I took the first film safari into Africa, said Jordan, the
first real one, that is.
It was over forty years ago, and some moving-pictures had been made there, and screened at the bioscopes, but they were tame, a few hundred feet shot by Norfolk-jacketed sportsmen. As I remember them they showed dogs chasing lions, or lions chasing dogs.
I was in New York arranging to trap some animals for the Ringling Brothers and for Barnum and Bailey, and I saw some films in the little Broadway theatres, and I thought that someone should put Africa on to that flickering screen, a film that showed Africa as it really was, and not as a coursing match between a lion and a dog.
I organized a party. It was not a large party. There was myself, a cameraman and his assistant. The cameraman was Pierre Sirois, a Frenchman, whom we called Pete. Tom Robinson was his assistant, and we bought a camera and a tripod and several thousand feet of film, and we set out for Africa.
As soon as we started up-country from Mombasa I saw that the one real worry of this safari was going to be Pete. He knew all about filming, or said he did, and nothing about Africa. I knew all about Africa, or he thought I did, and nothing about films. The safari could have done with more balanced knowledge.
To Pete, very French and very European, Africa was a nightmare, a very hot and sunlit nightmare with appalling things coming at him out of the grass. He was very unhappy and it was no comfort to him to be told that he was a pioneer in his profession. There are people who just do not want to be pioneers.
His camera weighed fifty pounds, and had to be set up on the heavy tripod. Where it stood it had to stay.
Yet all Pete had to do was to supervise this simple action and wait for animals. My problem was to get such animals past the camera slowly enough for Pete. He had a big Lumbwa elmoran as his bearer, a tripod-bearer not a gun-bearer, much to the Lumbwa's distaste. But this elmoran had been with me before and he chewed on his distaste.
We went up to the Lumbwa country on fast little Somali ponies, Pete bouncing unhappily, clutching his camera, his bearer trotting behind with the bright long legs of the tripod trailing. We decided to film elephants first, only they were large enough to satisfy our ambitions. And I thought we could do this with the least inconvenience either to the elephants or to Pete.
We went out at dawn with our porters and our spearmen, and we went through elephant grass higher than our heads. The ground was thick with vetch that snatched at our feet, and Pete looked up at the sky with the expression you might see on the face of a man who has suddenly fallen down a well. It was noon when we topped a hill and saw the herd below. They were going down to the swamp-land, a long, grey caravan, moving slowly, and there was fine ivory among them. I wanted to cheer. Pete looked at them. He got off his pony and lay down and put his hat over his face.
I said, we'll go down to the swamp and find grass high enough to hide us, but low enough for the camera to clear. And this was a good idea, even Pete thought it was a good idea, particularly the part about the grass hiding us. So we went down, flanking the herd, and we set up the camera. The elephants came on and Pete looked at them through the camera and across the camera, and at last he began to crank the handle.
Perhaps I had overlooked many things, for this was the first safari of its kind, but this one thing I could not have overlooked for I knew nothing about it. As Pete cranked the handle there was a noise like a Gatling gun. It did not worry him for he was accustomed to it. The elephants, however, had never heard it before and a young bull shouldered his way to the edge of the herd, swung up his trunk and trumpeted. The other bulls took up the protest, and the cows with their treble notes, until the noise was like a gigantic but undisciplined brass band. The herd began to swing and sway irritably in the mud.
Pete stopped cranking, hand still on the handle, his face white.
Robby was just as frightened, but he decided that the thing to do in a case like this was shoot something. So he fired at a big bull, and a brave shot it was. It did not kill the bull, and the herd, which up to then had been looking for somewhere to escape this irritating clanking, went over to the offensive. They shuffled in an eddying circle, their trunks up, searching for us.
I shouted to the bearers, slapped Pete on the back to arouse him, and retreated up the rise. Pete's bearer loped along with the camera on his shoulder and a grin on his face. He put the camera down and pointed to it sarcastically. He said 'Piga, Bwana!'
The herd charged aimlessly over the spot we had left, and then split into small parties, circling, searching the air with their trunks, trying to catch our scent. Two stayed close to the bull that Robby had wounded, and it was these three who were determined to find us. They went about it patiently, circling in slow, shuffling movements, narrowing the circle until something stopped them forty yards from us. I wetted the wind. It was blowing our scent toward them.
Then up stood the brave Robby and gave them another shot with the -500. He brought down the bull he had wounded and it went over and shook the earth. The other two screamed. I was using a light 9 mm. which
could not have stopped an elephant charge, so I aimed at the trunk of a cow that was standing unhappily in the dust by the fallen bull. Before I could fire her little * eyes saw the glint of Pete's camera, and she charged.
Pete said something short and breathless in French, and fainted.
The cow came in and picked up the tripod with such ease and grace that she reminded me of a lancer tent-pegging. She stood there swinging the tripod round her head, and beyond her I saw Pete's rump crawling into the grass.
