The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 10: A Fishing Excursion and a Hippopotamus.

The party was awake at an early hour, and there was no rest for anybody after daylight. The camp had been made close to a small lake that was said to abound in fish. One of the soldiers was an expert fisherman, and our friends were surprised to learn that they were to have fresh fish for breakfast. Frank asked Abdul how it happened, and the dragoman proceeded to enlighten him.
One of the Cooks

"You see," said Abdul, "that the lake where these fish were caught is the head of a small stream that runs into the Nile, and when it is full of water the fish run up from the river. They stay here and grow. Some of them are large enough when they leave the Nile, but, whether large or not, they are sure to grow bigger by staying in the lake."

Fred wished to know what kind of fish they were.

"There are several kinds," was the reply, "but the most important are the boulti and the baggera. They are a species of perch, and very fine eating. The boulti rarely weighs more than five pounds, but the baggera grows to an enormous size, and often exceeds a hundred pounds in weight. The largest I ever saw tipped the scale at a hundred and fifty-two pounds, but I have heard of their reaching two hundred and more.

"They may properly be called fishes of the Upper Nile and its tributaries. They are found in the Lower Nile, where they are hardly fit to eat. Travelers who have tasted them at Cairo and below the first cataract pronounce them worthless, but they should come here to eat them, where the flavor is delicious. The case is the same all the world over, and a fish that is excellent in one part of a river is worthless in another."

"I can give you a good illustration of that," said the Doctor. "In Oregon the salmon ascend the Columbia River from the sea. The most of the fish continue up the Columbia, and the rest turn into the Willamette, a smaller river, on which Portland is situated. The salmon of the Columbia are considered among the finest of their species in the world, while those of the Willamette are of very poor quality. It is the same on the Colorado River: the fish of the upper part are excellent, while the same species lower down the stream are worthless.

"We have an abundance for this morning, and it is a pity we cannot keep the surplus until we want it. They preserve the boulti here by splitting it down the back, salting it a few hours, and then smoking it over a wood fire. Thus prepared, it will keep good a couple of days. If it is wanted for a long time, it must be smoked and dried in the sun until it is like a piece of board."
The Second Day's March

Frank was curious to know how the fish were taken, and so it was arranged that he and Fred should accompany the fisherman on the first opportunity. It happened that very evening, as there was a lake near the second camp very much like the first.

On his return Frank told Doctor Bronson how the work was performed. "The fisherman is a Nubian," said he, "and learned his business on the Lower Nile, in his own country. I thought he would catch the fish with a hook, or perhaps a spear, but he didn't; he used a net, and it was a pleasure to see him throw it.

"He laid his casting net across his arm, and waded out until the water was up to his waist: he does not seem afraid of the crocodiles, though the lake is full of them. Abdul said the man had a charm that protected him; he always wore it around his neck, and as long as it was in its place he was safe.

"When he reached a spot which he considered favorable he threw his net so that it described an exact circle as it struck the water. The leaden weights carried it straight to the bottom, and the fish within the circle were surrounded.

"As soon as it fell the water was agitated, showing that a good cast had been made. The man hauled away as fast as possible, so as to prevent the fish from escaping by burrowing beneath the leads. The depth of water was a little more than the height of the sides of the net, so that the floats on the top were drawn under the surface.

"There was a lively splashing as the net came in toward the shore, and it seemed as though the fish would break through and get away. They didn't do it, though, as the net was strong, and the meshes were too close to allow any but the very smallest to pass through. When the net came fairly on the sand where we were standing it was a pretty sight. There were thirty-six boulti, none of them less than a pound in weight, while nearly a third weighed over four pounds apiece.
Fishing Village in an African Lake

"The catch at that one throw made a good load for two men. Another throw of the net secured a dozen fishes equal to the first, and a third throw brought nothing at all. And as we thought we had done a good piece of work we came back to camp, and did not attempt to secure any more finny game.

"On our return Abdul said they had a way of fishing in a lake near Gondokoro with some nets that were brought there by Baker Pacha. They had a stop net to keep the fish from running into the bulrushes at the end of the lake. This stop net was nearly five hundred feet long, and fastened to stakes set at intervals of a few yards, and the ends were brought around like the points of a bow.

