Tree Climbing – This is chapter seventeenth of the Book “Two Dianas in Somaliland: The Record of a Shooting Trip”, which is a narrative of a daring and victorious shooting expedition undertaken by two cousins, Agnes and Cecily, who carry the spirit of true sportswomen and the right attitude for this adventure.
A native Somali escort accompanies them during this expedition. British writer and big game hunter Agnes Herbert keep the reader hooked with her refreshing writing style throughout the novel. She wonderfully describes the beauty and austerity of the jungle and desert in the passages as the two ladies travel through the country.
The chapters of this book are started with one or more quotations from Shakespeare, thus revealing the author as a high-class Englishwoman of culture. The discussions in the book show that the author is highly skilled with guns.
This work beautifully and with great success presents a new perspective of a female British imperialist hunter bagging big game in the isolated jungle of Somaliland and Ethiopia, which is deserving of the reader’s interest and attention.
The Record of a Shooting Trip
By Agnes Herbert
With Twenty-Five Illustrations Reproduced from Photographs
London: John Lane
TWO DIANAS IN SOMALILAND
Do not give dalliance too much the rein
When out early one morning a green oasis tempted me to leave the sandy waste and ramble in among the depths of the aloes, creep in and out of the festoons of armo, and hunt for anything that might be astir. Choosing the part where the bushes seemed most willing to admit us, we crept in—a hunter and I—he of the Cook’s Guide turn of mind. Parting the creepers as we went, we found it easier than we had thought to penetrate the density.
On almost every branch a chameleon lay basking, dead to all appearances save for the eternal wakefulness of their eyes. In a glade where the grass grew high, there was a whirr and a rush. Some small animal was startled. But we saw nothing. The hunter prepared to account for it, but I would have none of it, and silenced him with a look. I was there to read the book of the wild for myself, not to have it read aloud.
A tree snake dropped from his low perch on a thorn bush, and wriggled away in the thicket. Two distinct lines of brown marked him, and that was all I saw. He gave me “creeps,” and I turned away in an opposite direction. Sometimes a bit of thorn would hold me lovingly, and all my blandishments could not make it let me go. I only obtained freedom with leaving a piece of my coat as tribute. Vulturine guinea-fowl ran at the sight of us, raising their naked necks and setting off at great speed to make safety. They are beautiful birds, and the prismatic colors of the feathers show up against the green of the armo very distinctly. Doves cooed above us, but I could not catch a glimpse of one. As we neared the middle of the oasis we came on a few scattered half-eaten bones—a dead lesser koodoo. He had furnished a meal for a lion, doubtless, and later for one of his own people. One or two varieties of antelope are very fond of nibbling dry white bones.
We took a turn to the right, and on the instant a beautiful lesser koodoo took a gigantic leap over an in-the-way bunch of aloe scrub. He disappeared into a thicket and I stood motionless listening. So I suspect did my koodoo. All was still, but only for a moment. The amateur Cook’s Guide got entangled somehow or other with a trailing creeper, and to my complete horror and amazement let off my .500 Express which he was carrying. He must have been holding it in very unskilled fashion. The bullet missed my head by a couple of inches. I felt the whiz of it and heard it ricochet into the trees. I was so unnerved I sat down and thought things out. My hunter was quite oblivious to any shock I might have received, because the stock of the rifle had hit him hard somewhere—I was too vexed to inquire the exact location—and he bewailed his misfortune. I ordered him to go home to camp and leave me, which he did with alacrity. After about half an hour my trembling fit passed. It was very cowardly to be so upset, but I hate unknown and quite unforeseen dangers, and an unsuspected bullet at close quarters demoralizes me.
I sat on quietly, and the bush began to stir and take up its daily round again, forgetting the demon crash that had disturbed its slumbers. A little red velveteen spider ran speedily up an armo leaf, tumbled over the edge and suspended himself on a golden wire. Jerk! jerk! Lower he went, then up again. Two bars of his house completed, when alas, a great fly of the species that haunted our trophies, flew right across and smashed the spider-house to nothing. The velveteen spider sat on a leaf—fortunately, he had made safety ere the Juggernaut passed along—and meditated, but only for a moment. He was a philosopher and knew all about the “Try, try, try again” axiom. Over he hurled himself on another golden thread and laid another crisscross foundation-stone. And there I left him because I wanted to penetrate farther.
How could I maneuver a big antelope now if I shot one, seeing that my hunter had left me? Was it not counting my chickens? Yes, but that is what one does all the time in big game shooting!
