As we rowed down the Lualaba River, I could not help but to reflect upon the series of mysterious events that had drawn us onto this quest. We had traversed the hinterlands of Um Bongo Bongo and now journeyed through the dense forests of The-Niger-Farage. At the behest of the British Commissioner we had travelled accompanied by a minimal crew of thirty natives, (most of whom had abandoned us mid-route upon the ferocious emergence of an AdministrataIainusDunkannSmithus, who had slain one of their number). The journey had been as unrelenting as it had been arduous, fierce heat beat down upon our sunburned faces whilst overhead giant Um Bongo Bongoan grasshoppers chittered loudly and leapt from tree to tree. On this stage of the journey we had opportunity to make camp, this we duly did establishing a clearing for ourselves and building a great fire in the midst of it, so that we might have light all around.
I took this occasion to re-read the last ever missive sent by my mentor Professor Powell;
‘The darkness and savagery of Umbongo Bongo is without imagining my dear! It is as if we had travelled backwards in time and become stranded in some pitiless, empty void, one where only the harsh strains of ‘Twerk It’ prevail.There are lap dancing clubs here my love! Places of unimagined and near ungovernable horror!, places where the chidren of Eden (just west of eastern europe) have risen up to dance and play! Oh my dear! The wrath of God! It is limitless!’ here the letter broke off becoming a series of dis-jointed rambling scrawls.
Abandoning all civilised constraint we travelled ever deeper into the dense bosom that was The-Niger-Farage. “I say oughtn’t we to go back? I have a feeling we’re lost!” casting off the remnants of my shirt I shook my head, “Not much further now” I said, “The Lualaba lies dead ahead, if we travel north by north west we should soon reach it”
“But won’t that mean we pass nearby Bulgaria?!!” I nodded,
“Only by fifty thousand miles,there is a shorter path over the snow capped mountains of Kilimanjaro but then we would have had to traverse sixty thousand miles within the multifarious dangers of Romania and few have survived that ordeal!”
We journeyed on from time to time stopping to take a nip of gin & tonic from our canteens. At length the forests of The-Niger-Farage fell away and the rushing, tumultuous waters of the Lualaba lay before us. What an awesome sight! But our travails were not yet over! A lengthy river journey lay before us “I say! That is Captain Dunrudy’s tugboat is it not?” and indeed my friends so it was, for I had arranged for him to join us on this, the second leg of our journey.
“A hale and hearty welcome gentleman welcome aboard!” roared Captain Dunrudy “I trust the waters of the Lualaba find you in good health? I had begun to think you would never arrive, for many have lain down to sleep in the midst of The-Niger-Farage never to arise!”
And indeed Captain Dunrudy looked like one such for I observed with disquiet the cauliflowered nose, the severely ruddied face (too indicative of excessive inebriation) and worst of all the partially unbuttoned trousers, a’las that we had ever left London! The river boat journey begun I drew the Captain’s attention to the sudden appearance of pale, wan faced beings drifting along the length of the river bank. The Captain nodded,”The natives refer to them as the Wahiri Hiri, it is an Umbongo term meaning plenty rouble makers”
“You mean trouble makers surely?” Captain Dunrudy shook his head,”They runs money making presses or so I’m told, renowned they is for the troubles they cause wherever theys apt to migrate theyselves, t’is said they are of Romanian and Bulgarian descent” he shuddered, glancing briefly at their pallid and attentive faces before turning back to the ministrations of his tug-boat. The boat continued on it’s merry way and we made progress ever closer to the Nederhiwi Ivory Station, that place from whence Professor Powell had prophesied ‘rivers of blood’ would hence flow. What foul delusions would have swamped his mind as he moved amongst the Umbongo Bongo, a lone English man in the midst of conquered natives, I could not fathom, suffice it to say that it had been his cry out of the primitive dark that had drawn me forth. And caused me to take upon my lone and narrow shoulders a venture I should never have contemplated otherwise. “Awww my god! Aww mercy! Sweet God! They is ere! They ‘as launched themselves upon us!” so cried out Captain Dunrudy as one by one and then on mass the Wahiri Hiri launched themselves upon us and clung tenaciously to the sides of the boat.
