Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries, by David Livingstone

Chapter II.

Kebrabasa Rapids — Tette — African fever — Exploration of the Shire — Discovery of Lake Shirwa.

Our curiosity had been so much excited by the reports we had heard of the Kebrabasa rapids, that we resolved to make a short examination of them, and seized the opportunity of the Zambesi being unusually low, to endeavour to ascertain their character while uncovered by the water. We reached them on the 9th of November. The country between Tette and Panda Mokua, where navigation ends, is well wooded and hilly on both banks. Panda Mokua is a hill two miles below the rapids, capped with dolomite containing copper ore.

Conspicuous among the trees, for its gigantic size, and bark coloured exactly like Egyptian syenite, is the burly Baobab. It often makes the other trees of the forest look like mere bushes in comparison. A hollow one, already mentioned, is 74 feet in circumference, another was 84, and some have been found on the West Coast which measure 100 feet. The lofty range of Kebrabasa, consisting chiefly of conical hills, covered with scraggy trees, crosses the Zambesi, and confines it within a narrow, rough, and rocky dell of about a quarter of a mile in breadth; over this, which may be called the flood-bed of the river, large masses of rock are huddled in indescribable confusion. The drawing, for the use of which, and of others, our thanks are due to Lord Russell, conveys but a faint idea of the scene, inasmuch as the hills which confine the river do not appear in the sketch. The chief rock is syenite, some portions of which have a beautiful blue tinge like lapis lazuli diffused through them; others are grey. Blocks of granite also abound, of a pinkish tinge; and these with metamorphic rocks, contorted, twisted, and thrown into every conceivable position, afford a picture of dislocation or unconformability which would gladden a geological lecturer’s heart; but at high flood this rough channel is all smoothed over, and it then conforms well with the river below it, which is half a mile wide. In the dry season the stream runs at the bottom of a narrow and deep groove, whose sides are polished and fluted by the boiling action of the water in flood, like the rims of ancient Eastern wells by the draw-ropes. The breadth of the groove is often not more than from forty to sixty yards, and it has some sharp turnings, double channels, and little cataracts in it. As we steamed up, the masts of the “Ma Robert,” though some thirty feet high, did not reach the level of the flood-channel above, and the man in the chains sung out, “No bottom at ten fathoms.” Huge pot-holes, as large as draw-wells, had been worn in the sides, and were so deep that in some instances, when protected from the sun by overhanging boulders, the water in them was quite cool. Some of these holes had been worn right through, and only the side next the rock remained; while the sides of the groove of the flood-channel were polished as smooth as if they had gone through the granite-mills of Aberdeen. The pressure of the water must be enormous to produce this polish. It had wedged round pebbles into chinks and crannies of the rocks so firmly that, though they looked quite loose, they could not be moved except with a hammer. The mighty power of the water here seen gave us an idea of what is going on in thousands of cataracts in the world. All the information we had been able to obtain from our Portuguese friends amounted to this, that some three or four detached rocks jutted out of the river in Kebrabasa, which, though dangerous to the cumbersome native canoes, could be easily passed by a steamer, and that if one or two of these obstructions were blasted away with gunpowder, no difficulty would hereafter be experienced. After we had painfully explored seven or eight miles of the rapid, we returned to the vessel satisfied that much greater labour was requisite for the mere examination of the cataracts than our friends supposed necessary to remove them; we therefore went down the river for fresh supplies, and made preparation for a more serious survey of this region.

The steamer having returned from the bar, we set out on the 22nd of November to examine the rapids of Kebrabasa. We reached the foot of the hills again, late in the afternoon of the 24th, and anchored in the stream. Canoe-men never sleep on the river, but always spend the night on shore. The natives on the right bank, in the country called Shidima, who are Banyai, and even at this short distance from Tette, independent, and accustomed to lord it over Portuguese traders, wondered what could be our object in remaining afloat, and were naturally suspicious at our departing from the universal custom.

They hailed us from the bank in the evening with “Why don’t you come and sleep onshore like other people?”

The answer they received from our Makololo, who now felt as independent as the Banyai, was, “We are held to the bottom with iron; you may see we are not like your Bazungu.”

This hint, a little amplified, saved us from the usual exactions. It is pleasant to give a present, but that pleasure the Banyai usually deny to strangers by making it a fine, and demanding it in such a supercilious way, that only a sorely cowed trader could bear it. They often refuse to touch what is offered — throw it down and leave it — sneer at the trader’s slaves, and refuse a passage until the tribute is raised to the utmost extent of his means.

