The savagery, the utter savagery of it all consumed us; death lurked everywhere, it preened, it shimmied, it pranced, pranced with the frenetic energy of a Neder -Hiwi Witch Doctor! Death leered at us through the darkened windows of every deserted village hut we passed, it lingered midst the grimy foetid rags covering the strewn bones of the village’s former inhabitants. Above us the skies were black, so black that I fancied we might find ourselves swept up and devoured by the vast darkly ominous storm clouds, which now roiled tumultuously overhead.
We’d ventured on for many miles now, passing the abandoned ruins of a deserted outpost the Umbongoan natives called ‘Na-Wango-Bretagne’. Na-Wango-Bretagne had been a trading post till it had been burnt down by a treacherous Italian scout the staunch English traders had mistakenly invited into their midst.
During the monsoon season the Nederhiwi Flatlands were overrun by Hysterius Ukippus whose slippery hides-once plucked and scoured clean-might be sold for ten pounds sterling a piece (according to the natives). If this were true I conjectured that two seasons spent in these lush hinterlands could render a man as rich as Croesus; if he survived the cannibalism of the Riba Kiba natives, the unrelenting heat, and the ravages of Yellow Fever. Such was the price one was apt to pay in pursuit of riches, such was the world we’d stumbled into.
“Tis a country plagued by many djinn” muttered Parshar Arshad looking about himself watchfully. “Strong, lusty, red eyed spirits of mammon are rampant here! See! The destruction they have left in their wake!”
“Nonsense!” I coolly replied “Umbongo Umbongo is under the protection of the British Empire”.
“So was the Sudan!” cried Parshar Arshad despairingly “And look what happened there! Oh that I were still in the service of that great martyr of Britannia, General Gordon of Umbongo!”.
“Indeed. Shall we onwards? According to this map (bequeathed me by Captain Jamieson), the Nederhiwi Ivory Station is just over that hill”
“That hill?!” cried Umbutu savagely
“Just so” I replied raising a stern eyebrow, for if our remaining porters had had their way, we’d have turned back several times along our route. Fortunately I had taken care to deploy a pistol about my person, and through infrequent use I had managed to keep us fixed upon our journey.
“That hill?!” Umbutu cried once more turning his terror stricken gaze upon the other porters “That hill is accursed! Like the village and the outpost before it! We will go no furdah! Umbwaaga na butu! Naaah butu!”
On such occasions as this an abrupt rebuke from the Pashar would have silenced this dissent, but he had blithely unrolled his prayer mat and now proceeded to pray whilst mayhem unfurled around him. “Umbwaaga na butu! Naaa butu!” cried all the other porters dropping our cargo midst the lush grass and taking flight. I am afraid to say I had much recourse to the pistol I normally kept holstered at my side, and so we continued onwards with our journey.
Paths, paths everywhere, muddy half-botched affairs they were, leading up the hill through the long grass and down it through the sickly yellowish mounds of low grass. Near the top of the hill I almost fell into a vast hole from which arose a near suffocating rancid odour.
“The rotted remains of many wild boar” declared Pashar Arshad peering over the edge of the hole into the vast maw of that wild darkness. “I am told that wild boar tusks are as valued by the Germans, as elephant ivory is by the French”.
“They are one of the few nations discerning enough to have no liking for the cooked flesh of Wild Boar! Of course they are German, but the more pressing question is what were they doing here, so close to the Nederhiwi Ivory Station?”
We did not have to wait long to find out, for as we descended the sepulchral mound a swarthy devil who had gone on ahead jabbered excitedly “Umbwaa bwaaa Nederhiwi!!!”.
We had finally reached the Nederhiwi Ivory Station, but before we could descend the primitive mound, we discerned the growing sound of murmuring voices and stamping feet. How best might we describe the emotions that swept over us as we, carefully making our descent, observed the frenetic dancing of the lanky brutes who, festooned in Resig-Nata-Smithus hides, stomped and swayed to and fro afore the barred gates of the Ivory Station. Leaping high in the air and uttering primeval screeches that made my skin crawl, they seemed grotesque to the point of moral indecency. “T’would seem they object to the presence of the Ivory Station” observed Pashar Arshad calmly.
“T’would seem they’ve objected to a darn sight more than that!” exclaimed Captain Dunwoody pointing to the hairy objects each bellicose dancer had tied to their grass skirts. Hairy objects which on closer observation (through my Acme patented binoculars) appeared to resemble shrunken human heads.
“How barbarous!” I cried “How are we to gain entry to the Ivory Station now?!”
” With great care” replied Pashar Arshad strumming his prayer beads ruminatively. Captain Dunrudy nodded in agreement, taking little nips of whisky from a pewter flask he pointed towards the savage leaping forms . “These are not Umbongoans indigenous to this region, nor are they Wahiri Hiri or Riba Kiba. What we have here is a tribe of Kon-Kon-Safwoah-Redwoods and they is an altogether diff’rent kettle of fish!! We must tread carefully or wind up like them Germans, shrunken and dangling from a grass skirt!” he sipped ruminatively on his whisky, lit a slightly shabby looking cigar and settled back in the low grass for the time being. Glancing with great fear in the direction of the Ivory Station, the native porters murmured ominously amongst themselves, but then taking one look at my pistol they too dropped our cargo (delicately) upon the low grass and prepared to dig in for the night.
The gibbous moon hung low in a pitch black sky that was as frightening to behold as the gaping maw of a panther. Whilst down below us my sharp eyes (aided by binoculars) observed the grotesque visages and the contorted bodies of the Kon-Kon-Safwoah-Redwoods prancing savagely through the impenetrable dark. “You’ll ne’er meet a more monstrous tribe than that lot! ” declared Captain Dunrudy as he too observed their barbarous prancing. ” Twelve year I’ve bin here on the river mostly doing a bit o’ trade with the Europeans. Umbongo (plagued as it is by indigenous tribes) is a devilish hard place to make one’s living, devilish, dangerous and fiendish”. Could I nay say him? For here we lay, hidden in the low grass half a league away from the only remnant of civilisation we’d laid eyes on in eighty days of travel.
We had traversed the wildernesses of Umbongo Bongo and survived the treacherousness of the Lualaba River; only to find ourselves kept back from attaining the pinnacle of our adventure. As the meagre wretches below us continued to screech and to dance wildly I felt a surge of hatred arise in my Christian breast, and almost reached for my pistol, but a sardonic glance from Captain Dunrudy stayed my hand.
A paroxysm of quiet sobbing convulsed me momentarily, but I soon suppressed it and settling into the mobile cot which one of the natives had thoughtfully carried on his head from Na-Wango-Bretagne I soon fell asleep.