“Oh mah gawd!” screeched the panic stricken Captain “We iz gawn to diiiiiiiee!” and it did indeed seem to be the case for the boat lurching fro to fro sped hastily over the edge of a waterfall which, a’las in his panic, the Captain had forgotten to navigate us away from……
My Dearest Mater,
Having survived the tumultuous waters of the Luabalaba and the furious onslaught of stray Wahiri Hiri, we have now arrived at the Nederhiwi flatlands. Staggering ashore and dragging our provisions with them, the Umbongo Bongoans were soon able to collect sufficient kindling for a bonfire. This they set to building immediately, setting it alight with a flint that one of them had, had, the foresight to clench between his teeth when we had slipped over the waterfall. But once the fire was lit what a ghastly discovery was made! For Jamieson’s dinner jacket (along with his charcoals for sketching) had been lost to the waters of the Luabalaba! Captain Jamieson put a good front on it however (though I noted with much apprehension, the minute tremor beneath his left eye) and we were soon able to make camp for the night.
My darling, how best may I describe to you the savage wonders of the Nederhiwi? The infernal wonderment that suffused my weakened bosom each time I gazed up towards the stars? The brooding sense of foreboding that overcame me as I listened to the lurid squawks of the Hysterius Ukippus? I can only quote those phrases handed down to me by my mentor in his last missive,‘Gone! The faces of my loved ones. Gone! The works of Louis Pasteur and Purcell and that cultured enlightenment that can scarce be glimpsed at by these primitive hordes! Gone all vestige of culture, all civilised pretence. For I too am of Umbongo Bongo and all I may do now is twerk! Clustered around the roaring camp fire, we sipped on our gin and tonics and expressed the hope that we might make good progress towards the Ivory Station tomorrow. “Will there be time to stop by Ribakiba?” Jamieson inquired to which I innocently replied,”Hardly, why?”
“I have a fancy for painting some watercolours of the terrain” was his disingenuous response and this I did not question, for it was well known that Jamieson had a brooding artistic obsession with Umbongo Bongo. But later that evening, when all save I had fallen asleep, Pasher Arshad (our Syrian interpreter) voiced his disquiet. “I do not think sir” he murmured,”That you ought to let Captain Jamieson anywhere near the Ribakiba”
“That’s hardly for you to say!” I retorted, but the deferential manner of Pasha Arshad stopped me dead in my tracks and so I inclined my hand for him to continue,”The Ribakiba are infamous for their cannibalistic practices, Captain Jamieson spoke of this in the hearing of several of the boys, indeed, he purchased several boxes of watercolours and a little girl for the purpose”
“For what purpose?” asked I to which Pasha Arshad calmly replied,”To paint the rituals of cannibalism in the minutest detail”
“Dear God! Has he gone mad?!” I cried but Pasha Arshad eyed me sombrely, “No more than any other Englishman I have served” he replied. Such is the nature of the Umbongo Bongo my dear, it makes savages of us all!
The following morning we struck out for the Ivory station and were pleasantly surprised to find that we had not very far to go at all. Indeed, but for the ferocious emergence of a tribe of Moncktus Brenchley we would have reached the Ivory station by noon. T’was as though nature herself conspired against us and had it not been for the bravery of the porters, she would have had her way. As it was our path lay strewn with the mangled bodies of several porters, who had, had, the good fortune to impale themselves on the enemies spears for our sake, and so our journey continued.
How shall I describe that final journey over the heartlands of darkness my dear? How may I best convey the creeping on of shadows, fast obscuring the faltering light of day and the relentless heat? So that as fast as we consumed one flagon of beer, another had to be prepared. It is hard to describe my desperate yearning for the journey’s end and yet the dawning horror of its conclusion. To lay eyes on my mentor at last, to observe what changes this brutal terrain had wrought upon his person. We had left the waters of the Luabalaba lapping seductively against the shore and in its place? We had entered a place of boundless terror, of limitless despair,”What are they?” Jamieson cried out, clutching the little girl tightly by the hand. “Lithuanians” Pasher Arshad murmured,”Perhaps even Poles” he continued unsheathing his sword. “Poles?” I cried, “This far inland? What could they possibly want with us?”
Pashar Arshad shrugged,”Who knows? Maybe they’re between jobs? Try throwing some beer at them” we had wrestled with death and emerged victorious but worse was to come.”Pasher Stanley! Pasher Stanley! Where is Captain Jamieson?”. Oh, we knew beyond any reckoning where he had gone, for the little Wahiri Hiri child was not to be found either, but tempus fugit. I could only hope that Captain Jamieson might remember his breeding, that and the fact that he was heir to a lucrative whisky business, and change his mind.
Pasher Arshad’s distaste, on the other hand, prompted him to draw my attention to article thirty-five of the constitution of Umbongo Bongo, which he assured me dealt with the suppression of savage customs,”Cannibalism” he assured me was such a custom. It was my painful duty to assure him in return that the British Empire could never be signatory to a barbarous convention such as this. Furthermore, next to the acquisition of that Ivory station and the discovery of Mr Livingstone, the death of one Wahiri Hiri was of little consequence.
