Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries, by David Livingstone

Chapter VI.

Illness — The Honey-guide — Abundance of game — The Baenda pezi — The Batoka.

We left the river here, and proceeded up the valley which leads to the Mburuma or Mohango pass. The nights were cold, and on the 30th of June the thermometer was as low as 39 degrees at sunrise. We passed through a village of twenty large huts, which Sequasha had attacked on his return from the murder of the chief, Mpangwe. He caught the women and children for slaves, and carried off all the food, except a huge basket of bran, which the natives are wont to save against a time of famine. His slaves had broken all the water-pots and the millstones for grinding meal.

The buaze-trees and bamboos are now seen on the hills; but the jujube or zisyphus, which has evidently been introduced from India, extends no further up the river. We had been eating this fruit, which, having somewhat the taste of apples, the Portuguese call Macaas, all the way from Tette; and here they were larger than usual, though immediately beyond they ceased to be found. No mango-tree either is to be met with beyond this point, because the Portuguese traders never established themselves anywhere beyond Zumbo. Tsetse flies are more numerous and troublesome than we have ever before found them. They accompany us on the march, often buzzing round our heads like a swarm of bees. They are very cunning, and when intending to bite, alight so gently that their presence is not perceived till they thrust in their lance-like proboscis. The bite is acute, but the pain is over in a moment; it is followed by a little of the disagreeable itching of the mosquito’s bite. This fly invariably kills all domestic animals except goats and donkeys; man and the wild animals escape. We ourselves were severely bitten on this pass, and so were our donkeys, but neither suffered from any after effects.

Water is scarce in the Mburuma pass, except during the rainy season. We however halted beside some fine springs in the bed of the now dry rivulet, Podebode, which is continued down to the end of the pass, and yields water at intervals in pools. Here we remained a couple of days in consequence of the severe illness of Dr. Kirk. He had several times been attacked by fever; and observed that when we were on the cool heights he was comfortable, but when we happened to descend from a high to a lower altitude, he felt chilly, though the temperature in the latter case was 25 degrees higher than it was above; he had been trying different medicines of reputed efficacy with a view to ascertain whether other combinations might not be superior to the preparation we generally used; in halting by this water he suddenly became blind, and unable to stand from faintness. The men, with great alacrity, prepared a grassy bed, on which we laid our companion, with the sad forebodings which only those who have tended the sick in a wild country can realize. We feared that in experimenting he had over-drugged himself; but we gave him a dose of our fever pills; on the third day he rode the one of the two donkeys that would allow itself to be mounted, and on the sixth he marched as well as any of us. This case is mentioned in order to illustrate what we have often observed, that moving the patient from place to place is most conducive to the cure; and the more pluck a man has — the less he gives in to the disease — the less likely he is to die.

Supplied with water by the pools in the Podebode, we again joined the Zambesi at the confluence of the rivulet. When passing through a dry district the native hunter knows where to expect water by the animals he sees. The presence of the gemsbuck, duiker or diver, springbucks, or elephants, is no proof that water is near; for these animals roam over vast tracts of country, and may be met scores of miles from it. Not so, however, the zebra, pallah, buffalo, and rhinoceros; their spoor gives assurance that water is not far off, as they never stray any distance from its neighbourhood. But when amidst the solemn stillness of the woods, the singing of joyous birds falls upon the ear, it is certain that water is close at hand.

Our men in hunting came on an immense herd of buffaloes, quietly resting in the long dry grass, and began to blaze away furiously at the astonished animals. In the wild excitement of the hunt, which heretofore had been conducted with spears, some forgot to load with ball, and, firing away vigorously with powder only, wondered for the moment that the buffaloes did not fall. The slayer of the young elephant, having buried his four bullets in as many buffaloes, fired three charges of No. 1 shot he had for killing guinea-fowl. The quaint remarks and merriment after these little adventures seemed to the listener like the pleasant prattle of children. Mbia and Mantlanyane, however, killed one buffalo each; both the beasts were in prime condition; the meat was like really excellent beef, with a smack of venison. A troop of hungry, howling hyenas also thought the savour tempting, as they hung round the camp at night, anxious to partake of the feast. They are, fortunately, arrant cowards, and never attack either men or beasts except they can catch them asleep, sick, or at some other disadvantage. With a bright fire at our feet their presence excites no uneasiness. A piece of meat hung on a tree, high enough to make him jump to reach it, and a short spear, with its handle firmly planted in the ground beneath, are used as a device to induce the hyena to commit suicide by impalement.

