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enough for a village


Robert Hamill Nassau

Not a single pound of all that mass of flesh was thrown away or wasted

American missionary Robert Hamill Nassau lived in Africa (in what is now Gabon) for over forty years. In an Elephant Corral, and other Tales of West African Experiences (originally published in 1912, Neale Publishing Co., New York; reprinted in 1969, Negro Universities Press--Greenwood Publishing Corp., New York.) is one of many books he authored. Here he describes traditional elephant-hunting methods in Central Africa. (Also see: Elephant Soup.)

I have no patience with hunters who kill only for the sake of counting up a "big bag." The "dominion" God gave mankind over "the creatures" does not justify their ruthless destruction. ...beyond [the] calls of hunger, of science, or of the instinct of self-preservation, I claim it is wrong to go.

Thus much of a prelude, in explanation of why I felt it right, one day, more than thirty years ago, to engage in an elephant hunt--and assist in shooting down nine full-grown animals: whereby at least one thousand men, women and children obtained meat. Not a single pound of all that mass of flesh --to the very hide and entire internal viscera-- was thrown away or wasted. What was not eaten on the spot was dried for later consumption. The several hundreds of pounds of ivory in the tusks added much to the native wealth. Possibly the native chief used some of them with which to buy more wives; but that was not in my bargain. Also, in the settled districts of Africa, I always hear with satisfaction of the clearing away of any herd of elephants; for the sake of the poor women and their plantations of cassava (Jathropha manihot) and plantains (Musa sapientium). The labor of six months, in the planting and growth of these two staffs of life of the West African negro, is often swept away in one night by a heard of elephants eating or otherwise destroying a woman's acre of food. For, it is the women who do almost the entire work of planting, gathering and preparing the gardens and their food supply. The natives, therefore, have three ... reasons for seeking to exterminate the elephant, i.e., to rid themselves of a food-destroyer --incidentally to provide themselves a feast of meat-- and as a means of obtaining in ivory-trade all the foreign articles by which they count their wealth, of guns, pots, kettles, beads and other ornaments, calico prints for clothing, and a hundred other things...

One of their modes of elephant-hunting is the ordinary one of stalking them, wherever found... This is a dangerous mode for the hunter. His "trade-gun" is a flint-lock muzzle-loader,... the carrying-range of the gun is short, the hunter must be close to the animal. And he can take no accurate aim.
Another common method is to catch in pit-falls. A hole is dug in the size and shape of an ordinary elephant's body. The spot selected is on the line of a recognized "run" of a herd to water or rich feeding-ground. ... When the pit is finished it must be covered with light, dry, sticks, over which are then strewn, in a studiously natural manner, the ordinary dead forest leaves. In treading on this frail structure the elephant sinks into a hole just small enough to jam him tightly and prevent him moving around. Helpless, thus, he can easily be killed. But the owner of the pit must find him there within twenty-four hours or with his tusks he will dig down the side of the pit in front of him--with his proboscis will push the loose earth under his feet, slowly elevating himself and gradually making an inclined plane up which he will scramble to freedom.
The most remarkable mode of catching elephants is to corral them in a stockade built around them and then shoot them down as may be convenient. When I first heard of that mode I was living on the Ogowe, a river that emerges into the South Atlantic at Cape Lopez, one degree south of the Equator. I refused to believe. It seemed incredible that five, ten or fifteen wild elephants would remain quiet the while a fence was being built about them.
Generally it begins with a woman; for women take care of the weeding of their plantain farms. She happens to find a herd --they vary from five to twenty-- feeding near or actually in her farm. These farms are from half to one mile distant from the villages. Instead of attempting to alarm the animals and frighten them away she leaves her work, hastens to the village, and notifies the men. In an amazingly short time, by messenger or the telegraph signal-drum, the news is carried from village to village. ... Instantly hundreds of men, women and children haste toward the spot where the animals were discovered. Care is taken not to approach too close; but, with a radius of several hundred yards or more, a living cordon is thrown, and the men, with their long, sharp sword-knives, cut down the abundant forest vines which, with the aid of the women, they rapidly tie from tree to tree, like telegraph wires, encircling the entire herd and inclosing an area sometimes as large as a ten-acre lot.
This fence-building goes on night and day. Hasty shelters are erected and there the crowd camps. To the children it is a grand picnic. They, with all the adults, are looking forward to a magnificent feast...

[Nassau goes on to describe the elephant corral hunt in which he participated. He writes, "elephant meat is coarse", but that his share of the meat, "was not lost or wasted," his, "school-boys enjoyed a rare feast to repletion". Note that Nassau uses "West Africa" to describe the west coast region of equatorial Africa that today would be called "Central Africa". The Ogowe river is more commonly known as the Ogooué.]

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