Leaving the steamer next morning, we proceeded on foot, accompanied by a native Portuguese and his men and a dozen Makololo, who carried our baggage. The morning was pleasant, the hills on our right furnished for a time a delightful shade; but before long the path grew frightfully rough, and the hills no longer shielded us from the blazing sun. Scarcely a vestige of a track was now visible; and, indeed, had not our guide assured us to the contrary, we should have been innocent of even the suspicion of a way along the patches of soft yielding sand, and on the great rocks over which we so painfully clambered. These rocks have a singular appearance, from being dislocated and twisted in every direction, and covered with a thin black glaze, as if highly polished and coated with lamp-black varnish. This seems to have been deposited while the river was in flood, for it covers only those rocks which lie between the highest water-mark and a line about four feet above the lowest. Travellers who have visited the rapids of the Orinoco and the Congo say that the rocks there have a similar appearance, and it is attributed to some deposit from the water, formed only when the current is strong. This may account for it in part here, as it prevails only where the narrow river is confined between masses of rock, backed by high hills, and where the current in floods is known to be the strongest; and it does not exist where the rocks are only on one side, with a sandy beach opposite, and a broad expanse of river between. The hot rocks burnt the thick soles of our men’s feet, and sorely fatigued ourselves. Our first day’s march did not exceed four miles in a straight line, and that we found more than enough to be pleasant.

The state of insecurity in which the Badema tribe live is indicated by the habit of hiding their provisions in the hills, and keeping only a small quantity in their huts; they strip a particular species of tree of its bitter bark, to which both mice and monkeys are known to have an antipathy, and, turning the bark inside out, sew it into cylindrical vessels for their grain, and bury them in holes and in crags on the wooded hill-sides. By this means, should a marauding party plunder their huts, they save a supply of corn. They “could give us no information, and they had no food; Chisaka’s men had robbed them a few weeks before.”

“Never mind,” said our native Portuguese, “they will sell you plenty when you return, they are afraid of you now, as yet they do not know who you are.” We slept under trees in the open air, and suffered no inconvenience from either mosquitoes or dew: and no prowling wild beast troubled us; though one evening, while we were here, a native sitting with some others on the opposite bank was killed by a leopard.

One of the Tette slaves, who wished to be considered a great traveller, gave us, as we sat by our evening fire, an interesting account of a strange race of men whom he had seen in the interior; they were only three feet high, and had horns growing out of their heads; they lived in a large town and had plenty of food. The Makololo pooh-poohed this story, and roundly told the narrator that he was telling a downright lie. “WE come from the interior,” cried out a tall fellow, measuring some six feet four, “are WE dwarfs? have WE horns on our heads?” and thus they laughed the fellow to scorn. But he still stoutly maintained that he had seen these little people, and had actually been in their town; thus making himself the hero of the traditional story, which before and since the time of Herodotus has, with curious persistency, clung to the native mind. The mere fact that such absurd notions are permanent, even in the entire absence of literature, invests the religious ideas of these people also with importance, as fragments of the wreck of the primitive faith floating down the stream of time.

We waded across the rapid Luia, which took us up to the waist, and was about forty yards wide. The water was discoloured at the time, and we were not without apprehension that a crocodile might chance to fancy a white man for dinner. Next day one of the men crawled over the black rocks to within ten yards of a sleeping hippopotamus, and shot him through the brain. The weather being warm, the body floated in a few hours, and some of us had our first trial of hippopotamus flesh. It is a cross-grained meat, something between pork and beef,- -pretty good food when one is hungry and can get nothing better. When we reached the foot of the mountain named Chipereziwa, whose perpendicular rocky sides are clothed with many-coloured lichens, our Portuguese companion informed us there were no more obstructions to navigation, the river being all smooth above; he had hunted there and knew it well. Supposing that the object of our trip was accomplished we turned back; but two natives, who came to our camp at night, assured us that a cataract, called Morumbwa, did still exist in front. Drs. Livingstone and Kirk then decided to go forward with three Makololo and settle the question for themselves. It was as tough a bit of travel as they ever had in Africa, and after some painful marching the Badema guides refused to go further; “the Banyai,” they said, “would be angry if they showed white men the country; and there was besides no practicable approach to the spot, neither elephant, nor hippopotamus, nor even a crocodile could reach the cataract.” The slopes of the mountains on each side of the river, now not 300 yards wide, and without the flattish flood-channel and groove, were more than 3000 feet from the sky-line down, and were covered either with dense thornbush or huge black boulders; this deep trough-like shape caused the sun’s rays to converge as into a focus, making the surface so hot that the soles of the feet of the Makololo became blistered. Around, and up and down, the party clambered among these heated blocks, at a pace not exceeding a mile an hour; the strain upon the muscles in jumping from crag to boulder, and wriggling round projections, took an enormous deal out of them, and they were often glad to cower in the shadow formed by one rock overhanging and resting on another; the shelter induced the peculiarly strong and overpowering inclination to sleep, which too much sun sometimes causes. This sleep is curative of what may be incipient sunstroke: in its first gentle touches, it caused the dream to flit over the boiling brain, that they had become lunatics and had been sworn in as members of the Alpine club; and then it became so heavy that it made them feel as if a portion of existence had been cut out from their lives. The sun is excessively hot, and feels sharp in Africa; but, probably from the greater dryness of the atmosphere, we never heard of a single case of sunstroke, so common in India. The Makololo told Dr. Livingstone they “always thought he had a heart, but now they believed he had none,” and tried to persuade Dr. Kirk to return, on the ground that it must be evident that, in attempting to go where no living foot could tread, his leader had given unmistakeable signs of having gone mad. All their efforts of persuasion, however, were lost upon Dr. Kirk, as he had not yet learned their language, and his leader, knowing his companion to be equally anxious with himself to solve the problem of the navigableness of Kebrabasa, was not at pains to enlighten him. At one part a bare mountain spur barred the way, and had to be surmounted by a perilous and circuitous route, along which the crags were so hot that it was scarcely possible for the hand to hold on long enough to ensure safety in the passage; and had the foremost of the party lost his hold, he would have hurled all behind him into the river at the foot of the promontory; yet in this wild hot region, as they descended again to the river, they met a fisherman casting his hand-net into the boiling eddies, and he pointed out the cataract of Morumbwa; within an hour they were trying to measure it from an overhanging rock, at a height of about one hundred feet. When you stand facing the cataract, on the north bank, you see that it is situated in a sudden bend of the river, which is flowing in a short curve; the river above it is jammed between two mountains in a channel with perpendicular sides, and less than fifty yards wide; one or two masses of rock jut out, and then there is a sloping fall of perhaps twenty feet in a distance of thirty yards. It would stop all navigation, except during the highest floods; the rocks showed that the water then rises upwards of eighty feet perpendicularly.

