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THE ELEPHANT HUNT.
MPUKE is wildly delighted when he finds that he may go on the hunt. But he is warned to be very quiet; he must not even whisper as the party creeps through the dense forest.
The hunt will be a failure unless the elephants are taken by surprise while they are sleeping. The men know that the wind is in their favour, since it is blowing from the elephants toward them. Otherwise, the keen-scented creatures would quickly discover the Approach of their enemies.
Listen! do you hear that queer noise? It is the champing sound the elephants make in their throats when they are asleep. The hunters creep nearer and nearer; more and more and more carefully, if possible, they turn aside the thick undergrowth of trees and bushes. Ah! Mpuke's father is within a dozen yards of the herd. He looks keenly about till he discovers a huge tusker; he gives a signal to two of his followers to bring up the gun. It is carefully placed and aimed at a spot in the elephant's forehead about four inches above the eyes. It is a vital spot. Two of the best marksmen of the party direct their poisoned arrows at the heart. If all succeed in reaching the parts aimed at there will be nothing to fear. But if the huge creature is only slightly wounded, woe to Mpuke and this company of men who are taking their lives in their hands at this moment! A maddened elephant is a fearful creature to encounter. Hush! Steady now! Bang! sounds the gun. At the same moment the arrows are let loose from the bows. The bullet was aimed well. It enters the exact spot intended.
The arrows do their work. The king of the forest rolls over on his side without a sound. There is not even a death struggle, but there is a sudden commotion among the rest of the herd; it is as though a whirlwind had arisen. Every animal is instantly awake; the herd closes together like a great army. There is an angry uproar, a tremendous trumpeting and bellowing; the forest echoes and reechoes with the sound. The ground shakes beneath their feet. Madly plunging through the forest, the elephants flee in an opposite direction from the men. As they rush onward, great limbs of trees are torn off as though they were only straws.
Suppose they had turned toward the hunters, instead of from them! It is useless to think of it, -- for this time, at least, no one has been harmed. And now the men gather around their prey lying lifeless on the ground.
“Owi?” (“Is it dead?”) Mpuke anxiously whispers. His father assures him of the fact, and allows the boy to take part in cutting the flesh away from the monstrous prize.
In a few moments the women of the village appear, carrying baskets. They have followed the party at a distance; they knew their help would be needed if any prey were secured.
The hunt has been a marvellous success. It often happens that hunters are obliged to wait in the underbrush for hours before they can get near enough for a good shot, or to gain such a position as to be able to cut the sinews of the sleeping elephant's legs with their spears, for this makes the animal helpless.
But the safest and most common way of hunting elephants is to dig immense pits near their feeding-grounds. These are covered over with branches. The unwary elephant who comes this way makes a false step, and falls helpless into the pit. It is an easy matter then for the men to approach and kill him, either with their spears or bows and arrows.
But we must turn again to Mpuke and his companions. It is not long before the busy workers have removed all the flesh, and packed it in the big baskets. The monstrous ears must be saved; they will be useful to take the place of carts in harvest time. Two of the strongest men are loaded with the ivory tusks; they must be kept to sell to the traders.
The party hurries homeward, chattering in childish delight over the fun they will have this evening. They leave behind them only the skeleton of the huge animal which two hours since was so powerful.
As soon as they reach the village the boys are put to work. They must dig a pit, and bring wood to fill it. A fire must be kindled and kept burning till the sides of this earthen oven are thoroughly heated. After this the fire is put out, and one of the elephant's legs is laid in the oven.
The women bring green wood and fresh grass to lay over the roast, after which the hole is plastered tightly with mud. But the queer oven is not yet closed tightly enough. The loose earth taken from the pit is piled high above it, so that no heat can possibly escape.
You wonder how long the people must wait before their roast can be served. It will be a day and a half, at least; but when the time does come to open the pit the cooks will find enough tender, juicy meat to furnish every one in the village with a hearty meal.
The leg of an elephant is the most eatable portion of the animal; the rest of the flesh is tough and fibrous, although the negroes eat it, and enjoy it very much. The women smoke it, much as our people smoke ham, and in this way they can keep it a long time for use.
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