Pasher Arshad paled, he seemed profoundly shocked by my response, though I could not for the life of me see why, after all had he not stood as military interpreter to General Gordon of Umbongo Bongo?
Parts of this tale are based on a true story, the question is which parts?
A Letter written by Emma Cranford (recovered during the 10th Wahiri Hiri Rebellion of Umbongo Bongo)
Church of the Unbridled Redemption of St John (the Methodist),
Ribakiba Mission Post,
T’is nigh upon a year since last I wrote and I thank he whose beneficent, benevolence, has seen fit to furnish me with pen and paper with which I now write. I speak of the estimable Captain Jamieson who having arrived at our mission only last week, now resides with ourselves at RibaKiba . He is the first white man I have seen here (besides my brother), a man quick and decisive in his movements, lithe of limb, tousled of head and oh my dear! That piercing blue gaze! I walked with him this morning, under the shade of the Nederhiwi palms, with the gentle cawing of the Chinky-birds & the Hysterius Ukippus overhead, swooning only a little in his presence. Perhaps it was mild sunstroke my dear, I cannot tell, but that my collar was speedily loosened (by Ileana my maid!) and Captain Jamieson escorted me home half-supported upon his arm. Once in my quarters I trembled, so that Ileana (once she had finished smoking her cigar) asked if I were ill, and, having readied me for my evening nap, bade me get some sleep before the evening matins.Would that Arthur, my dear brother, displayed half that attentiveness to my desires, but he thinks only of the RibaKiba souls whom the good lord has seen fit to entrust to his (and my) care.
“That child, Emma”
“What child dearest?”
“That child” exclaimed Arthur impatiently clasping his monocle firmly before his eye, “The one tied by the wrists to his horse, pray, what is her name?”
“Her name dearest?” I replied, for it seemed obvious to me that the child was an Umbongo slave, not of RibaKiba origin, and therefore of no spiritual concern to us, “Is it important?” I asked pinning on my best cameo brooch (the one left to me by mama in her will).
“Not as such only I observe that she is rarely out of Captain Jamieson’s sight. When you walked with him last he had her chained to his belt did he not?”
“I cannot remember dearest, no I don’t think so” I lied, though in truth I could not tell, enthralled as I was by his masculine proximity.
“You look flushed my dear” Arthur exclaimed with some concern,
“Do I?” said I dabbing my forehead a little with a delicate lace hanky (also bequeathed me by mama)
“T’is nothing, a little fatigue from the heat is all” but as my heart throbbed urgently beneath my corseted bosom I could think only of him, Captain Jamieson, and his masterful hands.
How best shall I describe our meeting place to you dear Abilene? Picture an imposing building elaborately hewn from grey stone, with elegant soaring spires and now picture its antithesis. Yes my dear, to this we have been called! Far from our beloved England to this! This heathen fleshpot of iniquitous dealings that teetered on the brink of famine! A famine brought on by that unspeakable wickedness that had, held sway amongst their much depleted numbers! We have been called to succour the indigent and the reluctant, the intransigent and the inordinately violent! It was not easy my dear, for at first we were greatly opposed by the Wahiri Hiri (rouble-makers) who turned a fine profit out of selling the tribesmen prodigious amounts of Vodka and fire wood!
Indeed, when we first arrived in RibaKiba they contrived to take us hostage and then to sell us onto the RibaKiba tribesmen, with a free wooden Barbey-Kooo (some invention of theirs) thrown in! Had the RibaKiba been drunk we should have been at their mercy, alas, then, for the Wahiri Hiri that Arthur carried a loaded pistol, and they were sober! I cannot recount the fate of these iniquitous souls (t’is more than becomes such as I), suffice it to say that the grounds of the graveyard, behind our place of worship, are vast my dear!
Eighty souls have been placed in our care, all of whom flock around Arthur constantly, plucking at his linen suit with their sweaty little fingers and hanging on his every utterance. I wish they would hang around him less, obliged as I am to play the church organ at morning bible study when the eyes in their dull faces may be most clearly seen. Oh, some might think me most uncharitable and even a little racist, but there is something about those Negro faces and in particular about their eyes.
” Emma dearest shall we begin?” I nod slightly and with my back turned towards the RibaKiba Christians and my face buried in my Methodist hymn book I begin,
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me
let me hide myself in thee!
Be of sin the double cure
save me from it’s wrath and power!”