Still keeping the position facing the cataract, on its right side rises Mount Morumbwa from 2000 to 3000 feet high, which gives the name to the spot. On the left of the cataract stands a noticeable mountain which may be called onion-shaped, for it is partly conical and a large concave flake has peeled off, as granite often does, and left a broad, smooth convex face as if it were an enormous bulb. These two mountains extend their bases northwards about half a mile, and the river in that distance, still very narrow, is smooth, with a few detached rocks standing out from its bed. They climbed as high up the base of Mount Morumbwa, which touches the cataract, as they required. The rocks were all water-worn and smooth, with huge potholes, even at 100 feet above low water. When at a later period they climbed up the north-western base of this same mountain, the familiar face of the onion-shaped one opposite was at once recognised; one point of view on the talus of Mount Morumbwa was not more than 700 or 800 yards distant from the other, and they then completed the survey of Kebrabasa from end to end.

They did not attempt to return by the way they came, but scaled the slope of the mountain on the north. It took them three hours’ hard labour in cutting their way up through the dense thornbush which covered the ascent. The face of the slope was often about an angle of 70 degrees, yet their guide Shokumbenla, whose hard, horny soles, resembling those of elephants, showed that he was accustomed to this rough and hot work, carried a pot of water for them nearly all the way up. They slept that night at a well in a tufaceous rock on the N.W. of Chipereziwa, and never was sleep more sweet.

A band of native musicians came to our camp one evening, on our own way down, and treated us with their wild and not unpleasant music on the Marimba, an instrument formed of bars of hard wood of varying breadth and thickness, laid on different-sized hollow calabashes, and tuned to give the notes; a few pieces of cloth pleased them, and they passed on.

The rainy season of Tette differs a little from that of some of the other intertropical regions; the quantity of rain-fall being considerably less. It begins in November and ends in April. During our first season in that place, only a little over nineteen inches of rain fell. In an average year, and when the crops are good, the fall amounts to about thirty-five inches. On many days it does not rain at all, and rarely is it wet all day; some days have merely a passing shower, preceded and followed by hot sunshine; occasionally an interval of a week, or even a fortnight, passes without a drop of rain, and then the crops suffer from the sun. These partial droughts happen in December and January. The heat appears to increase to a certain point in the different latitudes so as to necessitate a change, by some law similar to that which regulates the intense cold in other countries. After several days of progressive heat here, on the hottest of which the thermometer probably reaches 103 degrees in the shade, a break occurs in the weather, and a thunderstorm cools the air for a time. At Kuruman, when the thermometer stood above 84 degrees, rain might be expected; at Kolobeng, the point at which we looked for a storm was 96 degrees. The Zambesi is in flood twice in the course of the year; the first flood, a partial one, attains its greatest height about the end of December or beginning of January; the second, and greatest, occurs after the river inundates the interior, in a manner similar to the overflow of the Nile, this rise not taking place at Tette until March. The Portuguese say that the greatest height which the March floods attain is thirty feet at Tette, and this happens only about every fourth year; their observations, however, have never been very accurate on anything but ivory, and they have in this case trusted to memory alone. The only fluviometer at Tette, or anywhere else on the river, was set up at our suggestion; and the first flood was at its greatest height of thirteen feet six inches on the 17th January, 1859, and then gradually fell a few feet, until succeeded by the greater flood of March. The river rises suddenly, the water is highly discoloured and impure, and there is a four-knot current in many places; but in a day or two after the first rush of waters is passed, the current becomes more equally spread over the whole bed of the river, and resumes its usual rate in the channel, although continuing in flood. The Zambesi water at other times is almost chemically pure, and the photographer would find that it is nearly as good as distilled water for the nitrate of silver bath.

