The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

Project Library


1945 LETTER FROM AFRICA

submitted by Veronica Tudor-Williams

Dear Lady Helen (Nutting),
 I enclose a copy of a note written by Major Wyld, District Commissioner of the Zande 
District of the South Sudan, on the Zande dogs.
H. E. Sir Hubert Huddleston wrote to him as a result of your letter to Lady Huddleston asking
for this note as he was sure Major Wyld knew more about them than anyone else in the Sudan.
 Yours Sincerely
B. A. Lewis
 
Yambio
October 22, 1945
Dear Ned,
I had a letter recently from H.E. asking me to write something about Nyam Nyam and/or
Basenji dogs for Lady Helen Nutting, through you .
The first thing to be said is that both these names are ridiculous and should be altered while
there is yet time. Nyam-Nyam was the old slavers' name for Azande and allied races. It was
probably coined from the Dinka name "Nimyam" which is onomatopoeic, meaning cannibal. As a
name it is locally considered insulting and has died out.
Basenji is completely ridiculous and means nothing at all anywhere, as far as I know some
good lady traveled in the Belgian Congo some years ago and spotted these dogs. She asked some
boy, servant or other retainer what they were called. What he must have told her was that they were
"Ba shenti" or just "Belledi" in Sudan vernacular. The good dame thereupon wrote it down, but got
even her transcription of the absurdity wrong and wrote Basenji. The Zande name for their dogs is
Ango. This would seem to me to be a far easier and better name to give them and would have some
point in it.
As regards the dogs themselves, I don't really know what I can contribute. My wife and I are
very fond of them and kept numbers of them for years until we had to destroy them because of a
serious rabies epidemic about 3 years ago. Lady Helen knows all their points and characteristics no
doubt.
The Zande are very fond of their dogs and look after them very well. They use them for
hunting. The method is to let them into a patch of grass or thicket which they want to drive into their
nets. The nets are set up along a bush path all touching, hooked up on branches, etc. Each little dog
is fitted with a bell made of a dome palm nutshell so that he can be spotted easily and not mistaken
for game and speared by some enthusiastic hunter.
I personally believe (without authority) that there is a special form of rabies among these dogs
which kills them but is harmless to humans. Both my wife and I have been bitten by dogs and pups
in the past which had every appearance of being mad and had to be destroyed. We suffered no ill
effects and were not pasteurized. I admit that during the last epidemic which was particularly severe
and diagnosed positive, our courage failed us and we and most of our servants had injections.
I hope that legislation will be made to to stop people bring other dogs into this area.
Otherwise there is a risk they will gradually be spoiled and altered by imported blood. My own
impression (again without authority) is that the larger dogs, misnamed "Basenjis" in England, were
the ordinary Zande dogs crossed with pie dogs from surrounding areas. There are many such
animals to be seen on the fringes of the Zande country and they usually reproduce some of the
Zande characteristics both of colour, curly tail, etc.
The well-bred Zande dog in this country never exceeds about 12 inches at the shoulder.
Although he does not bark in his natural state, we have proved to our satisfaction that they can learn
to bark if associated with ordinary barking dogs.
One of the most attractive features is that they are one man dogs and will rarely condescend
to attentions by strangers. Another unique feature is that they will got to extreme lengths to avoid
sleeping on the floor and perch themselves in the most absurd place to avoid it. I believe they are
about the only dog that house-train their puppies instinctively. All the bitches we have had started
the pups out of the house and parking them on flower-beds and other suitable spots when they were
2 to 3 weeks old. It is most amusing to watch and much appreciated by the householder and his
servants.
Hope you are very fit. Yours Tiger
 
Comments by Veronica Tudor-Williams
 Tiger Wyld sent me my first Basenji (or Zande dog as I knew and always wanted them to be 
called) in 1938. "Kandi of the Congo" was an enchanting little bitch weighing about 12 pounds, a
black and white with lemon coloured melon pips. At the same time, Major George Richards had a
small mahogany, tan and white bitch of about 14 pounds in weight.
Amatagazig weighed 14 pounds on my scales and was measured at 14½ inches after having
been reared by Europeans since she was 8 weeks old. Wau weighed 16 pounds, reared since 7
weeks old and Fula weighed 15 pounds, height 15½ inches also reared by Europeans since 10
weeks old. The full weights are given when they were mature adults.
We found that the Basenjis in the "country of the barkless dogs" were a lot smaller than the
less pure Basenji-like bigger dogs in the country surrounding this special area. We too found the
Zande natives were devoted to their dogs often carrying them and other puppies under their arms
and often rescued their dogs first if the very occasional lorry came by. I've always found the Zande
Basenjis very much more civilized and obedient than the dogs from Zaire (or Belgian Congo as it
was then). They were fed from the human pot in little gourds of their own, meat if any, gravy, ants,
slugs, birds, etc.
The dogs from the South Sudan never learned to bark in the ceaseless barking of quarantine
kennels during their six month stays.



 

Reprinted from
The Basenji
Volume XXIV Number 5 May 1988 p. 22
Copyright © 1988 The Basenji, All Rights Reserved
Used with permission.