A Cruise on the Tanganyika Lake, by John Hanning Speke

Chapter ii.

Canoes — The Crews — The Biography of Bombay — The Voyage — Crocodiles — The Lake Scenery — Kivira Island — Black Beetles — An Adventure with One of Them — Kasengé Island — African Slavery.

3d March 1858. — ALL being settled, I set out in a long narrow canoe, hollowed out of the trunk of a single tree. These vessels are mostly built from large timbers, growing in the district of Uguhha, on the western side of the lake. The seats of these canoes are bars of wood tied transversely to the length. The kit taken consists of one load (60 lb.) of cloth (American sheeting), another of large blue beads, a magazine of powder, and seven kitindis. The party is composed of Bombay, my interpreter; Gaetano, the Goanese cook-boy; two Beluch soldiers; one Nakhuda or sea-captain, who sometimes wore a goat-skin; and twenty stark-naked savage sailors: twenty-six in all. Of these only ten started, the remainder leaving word that they would follow down the coast, and meet us at a khambi (encampment), three miles distant, by 12 o’clock. The ten, however, sufficient for the occasion, move merrily off at 9 A.M., and in an hour we reached the rendezvous, under a large spreading tree on the right bank of the mouth of the river Ruché.

The party is decidedly motley. The man of quaintest aspect in it is Sidi Mabarak Bombay. He is of the Wahiyow tribe, who make the best slaves in Eastern Africa. His breed is that of the true woolly-headed negro, though he does not represent a good specimen of them physically, being somewhat smaller in his general proportions than those one generally sees as stokers in our steamers that traverse the Indian Ocean. His head, though woodeny, like a barber’s block, is lit up by a humorous little pair of pig-like eyes, set in a generous benign-looking countenance, which, strange to say, does not belie him, for his good conduct and honesty of purpose are without parallel. His muzzle projects dog-monkey fashion, and is adorned with a regular set of sharp-pointed alligator teeth, which he presents to full view as constantly as his very ticklish risible faculties become excited. The tobacconist’s “jolly nigger,” stuck in the corner house of —— street, as it stands in mute but full grin, tempting the patronage of accidental passengers, is his perfect counterpart. This wonderful man says he knows nothing of his genealogy, nor any of the dates of the leading epochs of his adventurous life — not even his birth, time of captivity, or restoration.

But his general history he narrated to me as follows, which I give as he told it me, for this sketch may be of interest, presenting, as it does, a good characteristic account of the manner in which slave-hunts are planned and carried into execution. It must be truthful, for I have witnessed tragedies of a similar nature. The great slave-hunters of Eastern Africa are the Wasuahili or coast people; formerly slaves themselves, they are more enlightened, and fuller of tricks than the interior people, whom they now in their turn catch. Having been once caught themselves, they know how to proceed, and are consequently very cautious in their movements, taking sometimes years before they finally try to accomplish their object. They first ensnare the ignorant unsuspicious inlanders by alluring and entangling them in the treacherous meshes of debt, and then, by capturing and mercilessly selling their human game, liquidate the debt, insinuatingly advanced as an irresistible decoy to allure their confiding victims.

Bombay says: “I am a Mhiyow; my father lived in a village in the country of Uhiyow (a large district situated between the east coast and the Nyassa (Lake) in latitude 11° S.) Of my mother I have but the faintest recollection; she died whilst I was in my infancy. Our village was living in happy contentment, until the fated year when I was about the age of twelve. At that period a large body of Wasuahili merchants and their slaves, all equipped with sword and gun, came suddenly, and, surrounding our village, demanded of the inhabitants instant liquidation of their debts (cloths and beads), advanced in former times of pinching dearth, or else to stand the consequences of refusal.

“As all the residents had at different times contracted debts to different members of the body present, there was no appeal against the equity of this sudden demand, but no one had the means of payment. They knew fighting against firearms would be hopeless; so after a few stratagems, looking for a good opportunity to bolt, the whole village took to precipitate flight. Most of the villagers were captured like myself; but of my father, or any other relatives, I never more gained any intelligence. He was either shot in endeavouring to defend himself, or still more probably gave leg-bail, and so escaped. As soon as this foray was over, all the captives were grouped together, and tethered with chains or ropes, and marched off to Kilua, on the east coast (in latitude 9° S.) Arrived there, the whole party embarked in dhows, which, setting sail, soon arrived at Zanzibar. We were then driven to the slave-market, where I was bought by an Arab merchant, and taken off to India. I served with this master for several years, till by his death I obtained my liberation. My next destination was Zanzibar, where I took service in the late Imaum’s army, and passed my days in half-starved inactivity, until the lucky day when, at Chongué, you saw and gave me service.”