In one bit of glade I worked my way through the caterpillars had played devastator; every leaf was eaten. I hurried on. I rested again on a fallen guda tree, hunting first to see no snake shared my seat with me. I kept utterly silent for an hour or more, when my patience was rewarded. Through the bushes I saw a white chin bobbing up and down as it chose out the most succulent thorns. Lower it went. I hardly breathed. To see a lesser koodoo in his haunts one sometimes has to wait for months. Here was I, in the limits of a morning’s patrol, so lucky. The great broad ear flickered in and out. Because this antelope mostly lives in thick cover where quick hearing is his only safety, his ear has grown in accordance with necessities. Somali hunters never seem to differentiate between the koodoo and the lesser koodoo. They are both one and the same to them, and are called “Godir” indiscriminately. And yet the two animals are so different it seems absurd to think of confusion.
The koodoo (strepsiceros koodoo) is the biggest antelope in Somaliland, heavy, magnificent, and warlike. It inhabits mountainous parts, and the reason would seem to be plain. Space for such great horns is required, and though on occasion, they frequent jungly parts of the Golis, their nature, and habit is to live in the stony gorges, and stalking one is not unlike stalking one of our own Scotch deer. The lesser koodoo (strepsiceros imberbis) is the personification of all the graces. What the koodoo gains in majesty the lesser has in exquisite symmetry of line and contour. The lesser koodoo never grows much larger than a small donkey, the horns are replicas in little of the average three-footer of the koodoo, and there is no beard, but a short mane. Like the koodoo, the lesser is striped down each side like the white ribs of a skeleton.
My friend still fed, rustling the bushes as he chose out his favorite herbage. I had seen nothing to fire at, but, in any case, I did not mean to try for him, as in my lone condition it would mean a return to camp for assistance, and meanwhile, the beautiful antelope would be food for any prowling beast. I hated at all times to kill wastefully. The head of the lesser koodoo looked, as far as I could see, a fair one, the light of the sun glinting through the shadowy depths occasionally caught the curving horns. But since he might not be mine, since I could not get him back to camp, I would not kill wantonly.
In speaking of the wholesale slaughter of Somaliland fauna by sportsmen and sportsmen so-called, one ought really to include the Somalis themselves. They have assisted materially to decimate the country—of elephants particularly. On lions, they have not made much impression, as these animals are too big a job to tackle unless they are driven to it. But in the days when the elephant roamed the land, their slaughter for the sake of the ivory was wholesale, terrific and amazing. Clarence, who was of the Gadabursi country, well remembers his father and his tribe hunting the elephant on a colossal scale, killing several a week. The manner of it was courageous, to say the least. The tribe went out, mounted on swift ponies, and the marked-down elephant being selected from the herd, he was ridden down in the open. One agile Somali would caper in front of the pachyderm to attract his attention, and a rider at the gallop would pass in swift flying rush behind and cut the ham-string or tendon of one of the hind legs. The elephant would then be at the mercy of the hunters. It must have been a dangerously exciting business. The sword used—I saw one in the hut of a Mullah at the Upper Sheik—is of native make, apparently, strong, and longer in the blade than the bilâwa, which is often seen in its scabbard of white leather bound round the waist of a Somali. It was not unlike the familiar sword known to us as the “Dervish”—two-edged, with a groove down the center, and light. The handle was of horn and bound about with leather. And yet we think ourselves brave to venture in the vicinity of my lord the elephant with the latest thing in rifles in our hands!
What with the ham-stringing, and all hunters killing cows and bulls indiscriminately, the result has been that the elephant has left his old haunts, never to return. The Somalis wasted the entire carcase. They do not care to eat the flesh, and even the hide is not so beloved as that of the oryx and rhino. The Somali tusks were never of the vast proportions attained in other parts of Africa. Ivory still forms part of the stock of some trading caravans, so the elephants must exist in the flesh somewhere in Somaliland unless these traders trade with others again at the rear of the back of beyond.
A twig cracked! No twig of mine, I swear, since I sat like a statue carved in stone. My foot had long since gone to sleep, and pins and needles pricked it. The bushes trembled, then were still, and stealthily, with very little movement, the beautiful antelope moved away. I saw him as he circled round a bend in the jungle, and in a flash he was gone. Really I had enjoyed my morning as keenly as though I had added to my bag a hundredfold.
