National Geographic : 1937 Nov
KEEPING HOUSE ON THE CONGO By RUTH Q. MCBRIDE AUTHOR OF "TURBULENT SPAIN." IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE IT WAS one of those hot, overcast days at the end of the dry season. Every one was tired and irritable. The chimpanzee stuck his finger in his bowl of rice, found it a little too hot for his fastidious taste, and threw it with a howl of rage at the cook's head. His nerves were on edge, too. The other boys laughed mirthlessly as the poor cook retreated in disorder to his shimbek, a bamboo hut, at the end of the compound. The sultry, dusty air made even the fox terrier more restless than usual. He kept pacing around the premises and finally dug away at a hole in the far corner. He uncovered the skull of the leopard my hus band had shot a week before in Angola, the skin of which, incidentally, made into a jacket, I am now wearing. The boys had insisted upon burying the skull so that it might be dug up later as a choice, clean "trophy of the hunt," and Bully, the fox terrier, was severely repri manded for the premature exhumation. Such incidents serve to prevent any pro longed monotony in this town of Boma, 6,300 miles from Broadway. I was sitting in an American porch swing, reading magazines, weeks old, brought by the last mail steamer. The long, low, one story house was almost flush with the dusty pathway bearing the grandiloquent name of "Quai du Commerce," more reminiscent of Antwerp or Le Havre than this little river port of West Africa (page 658). A GIBRALTAR OF THE CONGO From the opposite side of the pathway the ground sloped gently down some 25 or 30 feet and there, a short stone's throw away, were the swift, dangerous, yellow brown waters of the mighty Congo. Rushing along to join the Atlantic, 60 miles distant, they often tore chunks half as big as a city block out of the marshy banks and carried them, trees, animal life, and all, far out to sea. A mile out in the stream was the sizable island of Sacra Ambaca, a bluff like a small Gibraltar at its upper end, the only thing that kept the whole island from washing away. It was a strange sight now-dense smoke rising in black clouds from its entire two miles of length and hovering as it some times does at Vesuvius, almost stationary, high up in the sky. For, at the end of the dry season, the natives go over to burn the elephant grass, tall as a man and dry as straw. The fires last two or three days and the sight at night of that long line of flame, far out over the river, is strangely beautiful. Thus game is driven from its hiding places and hunting made easy for the native boys. A "SUBSCRIPTION LIST" FOR MEAT To Sacra Ambaca my husband went in the early mornings to bag a small ante lope, since other fresh meat was so scarce then and the supply uncertain. Far down the river, on the Portuguese side, a few thin steers and lambs were raised. They were slaughtered once or twice a week and one brought to Boma if all went well with the little motor craft and often it did not. Unless your name was entered early upon the "subscription list" at the Portuguese store, the meat market would probably be bare when you got there, and your dinner party turned into a river fish supper. I had come with some trepidation from far-off Michigan to spend this year and a half on the mysterious West Coast. It is no longer the "white man's grave," this land of Stanley, but rather an exciting and unusual experience with, here and there, the inevitable unpleasant moments. Instead of taking one of the fine Belgian passenger steamers that sail every two weeks from Antwerp, we proceeded more leisurely on one of the smaller vessels of a Portuguese line. The Belgian boats, and others, enter the Congo, steam the 60 miles up its course to Boma, and then another 35 to Matadi, the head of ocean-going navigation (pages 649 and 651). But our little steamer stopped at the mouth of the river only to let us off into a tiny tugboat and then continued southward to Angolan ports. From Lisbon it had introduced us gradu ally to the Tropics, stopping at bougain villea-covered Madeira, at several of the strange Cape Verdes, and at verdant Sao Tome, sitting almost squarely on the Equa tor and growing cacao.