Shortly after we had encamped under the rendezvous tree, and begun our cooking, some villagers brought ivories of the elephant and hippopotamus for sale, but had to suffer the disappointment of meeting a stranger to merchandise, and straightway departed, fully convinced that all Wazungu (or wise, or white men) were mere fools for not making money, when they had so good an opportunity. Noon and evening passed without a sign of the black captain or the remaining men. We were in a wretched place for a halt, a sloping ploughed field; and, deceived by the captain’s not keeping his promise, were unprepared for spending the night there. I pitched my tent, but the poor men had nothing to protect them. With the darkness a deluge of rain descended; and, owing to the awkwardness of our position, the surcharged earth poured off a regular stream of water over our beds, baggage, and everything alike. To keep the tent erect — a small gable-shaped affair, six feet high, and seven by six square, made of American sheeting, and so light that with poles and everything complete it barely weighs one man’s load — I called up the men, and for hours held it so by strength of arm. Even the hippopotami, to judge by the frequency of their snorts and grunts, as they indulged in their devastating excursions amongst the crops, seemed angry at this unusual severity of the weather. Never from the 15th of November, when the rainy season commenced, had we experienced such a violent and heavy downpour.

4th. — Halt. The morning is no improvement on the night. The captain now arrives with most of the remaining crew, fears the troubled waters, and will not put out to sea. In consequence of this disappointment, a messenger is sent back to Kawélé, to fetch some fresh provisions and firewood, as what little of this latter article can be gathered in its saturated state is useless, for it will not burn. During the afternoon the remainder of the crew keep dropping in, and at nightfall seventeen hands are mustered.

5th. — At 3 A.M. the sea subsides, and the boat is loaded. — To pack so many men together, with material, in so small a space as the canoe affords, seems a difficulty almost insurmountable. Still it is effected. I litter down amidships, with my bedding spread on reeds, in so short a compass that my legs keep slipping off and dangling in the bilge-water. The cook and bailsman sit on the first bar, facing me; and behind them, to the stern, one-half the sailors sit in couples; whilst on the first bar behind me are Bombay and one Beluch, and beyond them to the bow, also in couples, the remaining crew. The captain takes post in the bows, and all hands on both sides paddle in stroke together.

Fuel, cooking-apparatus, food, bag and baggage, are thrown promiscuously under the seats. But the sailors’ blankets, in the shape of grass matting, are placed on the bars to render the sitting soft. Once all properly arranged, the seventeen paddles dash off with vigour, and, steering southwards, we soon cross the mouth of the Ruché. Next Ukaranga, the last village on this line down the eastern shore, lying snugly in a bay, with a low range of densely-wooded hills about three miles in its rear, is passed by dawn of day, and about sunrise the bay itself is lost to sight.

The tired crew now hug a bluff shore, crowned with dense jungle, until a nook familiar to the men is entered under plea of breakfasting. Here all hands land, fires are kindled, and the cooking-pots arranged. Some prepare their rods and nets for fishing, some go in search of fungi (a favourite food), and others collect fuel. Gaetano, ever doing wrong, dips his cooking-pot in the sea for water — a dangerous experiment, if the traditions of Tanganyika hold good, that the ravenous hosts of crocodiles seldom spare any one bold enough to excite their appetites with such dregs as usually drop from those utensils; moreover, they will follow and even board the boats, after a single taste.

The sailors here have as great an aversion to being followed by the crocodile as our seamen by a shark, and they now display their feelings by looks and mutterings, and strictly prohibiting the use of the cooking-pot on that service again. Breakfast ready, all hands eagerly fall to, and feast away in happy ignorance of any danger, when suddenly confusion enters the camp, and, with the alarming cry that foes are coming, all hurry-skurry for the boat, some with one thing, some with another. The greater part of the kit is left upon the ground. A breathless silence reigns for several minutes. Then one jumps off and secures his pot; another succeeds him, and then more, till courage is gained to make a search, and ascertain the cause of the alarm. Sneaking, crawling in the bush, some peering this way, others listening that, they stealthily move along, until at length a single man, with arrow poised, in self-defence I suppose, is pounced upon.

His story of why he came there, who and how many are his comrades, what he wants in such a desert place, and why he carries arms, though spoken with a cunning plausibility, has no effect upon the knowing sailors. They proclaim him and his party, some eight or ten men, who are clamorously squabbling in the jungle at no great distance, to be a rough and lawless set of marauders, fearing to come out and show themselves on being challenged, and further insist that none ever ventured in such wilds who had not got in view some desperate enterprise. In short, it was proverbially men of their sort who were the general plunderers of honest navigators. They therefore seize his weapons, cut and break his bow and arrows, and let him go; though some of the crew advocate his life being taken, and others, that the whole party should be chased down and slaughtered. The sailors then return to the canoe, each vaunting his part in this adventurous exploit, and bandying congratulations in the highest spirits. They are one and all as proud of this success, and each as boastful of his prowess, as though a mighty battle had been fought and won.

