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Chattering From The Shoulder #3
February 25, 2000
"Nkima scolded and chattered from the safety of his master's shoulder ..." (Invincible)
Tarzan and the Champion
III. The Babango Cannibals
THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THOUGH
CUTTING THROUGH THE JUNGLE WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
Then along the river-bank
A thousand miles
Tattooed cannibals danced in files;
Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song
And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong.
And "BLOOD" screamed the whistles and the fifes of the warriors,
"BLOOD" screamed the skull-faced, lean witch-doctors,
From "The Congo" by Vachel Lindsay
The Heart of Darkness
|"They're preparing the meat -- making
it tender. Those are men or women or little children that you hear
-- there are several of them. Two or three days ago, perhaps, they
broke their arms and legs in three or four place with clubs; then they
sank them in the river, tying their heads up to sticks; so they can't drown
by accident or commit suicide. They'll leave them there three or
four days; then they'll cut them up and cook them." (ERB-TC)
ERB had been reading his Stanley again. In Volume Two of Through the Dark Continent, Henry Morton vividly describes his exploration of the Livingstone (Congo) River. He sailed down the vast waterway to the lake he called Stanley Pool, then on to a series of 32 cataracts he named Livingstone Falls. Unable to go further by boat, Stanley continued overland, reaching the Atlantic Ocean on August 12, 1877.
Along this terrible journey, Stanley and his party were attacked by cannibals 32 times. I suppose it was one time for every cataract. They were certainly a hungry lot. Once he was saved by the fact that his skin was White. The cannibals were not entirely sure they liked White meat - - perhaps thinking that he might taste like chicken.
There is hardly any doubt about what these natives wanted because they usually greeted the visitors by a tremendous drumming and blowing of war-horns, and without waiting for polite conversation of any kind cried out,
"Meat! meat! Ah! ha! We shall have plenty of meat! Bo-bo-bo-bo, Bo-bo-bo-bo-o o!"
Stanley was not fond of all this "bo- bo-boing." It seems that as he traveled down the river, the word had gone before that supper was coming. He even remarks on the fact that "these must be relatives of the terrible 'Bo-bo-bo's' above, as with one mind we rose to respond to this rabid man-eating tribe" (156-7).
The explorer tried to be understanding, which was rather charitable, considering the circumstances. Yet he wrote:
"Anger we had none for them. It seemed to me so absurd to be angry with people who looked upon one only as an epicure would regard a fat capon. Sometimes also a faint suspicion came to my mind that this was all but a part of a hideous dream. Why was it that I should be haunted with the idea that there were human beings who regarded me and my friends only in the light of meat? (157).
I like to think that Burroughs came up with some of his colorful names from reading Stanley's book.
"Had I not been able to ascertain the names of these tribes, I should certainly have been justified in stating that after the "Ooh-hu-hus" we encountered the "Bo-bo-bos," and after a dire experience with the fierce "Bo-bo-bos" we met the terrible "Yaha-ha-has." Any traveler who should succeed me would be certain to remark upon the fidelity of the novel classification." (230).
This statement reminds me of Jack London's remarkable book of South Sea tales called SouthSeaTales, which appeared in 1911. (Contents: The House of Mapuhi, The Whale Tooth, Mauki, "Yah! Yah! Yah!", The Heathen, The Terrible Solomons, The Inevitable White Man, The Seed of McCoy.) It's as a bloodthirsty collections of stories as you ever want to read, and they are the best of his lot from this area of the world. Here the "Yah! Yah! Yah!" turns out to be the terrible White Man, but the natives have the same tastes for human flesh as their African brethren. We seem to have misplaced this item on our menus, but Jane Goodall found it among the chimpanzees, so it must just be a cultural aberration on our part.
I looked for the Babango cannibals on Stanley's list of folks along the Congo, but the closest I could find was the Barumbe, the Barua, the Bolobo, and the Ubangi. ERB probably made up his own combination for the sound of it and not to slight any tribe in any way.
I didn't find anything in Stanley about soaking the meat in the river, but Peter Forbath reports in his fascinating history, "The River Congo," Harper, 1977 that from explorers' accounts of their encounters with cannibal tribes the processing was exactly as ERB's description. The cannibals "commonly submerged their victims chin-deep in streams before cooking them, since suffering was believed to tenderize the meat for the cooking." You can check it out on "How to Cook A White Man" on the internet.
After Stanley reached the west coast, Joseph Conrad traveled up the same river just thirteen years later in 1890. (My ERBapa paper on Conrad and ERB requires scanning because it was eaten by my Big Mac.) Of course, HeartofDarknesswas the brilliant outcome of Conrad's youthful journey.
Both Kurtz and Tarzan stuck heads on poles. As far as we know neither one of them tasted human flesh, at least not in the official accounts. ERB points out that Tarzan's madness had a method (TT,64) whereas Kurtz had "No method at all."
Hannibal the Cannibal. Humans still love to fish about in the cooking pot and see what might be stuck on the bottom.
If you want to check out another restaurant, you might try Dudley Young's "Origins of the Sacred: the Ecstasies of Love and War." This is certainly an odd book that is not to every taste, but it's worth digging up.
"Akin to hospes is hostis, also host and stranger, and since strangers are suspected of hostility, hostis also means enemy. Akin to the hostile enemy is both the hostage and hostia=sacrificial victim offered to the gods. Bearing in mind that hos involves food and that in our cannibal days we ate strangers, once can see the sense in eating the Christian host (Latin hostis) in remembrance of how a particularly monstrous stranger was originally received among us."
Perhaps this essay has gotten out of hand.
(Ancient humor) "The oldest joke is to make a ghost of your guest by eating him instead of feeding him with your substance." Grim humor indeed.
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