The Land of Footprints by Stewart Edward White
Appendix V. The American in Africa. What He Should Take
Before going to Africa I read as many books as I could get hold of on the subject, some of them by Americans. In every case the authors have given a chapter detailing the necessary outfit. Invariably they have followed the Englishman's ideas almost absolutely. Nobody has ventured to modify those ideas in any essential manner. Some have deprecatingly ventured to remark that it is as well to leave out the tinned carfare-if you do not like carfare; but that is as far as they care to go. The lists are those of the firms who make a business of equipping caravans. The heads of such firms are generally old African travellers. They furnish the equipment their customers demand; and as English sportsmen generally all demand the same thing, the firms end by issuing a printed list of essentials for shooting parties in Africa, including carfare. Travellers follow the lists blindly, and later copy them verbatim into their books. Not one has thought to empty out the whole bag of tricks, to examine them in the light of reason, and to pick out what a man of American habits, as contrasted to one of English habits, would like to have. This cannot be done a priori; it requires the test of experience to determine how to meet, in our own way, the unusual demands of climate and conditions.
And please note, when the heads of these equipment firms, these old African travellers, take the field for themselves, they pay no attention whatever to their own printed lists of "essentials."
Now, premising that the English sportsman has, by many years' experience, worked out just what he likes to take into the field; and assuring you solemnly that his ideas are not in the least the ideas of American sportsman, let us see if we cannot do something for ourselves.
At present the American has either to take over in toto the English idea, which is not adapted to him, and is-to him-a nuisance, or to go it blind, without experience except that acquired in a temperate climate, which is dangerous. I am not going to copy out the English list again, even for comparison. I have not the space; and if curious enough, you can find it in any book on modern African travel. Of course I realize well that few Americans go to Africa; but I also realize well that the sportsman is a crank, a wild and eager enthusiast over items of equipment anywhere. He-and I am thinking emphatically of him-would avidly devour the details of the proper outfit for the gentle art of hunting the totally extinct whiffenpoof.
Let us begin, first of all, with:
Personal Equipment Clothes. On the top of your head you must have a sun helmet. Get it of cork, not of pith. The latter has a habit of melting unobtrusively about your ears when it rains. A helmet in brush is the next noisiest thing to a circus band, so it is always well to have, also, a double terai. This is not something to eat. It is a wide felt hat, and then another wide felt hat on top of that. The vertical-rays-of-the-tropical-sun (pronounced as one word to save time after you have heard and said it a thousand times) are supposed to get tangled and lost somewhere between the two hats. It is not, however, a good contraption to go in all day when the sun is strong.
As underwear you want the lightest Jaeger wool. Doesn't sound well for tropics, but it is an essential. You will sweat enough anyway, even if you get down to a brass wire costume like the natives. It is when you stop in the shade, or the breeze, or the dusk of evening, that the trouble comes. A chill means trouble, sure. Two extra suits are all you want. There is no earthly sense in bringing more. Your tent boy washes them out whenever he can lay hands on them-it is one of his harmless manias.
Your shirt should be of the thinnest brown flannel. Leather the shoulders, and part way down the upper arm, with chamois. This is to protect your precious garment against the thorns when you dive through them. On the back you have buttons sewed wherewith to attach a spine pad. Before I went to Africa I searched eagerly for information or illustration of a spine pad. I guessed what it must be for, and to an extent what it must be like, but all writers maintained a conservative reticence as to the thing itself. Here is the first authorized description. A spine pad is a quilted affair in consistency like the things you are supposed to lift hot flat-irons with. On the outside it is brown flannel, like the shirt; on the inside it is a gaudy orange colour. The latter is not for aesthetic effect, but to intercept actinic rays. It is eight or ten inches wide, is shaped to button close up under your collar, and extends halfway down your back. In addition it is well to wear a silk handkerchief around the neck; as the spine and back of the head seem to be the most vulnerable to the sun.
