A PROLOGUE IN MOMBASA
April 7th, 1925.
HUNTING is a primitive instinct and had its origin in the early life of man, when he evolved from a purely vegetarian existence and added grubs, bugs, small mammals, crustaceans and birds to his diet.
From a defensive attitude toward the larger animals, man took on one of assault and found the food problem correspondingly more to his taste.
So with all elemental people today, we find that food is the first big issue of their lives and that the hunter is a person of importance in the community.
Man has made his conquest of the world directly through his weapons of the chase. With the bow and the spear, he has not only held his own against the stronger beasts of the forest and plains, but he has put them to rout and usurped the earth.
The plowshare has followed the hunter, and habitation anywhere beyond his arboreal refuge has been made possible only by his weapons. The hunter is not to be taken lightly, nor has his spirit vanished from the land. There is in the heart of every man the impulse of the chase. It is, of course, developed in some natures more intensely than in others. Even in the tribal stage, individuals were marked by one prominent gift or another: there were musicians, artisans, medicine men, warriors and hunters.
We cannot expect, therefore, that every man should have the same quantitative urge, but the hunting spirit is normal and laudable, and so long as there is game to be taken so long will the hunter follow the quest.
We who live in America, a country still wild in large areas, are privileged to hunt freely. Game abounds in many places and protective laws will preserve it for years to come.
In California, where the densely forested Sierra Nevada and Coast Range mountains present ideal game retreats for deer, panther and bear, we can hunt to our heart’s content. Though this is an age of accurate ballistics and high explosives, a small group of men out west have taken up the use of the old English long bow as a weapon of the chase, and prefer to drive a clothyard shaft at a running deer than to lay him low with a bullet.
This return to the pastime and pursuits of our ancestors, is more sport and has a halo of romance.
Therefore we have gone out into the forest solitudes and upland pastures armed only with the bow and arrow. And though we have in no way been competitors with those who shoot guns, though we admittedly are greatly inferior in our capacity to bring meat into camp, we have had a much greater satisfaction.
The man who shoots with the bow must put his strength of arm into his weapon. His eye must be clear and his nerve steady. He must approach his game by greater skill than if he used a rifle.
Hunting becomes more a contest of cunning between the beast and the man, and the factors are more equal than if the man were armed with that implement of destruction and precision, the high power rifle.
We have hunted for more than ten years with the bow, and our bag has included all the small game of the land, such as quail, ducks, geese, grouse, squirrels and rabbits. We have also shot deer in goodly number, more than a dozen bear, including grizzly and the great Alaskan bear. We have killed cougars and moose and mountain sheep. Our record for American big game is filled out and stands as an everlasting credit to our beloved weapon.
This should have satisfied us; we have done what our forefathers have done, no more could be asked, but friends came to us and spoke of other worlds to conquer.
Stewart Edward White, a writer, who spent some months hunting in Africa, became interested in archery and later suggested that we try our artillery on the beasts of this tropical country. He says that he has no further desire to shoot them with the gun.
Then Leslie Simson invited us to visit him in his camp in Tanganyika. He is an American mining engineer who made a competence in Johannesburg, and decided to take a vacation. He has spent the last twenty years taking a complete rest, shooting lions, elephants and other specimens of this sort for sport and the various museums.
We accepted his cordial offer and included in our party Mr. Arthur Young, a young Califomian, who is an expert rifle shot, as well as a good bowman. We have hunted much together. He recently spent two years in Alaska taking moving pictures of the landscape and wild life. Some of these films depict him shooting moose, mountain sheep and kadiak bear with the bow and arrow.
We three laid our plans to join Simson in Tanganyika.
In the past ages other men have pursued African game with the bow and arrow. Every great Egyptian ruler seems to have on his tomb a record of his hunting exploits. There we see birds, jackals, gazelles and lions pierced by arrows. The Assyrian Kings hunted lions in Northern Syria; Assur Nasir-Pal shows us in bas-relief a picture of his hunting experiences. He shoots from a racing chariot; beaters drive lions out of the jungle; arrow slain beasts lie on the ground about him; it is a royal hunt.
Other rock engravings depict the king grasping a lion by the throat and stabbing him with a short sword. The beast is full of arrows and this probably is the death stroke. We have no reason to doubt the courage of the king, but there is a suggestion of dramatic license here.
At least there is every evidence to prove that archers have invaded Africa long before our day. And, of course, we know there are millions of natives who use the bow and arrow in the wilds of Ethiopia today as they have for thousands of years in the past.
But since the epoch of the Crusades, no archers shooting the English long bow and the broadhead arrow have been in the country, and never to our knowledge has any representative of Robin Hood’s Merrie Men ever loosed a flying shaft in that continent of mighty beasts. It was therefore with a profound feeling of the romantic significance of the event that we planned to carry the legend of the long bow into the jungles of Africa. We were to journey to the last stronghold of big game; we were to make a holy pilgrimage to the Mecca of all mighty hunters; we had set ourselves the task of vindicating the honor of the arms of our English forefathers with the yew long bow and the broadhead arrow.
As in days of old, each archer makes his own tackle.
We construct our bows of California yew. We make our shafts, feather them and head them ourselves. How this is done, how we have revived the ancient craft of the bowyer and fletcher is a long story and told in the book Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, to which, as the author, I refer you, with sly satisfaction. The publisher, let me say, is the same as he who prints this volume: one Putnam’s Sons, No. 2 West 45th Street, New York City; with this gentle hint I leave you to read on.
So we gathered our equipment together; tropical clothes and boots, personal belongings and surgical supplies, for you must know I am a doctor of medicine, and then our archery tackle.
