I could get two cows for a buffalo hide, said Jordan, and this is the hardest way of buying cows that I know.
The Lumbwa and the Nandi, the Kavirondo and the Masai, made good shields from buffalo hide, tough shields that could deflect a club or a glancing spear, and take the weight of a charging lion if the man behind had marrow in his bones. But the Lumbwa and the Kavirondo were reluctant to kill their own buffalo. An elmoran of the Masai would go out and kill a lion, but he preferred to buy his buffalo skin. Yet the Wanderobo, who would think many times before facing lion, joyfully slew the buffalo. There is no explaining this, except that fear is common to all men and they are incomplete without it, and the subject of their fear varies according to their imagination. But that explanation does no credit to the buffalo who, I truly believe, is more terrible than the lion.
However, the Bwana Mkuba killed buffalo for the Lumbwa, the Kavirondo and the Masai, and traded the cows for ivory, and sometimes he thought it was a hard way of getting ivory, and that his head needed examining.
The lion will not attack the buffalo, nor will the leopard, that dog-killer. The buffalo need only fear a Wanderobo with poisoned arrow, or a white man with a •500 Express, and sometimes a Lumbwa elmoran with more courage than sense. But even these three may change their minds after they have seen what a buffalo can do to a man.
He is low-built and stocky, not more than five feet at the shoulders and broad there like a wall, with muscle, not fat, and his body goes back in graceful lines to the narrowness of his flanks. Black, he could be no other colour than black, a blackness that shines and ripples as the muscles knot and move beneath the hide. Seventeen
hundred pounds of cunning and hate and aggression, a body so powerfully built and compact that even a -450 will not always pass through it.
His horns are the damnedest things. They spring from huge corded bosses on his forehead, and make him look as if he were wearing an old bush-hat pulled low, and they sweep backward and swing upward to wicked points above his slopping ears. The widest spread of horns was got by Selous, I believe, and these measured forty-one inches, over sixteen of them across the face of the boss. Between the bosses there's not more than half an inch free of horn, a narrow gateway to his brain, and it is true that if you hit him there with a hard-nose you would kill him, but who could hit a mark like that? Hit him on the knee, and that is no easier than hitting him between the bosses. But to bring down a black buffalo bull is a great moment in the life of a hunter. Cut off his arrogant bushed tail and it will make you a thick soup richer than ox, richer even than giraffe tail.
The weight of his horns seems to pull down his head, yet see them go up when he gets your scent, and they lie back on his shoulders, his blunt muzzle points with saliva dripping, eyes bloodshot, red nostrils flared. He can swing those horns like sabres, and his heavy body is a feather when his narrow legs begin to move.
He has one emotion, hatred. He hates and he kills in his hatred, and he will track you to kill in his hatred. A devil with twenty-twenty vision, swimming a river like an otter, grazing in a glade with his dark-red cows, hiding in a swamp watching you, waiting for you. Bounding like a frisky colt when the flies worry him, standing like a rock in the second before his charge.
And I got two, humped-back, docile cows for his hide.
I say the Lumbwa preferred not to kill their own buffalo, but a man must sometimes challenge the thing he fears and I have seen an elmoran duelling with a
buffalo bull, spear in one hand, sword in the other, lunging, stabbing, dancing, and killing sometimes, and sometimes being killed.
I said who could hit a mark like that half-inch between the horns, and having said it I must say that I have made such a shot, but not through skill, not through anything but chance, and had I not had that chance I would be dead, dead in a particularly foolish and unpleasant and horrible way.
I was following the blood-spoor of a wounded elephant, my head down on the trail, when I rounded a bush and faced a lone bull buffalo. The scent was away from him, and he only saw me, and not scenting me was puzzled by what he saw. He was old too, a lone bull, an outcast, and there were grey scars like weals on his body where he had fought for and lost his leadership.
I suppose we were six yards apart, and because the wind was toward me I could smell him, a strong and not unpleasant scent, the smell of the sun on his hide. I was the first to move, again perhaps because he could not scent me and did not understand. It was a snap shot and I did not see the sights. I fired once and saw him go back and over, his narrow, pretty legs sticking up. My bearer ran up to him and put a finger in the bullet-hole, between the horns, and cried 'Piga, Bwana!' with great pride. But it was a fluke shot and I take no credit for it.
If you have an eye for the trail, for a pebble kicked from its dust-bed, a broken blade of grass, clear spoor in the mud, warm droppings, faint channels where the earth is broken, if you can read this sort of thing, then there are books written on the face of Africa, and there are few more dramatic than that written by buffalo spoor.