For breeches, suit yourself as to material. It will have to be very tough, and of fast colour. The best cut is the "semi-riding," loose at the knees, which should be well faced with soft leather, both for crawling, and to save the cloth in grass and low brush. One pair ought to last four months, roughly speaking. You will find a thin pair of ordinary khaki trousers very comfortable as a change for wear about camp. In passing I would call your attention to "shorts." Shorts are loose, bobbed off khaki breeches, like knee drawers. With them are worn puttees or leather leggings, and low boots. The knees are bare. They are much affected by young Englishmen. I observed them carefully at every opportunity, and my private opinion is that man has rarely managed to invent as idiotically unfitted a contraption for the purpose in hand. In a country teeming with poisonous insects, ticks, fever-bearing mosquitoes; in a country where vegetation is unusually well armed with thorns, spines and hooks, mostly poisonous; in a country where, oftener than in any other a man is called upon to get down on his hands and knees and crawl a few assorted abrading miles, it would seem an obvious necessity to protect one's bare skin as much as possible. The only reason given for these astonishing garments is that they are cooler and freer to walk in. That I can believe. But they allow ticks and other insects to crawl up, mosquitoes to bite, thorns to tear, and assorted troubles to enter. And I can vouch by experience that ordinary breeches are not uncomfortably hot or tight. Indeed, one does not get especially hot in the legs anyway. I noticed that none of the old-time hunters like Cuninghame or Judd wore shorts. The real reason is not that they are cool, but that they are picturesque. Common belief to the contrary, your average practical, matter-of-fact Englishman loves to dress up. I knew one engaged in farming-picturesque farming-in our own West, who used to appear at afternoon tea in a clean suit of blue overalls! It is a harmless amusement. Our own youths do it, also, substituting chaps for shorts, perhaps. I am not criticising the spirit in them; but merely trying to keep mistaken shorts off you.
For leg gear I found that nothing could beat our American combination of high-laced boots and heavy knit socks. Leather leggings are noisy, and the rolled puttees hot and binding. Have your boots ten or twelve inches high, with a flap to buckle over the tie of the laces, with soles of the mercury-impregnated leather called "elk hide," and with small Hungarian hobs. Your tent boy will grease these every day with "dubbin," of which you want a good supply. It is not my intention to offer free advertisements generally, but I wore one pair of boots all the time I was in Africa, through wet, heat, and long, long walking. They were in good condition when I gave them away finally, and had not started a stitch. They were made by that excellent craftsman, A. A. Cutter, of Eau Claire, Wis., and he deserves and is entirely welcome to this puff. Needless to remark, I have received no especial favours from Mr. Cutter.
Six pairs of woollen socks, knit by hand, if possible-will be enough. For evening, when you come in, I know nothing better than a pair of very high moosehide moccasins. They should, however, be provided with thin soles against the stray thorn, and should reach well above the ankle by way of defence against the fever mosquito. That festive insect carries on a surreptitious guerrilla warfare low down. The English "mosquito boot" is simply an affair like a riding boot, made of suede leather, with thin soles. It is most comfortable. My objection is that it is unsubstantial and goes to pieces in a very brief time even under ordinary evening wear about camp.
You will also want a coat. In American camping I have always maintained the coat is a useless garment. There one does his own work to a large extent. When at work or travel the coat is in the way. When in camp the sweater or buckskin shirt is handier, and more easily carried. In Africa, however, where the other fellow does most of the work, a coat is often very handy. Do not make the mistake of getting an unlined light-weight garment. When you want it at all, you want it warm and substantial. Stick on all the pockets possible, and have them button securely.
For wet weather there is nothing to equal a long and voluminous cape. Straps crossing the chest and around the waist permit one to throw it off the shoulders to shoot. It covers the hands, the rifle-most of the little horses or mules one gets out there. One can sleep in or on it, and it is a most effective garment against heavy winds. One suit of pajamas is enough, considering your tent boy's commendable mania for laundry work. Add handkerchiefs and you are fixed.
