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THE BATTLE FEAST.
IT is the day after the battle. Mpuke's father orders his people to celebrate the victory. He tells them to prepare a great feast, as his blood-brother, Ncossi, is invited to come and bring his people.
A great deal of work must be done before the feast is ready. Some of the villagers prepare their nets to catch a certain fish that is rare and delicate. Others get their canoes ready for a hippopotamus hunt; still others search for young monkeys. They must also get a kind of snake that makes a delicious stew.
The children are sent through the fields and woods to gather the rarest and choicest insects.
The country is scoured in all directions. The feast will surely be “fit for a king,” at least an African king.
The great day comes at last, and the chief Ncossi arrives. He is dressed in the greatest splendour. A chain of leopards' teeth is wound around his neck; a great war knife hangs at his side. One of his cheeks is painted red and the other yellow. The heads of wild animals are tattooed upon his arms. He wears on his head a tall, tattered, beaver hat, for which he must have paid a great price to some trader. He is a hideous object, yet, as he struts along, his followers look upon him with the greatest admiration, and keep exclaiming: “Look at our beautiful chief! Look at our beautiful chief!”
The mouths of the visitors water as they behold the pots boiling over the great fires, and the savoury odours of the meats greet their nostrils.
How glad they are that they have been invited to the fine banquet promised here! They act like happy children out for a holiday. There is no sign in their faces of the cruel side of their natures which showed itself in the battle a few days ago.
And now they gather in a circle on the grass, and begin to devour the good things the cooks spread before them.
Will you share with them this dish of boiled smoked elephant? It is coarse and stringy; I fear you will not care for a second piece, although every one pronounces it delicious. The roasted monkey is fat and tender. You will enjoy it more if you do not allow yourself to think of its resemblance to a baby. The stewed buffalo ribs served with lemon juice and cayenne pepper are fine, while we should not disdain the turtle soup if it were brought us in the best hotel in America.
The side dishes at this feast are the queerest we have ever seen, -- frizzled caterpillars, paste of mashed ants, and toasted crickets. Palm oil has been freely used in the crocodile stew and elephant gravy.
Mpuke's friends and relatives are enjoying themselves hugely. They gobble the good things in the most remarkable manner. They are so busy that they are almost silent. They drink large quantities of palm wine as well as the fermented juice of the baobab-tree. Palm wine is very pleasant and refreshing when it is first made. To-morrow, after the visitors have left, Mpuke will show us how to obtain it. He is an obliging little fellow, and will willingly climb a tall palm-tree to the very top, bore deep holes in the wood, and fasten gourds into which the juice will drip. We should drink it at once, before it changes into the sour, intoxicating liquor drunk so freely at the feast.
Not many days after the celebration, the rainy season began. During this period the rain does not fall all day long, but comes down in torrents for an hour or two every morning.
Very little hunting is done now, but there are such good supplies of smoked elephant and buffalo meat it is not necessary.
Mpuke wakes up one morning with great pain in his head, and it does not go away after he gets up. He says to himself, “I am afraid some bad spirit bewitched me while I was dreaming last night.” But he says nothing about his bad feelings to his mother. He is afraid she will think of the sleeping sickness. He does not want her to worry, so he will wait awhile and perhaps the pain will go away.
The sleeping sickness is the most terrible visitor in an African home. There is little hope for the one who has it. Sometimes the sufferer is ill for a few weeks only, but again he may linger for a year before death comes.
The illness begins with a severe headache; next comes swelling of the body, like dropsy; in the last stage, the dying person dozes or sleeps all of the time.
With our little Mpuke, a day and a night pass and his headache grows worse and worse. His body is first hot and feverish, then shivering with a chill. His mother begins to notice how slowly he moves, and how hard it seems for him to do his work.
“You must lie on your mat in the hut, my dear one,” she says to the boy. “The charm doctor shall be sent for; he will drive away the evil spirit that is making my child so sick.”
The black woman has a strange belief; she thinks that evil beings are always near, ready to work harm. She spends much time in protecting her family and herself from these evil powers by repeating charms and going through queer ceremonies.
She teaches her children to fear spirits in the air, in the water, in the trees, in the ground; at every movement they look for possible trouble from beings they cannot see, yet imagine to be following them. If it were not for such a foolish belief, the black people would be very happy; but they have one protector to whom they turn in all their troubles. They believe that he can drive away the evil spirits; he can bring health to the sick man; he can make charms to ward off the attacks of wild beasts; he can even control the winds and the waters.
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