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Our Little
African Cousin

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WHEN the first rays of the morning sun find their way through the tree-tops, the village wakes up. It is the best part of the day in any land, but especially in all tropical countries. The women come hastily out of the doorways, and prepare to get breakfast. All the cooking must be done out-doors, and soon a row of fires can be seen burning brightly in front of the houses. Mpuke's mother is very busy. She must boil the manioc pudding and bake some hippopotamus meat for a hearty meal.

Manioc takes the place of flour with the black man. It looks somewhat like the potato, but the bulbs are not ready to gather till the plant is about fifteen months old. It is a very stringy vegetable. The women gather it in baskets and sink them in the river for a few days. They must stay there until the vegetables have fermented. This fermentation makes them mealy; it also makes it easy to draw out the tough fibres. The manioc is afterward kneaded into dough and made into round puddings, which are boiled several hours.

Mpuke's mother is a careful cook. When her manioc pudding is taken from the fire it is snowy white. It is a wholesome dish, and Mpuke is very fond of it. You may not agree with him unless you like sour milk; for the pudding has a flavour very much like that.

As soon as the meat is cooked, it is cut up and placed in earthen jars, a quantity of pepper is added, and palm oil poured over it to make a rich gravy.

The men eat their breakfast first. When it is finished they sit around under the trees while the women and children satisfy their hunger. The manner in which these people eat is not at all nice, but we must always remember they have never been taught a better way.

There is no table to set; no knives, or forks, or spoons. The savages use only the kind they carry around with them, furnished by Mother Nature when they were born.

They gather around the jars and take out the pieces of meat with their fingers, sopping up the gravy with the manioc bread. Now for some palm wine to quench their thirst.

The meal is quickly over. We are glad, for it has not been pleasant to watch.

Both men and women join in a friendly smoke. From the laughing and chattering they must be having a merry time.

But it is growing warm as the sunshine finds its way through the foliage, and there is much work to do before the stifling noon hours.

The women and children hurry away to their plantations of sweet potatoes, or groundnuts (peanuts), or tobacco.  Some of the men get their spears and bows and arrows for hunting. Others prepare nets for fishing in the river. Every one is so busy that the village suddenly becomes quiet. 


We will follow Mpuke on his way to the blacksmith, who is also the dentist in this little settlement. “What,” we say, “is it possible that a savage knows how to fill teeth?” We discover that his work is of a very different kind from that of any dentist we ever met in white man's land. His business is to grind the beautiful white teeth of the people till they are wedge-shaped. Mpuke is going to his hut to-day for this very purpose. His father has a small looking-glass he bought from the white traders, and when Mpuke is a good boy he is allowed to take it and look at himself for a few minutes. He will take great delight in viewing his teeth after they have been ground to the fashionable shape. There is some danger of his growing vain over the compliments he will receive. In the eyes of his own people he is a handsome boy, and needs only the finishing touch to his teeth to make him a beauty.

It is to be hoped that he will not become a dandy when he grows up. His mind, however, is very busy in thinking of warfare and hunting, and he is inclined to scorn the men who think too much of their looks.

See! There is one of the village dandies, now. He is strutting along like a peacock, and expects every one to stop and look at him. He has spent a long time in plastering his hair with clay well mixed with palm oil. The oil is fairly dripping from his face and neck now. We certainly can't admire this style of beauty, so we will turn our attention to the hut on the other side of the road.

The man in the doorway is busy at his work. He is shaping jars and dishes out of clay. Some of the jars are beautiful in shape.

Wouldn't you like to buy one of them? A few beads or a bit of bright calico would pay him well, according to his ideas.

Hark! There is the sound of a hammer. Let us take a peep inside of this next hut;  we must discover what is being done here. A metal-worker is making armlets and anklets of copper. They will find a ready sale in the village, for no woman considers herself well-dressed unless she is able to wear a number of such ornaments. She is willing to work very hard on the plantation if she can earn enough jewelry to make a rattling noise and a fine display as she walks along.


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