You will wear most of the above, and put what remains in your "officer's box." This is a thin steel, air-tight affair with a wooden bottom, and is the ticket for African work.
Sporting. Pick out your guns to suit yourself. You want a light one and a heavy one.
When I came to send out my ammunition, I was forced again to take the other fellow's experience. I was told by everybody that I should bring plenty, that it was better to have too much than too little, etc. I rather thought so myself, and accordingly shipped a trifle over 1,500 rounds of small bore cartridges. Unfortunately, I never got into the field with any of my numerous advisers on this point, so cannot state their methods from first-hand information. Inductive reasoning leads me to believe that they consider it unsportsmanlike to shoot at a standing animal at all, or at one running nearer than 250 yards. Furthermore, it is etiquette to continue firing until the last cloud of dust has died down on the distant horizon. Only thus can I conceive of getting rid of that amount of ammunition. In eight months of steady shooting, for example-shooting for trophies, as well as to feed a safari of fluctuating numbers, counting jackals, marabout and such small trash-I got away with 395 rounds of small bore ammunition and about 100 of large. This accounted for 225 kills. That should give one an idea. Figure out how many animals you are likely to want for any purpose, multiply by three, and bring that many cartridges.
To carry these cartridges I should adopt the English system of a stout leather belt on which you slip various sized pockets and loops to suit the occasion. Each unit has loops for ten cartridges. You rarely want more than that; and if you do, your gunbearer is supplied. In addition to the loops, you have leather pockets to carry your watch; your money, your matches and tobacco, your compass-anything you please. They are handy and safe. The tropical climate is too "sticky" to get much comfort, or anything else, out of ordinary pockets.
In addition, you supply your gunbearer with a cartridge belt, a leather or canvas carrying bag, water bottle for him and for yourself, a sheath knife and a whetstone. In the bag are your camera, tape line, the whetstone, field cleaners and lunch. You personally carry your field glasses, sun glasses, a knife, compass, matches, police whistle and notebook. The field glasses should not be more than six power; and if possible you should get the sort with detachable prisms. The prisms are apt to cloud in a tropical climate, and the non-detachable sort are almost impossible for a layman to clean. Hang these glasses around your neck by a strap only just long enough to permit you to raise them to your eyes. The best notebook is the "loose-leaf" sort. By means of this you can keep always a fresh leaf on top; and at night can transfer your day's notes to safe keeping in your tin box. The sun glasses should not be smoked or dark-you can do nothing with them-but of the new amberol, the sort that excludes the ultra-violet rays, but otherwise makes the world brighter and gayer. Spectacle frames of non-corrosive white metal, not steel, are the proper sort.
To clean your guns you must supply plenty of oil, and then some more. The East African gunbearer has a quite proper and gratifying, but most astonishing horror for a suspicion of rust; and to use oil any faster he would have to drink it.
Other Equipment. All this has taken much time to tell about, it has not done much toward filling up that tin box. Dump in your toilet effects and a bath towel, two or three scalpels for taxidermy, a ball of string, some safety-pins, a small tool kit, sewing materials, a flask of brandy, kodak films packed in tin, a boxed thermometer, an aneroid (if you are curious as to elevations), journal, tags for labelling trophies, a few yards of gun cloth, and the medicine kit.
The latter divides into two classes: for your men and for yourself. The men will suffer from certain well defined troubles: "tumbo," or overeating; diarrhaea, bronchial colds, fever and various small injuries. For "tumbo" you want a liberal supply of Epsom's salts; for diarrhaea you need chlorodyne; any good expectorant for the colds; quinine for the fever; permanganate and plenty of bandages for the injuries. With this lot you can do wonders. For yourself you need, or may need, in addition, a more elaborate lot: Laxative, quinine, phenacetin, bismuth and soda, bromide of ammonium, morphia, camphor-ice, and asperin. A clinical thermometer for whites and one for blacks should be included. A tin of malted milk is not a bad thing to take as an emergency ration after fever.
By this time your tin box is fairly well provided. You may turn to general supplies.