The time was in the middle of the 19th century. It was a time when England was at the apex of its power.
Three young British gentlemen wanted an adventure. They were all sons of the wealthy elite of England. Percy was the son of Lord Withers. Archibald was the son of a wealthy owner of a fleet of ships. Rex was the son of the largest farmer on the Irish island. The young men had time on their hands and little to do. All were in their mid-twenties and had no reason to worry about earning money. They spent their time gambling, drinking, and chasing young ladies. They were handsome men and they caught their share of young ladies. They were just bored.
Rex suggested they go to America and witness the wild, savage Indians. Percy made the suggestion that they go to China and smoke opium. Archibald came up with the best idea. They should go to Africa and explore the dark continent. All three of the young men thought this a capital idea. It was an idea full of adventure and a certain amount of danger. The next decision they had to make was where in Africa to go. South Africa and east Africa were all pretty well explored and would not be exciting. Arch (short for Archibald) had heard of a mighty river that ran into the sea in West Africa. This river was named the Congo. He thought that they should travel this river to its head waters and find out how long it is and where it starts.
The river runs into the sea in the Belgian Congo, a colony of Belgium. They approached the Belgian Embassy in London about their plans and what they would need. The Belgian Ambassador was very helpful to them and gave them maps and names and all the information that he had about the river and the region. He even sent a message to his cousin, the High Commissioner of the colony, about the young men and their plans and asked him to give them what assistance they needed. With that detail taken care of they prepared to leave. Archibald’s father had a ship leaving for Africa in a month. It was going to South Africa but would drop the men at the mouth of the river. The Belgians had promised to have porters and boats for them when they arrived. The excitement was about to begin.
The ship left the men on the shore with all of their supplies. They were met by an English speaking emissary of the High Commissioner and were shown the arrangements that had been made. They were anxious to pursue this great adventure. The emissary furnished them maps of the river as far as the Belgian territory extended. Four days later, they departed. The black oarsmen were strong and capable. They loaded the three boats with the supplies so they were well balanced and they pushed off. They stopped frequently to view wildlife or to examine insects or reptiles or birds. The young men were having the time of their lives. It was exciting and interesting and they were learning a great deal about the dark continent and its flora and fauna. They thought it was beautiful. About ten days into the trip they landed the boats on the river bank. Percy had seen a flower that they had not seen before. Percy was the one interested in the flora of the continent.
They departed the boats and went looking for the flower. It was about 100 yards from the river and on the edge of the rain forest. The land leading to the flower was covered in a grassy weed but was not overgrown so they could walk straight to the flower. Percy was examining the flower when he noticed what looked to be stone inside the underbrush. He started moving the plants aside and found a solid wall of stone that had to be manmade. They had the porters remove the plants and what they found was incredible. It was a small building made of some type of hard stone. The stone was cut into blocks to make the structure and the blocks were cut so perfect that there was no space between the blocks. The building was only about six feet wide and eight feet long. There was a door about five feet high and two feet wide. How did such a building get built in the middle of the rain forest?
Another day into the trip Percy became ill and needed to turn back. He took one of the boats and six of the porters to return to the coast. Arch and Rex were having such fun that they decided to push on. They were never seen or heard of again.
When Percy arrived back at the coast they told him he had malaria and needed to return to England for treatment. There was a ship leaving that day for Antwerp and it would be easy to get a ship to England from there. Percy told them of the unusual building they had found and showed them on the map exactly where it could be found. The Belgian emissary was curious and promised to look into it.
An archeological expedition had just arrived. They wanted to look at some sites on the coast. When they were told of the discovery made by the English men they became curious and decided to look into it. They knew from past experience that the natives of Africa had no skill or knowledge on this type of building. The expedition headed up river to the spot that Percy had told them. It was easy to find as the building could now be seen from the river with all the over growth removed. The team removed even more growth so they could give it a close examination. They were quick to determine that the stone was granite. There was no granite in that part of Africa. Granite is an igneous rock and requires the pressure of a large glacier or ice pack to form. How had it gotten here and who had brought it?
The team took accurate measurements and even a sample of the stone. They determined that the building walls were 18 inches thick and that the building had once had a pitched roof, probably of wood and thatch. This was a puzzle that could not be solved in the rain forest. This would require more investigating and lab work. They left the site after carefully leaving a large cairn to mark the spot. They also removed more of the under and overgrowth so it would not be covered so quickly.
