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

Chapter 13: Frank on a Hunting Excursion. Driving the Plain with Fire.

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A Village Head Man

While we were getting ready for the hunt, Abdul told me something that rather surprised me. He said the game laws of Africa were as exact as those of England, at least in many parts of the country, and that their infringement often led to severe punishment. There are large areas of country, with very few inhabitants, which are much like the game preserves in England. The animals run at large, and are undisturbed except at certain seasons of the year, when the grand hunts take place. Then the natives assemble for the chase, and the hunt is conducted on a grand scale. The ground is the property of certain chiefs or large owners, and a part of the proceeds of the hunt belongs to them.

"In this region the favorite mode of hunting is by means of nets. Every man has a net of strong cord. It is about forty feet long and eleven feet deep, with meshes six inches square. The hunt is under the direction of a chief, who arranges and controls it from beginning to end, and everybody is subject to his orders.

"Several days before the hunt the big drum is sounded in the village of the chief of the tribe, to call the head men of the other villages together; when all are assembled the day of the hunt is announced, and the place where the people are to meet is agreed upon. Then the head men depart, each to his own village, and the news is scattered as fast as possible.

"Sometimes a chief gives a grand entertainment before the hunt, but in this instance he didn't do so. On such occasions he slaughters several oxen for feeding his guests, and brews a large quantity of native beer for them to drink. An important personage in such affairs is the sorcerer, who secures good luck by certain magical performances. Unless he practices his incantations, it is believed that no game will run into the nets; and, besides, accidents might happen to some of the party if they did not have his good offices beforehand.

"The tribes of Central Africa are great believers in the power of magic. Their sorcerers are invoked frequently to discover stolen articles, to heal the sick, and perform other practical work which we usually give to the police or the doctor, and they also exercise the art of rainmakers. Perhaps you never heard of a rainmaker?
A Magician Superintending the Slaughtering of an Ox

"Well, he is generally an old man, and carries a lot of charms about him, together with a horn or whistle, which he blows to create rain in seasons of drought, or to stop it when it falls too heavily. If the rain does as he commands, it he claims all the credit. If it does not obey, he attributes his ill-luck to certain evil spirits over whom he has no control. If the person who calls him can afford it, he generally orders an ox or some other animal to be killed, so that he can make his divinations after the manner of the ancient Romans, by examining the heart of the slaughtered beast. As he is sure to be presented with choice pieces of the meat, it is not improbable that he has an eye to his own welfare in issuing his commands.

"The rainmaker is held in great respect by all the people, and consequently it is well for all travelers to make friends with him at once. The chief with whom we had the interview was accompanied by his sorcerer, whose badge of office was a cow's horn, which he carried over his shoulder, and a whistle suspended from his neck. The whistle was a wooden one, of rather primitive construction, and not very loud in sound. I won the heart of the magician by giving him a hunting whistle of bright pewter, and a little harmonica such as you can buy at any toy shop. The old fellow had some trouble to manage the harmonica between his lips; but after a few trials he got along very well, and was evidently highly delighted with the result.

"Captain Mohammed supplemented my gift with a tin fish horn, and then the rainmaker's joy was complete. He appeared confident of bringing rain from the ground instead of the sky, if necessary, and did not hesitate to promise a fine day for the hunt. His office has some risk about it, as he is liable to lose his place and head in case he does not make the weather to suit his chief; though he can generally excuse himself in the way I have related by attributing the failure to the influence of evil spirits.

"I am forgetting the hunt while talking about the rainmaker and his performances. We started long before daylight, having sent forward the servants to get breakfast ready on the bank of a small river that lay in our way. Some native boats were there to ferry us over, and our horses were sent to a ford a mile or more up the stream, and then brought down again to meet us at the place of breakfasting. By this plan we made a considerable saving of time, as it would have caused much delay if we had waited in camp for breakfast, and we should have had a needless ride of a couple of miles if we had crossed by the ford.
A Native Ferry

"We reached the place appointed for the rendezvous, and found hundreds of the natives there in advance of us, though it was only seven o'clock in the morning. There was a small cloud in the sky, and the old rainmaker at once set about showing us how he could drive it away. A few blasts on his tin horn and a dozen shrill notes on the pewter whistle had the desired effect: the cloud melted under the heat of the sun, and the magician looked at us with a proud and satisfied air. What might have happened if the cloud had increased and the day been a wet one, I shudder to think of, as the Acholi chief was bent on giving us a good time, and would have been sadly disappointed and very angry if the weather had been unfavorable.