May the good Lord forgive me, but I found myself adrift on the tides of romantic yearning to such a degree that even as my fingers slid across the organ keys, even as my dainty feet trammelled the peddles, I failed to note that Arthur had fallen silent and all singing had ceased. Raising my head from the hymnal I gathered sufficient courage to look around for the reassuring presence of my brother, but he was not there. Glancing at the RibaKiba I noted with some relief that their backs were turned towards me, their necks and faces straining towards something that was occurring just out of my line of sight. I noted also with some alarm, that the Ileana (my Wahiri maid) was present, cigar in hand!
“Ahhhhhhhh! Aaaaaaah!” the little Umbongo’s child’s cries (for t’was she), caused the hair on the nape of my neck to stiffen, in a trice all thought of berating Ileana had fled and I wondered instead with much foreboding, where Arthur could have got to. “Unhand her you fiend!”
“Never!” came the reply (most brutally I might add), “I’ve travelled here at great expense to paint the Umbongoan child being prepared for dinner and eaten and paint her I shall!”
“Oh, you most pitiful wretch! You SHALL NOT!!! Unhand herrrrrrr!!”
T’was Arthur and at the very sound of his voice (accompanied most shockingly by the blast of his shotgun) the RibaKiba glanced at one another knowingly, and turning to me at once, they resumed singing. Taking one last puff on her cigar Ileana favoured me with a smirk,
“Look like Captain Jamieson get himself caught in an elephant trap no?”
Oh my dear, these are the times that try us……..
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”.
“German hunters carried out this wasteful carnage?” I cried, Pashar Arshad rolled his eyes.
“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.
The day would have begun serenely were it not for the throbbing drums below us and the low, ominous mutterings of the natives. T’was a fitful night we spent, slumbering in the low grass, whilst grasshoppers chittered and Pashar Arshad kept watch through the night. T’was an unrelentingly ominous yet sunny day we found ourselves awaking to. I could not help but to recollect Pashar Arshad’s reminisces about the fall of the heroic city of Khartoum to the massacring Mohammedan hordes of the Mahdi;it had been a scorchingly hot day then too, Pashar assured me. Looking up into the vast empty soul-less sky I cursed the gods that had trapped us between the roaring waters of the Luabalaba and the Nederhiwi Ivory Station. Not for the first time I questioned what dark primeval forces had lured me out of merry old England during cricket season and into the darkest reaches of dimmest Africa. Why on such a morn as this, I should have been drinking chocolate out of a delicate china cup and slowly devouring a plate of Turkey Twizzler Kedgeree.
“Oi oi!” cried Captain Dunrudy “There’s movement down below! The gates are being opened, somebody’s coming out!” I looked down upon the Irish man who had crawled halfway down the hill on his belly with a cigarillo dangling from his lips and a telescope extended in front of him. His begrimed britches were partially split around the back, so that the stark white linen of his undergarments shone through, as he wriggled farther down the hill to get a closer look. “Oh ho! It’s a party of natives and that looks like-is that Professor Powell?!” he handed the telescope to me and as I looked a gasp of unsuppressed horror escaped me.
The burnt low grass scratched my cheeks, and tickled my lips, as I wriggled still further down the hill to more closely view what Africa had wrought upon this once civilised Englishman. For it was clear to me that the most esteemed Professor Powell had gone native. Here was an Englishman-who had been the founder of the New College Drinking Club, a fellow of the Royal Archaeological Society and a lay preacher at Canterbury Cathedral-clad in a grass skirt, fashioned it appeared from Palm fronds. Elephant tusks had been tied to either side of his head beneath a crown of Hysterius Ukippus feathers. Gold and Ivory bracelets adorned his wrists, his chest alone was bare and tanned as dark as a beech-nut.
“Oi oi! He’s addressing the Kon-Kon-Safwo’s with dance! He’s clearly gawn bonkers!” exclaimed Captain Dunrudy disbelievingly as he crawled still further down the steep stark hill with us crawling along behind him. The drumming had increased in intensity as the Kon-Kon-Safwo-Redwoods shimmied and shook in time to its rhythm. Not to be outdone in aggressive ferocity, Professor Powell shimmied and shook his own lean body with twice the speed and ferocity.
He twisted, he leapt, he skipped ferociously in a circle with a band of similarly garbed Umbongo Umbongoans dancing sombrely beside him. It seemed to me that some unearthly discourse was taking place, one such as no civilised Englishman could possibly comprehend. Even as we had travelled inland from the outer regions of Umbongo Umbongo we had heard rumours of the godless depths to which he (Professor Powell) had plummeted. The devilish rites to which it was rumoured he had been party, but I had not thought to witness a display so swinishly heathen, for he grimaced and rolled his eyes back in his head broodingly as though he were Umbongoan born and bred, twirling the ivory handled fly swatters in his swarthy hands with joyous abandon.
