So it happened that as Tarzan and Tambudza sneaked warily
Our camp on the Sinjere stood under a wide-spreading wild fig-tree. From the numbers of this family, of large size, dotted over the country, the fig or banyan species would seem to have been held sacred in Africa from the remotest times. The soil teemed with white ants, whose clay tunnels, formed to screen them from the eyes of birds, thread over the ground, up the trunks of trees, and along the branches, from which the little architects clear away all rotten or dead wood. Very often the exact shape of branches is left in tunnels on the ground and not a bit of the wood inside. The first night we passed here these destructive insects ate through our grass-beds, and attacked our blankets, and certain large red-headed ones even bit our flesh.
On some days not a single white ant is to be seen abroad; and on others, and during certain hours, they appear out of doors in myriads, and work with extraordinary zeal and energy in carrying bits of dried grass down into their nests. During these busy reaping-fits the lizards and birds have a good time of it, and enjoy a rich feast at the expense of thousands of hapless workmen; and when they swarm they are caught in countless numbers by the natives, and their roasted bodies are spoken of in an unctuous manner as resembling grains of soft rice fried in delicious fresh oil.
A strong marauding party of large black ants attacked a nest of white ones near the camp: as the contest took place beneath the surface, we could not see the order of the battle; but it soon became apparent that the blacks had gained the day, and sacked the white town, for they returned in triumph, bearing off the eggs, and choice bits of the bodies of the vanquished. A gift, analogous to that of language, has not been withheld from ants: if part of their building is destroyed, an official is seen coming out to examine the damage; and, after a careful survey of the ruins, he chirrups a few clear and distinct notes, and a crowd of workers begin at once to repair the breach. When the work is completed, another order is given, and the workmen retire, as will appear on removing the soft freshly-built portion. We tried to sleep one rainy might in a native hut, but could not because of attacks by the fighting battalions of a very small species of formica, not more than one-sixteenth of an inch in length. It soon became obvious that they were under regular discipline, and even attempting to carry out the skilful plans and stratagems of some eminent leader. Our hands and necks were the first objects of attack. Large bodies of these little pests were massed in silence round the point to be assaulted. We could hear the sharp shrill word of command two or three times repeated, though until then we had not believed in the vocal power of an ant; the instant after we felt the storming hosts range over head and neck, biting the tender skin, clinging with a death-grip to the hair, and parting with their jaws rather than quit their hold. On our lying down again in the hope of their having been driven off, no sooner was the light out, and all still, than the manoeuvre was repeated. Clear and audible orders were issued, and the assault renewed. It was as hard to sleep in that hut as in the trenches before Sebastopol. The white ant, being a vegetable feeder, devours articles of vegetable origin only, and leather, which, by tanning, is imbued with a vegetable flavour. "A man may be rich to-day and poor to-morrow, from the ravages of white ants," said a Portuguese merchant. "If he gets sick, and unable to look after his goods, his slaves neglect them, and they are soon destroyed by these insects." The reddish ant, in the west called drivers, crossed our path daily, in solid columns an inch wide, and never did the pugnacity of either man or beast exceed theirs. It is a sufficient cause of war if you only approach them, even by accident. Some turn out of the ranks and stand with open mandibles, or, charging with extended jaws, bite with savage ferocity. When hunting, we lighted among them too often; while we were intent on the game, and without a thought of ants, they quietly covered us from head to foot, then all began to bite at the same instant; seizing a piece of the skin with their powerful pincers, they twisted themselves round with it, as if determined to tear it out. Their bites are so terribly sharp that the bravest must run, and then strip to pick off those that still cling with their hooked jaws, as with steel forceps. This kind abounds in damp places, and is usually met with on the banks of streams. We have not heard of their actually killing any animal except the Python, and that only when gorged and quite lethargic, but they soon clear away any dead animal matter; this appears to be their principal food, and their use in the economy of nature is clearly in the scavenger line.