Robby and I fired together and she went down like a noble ship. On her haunches first, and then on her forelegs, and you could see the strength slipping out of her. She trilled sadly, but the camera she kept aloft, until her head touched the ground and her trunk at last brought the tripod down gently.
We ran round her and picked Pete up, and we had to hold him up for his legs could not. It was three days before we could get him from his tent, and then he came out dapper in his bush-jacket, his polished boots and slanting topi, and he said, how about filming something ?
I decided to go down to the Loita plains, where there were many gazelle and antelope and zebra in the yellow scrub, and there would be no charging elephants to worry Pete. We found giraffe on the edge of the plain, but they cantered away from the shining camera, with Pete shouting "Old zem!' We followed them for two hours until, in disgust, I told Pete and his naked bearer to get into the bushes. Robby and I would go out on our ponies and drive the giraffe in. They would pass him, all he need do was crank.
He said, Vraiment? And I said, Of course.
We circled the giraffe, coming in a wide sweep behind them and then driving hard, standing in our stirrups shouting. The giraffe went on smartly, with their stupid
necks jugging. They not only stampeded past the brush where Pete was cranking, but through it, lurching away from him at the last second. We rode up through their dust and there was Bwana Mkuba Sirois with a wide grin. He said he had taken three hundred feet of film and had been too busy to be afraid. He explained that it was like that with a man. When he had something to do he had no time for fear. That was how it was, I agreed.
In that month the Loita plain was thick with game. You could stand on a rise and pick them out by the curl of horn or flash of rump fur. It was the scene that sportsmen dream about before they come to Africa and which, if they are very, very lucky, they do sometimes see. And I knew that all we need do was build a blind for the camera, in a thicket by a trail, and drive this game past Pete's camera.
I stayed with him and helped him set up the tripod. He fussed about it like a woman, crouching, bending, sighting. The beaters were out, and they scudded round several herds, bringing them gently together until the whole plain was moving toward us with the sun on flank and horn, and the air trembling. Even Pete was caught by the wonder of it. He stared at this river of animals and I knew that he had already filmed them, that he was now sitting in the theatre with his legs crossed, and seeing this drive, filmed at great risk and great expense by Pierre Sirois. There was a faint smile on his lips. He was being modest about the applause.
I had my glasses on the herd. There were two, maybe three thousand animals out there, coming fast under a red dust cloud. They were coming straight for the blind, and they were not yet frightened. Then something alarmed them and they stampeded. I saw the stampede as a sudden lurch forward, so violent that it was as if they had been stationary until that moment. Now they were a torrent of red and white and black and grey and
sweeping horns. Some were racing low on the ground, some bounding, and the beat of the zebras' hooves, as they ran in a striped cloud on the flank of the stampede was a rapid, desperate drumming.
I wondered why I could not hear the Gatling-crank of the camera handle.
I saw why. Pete was determined to sell his life dearly. He had picked up a rifle.
I shouted 'For God's sake take the picture!'
He looked at me. He said 'Comment ?' as if we had never met.
I shouted 'Shoot/' and since there could be some ambiguity about this I said 'The camera/'
He started cranking. He was lucky. He must have filmed several feet of the last gazelle as the herd swerved and went past us.
* * *
For a month Pete behaved nobly and nonchalantly. He filmed several hundred feet of placid impala, of hyena and vulture, of the camp and our boys, and I decided that perhaps he was now ready for something more exciting. We went to the Amala River to film hippo, but there was only an old bull in the water and he wouldn't come out. But he blew water through his nostrils and flicked his ears at the flies, and these things Pete faithfully filmed, and I suppose that for an audience who had never seen a hippo blowing water and flicking his ears this could be very interesting.
We looked for buffalo, and I thought that here we would either have very good pictures or a very dead cameraman. It was hard to find buffalo. The land was lonely, rolling parkland as green as England except that the earth in the dongas was red. But the trees were spaced like orchards and the hills were barred with thickets as straight as hedgerows. Pete rode by my stirrup with his Lumbwa bearer trotting behind us, and
Pete was very content. He talked of buffalo as if they were some sort of wild cow.
We rode thus until the bearer stopped and smiled. He had heard the honey-bird, and he put down the tripod and went off into a thicket with his friend. They both came out quickly and behind, the thicket crackling, came twenty black buffalo.
Their horns were down and they were moody, but they were not going to charge.
Robby and the bearers went down in the grass. I got Pete off his pony and behind a tree. 'Crank!' I said.
The buffalo were in a line along the grass, with an old black bull as their troop leader. The crank of the camera brought their heads up and they sniffed the air, they pawed the ground. The old bull saw Pete and began to kick the ground back. The noise of the camera puzzled him. I thought, if he charges the whole line will be up here like heavy cavalry.