A third visit to Kebrabasa was made for the purpose of ascertaining whether it might be navigable when the Zambesi was in flood, the chief point of interest being of course Morumbwa; it was found that the rapids observed in our first trip had disappeared, and that while they were smoothed over, in a few places the current had increased in strength. As the river fell rapidly while we were on the journey, the cataract of Morumbwa did not differ materially from what it was when discovered. Some fishermen assured us that it was not visible when the river was at its fullest, and that the current was then not very strong. On this occasion we travelled on the right bank, and found it, with the additional inconvenience of rain, as rough and fatiguing as the left had been. Our progress was impeded by the tall wet grass and dripping boughs, and consequent fever. During the earlier part of the journey we came upon a few deserted hamlets only; but at last in a pleasant valley we met some of the people of the country, who were miserably poor and hungry. The women were gathering wild fruits in the woods. A young man having consented for two yards of cotton cloth to show us a short path to the cataract led us up a steep hill to a village perched on the edge of one of its precipices; a thunderstorm coming on at the time, the headman invited us to take shelter in a hut until it had passed. Our guide having informed him of what he knew and conceived to be our object, was favoured in return with a long reply in well-sounding blank verse; at the end of every line the guide, who listened with deep attention, responded with a grunt, which soon became so ludicrous that our men burst into a loud laugh. Neither the poet nor the responsive guide took the slightest notice of their rudeness, but kept on as energetically as ever to the end. The speech, or more probably our bad manners, made some impression on our guide, for he declined, although offered double pay, to go any further.

A great deal of fever comes in with March and April; in March, if considerable intervals take place between the rainy days, and in April always, for then large surfaces of mud and decaying vegetation are exposed to the hot sun. In general an attack does not continue long, but it pulls one down quickly; though when the fever is checked the strength is as quickly restored. It had long been observed that those who were stationed for any length of time in one spot, and lived sedentary lives, suffered more from fever than others who moved about and had both mind and body occupied; but we could not all go in the small vessel when she made her trips, during which the change of place and scenery proved so conducive to health; and some of us were obliged to remain in charge of the expedition’s property, making occasional branch trips to examine objects of interest in the vicinity. Whatever may be the cause of the fever, we observed that all were often affected at the same time, as if from malaria. This was particularly the case during a north wind: it was at first commonly believed that a daily dose of quinine would prevent the attack. For a number of months all our men, except two, took quinine regularly every morning. The fever some times attacked the believers in quinine, while the unbelievers in its prophylactic powers escaped. Whether we took it daily, or omitted it altogether for months, made no difference; the fever was impartial, and seized us on the days of quinine as regularly and as severely as when it remained undisturbed in the medicine chest, and we finally abandoned the use of it as a prophylactic altogether. The best preventive against fever is plenty of interesting work to do, and abundance of wholesome food to eat. To a man well housed and clothed, who enjoys these advantages, the fever at Tette will not prove a more formidable enemy than a common cold; but let one of these be wanting — let him be indolent, or guilty of excesses in eating or drinking, or have poor, scanty fare — and the fever will probably become a more serious matter. It is of a milder type at Tette than at Quillimane or on the low sea-coast; and, as in this part of Africa one is as liable to fever as to colds in England, it would be advisable for strangers always to hasten from the coast to the high lands, in order that when the seizure does take place, it may be of the mildest type. Although quinine was not found to be a preventive, except possibly in the way of acting as a tonic, and rendering the system more able to resist the influence of malaria, it was found invaluable in the cure of the complaint, as soon as pains in the back, sore bones, headache, yawning, quick and sometimes intermittent pulse, noticeable pulsations of the jugulars, with suffused eyes, hot skin, and foul tongue, began. 1

Very curious are the effects of African fever on certain minds. Cheerfulness vanishes, and the whole mental horizon is overcast with black clouds of gloom and sadness. The liveliest joke cannot provoke even the semblance of a smile. The countenance is grave, the eyes suffused, and the few utterances are made in the piping voice of a wailing infant. An irritable temper is often the first symptom of approaching fever. At such times a man feels very much like a fool, if he does not act like one. Nothing is right, nothing pleases the fever-stricken victim. He is peevish, prone to find fault and to contradict, and think himself insulted, and is exactly what an Irish naval surgeon before a court-martial defined a drunken man to be: “a man unfit for society.”

