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The author in this article continues his interesting account of his recent African adventures. Chimpanzees, antelopes, snakes, houses, and the curious customs and methods of the natives are all described in a delightful manner.
OR a long time after I first went to Africa I noticed that my guides, or other natives ahead of me, crossing the swamps, would pull little switches from the bushes, or sometimes long stems of grass, which they jetted from them as one throws a spear. I frequently asked why this was done. Some white men explained to me that the act was a kind of fetish or superstition among the natives, and they were doing this as a charm against witches or disease. Later, however, I found out that the purpose of it was to discover if there were any snakes about. If one was concealed under the water, it would move at the approach of this missile, and in doing so would cause a slight ripple on the surface of the water, by which its presence would be detected. I myself learned to throw switches, and do many other little native tricks. In crossing water, if I had no guide ahead of me, I would always jet a stick out, and I can tell just as well as a negro can if there is a snake in the neighborhood. Ammunition is too expensive to be wasted in killing snakes. A cartridge costs something like ten cents, and nobody in the Congo thinks that snakes are worth ten cents a shot.
Amid such environments I built my house at Ntyonga, choosing a fine loca
tion on the lake, from which the plain spread, fan-shaped, for miles between tropical forests. But notwithstanding its position in the Ntyonga basin, rich in grass and wild growth, the land on which my house stood was so poor that one could not even raise a riot on it, and my vegetable garden proved a great disappointment.
My intention had been to occupy a comfortable residence, finished prettily inside, and with a plank floor that stood some feet above the ground, which I had built on a previous expedition. But that pleasant dwelling, with its fertile garden, at American Point, had been preëmpted by a squatter who refused to be dislodged, and therefore it became necessary for me to build anew.
The house of seven rooms that I put up at Ntyonga was much larger, but less comfortable and attractive inside. had a sand floor, but, disagreeable as was this feature, I was unwilling to spend the large amount of time and money necessary to cover so large an area with plank. By way of floor covering, I had the natives make large sections of a sort of mat they call ntazia, and which is constructed of bamboo splits half an inch wide and eight or ten feet long, woven into a kind of matting. This may be rolled up something like Venetian blinds, and serves as a make
shift for a floor. The only plank floor in the house was that of my office.
The house itself was built of bamboo, and its roof, fifty-four by seventy-four feet, insured abundant shade on all sides; the eaves extended well beyond the encircling ten-foot veranda. For building walls we used the split midrib of the bamboo palm, which is very straight and long, rives perfectly, and exposes a smooth surface. This bamboo is wholly different from the Malacca variety, which is jointed. Natives tied these bamboo lathes to a framework of posts and poles, using for the purpose a vine known as bush-rope.
Shingles were not to be had in the jungle, so we used the native substitute, mats of woven bamboo leaves, or fronds, stitched upon two bamboo splints, five feet in length and as wide as one's finger. When one considers that bamboo fronds extend out from the midrib of the tree for a distance of forty or fifty feet, it may easily be seen how many of the small, dagger-shaped leaves can be
stripped from a single frond for matmaking purposes. The leaves are folded over the two bamboo splints and stitched in place with little skewers of the same wood, about three inches long, forming a mat eight or ten inches in width. These long, narrow mats are placed on a roof, overlapping, like shingles, and I had a double layer of mats,-double course, they are called in the bush,which insures a much cooler roof, although the extra layer conduces to insect breeding, and the Congo owns great numbers and varieties of vermin.
In this part of Africa, houses have no chimneys and no glass in the windows. Doors and window-shutters are usually made of a frame of light plank, upon which bamboo slats are either nailed or tied. Sometimes we make shutters of bamboo pith. It is surprising what a great variety of things can be constructed of that light, but strong, material.
Through the middle of the house extended a hall twelve feet wide, and here one could always enjoy a cool breeze.