The Mad White Man
James Coburg was known in the Lagos of 1920s as “the mad white man” despite having royal connection with the Queen of England. Although his story has been muted, we owe a lot to him about the information we had on the Carnivorous tree. After the encounter he had with the tree that night, with his faithful servant Massa, he made his way to the nearest village where he was taken care of by the village chief. It is unfortunate that Massa could not survive the encounter. Even James was saved by the most unlikely thing – English mannerism for something surprising. He had covered his nose and mouth in wonderment while the negro had interlocked his fingers and placed his two hands on his head. James had caught a whiff of something while they were both on top of the moat watching the tree bioluminescent glow; a smell pungent at first but sweet smelling later. He wasn’t sure if it was survival instinct that made him tightened the covering of his nose while Massa looked on agape.
Then the unexpected happened. Massa began to move towards the tree as if in trance! At the same time it registered on James, a bookworm of no special preference, what has happened. Zombiefication may not be new in the science of animals and plants of today’s world, but it was in the time of James and he was well aware of it. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is popular in this respect. It was newly discovered at the time by Alfred Russel Wallace in 1859 and has been established that they are predominant in the tropical forest ecosystem. It is an entomopathogen or insect pathogenising fungus; that means the chemical substance secreted by the fungi alters the behavioural pattern of infected animals , ants in this case. The infected ant will leave its nest and wander “aimlessly” down to the floor of the forest where temperature and humidity are suitable for fungal growth. Then with one last sorrowful bite, it will lock its mandible on the underside of a leaf and wait patiently for the agent of death inside him to take full charge of its body. The slow painful death takes 4 to 10 days. The sprout, already growing through the head of the ant and feeding on its brain, will burst open to release fungus’s spores. Call that out of the old came new.
The world of mind control in animals and plants is from the horrible to the despicable and kinky and merciless. There have been close to 10 zombification cases known since then. The flatworm, Leucochloridium paradom, leaves its eggs live in the guts of birds then gets dispersed through their droppings. A snail chanced to feed on the droppings gets the flatworm into its body where it develops into a larva in the hollow of the snail pole eyes, popping out eventually as adult and blinding its host and killing it in the process. There are those that cause their hosts to have sex frequently. The Hz-2v virus does this to Helicoverpa zea moths, commonly known as corn earworms. Because the virus is sexually transmitted, it needs hosts that propagate fairly quickly, so it forces its hosts to mate incessantly because it cannot wait for the natural mating.
Man is not safe from this battle of mind control, however noble and high we think of ourselves in the order of animals . Take the case of Malaria, we think of anopheles mosquitoes as the culprits to blame, but anopheles is as much a victim of plasmodia, a parasitic protozoan, that controls it to go out in search of human to bite as the human it bites. It is not the case that anopheles cannot survive without human blood, but the protozoan made it believe so. So, even with the high risk that it will get killed, anopheles will still come looking for man like a zombie making its way to the edge of a cliff.
A zombified anopheles dares every danger to its life to introduce sporozoites of the plasmodia swimming in its throat into the human bloodstream through bites. That is why the first thing it does is to relief itself of the troubling saliva in its gut into the bloodstream. If the saliva makes the blood light and easy to suck for the proboscis of the mosquito as science sees it, it was never intended – nature doesn’t pay you your due, unless of course it is to benefit it further. The sporozoites travels to the liver where they will multiply to form merozoites in about two weeks. From then on it is like the battle of infestation of the red blood cell by the merozoites after leaving the liver to invade red blood cells. A curious medical researcher specialising in malaria parasite at the University Teaching Hospital Ibadan, Professor Olu Odekumbi, had once suggested that merozoites at this stage use mind control substance which they secrete to win the battle against white blood cells. You would have noticed that your body heats up when you have malaria. The feverish temperature is caused by the presence of these antibodies in the blood and the reactionary battle of chemicals between these merozoites and leukocytes – the body’s infection-fighting cells. However, the merozoites send a signal to your brain and this makes you to start looking for warmth of sunlight. It is clear to Odekumbi what the larva wants to achieve with this, but it was not clear to the science community. So the research was not accepted on the basis of “teleological and methodological flaws.” But the real reason is that of the religious view that man is the apex of creation and therefore cannot be subjected to the whims and caprices of mere protozoan. The view held sway, not until we are shown the human body is a home to millions of microorganisms. If such is the apex of creation, he is a goddam poo-pit of it.
It was the village chiefs that helped James back to Lagos, and he had dreamt of his heroic welcome by the queen of England. Now, a man of no substance and estate is coming back to England as a hero, the discoverer of the carnivorous plant that could eat human beings. He had been the sole witness to the tree consuming Massa his attendant. So, when he got the news a month after he wrote the Queen that the she had sent the royal ship to convey them back to Manchester, James Coburg could not but muse at the turn of fortune he will soon be in. He had ask another white man to write a copy of his book and keep for him in Lagos. He hoped to win a scientific expedition back to the tree with notable scientists listening to his advice on how the tree gets its preys. However, he got the first shock of his life from the way Vice-Consul to the Crown James Robert Phillips and Captain Gallwey treated him on board.
Having left the eyes of the negro world, James Coburg was bundled and handcuffed and thrown into prison on-board. He would later appear before Her Imperial Majesty as deserter who caused the death of his countrymen. When he was finally released and ushered into the presence of the queen, all he could say was “Eureka, I have found it,” waiving his journal. The sunken eyes of James which he got from how he stayed in the forest of Africa did not help issues. He looked unkempt and famished. After an enquiry set up by the Royal Court to determine the case, the commission concluded that James Coburg had gone mad due to malaria fever he contacted while in the jungle of Africa – cerebral malaria it was called. This, as expert said, allowed him to hallucinate.
The last blow to James Coburg’s report came when Sir Phillips’ interview of the village chief that brought James to Lagos came. The chief reported that James was brought panting and evidently afraid of something. Although they could neither make head nor tail of what he was describing to have encountered, when they had heard that Benin warriors massacred some white men the night before, they understood that he had been among those who escaped into the bush. The chief was further convinced of this with James incessant pointing to the big iroko tree at the front of his house and even made attempt to run into it or climb it. Sir Phillips described the negro chief as a man of calm and composed nature.
James Coburg was sent back to Africa after a brief treatment as the queen was very displease with him. Four months later, the doctor that tended to him, Sir Henry Domefield, resigned from the Royal Medical Service of England and travelled to Sierra Leone and nothing was heard of him according to the Royal official report.
Ten days later, a tall silhouette figure of a white man was seen through a bar window around Opebi street, Marina Lagos. Another shadow was cast against the window, apparently of a young negro. A puff of smoke sleeked through the nostril of the Caucasian like a formless apparition, hung its volatile appearance in front of the negro before diffusing into the air. On the second day, Mr Hallock, the man employed by James Coburg to make a copy of his journal, was found dead in his apartment across the street. There was no struggle and nothing of importance got lost except a bottle of cheap gin. Although the bookshelf was thoroughly ransacked, the Royal Navy Investigative Department handling the case as Mr Hallock was in the Royal navy, saw nothing out of order. “A petty burglar made his way into Hallock’s apartment and thought he could find cash in his books; finding no cash, he made away with a bottle of gin which he smashed on Mr Hallock’s head.” It must be negro, lazy bunch of them.
To be continued.