On starting again we pass alongside another bluff, backed by small well-wooded hills, an extension of the aforesaid east horn of the Moon, and cross a little bay, when the lazy crew, tired by two hours’ work, bear in with the land, and disembark, as they say, to make some ropes, or find some creepers long and strong enough for mooring this mighty canoe. It is now eleven o’clock; there is more rest than work, a purely negro way of getting through the day; three hours went in idleness before, and now five more are wasted. Again we start, and after crossing a similar small bay, continue along a low shelving shore, densely wooded to the water’s edge, until the Malagarazi river’s mouth is gained. This river is the largest on the eastern shore of the lake, and was previously crossed by the caravan on its way from Kazé, in small bark canoes, much rougher, but constructed something similarly to those of the Americans. Each of these canoes contains one man and his load, besides the owner, who lives near the ferry, and poles the vessel across. Still to the eastward we have the same tree-clad hilly view, beautiful in itself, but tiresome in its constant sameness. After a stretch, and half an hour’s pipes and breathing, we start afresh, and cross the bay into which the river debouches.

Here tall aquatic reeds diversify the surface, and are well tenanted by the crocodile and hippopotami, the latter of which keep staring, grunting, and snorting as though much vexed at our intrusion on their former peace and privacy. We now hug the shore, and continue on in the dark of night till Mgiti Khambi,13 a beautiful little harbour bending back away amongst the hills, and out of sight of the lake, is reached at 11 P.M. Could but a little civilised art, as whitewashed houses, well-trained gardens, and the like, vary these evergreen hills and trees, and diversify the unceasing monotony of hill and dale, and dale and hill — of green trees, green grass — green grass, green trees, so wearisome in their luxuriance — what a paradise of beauty would this place present! The deep blue waters of the lake, in contrast with the vegetation and large brown rocks, form everywhere an object of intense attraction; but the appetite soon wearies of such profusion, without the contrast of more sober tints, or the variety incidental to a populous and inhabited country. There are said to be some few scattered villages concealed in these dense jungles extending away in the background, but how the shores should be so desolate strikes one with much surprise. The naturally excessive growth of all vegetable life is sufficient proof of the soil’s capabilities. Unless in former times this beautiful country has been harassed by neighbouring tribes, and despoiled of its men and cattle to satisfy the spoilers and be sold to distant markets, its present state appears quite incomprehensible. In hazarding this conjecture, it might be thought that I am taking an extreme view of the case; but when we see everywhere in Africa what one slave-hunt or cattle-lifting party can effect, it is not unreasonable to imagine that this was most probably the cause of such utter desolation here. These war-parties lay waste the tracks they visit for endless time. Indeed, until slavery is suppressed in Africa, we may expect to find such places in a similarly melancholy state.

Immediately on arriving here I pitch my tent, and cook a meal; whilst the sailors, as is usual on arrival at their camping-grounds, divide into parties — some to catch fish, others to look for fungi, whilst many cook the food, and the rest construct little huts by planting boughs in a circle in the ground and fastening the tops together, leaving the hut in the shape of a haycock, to which they further assimilate it by throwing grass above; and in rainy weather it is further covered by their mats, to secure them against getting wet. As only one or two men occupy a hut, to accommodate so large a party many of them have to be constructed. It is amusing to see how some men, proud of their superior powers of inventiveness, and possessing the knack of making pleasant what would otherwise be uncomfortable, plume themselves before their brethren, and turn them to derision: and it appears the more ridiculous, as they all are as stark naked as an unclothed animal, and have really nothing to boast of after all.

6th. — The following morning sees us under way, and clear of the harbour by sunrise; but the gathering of clouds in the south soon cautions the weather-wise sailors to desist from their advance. Timely is the warning; for, as we rest on our oars, the glimmer of lightning illuminates the distant hills; whilst low heavy rolling clouds of pitchy darkness, preceded by a heavy gale and a foaming sea, outspread over the whole southern waters, rapidly advance. It is an ocean-tempest in miniature, which sends us right about to our former berth. Some of our men now employ themselves in fishing for small fry with a slender rod, a piece of string, and an iron hook, with a bait of meat or fish attached; whilst others use small handnets, which they place behind some reeds or other cover, to secure the retreating fish as he makes off on being poked out of his refuge on the opposite side by a wand held for that purpose in the sportsman’s other hand. But the majority are occupied in gathering sticks and cooking breakfast till 1 P.M., when the sea abates, and the journey is resumed. During this portion of the journey, a slight change of scenery takes place. The chain of hills running parallel with the shore of the lake is broken, and in its stead we see small detached and short irregular lines of hills, separated by extended plains of forest, thickly clad in verdure, like all the rest of the country. After two hours’ paddling, we stand opposite the Luguvu river, and rest awhile to smoke; then start again, and in an hour cross the mouth of the little river Hebué. Unfortunately these streams add nothing to the beauty of the scenery; and were it not for the gaps in the hills suggesting the probable course of rivers, they might be passed without notice, for the mouths are always concealed by bulrushes, or other tall aquatic reeds; and inland they are just as closely hidden by forest vegetation. In half an hour more we enter a small nook called Luguvu Khambi, very deep, and full of crocodiles and hippopotami. On landing, we fire the usual alarm-guns — a point to which our captain is ever strictly attentive — cook our dinners, and turn in for the night. Here I picked up four varieties of shells — two univalves and two bivalves — all very interesting from being quite unknown in the conchological world. There were numbers of them lying on the pebbly beach.

