Hornets, especially a variety, native name magu, sting most painfully, and if a bush is touched where they are hanging to their paper-like nests they dart out and sting. 1 have still a lively recollection of two fastening on to the lobes of my ears and the shooting pain that followed. Why each hornet chose an ear lobe I cannot say; but the fact was evident, and the pain did not cease for several hours. In India, a variety (possibly more than one variety) builds its nests in the tea bushes, and the Indian women get badly stung at times. In fact, I have seen several women nearly killed by them, and I have heard of a few cases where people died from the numerous stings inflicted, and in one instance a pony was stung to death. As these insects generally attack the necks of their victims, death is often caused by suffocation, as violent inflammation and swelling results.
I have not found that snakes are so dangerous as statistics would cause one to believe, for I spent nearly seven years of my life as a tea-planter in Cachar, Assam, Sylhet, and the Terai Dooars. During that time I only heard of two or three cases of death from snake-bite, so I cannot understand how the Government can issue statistics of thousands of deaths annually. Like others, I can only believe that the majority of deaths are murders pure and simple, which are reported to the authorities as snake bites. While working in a tea-garden snakes are often disturbed, and I suppose I have killed over 300 Indian snakes, and the worst varieties were cobras and banded kraites. In Africa, by far the worst snake is the puff-adder, as he is usually in a torpid condition, with heat or cold, so is much more liable to be touched. His skin, too, greatly resembles dried dead leaves, and it takes quick and clear eyesight to spot him as he lies quiescent. Some of the water snakes are very deadly and so are the mambas (of three varieties, I think). Personally, I have had narrower escapes from snakes than wild animals, for I can remember three narrow shaves from puff-adders, two from mambas, and one from a deadly type of water snake.
I will now leave the subject of pests and mention the building of my camp, which may be of interest to any wanderer who intends to live or settle here for a time.
It was in May, 1912, when I started operations, having already been ten years in Central Africa, so I was quite well experienced in this kind of work.
The first thing I did was to get labourers, and there was no difficulty about this, as scores of natives came to me to apply for work. In 1903 I had lived in this district and they knew that there would be plenty of meat going, for nothing attracts a native here more than nyama (meat or game). Some of my carriers wished to stay on for a month, and, including them, I wrote on over fifty men and boys. The women here do not work much for Europeans, as they do in India, for they have their own duties to perform. However, when I wanted grass for thatching purposes later on, they brought me thousands of bundles, receiving for each load a lump of fresh meat, or in some cases partially cooked meat, which is the best way to preserve it here. I make stands with fires underneath and cut the meat in long strips, gashing it all over so that the heat and smoke can get well into it. In this condition it lasts for several months, and if it gets slightly " high," this is no matter, as the natives like their meat with a strong gamey flavour.
After noting the names of the labourers, I went off with a few men to look for a site not too far from the Bua River. The first spot I picked was unsuitable; as the natives informed me it had been used as a cemetery, so I selected another site near it. Even here there were three old graves within 50 yards, but as I am not superstitious, and as the natives said that they had no objections, I got the men to come along and clear the ground of all grass and bushes, and I had to fell some trees also.
In a dambo, or open grassy space, pretty clear of bush and usually wet in its lower parts in the rainy season, I found a nice spring of clear water, which was a lucky incident, as it is better not to have to drink water from a running stream where the natives wash constantly. As a matter of fact I seldom drink water unless in the shape of tea or coffee. Tea I consider the best drink for tropical countries, as the water to make it with must be boiled. It assuages thirst better than cold water, and also induces a perspiration, which is a good thing in the tropics. Coffee is rather a bilious compound to be drinking constantly, and cocoa induces thirst and is too fat and heavy a fluid for frequent use.
After I had cleared about two acres of ground I sent the men off to cut poles, and to get that indispensable material for binding known to the natives as maluzi. This string is the inner shreds of bark, which are pulled off in lengths of from 5ft. to 10ft. or more, and is taken from the bovu tree. When wanted very strong it is twisted up in strands. The natives use it for all kinds of binding, for nails are never used by them for hut building.
The best trees for poles are the masuko and maula, both of which are impervious to the borer insect, which soon gets into soft wood and riddles it with hundreds of holes. Besides, soft woods such as the bovu, which supplies the bark string, do not stand the damp, and soon get rotten.
It is best to remove all the bark from the poles, and this is done by hammering it with a piece of wood, or with the back of the axe. If the poles are not cleaned the bark opens and proves a receptacle for all kinds of pests, and the mud of the walls is apt to crack when the bark opens with changes of climate.
When the men cut the poles in the bush they should be cut rather long, then cleaned, and afterwards cut to the proper length, after being inspected. I have found it useless to expect the natives to cut them off to the exact length wanted, unless they are marked for them. The best height for the walls of the dining and sitting hut is about 9ft., and as the poles will be sunk in a trench about 18in. deep, they should be trimmed to 10½ft. A round hut is measured out by getting two sharp pegs and a long piece of string. A small loop is made and put over the centre peg, and when the exact diameter wanted is fixed, another loop is made and the other peg inserted, and a circular line made. The space for the door should be marked, but in cutting the trench for the poles the earth should be left intact in the doorway.