“Have you visited the Kalahari desert?” whispered Pashar Arshad ” The Bushmen of the Kalahari perform such heathen feats as these, they call it ‘ungah-wiri’ ”
“Tis the Umtargatie-Yaw-Yaw” replied Captain Dunrudy chuckling quietly to himself as he watched the good professor performing a bellicose strutting skip with his sunburned paunch thrust out, and his hands jerking spasmodically at his sides. “The Professor is attempting to perform the Umtargatie-Yaw-Yaw, tis the tribal way of marking out one’s territorial boundaries”
“By God! He’s an Englishman! Can he not simply have the brutes shot and mark out his territorial boundaries that way?” I exclaimed in horror. The Kon-Kon-Safwo-Redwoods seemed terribly excited by the presence of an Englishman in their midst, for the drum beat picked up its pace and now the brutes shook their spears and their grass skirts savagely, so savagely that the grotesque little shrunken German heads attached to them bobbed up and down.
“Ooooh that don’t look good. If they keep that up he will have to shoot them.” observed Captain Dunrudy uncapping his flask and knocking back a long hard slug of whisky.”Still” he continued, “his loss will be our gain; them gates to the outpost are wide open”. Death lay skulking in the air and if we were not careful it would eat its fill of us,the wide open gates were akin to a luminous flash of hope in that heathen darkness.
Conferring quietly with Pashar Ashad (who in turn instructed the head native-porter) I unholstered my pistol and crawling deeper into the low grass, I made my way carefully downhill. Sweat trickled down my face and neck staining my only remaining pure white bespoke shirt. The ground beneath my dirty fingernails throbbed savagely with the frenzied thud of savage feet on the sun-baked, my head ached so fiercely from the searing heat that I feared I would betray my Britishness by swooning. Still, I made my way onwards, wriggling along the stony ground on my belly till at length I was at the gates of that sparkling sanctuary from barbarism, the Nederhiwi Ivory Station ………
Ivory, lots of it, heaped up in vast glistening piles everywhere we looked. Enough riches to buy the City of London many times over. How remarkable that in the midst of this vast and desolate marauding wilderness such riches should exist! Was this why men journeyed fearlessly into the dark inhuman reaches of a jungle infested with Tarantulas, Scorpions and legions of Red Ants? Was this why they came, braving this hotbed of Yellow Fever and Dengue Flu and dying in their legions raving and foaming in the Nederhiwi Bush? All this to secure one’s financial position in English Society indefinitely?
What monomanic affliction (I wondered) bade the Professor horde up prodigious supplies of that for which men gladly drove themselves mad? Even as I speculated as to what sickness drove my poor friend’s embrace of barbarism and avarice, Captain Dunrudy surveyed the gleaming mounds of Ivory and giggled quietly to himself. He glanced at the Chief Porter whose swarthy visage lit up at the sight of the white tusks and he too giggled,”Moribund moribund tee tee!!” he declared lifting his hands to heaven and giggling some more. Captain Dunrudy clearly agreed with him for “Moribund moribund mayhem gazulu tee tee!” was his guffawing reply “Small wonder the Kon-Konsafwo-Redwoods are on the warpath! “.
I looked at Captain Dunrudy questioningly, but he merely laughed until the tears ran down his cheeks and pointed towards the dozen or so tethered vultures kept in bamboo cages, nearby the gargantuan mounds of Ivory. “Look at those cages” he said, “If I’m not mistaken those are West Africa Company Carrier Vultures” he chuckled “They only gets sent to the Ivory outposts when Ivory cargoes stop coming altogether!”.
He guffawed so heartily that his face turned redder than usual and his eyes streamed with tears. His humour proved so infectious that the natives were soon rolling around on the ground alongside him clutching their sides. I must confess that I could not see what humour there was in our predicament. The vast heaps of gleaming Ivory should have been despatched to the West Africa Company’s imperial outpost in Nefertiri Umbongo, but for whatever sinister reason, that had not happened.
Ashar Parshad alone shared my dismay and unease “This is very very bad Mr Stanley, very bad indeed. Professor Powell has taken up arms against that fine bulwark of Englishness, the West Africa Company. Why, they own all the Gold, Gari and Palm Wine Reserves and most of the Ivory Reserves of Umbongo! To go against them is to brave the wrath of the Governor-General of Umbongo Umbongo, and the legions of Glorious British Grenadiers sent to safeguard the Empress of India’s booty!”
