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A short story by Henry M. Stanley

The Adventures Of Saruti

Title:     The Adventures Of Saruti
Author: Henry M. Stanley [More Titles by Stanley]

"I have a poor memory for legends," said Bujomba, one night, while we were in camp at Benga: "but I remember what a young Mtongole (colonel) named Saruti related to Mtesa after his return from an expedition to the frontier of Unyoro. What a head that man had, and such eyes! Mtesa was ever fond of a good story, and loved to question those whom he sent to distant countries, until you might say that there was nothing left in a man worth hearing after he had done with him. But Saruti did not need any questioning. He talked on and on without stopping, until Mtesa could not sit up longer for sheer weariness. These are among the things he said that he had witnessed on his journey. You must not ask me if I believe all that he said. All I can say is that they might have happened, or been seen by many men, but I never could quite understand how it was that Saruti alone was so lucky as to see all the things he talked about. Anyhow, he was very amusing, and Mtesa laughed heartily many times as he listened to him."

Kabaka, I think my charms which my father suspended round my neck must be very powerful. I am always in luck. I hear good stones on my journey, I see strange things which no one else seems to have come across. Now on this last journey, by the time I reached Singo, I came to a little village, and as I was drinking banana wine with the chief, he told me that there were two lions near his village who had a band of hyenas to serve as soldiers under them. They used to send them out in pairs, sometimes to one district, and sometimes to another, to purvey food for them. If the peasants showed fight, they went back and reported to their masters, and the lions brought all their soldiers with them, who bothered them so that they were glad to leave a fat bullock tied to a tree as tribute. Then the lions would take the bullock and give orders that the peasant who paid his tribute should be left in peace. The chief declared this to be a fact, having had repeated proof of it.

At the next place, which is Mbagwe, the man Buvaiya, who is in charge, told me that when he went a short time before to pay his respects to the Muzimu (the oracle) of the district, he met about thirty kokorwa on the road, hunting close together for snakes, and that as soon as they saw him, they charged at him, and would have killed him had he not run up a tree. He tells me that though they are not much bigger than rabbits, they are very savage, and make travelling alone very dangerous. I think they must be some kind of small dogs. Perhaps the old men of the court may be better able to tell you what they are.

At the next village of Ngondo a smart boy named Rutuana was brought to me, who was said to have been lately playing with a young friend of the same age at long stick and little stick (tip-cat?). His friend hit the little stick, and sent it a great way, and Rutuana had to fetch it from the long grass. While searching for it, one of those big serpents which swallow goats and calves caught him, and coiled itself around him. Though he screamed out for help, Rutuana laid his stick across his chest, and clutching hold of each end with a hand, held fast to it until help came. His friend ran up a tree, and only helped him by screaming. As the serpent could not break the boy's hold of the stick, he was unable to crush his ribs, because his outstretched arms protected them; but when he was nearly exhausted the villagers came out with spears and shields. These fellows, however, were so stupid that they did not know how to kill the serpent until Rutuana shouted to them: "Quick! draw your bows and shoot him through the neck." A man stepped forward then, and when close to him pierced his throat with the arrow, and as the serpent uncoiled himself to attack the men, Rutuana fell down. The serpent was soon speared, and the boy was carried home. I think that boy will become a great warrior.

At the next village the peasants were much disturbed by a multitude of snakes which had collected there for some reason. They had seen several long black snakes which had taken lodging in the anthills. These had already killed five cows, and lately had taken to attacking the travellers along the road that leads by the anthills, when an Arab, named Massoudi, hearing of their trouble, undertook to kill them. He had some slaves with him, and he clothed their legs with buffalo hide, and placed cooking-pots on their heads, and told them to go among the anthills. When the snakes came out of their holes he shot them one by one. Among the reptiles he killed were three kinds of serpents which possessed horns. The peasants skinned them, and made bags of them to preserve their charms. One kind of horned snake, very thick and short, is said to lay eggs as large as those of fowls. The mubarasassa, which is of a greyish colour, is also said to be able to kill elephants.

I then went to Kyengi, beyond Singo, and the peasants, on coming to gossip with me, rather upset me with terrible stories of the mischief done by a big black leopard. It seems that he had first killed a woman, and had carried the body into the bush; and another time had killed two men while they were setting their nets for some small ground game. Then a native hunter, under promise of reward from the chief, set out with two spears to kill him. He did not succeed, but he said that he saw a strange sight. As he was following the track of the leopard, he suddenly came to a little jungle, with an open space in the middle. A large wild sow, followed by her litter of little pigs, was rooting about, and grunting as pigs do, when he saw the monstrous black leopard crawl towards one of the pigs. Then there was a shrill squeal from a piggie, and the mother, looking up, discovered its danger, at which it furiously charged the leopard, clashing her tusks and foaming at the mouth. The leopard turned sharp round, and sprang up a tree. The sow tried to jump up after it, but being unable to reach her enemy in that way, she set about working hard at the roots. While she was busy about it the peasant ran back to obtain a net and assistants, and to get his hunting-dog. When he returned, the sow was still digging away at the bottom of the tree, and had made a great hole all round it. The pigs, frightened at seeing so many men, trotted away into the bush, and the hunter and his friends prepared to catch the leopard. They pegged the net all about the tree, then let loose the dog, and urged him towards the net. As he touched the net, the hunters made a great noise, and shouted, at which the leopard bounded from the tree, and with one scratch of his paw ripped the dog open, sprang over the net, tapped one of the men on the shoulder, and was running away, when he received a wound in the shoulder, and stopped to bite the spear. The hunters continued to worry him, until at last, covered with blood, he lay down and died.

