Slayer of the Devil-Lion
I was in the Mongorrori country, said Jordan, just inside the frontier of German East. The Mongorrori were a pleasant, peaceable people with an agricultural economy that depended on the uncomplaining labour of their women. They were shorter than the Lumbwa or the Masai, more negroid, less arrogant, but they could use spear and shield when there was need. They had the sort of hospitality and undemanding friendliness you find among people who have become reconciled to being second-rate.
I was buying cattle among them when I heard about the man-eater. I came to one of their villages and Korkosch, the head-man, stood waiting in the dust to greet me, wearing his finest red blanket. He was always pleasant, but that day his cordiality was extreme enough to be obsequious, and behind it I could sense a fear of offending me. He offered me the use of one of his own huts, he quartered my elmorani in two others, and he told his women to bring us food. They laid it before us on leaves, cutlets of eland, eggs, fowl, green corn, butter, beans, milk, and sweet potatoes. I ate, and I thanked Korkosch gravely, and because it would have been ill-mannered and would have embarrassed him I did not let him see that I knew he wanted something.
I lit my pipe and slept after lunch, and when I awoke there was Korkosch squatting in the dust outside the hut with some of his old men. Their heads were grey above their blankets, their sad faces puckered like walnut shells. They held their spears so that the hafts stood upright from the earth. I returned their compliments and I said that I had come to buy cattle from them.
At any other time this would have been the preamble to slow, pleasing bargaining, but now they looked away over my shoulder, and Korkosch coughed, and hawked a little, and began to speak, not about cattle but about his women. He talked about the women and he talked about a lion. He spoke in innuendoes, in suspended sentences, and I listened until I cut him short and asked him what this was about a lion.
He coughed again, politely, and the shoulders of his old men moved expectantly.
He said 'Nearly a moon has gone, Bwana, since the first was taken. It happened thus: Our women had gone to the fields to plant maize. They heard the screams of one of the maidens at the edge of the field, but because they were bent over their work they had seen nothing of what had happened to the girl.'
The old men moaned, and I said 'And what had happened ?'
'She had vanished, Bwana, and fresh in the soil were the pad-marks of a lion.'
'Then, Bwana, they came back to the village crying out, and the young men thought that the Masai were upon us, to raid our cattle and steal our women, and they came out with their spears. We went to the field and there was the spoor for us all to read, and where the lion had dragged the woman's body into the bush. But because the trail went to the border and across into the Bwana's country, we went no further. It is forbidden to cross the line, and the hand of the German is heavy, and we thought of what use is it to bring punishment to save a woman already dead. That night we called to her loudly so that her spirit might hear and be comforted.'
I said 'That was well done. But what of the lion ?'
He said 'The next day the women insisted that the warriors guard them at their work, and the young men answered angrily and would have driven the women to the fields. But women are women, Bwana, and have their own ways of making men do as they wish, so the young men went to the fields with them. It is true that nothing was heard from the lion that day, so next day the women went to work alone.'
I said 'And the lion took another of them ?'
He said 'That is true, Bwana. Just after mid-day the women returned weeping. They said that the lion had taken a girl as she was gathering sticks for the fire. They had seen no lion and heard no scream, so the Bwana will see how quickly the lion took the girl. I ordered the drums to sound and I called a shauri, a council of the old men. We decided what to do and we sent the young warriors out to surround the bush and drive the lion on to their spears. They found nothing but the spoor where the lion had passed.
'The old men laughed, and they said that the young men had seen nothing but an old spoor, whereupon one of the warriors answered angrily that if we should find this lion we should find that it walked on two legs. He said that all the village knew that this second woman's husband was old, and that she was beautiful, and that a young warrior of the Sukame country had won her heart. She and this lion on two legs had run away together.'
I said 'But this was not so ?'
He said 'It was not so, Bwana. The next day yet another woman was taken, and this one was old and bent and there could be no young warrior from the Sukame country interested in her. We saw now that this was a matter for great thought, so I called another shauri to decide how to slay this eater of women. The shauri lasted for six days. During those six days three more women were taken.'
I said 'Why did you talk so long in the shauri?'
He said 'That is a good question, Bwana, but the matter was not easy for us. To trap such a lion we would need to dig pits. If we set the women to dig the pits how could the fields be planted? Seed time was passing and if there were no planting there could be no harvest. This was our problem, Bwana.'
I said 'But you decided on a great hunt?'