“A parlous state of affairs and a puzzling one” I admitted for the Professor Powell who mentored me as a boy at New College in Oxford, professed no interest in the business of Ivory. His had been an anthropological fascination, what lunatick epiphany could have propelled him from those scientific realms he so loved into the very depths of tawdry nativism he had embraced? Why, it hardly bore thinking on and yet as I bit into a Panama Plum I found myself obliged to think on it.
These many weeks the hunt for Professor Powell had occupied my thoughts and filled my waking moments. I who set out upon this dark and shudderingly terrifying adventure, full of all sorts of nightmarish fears and wild apprehensions, have now reached my journey’s ruinous black end. The Professor Powell I knew at New College is a man greatly changed! So preoccupied has he become with the protection of his ever increasing mounds of glorious Ivory, that he has become remiss in his duties towards the Empire.
The West Africa Company (who commissioned his research) have received not a single consignment from the Nederhiwi Ivory Outpost . What is worse, he has left off wearing the starched shirts and linen suits indicative of his imperial standing amongst the natives, adopting the native garb with all the resolute enthusiasm of a degenerating heathen.
Why even now a ferocious tribe of head shrinking savages, intent upon collecting their share of the Ivory have joined him in dance-combat!. For two days now the drums of the Kon-Kon-Safwo-Redwoods have rung out savagely, and as a blood red sun sets shimmeringly on the horizon and the day draws to a close, I cannot help but to wonder what the outcome will be.
“Have you had a bite to eat?” enquired Captain Dunrudy as he partook of tinned Sardines delicately mingled with fried Nederhiwi Red Herring. I could not help but to marvel at a man who having imbibed enough whisky rations to have inebriated an entire army, now sat contentedly chewing upon a plateful of pungent smelling fish served up for him by a voluptuous plum skinned Umbongoan maiden, who grimacing broadly offered me some native victuals.
From the jovial manner in which Captain Dunrudy chewed upon his food I assume it was most palatable for him. My English constitution I fear is not as robust, for I found the mere smell of the cooked victuals surprisingly repellent, and was forced to fall back upon the remainder of some Kitchener Dried Mule Jerky I had purchased several months ago at the Umbongo Nefertiri Outpost. I soon completed my spartan meal, washing it down with several Gin and Tonics, before wandering off in the direction of that eccentric structure to the left of the Ivory mounds which I’m told was the main headquarters of the outpost.
“Umbwaaga na butu! Believe me!” Captain Dunrudy declared as he chewed his fish, washing it down with yet more whisky. “He’s built a graveyard behind that lot, and what you’ll find there scarce bares imagining! The natives say there’s at least a dozen imperial administrators buried back there. Right alongside the half a dozen missionaries what thought they’d make civilised Christian Englishmen out of the Nederhiwi, well! They soon learned a thing or two!”
As I walked towards the towering structure from time to time I would glimpse out of the corner of my eye occasional glimmerings such as would suggest the swift, furtive movements of dark skinned savages. Not that I let that put me off my mission which was to acquire what insight I could as to the precise nature of Professor Powell’s barbarous lunacy.
As I approached the wooden structure which alone seemed to tower over that corner of the compound, I was overcome by a sudden desire to mutter the Pater Noster under my breath, and I could not resist crossing myself several times as I entered into the soul-less dark interior of Professor Powell’s home. A ponderous and weighty silence filled each oak panelled chamber, whose tables of sparkling cut-glass and crisp white linen, whose walnut cabinets full of intricately painted bone-china, silver plate and scrimshawed Ivory had been dusted and polished to perfection, t’was most disturbing.
Travelling deeper into the cavernous interiors of Professors Powell’s home I came upon a chamber whose earthen floor had been polished to such a high shine that one could almost see one’s face in it. An ornately carved chair had been placed in the centre of this room and upon it sat a poor creature in a state of parlous anguish. Her matted hair was loose and lay dishevelled upon the shoulders of a tattered gown and it was impossible at first to discern whether she was of civilisation or merely a tribeswoman of the Wahiri Hiri.
There was an air of tainted purity about her , an aura of almost imperceptible light and as she raised her head from off her chest I saw that she bore a gold crucifix upon it. Could this be an English woman and a missionary?! T’was a terrible shock to perceive an English woman shackled and chained like a savage to a chair owned by the good professor (who had once partaken joyously of high church), and in a room festooned with grotesque Nederhiwi statues, which I took to be representations of the local deities.
