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Comments on Basenjis in Gabon by two Frenchmen

Genie Rundle Berre-les-Alpes, France

 Readers may remember the column I wrote some time ago concerning a chance meeting with some Belgian 
visitors who, passing by one day and peering through our fence, saw one of our dogs which they immediately
recognised as the 'Balikwekwe' they had known in the Belgian Congo some years previously: 'The little orange
hunting dog of the natives,' they called them.
Recently I had two other interesting and equally unexpected visitors - this time from Frenchmen who had
spent several years in Africa, mainly in the Gabon, but also as far north as Liberia. There were two main interests
concerning our Basenjis which they saw with obvious surprise. Without hesitation, the first man picked out the
youngest tri as being exactly like the dogs he knew in the Gabon, only there, he said they were a little bigger. The
tri he picked was a 5-month old puppy. I asked him if he had seen reds as well. "Yes, " was his reply, "but most of
the dogs he saw were just like the little tri. There are tiger striped dogs as well, " he added. "Were the tiger
stripes well defined in their markings ? " I asked. "Some are, but the majority are not. "
We did not mention the barklessness of the dogs, perhaps because this was already taken for granted. This
man had come along with his young wife, and his mother who he clearly hoped would buy a puppy as a compa-
nion for herself, but I was unconvinced as to her suitability for owning a Basenji, so this was discouraged. I was
taken for an odd sort of breeder who doesn't indulge in sales talk, but instead asks unexpected and perhaps ra-
ther personal questions of a 'putting off'' nature.
My second visit came a couple of weeks later, and the strange thing about this visit was that the men had
been forewarned about their meeting with some barkless dogs, yet remained incredulous for here is what follow-
ed: As soon as the dogs were allowed to run freely again, one of the men straight away recognised the breed as
the 'Bateke' he had known so well in the French Gabon, west of the Belgian Congo border in what is today known
as the Central African Republic. Here again it was the same tri dog that caught his eye. "There are also black and
white," added the Frenchman. "They are all African hunting dogs," and here he confirmed another fact about
which I wrote about a year ago in this magazine. They hunt a type of rat which the natives eat and enjoy, but he
added something new: " There are huge ant hills in the country to which the natives set fire while the dogs wait
around to catch the rats that eventually emerge." In reply to a further question, he said that the dogs were not
wild, but like their owners, they mistrusted white men which made them difficult to see at close range. They are
also used by the pygmies, we were told. I then asked about the bells they were said to wear. "Only for hunting
elephants!" came the reply, then heard some rather unhappy details of how elephants are hunted by the pygmies
with poisoned darts, which can last for several days during which time the wounded animal is trailed by the dogs
and hunters led by the smell of the infected wound which is rubbed against tree trunks in a painful effort to rid
the body of the weapon.
I did not have time to ask the meaning of the word, "Bateke," but in sound, to me, it resembles "Balikwek-
we," or even to stretch the imagination, "Basenji." I find these accounts extremely fascinating but they only
leave us to conjecture. It would be so nice if someone who really knew, would tell us the truth, or is the breed
forever to be shrouded in mystery? To know the truth would only enhance the interest which is already being
shown in the breed, not detract from it, and I am one who is grateful to Mr. F. B. Johnson, whose book, "Basenji -
Dog From The Past" is the most lucid and studied account yet written on the breed to which much thought has
been given and many actual truths proved scientifically, with impressive references. My personal opinion is that
the Basenji has existed almost since the beginning of time, but much as I would like to believe that he is the Dog
of Anubis, I am still left in doubt. I have even wondered if after all the barklessness of the Basenji perhaps came
about through natural mutation to be selected by man in the first place because suddenly, somewhere, a dog that
could bark was born. While I know of a Swiss lady who has domesticated the Dingo and has them officially reg-
istered in the stud book, I am not yet in touch with anyone w ho has taken any serious interest in domesticating
the coyote or the jackal. I would be genuinely interested if through these pages more knowledge could be
advanced on the subject of the Basenji's barkless relatives. Even the wolf could be one of these!


 

Reprinted from
The Basenji
Volume VIII Number 10 October 1971 pp. 16, 24
Copyright © 1971 The Basenji, All Rights Reserved
Used with permission.