"There had been no rain for some days, and under the hot sun of Central Africa the grass and ground had become quite dry. This was an important consideration, as the plan of hunting included the burning of the grass over a considerable extent of ground, so as to drive the game in the direction of the nets.

"The men were all ready with their nets and spears, and at a signal they moved to the designated spot, and formed the barrier which was to stop the game. The nets were supported by sticks, and each net was attached to the adjoining one; the number was large enough to form a fence more than a mile long, and in the shape of a semicircle; each native was concealed behind his own net by means of a screen, made by tying together the tops of the grass until a sort of inverted fan was formed. When the nets had been placed, and the hunters concealed behind their screens, there was nothing to indicate the presence of man, and even the net could not be seen on account of the high grass.

"The ends of the net came to the bank of a brook about thirty feet wide, but its center was at least a quarter of a mile from the stream. The women and children, of whom there were great numbers, formed a sort of hedge from the ends of the net for a considerable distance, in order to direct the game into the fatal snare.

"The captain and I had brought our rifles, and the chief assigned us to places behind a couple of anthills. We were each followed by gunbearers with extra weapons, in case of accident to our own, and the captain cautioned me not to fire unless I was quite sure that none of the Africans were in line of my shot and liable to be hurt.
Net Hunting by the Acholi People

"When everything was ready the chief of the hunt blew a whistle, and the signal was repeated by a man stationed four or five hundred yards away. Then it was repeated by another and another, and so on, until it was carried at least half a dozen miles to windward.

"Ten minutes after the signal was given, we saw a column of smoke rising on the horizon, and it was joined by other columns of smoke as far as we could see. Then I saw the whole plan of the hunt: the game was to be driven by the fire in our direction, and the net was to enable the hunters to use their spears. We with the rifles had been stationed far enough from the nets to prevent the possibility of our injuring any of the men behind them. The captain was opposite one of the ends, and I was near the other; and we were to shoot at anything liable to escape the nets, and especially were we to use our weapons upon lions or other dangerous beasts.

"The rule of the hunt was, that each man was to have all the game killed within the limits of his net. This seemed fair enough; but it sometimes happened that an animal speared by one hunter ran into the net of another before he fell; and this gave rise to disputes, which were appealed to the chief. Captain Mohammed said that if there was any trouble about the decision the chief took the game to himself, and thus prevented anyone from feeling hurt at seeing what he considered his prize given to one of his neighbors. There is also an allowance of a hindquarter of each animal killed to the owner of the land.

"The place where I stood was not far from the brook before mentioned. In order that I should not be seen I stuck some bushes in the top of the anthill, hoping that my white hat would not scare away any of the game. The fact is, the animals on such occasions are so frightened that they pay little attention to man, but are entirely occupied with running away.

"I waited rather impatiently for a chance to shoot something. Presently an antelope came bounding over the crest of the ridge, but he was too far off for me to give him a bullet. Then came others, and I had the good fortune to send one over.

"How my hand trembled as I saw a lion running almost in my direction, and felt certain he would pass near enough to give me a fine shot! I brought my rifle to my shoulder, and just as I was on the point of firing, I saw a native rise from the grass directly in line beyond the prize I had marked for my own.
Driving Game Before a Prairie Fire

"I allowed the lion to pass, but took a shot at a hartebeest, and brought him to the ground. Some buffaloes turned aside, avoiding the nets, and the natives did not try to stop them. They prefer that buffaloes should give their nets a wide berth, and are not at all pleased to encounter a lion. A rhinoceros passed near where Captain Mohammed was stationed, but too far off for a shot, and he went through the net as a circus-rider passes through a paper hoop.