The honey-guide is an extraordinary bird; how is it that every member of its family has learned that all men, white or black, are fond of honey? The instant the little fellow gets a glimpse of a man, he hastens to greet him with the hearty invitation to come, as Mbia translated it, to a bees’ hive, and take some honey. He flies on in the proper direction, perches on a tree, and looks back to see if you are following; then on to another and another, until he guides you to the spot. If you do not accept his first invitation he follows you with pressing importunities, quite as anxious to lure the stranger to the bees’ hive as other birds are to draw him away from their own nest. Except while on the march, our men were sure to accept the invitation, and manifested the same by a peculiar responsive whistle, meaning, as they said, “All right, go ahead; we are coming.” The bird never deceived them, but always guided them to a hive of bees, though some had but little honey in store. Has this peculiar habit of the honey-guide its origin, as the attachment of dogs, in friendship for man, or in love for the sweet pickings of the plunder left on the ground? Self-interest aiding in preservation from danger seems to be the rule in most cases, as, for instance, in the bird that guards the buffalo and rhinoceros. The grass is often so tall and dense that one could go close up to these animals quite unperceived; but the guardian bird, sitting on the beast, sees the approach of danger, flaps its wings and screams, which causes its bulky charge to rush off from a foe he has neither seen nor heard; for his reward the vigilant little watcher has the pick of the parasites on his fat friend. In other cases a chance of escape must be given even by the animal itself to its prey; as in the rattle-snake, which, when excited to strike, cannot avoid using his rattle, any more than the cat can resist curling its tail when excited in the chase of a mouse, or the cobra can refrain from inflating the loose skin of the neck and extending it laterally, before striking its poison fangs into its victim. There are many snakes in parts of this pass; they basked in the warm sunshine, but rustled off through the leaves as we approached. We observed one morning a small one of a deadly poisonous species, named Kakone, on a bush by the wayside, quietly resting in a horizontal position, digesting a lizard for breakfast. Though openly in view, its colours and curves so closely resembled a small branch that some failed to see it, even after being asked if they perceived anything on the bush. Here also one of our number had a glance at another species, rarely seen, and whose swift lightning-like motion has given rise to the native proverb, that when a man sees this snake he will forthwith become a rich man.

We slept near the ruined village of the murdered chief, Mpangwe, a lovely spot, with the Zambesi in front, and extensive gardens behind, backed by a semicircle of hills receding up to lofty mountains. Our path kept these mountains on our right, and crossed several streamlets, which seemed to be perennial, and among others the Selole, which apparently flows past the prominent peak Chiarapela. These rivulets have often human dwellings on their banks; but the land can scarcely be said to be occupied. The number of all sorts of game increases wonderfully every day. As a specimen of what may be met with where there are no human habitations, and where no firearms have been introduced, we may mention what at times has actually been seen by us. On the morning of July 3rd a herd of elephants passed within fifty yards of our sleeping-place, going down to the river along the dry bed of a rivulet. Starting a few minutes before the main body, we come upon large flocks of guinea-fowl, shoot what may be wanted for dinner, or next morning’s breakfast, and leave them in the path to be picked up by the cook and his mates behind. As we proceed, francolins of three varieties run across the path, and hundreds of turtle-doves rise, with great blatter of wing, and fly off to the trees. Guinea-fowls, francolins, turtle-doves, ducks, and geese are the game birds of this region. At sunrise a herd of pallahs, standing like a flock of sheep, allow the first man of our long Indian file to approach within about fifty yards; but having meat, we let them trot off leisurely and unmolested. Soon afterwards we come upon a herd of waterbucks, which here are very much darker in colour, and drier in flesh, than the same species near the sea. They look at us and we at them; and we pass on to see a herd of doe koodoos, with a magnificently horned buck or two, hurrying off to the dry hill-sides. We have ceased shooting antelopes, as our men have been so often gorged with meat that they have become fat and dainty. They say that they do not want more venison, it is so dry and tasteless, and ask why we do not give them shot to shoot the more savoury guinea-fowl.

About eight o’clock the tsetse commence to buzz about us, and bite our hands and necks sharply. Just as we are thinking of breakfast, we meet some buffaloes grazing by the path; but they make off in a heavy gallop at the sight of man. We fire, and the foremost, badly wounded, separates from the herd, and is seen to stop amongst the trees; but, as it is a matter of great danger to follow a wounded buffalo, we hold on our way. It is this losing of wounded animals which makes firearms so annihilating to these beasts of the field, and will in time sweep them all away. The small Enfield bullet is worse than the old round one for this. It often goes through an animal without killing him, and he afterwards perishes, when he is of no value to man. After breakfast we draw near a pond of water; a couple of elephants stand on its bank, and, at a respectful distance behind these monarchs of the wilderness, is seen a herd of zebras, and another of waterbucks. On getting our wind the royal beasts make off at once; but the zebras remain till the foremost man is within eighty yards of them, when old and young canter gracefully away. The zebra has a great deal of curiosity; and this is often fatal to him, for he has the habit of stopping to look at the hunter. In this particular he is the exact opposite of the diver antelope, which rushes off like the wind, and never for a moment stops to look behind, after having once seen or smelt danger. The finest zebra of the herd is sometimes shot, our men having taken a sudden fancy to the flesh, which all declare to be the “king of good meat.” On the plains of short grass between us and the river many antelopes of different species are calmly grazing, or reposing. Wild pigs are common, and walk abroad during the day; but are so shy as seldom to allow a close approach. On taking alarm they erect their slender tails in the air, and trot off swiftly in a straight line, keeping their bodies as steady as a locomotive on a railroad. A mile beyond the pool three cow buffaloes with their calves come from the woods, and move out into the plain. A troop of monkeys, on the edge of the forest, scamper back to its depths on hearing the loud song of Singeleka, and old surly fellows, catching sight of the human party, insult it with a loud and angry bark. Early in the afternoon we may see buffaloes again, or other animals. We camp on the dry higher ground, after, as has happened, driving off a solitary elephant. The nights are warmer now, and possess nearly as much of interest and novelty as the days. A new world awakes and comes forth, more numerous, if we may judge by the noise it makes, than that which is abroad by sunlight. Lions and hyenas roar around us, and sometimes come disagreeably near, though they have never ventured into our midst. Strange birds sing their agreeable songs, while others scream and call harshly as if in fear or anger. Marvellous insect-sounds fall upon the ear; one, said by natives to proceed from a large beetle, resembles a succession of measured musical blows upon an anvil, while many others are perfectly indescribable. A little lemur was once seen to leap about from branch to branch with the agility of a frog; it chirruped like a bird, and is not larger than a robin red-breast. Reptiles, though numerous, seldom troubled us; only two men suffered from stings, and that very slightly, during the entire journey, the one supposed that he was bitten by a snake, and the other was stung by a scorpion.