7th. — We started at dawn as usual; but again at sunrise, the wind increasing, we put in for the shore, for these little cranky boats can stand no sea whatever. Here a herd of wild buffaloes, horned like the Cape ones, were seen by the men, and caused some diversion: for, though too blind myself to see the brutes at the distance that the others did, I loaded and gave them chase. Whilst tracking along, I saw fresh prints of elephants, which, judging from their trail, had evidently just been down to drink at the lake; and sprang some antelopes, but could not get a shot. The sea going down by noon, we proceeded, and hugged a bluff shore, till we arrived at Insigazi, a desert place, a little short of Kabogo, the usual crossing-point. Although the day was now far advanced, the weather was so promising, whilst our stores were running short, that impatience suggested a venture for the opposite shore to Kivira, an island near it, and which, with the Uguhha heights in the background, is from this distinctly visible. This line is selected for canoes to cross at, from containing the least expanse of water between the two shores, between Ujiji and the south end. The Kabogo Island, which stands so conspicuously in the missionaries’ map that hung on the Royal Geographical Society’s walls in 1856, is evidently intended for this Kabogo or starting-point, near which we now are, and is so far rightly placed upon their map as representing the half-way station from Ujiji to Kasengé, two places on opposite sides of the lake, whither the Arab merchants go in search of ivory. For Kabogo, as will be seen by my map, lies just midway on the line always taken by boats travelling between those two ports — the rest of the lake being too broad for these adventurous spirits. In short, they coast south from Ujiji to Kabogo, which constitutes the first half of the journey, and then cross over.

On the passage I carefully inquired the names of several points and places, to take their bearings, and to learn the geography of the lake, but all to no purpose. The superstitious captain, and even more superstitious crew, refused to answer any questions, and earnestly forbade my talking. The idea was founded upon the fear of vitiating their uganga or “church,” by answering a stranger any questions whilst at sea; but they dread more especially to talk about the places of departure or arrival, lest ill luck should overtake them, and deprive them of the chance of ever reaching shore. They blamed me for throwing the remnants of my cold dinner overboard, and pointed to the bottom of the boat as the proper receptacle for refuse. Night set in with great serenity, and at 2 A.M. the following morning (8th March) when arriving amongst some islands, close on the western shore of the lake — the principal of which are Kivira, Kabizia, and Kasengé, the only ones inhabited — a watch-boat belonging to Sultan Kasanga, the reigning chief of this group, challenged us, and asked our mission. Great fraternising, story-telling, and a little pipe ensued, for every one loves tobacco; then both departed in peace and friendship: they to their former abode, a cove in a small uninhabited island which lies due south of Kivira; whilst we proceeded to a long narrow harbour in Kivira itself, the largest of all these islands. Fourteen hours were occupied in crossing the lake, of which two were spent in brawling and smoking. At 9 A.M. the islanders, receiving intelligence of our arrival, came down the hill of which this island is formed, in great numbers, and held a market; but as we were unprovided with what they wanted, little business could be done. The chief desideratum was flesh of fish or beast, next salt, then tobacco — in fact, anything but what I had brought as market money, cloth and glass beads. This day passed in rest and idleness, recruiting from our late exertions.

At night a violent storm of rain and wind beat on my tent with such fury that its nether parts were torn away from the pegs, and the tent itself was only kept upright by sheer force. On the wind’s abating, a candle was lighted to rearrange the kit, and in a moment, as though by magic, the whole interior became covered with a host of small black beetles, evidently attracted by the glimmer of the candle. They were so annoyingly determined in their choice of place for peregrinating, that it seemed hopeless my trying to brush them off the clothes or bedding, for as one was knocked aside another came on, and then another; till at last, worn out, I extinguished the candle, and with difficulty — trying to overcome the tickling annoyance occasioned by these intruders crawling up my sleeves and into my hair, or down my back and legs — fell off to sleep. Repose that night was not destined to be my lot. One of these horrid little insects awoke me in his struggles to penetrate my ear, but just too late: for in my endeavour to extract him, I aided his immersion. He went his course, struggling up the narrow channel, until he got arrested by want of passage-room. This impediment evidently enraged him, for he began with exceeding vigour, like a rabbit at a hole, to dig violently away at my tympanum. The queer sensation this amusing measure excited in me is past description. I felt inclined to act as our donkeys once did, when beset by a swarm of bees, who buzzed about their ears and stung their heads and eyes until they were so irritated and confused that they galloped about in the most distracted order, trying to knock them off by treading on their heads, or by rushing under bushes, into houses, or through any jungle they could find. Indeed, I do not know which was worst off. The bees killed some of them, and this beetle nearly did for me. What to do I knew not. Neither tobacco, oil, nor salt could be found: I therefore tried melted butter; that failing, I applied the point of a penknife to his back, which did more harm than good; for though a few thrusts quieted him, the point also wounded my ear so badly, that inflammation set in, severe suppuration took place, and all the facial glands extending from that point down to the point of the shoulder became contorted and drawn aside, and a string of boils decorated the whole length of that region. It was the most painful thing I ever remember to have endured; but, more annoying still, I could not masticate for several days, and had to feed on broth alone. For many months the tumour made me almost deaf, and ate a hole between the ear and the nose, so that when I blew it, my ear whistled so audibly that those who heard it laughed. Six or seven months after this accident happened, bits of the beetle — a leg, a wing, or parts of its body — came away in the wax.