Finding that it was impossible to take our steamer of only ten-horse power through Kebrabasa, and convinced that, in order to force a passage when the river was in flood, much greater power was required, due information was forwarded to Her Majesty’s Government, and application made for a more suitable vessel. Our attention was in the mean time turned to the exploration of the river Shire, a northern tributary of the Zambesi, which joins it about a hundred miles from the sea. We could learn nothing satisfactory from the Portuguese regarding this affluent; no one, they said, had ever been up it, nor could they tell whence it came. Years ago a Portuguese expedition is said, however, to have attempted the ascent, but to have abandoned it on account of the impenetrable duckweed (Pistia stratiotes.) We could not learn from any record that the Shire had ever been ascended by Europeans. As far, therefore, as we were concerned, the exploration was absolutely new. All the Portuguese believed the Manganja to be brave but bloodthirsty savages; and on our return we found that soon after our departure a report was widely spread that our temerity had been followed by fatal results, Dr. Livingstone having been shot, and Dr. Kirk mortally wounded by poisoned arrows.

Our first trip to the Shire was in January, 1859. A considerable quantity of weed floated down the river for the first twenty-five miles, but not sufficient to interrupt navigation with canoes or with any other craft. Nearly the whole of this aquatic plant proceeds from a marsh on the west, and comes into the river a little beyond a lofty hill called Mount Morambala. Above that there is hardly any. As we approached the villages, the natives collected in large numbers, armed with bows and poisoned arrows; and some, dodging behind trees, were observed taking aim as if on the point of shooting. All the women had been sent out of the way, and the men were evidently prepared to resist aggression. At the village of a chief named Tingane, at least five hundred natives collected and ordered us to stop. Dr. Livingstone went ashore; and on his explaining that we were English and had come neither to take slaves nor to fight, but only to open a path by which our countrymen might follow to purchase cotton, or whatever else they might have to sell, except slaves, Tingane became at once quite friendly. The presence of the steamer, which showed that they had an entirely new people to deal with, probably contributed to this result; for Tingane was notorious for being the barrier to all intercourse between the Portuguese black traders and the natives further inland; none were allowed to pass him either way. He was an elderly, well-made man, grey-headed, and over six feet high. Though somewhat excited by our presence, he readily complied with the request to call his people together, in order that all might know what our objects were.

In commencing intercourse with any people we almost always referred to the English detestation of slavery. Most of them already possess some information respecting the efforts made by the English at sea to suppress the slave-trade; and our work being to induce them to raise and sell cotton, instead of capturing and selling their fellow-men, our errand appears quite natural; and as they all have clear ideas of their own self-interest, and are keen traders, the reasonableness of the proposal is at once admitted; and as a belief in a Supreme Being, the Maker and Ruler of all things, and in the continued existence of departed spirits, is universal, it becomes quite appropriate to explain that we possess a Book containing a Revelation of the will of Him to whom in their natural state they recognise no relationship. The fact that His Son appeared among men, and left His words in His Book, always awakens attention; but the great difficulty is to make them feel that they have any relationship to Him, and that He feels any interest in them. The numbness of moral perception exhibited, is often discouraging; but the mode of communication, either by interpreters, or by the imperfect knowledge of the language, which not even missionaries of talent can overcome save by the labour of many years, may, in part, account for the phenomenon. However, the idea of the Father of all being displeased with His children, for selling or killing each other, at once gains their ready assent: it harmonizes so exactly with their own ideas of right and wrong. But, as in our own case at home, nothing less than the instruction and example of many years will secure their moral elevation.

The dialect spoken here closely resembles that used at Senna and Tette. We understood it at first only enough to know whether our interpreter was saying what we bade him, or was indulging in his own version. After stating pretty nearly what he was told, he had an inveterate tendency to wind up with “The Book says you are to grow cotton, and the English are to come and buy it,” or with some joke of his own, which might have been ludicrous, had it not been seriously distressing.

In the first ascent of the Shire our attention was chiefly directed to the river itself. The delight of threading out the meanderings of upwards of 200 miles of a hitherto unexplored river must be felt to be appreciated. All the lower part of the river was found to be at least two fathoms in depth. It became shallower higher up, where many departing and re-entering branches diminished the volume of water, but the absence of sandbanks made it easy of navigation. We had to exercise the greatest care lest anything we did should be misconstrued by the crowds who watched us. After having made, in a straight line, one hundred miles, although the windings of the river had fully doubled the distance, we found further progress with the steamer arrested, in 15 degrees 55 minutes south, by magnificent cataracts, which we called, “The Murchison,” after one whose name has already a world-wide fame, and whose generous kindness we can never repay. The native name of that figured in the woodcut is Mamvira. It is that at which the progress of the steamer was first stopped. The angle of descent is much smaller than that of the five cataracts above it; indeed, so small as compared with them, that after they were discovered this was not included in the number.

A few days were spent here in the hope that there might be an opportunity of taking observations for longitude, but it rained most of the time, or the sky was overcast. It was deemed imprudent to risk a land journey whilst the natives were so very suspicious as to have a strong guard on the banks of the river night and day; the weather also was unfavourable. After sending presents and messages to two of the chiefs, we returned to Tette. In going down stream our progress was rapid, as we were aided by the current. The hippopotami never made a mistake, but got out of our way. The crocodiles, not so wise, sometimes rushed with great velocity at us, thinking that we were some huge animal swimming. They kept about a foot from the surface, but made three well-defined ripples from the feet and body, which marked their rapid progress; raising the head out of the water when only a few yards from the expected feast, down they went to the bottom like a stone, without touching the boat.