Grass-burning has begun, and is producing the blue hazy atmosphere of the American Indian summer, which in Western Africa is called the “smokes.” Miles of fire burn on the mountain-sides in the evenings, but go out during the night. From their height they resemble a broad zigzag line of fire in the heavens.

We slept on the night of the 6th of July on the left bank of the Chongwe, which comes through a gap in the hills on our right, and is twenty yards wide. A small tribe of the Bazizulu, from the south, under Dadanga, have recently settled here and built a village. Some of their houses are square, and they seem to be on friendly terms with the Bakoa, who own the country. They, like the other natives, cultivate cotton, but of a different species from any we have yet seen in Africa, the staple being very long, and the boll larger than what is usually met with; the seeds cohere as in the Pernambuco kind. They brought the seed with them from their own country, the distant mountains of which in the south, still inhabited by their fellow-countrymen, who possess much cattle and use shields, can be seen from this high ground. These people profess to be children of the great paramount chief, Kwanyakarombe, who is said to be lord of all the Bazizulu. The name of this tribe is known to geographers, who derive their information from the Portuguese, as the Morusurus, and the hills mentioned above are said to have been the country of Changamira, the warrior-chief of history, whom no Portuguese ever dared to approach. The Bazizulu seem, by report, to be brave mountaineers; nearer the river, the Sidima inhabit the plains; just as on the north side, the Babimpe live on the heights, about two days off, and the Makoa on or near the river. The chief of the Bazizulu we were now with was hospitable and friendly. A herd of buffaloes came trampling through the gardens and roused up our men; a feat that roaring lions seldom achieved.

Our course next day passed over the upper terrace and through a dense thorn jungle. Travelling is always difficult where there is no path, but it is even more perplexing where the forest is cut up by many game-tracks. Here we got separated from one another, and a rhinoceros with angry snort dashed at Dr. Livingstone as he stooped to pick up a specimen of the wild fruit morula; but she strangely stopped stock-still when less than her own length distant, and gave him time to escape; a branch pulled out his watch as he ran, and turning half round to grasp it, he got a distant glance of her and her calf still standing on the selfsame spot, as if arrested in the middle of her charge by an unseen hand. When about fifty yards off, thinking his companions close behind, he shouted “Look out there!” when off she rushed, snorting loudly, in another direction. The Doctor usually went unarmed before this, but never afterwards.

A fine eland was shot by Dr. Kirk this afternoon, the first we have killed. It was in first-rate condition, and remarkably fat; but the meat, though so tempting in appearance, severely deranged all who partook of it heartily, especially those who ate of the fat. Natives who live in game countries, and are acquainted with the different kinds of wild animals, have a prejudice against the fat of the eland, the pallah, the zebra, hippopotamus, and pig; they never reject it, however, the climate making the desire for all animal food very strong; but they consider that it causes ulcers and leprosy, while the fat of sheep and of oxen never produces any bad effects, unless the animal is diseased.

On the morning of the 9th, after passing four villages, we breakfasted at an old friend’s, Tombanyama, who lives now on the mainland, having resigned the reedy island, where he was first seen, to the buffaloes, which used to take his crops and show fight to his men. He keeps a large flock of tame pigeons, and some fine fat capons, one of which he gave us, with a basket of meal. They have plenty of salt in this part of the country, obtaining it from the plains in the usual way.