It was not altogether an unmixed evil, for the excitement occasioned by the beetle’s operations acted towards my blindness as a counter-irritant, by drawing the inflammation away from my eyes. Indeed, it operated far better than any other artificial appliance. To cure the blindness I once tried rubbing in some blistering liquor behind my ear, but this unfortunately had been injured by the journey, and had lost its stimulating properties. Finding it of no avail, I then caused my servant to rub the part with his finger until it was excoriated, which, though it proved insufficiently strong to cure me, was, according to Dr Bowman, whom I have since consulted, as good a substitute for a blister as could have been applied.

9th. — The weather still remaining too rough for sailing, I strolled over the island, and from its summit on the eastern side I found a good view of the lake, and took bearings of Ujiji, Insigazi, and a distant point southwards on the eastern shore of the lake, called Ukungué. Kivira Island is a massive hill, about five miles long by two or three broad, and is irregularly shaped. In places there are high flats, formed in terraces, but generally the steeps are abrupt and thickly wooded. The mainland immediately west is a promontory, at the southern extremity of the Uguhha Mountains, on the western coast of the Tanganyika; and the island is detached from it by so narrow a strip of water that, unless you obtained a profile view, it might easily be mistaken for a headland. The population is considerable, and they live in mushroom huts, situated on the high flats and easier slopes, where they cultivate the manioc, sweet potato, maize, millet, various kinds of pulse, and all the common vegetables in general use about the country. Poultry abounds in the villages.

The dress of the people is simple, consisting of small black monkey skins, cat-skins, and the furs of any vermin they can get. These are tucked under a waist-strap, and, according to the number they possess, go completely or only half-way round the body, the animals’ heads hanging in front, and the tails always depending gracefully below. These monkeys are easily captured when the maize is ripe, by a number of people stealthily staking small square nets in contiguous line all round the fields which these animals may be occupied in robbing, and then with screams and yells, flinging sticks and stones, the hunters rush upon the affrighted thieves, till, in their hurry and confusion to escape, they become irretrievably entangled in the meshes. But few of these islanders carry spear or bow, though I imagine all possess them. They were most unpleasantly inquisitive, and by their stares, jabber, and pointings, incessantly wanting me to show them everything that I possessed, with explanations about their various uses, quite tired out my patience. If I tried to get away, they plaguingly followed after, so at last I dodged them by getting into the boat. To sit in the tent was the worst place of all; they would pull up the sides, and peer under like so many monkeys; and if I turned my head aside to avoid their gaze, they would jabber in the most noisy and disagreeable manner in order to arouse me.

10th. — We quit Kivira early, and paddling S. 25° W., make the famous fish-market in the little island Kabizia, just in time to breakfast on a freshly-caught fish, the celebrated Singa — a large, ugly, black-backed monster, with white belly, small fins, and long barbs, but no scales. In appearance a sluggish ground-fish, it is always immoderately and grossly fat, and at this season is full of roe; its flesh is highly esteemed by the natives. This island is very small, with a gradual rising slope from the N.W. extremity; and at the S.E. end assumes the form of a bull’s hump. There is but one village of twenty odd mushroom-shaped huts, chiefly occupied by fishermen, who live on their spoils, and by selling all that they cannot consume to the neighbouring islanders and the villagers on the mainland. Added to this, they grow maize and other vegetables, and keep a good stock of fowls. I tried every mode of inducement to entice the crew away to complete the journey, for the place of my destination, Kasengé, was in sight; but in vain. They had tasted this to them delicious fish, and were determined to dress and lay by a good store of it to carry with them. About noon Khamis, a merchant from Kasengé, bound for Ujiji, arrived, and kindly gave me a long needle to stir up the beetle in my ear; but the insect had gone in so far, and the swelling and suppuration of the wounds had so imbedded him, that no instrument could have done any good. Khamis, like myself, was very anxious to complete his journey, and tried every conceivable means to entice his crew away, but he failed as signally as I did. On the mainland opposite to this, we see the western horn of these concavely-disposed mountains, which encircle the north of the lake, and from hence the horn stretches away in increasing height as it extends northwards. Its sea-ward slopes are well wooded from near the summit down to the water’s edge; but on the top, as though strong currents of air prevailed, and prevented vegetation from attaining any height, grass only is visible. Westward, behind the island of Kasengé, and away to the southward, the country is of a rolling formation, and devoid of any objects of interest.

