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

Chapter 15: An Elephant Hunt. Crossing the Victoria Nile.

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A Dangerous Position

The camp was made at the edge of a forest, and the guides said that the next day's march would be through a wooded country. In most places the jungle was very dense, and Frank found it impossible to make much headway when he ventured from the path. There was a thick undergrowth of vines and small bushes, which made an excellent hiding place for all but the largest animals, and Frank was not surprised to learn that the woods were full of game. "Only you can't make game of it," said Abdul, "because it gets away so easily. A wild beast in this forest will see you long before you can possibly see him, and if he chooses to do so he can easily get out of your way."

From the forest to the open country again was a pleasant change, but the guide lost the way once in crossing a plain, and they were obliged to retrace their steps for a couple of hours. While they were feeling in ill-humor at the consequent loss of time one of the scouts reported a herd of elephants a mile or so to windward, and the captain at once determined to try his hand among them.

Frank and Abdul were sent to the right of where the herd was feeding, while Captain Mohammed and his gunbearer went to the left. The plain was covered with long grass, and there were many small mounds, with shrubs on their crests, so that they formed admirable places for concealment. Frank obtained a good position behind one of the mounds, and the captain was similarly placed, a quarter of a mile away. We will let Frank tell the story:

"A couple of men had been sent away to the rear of the herd to drive them in our direction, and we had just fairly settled into our positions, when the elephants caught the scent of the drivers and begun to move. Unfortunately for me, they went in the line of the captain, and I had to sit still without firing a shot. But what I missed the captain gained, and perhaps he gained more than he wanted.

"Five or six elephants advanced directly toward him, and when they were not more than forty yards away he fired at the largest. The shot had the effect of alarming the herd greatly, but without bringing down anything. The wounded elephant whirled about and roared, and then stood still among his companions, to see where the danger came from.

"The smell of the powder revealed that their assailant was at the foot of the mound in front of them, and immediately the herd gathered in line and prepared to charge. The captain and his gunbearer would have been trampled to death in a moment if the elephants had made their charge, and he was certainly in an awkward predicament.

"They stood in a sideway position, so that he didn't have a fair shot at the foreheads of any of them. Unless you hit an African elephant square in the center of the forehead there is little hope of killing him. The captain's only safety was in frightening them, and so he fired at the sides of their heads, and let off two shots in quick succession. This had the effect of turning them round, and drove them to where I was concealed in the tall grass, at the foot of another mound.
Frank's Discovery: A 'Rogue' Elephant

"I ran the same risk as the captain, but with the difference that the elephants were frightened and making a straight course over my position in order to get away. Abdul sprung to his feet and fired, and so did I; and then we shouted, and kept the shots going, one after the other, until we made a greater panic even than the captain had created.

"The herd turned again and went back over the plain, and we were safe for the time. I wanted to follow them up, and so did the captain; but time did not permit, and we returned to the column, which had been resting by the roadside while we were absent on our unsuccessful hunt."

Just before dusk, when the caravan halted to go into camp, a solitary elephant was seen leisurely feeding in the grass not more than three hundred yards from the road. Frank wanted to have a shot at him, but his proposal was vetoed by Captain Mohammed as a dangerous performance.

"Don't go near him," said the captain; "he is a 'rogue' elephant, and one of the most dangerous of his class."

Frank remembered hearing about rogue elephants in Ceylon and India, and asked if there was any difference between the Asiatic and the African elephant in this particular.

"Not much," was the reply; "though, perhaps, the African when he becomes a rogue is a trifle more vicious than his Asiatic brother. He is an elephant that has become separated from his herd and is obliged to roam by himself. No other elephant will associate with him, and he is an outcast, who can never hope for restoration to elephantine society. He is far bolder than any member of a herd, and is always a male, and one of the finest of his kind. Where another elephant would run away he will stand up and fight, and his sagacity is quite equal to his strength and courage."

Frank wished to know why the elephant became a rogue, or solitary wanderer, and he also asked from what the designation came.

