Beware the “Black moor hens”!

December 29, 2012

It’s been awhile, months at least, since I’ve read a good passage of jungle description.  Page 134 of Guerrilla Padre in Mindanao by Edward Haggerty, in the Cotabato jungle…

“But such a forest is beautiful only from the outside.  A narrow trail winds through mud and creek beds in a gloom that weighs one down with its heaviness.  You see no birds of gorgeous plumage, no woodland flowers blooming in the grass.  Leeches cling to your ankles and insidiously crawl up your legs.  They suck the blood from your neck and from behind your ears and leave infection that spreads to a horrible tropical ulcer.  Inch-long needles of rattan pierce your feet and hands and face, thorns rip your clothing and pierce to the bare shoulder.  A vine may cause an itch; to save yourself from slipping, you grasp and innocent-looking branch and your hand is pierced with a hundred small punctures which leave a sliver inside which swells and festers.  There is no water in the slimy brook to drink, and troops of insolent monkeys chatter angrily as you pass, and the weary feet that strike an innocent-looking bit of rattan may launch a sharp bamboo spring into your legs–traps set for pigs and deer and human enemies.  At night mosquitoes bite with the deadly sting of malignant malaria which kills after the first symptoms in three or four days.  These and more, much more, is a tropical forest, even a forest with a good trail.”

A few pages later (141-142) they enter a swamp…

“Once we had entered the lake at the marsh’s center, we paddled at fair speed across it for hours.  At times huge floating islands, blown by the wind, caused detours; again our paddlers took to their forked poles to push us through floating grass. Gigantic water lilies with leaves ten feet across, made a great green cushion, acres in extent, with flowers of embroidered pink.  Black moor hens, or mud hens, with pink beaks and feet, ran over the leaves or dived suddenly into the water.  Fishermen with three-pronged forks speared into the mud when bubbles showed a fish.  Wild ducks in squadrons of hundreds swept by at dusk.  Huge cranes, their necks bulging with fish, rose heavily as our vinta passed.  As we entered the Buluan River monkeys chattered in the trees and swung on vines above our heads.  In vain we look for crocodiles, in this region once so filled with them.  A few years before the war one datu alone filled a contract for five thousand skins which are now portfolios, pocketbooks and shoes.”

Picture 2


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