As time went on, many archeological teams examined the site but no one came up with a solution. It was a puzzling mystery. Was it brought by extra-terrestrials was one theory that was put forward but was quickly discredited. However, no one had a better theory.
Edvard Berg arrived in Kinshasa in 1958. Edvard had recently graduated from the University of Stavanger with a degree in Archeology and was looking for something exciting to work on. He had heard of some exciting digs that were taking place on the Atlantic coast and was invited to take part. Archeologists like to talk and soon the talk got around to the strange stone house on the Congo River and what it could be and who had built it. Edvard decided to take a look at this mysterious building so arrangements were made for him to go upriver. They arranged for a fast boat to take him to the site. What had taken the young English men ten days to row now took only a full day of daylight to reach the site of the building. When the boat landed and Edvard could see the building he knew exactly what it was. It was a prayer house that was used by the ancient Norsemen. It was used to ensure a safe trip. Edvard had participated in digs along the North coast and had seen three of these little houses at the head of fjords in far north Norway. He even recognized the stone as granite that comes from the area where the prayer houses were used. The granite has particular streaks of light brown that makes it unique. Now the mystery was solved of what it was but an even greater mystery was how did it get to central Africa?
The year was 1117 AD but no one knew that. It was just a new year that comes. Brynjulf Aronson was going to lead a group of long boats to the Mediterranean Sea to do some trading with the Turks and Egyptians. This would be a Viking (the term was then used as meaning going on a long journey). Each of the sixty men went to the prayer house to say a prayer for a safe journey. The prayer house was designed so only one man at a time could be inside and could be free to say what was in his heart. The Norsemen in this part of the world would never consider a Viking without using the prayer house. The Norsemen were great traders and travelled most of the Atlantic and Mediterranean looking for trading opportunities.
Brynjulf and the six long boats left the fjord and went into the Atlantic and turned south. Brynjulf had taken this journey several times and knew the way well. He knew what areas to avoid and where they could stop to replenish their supplies. If the local inhabitants did not want to trade for supplies then the Norsemen just took what they needed. The Norsemen were fierce looking and very strong and few men were willing to stand up to them. They took what they needed. They were nearing the turn to the straits to go into the Mediterranean when the weather took a turn. A tremendous storm blew down from the North and the waves and current were stronger than anyone had ever seen. The storm blew them past the entrance to the Mediterranean but they were not aware the storm had blown them so far south so they kept going. They came on the delta of a great river and Brynjulf knew they had gone too far.
They could turn the boats around and go back to the north. Instead, Brynjulf decided to explore this great river. It may lead to some excellent trade opportunities and Brynjulf decided that as long as they were here they should explore. The long boats headed up the river. After nine days of going up river the terrain was getting more and more inhospitable and the Norsemen were getting nervous about going on. They would be more comfortable if they had a prayer house but that was a long way from them.
Rather than go further, Brynjulf decided to leave the area. He knew that there were opportunities up that river but he would not proceed without having a prayer house to help them on their travel upriver. They returned to the Atlantic and turned north. They found the entrance to the Mediterranean but they continued north. All of the Norsemen were obsessed with discovering the trading opportunities that were up that river. They returned to the fjord and starting cutting the blocks for a new prayer house. They built the house to be certain everything fit perfectly and then took it apart and loaded it on the long boats. They had to build two additional boats to handle the weight of the stone. Twenty additional men wanted to go after they heard of what had been seen and the possibilities that lay ahead.
The boats headed down the fjord to the Atlantic and turned south. The eighty men were excited and rowed particularly hard to shorten the trip. After two months of travel they reached the delta of the great river. They proceeded up the river to the place where they had stopped and brought the boats to the bank. They unloaded the stones and proceeded to assemble the prayer house. They cut the wood for the roof and fashioned a roof covering out of the local material. The prayer house was finished and ready to hear the prayers of the Norsemen. It took three days for the eighty men to say the prayers but they were finally finished and everyone agreed that they were protected.
The Norsemen were enervated after the prayer house was built and were ready to move on up river. They were certain that untold riches awaited them at the end of the journey. They loaded up the long boats and pushed off from the bank to continue the journey.
After eight days of rowing up river it was time for a meeting of the men. Brynjulf was sensing some unrest and needed to find out what was going on. The Norse did not operate their voyages with the leader making all of the decisions. All men had an equal say in decisions that affected the entire group. They stopped on an island in the middle of the river. It was time for the men to have a day of rest. They had been rowing hard for the eight days. As the river narrowed the current became stronger against the men rowing upstream and the rowing was difficult. The men were grateful about the decision to rest.