So I fired, and the bullet struck back of the bull's shoulders and burnt him along the spine. He snorted and led the herd at a gallop across our front. Pete filmed 250 feet of them before they had gone, and nothing had happened to convince him that the buffalo was not a cow, albeit tres formidable.
I started after the wounded bull. I told Pete to stand his ground, he would be safe. I said that even if I did not bring down the bull in its charge and it reached them, then the elmorani would kill it with their spears. It was obvious that he was wondering what the fuss was about.
But I could not find the blood-spoor, and we mounted again. I got the Lumbwa out in a line, following the herd. They went forward with legs pumping, shields up, and now and then one of them paused to hold up a blade of grass, or a pebble, and shout that blood was on it.
Then my bearer called and pointed, and we saw a bull in the bushes. We rode at it, but he circled the bush, keeping his horns down toward us, and I saw the bloodline along his back. It was my wounded bull.
I told Pete to dismount and set up his camera, and then I rode at the bush and called my dogs up to drive the bull out. They went in yelping, but the bull came out before they reached the thicket, head down, bushed tail like a standard.
He went straight for Pete, and Pete's pony rose up, came down, turned and bolted. Pete decided to leave it, going round twice in the air before he touched the ground. The bull went at him, and I saw the turn of its head as it bowed for the toss. My bearer, who was carrying my -500, fired it into the bull's flank, and the buffalo turned and took the bearer on its horns. It threw him fifteen feet.
Pete screamed. On his hands and his knees he scrabbled toward a gully. The bull heard the scream, turned sweetly and came quickly at Pierre Sirois.
Now my dogs went for the bull. The airedale snapped at the nose and the buffalo sabred it. The other three he played with, and they kept clear of him, snapping, and I knew another would be killed soon. But the buffalo saw my pony and put his head down again in a charge. I kicked the pony and led the bull away. I took it down the plain and across the stream into the forest, where I lost it.
I could not talk to Pete that night. My bearer had
been a good man. Yet it was wrong to blame Pete.
* * *
Now Pete wanted lions.
I wanted lions too. What would a film of Africa be without lions? We heard them around us at night, but we never saw them. We met a Dutch hunter in the valley who said he had seen rhino in the bush, and he asked us what was in the shiny box. Pete explained the rudiments of cinematography, and the Dutchman smiled and said again that there were rhino in the bush. He said it with an air of I would like to see more of this.
We shot a big-horned rhino the next day before Pete had time to film anything, and we were following the blood-spoor when the Dutchman, who was up ahead with the tracker, shouted, and came back with the brim of his hat flapping. He said, and he breathed heavily saying it, that there was a troop of lions asleep on the other side of the grass.
But they were asleep no longer. The shout of the great Bwana Mkuba Dutchman had seen to that, and when we got through the grass they were standing up, swinging their tails and watching us without malice. Pete clattered with his camera and then pushed up his shoulders in disgust.
I said, 'What's the matter?'
He said 'Too much shade.'
I said 'Shall I ask the lions to move?'
He said 'Thank you, no. We are in too much shade.'
We moved over to better light, but the lions grew tired of posing for their pictures and they yawned and went away into the brush. Since it was only a narrow patch I told the boys to beat it. I stationed six spearmen around Pete and we waited.
We heard the high shouts of the beaters, the clash of spear on shield. The noise came closer, and still with no sight of the lions, and I began to think that they had slipped away to the flanks. Then one of my spearmen raised his spear and beckoned to me. I went over. He did not move his head. He said softly 'Simba!'
Twenty-five feet away was a magnificent black-mane, half out of the brush, tail twitching. Nervous, but not too nervous, the muscles on his hind-quarters were slack. I flipped my fingers at Pete, and he came up reluctantly.
He pushed the toes of the tripod into the ea sighted the camera on the lion.
The black-mane coughed, and behind him bush the others roared. It was a magnificent sou
Pete cranked twice, and ran for a tree.
Black-mane saw the movement and turned, too big, too good to lose, and I stood up and < him pleasantly with a shot in the brain. Th< roared back at the shot and then turned on the I saw the bushes swaying, and one by one the I leaping up into the trees to let the lions pass them.
That was the end of the lion hunt. It was also of the big film safari. Pete had run out of film, him where it had all gone and he explained, films of natives, of the camp, of a hippo in a giraffe, yes we had fine films of giraffe, and th the stampede, of course. I said, of course. At had more film than had ever been taken in Afri was going to be a great man. Pete was going to b great man once he got his film to Europe. It occ me that I might well be famous myself.
We went back to Nairobi and Pete found a da where he could process his films.
He was undoubtedly a good cameraman. I word for the fact that in a studio there was not hi But he had never filmed in the open before, taken thousands of feet of film with his camen indoor work.
Our elephant, buffalo, giraffe and gazelle w blotches on an almost opaque stretch of cellulc miles long.