See where trails cross. First a man's, feet slow-moving, the trace of a spear-haft in the dust, and then a later track as the buffalo gets the scent of man and turns from his own trail to follow. You follow, with the buffalo spoor in pursuit of the man's until you meet the chapter end, the buffalo spoor hazed as the bull went into a charge, a scurry where his horns met the man, and there the bones scraped clean.
Or sometimes the man's trail ends at a tree which he had reached and climbed. The bark is stripped, the roots are dragged from the earth, weakened by the battering that has gone on until the bull has shaken the man from the branches and killed him.
He is cunning, the buffalo. He will tree a man thus, and charge, and bellow, and slash, and if the man does not fall the bull will use guile. He will turn and trot into the grass as if the sport bored him, and he will wait there, hidden, until the foolish man climbs down.
But the natives know this trick, and once they are treed by a buffalo they lash themselves to the branches with their sword-belts or their loin-cloths. They roast in the sun, their mouths crack with thirst, they lick their own sweat, the belt cuts into their flesh, and their voices, the voices which have been crying for help, dry up. And when the bull sees that his trick has failed he charges again and again at the tree, and so the game goes on, for twenty-four hours if necessary, until the buffalo plays his foulest card. He drops his excreta beneath the tree and waits for the maddened man to be driven down by the unspeakable odour of it.
I have been treed more than once, but armed with an Express rather than a spear, I have held the advantage not the buffalo.
Only the Wanderobo had a contempt for the buffalo. When they killed him it was a beautifully-staged gladiatorial contest, although something the Romans never saw in the Circus Maximus. The Wanderobo were brave, but when they killed the buffalo they used more wit than bravery, turning the animal's cunning and his hatred of man against him.
They hunted in parties, armed with bows and with the semi, that soft-iron sword which was like a Scots broadsword without the basket hilt. They found a glade on the edge of the forest where the dried droppings and the flattened grass showed it to be a buffalo halt.
There one of the Wanderobo would strike his sword into the earth and hang over it his cape of monkey-skins. Then he and his friends dropped back into the trees, their bows strung with heavy-headed, poisoned arrows. They would wait there silently for hours, and once when I waited with them I felt my muscles harden and my bones lock, and I knew that if the buffalo came, and if the plan did not work and it found me, I would be able to do nothing to stop its charge.
That morning we waited for three hours, until I heard the grass whispering and saw the tops of it swaying. I saw the horns go up as the herd scented the man-smell on the swaying cape. It was a strong scent and they broke cover angrily. The black bulls came to the front, the red cows dropped back into the grass. The bulls snorted, lowering their great heads, blowing at the dust, pawing. They saw the sword and the skins and they charged. The leading bull caught sword and cape with a right sweep and tossed them into the air, and the bulls were within the circle of the Wanderobo.
From behind every tree the bows were plucked, and the arrows went into flank and belly and shoulder. The vegetable poison was fresh, it had to be fresh or it would be no more dangerous than treacle. Once I shot a bull that had three arrow-heads buried in the muscle of its right shoulder, and there could be no doubt of what it had done to the Wanderobo that fired them.
But this morning the poison was fresh, and with each volley of arrows the bulls threshed madly in the glade, horning each other in their agony, and this strange and terrible struggle, with its bellows of agony, with the Wanderobo stepping from cover to fire at the buffalo almost within range of the horns, this went on until there were eight bulls down, throats stretched, mouths
open. And the others broke and ran.
* * *
An old bull once held me captive in a tree. I had heard of its guile and cunning, and perhaps I allowed it to tree me because I was young and I did not believe there was an animal more cunning and resourceful than man.
I was tracking elephant along the reeds of the Taveta River in Ukamba. The reeds were yellow sword-blades and so thick that you could not see more than a foot into them. My bearer suddenly shouted and ran for the nearest tree, swinging into it. A fine black bull, with horns like the front of a locomotive, crashed out of cover with head down, charging for the tree. He hit it and it shuddered. My boy screamed and climbed higher.
The wind was in my favour and the bull did not know I was there. I went down on my knee and fired as he charged again at the tree. It was a badly-placed shot, and I saw the round go along the left shoulder, dropping a dark curtain of blood on his hide.
It annoyed him, and he brought his body round with flanks tense, his head up and nostrils wide. He swung his head from side to side, scenting for me. I crawled through the reeds to another tree and climbed it. My bearer cried out 'Piga, Bwana! Shoot!"