"He is called a 'rogue' in English," was the reply, "because that is the literal translation of his Indian, Cingalese, and African name. He is a rogue because of his viciousness and his destructive ways: he comes into the plantations of the natives and destroys wantonly all that he cannot eat. Ordinary herd elephants will go away when they have satisfied their appetites, but a rogue will break down fruit trees and trample whole acres of rice or other growing things solely for the pleasure of destroying them. It is a common remark that one rogue will do more damage than a dozen herd elephants.
Navigation Under Difficulties

"India is a country, as you know, where caste prevails among the people, and when a man does certain things, many of them trivial in our eyes, he loses his rank, or caste. For some things he may be reinstated on payment of a fine, which is proportioned to the extent of his offence; but for others there is no restoration, and he remains a pariah, or outcast, until his death.

"The people of India say that a rogue elephant has done something that drives him from his caste, and something for which there is no restoration. He may graze in the neighborhood of a herd, but under no circumstances will he be admitted to their company; even if he happens to be driven into a corral and entrapped with them he remains an outcast. While they are trembling with fear and clasping their trunks in expressions of grief, charging at the fence of the corral and making every effort to escape, they will have nothing to do with the rogue. They drive him away and refuse to permit him to enter their circle, and when he is bound and dragged off helpless they will assail him unless he is kept at a respectful distance.

"So don't venture near that rogue elephant," the captain continued, "as he would turn upon you if your shot was not instantly fatal, and you could not hope to get off as easily as we did from the whole herd of honest ones."

As they approached the Somerset River, or Victoria Nile, the ground became low and marshy, with long stretches of jungle and high grass that made it impossible to see more than a few yards in any direction, except upward at the sky. Even then there was not always a clear view, as the papyrus plants bent over the path and enclosed the travelers in a sort of natural arch. The opposite or south bank was higher, and consisted of a series of bluffs, which promised a firm footing. The swamp or marsh was exceedingly difficult for the horses; they sunk into the mud at every step, and two or three times Frank was obliged to dismount to allow his steed to extricate itself from a mudhole. One of the dismountings was much more sudden than agreeable, as the youth was pitched over the animal's head without the least warning.

On the opposite bank was the military post of Foueira, the last station of the Egyptian troops in Central Africa, and on the borders of the territory of the King of Bunyoro. It was the destination of Captain Mohammed and his company of soldiers, and for the present the destination of Frank Bassett. As Frank looked across the river—about a thousand feet in width—he saw a group of conical huts, surrounded by a stockade, and displaying the Egyptian flag from the summit of the central hut. A little to the left was another group of huts; and as a couple of elephants were standing near it Frank concluded that the second enclosure must be the stable for the huge beasts.
An Unpleasant Acquaintance

Several boats were at hand for ferrying the party over the river, but a difficulty arose concerning the transit of the horses.

The Nile was full of hippopotami and crocodiles, both of them dangerous enough, and the latter particularly so. To attempt to swim the horses over would have been certain death to them, as the crocodiles would have welcomed the animals as rare material for a feast. There was no raft provided for carrying them, and the only boats were 'dugouts,' hollowed from the trunks of trees. They were simply canoes, not over three or at most four feet in width, and they shook from end to end when a man stepped into them. But unless the horses could be taken into them, there was no chance of crossing.

Captain Mohammed ordered one of the boats to be brought close to the bank and held there as firmly as possible. Then weeds and grass were piled so as to conceal any interval between boat and shore; the captain's horse was blindfolded with a handkerchief, and, all trembling with fear, was led into the frail canoe. A man stood by his head to prevent his jumping overboard with fright, the boatman pushed away, and a soldier stood in the bow of the boat, shooting at the river horses, to keep them at a respectful distance.

Another boat received Frank's horse, and one after another the steeds were taken over the Victoria Nile in safety. One of them struggled a little during the transit, and came near upsetting the boat, to the imminent peril of all concerned. The poor beast was soon quieted, and seemed to understand that his safety lay in his docility. As for the others, they hardly moved a muscle, except in the involuntary trembling caused by fear.