In the middle of March of the same year (1859), we started again for a second trip on the Shire. The natives were now friendly, and readily sold us rice, fowls, and corn. We entered into amicable relations with the chief, Chibisa, whose village was about ten miles below the cataract. He had sent two men on our first visit to invite us to drink beer; but the steamer was such a terrible apparition to them, that, after shouting the invitation, they jumped ashore, and left their canoe to drift down the stream. Chibisa was a remarkably shrewd man, the very image, save his dark hue, of one of our most celebrated London actors, 2 and the most intelligent chief, by far, in this quarter. A great deal of fighting had fallen to his lot, he said; but it was always others who began; he was invariably in the right, and they alone were to blame. He was moreover a firm believer in the divine right of kings. He was an ordinary man, he said, when his father died, and left him the chieftainship; but directly he succeeded to the high office, he was conscious of power passing into his head, and down his back; he felt it enter, and knew that he was a chief, clothed with authority, and possessed of wisdom; and people then began to fear and reverence him. He mentioned this, as one would a fact of natural history, any doubt being quite out of the question. His people, too, believed in him, for they bathed in the river without the slightest fear of crocodiles, the chief having placed a powerful medicine there, which protected them from the bite of these terrible reptiles.

Leaving the vessel opposite Chibisa’s village, Drs. Livingstone and Kirk and a number of the Makololo started on foot for Lake Shirwa. They travelled in a northerly direction over a mountainous country. The people were far from being well-disposed to them, and some of their guides tried to mislead them, and could not be trusted. Masakasa, a Makololo headman, overheard some remarks which satisfied him that the guide was leading them into trouble. He was quiet till they reached a lonely spot, when he came up to Dr. Livingstone, and said, “That fellow is bad, he is taking us into mischief; my spear is sharp, and there is no one here; shall I cast him into the long grass?” Had the Doctor given the slightest token of assent, or even kept silence, never more would any one have been led by that guide, for in a twinkling he would have been where “the wicked cease from troubling.” It was afterwards found that in this case there was no treachery at all, but a want of knowledge on their part of the language and of the country. They asked to be led to “Nyanja Mukulu,” or Great Lake, meaning, by this, Lake Shirwa; and the guide took them round a terribly rough piece of mountainous country, gradually edging away towards a long marsh, which from the numbers of those animals we had seen there we had called the Elephant Marsh, but which was really the place known to him by the name “Nyanja Mukulu,” or Great Lake. Nyanja or Nyanza means, generally, a marsh, lake, river, or even a mere rivulet.

The party pushed on at last without guides, or only with crazy ones; for, oddly enough, they were often under great obligations to the madmen of the different villages: one of these honoured them, as they slept in the open air, by dancing and singing at their feet the whole night. These poor fellows sympathized with the explorers, probably in the belief that they belonged to their own class; and, uninfluenced by the general opinion of their countrymen, they really pitied, and took kindly to the strangers, and often guided them faithfully from place to place, when no sane man could be hired for love or money.

The bearing of the Manganja at this time was very independent; a striking contrast to the cringing attitude they afterwards assumed, when the cruel scourge of slave-hunting passed over their country. Signals were given from the different villages by means of drums, and notes of defiance and intimidation were sounded in the travellers’ ears by day; and occasionally they were kept awake the whole night, in expectation of an instant attack. Drs. Livingstone and Kirk were desirous that nothing should occur to make the natives regard them as enemies; Masakasa, on the other hand, was anxious to show what he could do in the way of fighting them.

The perseverance of the party was finally crowned with success; for on the 18th of April they discovered Lake Shirwa, a considerable body of bitter water, containing leeches, fish, crocodiles, and hippopotami. From having probably no outlet, the water is slightly brackish, and it appears to be deep, with islands like hills rising out of it. Their point of view was at the base of Mount Pirimiti or Mopeu-peu, on its S.S.W. side. Thence the prospect northwards ended in a sea horizon with two small islands in the distance — a larger one, resembling a hill-top and covered with trees, rose more in the foreground. Ranges of hills appeared on the east; and on the west stood Mount Chikala, which seems to be connected with the great mountain-mass called Zomba.

The shore, near which they spent two nights, was covered with reeds and papyrus. Wishing to obtain the latitude by the natural horizon, they waded into the water some distance towards what was reported to be a sand-bank, but were so assaulted by leeches, they were fain to retreat; and a woman told them that in enticing them into the water the men only wanted to kill them. The information gathered was that this lake was nothing in size compared to another in the north, from which it is separated by only a tongue of land. The northern end of Shirwa has not been seen, though it has been passed; the length of the lake may probably be 60 or 80 miles, and about 20 broad. The height above the sea is 1800 feet, and the taste of the water is like a weak solution of Epsom salts. The country around is very beautiful, and clothed with rich vegetation; and the waves, at the time they were there breaking and foaming over a rock on the south-eastern side, added to the beauty of the picture. Exceedingly lofty mountains, perhaps 8000 feet above the sea-level, stand near the eastern shore. When their lofty steep-sided summits appear, some above, some below the clouds, the scene is grand. This range is called Milanje; on the west stands Mount Zomba, 7000 feet in height, and some twenty miles long.

