16 – Back Into The Unknown

On the 26th of December, Tipo-Tib and his Arabs bade farewell to Stanley and started on their return journey.  They had not fully kept their contract with him, but their excessive fear of the cannibals was having a terrible effect on his men.  He decided that the best thing would be to let them go.  After a grand banquet in the wilderness, they shook hands and parted.

Stanley was not sure whether the stream he was following at this time would empty into the Niger or the Congo, because everything ahead of him was unknown and he wasn’t even sure they could make a way through.  He determined to proceed, though, and let the future take care of itself. 

His party now consisted of 149 persons in 23 boats.  When Stanley surveyed them, he thought of how few they were to even dare to go into the total unknown as they were.  When he looked closer, many of them were leaning forward and sobbing with very heavy hearts. 

He tried to give them words of encouragement and bragged on their past deeds of bravery, but they accepted his encouragement very feebly as they paddled down the dark-brown current of the river into the unknown.

Cannibals Again

The river soon became a very wide width of 1800 yards again, and the banks were thickly populated.  As they paddled down the river, they came upon village after village of cannibal people.  They shouted and danced wildly from the bank and tried to throw their spears at them.  They shouted that they wanted to eat them.  Stanley and his men were able to resolve each attack without any killing, though. 

Stanley thought how absurd it was that one person should look on another only as he would an animal to be eaten.  He thought that he could not be angry with them because they truly didn’t know better.  It was just their way of life. 

Stanley wrote in his diary about an encounter with one of them:

“There was a fat-bodied wretch in a canoe, whom I allowed to crawl within spear-throw of me; who, while he swayed the spear with a vigor far from assuring to one who stood within reach of it, leered with such a clever hideousness of feature that I felt, if only within arm’s length of him, I could have bestowed upon him a hearty thump on the back, and cried out applaudingly, ‘Bravo, old boy!  You do it capitally!’  Yet not being able to reach him, I was rapidly being fascinated by him.  The rapid movements of the swaying spear, the steady wide-mouthed grin, the big sqaure teeth, the head poised on one side with the confident pose of a practiced spear-thrower, the short brow and square face, hair short and thick.  Shall I ever forget him?  It appeared to me as if the spear partook of the same cruel, inexorable look as the grinning savage.”

The spell was soon broken, though, for the savage hurled his spear with a mighty force and it whizzed very close to Stanley’s head.  He now ordered his men to fire.  They did this with such accuracy that several of the savages fell dead in the water and their spears floated off down the river by themselves.  Stanley and his men gathered up the spears and thought they might serve a good purpose against future attacks if the natives saw that they had them. 

Day after day they had to fight off the savages as they floated down the stream.  On the first of January, as they were passing a village, the war canoes came out to attack them as they had been used to for the last several days. 

Stanley instructed the interpreter to be very mild in voice and to do gestures of kindness to the savages.  They didn’t heed, though, and started crying out that they would eat them.  Then the chief gave an order and all 100 paddles started paddling toward them to capture them. 

The contest was short, though, because one volley of shots from the guns frightened the natives so much that they turned back quickly and ran into the woods.

When they arrived at a village called Kankore, Stanley was agreeably surprised to find the people mild and friendly.  They came to his boats unarmed and supplied his men with food in abundance.  They were not cannibals, and regarded the horrible man-eating customs of their neighbors with the utmost of loathing.  They refused to have any communications with them at all.  It was very strange to Stanley how they were sandwiched in with so many of the cannibalistic tribes.  Sure enough, right after they left the village, they started being attacked again. 

At one place the savages paraded up and down the banks holding up bright spear-blades that were six feet long and six inches wide.  They had edges that looked as sharp as razors.  He realized that they might not have much of a chance if they were attacked with weapons such as that, and every night he fortified their camp when they stopped.

He surrounded the camp with a circle of felled trees and interlaced branches.  But in spite of his precautions, one of his best men was killed in a night attack by one of these spears when it struck him in the abdomen and almost cut his body in two pieces. 

Evidences of cannibalism were everywhere they looked with human and soko skulls attached to many poles.  There were also bones that were scattered freely in heaps near the river banks.

The explorers were constantly taunted with threats that they would be “meat” for the savages.  Stanley saw that this word only had very slight dialect differences in most of their languages. 

When they were anchored one day about 50 yards from shore, two old men came down the steep bank from a neighboring village.  They rattled pebbles that were enclosed in basket-work hoping that they could charm the strangers away. 

Stanley talked to them and succeeded in getting some very valuable information in regard to the direction and character of the river that lay below them. 

Natives of Rubunga

While passing through the cannibal country it had been almost impossible to procure food, and they had been reduced nearly to the point of starvation.  When they arrived at the village of Rubunga, Stanley determined that he would make a desperate attempt to bargain with the people and obtain provisions. 

He anchored the boats some distance out in the river and began to make signs to the savages on the shore.  He indicated as best he could that he was hungry and wanted something to eat. 

After a while, an old chief came down the high bank to the lower landing.  Soon others of the elders came down with him.  The old chief finally nodded his head and in an instant Stanley had the “Lady Alice” on shore.  He seized the hand of the skinny chief and shook it with joy. 

The people there were friendly and hospitable and were happy to receive beads in exchange for fresh and dried fish, snails, oysters, mussels, dried dog-meat, live dogs and goats, bananas, plantains, cassava tubers, flour, bread, and other articles. 

The knives of these people were great specimens of the African metal smith’s art.  They looked like a waving sickle-shaped pattern.  The principal men carried brass-handled weapons that were 18 inches long, double-edged, and rather wide-pointed.  They had two blood-channels along the center of the broad blade, while near the hilt the blade-shaft was pierced by two quarter-circular holes.  The top of the shaft then was ornamented with the fur of the otter. 

To add to their atrocious bad taste, their necklaces consisted of human, gorilla, and crocodile teeth, in such quantity that in many cases you could not even see their neck at all.  Some of them wore polished boars’ tucks, with the points made to meet from each side of the neck.  This did make them look very frightful in appearance. 

The most curious objects that Stanley discovered there were four ancient Portuguese muskets, at the sight of which the people of his company raised a glad shout.  Seeing the muskets gave them confidence that they had not lost the road, and that the great river did really reach the sea.  They then thought that their master was not deluding them when he told them that one day they would reach the ocean. 

After they left this village, though, they found that many of the savages in the villages after that had muskets that they used and Stanley lost some of his men.  They had one particular heavy battle after that with the savages having many muskets. 

On January 19th, they made camp on shore and didn’t have any problems with the savages.  When they awoke the next morning, though, they found that during the night a net-work of rope had been set around their camp just as if the natives had expected to ensnare the whole camp like they would have a wild animal. 

They had a short fight with them before eight of them were captured.  They admitted that they had set the ropes so that they could have them some man-meat.  They also told Stanley that their village was one hour’s journey from the camp, and that they ate every person they could capture in the woods. 

The three donkeys Stanley had with him struck the natives with awe and terror.  They cried out and begged for mercy when Stanley took them near the animals.  He took them along anyway so that they could show him where the nearest falls were. 

They soon reached them and found that they were the largest ones in the river.  The expedition decided to name them Stanley Falls in honor of their leader. 

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About Cathy Deaton


My name is Cathy Deaton, Owner of Fan the Flame Ministries. God has radically changed my life, and He has shown me that I am to share the awesome things I am learning especially with the Millennial Generation (1981 – 1996), but I love connecting with Christians of all ages. I have found that the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher when I listen to, obey, and apply what He teaches to my life. You truly can make a difference for God in an uncertain world.