Abdul said that this part of the river was one of the most dangerous, as it was only at the peril of a man's life that he could venture near the water. Hardly a day passed that some unfortunate native was not eaten by the crocodiles, having paid with his life the penalty of carelessness. Since the post was established at Foueira the crocodiles and hippopotami have been cleared out to some extent, but the places of those that are killed are generally taken without much delay.

The day of his arrival Frank was strolling by the river not far from the camp when he came suddenly upon a "hippo" engaged at his breakfast. The creature was munching away at the grass as through entirely at home; when he saw the intruder, he gave a loud grunt, followed by a roar, and he paused in his eating, as if uncertain what to do.
The Victoria Nile at Kionga's Island

Frank was not uncertain about his duty. He remembered that he wanted to speak to Captain Mohammed about the prospects of steam navigation on Lake Victoria; and as there is no time like the present for doing anything, he made the best of his way to the fort. It is intimated that he ran, and ran very fast, for the first fifty yards, but we will not be too particular in our inquiries about his movements. It is probable that the cause of his alarm retreated to the water as soon as his roar was over. The river-horse is not as dangerous when on land, and is most to be feared in the water, as he can move therein quickly, in spite of his enormous bulk and short limbs.

Foueira, or Foweera, is a station established by Sir Samuel Baker, à little more than two degrees north of the equator, and was intended for the control of the portion of the annexed provinces south of the Victoria Nile. It is a short distance above Kuruma Falls, and fifteen miles below a large island known as King Rionga's. At the time the post was established there was a war in progress between Rionga and the King of Bunyoro, the territory to the south. Rionga was heir to the throne, but had been set aside by the intrigues of Kabba Rega; he con sequently retired to the island, where he could easily defend himself, and wait the opportunity for the proper recognition of his rights.

The Egyptians endeavored to establish amicable relations with Kabba Rega, but were unable to do so. While professing friendship, he at tempted to poison them, and very nearly succeeded; and his troops made an attack upon Baker's camp at night, and came very near annihilating the whole party. Baker thereupon returned to Foueira, strengthened the place, and proceeded to make friends with Rionga. The latter was recognized as the rightful king of the country, and, in return for the recognition, he promised to do all in his power to support the Egyptian authority.

Abdul described to Frank the visit of Baker to Rionga's Island, and the ceremonies of declaring that he was the real ruler of the country.

Five large boats, hollowed from the trunks of trees, ascended the river to the foot of the island, while the soldiers of the expedition marched along the banks. A camp was formed close to the river and opposite the lower end of the island. The latter appeared to be well cultivated, and covered with fields of plantains, bananas, and other products of the country, and there was everything to indicate that the people of the throneless king were not likely to suffer for want of food.

The river in this region is bordered by forests of tropical trees, and close to the banks on either side there are dense growths of papyrus, some of the plants being fifteen or twenty feet high. It is full of the same sort of animal life as at Foueira, and therefore a bath in its waters is not to be recommended to any one who is prejudiced against occupying the stomach of a crocodile. There are several varieties of fish in the stream, but the work of taking them is not the safest in the world, on account of the abundance of the saurian monsters; consequently, the natives are not famous for their piscatorial pursuits.
Inverview between Baker Pacha and Rionga

It was dark before the party was all on shore, and it was not to be expected that the king could be seen that evening. The next morning a messenger went for him, carrying a present in the shape of a robe of embroidered cloth, with a tarboosh and turban. It is not customary, when calling on a king in any other country, to send him clothes to put on, but they do these things differently in Africa.

Early in the forenoon a flotilla of boats was seen on the river, and in a short time it pulled up in front of the camp. Drums were beating and horns blowing in all directions, as a signal that the great Rionga was going to see the white man, and the din was kept up till the monarch was safe on shore.

The soldiers were drawn up in line to receive him, and as he came forward, accompanied by his ministers and other great men, he was met by Baker and one of his officers. They shook hands after the European fashion; and as the king spoke Arabic the conversation was conducted without the aid of an interpreter. Of course, each was very glad to see the other, and vows of friendship were interchanged; then a cow, a sheep, and a load of corn were delivered as presents from Rionga, and the king thanked Baker for the suit of clothes which had enabled him to make a decent appearance at the reception.

