Monthly scrap book, for August/Elephant Hunting

Monthly scrap book, for August  (1832) 
Elephant Hunting




Bruce relates the Abyssinian mode of destroying the elephant from his own observation, during his return from Gondah, and while sojourning with Ayto Confu. His narrative is in these words.

Though we were all happy to our wish in this enchanted mountain, the active spirit of Ayto Confu could not rest. He was come to hunt the elephant, and hunt him he would. All those that understood any thing of this exercise had assembled from a great distance, to meet Ayto Confu at Tcherkin. He and Engeadan, from the moment they arrived, had been overlooking from the precipice their servants training and managing their horses in the market-place below. Great bunches of the finest canes had been brought from Kawra for javelins; and the whole house was employed in fitting heads to them in the most advantageous manner. For my part, though I should have been very well contented to have remained where I was, yet the preparations for sport of so noble a kind roused my spirits, and made me desirous to join in it.

On the 6th, an hour before day, after a hearty breakfast, we mounted on horse-back, to the number of about thirty, belonging to Ayto Confu. But there was another body, both of horse and foot, which made hunting the elephant their particular business. These men dwell constantly in the woods, and know very little of the use of bread, living entirely upon the flesh of the beasts they kill, chiefly that of the elephant or rhinoceros. They are exceedingly thin, light, and agile, both on horseback and foot; are very swarthy, though few of them black; none of them woolly-headed, and all of them have European features. They are called Agageer, a name of their profession, not of their nation, which comes from the word agar, and signifies to hough or hamstring with a sharp weapon. More properly it means the cutting of the tendon of the heel, and is a characteristic of the manner in which they kill the elephant, which is shortly as follows:

Two men, absolutely naked, without any rag or covering at all about them, get on horseback; this precaution is for fear of being laid hold of by the trees or bushes in making their escape from a very watchful enemy. One of these riders sits upon the back of the horse, sometimes with a saddle, and sometimes without one, with only a switch, or short stick in one hand, carefully managing the bridle with the other; behind him sits his companion, who has no other arms than a broad sword, such as is used by Sclavonians, and which is brought from Trieste. His left hand is employed grasping the sword by the handle; about fourteen inches of the blade is covered with whipcord. This part he takes in his right hand, without any danger of being hurt by it; and though the edges of the lower part of the sword are as sharp as a rapier, he carries it without a scabbard.

As soon as the elephant is found feeding, the horseman rides before him as near his face as possible; or, if he flies, crosses him in all directions, crying out, "I am such a man and such a man; this is my horse that has such a name; I killed your father in such a place, and your grandfather in such another place; and I am now come to kill you; you are but an ass in comparison of them." This nonsense he verily believes the elephant understands, who, chafed and angry at hearing the noise immediately before him, seeks to seize him with his trunk, or proboscis; and, intent upon this, follows the horse everywhere, turning and turning round with him, neglectful of making his escape by running straight forward, in which consists his only safety. After having made him turn once or twice in pursuit of the horse, the horseman rides close up alongside of him, and drops his companion just behind on the off side; and while he engages the elephant's attention upon the horse, the footman behind gives him a drawn stroke just above the heel, or what in man is called the tendon of Achilles. This is the critical moment; the horseman immediately wheels round, takes his companion up behind him, and rides off full speed after the rest of the herd, if they have started more than one; and sometimes an expert agageer will kill three out of one herd. If the sword is good, and the man not afraid, the tendon is commonly entirely separated; and if it is not cut through, it is generally so far divided, that the animal, with the stress he puts upon it, breaks the remaining part asunder. In either case, he remains incapable of advancing a step, till the horseman's return, or his companions coming up pierce him through with javelins and lances: he then falls to the ground, and expires with loss of blood.

The agageer nearest me presently lamed his elephant, and left him standing. Ayto Engedan, Ayto Confu, Guebra Mariam, and several others, fixed their spears in the other before the agageer had cut his tendons. My agageer, however, having wounded the first elephant, failed in the pursuit of the second; and being close upon him at the entrance of the wood, he received a violent blow from the branch of a tree which the elephant had bent by his weight, and, after passing, allowed it to replace itself; when it knocked down both the riders, and very much hurt the horse. This, indeed, is the great danger in elephant-hunting; for some of the trees, that are dry and short, break by the violent pressure of so immense a body moving so rapidly, and fall upon the pursuers, or across the roads. But the greatest number of these trees being of a succulent quality, they bend without breaking, and return quickly to the former position, when they strike both horse and man so violently, that they often beat them to pieces. Dexterous too as the riders are, the elephant sometimes reaches them with his trunk, with which he dashes the horse against the ground, and then sets his feet upon him, till he tears him limb from limb with his proboscis; a great many hunters die this way. Besides this, the soil at this time of the year is split into deep chasms, or cavities, by the heat of the sun, so that nothing can be more dangerous than the riding.

The elephant once slain, they cut the whole of the flesh off his bones into thongs, like the reins of a bridle, and hang these like festoons upon the branches of trees, till they become perfectly dry, without salt; and then they lay them up for their provisions in the season of the rains.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.