He had tied himself to the branch and he looked safe enough, although every time the buffalo charged the trunk, tree and bearer went oddly out of focus. I wanted to see if these stories were true. I was light-headed. I cheered and waved my rifle every time the bull charged. And it was true, he did everything the natives claimed.
He charged, he slashed at the bark, he trotted away cunningly, he fouled the earth.
And then he scented me and punished me. He battered my tree and reached up and slashed at the bark, and my bearer looked across with relief and approval. Then the bull stood between us and I shot him. It was a good, clean shot, and he was ten yards away, legs straddled. It hit him above the shoulder, a
downward shot that dropped him at once.
* * *
When a buffalo kills he is not content with the act of killing. His hatred is insatiable. With his horns, his sharp hooves, he strips the flesh from the bones, slashing, stamping, tossing.
This I know. When I was up by Thysville, on the highest point of the Congo Railway, about the time when I was determined to get that King Elephant, I saw enough to believe.
I was out one morning, and the day suddenly fell into one of those gentle, suspended moments of silence you get in Africa, tranquillizing the mind and immobilizing the body. I sat down to smoke, and then I saw the vultures dropping down to a clump of bush two hundred yards away. I heard the slow slap of their wings, the tearing of their beaks, and I got up with the peaceful mood gone out of me and nothing there now but disgust. I went over, and the vultures watched me, hopping back from the raw flesh, flapping up with hoarse crawking.
They had been eating a man, or what must once have been a man. The tracks said plainly how he had died. His old, brass-bound muzzle-loader was twisted in the dust, its stock splintered. He had wounded a buffalo, just wounded it, and the wiping-rod in the muzzle showed that he had been trying to re-load before the charge. But the buffalo had caught him, tossed him, and then held him on the ground with fore-hooves while the horns ripped and slashed until the bones were white.
We found the buffalo a mile away, dead at last from the native's shot, if that was any comfort to the man's
spirit. Seeing how he died, I doubt it.
* * *
The dirtiest fight I had with buffalo was along the Amala River. I had some Lumbwa with me and two of them followed the honey-bird into the forest shortly after dawn. They found a hive and one went to gather dry grass. He heard a yell from his friend and ran toward it. He found his friend on the ground, and on top of him was an old black buffalo, plunging in a macabre dance, horns sweeping, hooves stabbing. The Lumbwa, the live Lumbwa, ran. He ran into camp shouting lSoita, Bwana! Buffalo!'
We went out, passing the dead warrior who had been much liked, following the crashing trail of the bull through the grass. Life is low-priced in Africa, but a man is a coward until he avenges a friend, and my elmorani stayed on the trail for two hours without speaking until the spoor led to a swamp and a drinking-hole, and there it was crossed and re-crossed by the spoor of other buffalo.
My leading tracker was Arab Tumo, a Manga Lumbwa of great courage and great renown. Mataia had given him to me to be my tracker, and I was aware that this was a compliment indeed for there was no other elmoran among Mataia's people like Arab Tumo.
He was a dandy, but his vanity was the vanity you find among good soldiers. On his forehead he wore a flat, circular ornament of pelicoid shells. He kept his buffalo-shield well-oiled, and its insignia bright. His bead belt, with its two-edged sword, was cleaned daily, and the sword burnished. His anklets and his armlets and necklaces he polished with the leaves of kiuvi. He had a way of twirling his long-bladed spear so that it became a torch in the sunlight, and when he did this he would sing of his victories. When he felt the day deserved it, and these were days when his courage had been tested, he would put on an ostrich face-frame and white-beaded mithanga which were handsome ankle spats. And he would wear a horn snuff-bottle cleverly ornamented with copper rings. So you will see that I have rightly called Arab Tumo a dandy.
Among his people he was known as The Slayer of Rhino. He said he had killed sixty of these animals, alone, and with spear thrusts. I believed him. I once saw him at such a kill, when the giant swung out of the grass at us and charged with pig eyes red. Arab Tumo crouched before it, legs straddled, spear poised, and as the rhino met him he sprang to one side and drove that spear in behind the left shoulder, through to the right hip. Then he stood back casually and watched the rhino die.
I tell you these things about Arab Tumo because you should know how fine a man was when you learn of the bad thing that happened to him.
