I'll Never Forget You, Nagapate!

The scene is etched in my memory. A young couple sliding down the muddy trail through the jungle hillside in Borneo, making a dash for the safety of the ship that they hope lies at anchor below. Behind them a tribe of doughty headhunters, who had decided that the novelty of the newcomers had worn off and it was time to add a little something exotic to their extensive collections.

The young woman is carrying all the gear she can manage to hold onto. The young man is running backward, cranking a movie camera for all he's worth. If they don't get killed, the film will make their fortune back home. The headhunters' chief is called Nagapate.

They are Osa and Martin Johnson, and they are the real life hero and heroine of the first true adventure book I ever read. My mother's copy of had a zebra-striped cover and was filled with pictures of a dainty little woman with a 20's bob and wonderful hats, who was usually festooned with a monkey of some kind.

They sailed for the South Seas in 1917 on a ship whose captain had sailed with Jack London - a voyage in which Martin had been a crew member and cook. They trekked across African lava fields to film lands and peoples not seen before in the West. George Eastman invented new film for them. Carl Akeley, who perfected the art of museum level taxidermy, joined them on photographic safaris.

I fell in love with the Landrover. Living in central Illinois, I never expected to actually see one. I thought they roamed free with the wildebeest. They belonged to trackless jungles and wild river fords. I didn't like it when they showed up in midwestern showrooms. Landrovers in suburbia are like buffalo in cow pastures to me. Just don't belong there.

I found a zebra-striped copy in a used book store about 20 years ago and gave it to my daughter, who loved it as well. My son read my mother's copy and still holds Nagapate in high esteem. Osa's description of him is unforgettable.

The copy you can get through Amazon is likely just as good a read, and I don't want to discourage you from going there. But if you're ever in a used book store and see a black and white zebra stripe spine grazing among the less exotic book covers, pick it up. Give it to someone about 12 or 13. But first, read it yourself.

Lay back in a dugout canoe and think well of old Nagapate. Without him, there's no adventure.