The half-caste partner of Sequasha and a number of his men were staying near. The fellow was very munch frightened when he saw us, and trembled so much when he spoke, that the Makololo and other natives noticed and remarked on it. His fears arose from a sense of guilt, as we said nothing to frighten him, and did not allude to the murder till a few minutes before starting; when it was remarked that Dr. Livingstone having been accredited to the murdered chief, it would be his duty to report on it; and that not even the Portuguese Government would approve of the deed. He defended it by saying that they had put in the right man, the other was a usurper. He was evidently greatly relieved when we departed. In the afternoon we came to an outlying hamlet of Kambadzo, whose own village is on an island, Nyampungo, or Nyangalule, at the confluence of the Kafue. The chief was on a visit here, and they had been enjoying a regular jollification. There had been much mirth, music, drinking, and dancing. The men, and women too, had taken “a wee drap too much,” but had not passed the complimentary stage. The wife of the headman, after looking at us a few moments, called out to the others, “Black traders have come before, calling themselves Bazungu, or white men, but now, for the first time, have we seen the real Bazungu.” Kambadzo also soon appeared; he was sorry that we had not come before the beer was all done, but he was going back to see if it was all really and entirely finished, and not one little potful left somewhere.

This was, of course, mere characteristic politeness, as he was perfectly aware that every drop had been swallowed; so we proceeded on to the Kafue, or Kafuje, accompanied by the most intelligent of his headmen. A high ridge, just before we reached the confluence, commands a splendid view of the two great rivers, and the rich country beyond. Behind, on the north and east, is the high mountain-range, along whose base we have been travelling; the whole range is covered with trees, which appear even on the prominent peaks, Chiarapela, Morindi, and Chiava; at this last the chain bends away to the N.W., and we could see the distant mountains where the chief, Semalembue, gained all our hearts in 1856.

On the 9th of July we tried to send Semalembue a present, but the people here refused to incur the responsibility of carrying it. We, who have the art of writing, cannot realize the danger one incurs of being accused of purloining a portion of goods sent from one person to another, when the carrier cannot prove that he delivered all committed to his charge. Rumours of a foray having been made, either by Makololo or Batoka, as far as the fork of the Kafue, were received here by our men with great indignation, as it looked as if the marauders were shutting up the country, which they had been trying so much to open. Below the junction of the rivers, on a shallow sandbank, lay a large herd of hippopotami, their bodies out of the water, like masses of black rock. Kambadzo’s island, called Nyangalule, a name which occurs again at the mouth of the Zambesi, has many choice Motsikiri (Trachelia) trees on it; and four very conspicuous stately palms growing out of a single stem. The Kafue reminds us a little of the Shire, flowing between steep banks, with fertile land on both sides. It is a smaller river, and has less current. Here it seems to come from the west. The headman of the village, near which we encamped, brought a present of meal, fowls, and sweet potatoes. They have both the red and white varieties of this potato. We have, on several occasions during this journey, felt the want of vegetables, in a disagreeable craving which our diet of meat and native meal could not satisfy. It became worse and worse till we got a meal of potatoes, which allayed it at once. A great scarcity of vegetables prevails in these parts of Africa. The natives collect several kinds of wild plants in the woods, which they use no doubt for the purpose of driving off cravings similar to those we experienced.

Owing to the strength of the wind, and the cranky state of the canoes, it was late in the afternoon of the 11th before our party was ferried over the Kafue. After crossing, we were in the Bawe country. Fishhooks here, of native workmanship, were observed to have barbs like the European hooks: elsewhere the point of the hook is merely bent in towards the shank, to have the same effect in keeping on the fish as the barb. We slept near a village a short distance above the ford. The people here are of Batoka origin, the same as many of our men, and call themselves Batonga (independents), or Balengi, and their language only differs slightly from that of the Bakoa, who live between the two rivers Kafue and Loangwa. The paramount chief of the district lives to the west of this place, and is called Nchomokela — an hereditary title: the family burying-place is on a small hill near this village. The women salute us by clapping their hands and lullilooing as we enter and leave a village, and the men, as they think, respectfully clap their hands on their hips. Immense crops of mapira (holcus sorghum) are raised; one species of it forms a natural bend on the seed-stalk, so that the massive ear hangs down. The grain was heaped up on wooden stages, and so was a variety of other products. The men are skilful hunters, and kill elephants and buffaloes with long heavy spears. We halted a few minutes on the morning of the 12th July, opposite the narrow island of Sikakoa, which has a village on its lower end. We were here told that Moselekatse’s chief town is a month’s distance from this place. They had heard, moreover, that the English had come to Moselekatse, and told him it was wrong to kill men; and he had replied that he was born to kill people, but would drop the habit; and, since the English came, he had sent out his men, not to kill as of yore, but to collect tribute of cloth and ivory. This report referred to the arrival of the Rev. R. Moffat, of Kuruman, who, we afterwards found, had established a mission. The statement is interesting as showing that, though imperfectly expressed, the purport of the missionaries’ teaching had travelled, in a short time, over 300 miles, and we know not how far the knowledge of the English operations on the coast spread inland.

