CUR­SED SA­BLE OF THE WIT­CHCRAFT KIND

So­meti­mes you need a litt­le ex­tra help to ha­ve a good hunt.

SA Jagter Hunter - - INHOUD -

GEOFF WAINWRIGHT

The Si­chi­fu­la Ga­me Ma­na­ge­ment A­rea in the Zam­bi­an pro­vin­ce of Ka­lo­ma was well-kno­wn for its mag­ni­fi­cent sa­ble an­te­lo­pe. The lands­ca­pe com­pri­sed 3 600km² of mi­om­bo and o­pen dam­bos, and the a­rea’s sout­hern­most ed­ge bor­de­red the Ka­fue Na­ti­o­nal Park. In the e­ar­ly 1970s I wor­ked the­re as a free­lan­ce pro­fes­si­o­nal hun­ter for a few sa­fa­ri com­pa­nies ba­sed in Lu­sa­ka and my first hunt of this par­ti­cu­lar se­a­son was for Pe­ter Ma­kan­da’s Mu­lo­be­zi Sa­fa­ris. This hunt star­ted off on a pe­cu­li­ar no­te and set the to­ne for w­hat was to co­me.

My client ar­ri­ved a week be­fo­re his hunt was sche­du­led to start. Ho­we­ver, soon af­ter ar­ri­ving at the ai­r­port and pass- ing through cu­s­toms the man went mis­sing. We se­ar­ched e­ver­y­w­he­re, e­ven the ho­tels and lod­ges in and a­round Lu­sa­ka, but to no a­vail. Af­ter a few days I e­ven­tu­al­ly ga­ve up and de­ci­ded to he­ad to the camp ho­ping to re­cei­ve word the­re from my mis­sing client. I lo­a­ded drums of fu­el on­to my Land Crui­ser and set off with my dri­ver, Sa­ka­la. Af­ter a ten-hour dri­ve we fi­nal­ly ar­ri­ved at our des­ti­na­ti­on. The camp was built in ty­pi­cal Zam­bi­an sty­le with huts and ot­her struc­tu­res ne­at­ly con­structed out of e­lep­hant grass and wooden po­les. From the low-wal­led di­ning a­rea, guar­ded by a clus­ter of palms, one could en­joy a view of a wa­ter­ho­le. Beyond that, grass­land stret­ched to a dis­tant wall of ha­ze-co­ve­r­ed mi­om­bo. Sa­ka­la and I step­ped out of the vehi­cle and we­re greeted by a guil­ty-look­ing staff. The cro­wd par­ted and a midd­lea­ged man with an air of aut­ho­ri­ty a­bout him step­ped for­ward and in­tro­du­ced him­self. He was Gustaf Ma­lan, my mis­sing client. With a vi­ce-li­ke grip, he gras­ped my hand and shook it in greet­ing.

Whi­le Sa­ka­la un­lo­a­ded the truck, I ex­cu­sed my­self and took stock of the sup­plies. Fi­re­wood and wa­ter we­re run­ning low and the ra­dio’s bat­te­ries we­re de­ad. We all toi­led in­to the nig­ht to fix e­ver­y­thing and re­stock sup­plies. La­ter that e­ve­ning, still dres­sed in my o­ver-

alls and o­ver a la­te sup­per, Gustaf bos­sed the wai­ters a­round whi­le we got to know one a­not­her. Gustaf, who o­w­ned a ski lod­ge in the Aus­tri­an Alps, had a­mong ot­her les­ser trophies, three pri­o­ri­ties on his hunting wish list: A sa­ble, a ro­an and a Lich­ten­stein’s har­te­beest. His rifle, if me­mo­ry ser­ves me cor­rect­ly, was a cu­s­tom-built 9.3x64 dou­ble, top­ped with a 3x va­ri­a­ble sco­pe. He ze­roed it in whi­le lo­a­fing in the camp be­fo­re my ar­ri­val.

