The New York Times, May 2, 1909, p.SM4:|
ALONG THE LINE OF BIG GAME IN AFRICAWinston Churchill Describes His Experiences
in and Around Nairobi in a Hunting Trip Covering the Same Region
as the One Upon Which Col. Roosevelt is Entering.
When Mr. Churchill went from Mombasa to Khartoum over the same route that Col. Roosevelt will travel between these two points while in Africa, the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies of Great Britain spent some time in Nairobi, fitting out headquarters for African jungle hunters...
By WINSTON CHURCHILL.
The town of Nairobi, the capital of the East African Protectorate, stands on the base of wooded hills at the three hundred and twenty-seventh mile of the Uganda Railway from Mombasa, on the seacoast. Originally chosen as a convenient place for assembling the extensive depots and shops necessary for the construction and maintenance of the railway, it enjoys no advantages as a residential site. The ground on which the town is built is low and swampy. The supply of water is indifferent and the situation generally unhealthy.
A mile further on, however, upon the rising ground, a finer position could have been found, and this quarter is already being occupied sparsely by Government buildings, hospitals, and barracks. It is now too late to change, and thus lack of foresight and of a comprehensive view leaves its permanent imprint upon the countenance of a new country.
Our train traverses the Athi plains, more crowded perhaps with game than any other part of the line, and approaches swiftly the long rows of one-story tin houses which constitute the town.
Nairobi is a typical South African town. It might be Pietermaritzburg or Ladysmith of twenty years ago, before blue gum trees and stone buildings had waxed and multiplied.
The town is also South African in its character and proportions. There are 580 white, 3,100 Indians, and 10,550 African natives. The shops and stores are, however, much more considerable than these figures would appear to warrant, and are fully capable of supplying the varied needs of settlers and planters over a wide area.
Nairobi is also the headquarters of a brigade of the King's African Rifles, the central office and depot of the Uganda Railway, and the seat of the Administration, with its numerous official personnel. The dinner of the Colonist's Association, to which I was invited, afforded the familiar, yet in Central Africa not unimpressive, spectacle of long rows of gentlemen in evening dress; while the ball given by the Governor to celebrate the King's birthday revealed a company gay with uniforms and ladies in pretty dresses, assembled upon a spot where scarcely ten years before lions hunted undisturbed.
* * *
Every white man in Nairobi is a politician, and most of them are leaders of parties...
* * *
The snow-clad peak of Mount Kenya, 100 miles away, can on a clear morning be easily seen from the slopes above Nairobi--a sharp, serrated summit veined with gleaming white. A road-passable for wagons and even a motor car--runs thitherward by Fort Hall and across the Tana River. On the way there is much to see. A wild, ragged-looking but fertile region, swelling into successive undulations and intersected by numerous gorges, whose streams are shaded by fine trees, unfolds itself to the eye.
Scattered about upon spacious estates of many thousand acres are a score or two of colonists, each gradually making himself a home and a living in his own way. One raises stock, another plants coffee, which grows so exuberantly in this generous soil as to threaten the speedy exhaustion of the plant.
Here are ostriches, sheep, and cattle standing placidly together in one drove under the guardianship of a native child of 11. There is a complete dairy farm, admirably equipped. One of the streams has been dammed effectively, and turbines are now lighting Nairobi with electricity. Upon the banks of another there is talk of building a hotel.
At one place I found a family of good people from England grappling courageously with an enormous tract of 10,000 acres. Hard by an old Boer, who has trekked the length of Africa to avoid the British flag, sits, smoking stolidly by his grass house, reconciled to British rule at last. He has few cattle and less cash, but he holds decided views as to the whereabouts of lions...
A camp has been prepared for me in a very beautiful spot at the juncture of the Chania and Thika Rivers. Tents are pitched and grass shelters are erected in a smooth meadow. Southward, 100 yards away, a fine waterfall plunges downward over enormous boulders amid tall, interlacing trees. The muffled roar of another rises from a deep ravine an equal distance to the north, and the Philistine computes, with a frown, 4,000 horsepower expending itself upon the picturesque.
Nothing causes the East African colonist more genuine concern than that his guest should not have been provided with a lion. The knowledge preys upon his mind until it becomes a veritable obsession. He feels some deep reproach is laid upon his own hospitality and the reputation of his adopted country. How to find, and, having found, kill a lion is the unvarying theme of conversation; and every place and every journey is judged by the simple standard--"lions or no lions."
At the Thika camp, then, several gentlemen, accomplished in this important sport, have come together with ponies, rifles, Somalis, and all the other accessories. Some zebras and kongoni have been killed and left lying in likely looking places to attract the lions, and at 4 A. M., rain or shine, we are to go and look for them...
This is the way in which they hunt lions. First find the lion, lured to a kill, driven from a reed bed or kicked up incontinently by the way. Once viewed, he must never be lost sight of for a moment. Mounted on ponies of more or less approved fidelity, three or four daring whites or Somalis gallop after him across rocks, holes, tussocks, nullahs, through high grass, thorn scrub, undergrowth, turning him, shepherding him, heading him this way and that, until he is brought to bay.
For his part the lion is no seeker of quarrels; he is often described in accounts of contempt. His object througout is to save his skin. If, being unarmed, you meet six or seven lions unexpectedly, all you need to do--according to my information--is to speak to them sternly, and they will slink away, while you throw a few stones at them to hurry them up. All the highest authorities recommend this.