He said 'It is true. We decided on a great hunt and called upon all our warriors. For two hours the beat continued, through the forest to the plain, and then from the centre of the line there came a warrior's cry, and the others in the line closed upon it. I was there, Bwana, I saw the young men fighting with a thing that leaped and snarled. I watched as it dashed the shield from one warrior, and struck another young man down. It was bleeding from a spear thrust, but this thing was a leopard, Bwana, not a lion, although it was the finest leopard I have seen.
'It turned upon me and rose up to take me by the head, but I drove my spear into it, and my young men thrust theirs too, so that it fell with the spears holding it to the ground. It has taken long to tell, Bwana, but the killing passed with the speed of a thrown spear.'
I said 'So it was a leopard and not a lion that took the young women and the old women?'
He said 'That is what we thought, Bwana. Never had I seen such a battle. As well as this leopard I had killed two more were also slain by my young men. We held a great dance and we laid aside our spears. Next morning the women went to work singing, and before evening another was taken.'
I was silent. The old men looked at the ground.
Korkosch said 'It was a lion, Bwana, for when we examined the spot where this woman had been taken there was the spoor of a lion of great size, and this time the shauri sat for three days. On the third day a young man broke up the council and told us that the lion had taken an old man who had followed the honey-bird that morning. It is ill for a young man to disturb old men at their council, but he went unrebuked. We saw now that pits must be dug and traps set, and this the warriors must do. They were very angry. They said, the spear for the warrior, the hoe for the woman. They said women must dig, men must hunt. So I spoke to them with guile for the snake may pass where the buffalo is halted. I told the young men that to dig these pits was not work for women, but the making of weapons, and this was man's work. Much more I said to them in the same fashion until they were eager to show their manhood and dig. But even so I thought it wise to give the hardest digging to those who were poorest in wives and cattle.'
I said, 'That was wisely done, Korkosch.'
He smiled. 'We set them to work while their zeal was hot. When their hands were sore and their backs ached they quarrelled among themselves, but they dug twenty good pits. We, the old men, built traps. Some were wooden cages with places for bait. Others were made of logs which, when a lion passed underneath, would break free from the vine that held them, and crush it. Over the pits the women wove branches and grass until even a lion, and all but an elephant, would believe that there was firm ground there. We piled mimosa thorn so close together about the cages that not even a duiker could slip through.'
'And thus you killed the man-eater ?' I said, knowing that they had not.
He shuffled uncomfortably on his rump. 'We feasted that night, Bwana, for we believed that this lion could not escape our cunning. But in the morning when the warriors went out they found no lion. At one pit was the spoor of lion and the prints of a pig. It was on© of our pigs that had fallen into the pit, and the lion had stepped down and taken it. In one cage the warriors found a hyena and their anger was so great that they
cut it into many small pieces. And that is not all, Bwana.
I said 'What more?'
He said 'That night the lion came to the village anc scratched at the door of old Sanduju's hut where th< old man was sleeping with his three wives. And Sanduji ordered the oldest of them to get up and drive away th< dog he thought was disturbing his sleep. But when sh< pushed aside the door the lion came in and seizec Sanduju and took him away.'
Korkosch took a hand from his blanket and pointed < finger at me. He said 'Bwana, is it true that this is nc lion but the spirit of a warrior we have killed, and whc returns for revenge in the body of a lion ?'
I thought about this, and I thought gravely, for the} had brought me their finest food and expected gooc advice in return. I said 'No, Korkosch, this is no spirit It is a lion, and a lion can fall to spear or bullet like an; other. The spirit of a warrior would return to fight witl other warriors, not to kill women and old men. He woulc not steal a pig. Show me this lion and I shall kill it.'
The old men smiled, and Korkosch asked whethei the Bwana would like to see the spoor by Sanduju's hut I said that the Bwana would. The size of it sobered me It was the largest I had ever seen, and there was i distinct cleft in the pad of a fore-paw. I pointed to ii with a grass-blade and asked Korkosch whether this mark had been seen on all the spoor. He said that thii was so.
I said 'Then why did you not look for it on the leopards' pads?'
His smile went cold with shame. He said that in the excitement of the kill his warriors had forgotten. 'But what difference would this have made, Bwana?' I said that then the Mongorrori might not have feasted so confidently and made fools of themselves. I said that then Sanduju might not have been so sure that his night-visitor was a dog. Korkosch said that this was indeed true, and he looked so unhappy that I changed the subject.
The spoor showed that this was a very clever lion. He had circled the hut carefully, testing its mud walls, searching for a weak spot where he could break through. My respect for him increased. I began to regret that leave-it-to-me-you-novices speech the great Bwana Mkuba had made. It was too late in the day to do anything so I asked Korkosch to have his two finest trackers ready at dawn. Then, not wishing to be the lion's next victim (that would make the Bwana with the Big Medicine a very small Bwana indeed, apart from a very dead one) I had the boys build large fires before and behind my tent, and told them to keep them high-burning all night.