This last consists of some half dozen bows apiece, carried in a cylindrical case made of light paper composition and an arrow box of similar tough material, in which each archer carries a hundred or more arrows, lying on little racks, to hold them apart.
Besides this outfit we have in our baggage, arrow shafts, feathers and steel arrowheads sufficient for two thousand more arrows, with all the glue and silk ribbon, paint and other requisites for the manufacture of these missiles.
No one knows how much ammunition we need, so we have an abundance. Our bows are made of yew wood or osage orange. Their length is five feet six or eight inches and each one pulls from sixty to ninety pounds when the arrow is full drawn. The strings are made of Irish linen, well waxed.
The arrow shafts are of birch, three-eighths of an inch in diameter and twenty-eight inches in length. We feather them with pinions from the turkey, glued and bound on with silk. The points of the arrows are made of steel blades three inches long by one and a quarter inches wide, riveted in a tubular steel haft or socket in which the arrow shaft is set with ferule cement.
Such a missile can be shot about two hundred yards and will penetrate an animal the size of a deer as far off as it can hit him. Driven at shorter ranges our arrows have often gone completely through these animals even after severing ribs and other large bones. Lighter shafts can be shot nearly three hundred yards. Arrows kill by hemorrhage, they have no power to produce shock or to shatter a bone. They can kill an animal as quickly and humanely as a rifle ball.
The accuracy of our weapon is, of course, greatly inferior to that of a modern gun. When shot side by side, the bow seems a crude haphazard implement and suffers by comparison. But in spite of this disparity the bow and arrow in the hands of a trained archer does have a degree of precision all its own, one that can be controlled and is surprising to the uninitiated.
Roughly speaking this is what the bow is capable of doing. Shooting at the standard target having a nine-inch bull’s eye, at forty yards, a good archer will strike the central circle with the majority of his arrows. At one hundred yards he will hit this same bull’s eye once in six times and place most of his arrows in a four foot target. Shooting at game, he should hit an animal the size of a quail or rabbit at twenty yards nearly every shot. A deer at sixty or eighty yards he should strike with one of three arrows and a deer will often stand and let one shoot this number of shots. We have even killed running deer at this distance.
Larger flights are more a matter of chance, but Will Compton broke the neck of an antelope at one hundred and ten yards, Monte, the Indian, hit a deer in the forehead at ninety yards and dropped it in its tracks, the arrow emerging through the neck.
But we try as a rule to approach animals of this size to a distance less than fifty yards, where we are fairly certain of striking them in a vital spot and dispatching them quickly.
So, having outfitted ourselves with all things necessary for a prolonged stay in the tropics, besides our artillery, and having arranged in advance with the firm Safariland, Ltd. to supply us with men, food and all other necessities while in British East Africa, we set forth in February, 1925.
After crossing the continent we sailed from New York on the White Star Line, March 6th, bound for Cherbourg, France. We crossed France and after a few days sailed again from Marseilles, passing through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, down the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
This part of the voyage required nearly three weeks and we spent our time in reading, exercising, playing music and making archery tackle. The weather was pleasant throughout and on April 6th we sailed into the harbor of Kilindini and disembarked at the town of Mombasa.
This is an ancient Portuguese fortified town, and long a bone of contention between contending nations. Its name signifies the “Island of Wars.” The old fortifications of 400 years, built by Vasco Da Gama, still guard the harbor and bear witness to many bloody episodes of the past. Here for the first time we get the real flavor of Africa. The first thing you notice upon sailing into the harbor is that the breeze from off the green, palm beaches, is as fragrant as spice. It smells like Chinese matting in which delicate incense has been rolled. It is a most surprising phenomenon!
We were landed by swarms of handsome black boys in picturesque, gaudy rags, and carried safely to shore in their small boats. The whole scene is strangely interesting, in spite of the ubiquitous Ford automobile that chugs past. One is struck immediately by the fact that man power is the motive element of the country. Trucks or wagons are used to haul baggage, or loads of sand, or building material, but men pull and push them; no horses are in evidence. Heavy loads are carried on the backs of small black “men, whose stature in no way suggests the strength that lies in thigh and shoulders. These Swahili are a handsome lot of natives, some dressed in the costume of the municipal police, khaki jackets, short knee pants, blue spiral puttees, red fez caps and belts; they present a comic yet engaging appearance. They are armed only with a police whistle and a short club, these and the authority of the British Government are all they need. Jinrickshas and bicycles are two more anachronisms of the place, but they also add to the strangeness of the scene.
The bows and arrows were a puzzle to the customs officials, since they could be classified neither under the head of guns, ammunition or fishing tackle, so they gave them up as an enigma, and taxed us lightly for the material used, for when we told them that we make our own tackle, they had no means of estimating their value. We found our English cousins very cordial and willing to assist us in our expedition.
From Mombasa the railroad train leaves every alternate day for Nairobi, the capital of Kenya Colony, situated more than four hundred miles inland, at an elevation of five thousand feet above sea level.
Waiting here for this final stage of our journey we begin to absorb the atmosphere of the tropics. The heat beneath the equatorial sun does not seem so oppressive as I’ve often felt it in some of the interior valleys of California, though the humidity is quite noticeable.
The multiplicity of pleasant black servants, the tropical fruits, the luxuriant vegetation, the quaint old gardens, the beautiful walks along the island sea coast, the strange Arabic architecture, the fantastic native quarters, the Mohammedan mosques and minarets, the jewelled heavens at night, the balm and spice of the air and the great calm that rests upon the place make Mombasa a city of Magic.
If this is the overture to our African adventure, then let what is to follow come in such measure as the Gods appoint. We lean forward with eager delight.