We waited at the drinking-hole, crouching behind a fringe of reeds, and Arab Tumo put out his hands gently and parted them. I saw the muscles of his back stiffen and his body become motionless, until the only thing that moved were the flies on his shoulders. Then he put up his hand.
I looked over his shoulder and I saw two mighty bulls by the water-hole. They had scented us, or they had heard us, and they were suspicious, their heads up, nostrils open, their horns brushing their shoulders. Then, as my elmorani came up the bulls saw the movement of the reeds and charged.
They came up from the water and I fired quickly, with no exact aim, but hoping to halt them or at least make them swerve.
One shot broke the fore-leg of the leading bull and it went down with its right horn scoring the mud. Before I could reload the other was among us, coming in a little to the right of me. My gun empty, I went face down in the mud.
I saw the body of Arab Tumo going up in the air and over me, slowly, with legs and arms this way and that, and the loin cloth floating, coming down and falling heavily in the swamp.
The buffalo was among my Lumbwa, and although they were not men who chose to fight the buffalo this one they fought bravely. I heard it snorting. I heard them shouting, and the 'HuwV as they drove in their spears. I could see little in the reeds and the dust, but the blackness of the bull, the sweep of horns, the glint of spears.
I went down to Arab Tumo. His face was in the mud and the mud was red. I turned him over and wiped out his mouth, and my handkerchief was red. There was mud and blood on him and I could not see how badly he was hurt, but the blood came out of his mouth.
Now there was no noise of the fight above us, but one of the Lumbwa began to chant and I knew that they had killed the second buffalo, and I called for them to come down. Two came, and the others padded into the swamp to find the bull with the broken leg. We dragged Arab Tumo up the bank, and there was a gash on his thigh to the bone.
I reloaded my gun and as I did so the buffalo with the broken fore-leg came out of the swamp. He staggered but the spirit was strong in him. He was going to kill someone, and as he lowered his head the only thing in sight he could kill was me.
I fired both barrels at him from five yards, and the recoil of the gun was terrible, something I had never known. It threw me on my back, and when I got up I was so surprised that I looked at the gun before I looked at the buffalo, who was down and dead anyway. One barrel of the Express was split, six inches from the muzzle where it had been choked with mud.
We had killed two bulls, but now nobody was happy. There was Arab Tumo with a gash on his thigh and blood coming from his mouth. Two more of the elmorani had been killed as they fought the first bull, ripped from groin to rib-cage. And a third had his shoulder dislocated.
We buried the dead men, and we put a cairn over their graves, and we went back to camp. The guinea-fowl I ate that evening was coarse in my mouth, and I could speak to no one. The Lumbwa sat about the fire in their blankets, and the blood still came out of Arab Tumo's mouth.
* * *
I have seen two buffalo fight for the leadership of the herd, and although it was a terrible sight, it was clean and frank and there was no cunning in it, as if they knew that leadership rested on strength and courage and power, and they fought to decide who had the most of these virtues.
The fight had begun when I heard it, and crept up to watch it.
They stood with feet braced and horns locked, and they wrestled so fiercely and were so equally matched that they were almost motionless, and the dust was hardly disturbed by their hooves. Their lungs pounded like steam hammers. But one was much younger than the other, as one is always much younger in these combats, among men as well as among animals, and slowly he began to drive the old bull backward. Slowly at first, and then in short and swift rushes as he braced his hind-quarters and put all his weight and strength into the push.
This the old bull could not take for long, and he twisted and broke free, trying for an upward slash with his horns which the younger bull avoided. Then they backed off, measured the distance and lowered their heads. They charged at the same moment. Swing two logs together, end to end, two huge logs, and you will get the sound and impact of that charge. I have seen this in other animals, in the elephant for example, and I have wondered, and still wonder, how they withstand the blow. I know the weight and thickness and the strength of the boss that protects the forehead of a buffalo, but why does its spine not buckle and break ?
They charged and locked horns, and braced their legs again in the dust, and their knees bent and their heads went down. Their breathing blew the dust into their eyes.
Again they broke, and this time the old bull struck and ripped the other's shoulder, opening the black hide like butter. But he was young and strong and ambitious. They charged again, and this time I saw that the old bull was weakening. With every charge the shock threw him back, until finally he no longer met the charge and took it with his horns. He was caught broadside by the young bull and flung on his back, and there he lay with his tongue out.
The young bull did not kill him. To have thrown him and defeated him was enough. He lay there while the victor snorted, shook his head, frisked his rump, and trotted off to lead the herd, to breed from whatever cow he chose.