And so back to camp, I went, and as I went I notched the trees that I might find the right place in my “Hedd-Godir” (koodoo forest) again. I wanted Cecily to come with me and try and track my friend the lesser koodoo. When I got home, I found all the men congregated round one whom they said was grievously hurt through a camel falling on him. I couldn’t find anything wrong, no broken bones, but the man said the pain internally was very great, almost unbearable. I got out my hypodermic syringe and injected some of the morphia we had in case of emergencies into the arm, to the wonderment of the men, and then I had the invalid placed down on a camel-mat to sleep, and all the other men were forbidden to disturb the invalid. And lo! when the effects of the morphia wore off we heard no more of aches and pains. It was the cure of the trip. And the “coogeri” medicine was held in high esteem ever afterwards. I asked what “coogeri” meant, and was told—“inside.”
Sitting on a camp chair in peace and quietness, with a book and the cup that cheers, Clarence broke in on us to say that a party of twenty-five horsemen had arrived prepared to dibaltig before us—Heaven only knows why, or where the men had dropped from. With as good grace as we could and a cup of tea in hand, we went outside the zareba to see a crowd of Somalis, mounted, in the usual lively get-up, khaili tobes, shields, spears, and the other necessaries of performers of the dibâltig. The ponies were so be-tasseled on a bright red band over the eyes, I don’t know how they were to see the way at all. One stalwart, the head-man of the party, had decorated his steed with a frill of lions’ mane around its neck, fastening in front with a large bunch of yellow ribbons. Very hot and uncomfortable for the pony, but very effective and circus-like.
“Salaam aleikum,” and “Mot! Mot! io Mot!” Then the chorister-in-chief (these dibâltig performances are somewhat like the “waits” at Christmas) began a long song, all—Clarence said—about us, wishing us health, happiness, and many wives.
“So says the song.”
“Then say we can’t have wives, because we are not sahibs, and someday we shall be wives ourselves.”
“With luck!” ejaculated Cecily.
Clarence translated, and a perfect tremor of excitement shook the whole team. The horsemen pressed closer and gazed at us until their eyes nearly dropped out of their heads. Laughing at the intensity of the inspection, we took our hats off and bowed. Our hair might be considered adequate proof of Mem-sahibdom. Goodness knows what the team considered it. They drew back and talked and jabbered and discussed.
To dibâltig or not to dibâltig, that is the question. And how we hoped they would answer it in the negative, and let us get back to tea.
With a wild war-whoop the matter was decided, and girding up their loins, away and away, hither and thither dashed the performers, throwing spears, catching them, jumping off the pony, then vaulting the saddle, then back again, finally gaining a seat face to tail. A real circus show this. Going at a mad gallop the riders would suddenly jerk the bit—a perfect devil of cruelty—and back the foaming pony would go, haunches to the ground. Poor creatures, how lathered they were and beside themselves with the pace and rush. Dust rose in volumes, and we receded and receded, but the flying figures only drew the circle closer. The affair went on for a whole hour, when it had to cease because the ponies were done, and could not keep up the required speed any longer. All the Somalis came round us, the ponies’ heads facing us, almost touching us, and we must have been hidden entirely from our own men, because as our dibâltig friends sat their panting ponies they raised both arms with spears held high, and dear me, how they shouted that “Mot” sentence.
I signed with my hand that we wished to get out of the circle—it was not pleasant so near the panting, pawing ponies, and one big black-looking fellow backed his steed out and made a path. I thanked them through Clarence and then began the usual palaver about the inadequacy of the presents.
If every man had to have a tobe it meant twenty-five, and we had to economize or we should clear out our stock before we finished up at Berbera. We had started out with several pieces of sheeting but had done an immense amount of distributing. A tobe when cut has to be about twelve times over the length from a man’s elbow to his fingertips. That is how we measured. We offered half a dozen tobes and suggested that the performers should toss up for them.
A hurricane of stormy words ensued, most annoying, as six tobes at a whack is very generous indeed. The men could not be invited to a meal because the rice supplies would not bear any undue strain. The affair ended with the presentation of five good clasp knives. And then the dissatisfied warriors rode away. We took the opportunity of telling Clarence that if any more Somalis came bent on doing this dibâltig performance they must do it on their own. We had seen enough of it. And run on the present lines it is more expensive than a box at the opera. We went back to a second tea, and a bath to get rid of the dust that covered us like flour.