11th. — The morning wind was too high for crossing from Kabizia to Kasengé, but at noon we embarked, and after paddling for ninety minutes S. 80° W., we arrived at the latter island, my destination. Sheikh Hamed bin Sulayyim, with many attendants and a host of natives, was standing ready to receive me. He gave us a hearty welcome, took my hand, and led me to his abode, placing everything at my disposal, and arranging a second house for my future residence. These Arab merchants are everywhere the same. Their warm and generous hospitality to a stranger equals anything I have ever seen elsewhere, not forgetting India, where a cordial welcome greets any incidental traveller. Hamed’s abode, like all the semi-civilised ones found in this country, and constructed by the Wasuahili (or coast people), is made with good substantial walls of mud, and roofed with rafters and brushwood, cemented together with a compound of common earth, straw, and water. The rooms are conveniently partitioned off for domestic convenience, with an ante-room for general business, and sundry other enclosures for separating his wives and other belongings. On the exterior of the house is a palaver platform, covered with an ample verandah, under which he sits, surrounded by a group of swarthy blacks, gossiping for hours together, or transacting his worldly business, in purchasing ivory, slaves, or any commodities worthy of his notice. The dhow I had come for, he said, was lying at Ukaranga, on the eastern shore, but was expected in a day or two, and would then be at my service. Indeed he had sent a letter by Khamis, whom I met at Kabizia, offering it to Captain Burton, as soon as he had been made acquainted (by native report, I imagine) with our desire of obtaining her. He thought, however, that there might be some difficulty in forming a crew capable of managing her, as this craft was too large for paddles, and no natives understood the art of rowing, and, moreover, like all Easterns, they are not disposed to learn anything that their fathers did not know before them. His own men were necessary to him, for in a few days he intended marching to Uruwa, a territory belonging to Sultan Kiyombo, about a hundred miles south-west of this island. During that trip, every one of the dhow sailors (who are slaves, and the Arabs’ gun-bearers) would be in requisition. But he thought, if I had patience to wait, he might be able to prevail on a few of the dhow’s present crew, men in his temporary employ, to take service with me. My host gave me a full description of the lake. He said he had visited both ends of it, and found the southern portion both longer and broader than the northern. “There are no islands in the middle of the sea, but near the shores there are several in various places, situated much in the same way as those we are amongst; they are mere projections, divided from the mainland by shoals or narrow channels. A large river, called Marungu, supplies the lake at its southern extremity; and on a visit to the northern end, I saw one which was very much larger than either of these, and which I am certain flowed out of the lake; for although I did not venture on it, in consequence of its banks being occupied by desperately savage negroes, inimical to all strangers, I went so near its outlet that I could see and feel the outward drift of the water.” He then described an adventure he once had when going to the north, with a boisterous barbarous tribe called Warundi. On approaching their hostile shore, he noticed, as he thought, a great commotion amongst the fishing-boats, and soon perceived that the men were concocting a plan of attack upon himself, for they concentrated forces, and came at his dhow in a body of about thirty canoes. Conceiving that their intentions were hostile, he avoided any conflict by putting out to sea, fearing lest an affray would be prejudicial to future mercantile transactions, as stains of blood are not soon effaced from their black memories. He further said he felt no alarm for his safety, as he had thirty slaves with guns on board. My retrospective opinion of this story — for everybody tells stories in this country — is, that Hamed’s Marungu river more likely runs out of the Tanganyika and into the Nyassa, forming a chain of lakes, drained by the Shiré river into the Zambézé; but I did not, unfortunately, argue it out with him. I feel convinced also that he was romancing when talking of the northern river’s flow, not only because the northern end of the lake is encircled by high hills — the concave of the Mountains of the Moon — but because the lake’s altitude is so much less than that of the adjacent plateau. Indeed, the waters of the lake are so low they would convey the impression that the trough they lie in has been formed by volcanic agency, were it not that Dr Livingstone has determined the level of the Nyassa to be very nearly the same as this lake; and the Babisa, who live on the west of the Nyassa, in crossing the country between the two lakes to Luwemba,14 cross the Marungu river, and yet cross no mountain-range there. With reference to the time which it would take us to traverse the entire lake, he said he thought we should take forty-six days in going up and down the lake, starting from Ujiji. Going to the north would take eight days, and going to the south fifteen. As Hamed had said nothing about the hire of the dhow, though he had offered it so willingly, I thought it probable that shame of mentioning it in public had deterred him from alluding to the subject — so begged a private conference. He then came to my house with Bombay and a slave, a confidant of his own, who could also speak Hindustani, and was told, through my medium Bombay, exactly what things I had brought with me, and requested to speak his mind freely, as I had called him especially for business, and we were now alone. He still remained mute about the price; but again saying I could have his dhow whenever I chose, he asked permission to retire, and departed. Puzzled at this procedure, I sent Bombay to observe him, and find out if he had any secret motives for shirking so direct an appeal, and empowered him to offer money in case my cloth and powder did not afford sufficient inducement. Bombay soon returned as much puzzled as myself, unable to extract any but the old answer — that I was welcome to the dhow, and that he would try and procure men for me. As a hint had reached me that Hamed cast covetous eyes on my powder-magazine, I tried enticing him to take some in part payment for her; but he replied that he did not require anything in payment, but would gladly accept a little powder if I had any to spare. To this I readily assented, as he had been so constant and liberal in his attentions to me ever since I landed on the island and became his guest, that I felt it was the least I could do in return for his generosity. Indeed, he was constantly observing and inquiring what I wanted, and supplied everything in his power that I found difficult to obtain. Every day he brought presents of flesh, fowl, ducks (the Muscovite, brought from the coast), eggs, plantains, and ghee (clarified butter).