Sit­ting round the fi­re, the nig­ht to our backs, he al­so re­lay­ed the sto­ry of his di­sap­pea­ring act at the ai­r­port. Upon his ar­ri­val in Lu­sa­ka he hi­red a Land Ro­ver and dri­ver to ta­ke him to the camp w­he­re he wan­ted to rest and accli­ma­ti­se him­self. He sent the dri­ver back with a no­te a­bout his w­he­re­a­bouts, ho­we­ver, we la­ter found out that the dri­ver on­ly re­por­ted to my of­fi­ce af­ter three days. We tal­ked la­te in­to the the nig­ht be­fo­re re­ti­ring to our huts.

AND SO IT WENT

The next mor­ning we cro­w­ded a­round the fi­re with mugs of ste­a­ming cof­fee, war­ming our hands as the sky­li­ne brig­h­te­ned be­fo­re da­wn. The staff for this hunt was new to me. T­ho­mas, the trac­ker, had a gui­nea-fo­wl fe­at­her in his hair and tri­bal scar­ring on his fa­ce. Wi­se­man, we­a­ring his com­pa­ny o­ver­all, was the skin­ner and No­ah, the go­vern­ment ga­me scout was the­re to o­ver­see the hunt.

Gustaf as­ked w­hat we will hunt first. “Any trop­hy that we co­me a­cross on your li­cen­ce,” I re­p­lied. “No! No!” he wag­ged his fin­ger in front of my fa­ce and de­man­ded, “the big an­te­lo­pes first”. And so it went... For three days, we pas­sed com­mon dui­ker in their num­bers, e­ven a sel­dom seen Sharp’s grys­bok. (I le­arnt so­mething new a­bout this dain­ty an­te­lo­pe’s u­nu­su­al ha­bit as it di­sap­pea­red do­wn an a­bando­ned ant be­ar ho­le.) Gustaf al­so ig­no­red my plea to ta­ke an ex­cep­ti­o­nal­ly-hor­ned o­ri­bi and la­ter a steen­buck. Then at last we star­ted seeing re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve sa­ble and har­te­beest.

One mor­ning, as we cros­sed a plain, the grass wet with dew, T­ho­mas tap­ped on the roof of the truck and Sa­ka­la broug­ht it to a stop. “M­pe­lem­be,” (me­a­ning ro­an in the lo­cal ver­na­cu­lar, Bem­ba) he said and poin­ted. We rai­sed our glas­ses. The herd con­sis­ted of a do­mi­nant ma­le with his ha­rem of fe­ma­les and their off­spring. No­ah lit a ci­ga­ret­te and blew the smo­ke out the win­dow. With the bree­ze to our ad­van­ta­ge, we sat de­ad still and wa­t­ched the a­ni­mals. As the sun war­med the plain, the herd va­nis­hed in­to a wooded is­land-li­ke a­rea of mi­om­bo. I jum­ped to the ground and T­ho­mas pas­sed me my .375 Hol­land & Hol­land. Gustaf, T­ho­mas and I then set off to find the ro­an whi­le Sa­ka­la and No­ah stay­ed be­hind to guard the vehi­cle.

With T­ho­mas in the le­ad we wal­ked at a good pa­ce to re­ach the ed­ge of the mi­om­bo. The trees to­we­red a­bo­ve us as we took up the ro­ans’ tracks. Vi­si­bi­li­ty be­t­ween the re­gi­ment of tree trunks was do­wn to 200 me­tres, at be­st. T­set­se flies in se­arch of b­lood, at­tac­ked in squa­drons and we ma­de fly s­wat­ters out of le­a­fy bran­ches to keep them at bay. All of a sud­den, an a­lar­ming horse-li­ke snort pier­ced the air. Caug­ht off guard we fro­ze, but it was too la­te. A beau­ti­ful black sa­ble bull, that had wa­t­ched our e­very mo­ve, w­heeled a­bout and bol­ted. His hoo­ves poun­ding the ground as he retre­a­ted be­t­ween the trees and di­sap­pea­red. With the wind un­fa­vou­ra­ble, I cho­se to con­ti­nue on the ro­ans’ tracks. This de­ci­si­on cle­ar­ly ir­ri­ta­ted Gustaf and his ey­es, ri­ve­ted to mi­ne, que­s­ti­o­ned me be­fo­re re­luc­tant­ly agreeing. We pres­sed on in the shade of the mi­om­bo fo­rest, mo­re a­lert than be­fo­re.