But when pursued from place to place, chased hither and thither by the wheeling horsemen, the naturally mild disposition of the lion becomes embittered. First, he begins to growl and roar at his enemies, in order to terrify them and make them leave him in peace. Then he darts little short charges at them. Finally, when ever attempt at peaceful persuasion has failed, he pulls up abruptly and offers battle.
Once he has done so he will run no more. He means to fight, and to fight to the death. He means to charge home; and when a lion, maddened with the agony of a bullet wound, distressed by long and hard pursuit, or, most of all, a lioness in defense of her cubs, is definitely committed to charging, death is the only possible conclusion...
It is at the stage where the lion has been determindedly "bayed" that the sportsman from London or New York is usually introduced upon the scene. He has, we may imagine, followed the riders as fast as the inequalities of ground, his own want of training, and the burden of a heavy rifle will allow him. He arrives at the spot where the lion is cornered in much the same manner as the matador enters the arena, the others standing aside deferentially, ready to aid or divert the lion.
If his bullet kills he is, no doubt, justly proud. If it only wounds, the lion charges the nearest horseman. For forty yards the charge of a lion is swifter than the gallop of a race horse. The riders, therefore, usually avoid waiting within that distance. But sometimes they do not; or sometimes the lion sees the man who has shot him; or sometimes all sorts of things happen which make good stories--afterward...
* * *
In the afternoon I had to ride to Fort Hall, where there was to be a great gathering of Kikuyu chiefs and thousands of their warriors and women. The country is much the same as that traversed on the previous day, but greener, smoother, and more pleasant-looking.
Fort Hall is not a fort in any military sense, but the Commissioner's house with a ditch around it, a jail, a few houses, and an Indian bazaar...
In his war dress the Kikuyu and, still more, the Masai warrior, is a striking, if not impressive, figure. His hair and body are smeared with the red earth of his native land, compounded into a pigment by mixture with the slimy juice of the castor oil plant, which abounds. Fantastic headdresses, some of ostrich feathers, others of metal and leather; armlets and leglets of twisted wire, stripes of white clay rubbed across the red pigment; here and there an old pot hat, or some European garment, incongruously contrasted with leopard skins and bull's horns; broad, painted cowhide shields, and spears with soft iron blades nearly four feet long, complete a grotesque and indecorous picture...
The chiefs, however, succeed in reducing themselves to regular guys. Any old cast-off khaki jacket or tattered pair of trousers; any fragment of weather-stained uniform, a battered sun helmet, with a feather stuck lamely on top of it; a ragged umbrella, is sufficient to induce them to abandon the ostrich plume and the leopard skin kaross. Among their warriors in ancient gear they look ridiculous and insignificant--more like the commonest kind of native sweeper than the hereditary rulers of some powerful and numerous tribe.
After the dance it had been arranged that I should go as far as the bank of the Tana River to see the view of Mount Kenya, and then return to the Thika camp before night. But when the whole splendid panorama of the trans-Tana country opened upon us, I could not bring myself to stop short of the promised land, and I decided to ride through to Embo, twenty-eight miles from Fort Hall, and our most advanced post in this direction.
We crossed the Tana by a ferry, which travels along a rope under the impulsion of the current. The ponies swam the deep, strong, sixty-yard stream of turbulent red water.
On the further bank the country is really magnificent in quality and aspect. The centre of the picture is always Mount Kenya, but there never was a mountain which made so little of its height. It rises by long, gentle slopes, more like a swelling of ground than a peak, from an immense upland plain, and so graceful is the activity that, but for the sudden outcrop of snow-clad rock which crowns the summit, no one would believe it over 18,000 feet high.
It is its gradual rise that imparts so great a value to this noble mountain, for about its enormous base and upon its slopes, traversed by hundreds of streams of clear perennial water, there grows, or may grow, in successive concentric belts, every kind of crop and forest known in the world, from the Equator to the Arctic Circle.
The landscape is superb. In beauty, in fertility, in verdure, in the coolness of the air, in the abundance of running water, in its rich red soil, in the variety of its vegetation, the scenery about Kenya far surpasses anything I have ever seen in India or South Africa, and challenges comparison with the fairest countries of Europe.
We rode all day through this delicious country, along a well-kept native road, smooth enough for a bicycle, except where it crossed stream after stream on primitive bridges. On every side the soil was cultivated and covered with the crops of a large and industrious population.
It is only two years since regular control was established beyond the Tana, not without some bloodshed, by a small military expedition. Yet so peaceful are the tribes--now that their intertribal fighting has been stopped--that white officers ride freely about among their villages without even carrying a pistol.
All the natives met with on the road were armed with sword and spear, and all offered us their customary salutations, while many came up smiling and holding out long, moist, delicate-looking hands for me to shake, till I had quite enough of it. Indeed, the only dangers of the road appear to be from the buffaloes which infest the country, and after nightfall place the traveler in real peril...
* * *
...when we drove in to the Thika camp as the sun was setting, tired out by fifty miles of road, the first spectacle which saluted my eyes was a lion's skin spread out upon the ground and Col. Wilson engaged in sprinkling it with arsenical powder.
Then we were told the tale, which, in brief, was that they were driving a long reed bed, when the lion sprang out and ran obliquely across the line of beaters. Wilson fired, and the lion bounded back into the reeds, whence stones, fires, shoutings, shots, and all other disturbances failed to move him. Whereupon, after two hours, being impatient and venturesome, they had marched in upon him shoulder to shoulder, to find him, fortunately, quite dead...
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