We started from the Sinjere on the 12th of June, our men carrying with them bundles of hippopotamus meat for sale, and for future use. We rested for breakfast opposite the Kakolole dyke, which confines the channel, west of the Manyerere mountain. A rogue monkey, the largest by far that we ever saw, and very fat and tame, walked off leisurely from a garden as we approached. The monkey is a sacred animal in this region, and is never molested or killed, because the people believe devoutly that the souls of their ancestors now occupy these degraded forms, and anticipate that they themselves must, sooner or later, be transformed in like manner; a future as cheerless for the black as the spirit-rapper's heaven is for the whites. The gardens are separated from each other by a single row of small stones, a few handfuls of grass, or a slight furrow made by the hoe. Some are enclosed by a reed fence of the flimsiest construction, yet sufficient to keep out the ever wary hippopotamus, who dreads a trap. His extreme caution is taken advantage of by the women, who hang, as a miniature trap-beam, a kigelia fruit with a bit of stick in the end. This protects the maize, of which he is excessively fond.
The quantity of hippopotamus meat eaten by our men made some of them ill, and our marches were necessarily short. After three hours' travel on the 13th, we spent the remainder of the day at the village of Chasiribera, on a rivulet flowing through a beautiful valley to the north, which is bounded by magnificent mountain-ranges. Pinkwe, or Mbingwe, otherwise Moeu, forms the south-eastern angle of the range. On the 16th June we were at the flourishing village of Senga, under the headman Manyame, which lies at the foot of the mount Motemwa. Nearly all the mountains in this country are covered with open forest and grass, in colour, according to the season, green or yellow. Many are between 2000 and 3000 feet high, with the sky line fringed with trees; the rocks show just sufficiently for one to observe their stratification, or their granitic form, and though not covered with dense masses of climbing plants, like those in moister eastern climates, there is still the idea conveyed that most of the steep sides are fertile, and none give the impression of that barrenness which, in northern mountains, suggests the idea that the bones of the world are sticking through its skin.
The villagers reported that we were on the footsteps of a Portuguese half-caste, who, at Senga, lately tried to purchase ivory, but, in consequence of his having murdered a chief near Zumbo and twenty of his men, the people declined to trade with him. He threatened to take the ivory by force, if they would not sell it; but that same night the ivory and the women were spirited out of the village, and only a large body of armed men remained. The trader, fearing that he might come off second best if it came to blows, immediately departed. Chikwanitsela, or Sekuanangila, is the paramount chief of some fifty miles of the northern bank of the Zambesi in this locality. He lives on the opposite, or southern side, and there his territory is still more extensive. We sent him a present from Senga, and were informed by a messenger next morning that he had a cough and could not come over to see us. "And has his present a cough too," remarked one of our party, "that it does not come to us? Is this the way your chief treats strangers, receives their present, and sends them no food in return?" Our men thought Chikwanitsela an uncommonly stingy fellow; but, as it was possible that some of them might yet wish to return this way, they did not like to scold him more than this, which was sufficiently to the point.
Men and women were busily engaged in preparing the ground for the November planting. Large game was abundant; herds of elephants and buffaloes came down to the river in the night, but were a long way off by daylight. They soon adopt this habit in places where they are hunted.
The plains we travel over are constantly varying in breadth, according as the furrowed and wooded hills approach or recede from the river. On the southern side we see the hill Bungwe, and the long, level, wooded ridge Nyangombe, the first of a series bending from the S.E. to the N.W. past the Zambesi. We shot an old pallah on the 16th, and found that the poor animal had been visited with more than the usual share of animal afflictions. He was stone-blind in both eyes, had several tumours, and a broken leg, which showed no symptoms of ever having begun to heal. Wild animals sometimes suffer a great deal from disease, and wearily drag on a miserable existence before relieved of it by some ravenous beast. Once we drove off a maneless lion and lioness from a dead buffalo, which had been in the last stage of a decline. They had watched him staggering to the river to quench his thirst, and sprang on him as he was crawling up the bank. One had caught him by the throat, and the other by his high projecting backbone, which was broken by the lion's powerful fangs. The struggle, if any, must have been short. They had only eaten the intestines when we frightened them off. It is curious that this is the part that wild animals always begin with, and that it is also the first choice of our men. Were it not a wise arrangement that only the strongest males should continue the breed, one could hardly help pitying the solitary buffalo expelled from the herd for some physical blemish, or on account of the weakness of approaching old age. Banished from female society, he naturally becomes morose and savage; the necessary watchfulness against enemies is now never shared by others; disgusted, he passes into a state of chronic war with all who enjoy life, and the sooner after his expulsion that he fills the lion's or the wild-dog's maw, the better for himself and for the peace of the country.
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