It was a fine dawn. A cold blue, a pink flush, and then the sudden sun, with the world awakening. The first mile of the trail was easy, until it led to a ravine where the scrub and the grass were high enough to hide a cunning lion. We entered it in extended order, my elmorani shouting and throwing stones, and thus we made our way to the bottom of the ravine. The ground was dry, the spoor began to thin out in the dust.
But by a rock we found what was left of old Sanduju.
Now the lion would be going fast, with no body to drag, and no appetite in him for the moment.
I have hunted with trackers from all tribes, but the two Mongorrori Korkosch had given me were among the very best. Where I could see nothing they padded on confidently as if following a road, but now and then even they had to halt, to prod among the pebbles and grass, their backs bent, their thin black legs stuck this way and that, until one would cry in high triumph, and off we went again. They read the trail plainly, in a scratch on the rocks, a breath of dust over a pebble, a half-bent grass-blade.
We climbed the opposite wall of the ravine and the trail became plainer then and led us to a clump of trees walled by thick bush. Only a madman would have followed an ordinary lion into that, let alone a man-eater. The Mongorrori had elected me their madman of the season, so I lit a pipe and stared at the trees, working it out, thinking of Sanduju's bones.
The solution was quite simple. The lion could have gone into the thicket and out the other side. I sent the trackers to circle the trees and discover whether the trail came out. They found that it did, so I said follow it in case the devil has doubled back in. They found no back trail so I went into the thicket full of courage, and found grey hairs on the thorns. An old sinner, this lion, not fast any more, but full of craft, and guile and cunning, and he would not be easy to kill.
We took the trail over the plain, with my warriors loping along in open order, their bodies bouncing, and the blades of their spears going up and down in the sunlight, gently thwacking the hafts against their shields. I stared ahead, watching to see the lion rise up out of the grass at the noise. A child could have followed the spoor up the rise. It was too easy, he was making no attempt to run, to hide. We went up and over a hill, passing a flat stone like an altar where one of my Lumbwa silently picked up a woman's copper armlet. Down the hill went the spoor, round the base of it, and up again to the flat stone, and the tracks now so new that when I went down on my knees I could smell lion on them.
The truth was too unpleasant to be comic, although it was comic. The lion was following us. If we encircled the hill once more we would become the hunted.
We held a quick shauri. The Mongorrori and the Lumbwa looked grave, they leant on their spears and left the strategy to me. After all, the Bwana was the one who had said he would kill this lion. I told them that I would lie on this flat stone with my gun-bearer, even as the old lion had lain and watched us. They would beat the country below and drive the eater of women out of cover where I could shoot him.
Masoni and I lay in the sun and watched them down there, their knees going up and down as they beat the grass, their shields rising and falling, and their ullulating cries coming up.
I saw the lion as Masoni clutched my arm. Three hundred yards away and running swiftly. I have killed hartebeeste easily at this range, but I fired twice at that lion and missed.
Eight hundred yards away he stopped, and turned, and had the impudence to lie down. I gave him another round and saw it kick up the dust far short of him. He roared at us, and went off, and the grass and the night had him then.
We went back to the village, and the Mongorrori trackers were silent. I don't think they thought much of me, or perhaps they thought all the more of a lion that could not be hit at three hundred yards. I sat late over my fire, trying to think of some means of killing this lion without a day-long trail. At last I told the boys to heap more brushwood on the fire and I went to my tent. The fires outside made the canvas ruddy with leaping shadows. I tied back the flap, and as I picked up my rifle to place it by the bed a lion coughed beyond the firelight.
I turned with the gun, my thumb pushing forward the safety-catch, and as I turned I saw the lion leaping over the fire, his jaws wide, his claws extended, and his mane like a ruff. He took the boy who was building up the fire. The boy screamed, and was dragged away with his legs threshing, his shoulder in the lion's jaws. He called to me.
I brought up the rifle to a steady rest against the tent pole, but before I could get the sights aligned lion and
boy were fifteen yards from me, and the boy's body masked the head and flank of the animal. I sent a bullet into the lion's rump. He dropped the boy and roared. I aimed at his shoulder, but the second bullet hit him too far back to drop him, and he was gone.
Women were screaming, and warriors were padding up and down clashing their spears, but none of them went beyond the firelight. I got the boy to my tent and poured half a flask of whisky down his throat. I washed his shoulder and drenched it with iodine. Nobody slept that night. The Mongorrori crouched in front of their huts, and built up the fires, and the lion roared at us out of the valley.