“What is this place?” I asked not wishing to hear what I guessed would be an answer most shocking to my Christian sensibilities.
“T’is the Twerking Chamber of Professor Powell!” she replied “A most barbarous and impious sight you are unlikely to see in any other imperial district! I have been imprisoned for some months merely for seeking to turn the Nederhiwi back from the wilderness of vicious corruption that, that devil (turned heathen!) has urged them to embrace! I have been chained up to the Throne of Ululations for exhorting them to be good Christians! Professor Powell proclaimed that I shall not leave here till I relinquish my faith and twerk!”.
Raising a delicate and trembling milk white palm to her pallid face she tilted back her head and fell to laughing hysterically till she howled with anguished tears, finally she let loose such a stream of terrible invectives that it seemed as if she had succumbed to that impenetrable darkness some call Africa. But at last she recovered her composure and I, having stifled my horror and gathered my resolve, drew forth a Maxim Pistol and firing off several shots, freed the unfortunate lady from her chains.”Praise God!” gasped she, her face contorted with joy,
“An Englishman has come! An Englishman has come!”
Ah me!” sobbed Miss Cranford “How many dark and onerous days have passed since last I laid eyes upon the beloved face of my poor deceased brother; most beloved padre of the children of RibaKiba. Alas that he who survived so much depredatory wickedness, should have fallen foul of the evils of the Wahiri Hiri Rebellion!”
“The Wahiri Hiri have rebelled?” I cried disbelievingly for I found it hard to imagine such a pale and disinteresting species mounting a regime overthrow of any kind.
“The Wahiri Hiri having conducted much of their business with the Barbary Corsairs, and having seen how well they prosper in their piracy, have become discontented with their lot!” replied Miss Cranford “Hence their desperately wicked rebellion against the forces of the British Empire! Why I myself was forced to flee bible in hand, and many Christian Riba Kiba with me!”
“But what of Captain Jamieson?” Miss Cranford’ became agitated and her face darkened at the mention of his name , I can only conjecture from this that some infamous misfortune had befallen my greatly misled friend. “Kidnapped by the Barbary Corsairs” replied she in a whisper not quite meeting my eye “As were most of the Christian Riba Kiba”
The Barbary Corsair Pirates were infamous throughout North Africa for their dissolute pirating practices, and I could scarce conjecture how they had become involved in the imperial affairs of Umbongo Bongo. The Barbary, wealthy beyond imagining, were a terror to all who encountered them, for though they were generally spoken of as pirates their truer profession was that of white slavers! I One thing now seemed beyond doubt, we must quit this savage outpost at the earliest opportunity.
When first I entered the palace of Professor Powell it had been midday, but now the suns last rays pierced the stained glass windows of that shadowy heathen chamber as I carefully untied Miss Cranford, and gently led her out of that place of heinous depravity. As she wept wildly clinging to my strong masculine shoulder, I led the newly liberated English gentlewoman from the place of her captivity, and she all but collapsed into the arms of Captain Dunrudy once we had reached the camp.
“Mah Gawd! It cannot be!” cried Captain Dunrudy as the poor woman sobbed terribly in his sinewy masculine embrace “Mah Gawd Miss Cranford! What terrible development is this? When last I saw you, you and your saviour were happy and blest! Should you not be at the Riba Kiba Mission with your dear brother the most Reverend Cranford?” alas the woman was unable to respond to his inquiries for she had fainted; and he, deeply moved by the sight, tossed away his flagon of Whisky and scooping up the distressed lady carried her into his tent and laid her on his portable camp bed.
“I’ve been in this bally country for nigh on fifteen year and never laid eyes on a more sinister set of goings-on! An English woman and a missionary held prisoner by natives! Where’d you find er? Professor Powell’s Twerking Harem is what she told me but he couldn’t have!” Captain Dunrudy looked at me “Nay he wouldn’t! No! Not to an English woman!”
“An Englishman who has gawn native and cavorts about in grass skirts is capable of anything” I replied “What is more she says the Wahiri Hiri are at war with the Imperial Army of Umbongo Bongo and in league with the Barbary Corsairs!”
“Bloody hell!” he cried looking about him with dawning horror “Out of the frying pan into the fire! Where’s me whisky!”
“Bismillahi!” Shrieked Pashar Arshad, he glared malevolently at the red nosed sailor,
“You’ve downed enough whisky to merit a thousand lashes many times over! If the Wahiri Hiri have burned down the missionary outpost it will not belong before they turn up here! Do you wish to wind up eating roast Armadillo and pulling an Ox Cart in Morocco? No? Then you had better leave off Shaytan’s juice!”