When abreast of the high wooded island Kalabi we came in contact with one of the game-laws of the country, which has come down from the most ancient times. An old buffalo crossed the path a few yards in front of us; our guide threw his small spear at its hip, and it was going off scarcely hurt, when three rifle balls knocked it over. “It is mine,” said the guide. He had wounded it first, and the established native game-law is that the animal belongs to the man who first draws blood; the two legs on one side, by the same law, belonged to us for killing it. This beast was very old, blind of one eye, and scabby; the horns, mere stumps, not a foot long, must have atrophied, when by age he lost the strength distinctive of his sex; some eighteen or twenty inches of horn could not well be worn down by mere rubbing against the trees. We saw many buffaloes next day, standing quietly amidst a thick thorn-jungle, through which we were passing. They often stood until we were within fifty or a hundred yards of them.

On the 14th July we left the river at the mountain-range, which, lying north-east and south-west across the river, forms the Kariba gorge. Near the upper end of the Kariba rapids, the stream Sanyati enters from the south, and is reported to have Moselekatse’s principal cattle-posts at its sources; our route went round the end of the mountains, and we encamped beside the village of the generous chief Moloi, who brought us three immense baskets of fine mapira meal, ten fowls, and two pots of beer. On receiving a present in return, he rose, and, with a few dancing gestures, said or sang, “Motota, Motota, Motota,” which our men translated into “thanks.” He had visited Moselekatse a few months before our arrival, and saw the English missionaries, living in their wagons. “They told Moselekatse,” said he, “they were of his family, or friends, and would plough the land and live at their own expense;” and he had replied, “The land is before you, and I shall come and see you plough.” This again was substantially what took place, when Mr. Moffat introduced the missionaries to his old friend, and shows still further that the notion of losing their country by admitting foreigners does not come as the first idea to the native mind. One might imagine that, as mechanical powers are unknown to the heathen, the almost magic operations of machinery, the discoveries of modern science and art, or the presence of the prodigious force which, for instance, is associated with the sight of a man-of-war, would have the effect which miracles once had of arresting the attention and inspiring awe. But, though we have heard the natives exclaim in admiration at the sight of even small illustrations of what science enables us to do —“Ye are gods, and not men”— the heart is unaffected. In attempting their moral elevation, it is always more conducive to the end desired, that the teacher should come unaccompanied by any power to cause either jealousy or fear. The heathen, who have not become aware of the greed and hate which too often characterize the advancing tide of emigration, listen with most attention to the message of Divine love when delivered by men who evidently possess the same human sympathies with themselves. A chief is rather envied his good fortune in first securing foreigners in his town. Jealousy of strangers belongs more to the Arab than to the African character; and if the women are let alone by the traveller, no danger need be apprehended from any save the slave-trading tribes, and not often even from them.

We passed through a fertile country, covered with open forest, accompanied by the friendly Bawe. They are very hospitable; many of them were named, among themselves, “the Baenda pezi,” or “Go-nakeds,” their only clothing being a coat of red ochre. Occasionally stopping at their villages we were duly lullilooed, and regaled with sweet new-made beer, which, being yet unfermented, was not intoxicating. It is in this state called Liting or Makonde. Some of the men carry large shields of buffalo-hide, and all are well supplied with heavy spears. The vicinity of the villages is usually cleared and cultivated in large patches; but nowhere can the country be said to be stocked with people. At every village stands were erected, and piles of the native corn, still unthrashed, placed upon them; some had been beaten out, put into oblong parcels made of grass, and stacked in wooden frames.

We crossed several rivulets in our course, as the Mandora, the Lofia, the Manzaia (with brackish water), the Rimbe, the Chibue, the Chezia, the Chilola (containing fragments of coal), which did little more than mark our progress. The island and rapid of Nakansalo, of which we had formerly heard, were of no importance, the rapid being but half a mile long, and only on one side of the island. The island Kaluzi marks one of the numerous places where astronomical observations were made; Mozia, a station where a volunteer poet left us; the island Mochenya, and Mpande island, at the mouth of the Zungwe rivulet, where we left the Zambesi.

When favoured with the hospitality and company of the “Go-nakeds,” we tried to discover if nudity were the badge of a particular order among the Bawe, but they could only refer to custom. Some among them had always liked it for no reason in particular: shame seemed to lie dormant, and the sense could not be aroused by our laughing and joking them on their appearance. They evidently felt no less decent than we did with our clothes on; but, whatever may be said in favour of nude statues, it struck us that man, in a state of nature, is a most ungainly animal. Could we see a number of the degraded of our own lower classes in like guise, it is probable that, without the black colour which acts somehow as a dress, they would look worse still.

In domestic contentions the Bawe are careful not to kill each other; but, when one village goes to war with another, they are not so particular. The victorious party are said to quarter one of the bodies of the enemies they may have killed, and to perform certain ceremonies over the fragments. The vanquished call upon their conquerors to give them a portion also; and, when this request is complied with, they too perform the same ceremonies, and lament over their dead comrade, after which the late combatants may visit each other in peace. Sometimes the head of the slain is taken and buried in an ant-hill, till all the flesh is gone; and the lower jaw is then worn as a trophy by the slayer; but this we never saw, and the foregoing information was obtained only through an interpreter.