At dawn I set out after him, with the Mongorrori behind me, all of them wanting to blood their spears in this lion. The first hundred yards of the trail showed us plainly that my rump shot had maimed him and he was dragging a leg. He was bleeding badly, and we found gouts of it that he had coughed up. I thought, we'll find him dead. He has a broken leg and a bullet in the chest, we'll find him dead.
He had stopped to drink at a stream and there was blood again on the pebbles and the grass. He was dying well, this lion. We followed the spoor for another mile, with the blood thicker, and then the trail led into the brush and did not emerge.
The Mongorrori surrounded the scrub and began to move in, calling, their spears ringing against their shields. They meant to drive him out to where I stood. If he were still alive. They shouted, and he roared back at them. He was still alive. He roared strongly. He was still very much alive.
I did not enjoy the thought of receiving his charge at such a short range. I said, leave him. I said, let his leg stiffen and the blood come out of him.
This sort of talk did not match well with my boasting by the fire, and the Mongorrori ignored me. Let the Bwana kill like a warrior. They went on, clashing their spears. I stood by a tree. It was a good tree, good, I mean, because it was broad enough to slip behind. One old man stayed with me. He had scars all over his body from spear thrusts and claw-gashes, he was a relic from the old fighting days of the Mongorrori when they would have killed their own lion and not asked a white man to help them. But he was old now, and I suggested that perhaps his place should be taken by a younger warrior.
He looked at me and he said 'Bwana, my daughter was one whom this lion took.' He held up the copper armlet we had found by the altar-stone.
I said nothing. We stood in the shade and watched the young men moving in on the scrub. They did not go in boldly as the Masai would have gone in, but they went in, none the less.
The old man thumped his spear haft. He said 'Bah! The young men move like oxen. In my days we should have slain this lion twice by now.'
He shortened his spear, lifted his shield and trotted calmly toward the bush, and the Hon came out at him. He took its charge on his shield, his body crouched and braced, and as the lion knocked the shield aside he drove his spear into it. He did not kill it and it went down on its side and then stood up. The old man leaped away and looked toward me.
I was already sighted on the lion. It was a good shot, a very good shot, and this lion owed me a good shot. The bullet broke its spine and it fell quickly. The old Mongorrori drew his sword, raised it to me, and then slashed the lion across the face.
Up came the young warriors, jostling about the body, driving their spears in, plucking them out, and driving them in again until his old coat was bloody and he was very, very dead. They cut off his fore-paw, the left one, and there in the pad was the cleft.
It was two days, two days of feasting and the drinking of honey-beer, before I could get the Mongorrori to discuss a cattle-trade. Korkosch presented me with a milch-cow and a heifer. The presentation was made at the end of a long speech in which I was referred to as Koujiwa Simba Sitani—slayer of the Devil-Lion.
The title would better have gone to Scarface, with his spear and his shield and his contempt for young warriors.
he * *
In Tommy Woods' store, in the Stanley Hotel, the settlers would argue their reasons why natives allowed themselves to be killed by lion. It was little of an argument, since they were all agreed. It was due to lack of nerve.
But many of the warriors I knew who were killed by a lion, or frightened by lions, were great warriors who had slain a lion before they were out of their teens, and few of those settlers would have faced a kudu with a spear and shield, let alone a lion. These elmorani were lion-killers, and when they faced a lion with legs braced and shield up there was no fear in them and no nerve to lose. A man could either kill a lion or he could not, and if he could not then he was a woman.
But that was when they went out there to kill or be killed, and it was part of life and they accepted it. It was something quite different when the lion came upon them suddenly, and took them out of their hut, out of the firelight, then the lion was no longer a lion, it was Simba Sitani. Then the elmoran was not a warrior but an unprepared and frightened man.
Fear comes easily to all men because even the dullest of us has some imagination. I was always afraid when I stood there with gun up, waiting for a charge. But if I did anything it was to obey certain automatic reflexes that told me not to run because it was safer to stand, that told me where to hit this animal so that it came down with one shot, that told me when to take first pressure, when to take second.
These things I did, calmly if you like, but I was not unafraid. You are always afraid after you have seen your first human being clawed by a lion or bone-stripped by a buffalo. And I think it was the same with the elmorani, they were able to do what they did because the conflict was of their own choosing.
But having a lion or a buffalo on you suddenly, when you are not ready to fight, when you have not wound up your courage the way men do before a crisis, then that is something very different, and fear is the only thing you have in you.
So I took little part in those arguments about why the natives are so foolish as to let themselves be killed by lions.