"I managed to shoot three antelopes and as many hartebeests before the smoke became so thick that it was difficult for me to see. I wondered what I would do when the fire reached me, but did not have any occasion to trouble myself about it. The flames reached the brook and then stopped, and in a little while the smoke blew away, and left the ground all blackened by the fire that had passed over it.

"The hunt was fairly successful, and nobody had any reason to complain, as the natives got enough antelopes to supply them for some time. Captain Mohammed killed six; and these, with what I had shot, were a good addition to our supplies. The chief said the meat belonged to us by right, as the animals would have escaped the net from running so far to one side. Some of the antelopes seemed to understand the business; they had been hunted that way so often that when they reached the bank of the brook and saw the people, they knew the net was on the other side, and did not cross. They turned and ran either down or up the stream, and took the chances of being speared or shot while escaping.

"We had the meat taken to camp after delivering to the owner of the land the quarter which was his right. Instead of taking a fourth of each animal, according to the custom of the country, he accepted one whole antelope out of four, which amounted to exactly the same thing, and saved the trouble of division. We sent to the chief several presents, which were more than the equivalent for the game we secured—at least, they must have been so in his eyes, though in reality their value was very small. There was a large knife, such as you can buy in the shops for half a dollar, and several pieces of jewelry—not made at Tiffany's. He was much pleased with his gifts, and we are convinced that his friendship is secure.
Frank's Bird

"Many natives came into camp the next day, and sometimes they were quite numerous. We managed to amuse them by getting out a mechanical organ, which was wound up as fast as it ran down, so that we had a steady strain of music through the entire day.

"We had several popular airs played by the organ, and probably it was the first time they were ever heard among the Acholis. It made no difference what was performed, and the Africans were equally delighted with the grand march from 'Faust,' or Little Buttercup from 'Pinafore.' Several times they formed a circle and danced to the music; they did not keep step with any sort of exactness, and their dancing was little more than an excited whirl. I realized the force of what Stanley and other explorers have said, that a band of music would be better than a company of sharpshooters for escorting a traveler through the greater part of the African continent.

"In the afternoon I went to a river a mile or so from camp, intending to catch some fish. The banks of the stream were covered with reeds for quite a distance back on each side, and the only way of getting to the surface was by means of a narrow channel through the reeds to the cleared ground. A canoe made from the trunk of a tree was the only conveyance, and as it was not capable of carrying more than four persons, and was very easily overturned, I did not think it wise to venture out. So I returned fishless, but had the satisfaction of shooting a couple of birds on the way back. They had a marked resemblance to the guinea fowl of Africa, having a tuft on the top of the head and a tail which spreads like a fan. They appeared on our table at dinner, and were a toothsome addition to our larder.
Great Rock Near the Camp

"True to our arrangement with the chief, we resumed our march on the second morning after the hunt, and found no farther opposition, though we did not relax our vigilance in the least degree. The rifles of the men were loaded and ready for work, and each soldier had the same number of cartridges as before. It is a rule of African explorers to trust to no promises farther than the moment they are made. Undoubtedly, we do injustice to many by following this rule, but if there is any mistake it is on the side of safety. It was the invariable custom of Stanley to sleep in his own tent or hut, and never accept the invitation to be lodged by any chief or king whom he happened to be visiting.

"In the afternoon of our march we started several antelopes and other game animals, but they were so frightened at our appearance that they ran away as fast as antelopes can possibly run. I can't say what speed they made, but it was altogether too much for us to think of following.

"The country here is very pretty, not heavily wooded and not a level plain; there are hills in the distance, both on the east and west, and in the south is a chain of mountains that seem to threaten to stop our march. Sometimes we cross open areas of a mile or more, with a few trees scattered here and there, and again we come to stretches of forest of a density that would require a path to be cut if one did not already exist.

