The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

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THE BASENJI IN AFRICA

by Mrs. E. Ford, Kincardineshire, Scotland

 It would appear that there is a great furore 
created about any Basenji that has its origin in
any part of Africa other than the Sudan or the
Congo, but who can say with any certainty that
they are not Basenjis? The Congo and the Sudan
may have been the first countries visited by the
white man and specimens of their dogs brought
to England, but other African countries have
probably had Basenjis just as long, only it took a
little longer for the white man to find them.
The main characteristics of a Basenji are:
that it should have prick ears, a curly tail carried
on its back, four white feet, a white tail tip and a
white chest. It should not bark but is not mute; it
can make all the other normal dog noises plus a
few extra ones of his own that no ordinary dog is
clever enough to dream up. His colours are usua-
lly red and white, black and white, or tri-colour;
the latter a very artistic mixture of red, black and
white.
The African continent is large, larger in area
than the average man can visualise, but to say
that there can be more than one breed of dog on
one continent that can produce all of the charac-
teristics listed, appears to me to be sheer non-
sense. I am not an anthropologist, but it would be
interesting to learn of the number of African tribes
descended from the same root who now have tri-
bal differences of features, pigmentation, cus-
toms, and speech. What can happen to humans
can surely happen to dogs.
Please consider this map of Africa, it shows
the areas where Basenjis are, or were found.
This area covers what might roughly be called
Central Africa.
 It is generally accepted that the ancient 
Egyptians possessed Basenjis, and that they were
probably something very special, even then, so
that more than likely, gifts were made of breeding
pairs to neighbouring African Chiefs. Also the
Egyptians were explorers, traders and wander-
ers, and if their Basenjis were anything like the
modern day ones, they would certainly have gone
with their masters on their trips hence the Basenji
visited the Sudan, the Congo, Malawi (Nyasa-
land), Tanganyka, the Cameroons, Zambia
(Northern Rhodesia), Nigeria, and Liberia. Who
will ever know for sure how they became estab-
lished in these countries. Maybe as gifts, or bitch-
es in whelp who dropped out on the long jour-
neys? Or as hunters who were wounded and
could not make the journey back to camp! Any-
way, once in a country, they stayed and became
very useful members of the local tribe. The native
tribesmen did not leave his own area very often.
If he did it was probably only to make a raid on a
nearby tribe and his dogs would be left in his own
kraal, so over the centuries each pocket of
Basenjis interbred and produced in their own
tribe, as it were; subtle differences of the original
model. In some areas the ears became larger,
maybe they were the ones that depended more
on hearing than on sight. In some the tempers
deteriorated, while in others the coat became
harder and coarser. In short, they produced
minor modifications of the English standard,
which was created by, and for, the dogs from the
Congo and the Sudan only.
These pockets of Basenjis probably
account for the difference in distribution of the
colours as well. The original Sudanese owners
perhaps did not care for the black and white
dogs so they were the poor unfortunates who
ended up in the cooking pot, whilst in Liberia it
was the tri-colours who suffered that fate. The
red and whites seem to have been more popular
all around.
Before the Congo uprising in 1960, the Bel-
gian government had started a scheme to collect
together a breeding nucleus of Basenjis, mainly

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because the purebred dog was rapidly becoming 
extinct in the Congo. Fortunately, some of these
dogs were saved and in 1963 were in possession
of M. Verbruggen. Taking the English Basenji as
normal, the Congo dogs were very much taller,
being about 19 or 20 inches tall, and they give the
impression of being very much larger; their ears
were fairly large and lowset, and their coats were
longer and thicker than usual. All those I saw
were red and white, and whilst they were not vic-
ious, I would not have taken liberties with any
one of them. As is usual with all African bred
dogs, they only had a single curl in their tails. M.
Verbruggen had also managed to obtain a bitch
from the Cameroons. This was also a red and
white and very much closer to the English ideal,
being smaller with better ears and a finer coat.
She was also very much better tempered. As the
Basenji is used to hunt monkeys in the Came-
roons, it is difficult to obtain an adult with a tail as
these are cut off at birth to prevent the monkey
from grabbing it and pulling the dog in half.
Nyasaland or Malawi has no pure bred Ba-
senjis now, but the local "Pi" dog is definitely of
Basenji descent; tails, ears and marking all prov-
ed that; but the dogs have thick, long coats and
really vicious tempers. They are used purely as
hunters and most of them have their bodies
covered with terrible scars.
The first time I exhibited a black Basenji in
Zambia, I was informed by an on looker that the
dogs she had when she first arrived in Northern
Rhodesia in 1902 were exactly the same as mine;
they didn't bark either. There is nothing that even
vaguely resembles a Basenji there now. Not al-
together surprising as the local tribes are not dog
lovers, and the poor animals they do keep are
just walking skeletons. How they ever find
enough energy to chase anything, I just don't
know.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no
purebred Basenjis in Tanganyka. I have friends
there and they have never seen one. The Sudan,
of course, has Basenjis, but even there it is be-
coming very difficult to find a purebred one.
In Liberia, because the St. Paul River acts
as a natural barrier across the country, there was,
until recent years, a large area of undeveloped
hinterland visited only by traders and mission-
aries. There in the remote native villages were
many Basenjis. They were used by the natives as
hunters and as a source of food. As the Liberian
native had no other breed of dog in the villages,
we can be fairly safe in assuming that for cen-
turies, the Basenji there has only bred with its
own kind. Since the St. Paul has been bridged
and roads made through the bush, the back-
woods African has found it easy to visit the coast
and civilisation, and there he was enchanted to
find other breeds of dog which he promptly took
home with him; so now I fear there will be a mix-
ture of all types running around the villages.
As the Basenji has always lived with the na-
tive as part of his family, hunting with them, sleep-
ing with them around the cooking fire, is it any
wonder that our modern day Basenji hates to be
shut away from his family and will do all in his
power to return to them if he should be enclosed.
I am sure that the occasional lapses from grace -
like the disappearance of the Sunday joint from
the table, all stem from a memory of being last in
the food queue. The African male eats first, then
the wife, followed by the children, and about all
the poor dog gets is to lick out the cook pot.
Little wonder that they got into the habit of eating
whenever the opportunity presented itself. It also
explains why the Basenji needs comparatively
little food to keep in first class condition.
To sum up, the Basenji has been found in a
very wide area of Central Africa. In some regions
they have remained for hundreds of years, maybe
because the native there liked the dog as he was,
or because there were no other breeds available
for cross breeding. In other areas the Basenjis
seem to have disappeared, leaving very little trace
behind; whilst in others, cross breeding has taken
place to such an extent that it is difficult to say
more than that there is a Basenji in the family tree
of the dogs concerned.
At one time, centuries ago, they were all
identical, but over the years, in their own little
communities, they have developed their own
characteristics. It would appear that one cannot
say with certainty that the Congo or the Sudan-
ese dog is the only correct specimen; surely they
are all Basenjis with slightly different physical
conformation due to environment.


From "The Basenji Chronicle, No. 9, B.C.O.G.B."
Reprinted in
The Basenji
Volume IV Number 9 September 1967 pp. 7 & 16
Copyright © 1967 The Basenji, All Rights Reserved
Used with permission.