounter the most ferocious cannibals, but the Central African forest now opened for the first time contains some horrors within its gloomy bosom that wo were not prepared for.
STANLEY., Issue 7921, 31 May 1889
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