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Leopard Hunt


Hunting in African jungles with arrows and fangs, Prince Modupe has told many exciting adventures as like this one

When light flooded the tops of trees, Lamina’s hand pressed heavily on my shoulder. He was looking at me but saying nothing. I wanted him to say something. I wondered whether he would camp on the spot and wait for me to emerge from the forest. Or would he go back to the village? I hoped he would wait but I did not want to ask him to do it. Lamina’s hand pressed my shoulder. He felt my muscles, nodded his head in approval. He re-dipped my arrows and the tip of my fange sword into the poison. I was armed with all a man should need. I passed through the clinging screen of matted creepers ahead of the daylight. The enormous holes of the tree trunks were only a little darker than the spaces between them. I thought about leopards, hoping the power of my thought would bring one to me. This was the hour when they look for resting places after a night of prowling and killing. Often the rest place is a cave. But I knew of no such cave in this forest, only that the whole jungle seemed an enormous cave, roofed with darkness. The smell of the forest was cave-damp. I had food with me for three days but I hoped I would not have to stay that long. My stomach could hold out for three sundowns but I was not sure about my courage. A leopard who finds himself at daybreak some distance from his lair usually takes his day’s rest on a tree limb. This gives him a lookout position from which he can pounce on anyone or anything passing below. Many leopards lived in this jungle; we had the pelts of many who had died in this bush. I felt that death might be waiting for me above my head in any tree. I pressed on deeper into the forest along a narrow trail, making silent talk of encouragement to myself. My eyes ached with the great effort of trying to watch for danger above me, all around me. Part of the terror was that of being alone.

Africans conduct most of their activities in groups. We are not a solitary people. Our strength is in our togetherness. After a while the thought came to me that instead of walking about aimlessly and exposing myself to the unseen, I would do better to find the evening watering place of the forest animals and conceal myself. As for the actual, the four-footed dangers, even a hyena is brave at night.

There was a considerable growth of reeds along the banks of the stream and this I saw as a good sign for my purposes. It was the kind of growth where a leopard would skulk waiting for game to pass. I began to think of the leopard I hoped to see as a sort of release from the horror of having to spend the night by the river. The first large creatures I saw at there were a pair of red river hogs. They were so close to me I could see the coarse texture of their bright red-orange bristles, the white tufts at the ends of the ears. They drank, muddied the water, passed on to the other side of the stream. Monkeys swung out on branches overhanging the water. Slowly, I eased forward; slowly, a bit at a time, changed from my left to my right knee. I could feel the satisfying flex of the bow in my hand. Not out of the reeds as I had expected, but on the bank above the watering place, and to my right, the head and part profile of a large leopard came into view. He was watching the antelope, which gave me time for careful aim. I let go the arrow with all the force I could muster.

There followed a great commotion, a blood-curdling growl, as the beast leaped toward me. He seemed to come toward me with the same whiz of speed that my own arrow had taken toward him. I cannot remember sidestepping that straight yellow streak or reaching for my fange sword, or crouching for combat. Yet I must have done all of these things.

I do remember that the leopard peeled back his lips, that the bared teeth clicked like gourd shake-shakes, and that its breath was foul. I gathered all my strength behind the plunge of my poisoned fange but the brute’s claws found me. Blinded by a shower of my own blood streaming down from my scalp, I did not see the paw stroke which knocked the fange from my hand. My ‘one claw’ was gone. Somehow my hands found the animal’s throat. The poison on my weapons was taking heavy toll of the beast’s strength. I knew I had only to keep my hands pressed on its throat and his claws out of my belly until the poison had finished its work. The animal, even after its eyes began to dim, seemed capable of twisting and turning over inside its fur. My strength was going too. My legs had been clawed and I slid around in my own blood as I tried to clamp my knees against its ribs. My thumbs gouged into the neck fur where I thought the windpipe should be. When I felt I could not hold on another moment, I sensed Lamina at my side. Lamina’s presence was so real to me that the numbness in my shoulders seemed to be his hand pressing strength into me. Then my senses clouded and I did not feel Lamina’s nearness any more. When I regained consciousness, I was not in the forest, I was in my mother’s house. It was dawn by the time Lamina had found me and bound my wounds with herbs and leaves. He had managed to get me across the horse’s back and bring me home, no easy matter since the leopard’s blood smell was on me. Afterward, he had gone back to skin the dead leopard. I was worried about whether I would ever walk right again. A lame man is of little use to his tribe. Lamina was sure that I would. He was right. I have no limp but I bear the scars of the leopard’s claws on my left leg.


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