E­very now and then we stop­ped to look a­he­ad. We ma­de ste­a­dy pro­gress and soon the trees thin­ned al­lo­wing mo­re lig­ht to fil­ter through. En­te­ring an o­pe­ning dot­ted with low trees and waist-high bus­hes the sun be­at do­wn on us. We stop­ped to ha­ve a drink of wa­ter. A mo­vement in the dis­tan­ce caug­ht my eye and I rai­sed my field glas­ses to in­spect. A ma­le ro­an with good trop­hy horns fil­led my vi­si­on. »

» He was stan­ding guard be­low a tree and his ha­rem was bel­lydo­wn to one si­de, red-bil­led ox­pec­kers on their backs. We had our quar­ry, but he was too far for a per­fect shot.

Af­ter checking the wind, we u­sed the trees and bus­hes as co­ver to stalk clo­ser. Fi­nal­ly we we­re within ran­ge and I be­gan to set up the shoot­ing sticks. Then T­ho­mas tou­ched my shoul­der, whis­pe­red in my ear and poin­ted. Beyond the ro­an, a sa­ble bull was wal­king to­wards us, his he­ad cro­w­ned with splen­did horns. At the sa­me ti­me the ro­an was pre­sen­ting a per­fect shoul­der shot. Gustaf rested his 9.3x64 dou­ble on the sticks to shoot, but be­cau­se the sa­ble was his pre­mier trop­hy, he chan­ged his point of aim. “Sa­ble first,” he whis­pe­red to me, ig­no­ring my ple­as for him shoot the ro­an. I knew the sa­ble was too far and the shot too dif­fi­cult, sin­ce the a­ni­mal was fa­cing us, but I let him ha­ve his way. With my fin­gers in my e­ars and my ey­es trai­ned on both a­ni­mals, I was an­ti­ci­pa­ting that he would shoot e­ach an­te­lo­pe in turn. Ho­we­ver, he fi­red both bar­rels, his aim ne­ver le­a­ving the sa­ble. The ro­an ha­rem, frig­h­te­ned by the shots, sprang to their feet and, led by the bull, das­hed off. Dust and flying ox­pec­kers clou­ded my view of the sa­ble. As soon as e­ver­y­thing sett­led do­wn I as­ked Gustaf a­bout his shots. “Mis­sed,” he con­fes­sed and cur­sed soft­ly. We com­po­sed our­sel­ves be­fo­re ta­king up the sa­ble’s tracks, but found no signs of b­lood.

We trud­ged through the mi­om­bo and on­to the plain, our e­mo­ti­ons at a low ebb. Af­ter a whi­le we saw sun­lig­ht re­flecting off the Land Crui­ser’s windscreen and T­ho­mas wa­ved the shoot­ing sticks in the air. Within mi­nu­tes, Sa­ka­la and No­ah ar­ri­ved to pick us up and ta­ke us back to camp. On­ce the­re we sho­we­red and we­re sit­ting next to the camp­fi­re thin­king a­bout the day’s e­vents w­hen a wai­ter as­ked to speak to me in pri­va­te. I ex­cu­sed my­self from Gustaf and fol­lo­wed him. T­ho­mas and ot­her mem­bers of staff we­re wai­ting for me, their dark bo­dies out­li­ned a­gainst the g­rey of the nig­ht. S­pea­king in so­lemn to­nes, with a wor­ried look on his fa­ce T­ho­mas poin­ted to the he­a­vens. I lis­te­ned se­ri­ous­ly to w­hat he had to say.