Their object being rather to gain the confidence of the people by degrees than to explore, they considered that they had advanced far enough into the country for one trip; and believing that they could secure their end by a repetition of their visit, as they had done on the Shire, they decided to return to the vessel at Dakanamoio island; but, instead of returning by the way they came, they passed down southwards close by Mount Chiradzuru, among the relatives of Chibisa, and thence by the pass Zedi, down to the Shire. The Kroomen had, while we were away, cut a good supply of wood for steaming, and we soon proceeded down the river.

The steamer reached Tette on the 23rd of June, and, after undergoing repairs, proceeded to the Kongone to receive provisions from one of H.M. cruisers. We had been very abundantly supplied with first-rate stores, but were unfortunate enough to lose a considerable portion of them, and had now to bear the privation as best we could. On the way down, we purchased a few gigantic cabbages and pumpkins at a native village below Mazaro. Our dinners had usually consisted of but a single course; but we were surprised the next day by our black cook from Sierra Leone bearing in a second course. “What have you got there?” was asked in wonder. “A tart, sir.” “A tart! of what is it made?” “Of cabbage, sir.” As we had no sugar, and could not “make believe,” as in the days of boyhood, we did not enjoy the feast that Tom’s genius had prepared. Her Majesty’s brig “Persian,” Lieutenant Saumarez commanding, called on her way to the Cape; and, though somewhat short of provisions herself, generously gave us all she could spare. We now parted with our Kroomen, as, from their inability to march, we could not use them in our land journeys. A crew was picked out from the Makololo, who, besides being good travellers, could cut wood, work the ship, and required only native food.

While at the Kongone it was found necessary to beach the steamer for repairs. She was built of a newly invented sort of steel plates, only a sixteenth of an inch in thickness, patented, but unfortunately never tried before. To build an exploring ship of untried material was a mistake. Some chemical action on this preparation of steel caused a minute hole; from this point, branches like lichens, or the little ragged stars we sometimes see in thawing ice, radiated in all directions. Small holes went through wherever a bend occurred in these branches. The bottom very soon became like a sieve, completely full of minute holes, which leaked perpetually. The engineer stopped the larger ones, but the vessel was no sooner afloat, than new ones broke out. The first news of a morning was commonly the unpleasant announcement of another leak in the forward compartment, or in the middle, which was worse still.

Frequent showers fell on our way up the Zambesi, in the beginning of August. On the 8th we had upwards of three inches of rain, which large quantity, more than falls in any single rainy day during the season at Tette, we owed to being near the sea. Sometimes the cabin was nearly flooded; for, in addition to the leakage from below, rain poured through the roof, and an umbrella had to be used whenever we wished to write: the mode of coupling the compartments, too, was a new one, and the action of the hinder compartment on the middle one pumped up the water of the river, and sent it in streams over the floor and lockers, where lay the cushions which did double duty as chairs and beds. In trying to form an opinion of the climate, it must be recollected that much of the fever, from which we suffered, was caused by sleeping on these wet cushions. Many of the botanical specimens, laboriously collected and carefully prepared by Dr. Kirk, were destroyed, or double work imposed, by their accidentally falling into wet places in the cabin.

About the middle of August, after cutting wood at Shamoara, we again steamed up the Shire, with the intention of becoming better acquainted with the people, and making another and longer journey on foot to the north of Lake Shirwa, in search of Lake Nyassa, of which we had already received some information, under the name Nyinyesi (the stars). The Shire is much narrower than the Zambesi, but deeper, and more easily navigated. It drains a low and exceedingly fertile valley of from fifteen to twenty miles in breadth. Ranges of wooded hills bound this valley on both sides. For the first twenty miles the hills on the left bank are close to the river; then comes Morambala, a detached mountain 500 yards from the river’s brink, which rises, with steep sides on the west, to 4000 feet in height, and is about seven miles in length. It is wooded up to the very top, and very beautiful. The southern end, seen from a distance, has a fine gradual slope, and looks as if it might be of easy ascent; but the side which faces the Shire is steep and rocky, especially in the upper half. A small village peeps out about halfway up the mountain; it has a pure and bracing atmosphere; and is perched above mosquito range. The people on the summit have a very different climate and vegetation from those of the plains; but they have to spend a great portion of their existence amidst white fleecy clouds, which, in the rainy season, rest daily on the top of their favourite mountain. We were kindly treated by these mountaineers on our first ascent; before our second they were nearly all swept away by Mariano. Dr. Kirk found upwards of thirty species of ferns on this and other mountains, and even good-sized tree-ferns; though scarcely a single kind is to be met with on the plains. Lemon and orange trees grew wild, and pineapples had been planted by the people. Many large hornbills, hawks, monkeys, antelopes, and rhinoceroses found a home and food among the great trees round its base. A hot fountain boils up on the plain near the north end. It bubbles out of the earth, clear as crystal, at two points, or eyes, a few yards apart from each other, and sends off a fine flowing stream of hot water. The temperature was found to be 174 degrees Fahr., and it boiled an egg in about the usual time. Our guide threw in a small branch to show us how speedily the Madse-awira (boiling water) could kill the leaves. Unlucky lizards and insects did not seem to understand the nature of a hot-spring, as many of their remains were lying at the bottom. A large beetle had alighted on the water, and been killed before it had time to fold its wings. An incrustation, smelling of sulphur, has been deposited by the water on the stones. About a hundred feet from the eye of the fountain the mud is as hot as can be borne by the body. In taking a bath there, it makes the skin perfectly clean, and none of the mud adheres: it is strange that the Portuguese do not resort to it for the numerous cutaneous diseases with which they are so often afflicted.