The group got together to discuss the reasons for the unrest. One of the men expressed that he was tired of the river. He was tired of the heat. They were used to living where the weather was cool or cold. He was tired of insects that were a constant nuisance. They had mosquitoes in the north but only during the warmest weather. He was tired of the dangers in the water. The crocodiles were fierce. There were no dangerous animals in the fjord. Mostly he was tired of hearing the drums in the rain forest that continued from sunup to sundown. They had no idea what the drums meant or who was banging them. When he was finished, other men agreed that they had the same trepidations and concerns. In all, twenty men wanted to turn around and go back north where they were comfortable. The other sixty men wanted to continue upriver and find the riches they were certain were there.
The next morning at daybreak six long boats pushed from the bank and continued up the Congo River. Two boats remained on the bank and twenty men watched the departing boats until they rounded a bend and disappeared from sight. Then they pushed off their two long boats and proceeded down river toward the sea. They were relieved that they were leaving this inhospitable place. On the way to the sea they would pass the prayer house and decided to stop to assure their safe journey back to their home in the north.
They rounded a bend in the river and could see the prayer house and they were happy for the solace that the prayer house could offer them for the long journey ahead. They landed the boats. They were pleased that the drums stopped banging when they landed. The drums were making them miserable. They proceeded to the prayer house to begin the prayer ritual. Then they were surrounded. About eighty black men stepped from the half moon of forest around the prayer house. The men had left their weapons in the long boats and were unable to defend themselves. Their weapons would have been useless. They were close combat weapons such as axes and swords. Each black man carried three spears to throw. A hail of spears came at the men. Not all spears hit a man but enough spears hit the men that they were dead. All but two of the dead were thrown into the river where the crocodiles made short work of cleaning up the debris. The natives took the possessions of the men from the long boats and set the boats adrift. They took the two dead bodies and left the clearing to return to the village. Why they took the two bodies can only be surmised.
Brynjulf and the other men continued up the river but it was becoming increasingly difficult. Many men were getting feverish and were lacking strength to continue. More and more men were getting fever. Six men died of the fever the next day. Two more days and all of the men had the fever. They knew they would all be dead soon and did not know what they could do to get better. The men had malaria and malaria requires rest and clean water and protection from the sun. They found a clearing on the banks of the river that extended far enough from the river that crocodiles would not be a threat. They used the long boats to fashion a fence that would keep the wild animals and crocodiles from invading the area and they laid down to rest.
As the days wore on more men died. Finally they were down to twenty men left alive but they were all ill with fever and would soon be dead. Brynjulf said his goodbyes to the men and lay down to die. The men were too weak to even remove the dead bodies from the protected area and the area was becoming increasingly nauseous with the putrid smell of rotting flesh.
The men were unconscious and almost dead when the natives came. They picked up the men that were still alive and carried them down a path through the rain forest to the village. The village was only 500 yards from the clearing by the river and was very well organized. The rondavels that were the homes of the natives were in a circle and surrounded a large common house in the middle of the village. Each of the men was put in a separate house to be cared for by one of the native women. The natives had been watching the men and had waited until they were too weak from the fever to offer resistance or to be a threat.
The natives had been dealing with the fever for thousands of years. They learned that with proper care the fever would not kill an adult and they knew the proper care. The secrets of the care had been passed from mother to daughter for longer than imaginable. They knew the type of tree that had the bark that would help the fever get better. They knew the flower that when mixed into a potion would help the aching joints that the fever caused. They knew the type of plant that would stop the loose bowels that the fever caused. The only thing they didn’t know was that the fever was called malaria. They did know that the fever was caused from being bitten by a mosquito. They also knew that small children would die from the fever and no treatment would help them. They learned to fashion netting from stringy grasses that the little children could sleep under so the mosquitoes couldn’t get to them. They had learned to survive in the tropical rain forest.
Four of the men were too far gone when the natives started to help them and they died. They were buried in the forest. The other men were starting to get better and soon were up and walking. Brynjulf was ready to get going on up the river when he learned an awful fact. They were not free to leave. Their long boats had been set adrift and were now a long distance away, maybe to the ocean.
Why had one tribe slaughtered one group of the strange men and a different tribe saved the lives of this group? Why had the tribe wanted them to stay? They were different and unused to the ways of the tribe and the ways of survival in the harsh environment of the rain forest. Did the tribe have a special use for the strangers?