In the evening, Cecily and I again penetrated my koodoo forest by ourselves, more for the pleasure of wandering in the beautiful oasis than anything, and our search went farther than my stroll of the morning. We pushed and crawled our way through the densest thickets that we might find the reason for such flapping and screaming of dozens and dozens of vultures, kites, and hawks. In a thicket of thorn where the durr grass grew high, and in patches left off altogether, and exposed the sand, lay the remains of a lesser koodoo. It had been partially eaten, but not by vultures, a lion evidently because it had begun on the hind quarters and eaten about half the animal. The antelope’s head was thrown back, and the forelegs were tucked beneath him. The lion had sprung from the grass straight onto his prey. The horns swept the hunched shoulders, and I think it must have been my friend of the morning.
Judging by the way in which the birds were acting, coming near, and then retiring, and taking into consideration the fact that they had not ventured to the kill, it was likely that the lion was now lying close to the meat, watching it, until the internal arrangements permitted of eating some more. This is a very usual thing with the big cats. Was it nice to be in this durr grass with a lion, even a fed-up one?
We decided to hurry back to camp and try and get out some of the men before the light gave in, to build us a “machan” over the dead antelope, in which we should keep watch and ward all night in the hope of bagging the lion as he returned to his kill. Our first idea was that one of us—to be decided by tossing up—should remain in the jungly place to see that time was not taken by the forelock by his majesty. But, debating the point, we thought it was going to be a trifle lonely for the one left behind, with night, and possibly a lion, coming on.
We made our way out as quickly as possible, and careering back to camp as though all the fiends were after us, brought Clarence and four of the hunters with axes and hangols to the place where the koodoo had been. Had been! For there, it was not when we returned. The dragging of the bushes and the crushed grass showed us the way. There at some two hundred yards off was all that now remained of the lesser koodoo.
A flash of sinuous yellow. A cry of “Libbah! Libbah!” from the left-hand hunter. The durr grass waved, and a fine lioness bounded high and sank again. Crack! from Cecily’s rifle. She must have been in a better place than I was for a shot. I should have annihilated one of the men had I blazed away. Crack! again. And then I saw what the redoubtable Cecily was firing at. Another animal altogether! A massive lion, with an almost black mane and more cumbersome in the front than any other of his genus I had ever seen. All lions fall away very much behind, but I really think this one must have been malformed. However, we never saw him again, so the point had, perforce, to remain unsettled. As the lion streaked off, evidently not inconvenienced by Cecily’s bombardment, his mate made a successful effort to follow his lead. Flat, and low to earth, snake-like, she crossed the only bare patch of clearing to the right of me. Still, my line of fire was blocked by a hunter who put himself in my way every time as if by design, and had not the sense to drop and give me a chance. Still, there was Clarence on the extreme right, armed with a 12-bore. The lioness would have to run the gauntlet of his fire. “Mâro! Mâro!” (Shoot! Shoot!) I cried to him in an agony of nervous Hindostanee.
The imperturbable Clarence did nothing, and let the yellow one pass him. Cecily was not now so placed that she could get in a successful shot. Two lions and both gone! No koodoo left to attract anything save hyaenas and jackals. When I asked our shikari why on earth he had let slip so wonderful a chance he was quite calm and said: “Mem-sahib shoot dar lion. I no shoot dar lion.” Evidently, he meant to be very magnanimous and refrain from poaching on our preserves in the laudable desire to see we got our money’s worth.
It was now getting dusk, and ominous dark corners told us night had cast her mantle athwart the trees. I ordered a hunter to cut off the head of the maltreated lesser koodoo, for the sake of the horns, a very easily acquired trophy, but one very well worth having. The head was not eaten at all, for as I have explained it is the habit of lions to begin at the other end.
Then we tried to get out of the place. We took some tosses over thorn and bramble and disturbed the guinea fowl as they settled to roost in rows on the branches. I upset the equilibrium of a hornbill and his wife, who flapped and croaked their annoyance at me. Before we were clear of the oasis, night had settled down in inky blackness, and then Clarence led us by the hand. I believe he saw in the dark like a cat. He brought us safe and sound to the sandy waste that rimmed the green garden, and once there camp was easily reached.
All through the night the lions roared, and we could distinguish the difference in the voice of the lion to that of his mate. One would have thought they had eaten too much to roar—a whole lesser koodoo between them! Perhaps they were protesting that we had docked them of the head. The next day around the wells near where we were camped the pugs of two lions stood out clear in the sand, going from the oasis and back. The wells are too deep for wild creatures to negotiate, but water sometimes is to be had in the clay troughs used by the camels. These troughs were very dry, and I’m afraid that the lions went away thirsty. As it seemed an undoubted fact that the great cats were still in the fastness of green a mile or more in circumference, it did seem absurd for us to go on until we had made another effort to secure a fine trophy for the collection.