A few clumps of the palm and acacia trees appear west of Morambala, on the rich plain forming the tongue of land between the rivers Shire and Zambesi. This is a good place for all sorts of game. The Zambesi canoe-men were afraid to sleep on it from the idea of lions being there; they preferred to pass the night on an island. Some black men, who accompanied us as volunteer workmen from Shupanga, called out one evening that a lion stood on the bank. It was very dark, and we could only see two sparkling lights, said to be the lion’s eyes looking at us; for here, as elsewhere, they have a theory that the lion’s eyes always flash fire at night. Not being fireflies — as they did not move when a shot was fired in their direction — they were probably glowworms.

Beyond Morambala the Shire comes winding through an extensive marsh. For many miles to the north a broad sea of fresh green grass extends, and is so level, that it might be used for taking the meridian altitude of the sun. Ten or fifteen miles north of Morambala, stands the dome-shaped mountain Makanga, or Chi-kanda; several others with granitic-looking peaks stretch away to the north, and form the eastern boundary of the valley; another range, but of metamorphic rocks, commencing opposite Senna, bounds the valley on the west. After streaming through a portion of this marsh, we came to a broad belt of palm and other trees, crossing the fine plain on the right bank. Marks of large game were abundant. Elephants had been feeding on the palm nuts, which have a pleasant fruity taste, and are used as food by man. Two pythons were observed coiled together among the branches of a large tree, and were both shot. The larger of the two, a female, was ten feet long. They are harmless, and said to be good eating. The Makololo having set fire to the grass where they were cutting wood, a solitary buffalo rushed out of the conflagration, and made a furious charge at an active young fellow named Mantlanyane. Never did his fleet limbs serve him better than during the few seconds of his fearful flight before the maddened animal. When he reached the bank, and sprang into the river, the infuriated beast was scarcely six feet behind him. Towards evening, after the day’s labour in wood-cutting was over, some of the men went fishing. They followed the common African custom of agitating the water, by giving it a few sharp strokes with the top of the fishing-rod, immediately after throwing in the line, to attract the attention of the fish to the bait. Having caught nothing, the reason assigned was the same as would have been given in England under like circumstances, namely, that “the wind made the fish cold, and they would not bite.” Many gardens of maize, pumpkins, and tobacco, fringed the marshy banks as we went on. They belong to natives of the hills, who come down in the dry season, and raise a crop on parts at other times flooded. While the crops are growing, large quantities of fish are caught, chiefly Clarias capensis, and Mugil Africanus; they are dried for sale or future consumption.

As we ascended, we passed a deep stream about thirty yards wide, flowing in from a body of open water several miles broad. Numbers of men were busy at different parts of it, filling their canoes with the lotus root, called Nyika, which, when boiled or roasted, resembles our chestnuts, and is extensively used in Africa as food. Out of this lagoon, and by this stream, the chief part of the duckweed of the Shire flows. The lagoon itself is called Nyanja ea Motope (Lake of Mud). It is also named Nyanja Pangono (Little Lake), while the elephant marsh goes by the name of Nyanja Mukulu (Great Lake). It is evident from the shore line still to be observed on the adjacent hills, that in ancient times these were really lakes, and the traditional names thus preserved are only another evidence of the general desiccation which Africa has undergone.

1 A remedy composed of from six to eight grains of resin of jalap, the same of rhubarb, and three each of calomel and quinine, made up into four pills, with tincture of cardamoms, usually relieved all the symptoms in five or six hours. Four pills are a full dose for a man — one will suffice for a woman. They received from our men the name of “rousers,” from their efficacy in rousing up even those most prostrated. When their operation is delayed, a dessert-spoonful of Epsom salts should be given. Quinine after or during the operation of the pills, in large doses every two or three hours, until deafness or cinchonism ensued, completed the cure. The only cases in which, we found ourselves completely helpless, were those in which obstinate vomiting ensued.

2 The late Mr. Robson.


Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38