The interview lasted an hour or more, as there was a good deal to be said on both sides, and it resulted in an alliance between the king on the one hand, and the government on the other. The afternoon and evening were devoted to a feast, for which the king furnished the materials, and the next morning he and Baker went through the ceremony of exchanging blood, and thereby becoming the firmest of friends. Two or three days were occupied in receiving the allegiance of several chiefs who lived in the neighborhood; and before the expedition returned to Foueira it was agreed that war should be declared against the usurper, Kabba Rega; and as soon as the dry season had set in the combined forces would move upon Mrooli, the stronghold of Rionga's enemy.
Water Bottle

Abdul farther said that Ikionga was a handsome man, of good manners, and intelligent. His followers seemed warmly devoted to him. He had abandoned all the barbarous practices of the native kings, never ordering the punishment of death except for the very highest crimes, and never offering human sacrifices or shedding the blood of subjects or prisoners. His people lived chiefly on vegetable food, with the addition of fish caught in the river. They had extensive plantations of bananas and sweet potatoes; and though they had large flocks of sheep and goats, they did not eat their flesh, but were contented with the milk. The poorer classes sometimes live on ants, but do not display any particular fondness for them; they preferred the products of their gardens; and if they had plenty of bananas and plantains the ants were not disturbed.

Frank asked if they had any manufactures. Abdul said they confined their skill to a few articles of pottery, and some of them were very pretty, as Frank had opportunity of learning when he looked at several specimens in possession of the commander of the post. They consisted of water-jars and pots for cooking purposes, and some of them were ornamented in a way that would have done credit to a French or English worker in pottery. Frank admired the water-bottles made from a gourd that grows in this part of Africa: it has a long and slender neck, and the outside is very tough and hard, so that it can resist a heavy blow, and is not readily devoured by the almost omnivorous ants. These gourds are found everywhere in the Bunyoro and Uganda countries, and are useful for all purposes where liquids are to be carried or kept.

Abdul said these gourds are trained to take a variety of shapes. Most of them are unornamented, others decorated with black or red paints, and the necks are twisted while the gourds are green and soft. They can be softened in hot water. If broken while receiving the finishing touches the seams can be closed with thread in a style to be envied by an accomplished glove-sewer.

The pottery is made from a clay found in river-beds or at the base of the highest hills. The implements for working it are of the rudest description, and the natives are not even in possession of the potter's wheel, which has been known in Egypt and China for thousands of years. The clay is pulverized by being pounded between stones, and is then worked into a thick paste to make it sufficiently plastic. The potter shapes the mouth of a bottle, and then places it to dry in the sun. The next day he adds an inch or so, and the next day another inch, and in this way he continues the work till the article is completed.
Gourds of Different Shapes

When ready to be baked seven or eight of the bottles are placed together and covered with a pile of dry grass, which is set on fire. Only a gentle heat is needed, and wood-fires are not used, as the high temperature would crack the bottles. Captain Speke says a good workman will make four large pots in a day. Their picturesqueness and perfect shape often surprise the stranger. In some regions the pottery turns black when baked, while in others it becomes red, on account of the iron in the soil.

We will leave Frank engaged in the inspection of specimens of African workmanship, and return to Doctor Bronson and his nephew, whom we left at the head of the White Nile, beginning the exploration of Lake Albert.

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

Chapter 15: An Elephant Hunt. Crossing the Victoria Nile.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

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


Solitary: One who lives alone.
Rogue: An aggressive animal separate from the herd, especially an elephant.
Outcast: That has been cast out, banished, or ostracized.
Caste: Any of the hereditary social classes of South Asian societies, such as the Hindu Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and Untouchables in India.
Extricate: To free, loosen, or untangle.
Piscatorial: Of or pertaining to fish or fishing.
Tarboosh: A red felt or cloth cap with a tassel.
Flotilla: A small fleet of ships.
Usurper: One who seizes power from another, usually by illegitimate means.


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: Elephants and buffalo at a watering hole in Uganda.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the country of India on the map of the world (another place where elephants may be found).

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

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