At the edge of the oasis, on the north side, before it finally ended in a yellow waste of sand, stood a few guda trees, difficult to climb, for no branches hold out kindly assistance for at least sixteen feet from the roots, when the tree spreads vigorously into fantastic shapes to the top, which attains a height of some fifty feet. The foliage is very wide, and beautifully green. Our idea was to climb a guda in the evening, having tied up a suitable bait below. It had to be a sheep, because we had no goat. We chose our tree, and when the witching hour of twilight arrived, armed with climbing-irons we began the ascent this-wise. First myself, to the astonishment of half our caravan, who had come to see what they should see. They liked the climbing-irons immensely. I don’t think they had seen any before.
When I was perched on the bough selected I flung the irons down to Cecily, who used them. Next, with cords, we drew up the rifles. Clarence and a hunter used the climbing irons also, and came up like woodpeckers. The men below tethered the sheep, and departed to camp and bed. It was not very long before we wished we had had a platform made. Not being birds, or bird-like, the perching business hurt frightfully. And it was only by getting well against the trunk we could put up with the position at all. Clarence lay extended full length along a bough, on the look-out—“ship-ahoy!” sort of game. The other hunter imagined himself a Blondin on an insignificant branch beyond me, slightly above me. A ridiculous situation we were all in. I longed to laugh out loud. But we had to be very, very silent and hardly move a muscle. After about an hour I began to get cramp in my foot, and had to press my boot hard against the bough to try to bear the agony calmly.
A roar broke on the stillness. Things were more interesting for a few moments, and Clarence’s tense figure outlined on the branch seemed to be an Argus of many eyes. The Blondin gentleman had got on my nerves long since, and I wished with all my heart he would take a seat. The clouds grew darker and darker, and presently rain began to fall, real Somali rain, not in single drops, but water-spouts. The hunter pirouetting on the adjacent bough missed his footing and fell to the ground—Somalis are not the slightest use as tree-climbers—and caused as much consternation to the sheep as the appearance of the lion could have done. The man had to be followed by the necessary humanitarian inquiries, and we reflected that no lion with an ounce of caution about him would have failed to take warning long ere this. The rain had damped our ardor as well as our clothes. We voted for camp and bed. Cecily affixed the irons to her boots and descended, and then I pulled them up again for my use. Clarence got the rifles down, and the fallen hunter had no need to get any lower. There we all stood in pouring rain. Clarence had to lead the hunter who claimed to be badly injured, and Cecily and I led the sheep.
The caravan was silent, fires out with the rain, but the watch was alert, for on our approach we heard, “Kuma?” (Who are you?) repeated twice. Clarence replied “Friends,” and we passed, and all was well—at least more or less, for the camp was in a dismal state of slop. A big rainstorm speedily turns the deep sand to mud. The men were sleeping beneath herios, and I think one or two had been making free with our tents, as they had a very hot native smell about them when we turned in to rid ourselves of our dripping garments. The canvas residences stood up well that night and resisted the downpour valiantly. Everything was damp and fires were impossible.
All the next day the deluge continued. It was no use to attempt to go a-hunting, as the rain was washing out spoor as fast as the animals walked. The day dragged through somehow and bored us almost to tears. However, night saw a welcome cessation of the rain, and the sky grew clear and dotted with stars innumerable. The next morning had to see the camel-mats dried ere they could go on, and the sun was fortunately like a furnace.
In the evening we were able to trek some eight miles and formed zareba by starlight. To get the fires lighted was a great difficulty, and the cook sent many messages by the “boy,” to encourage us in the belief supper would be forthcoming if we had the patience to wait long enough.
Chatting over the meal we realised that the hour had come when we might dawdle no longer. Time and the season bade us make a decided effort to cross the Haud again now that water was so plentiful. We sent for Clarence and talked to him, deciding to rise early on the morrow and get things into trim for the great undertaking.
Chapter XVIII will follow
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- The World Can Learn From How Somaliland Overcame Militias
- Somaliland: The Little Country That Could By David Shinn
- Somaliland Is A Beacon Of Democracy In An Unstable Region
- Masuuliyiinta Xidh-Xidhan Iyo Dareemada Dhagarta Xambaarsan Ee Laga Soo Werinayo Dhinaca Madaxtooyada
- KOIGI: Acknowledge Somaliland To Cure Festering Wound On Africa