We left the Zambesi at the mouth of the Zungwe or Mozama or Dela rivulet, up which we proceeded, first in a westerly and then in a north-westerly direction. The Zungwe at this time had no water in its sandy channel for the first eight or ten miles. Willows, however, grow on the banks, and water soon began to appear in the hollows; and a few miles further up it was a fine flowing stream deliciously cold. As in many other streams from Chicova to near Sinamane shale and coal crop out in the bank; and here the large roots of stigmaria or its allied plants were found. We followed the course of the Zungwe to the foot of the Batoka highlands, up whose steep and rugged sides of red and white quartz we climbed till we attained an altitude of upwards of 3000 feet. Here, on the cool and bracing heights, the exhilaration of mind and body was delightful, as we looked back at the hollow beneath covered with a hot sultry glare, not unpleasant now that we were in the mild radiance above. We had a noble view of the great valley in which the Zambesi flows. The cultivated portions are so small in comparison to the rest of the landscape that the valley appears nearly all forest, with a few grassy glades. We spent the night of the 28th July high above the level of the sea, by the rivulet Tyotyo, near Tabacheu or Chirebuechina, names both signifying white mountain; in the morning hoar frost covered the ground, and thin ice was on the pools. Skirting the southern flank of Tabacheu, we soon passed from the hills on to the portion of the vast table-land called Mataba, and looking back saw all the way across the Zambesi valley to the lofty ridge some thirty miles off, which, coming from the Mashona, a country in the S.E., runs to the N.W. to join the ridge at the angle of which are the Victoria Falls, and then bends far to the N.E. from the same point. Only a few years since these extensive highlands were peopled by the Batoka; numerous herds of cattle furnished abundance of milk, and the rich soil amply repaid the labour of the husbandman; now large herds of buffaloes, zebras, and antelopes fatten on the excellent pasture; and on that land, which formerly supported multitudes, not a man is to been seen. In travelling from Monday morning till late on Saturday afternoon, all the way from Tabacheu to Moachemba, which is only twenty-one miles of latitude from the Victoria Falls, and constantly passing the ruined sites of utterly deserted Botoka villages, we did not fall in with a single person. The Batoka were driven out of their noble country by the invasions of Moselekatse and Sebetuane. Several tribes of Bechuana and Basutu, fleeing from the Zulu or Matebele chief Moselekatse reached the Zambesi above the Falls. Coming from a land without rivers, none of them knew how to swim; and one tribe, called the Bamangwato, wishing to cross the Zambesi, was ferried over, men and women separately, to different islands, by one of the Batoka chiefs; the men were then left to starve and the women appropriated by the ferryman and his people. Sekomi, the present chief of the Bamangwato, then an infant in his mother’s arms, was enabled, through the kindness of a private Batoka, to escape. This act seems to have made an indelible impression on Sekomi’s heart, for though otherwise callous, he still never fails to inquire after the welfare of his benefactor.

Sebetuane, with his wonted ability, outwitted the treacherous Batoka, by insisting in the politest manner on their chief remaining at his own side until the people and cattle were all carried safe across; the chief was then handsomely rewarded, both with cattle and brass rings off Sebetuane’s own wives. No sooner were the Makololo, then called Basuto, safely over, than they were confronted by the whole Batoka nation; and to this day the Makololo point with pride to the spot on the Lekone, near to which they were encamped, where Sebetuane, with a mere handful of warriors in comparison to the vast horde that surrounded him, stood waiting the onslaught, the warriors in one small body, the women and children guarding the cattle behind them. The Batoka, of course, melted away before those who had been made veterans by years of continual fighting, and Sebetuane always justified his subsequent conquests in that country by alleging that the Batoka had come out to fight with a man fleeing for his life, who had never done them any wrong. They seem never to have been a warlike race; passing through their country, we once observed a large stone cairn, and our guide favoured us with the following account of it:— “Once upon a time, our forefathers were going to fight another tribe, and here they halted and sat down. After a long consultation, they came to the unanimous conclusion that, instead of proceeding to fight and kill their neighbours, and perhaps be killed themselves, it would be more like men to raise this heap of stones, as their protest against the wrong the other tribe had done them, which, having accomplished, they returned quietly home.” Such men of peace could not stand before the Makololo, nor, of course, the more warlike Matebele, who coming afterwards, drove even their conquerors, the Makololo, out of the country. Sebetuane, however, profiting by the tactics which he had learned of the Batoka, inveigled a large body of this new enemy on to another island, and after due starvation there overcame the whole. A much greater army of “Moselekatse’s own” followed with canoes, but were now baffled by Sebetuane’s placing all his people and cattle on an island and so guarding it that none could approach. Dispirited, famished, borne down by fever, they returned to the Falls, and all except five were cut off.

But though the Batoka appear never to have had much inclination to fight with men, they are decidedly brave hunters of buffaloes and elephants. They go fearlessly close up to these formidable animals, and kill them with large spears. The Banyai, who have long bullied all Portuguese traders, were amazed at the daring and bravery of the Batoka in coming at once to close quarters with the elephant; and Chisaka, a Portuguese rebel, having formerly induced a body of this tribe to settle with him, ravaged all the Portuguese villas around Tette. They bear the name of Basimilongwe, and some of our men found relations among them. Sininyane and Matenga also, two of our party, were once inveigled into a Portuguese expedition against Mariano, by the assertion that the Doctor had arrived and had sent for them to come down to Senna. On finding that they were entrapped to fight, they left, after seeing an officer with a large number of Tette slaves killed.