"There are a good many brooks and tiny rivers running through the region, so that it is well watered, and the traveler is in no danger of suffering from thirst. Some of the streams are sluggish and run through marshy ground, but the most of them remind you of an American brook gliding over sand and pebble, and occasionally rippling merrily down a rapid descent. I never supposed there was such a temperate region in Africa; but when I remember that we are four thousand feet above the level of the sea, and on the great plateau of Central Africa, my surprise ceases.
Peculiar Table Rock

"One of our camps was made under the shelter of a great rock, which had a deep pool on the surface. We could hardly believe the story until we climbed the rock and saw for ourselves, and there, sure enough, was the pool.

"'There is a rock just like this on the route to Zanzibar,' said Abdul, 'and it was visited by Cameron in his journey across Africa.'

"'Yes,' said the captain, 'and there is the same story about that rock as there is of the one we are on.'

"'What is that?' I asked.

"'They say that an elephant was once drowned in the pool while attempting to drink from it.'

"I looked around, and quietly remarked to Captain Mohammed that I could hardly believe an elephant was ever drowned in the pool.

"'Oh, certainly,' he answered. 'The water is very deep, and an elephant might easily be drowned in it.'

"'Of course, that might be,' I replied, 'provided the elephant was here. But will you explain how he could climb up this rock, which is steeper than the roof of a house, and has required us to use both feet and hands to ascend?'

"The captain said he never thought of that, and quite agreed with me that no elephant could be drowned in the pool. Then we went down by the same path we had ascended. I slipped in the descent, and had an ugly fall, but fortunately was caught by one of the soldiers who accompanied us. If he had not been where he could grasp me, I should have been fortunate to escape without serious injury.

"Speaking of high and curious rocks, I am reminded of one in the Bari country, which was visited by Baker Pacha.

"It is near the base of a mountain called Regiaff, and consists of a large, flat stone supported on a pedestal, very much like the center-table of a parlor in America. It is a slab of syenite that must have become detached as the mountain decomposed. It is so large that the natives often seek shelter beneath it from the rain or the noonday sun, and their cattle find it a comfortable resting place. The pedestal is of clay, and the broad roof over it protects it from the weather, so that it has remained unharmed for many centuries.
"The natives have a superstition that anyone who sleeps beneath this stone will die in a short time. The belief probably arose from someone having been killed by the fall of a fragment from the lower surface. Several large pieces are partly detached, and a very slight disturbance would cause them to tumble to the ground.

"The same formation of rock as the one described below can be seen at Monument Creek, in the neighborhood of Manitou, Colorado. When the earth beneath the slab is partly worn away the stone protects it from the weather, and thus these natural tables are formed. The pedestals of the Manitou table rocks are formed of a coarse sandstone, while the tables are of mica schist. Both of them are subject to the action of the elements, and since the country has been known to the foreigner there has been a considerable disintegration of the rocks. Some of them are quite large, but I never heard of one equaling that at Regiaff."

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

Chapter 13: Frank on a Hunting Excursion. Driving the Plain with Fire.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

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


Infringement: An encroachment on a right, a person, a territory, or a property.
Incantation: The act or process of using formulas and/or usually rhyming words, sung or spoken, with occult ceremonies, for the purpose of raising spirits, producing enchantment, or creating other magical results.
Rainmaker: An African or Native American medicine man who seeks to induce rain through performing rituals.
Drought: A period of unusually low rainfall, longer and more severe than a dry spell.
Divination: The act of foreseeing or foretelling of future events.
Pewter: An alloy of tin and lead.
Rendezvous: An agreement to meet at a certain place and time.
Snare: A trap, especially one made from a loop of wire, string, or leather.
Larder: A cool room in a domestic house where food is stored, but larger than a pantry.


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: Giraffes seen on a modern-day safari in Uganda.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the country of Uganda on the map of the world.

Find the following on the map of Uganda:

  • Recite aloud the names of the countries bordering Uganda
  • Point to Uganda's capitial, Kampala
  • Point at Lake Victoria

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

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