"After the stop net was set the lake was swept by a dragnet, hauled by men in two boats, one at each end. As it approached the stop net and the ends met, the fish were imprisoned, and there was a tremendous dashing in the water. The men sometimes became as excited as the fish, though in a different way; but the most of the party had their wits about them and did not lose their heads—and the fish. As many as four hundred fishes were taken in this way at a single swoop, and some of them weighed forty or fifty pounds. These big fellows were baggera, and sometimes they were almost the only fish that were caught."

The same care was observed as on the first day's march to prevent the straying of the cattle and the dispersal of the column. There was some trouble with the animals early in the afternoon, on account of the persistence of a portion of the herd in trying to turn back to Gondokoro. One of the largest of the herd lost his temper and made a furious charge at the column of porters. For a time, the march was suspended, as the porters dropped their burdens and fled, and it was not an easy matter to persuade them to return to their work. The offending beast was converted into beef, when the party halted for the evening, and in this form his presence was much more agreeable than when he was carrying himself around on the hoof.
Stampeding the Caravan

About noon they halted near a little pond, which looked as though it would be a good place for a bath. Frank and Fred were desirous of trying the water, but were dissuaded by Abdul, who told them it was full of sangsues, or bloodsuckers, which were not an agreeable adjunct of a bath. Frank recalled his experience in Ceylon, where he was occupied for half an hour after coming out in removing the leeches that clung to him. "And besides," he remarked, "we haven't the blood to spare, even though we don't mind the trouble of removing these African postage stamps."

The donkeys were not so tender of skin or feelings, and walked straight to the water as soon as they were released from their work. Whether the leeches tried their skill at bloodletting on these animals we are unable to say, but if they did, they probably abandoned the effort after a few trials.

The third day brought the line of march in the neighborhood of the Nile, owing to a bend which the river makes to the eastward. The old route to Foueira avoided the river altogether, but the new one followed its banks for a short distance, a circumstance by no means undesirable to the travelers. The Nile had become to them like an old friend, and Fred declared that he felt unhappy whenever he could not see it. No doubt he would recover from the feeling, just as he could become accustomed to the absence of a personal friend; but for the present he wished the Nile ran all the way through Africa, and he could follow it until their journey was at an end.
Halting Place Near a Pond

As they came near the river, they saw several natives fishing from their rafts of ambatch reeds, such as we have already described. Some were lying quietly near the shore, while others were paddling about or floating with the current. Several river horses were visible, but they were such a common sight in this part of the Nile that nobody gave them the least attention.

Frank and Fred were standing on the bank, and happened to be looking at a raft which carried two men. Evidently one of them was blind, as his eyes were closed, and he carried no oar or paddle.

Close by them was a hippopotamus of more than ordinary size, and Fred remarked that the raft seemed to be going directly for him.

"The man at the stern doesn't see the beast," said Frank, "or he wouldn't be likely to run the risk of disturbing him."

"I think so too," replied his cousin, "for they haven't anything to make a fight with, and if the 'hippo' attacks them they're in great danger."

Just as he spoke the bow of the raft touched the back of what Fred called the "hippo," and evidently touched him with considerable force. The animal turned, as Frank had predicted, and attacked the frail vessel with his enormous jaws.
Hippopotamus Attacking a Raft

It was a brief combat, and an unequal one. The man at the bow was, as they afterward learned, stone blind, and therefore unaware of the danger that threatened him. The beast seized him with the quickness of a flash, overturning the raft and upsetting the other man into the water. The victim of the attack was killed instantly. Other boats and rafts went to the rescue of the man struggling in the water, and he was saved from the crocodiles, with which the stream abounds.

The hippopotamus went away unmolested, as the natives had no weapons that could make an impression on his thick hide. Doctor Bronson called for his heaviest rifle, but before he secured it the monarch of the river was safe below the waters.

Abdul said that when Baker was ascending the Nile with his expedition, they had considerable trouble with these animals. On several occasions, they attacked the small boats at the stern of the larger ones and seemed to regard them as personal enemies.