The Batoka had attained somewhat civilized ideas, in planting and protecting various fruit and oil-seed yielding trees of the country. No other tribe either plants or abstains from cutting down fruit trees, but here we saw some which had been planted in regular rows, and the trunks of which were quite two feet in diameter. The grand old Mosibe, a tree yielding a bean with a thin red pellicle, said to be very fattening, had probably seen two hundred summers. Dr. Kirk found that the Mosibe is peculiar, in being allied to a species met with only in the West Indies. The Motsikiri, sometimes called Mafuta, yields a hard fat, and an oil which is exported from Inhambane. It is said that two ancient Batoka travellers went down as far as the Loangwa, and finding the Macaa tree (jujube or zisyphus) in fruit, carried the seed all the way back to the great Falls, in order to plant them. Two of these trees are still to be seen there, the only specimens of the kind in that region.

The Batoka had made a near approach to the custom of more refined nations and had permanent graveyards, either on the sides of hills, thus rendered sacred, or under large old shady trees; they reverence the tombs of their ancestors, and plant the largest elephants’ tusks, as monuments at the head of the grave, or entirely enclose it with the choicest ivory. Some of the other tribes throw the dead body into the river to be devoured by crocodiles, or, sewing it up in a mat, place it on the branch of a baobab, or cast it in some lonely gloomy spot, surrounded by dense tropical vegetation, where it affords a meal to the foul hyenas; but the Batoka reverently bury their dead, and regard the spot henceforth as sacred. The ordeal by the poison of the muave is resorted to by the Batoka, as well as by the other tribes; but a cock is often made to stand proxy for the supposed witch. Near the confluence of the Kafue the Mambo, or chief, with some of his headmen, came to our sleeping-place with a present; their foreheads were smeared with white flour, and an unusual seriousness marked their demeanour. Shortly before our arrival they had been accused of witchcraft; conscious of innocence, they accepted the ordeal, and undertook to drink the poisoned muave. For this purpose they made a journey to the sacred hill of Nchomokela, on which repose the bodies of their ancestors; and, after a solemn appeal to the unseen spirits to attest the innocence of their children, they swallowed the muave, vomited, and were therefore declared not guilty. It is evident that they believe that the soul has a continued existence; and that the spirits of the departed know what those they have left behind them are doing, and are pleased or not according as their deeds are good or evil; this belief is universal. The owner of a large canoe refused to sell it, because it belonged to the spirit of his father, who helped him when he killed the hippopotamus. Another, when the bargain for his canoe was nearly completed, seeing a large serpent on a branch of the tree overhead, refused to complete the sale, alleging that this was the spirit of his father come to protest against it.

Some of the Batoka chiefs must have been men of considerable enterprise; the land of one, in the western part of this country, was protected by the Zambesi on the S., and on the N. and E. lay an impassable reedy marsh, filled with water all the year round, leaving only his western border open to invasion: he conceived the idea of digging a broad and deep canal nearly a mile in length, from the reedy marsh to the Zambesi, and, having actually carried the scheme into execution, he formed a large island, on which his cattle grazed in safety, and his corn ripened from year to year secure from all marauders.

Another chief, who died a number of years ago, believed that he had discovered a remedy for tsetse-bitten cattle; his son Moyara showed us a plant, which was new to our botanist, and likewise told us how the medicine was prepared; the bark of the root, and, what might please our homoeopathic friends, a dozen of the tsetse are dried, and ground together into a fine powder. This mixture is administered internally; and the cattle are fumigated by burning under them the rest of the plant collected. The treatment must be continued for weeks, whenever the symptoms of poison appear. This medicine, he frankly admitted, would not cure all the bitten cattle. “For,” said he, “cattle, and men too, die in spite of medicine; but should a herd by accident stray into a tsetse district and be bitten, by this medicine of my father, Kampa-kampa, some of them could be saved, while, without it, all would inevitably die.” He stipulated that we were not to show the medicine to other people, and if ever we needed it in this region we must employ him; but if we were far off we might make it ourselves; and when we saw it cure the cattle think of him, and send him a present.

Our men made it known everywhere that we wished the tribes to live in peace, and would use our influence to induce Sekeletu to prevent the Batoka of Moshobotwane and the Makololo under-chiefs making forays into their country: they had already suffered severely, and their remonstrances with their countryman, Moshobotwane, evoked only the answer, “The Makololo have given me a spear; why should I not use it?” He, indeed, it was who, being remarkably swift of foot, first guided the Makololo in their conquest of the country. In the character of peacemakers, therefore, we experienced abundant hospitality; and, from the Kafue to the Falls, none of our party was allowed to suffer hunger. The natives sent to our sleeping-places generous presents of the finest white meal, and fat capons to give it a relish, great pots of beer to comfort our hearts, together with pumpkins, beans, and tobacco, so that we “should sleep neither hungry nor thirsty.”