The island of Kasengé is about one mile long, a narrow high ridge of land lying nearly due north and south, and is devoid of trees, and only a small portion of it is under cultivation. The lake washes its northwestern end; the remainder is encircled by a girdle of water about eighty yards broad. It appears, from being so imbedded in the land, to be a part of the coast, to anybody approaching it from the open lake. The population is very considerable, more so than that of the other ports. They are extremely filthy in their habits, and are excessively inquisitive, as far at least as gratifying their idle curiosity is concerned. From having no industrial occupations, they will stand for hours and hours together, watching any strange object, and are, in consequence, an infinite pest to any stranger coming near them. In appearance they are not much unlike the Kaffir, resembling that tribe both in size, height, and general bearing, having enlarged lips, flattish noses, and frizzly woolly hair. They are very easily amused, and generally wear smiling faces. The women are better dressed than the men, having a cloth round the body, fastened under the arms, and reaching below the knees, and generally beads, brass necklaces, or other ornaments; while the latter only wear a single goat-skin slung game-bag fashion over the shoulder, or, when they possess it, a short cloth tied, kilt fashion, round the waist. They lie about their huts like swine, with little more animation on a warm day than the pig has when basking in a summer’s sun. The mothers of these savage people have infinitely less affection than many savage beasts of my acquaintance. I have seen a mother bear, galled by frequent shots, obstinately meet her death, by repeatedly returning under fire whilst endeavouring to rescue her young from the grasp of intruding men. But here, for a simple loin-cloth or two, human mothers eagerly exchanged their little offspring, delivering them into perpetual bondage to my Beluch soldiers.

Talking about slaves makes me always feel for this unfortunate land, and reflect how foolish are all those outer nations who allow the slave trade to go on. One quarter of the globe — and that, too, one which might, if relieved of this scourge, be of the greatest commercial advantage to us, both as a consuming and exporting country — is entirely ruined. The horrors of the “middle passage” are familiar to us by report, but they are nothing as compared with what happens in the interior of the country when the capturing goes on. There whole villages are destroyed in the most remorseless manner by the slave-hunters to obtain their victims, for no one will yield so long as he can fight for his freedom. The slave-hunters are not merely confined to the coast men, for the interior chiefs are as fond of gain as they are, and this sets one against the other until the whole country is in a flame. It is true that the slaves whom the Arab merchants, or other men, have in their possession, never forsake their master, as if they disliked their state in bondage; but then, when we consider their position, what pleasure or advantage would they derive by doing so? During the slave-hunts, when they are caught, their country is devastated, their friends and relatives are either killed or are scattered to the winds, and nothing but a wreck is left behind them. Again, they enter upon a life which is new to them, and is very fascinating to their tastes; and as long as they do remain with such kind masters as the Arabs are, there is no necessity for our commiserating them. They become elevated in their new state of existence, and are better off than in their precarious homes, ever in terror of being attacked. On the other hand, foreign slavery is a different thing altogether. Instead of living, as they in most part do, willingly with the families of the Arabs, men of a superior order, and doing mild and congenial services, they get transported against their will and inclinations to a foreign land, where, to live at all, they must labour like beasts; and yet this is only half the mischief. When a market for slavery is opened, when the draining poultice is applied to Africa’s exterior, then the interior is drained of all its working men. To supply the markets with those slaves becomes so lucrative a means of gain that merchants would stick at no expedient in endeavouring to secure them. The country, so full as we have seen it of all the useful necessaries of life, able to supply our markets and relieve our people by cheapening all commodities, is sacrificed for the very minor consideration of improving Cuba, Arabia, Persia, and a few small islands in the Indian Ocean. On the contrary, slavery has only to be suppressed entirely, and the country would soon yield one hundredfold more than it ever has done before. The merchants themselves at Zanzibar are aware of this, for every Hindi on the coast with whom I ever spoke on the subject of slavery, seemed confident that the true prosperity of Africa would only commence with the cessation of slavery. And they all say it would be far better for them if slavery were put down altogether than allowed to remain as it is, subject to limited restriction; for by this limitation many inconveniences arise. Those who were permitted to retain slaves, have a great and distressing advantage over those who have not. The restriction alluded to by our Indian subjects at Zanzibar is the result of a most unfortunate treaty our Government made with the Sultan of that country, wherein slavery was permitted to be carried on within certain limits of latitude and longitude. The subjects of the Sultan by this means trade at a considerable pecuniary advantage over our subjects, who, were they English instead of being Indians, would never rest satisfied until they were placed on an equal footing with the Arabs and Wasuahili. They argue amongst themselves, and very properly, that in consequence of these slave-hunts the country is kept in such a state of commotion that no one thinks it worth his while to make accumulations of property, and, consequently, the negroes now only live for the day, and keep no granaries, never thinking of exerting themselves to better their condition. Without doubt it is mainly owing to this unfortunate influence of slavery on African society that we have been kept so long ignorant of the resources of Equatorial Africa — a vast field of surprising fertility, which would be of so much value to Zanzibar and neighbouring India, were it only properly developed. But I have been digressing, and must again return to Kasengé.