"One night," said Abdul, "we were all awakened by a tremendous splashing close to the boat, and the cry arose that a hippo was about attacking us. We ran on deck as fast as we could, and saw a hippo dashing about furiously, and throwing the water in all directions. We were lying close to a mudbank, with the dahabieh moored stem and stern. Consequently, one side was exposed to the river, and the beast had full tilt at it whenever he wanted.

"He upset one of the boats as though it didn't weigh an ounce, and then he seized the other in his jaws and tried to crunch it. Mr. Baker was roused with the rest, and sent his servant for a rifle. He brought the rifle, but not the ammunition, and so the hippo had another chance at the boats while the man was gone a second time. The night was clear and the moon was up, so that the beast was distinctly visible.
A Night Attack by a River Horse

"The ammunition came, and then Mr. Baker took a shot at our enemy, but the fellow dashed about so much that it was a hard matter to get good aim. The spot where you can put a bullet in is very small, and unless you strike exactly on the place your shot is wasted.

"The first ball didn't seem to stop him, and three or four more only made him more furious. He rocked the dahabieh with his blows, and it seemed at one time that he would make a hole in her side. After six or eight shots he acted as though he didn't like the business. He went up to the bank, lay down in the mud, and his body was covered with the mud so that only his snout could be seen.

"We all thought he would die, and after waiting nearly half an hour we went to bed.

"We had just got fairly to sleep when he came at us again, as though he hadn't been hit at all. Mr. Baker gave him half a dozen bullets of the largest size, and among them were two explosive ones, that should have torn great holes in his flesh if they burst at the right moment. He went away after striking against the boat and trying to smash it, and then he came back once more, after a rest of a quarter of an hour.

"This time he got all he wanted and a trifle more. He was a determined fighter, and evidently considered our presence an intrusion on his domain. After the final shots at him he stretched himself on the bank, and died there before daylight.

"In the morning we had a council of war over the hippo, and took note of the shots it had required for settling him. Here is the result:

"Three shots in the flank and shoulder, and four in the head. One of the head shots had broken his lower jaw, another passed through his nose and, passing downward, cut off one of his tusks. Mr. Baker said his body was covered with frightful scars of wounds received in his battles with animals of his own species, and there were several wounds still unhealed. One scar was about two feet long and two inches deep, and showed that his antagonist must have given him a lively turn before the fight was over. He was the worst of his kind I ever saw or heard of, and all the party were glad he had been killed. Perhaps the other hippos in the neighborhood were not at all sorry to part with him."

In the afternoon they came to an encampment of ivory merchants, or rather to a village where several traders had a station for collecting their goods preparatory to starting for Gondokoro. The natives had brought in two or three dozen tusks of ivory, which were paid for in the usual currency of the country—beads, cloth, trinkets, and other "suc-suc," as goods for the African trade are called.
Tying Up Ivories for the March

The boys were interested in looking at the piles of ivory lying on the ground and the men engaged in tying them up for transportation. The smaller tusks were tied in bundles of two or three, generally two, placed with the large end of one against the small end of the other, and then wrapped securely with strips of bark. The large tusks were wrapped singly, as they would make a load for one man, and sometimes a tusk of medium size was wrapped with a small one. To tie a bundle two men sat on the ground, and while one held the tusks firmly in place the other affixed the wrappings.

The village consisted of a dozen or more huts, like enormous haycocks. They were made with a thick thatch of grass resting on a light but strong frame, and the work was so arranged that the thatch could be removed without difficulty, and leave the frame uncovered. This form of construction is found very convenient when it becomes necessary to move a village. The thatch is stripped off and thrown away, and the light frame, mounted on the heads of four or five Africans, is borne away as easily as though it were no more than a large basket.

A day or two later our friends met one of these moving villages, and the youths had the opportunity of seeing the Africans on their march. Four men were carrying a house; one was dragging a bundle of withes used for interlacing the framework of the dwelling; another, with a long stick, was driving a couple of cows; another drove a sheep that was held by a string to prevent its straying; while two women carrying baskets brought up the rear. These people have few possessions, and therefore their changes of residence are easily performed. Doctor Bronson said he was reminded of the migrations of the roving Indians of the western part of the United States, where a village may be transferred from one spot to another at an hour's notice and leave scarcely a trace behind, except in the places where the tents had been pitched, and the piles of ashes where fires were kindled.