In travelling from the Kafue to the Zungwe we frequently passed several villages in the course of a day’s march. In the evening came deputies from the villages, at which we could not stay to sleep, with liberal presents of food. It would have pained them to have allowed strangers to pass without partaking of their hospitality; repeatedly were we hailed from huts, and asked to wait a moment and drink a little of the beer, which was brought with alacrity. Our march resembled a triumphant procession. We entered and left every village amidst the cheers of its inhabitants; the men clapping their hands, and the women lullilooing, with the shrill call, “Let us sleep,” or “Peace.” Passing through a hamlet one day, our guide called to the people, “Why do you not clap your hands and salute when you see men who are wishing to bring peace to the land?” When we halted for the night it was no uncommon thing for the people to prepare our camp entirely of their own accord; some with hoes quickly smoothed the ground for our beds, others brought dried grass and spread it carefully over the spot; some with their small axes speedily made a bush fence to shield us from the wind; and if, as occasionally happened, the water was a little distance off, others hastened and brought it with firewood to cook our food with. They are an industrious people, and very fond of agriculture. For hours together we marched through unbroken fields of mapira, or native corn, of a great width; but one can give no idea of the extent of land under the hoe as compared with any European country. The extent of surface is so great that the largest fields under culture, when viewed on a wide landscape, dwindle to mere spots. When taken in connection with the wants of the people, the cultivation on the whole is most creditable to their industry. They erect numerous granaries which give their villages the appearance of being large; and, when the water of the Zambesi has subsided, they place large quantities of grain, tied up in bundles of grass, and well plastered over with clay, on low sand islands for protection from the attacks of marauding mice and men. Owing to the ravages of the weevil, the native corn can hardly be preserved until the following crop comes in. However largely they may cultivate, and however abundant the harvest, it must all be consumed in a year. This may account for their making so much of it into beer. The beer these Batoka or Bawe brew is not the sour and intoxicating boala or pombe found among some other tribes, but sweet, and highly nutritive, with only a slight degree of acidity, sufficient to render it a pleasant drink. The people were all plump, and in good condition; and we never saw a single case of intoxication among them, though all drank abundance of this liting, or sweet beer. Both men and boys were eager to work for very small pay. Our men could hire any number of them to carry their burdens for a few beads a day. Our miserly and dirty ex-cook had an old pair of trousers that some one had given to him; after he had long worn them himself, with one of the sorely decayed legs he hired a man to carry his heavy load a whole day; a second man carried it the next day for the other leg, and what remained of the old garment, without the buttons, procured the labour of another man for the third day.

Men of remarkable ability have risen up among the Africans from time to time, as amongst other portions of the human family. Some have attracted the attention, and excited the admiration of large districts by their wisdom. Others, apparently by the powers of ventriloquism, or by peculiar dexterity in throwing the spear, or shooting with the bow, have been the wonder of their generation; but the total absence of literature leads to the loss of all former experience, and the wisdom of the wise has not been handed down. They have had their minstrels too, but mere tradition preserves not their effusions. One of these, and apparently a genuine poet, attached himself to our party for several days, and whenever we halted, sang our praises to the villagers, in smooth and harmonious numbers. It was a sort of blank verse, and each line consisted of five syllables. The song was short when it first began, but each day he picked up more information about us, and added to the poem until our praises became an ode of respectable length. When distance from home compelled his return he expressed his regret at leaving us, and was, of course, paid for his useful and pleasant flatteries. Another, though a less gifted son of song, belonged to the Batoka of our own party. Every evening, while the others were cooking, talking, or sleeping, he rehearsed his songs, containing a history of everything he had seen in the land of the white men, and on the way back. In composing, extempore, any new piece, he was never at a loss; for if the right word did not come he halted not, but eked out the measure with a peculiar musical sound meaning nothing at all. He accompanied his recitations on the sansa, an instrument figured in the woodcut, the nine iron keys of which are played with the thumbs, while the fingers pass behind to hold it. The hollow end and ornaments face the breast of the player. Persons of a musical turn, if too poor to buy a sansa, may be seen playing vigorously on an instrument made with a number of thick corn-stalks sewn together, as a sansa frame, and keys of split bamboo, which, though making but little sound, seems to soothe the player himself. When the instrument is played with a calabash as a sounding board, it emits a greater volume of sound. Pieces of shells and tin are added to make a jingling accompaniment, and the calabash is also ornamented.

After we had passed up, a party of slaves, belonging to the two native Portuguese who assassinated the chief, Mpangwe, and took possession of his lands at Zumbo, followed on our footsteps, and representing themselves to be our “children,” bought great quantities of ivory from the Bawe, for a few coarse beads a tusk. They also purchased ten large new canoes to carry it, at the rate of six strings of red or white beads, or two fathoms of grey calico, for each canoe, and, at the same cheap rate, a number of good-looking girls.


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