Re­joi­ning Gustaf at the fi­re, I sip­ped my beer deep in thoug­ht. “Is the­re a pro­blem?” he as­ked with con­cern. “Yes!” I re­p­lied. “We ha­ve e­le­ven staff mem­bers who are mi­se­ra­ble and hun­gry for me­at. They are com­plai­ning that for days now we ha­ve pas­sed ma­ny small an­te­lo­pes and mis­sed two lar­ger on­es. Be­ans and u­ga­li (mai­ze me­al) is not e­nough for their sto­ma­chs. The­se men’s li­ves are stee­ped in wit­chcraft and they say their hunting gods are shou­ting for me­at. A ce­re­mo­ny must be per­for­med and b­lood must be spil­led.”

SABLES, CURSES AND CE­RE­MO­NIES

At first Gustaf scof­fed at the pro­po­sal, but to his as­to­nishment his rifle was broug­ht to him. The staff, led by T­ho­mas with his pen­chant for black ma­gic, ap­pea­red out of the gloom. He wo­re a ba­boon skin a­round his waist and the gui­ne­a­fo­wl fe­at­her in his hair. They greeted the se­a­ted Gustaf and sat do­wn. A hush fell o­ver them. Fla­mes flic­ke­red on T­ho­mas’s fa­ce as he re­a­ched out and scra­ped red-hot co­als ba­re­han­ded from the fi­re in­to a pi­le. He spat on his hand and star­ted to chant. From a pouch a­round his neck, he took out his se­cret in­gre­dients and sprin­kled them on­to the co­als. As the smo­ke ro­se, he fan­ned it and blew it o­ver Gustaf and his rifle. The hun­ter’s ey­es be­gan to wa­ter. The e­vil spi­rits be­hind the len­ses of Gustaf’s ey­es had been flus­hed out and the ri­tu­al was o­ver. We all fi­nal­ly stood up and took to our beds.

The next mor­ning, with rifles in the gun racks of the Land Crui­ser, we left camp. As our day pro­gres­sed, Gustaf shot a reed­buck and the staff was hap­py... B­lood was fi­nal­ly spil­led and that nig­ht we di­ned on fi­lets. Next to fol­low was a Lich­ten­stein’s har­te­beest. Ho­we­ver to bag a ro­an was not as e­a­sy. We first pas­sed up a so­li­ta­ry old ro­an ar­med with just one horn, be­fo­re shoot­ing a good trop­hy at mid­day. Gustaf’s sa­fa­ri was fi­nal­ly on track with dui­ker and o­ri­bi al­so in the skin­ning shed.

That day we de­ci­ded to lunch in the camp. Whi­le e­a­ting we saw in the dis­tan­ce beyond the wa­ter­ho­le a lo­ne sa­ble wal­king out of the mi­om­bo. I quick­ly pic­ked up my glas­ses and fo­cus­sing on the a­ni­mal I in­stant­ly re­a­li­sed it was the out­stan­ding trop­hy bull that we saw a few days e­ar­lier. Gustaf and I left our food and grab­bed our rifles. We hur­ried in­to the frin­ge of the mi­om­bo, u­sing the trees as co­ver. Keeping our quar­ry in sig­ht we we­re a­ble to stalk within shoot­ing ran­ge. We qui­et­ly clim­bed an an­thill and slo­w­ly pee­red o­ver the top. The sa­ble was jet black and had a hand­so­me, a­ris­to­cra­tic look a­bout him. He had whi­te fa­ce mar­kings and long, s­ci­mi­tar-shaped horns that swept back and al­most tou­ched his re­ar end.

The sound of Gustaf’s shot car­ried o­ver the plain in­to camp and the staff smi­led... Their ma­gic has wor­ked.

Geoff (on the left) and Gustaf po­sing with the sa­ble men­ti­o­ned in the sto­ry.

A p­ho­to of the crew meet­ing with Gustaf in camp.

Geoff tal­king on the ra­dio.

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