One day's journey beyond Kyengi, I came to the thorn-fenced village of some Watusi shepherds, who, it seems, had suffered much from a pair of lion cubs, which were very fierce. The headman's little boy was looking after some calves when the cubs came and quietly stalked him through the grass, and caught him. The headman took it so much to heart, that as soon as he heard the news he went straight back to his village and hanged himself to a rafter. The Watusi love their families very much, but it seems to be a custom with these herdsmen that if a man takes his own life, the body cannot be buried, and though he was a headman, they carried it to the jungle, and after leaving it for the vultures, they returned and set fire to his hut, and burnt it to the ground. When they had done that, the Watusi collected together and had a long hunt after the young lions, but as yet they have not been able to find them.

When the sun was half-way up the sky, I came from Kyengi to some peasants, who lived near a forest which is affected by the man-monkeys called nzike (gorilla?). I was told by them that the nzike know how to smoke and make fire just as we do. It is a custom among the natives, when they see smoke issuing through the trees, for them to say, "Behold, the nzike is cooking his food." I asked them if it were true that the nzike carried off women to live with them, but they all told me that it was untrue, though the old men sometimes tell such stories to frighten the women, and keep them at home out of danger. Knowing that I was on the king's business, they did not dare tell me their fables.

By asking them all sorts of questions, I was shown to a very old man with a white beard, with whom I obtained much amusement. It appears he is a great man at riddles, and he asked me a great many.

One was, "What is it that always goes straight ahead, and never looks back?"

I tried hard to answer him, but when finally he announced that it was a river, I felt very foolish.

He then asked me, "What is it that is bone outside and meat within?"

The people laughed, and mocked me. Then he said that it was an egg, which was very true.

Another question he gave me was, "What is it that looks both ways when you pass it?"

Some said one thing, and some said another, and at last he answered that it was grass.

Then he asked me, "What good thing was it which a man eats, and which he constantly fastens his eyes upon while he eats, and after eating, throws a half away?" I thought and considered, but I never knew what it was until he told me that it was a roasted ear of Indian corn.

That old man was a very wise one, and among some of his sayings was that "When people dream much, the old moon must be dying."

He also said that "When the old moon is dying, the hunter need never leave home to seek game, because it is well known that he would meet nothing."

And he further added, that at that time the potter need not try to bake any pots, because the clay would be sure to be rotten.

Some other things which he said made me think a little of their meaning.

He said, "When people have provisions in their huts, they do not say, Let us go into another man's house and rob him."

He also said, "When you see a crook-back, you do not ask him to stand straight, nor an old man to join the dance, nor the man who is in pain, to laugh."

And what he said about the traveller is very true. The man who clings to his own hearth does not tickle our ears, like him who sees many lands, and hears new stories.

The next day I stopped at a village near the little lake of Kitesa's called Mtukura. The chief in charge loved talking so much, that he soon made me as well acquainted with the affairs of his family as though he courted my sister. His people are accustomed to eat frogs and rats, and from the noise in the reeds, and the rustling and squealings in the roof of the hut I slept in, I think there is little fear of famine in that village. Nor are they averse, they tell me, to iguanas and those vile feeders, the hyenas.

It is a common belief in the country that it was Naraki, a wife of Uni, a sultan of Unyoro, who made that lake. While passing through, she was very thirsty, and cried out to her Muzimu (spirit), the Muzimu which attends the kings of Unyoro, and which is most potent. And all at once there was a hissing flight of firestones (meteorites) in the air, and immediately after, there was a fall of a monstrously large one, which struck the ground close to her, and made a great hole, out of which the water spurted and continued leaping up until a lake was formed, and buried the fountain out of sight, and the rising waters formed a river, which has run north from the lake ever since into the Kafu.

Close by this lake is a dark grove, sacred to Muzingeh, the king of the birds. It is said that he has only one eye, but once a year he visits the grove, and after building his house, he commands all the birds from the Nyanzas and the groves, to come and see him and pay their homage. For half a moon the birds, great and small, may be seen following him about along the shores of the lake, like so many guards around a king; and before night they are seen returning in the same manner to the grove. The parrots' cries tell the natives when they come, and no one would care to miss the sight, and the glad excitement among the feathered tribe. But there is one bird, called the Kirurumu, that refuses to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Muzingeh. The other birds have tried often to induce him to associate with the Muzingeh; but Kirurumu always answers that a beautiful creature like himself, with gold and blue feathers, and such a pretty crest, was never meant to be seen in the company of an ugly bird that possesses only one eye.