In the distance we could hear the native drumming then just as suddenly it ceased. Night fell and with it an uneasy silence broken only by the insidious humming of grasshoppers,and the raucous braying of a herd of Nederhiwi Wild Boar. All around us lit torches materialised, and with them the native occupants of the outpost, who did not acknowledge our presence, but did make sure that the area in which we were camped was exceeding well-lit.
“Wallee ici! Wallee na hutu ici!” jabbered one of the splay footed natives pointing enthusiastically towards the wide open gates. The excitement rippled through that alien horde until as one they cried “Wallee ici! Wallee ici” turning their faces and bodies as one towards the din being made by the sound of approaching drums. Had Professor Powell prevailed victoriously over the Kon-Kon-Safwo-Redwoods? We would soon know!
“Wallee ici!!! Umtargatie victoreee!”
Umtargatie victory indeed! For even as Professor Powell led his triumphal procession in through the Ivory festooned gates, the Wahiri Hiri were conquering the Umbongoan Countryside and sweeping all before them!How long would it be before they reached this Ivory outpost?
“Umtargatie victoree! Victoree!” more cries of triumph and celebration as the Nederhiwi clamoured to meet their alabaster skinned saviour. Glancing feverishly upon his enthralled flock whose wildly impassioned joy was infant like in its expression, Professor Powell let himself be passed from hand to hand overhead, till at length he came to rest upon a huge intricately carved Ebony Wood stool.
“My dear children!” cried he waving an imperious hand over us all “The battle was joined and won, the Kon-Kon-Safwo’s have conceded their defeat and it is as Emperor of Nederhiwi that I now address you!”
“Conceded their defeat?” said I turning to Captain Dunrudy who stood close by scratching his his head and looking perplexed “What does he mean by that?” in reply Captain Dunrudy discretely tapped the butt of his Maxim “Not what he thinks! Them Kon-Kon-Safwo’s don’t like being crossed, they gets their livelihood from delivering cargoes of Ivory, Ivory which he won’t let them have they may have departed, but they won’t have gone far I wager!”
More exultant whoops of pleasure followed and with it a degree of frenzied dancing so far divorced from the region of moral decency that I shudder even to describe it.
“Twerk it my children! Twerk it! Twerk it!” cried he whose spiritual faculties were now so weak that moral decency even in dance eluded him,”Twerk it!”.
“Declared isself Emperor of Nederhiwi?!” muttered Captain Dunrudy wiggling his hips discretely in time to the the beat of the Tom-Tom Drums “The Imperial administrators won’t like that!”
“Y’all-ah!” muttered Pasher Arshad “Had he been in the service of the Sultan Abu Dekallah he would have been whipped severely, tied to a dozen horses and torn limb from limb for his treacherous infamy!”
Dear devout reader, t’was as if we had descended into the very fires of hell with the good professor as our guide! No importunate sinner found chained midst the smouldering embers of Gehenna could have known such despair, such horror! The dreams of empire had borne us aloft from the emerald isle we called home, to this place of boundless savagery. The Professor Powell I knew had entered Africa as a highly civilised British Anthropologist, but like an infatuated, sultry eyed lover, darkest Africa had lured him deep into the nihilistic bowels of the Nederhiwi, and the savagery, the utter savagery of it all had closed around him.
Above us the pure white stars sparkled innocently, and the pale moon hung luminously in their midst, looked down with a cold eye upon the tawdry goings-on to which we found our good Christian selves reluctantly made privy. Ah! How the torches scattered around the camp glimmered, their unrelenting glare casting light and shadow upon the nefarious twerkings of Professor Powell and the heathen Nederhiwi. Oh! The plenteous tears shed by us all as we witnessed the frightening depths of degradation to which the Professor had succumbed! With a look of primal ecstasy he arched his back and shimmied till the Palm Fronds tied to his thick waist swished to and fro rustling audibly, and all the while, rapt with horror, we watched him, watched him and prayed!
“Twerk it! Twerk it! Twerk it!” cried Captain Dunrudy wiggling his hips and joining arms with the bemused Chief Porter who snickered loudly and declared “Umbwaaga na butu! Moribundus tee tee!”. Dear reader, how many morally decent supplications can be offered up in circumstances such as this and to whom? I must confess that I could think of no appropriate bible scriptures that could touch on matters such as this save one,
“It is not the sound of victory,
it is not the sound of defeat;
it is the sound of twerking that I hear.”