The men healed and started moving around. They noticed a peculiar thing about the village. It was almost entirely populated by women. Where were the men?
This tribe had an enemy. They had many battles and the battles were fierce and deadly. Several years before all of the men of the village had left the village to fight a battle with the other tribe. They left only the old men and young boys. Any man between the age of 14 and 60 went to war. The battle occurred and is still talked about. Eighty men of the tribe went to the battle. The other tribe sent eighty men. At the end of a bloody day only four men were alive, two from each tribe. The survivors met and agreed that they would never fight again and would live in peace.
Sixteen men of the sixty men that had gone upriver had survived. They had no way of knowing that the twenty men that had left the group were dead. They were beginning to understand why they were saved. The native women were hard workers but they did not have the strength of a man and certain jobs had to be done by a man if the tribe were to survive. Men were hunters. Women were gatherers. The men killed animals for meat so the tribe could have the protein necessary for survival. The women gathered the edible plants that grew in the forest so the tribe could have the other nutrients necessary for survival. Now the tribe had men to do the jobs that only men could do.
The Norsemen were not skilled hunters. In their society the animals were captive and did not require hunting. They were quick to learn. They learned that you only hunted the animals that ate grass and leaves. This was the meat you could eat. The animals that ate meat were only killed to protect themselves. The people did not eat that meat as it had a bad taste and could have a disease. They learned to hunt as close as possible to the village as they had to carry the kill to the village for the women to prepare. They learned not to kill an animal of a larger size than four men could carry. They learned to use the throwing spears. They learned where the spear needed to hit the animal to be certain of a kill. In a short time the men were accomplished hunters. Animals were in abundant supply in the rain forest and were easily found. This was a task that the men were happy to learn and to accomplish.
There were other tasks that the men were needed for. They needed the strength of the men to carry in logs of downed trees to the village for a source of firewood. Fortunately, the natives that set the long boats adrift had saved the weapons and hid them from the men. One day, one of the men found the cache of weapons. The native women were frightened that the men would make a new boat to take them down the river. The women need not have feared. The Norsemen were happy with their situation. They were working hard but were enjoying the life. They were learning new skills. The rain forest supplied a plentiful supply of food and no one went hungry. The men used the weapons to cut wood which made life simpler for everyone. They could cut trees closer to the village so they did not have to search the rain forest for trees that had fallen.
The men were needed for protection of the tribe. Men were warriors but women were not able to be protectors. Other tribes sent spies to look at the people of the village. When they saw the new men with the large, muscular bodies and the abundance of hair they returned to their tribes and told them to leave that tribe alone as the new arrivals would be dangerous. The Norsemen never had to fight as their appearance frightened the natives into leaving them alone.
The men were also needed for another task. Without men the tribe would have withered and died. The men were needed for procreation. After the men were well there were many women in the village with round bellies. Within a year of the men being brought to the village there were fifty new babies. The following year there were fifty more new babies. Unfortunately the rain forest is not a good place to bear a child. Of the fifty babies that were born only about 20 lived to the end of their first year. The next year was the same. But the tribe had 43 new lives and it was hoped that the procreation would continue until the tribe was strengthened with new life and hope. The natives were surprised that the babies skin was of a lighter color than the mothers but darker than the Norsemen. This lightness continued with each birth of new children.
The Norsemen were happy. They had a good life with all the necessities they needed. Brynjulf thought back to the decision to go up the river to find riches. He thought they had found a rich life.
Life was good.
As an end to this story I would like to revisit the adventure of Arch and Rex, the two English gentlemen who left their friend Percy at the prayer house. They continued up the Congo River for another 10 days. They both contracted the fever on the trip and became increasingly ill until finally the porters accompanying them had to stop. They put Arch and Rex on the ground and left them. Curiously, this was the same place where Brynjulf and the Norsemen had stopped. Arch and Rex were without help and were dying. In their last moments they were aware of several light skinned natives trying to help them. They were giving them some type of potion but it was too late. The last person they saw was a very light skinned man with an abundance of body hair.
What of the tribe?
Could the other tribes in the area have wiped them out? They were different and humans have a fear of different that causes them to act irrationally.
Could the young Englishmen have brought with them a disease for which the tribe had no natural immunity or natural cures?
Could they be living deep in the African rain forest? This is an area that is still unexplored and remote. Even now they talk about the strange tribe in the middle of the rain forest where the people have light colored skin. Is this the tribe of Brynjulf and the Norsemen?