One evening, while they were discussing their route and estimating the time it would take them to reach "Miani's Tree," Frank asked if they would go near the country of the Azande, the native people described by the Italian explorer.
Removing a Village

"I am sorry to say it is out of our route," replied the Doctor. "It lies far to the west of where we are going, and therefore all that we learn about it we must take from others, and not from our own observation."

"You said that the Dinka African whom you saw at Cairo told you that the Azande rarely exceeded the height of the two natives kidnapped away by Miani," one of the boys remarked.

"Exactly so," was the reply; "but because the African made that assertion is no reason why we should accept it. However truthful the African may be in his civilized condition in America, he is not always absolutely veracious in his native wilds. For 'conspicuous inexactness' it would not be easy to find his superior.

"The same native said it would take a year's travel from Khartoum to reach the country of the Azande. He certainly exaggerated considerably in that assertion, as a quarter of the time would be sufficient for the journey, provided there were no more than the ordinary delays. However, he may have included the hinderances which sometimes come from the unwillingness of a tribe to let strangers move on without a residence of a month or so among them. This is the custom in several parts of Africa, and many explorers have been greatly inconvenienced by it.

"Dr. Schweinfurth travelled among the Azande, and, while he does not make them so small as Miani represents them, he says they are not as large as some other Africans. He found the smallest of the men was five feet ten and a half inches. They are accustomed to make tattoo marks upon their faces, and sometimes on other parts of their bodies."
An Azande Dog

Frank asked if they were as frugal in the matter of clothing as some of the people they had seen in their journey up the Nile.

"They are not very lavish with their garments," was the reply, "but they wear more of them than do the Shilluks or the Dinkas.

"Sometimes they wear a sort of tunic made of the bark of a tree, but their usual apparel consists of the skins of animals. They are not sewn together, but suspended from a girdle at the waist, and the finest and most beautiful skins are selected in preference to those of a somber hue. The chiefs and other persons of high rank are allowed to cover their heads with skins, but the more ordinary mortals must rely upon straw hats or their natural hair.

"They devote much time and trouble to the ornamentation of their hair, and sometimes a man will spend an entire day in the arrangement of his headdress for a grand occasion, and sit up all night to save it from derangement. The hair is braided and twisted in a variety of ways, and Dr. Schweinfurth says it would be difficult to discover any kind of plaits, tufts, or topknots which has not already been tried by the men of the Azande.

"He describes a coiffure which he pronounces the most remarkable he had ever seen. The head of the owner was encircled by a series of rays, like the glory in the picture of a saint; these rays were made of the man's own hair, which had been drawn out in little tresses and stretched over a hoop, which was ornamented around the edge with cowrie shells. It was held in place by four wires; these wires could be removed at night, in order that the hoop might be folded back and allow the victim to lie down to sleep. The inner ends of the wires were fixed to a conical straw hat, ornamented with a plume, and this hat was kept in its proper position by means of numerous hairpins.
Singular Headdress

"They are fond of decorating their hair with a string of the incisor teeth of the dog; this is stretched along the forehead just at the edge of the hair, in the shape of a fringe, and the effect is not at all disagreeable even to the European eye. Then they hang on their breasts ornaments cut out of ivory in imitation of a large circle of lions' teeth. They care little for glass beads, and reject nearly all the varieties of those articles as worthless."

Fred wished to know how large was the country of the Azande, and what was their mode of life.

"Their principal sustenance is obtained from vegetable products, and from the chase," the Doctor continued. They are great hunters, and the men are supposed to be constantly occupied with hunting or fighting, while the women until the fields and perform all the labor of the house. They have generally a fertile soil, and what they raise from it is obtained with very little exertion.

