The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

Project Library


A Definitive Report from the Congo

by Dr. James A. Chapin

 I doubt that there are more than a fraction of the Basenji in England and the U.S. as compared with the popula-
tions in Africa. Yet it is true that in some districts where Europeans have brought in their dogs a great deal of
hybridization has resulted. The Africans is not particular about the look of his dog, provided it is a good hunter.
It has long seemed to me that the best Basenjis I have seen were in the Ituri Forest and the savannas to the
north of it, right up to the Sudan frontier and the Azande in Equartoria doubtless have dogs of the same blood as
they do in the Uelle district of the Congo.
The physical characteristics change as one travels from the Uelle northward toward the Kasai, the dogs be-
come rangier, longer-legged, with much less curl in the tail. In the Kasai, the dog-bells are hung from a belt around
the loins instead of a collar on the neck.
Mr. Riddle probably erred in expecting Basenjis in Tanganyika or Kenya, and either did not get far into the
Congo or did not how to look for them away from the main road.
The photos in Miss Tudor-Williams' book convince me that the breeding stock in England and the U.S.A. re-
presents the best looking types to be found in Central Africa. I always admired the black and white coloration, but
only a minority of dogs in the north-eastern congo show it. Pretty as that type may be, the red-brown and white
pattern is far more typical in Central Africa. Tiki will probably be of average size for the Ituri and Uelle, 16 or 17
inches at the shoulder. I don't think they are usually bigger unless the blood has been mixed.
Maxwell Riddle is not justified in his objection to the use of "basenji" as a name for these dogs. Basenji does
mean " people of the bush" as opposed to those of town or centers of native culture. The word can be used as an
insult, especially in its singular form: "Mosenji". But used in the plural, it simply means people of the wilds. It is
Lingala word (from trade-language of central and northeastern Africa) and came to be used for dogs in a natural
way. Such dogs would be called "Mbwa na basenji", or in the dialect of Uelle District, "Bugbu na basenji"--"dogs
of the bush people". Then the words "dog of" were simply dropped and the breed became known as Basenji.
Adding "s" to a word that is already plural can be justified too if one considers the word completely angilicized.
"Basenji" does not mean mongrel. If Basenjis so often seemed to Europeans like snarly little curs, it was be-
cause they had been reared by black people and were afraid of a white face. That was often my experience. On
meeting a party of natives with their dogs along a forest trail, I usually noted that the dogs would leave the trail as
soon as they saw me and make a wide detour through the woods to avoid passing near me.


Reprinted from
The Bulletin of the Basenji Club of America
July 1956
Copyright © 1956 Basenji Club of America, Inc., All Rights Reserved.