Savage Africa, ch. 33Edit

English originalEdit

Of all animals which have been classed as fabulous, the unicorn is the most remarkable, since to this very day it is impossible for a careful writer to make a positive assertion respecting its existence.

The ancients compared their monoceros to a horse with a stag's head, which proves that they had seen an animal very different from the rhinoceros. They also distinctly name the unicorn-ass, an animal of great size, swift of foot, solitary in his habits, and having a horn striped with white, black, and brown.

Garcias, a writer of the sixteenth century, relates that the Portuguese navigators saw, between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Corrientes, an animal having the head and mane of a horse, with one movable horn. In this same region Sparrman and Barrow saw representations of a one-horned animal. The rocks of Camdebo and Bambo are covered with them—a curious fact, setting zoology aside; for it proves the ancient connection of Caffraria with Asia; the unicorn, among the Persians and Hebrews, being the symbol of kingly power. It is with this meaning delineated on the monuments of Persepolis, and on the royal arms of Great Britain.

The Dutch colonists also, according to Voight, affirmed that they had seen these animals alive and that they resembles the quagga, while the horn adhered only to the skin.

According to Merolla, the real unicorn is extinct; though I shall quote better authority to prove the it is living than that upon which he makes this assertion. "Here," he says, writing of Angola, "is also the unicorn, called by the Congolans abada, whose medicinal virtue, being sufficiently known, needs not to be taken notice of. These unicorns are very different from those commonly mentioned by authors; and, if you will believe what I have heard say, there are none of that sort now to be found. A Theatine missioner to the East Indies told me, at his return from Goa, he had endeavored to get one of these last; but, whatever diligence he used, he could by no means obtain it. He added, moreover, that he had heard several of the Eastern people, especially the Chinese authorities, say that, according to their computations, those unicorns all died the same day that our Savior died. What allusion these can have to our Savior may probably be from their chastity; but I must leave all to my good reader, who will condemn and approve, as he thinks fit."

In the fifteenth century, Barthema, or Verdomanus, who preceded Burckhardt and Burton in a pilgrimage to Mecca, gives a minute account of two unicorns which he saw there.

By the side of the temple there is a large court inclosed by walls, where we saw a unicorn, which they showed us as curiosity; and not without reason. For the larger one had the form of a colt eighteen months old, a horn in the middle of his forehead the length of three spans. The lesser one was the size of a colt a twelvemonth old, with his horn about four cubits long. The color of this animal was a dark gray, having a head like a stag, the head tolerably long, with a little thin hair hanging on the side; the legs long and graceful, like those of a deer. These two animals were given to the Sultan of Mecca (as a most rich and precious gift) by a king of Ethiopia, who wished to negotiate for peace.

The next authority is that of a Portuguese who had lived some time in Abyssinia, and is quoted by Father Tellez.

It is certain that the unicorn is not to be confounded with the abada, about which they usually dispute; this one may see by the difference of their names, as well as by the difference of their body and parts, and it would appear by the abada which we have seen, and by the unicorn which we have seen painted. The latter has a long straight horn of admirable virtue; the abada has two crooked horns, which are not so sovereign, although they will serve as antidotes against poison. The country of the unicorn, which is an animal of Africa, where only it is known, is the province of Agoa, in the kingdom of Damotes, although it is occasionally seen in more distant places. This animal is as large as a fine horse, is a dark bay color, the mane and tail black, short, and thin, though in other parts of the province observed to be longer and thicker. On the forehead there is a beautiful horn five palms long, as they are usually painted, the color being nearly white. They live in woods and retired thickets, sometimes coming out into the plains, where they are not often seen, because they are timid animals, not numerous, and easily hidden in the wood. The most barbarous people in the world have them, and perhaps eat them like other animals.

A missionary who was my companion, and who had spent some time in that province, having been told that they had found this renowned animal, did all that he could to get one. The natives brought him a very young one, but it was so delicate that it died in a few days.

A Portuguese captain, a man of years and good credit, and held in great esteem by the princes of this empire, under whom he serves, told me this story about unicorns. He said that once, as he was returning from the army with twenty other Portuguese soldiers, and they were resting one morning in a little valley encircled by very thick trees, getting ready their breakfast while their horses grazed on the rich pasture, scarcely were they seated when there sprang out of the thickest part of the wood a beautiful horse of the same shape and color that I have described. He came so rapidly that he did not observe the people till he was quite among them; then he was startled, began to tremble, and suddenly bounded back, leaving, however, sufficient time to the spectators to see and observe him with pleasure. The knowledge which I have of this captain induces me to relate this as an undoubted fact.

In another part of the same province, where it is stony and mountainous, people have often seen this animal feeding among several others of different kinds. This is the most remote part of the province; that is why exiles are usually sent there by the emperor. It is bounded by high mountains, below which are vast plains and forests inhabited by various kinds of wild beasts. To this place a tyrannical emperor named Adamas-Segued sent without cause several Portuguese, who, from the tops of the mountains, saw the unicorn feeding in the plains below, the distance not being so great but that they could observe distinctly that it was like a fine Spanish jennet, having a horn in his forehead.

These testimonies, especially that of the good old man, John Gabriel, with what the missionary, my companion, affirmed also of his own knowledge, confirm me in the belief that this celebrated animal is found in the province, and that young ones are born and bred there.

The latest traveler who has spoken of the unicorn is Dr. Baikie, who, when I was in Africa, had started on an incursion after this animal, the existence of which he must therefore have credited, and could only have done so upon reliable authority. That such an animal has existed, there can, I think, be little doubt; it is possible that he is extinct; but more probable that, flying from firearms (which, it must always be remembered, are used by tribes whom white men have never visited), he has concealed himself in those vast forest-wastes of Central Africa which are uninhabited and unexplored.

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