On the other side of Lake Mtukura is a forest where Dungu, the king of the animals, lives. It is to Dungu that all the hunters pray when they set out to seek for game. He builds first a small hut, and after propitiating him with a small piece of flesh, he asks Dungu that he may be successful. Then Dungu enters into the hunter's head, if he is pleased with the offering, and the cunning of the man becomes great; his nerves stiffen, and his bowels are strengthened, and the game is secured. When Dungu wishes a man to succeed in the hunt, it is useless for the buffalo to spurn the earth and moo, or for the leopard to cover himself with sand in his rage--the spear of the hunter drinks his blood. But the hunter must not forget to pay the tribute to the deity, lest he be killed on the way home.

The friendly chief insisted that I should become his blood-fellow, and stay with him a couple of days. The witch-doctor, a man of great influence in the country, was asked to unite us. He took a sharp little knife, and made a gash in the skin of my right leg, just above the knee, and did the same to the chief, and then rubbed his blood over my wound, and my blood over his, and we became brothers. Among his gifts was this beautiful shield, which I beg Mtesa, my Kabaka, to accept, because I have seen none so beautiful, and it is too good for a colonel whose only hope and wish is to serve his king.

I am glad that I rested there, because I saw a most wonderful sight towards evening. As we were seated under the bananas, we heard a big he-goat's bleat, and by the sound of it we knew that it was neither for fun nor for love. It was a tone of anger and fear. Almost at the same time, one of the boys rushed up to us, and his face had really turned grey from fear, and he cried, "There is a lion in the goat-pen, and the big he-goat is fighting with him." They had forgotten to tell me about this famous goat, which was called Kasuju, after some great man who had been renowned in war, and he certainly was worth speaking about, and Kasuju was well known round about for his wonderful strength and fighting qualities. When we got near the pen with our spears and shields, the he-goat was butting the lion--who was young, for he had no mane--as he might have butted a pert young nanny-goat, and baaing with as full a note as that of a buffalo calf. It appears that Kasuju saw the destroyer creeping towards one of his wives, and dashing at his flank knocked him down. As we looked on from the outside, we saw that Kasuju was holding his own very well, and we thought that we would not check the fight, but prepare ourselves to have a good cast at the lion as he attempted to leave. The lion was getting roused up, and we saw the spring he made: but Kasuju nimbly stepped aside and gave him such a stroke that it sounded like a drum. Then Kasuju trotted away in front of his trembling wives, and as the lion came up, we watched him draw his ears back as he raised himself on his hind feet like a warrior. The lion advanced to him, and he likewise rose as though he would wrestle with him, when Kasuju shot into his throat with so true and fair a stroke, that drove one of his horns deep into the throat. It was then the lion's claws began to work, and with every scratch poor Kasuju's hide was torn dreadfully, but he kept his horn in the wound, and pushed home, and made the wound large. Then the lion sprang free, and the blood spurted all over Kasuju. Blinded with his torn and hanging scalp, and weakened with his wounds, he staggered about, pounding blindly at his enemy, until the lion gave him one mighty stroke with its paw, and sent him headlong, and then seized him by the neck and shook him, and we heard the cruel crunch as the fangs met. But it was the last effort of the lion, for just as Kasuju was lifeless, the lion rolled over him, dead also. Had my friend told me this story, I should not have believed him, but as I saw it with my own eyes, I am bound to believe it. We buried Kasuju honourably in a grave, as we would bury a brave man; but the lion we skinned, and I have got his fur with the ragged hole in the throat.

The singular fight we had witnessed, furnished us all with much matter for talk about lions, and it brought into the mind of one of them a story of a crocodile and lion fight which had happened some time before in the night. Lake Mtukura swarms with crocodiles, and situated as it is in a region of game they must be fat with prey. One night a full-grown lion with a fine mane came to cool his dry throat in the lake, and was quaffing water, when he felt his nose seized by something that rose up from below.

From the traces of the struggle by the water's edge, it must have been a terrible one. The crocodile's long claws had left deep marks, showing how he must have been lifted out of the water, and flung forcibly down; but in the morning both lion and crocodile were found dead, the crocodile's throat wide open with a broad gash, but his teeth still fastened in the lion's nose.

Saruti had not half finished his stories when he felt, by seeing Mtesa yawn, that though his adventures were very interesting, and he was quite ready to continue, yet it would be to his advantage to dock his tongue for the time being. So he said, "Kabaka, the wise old man whom I met, told me one thing I had nearly forgotten to say. He said, 'I know you are a servant of the king, and if ever you want the king's face to soften to you and his hand to open with gifts, compare yourself to the lid of a cooking-pot, which, though the pot may be full of fragrant stew, receives naught but the vapour, and the king who is wise will understand and will be pleased with his servant.'"

"Very well said indeed, Saruti," cried Mtesa, laughing. "I understand. The lid must share with the pot this time. Steward," he said, turning to Kauta, "see that six head of cattle be driven to Saruti's cattle-pen;" and Saruti twiyanzied (thanked with prostrations) so often that his head swam.

[The end]
Henry M. Stanley's short story: Adventures Of Saruti