"The name by which they call themselves is 'Zande,' and, in addition to the Dinka appellation of Azande, they are variously called Manyanya, Madyaka, Kakkarakka, Kunda, and Babungera by their neighbors. Their country lies between the fourth and sixth degrees of north latitude, and covers an area of about fifty thousand square miles, between Darfur and the valley of the Congo. The population is estimated at about two million. Of course, this is only an estimate, as they don't take a regular census.
Hut for Boys

"They are not familiar with firearms, their weapons being spears, knives, and clubs; and in their fighting expeditions every man carries a large shield—nearly large enough to cover him. Their only domestic animals are dogs and chickens, and both of these animals are useful as food. Dog's flesh is considered a great delicacy, and many of the wealthiest of the natives have a regular system of fattening dogs for their tables.

"They have granaries for storing their grain, and sometimes a single family will have two or three of these warehouses. They are constructed with a wide thatch for keeping off the heavy rains that fall periodically, and are mounted on posts covered with cement, so that they will not be eaten away by insects. The houses are grouped in little villages, and generally placed with a view to being near land that is easily cultivated; they are nearly always of a conical shape, like those of the Shilluks, and provided with strong doors, to prevent attacks from wild beasts. There are small huts, with bell-shaped roofs and narrow doors, where the boys sleep at night. The door is at least three feet above the ground, so as to insure the safety of the youngsters against lions and other disagreeable visitors.

"While among the Azande, Dr. Schweinfurth saw a good many hunters and soldiers of the Akkas, a tribe of Africans occupying a region which he was unable to visit. He kidnapped one of the Akkas people, and brought him down the Nile, but, unfortunately, he died at Berber, on his way to Cairo. The Akkas are probably the smallest people of Central Africa."
An Azande Granary

"Perhaps they are the nation of short statured, instead of the Azande," Frank observed.

"They are certainly more entitled to the name than their neighbors," was the reply. "The person which Dr. Schweinfurth kidnapped and brought to Berber was four feet seven inches high. Six full-grown men that he measured were only four feet ten inches, and from all he could learn a man of five feet or more was uncommon."

"But are there not other tribes of Africans of about the same proportions?" one of the youths asked.

"Certainly," said Doctor Bronson, "and they seem to extend nearly across the continent under the line of the equator, though not entirely so. They are simply a people of diminutive stature. The Bushmen of South Africa are of the same reduced proportions as the Akkas, and the measurements we have of them are almost identical with those taken by Dr. Schweinfurth among the Akkas."

One of the boys asked Doctor Bronson what his opinion was concerning the origin of these little people. The Doctor replied that he could do no better than quote from the learned explorer from whom he had taken the account of the Azande:

"Scarcely a doubt can exist but that all these people, like the Bushmen of South Africa, may be considered as the scattered remains of an aboriginal population; and their isolated and sporadic existence bears out the hypothesis. For centuries after centuries Africa has been experiencing the effects of many immigrations. For thousands of years one nation has been driving out another. As the result of repeated subjugations and immigrations, such manifold changes have been introduced into the conditions of existence that the succession of new phases, appears almost, as it were, to open a glimpse into the infinite."

    The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 10: A Fishing Excursion and a Hippopotamus.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Perch: Any of the three species of spiny-finned freshwater fish in the genus Perca.
Salmon: One of several species of fish, brownish above with silvery sides and delicate pinkish-orange flesh, that ascend rivers to spawn.
Cast: To throw forward (e.g. fishing line, fishing net) into some body of water.
Finny: Having one or more fins.
Dragnet: A net dragged across the bottom of a body of water.
Sangsue: Leech; An aquatic blood-sucking annelid of class Hirudinea.
Dahabieh: A traditional Egyptian sailing-boat.
Haycock: A small, conical stack of hay left in a field to dry before adding to a haystack.
Coiffure: Headwear or hairstyle.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: Modern Africans fishing with a net at a cataract on the Nile River in Egypt.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

The chapter states: 'In Oregon the salmon ascend the Columbia River from the sea. The most of the fish continue up the Columbia, and the rest turn into the Willamette, a smaller river, on which Portland is situated.'

Find Oregon on the map of the United States.

  • Trace the path the salmon swim, from the sea and up the Columbia River.
  • Find the city of Portland.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the applicable mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.