The village is very large and straggling, and consists of a collection of haycock-looking huts, framed with wood or boughs, and covered over with grass. Kasanga’s palace is the grandest one amongst them. This monarch is a very amiable despot, and is liked in consequence. He presented me with a goat and some grain, in return for which I gave a hongo (or tribute-fee) of three dhotis, two kitindis, and two fundas, equal to twenty necklaces of large blue beads. The food of these people consists chiefly of fish and fowls, both of which are very abundant. All other articles of consumption, except a very little grown on the spot, are imported from the mainland, and are, in consequence, dear. The surrounding country, however, is very highly cultivated — so much so, that it exports for the Ujiji and other distant markets. The Africans have no religion, unless Fetishism may be considered such. They use charms to keep off the evil eye, and believe in fortune-tellers. Their church is called Uganga, and the parson Mganga, the plural of which, priests, changes to Waganga. The prefixes, U, M, and Wa, are used uniformly throughout this land from Zanzibar, to denote respectively, U, country or place, M, an individual, and Wa for plurality, as in tribe or people: thus, Uganga, Mganga, Waganga; or, Unyamuézi, Myamuézi, Wanyamuézi. The composition of this latter name is worthy of remark, as it differs from the former, and therefore must tend to perplex. For instance, Uganga is composed of U, place, house, church, or country, and ganga, magic; whilst Unyamuézi is a triple word, divided into U country —ya, of — and muézi, moon. Then, the language being euphonious, an accidental n is thrown in between the u and y to tone down the pronunciation.

13th. — The dhow came in this evening, bringing cows and goats, oil, ghee, and other articles of consumption not found immediately in this neighbourhood. She looked very graceful in contrast to the wretched little canoes, and came moving slowly up the smooth waters of the channel decked in her white sails, like a swan upon “a garden reach.” The next day Hamed declared himself endeavouring to secure some men, but none appeared. The day following he told me that the dhow was out of repair, and must be mended. And the succeeding day he coupled shifts and excuses with promises and hopes, so likely to be further deferred, that my patience was fairly upset; and on the 17th, as nothing was settled, we had a little tiff. I accused him of detaining me in the hopes of getting powder, for as yet his armourer had not succeeded in opening my chest, from which I knew he wanted some; at any rate, I could see no other cause for his desiring my further stay there, when even Bombay had notified his displeasure at these long-continued procrastinations. Hamed, however, very quietly denied the imputation, declaring that he desired nothing but what I might frankly give, and continued his former kindnesses as though nothing had happened. I then begged his counsel as to the best mode of proceeding, upon which he advised my returning to Ujiji, where an Arab merchant called Said bin Majid, with many men of the sort I required, was reported to be arriving. In the meanwhile, during his absence at Uruwa, he would authorise his agent to make the dhow over to me whenever I should come or send for it. It is needless to say how easily, had my hands now been free to act, I might have availed myself of this tempting opportunity of accompanying Hamed on his journey to Uruwa, and have thus nearly connected this line from Zanzibar with the Portuguese and Dr Livingstone’s routes to Loando on the western coast. It would also have afforded a more perfect knowledge of the copper mines at Katata, a quantity of which comes to Uruwa. Hamed describes the roads as easy to travel over, for the track lay across an undulating country, intersected by many small insignificant streams, running from north to south, which only contribute to fertilise the land, and present no obstacles whatever. The line is cheap, and affords provisions in abundance. It may appear odd that men should go so far into the interior of Africa to procure ivory, when undoubtedly much is to be found at places not half so distant from Zanzibar; but the reason of it is simple. The nearer countries have become so overstocked with beads and cloth, that ivory there has risen to so great a price, it does not pay its transport. Hence every succeeding year finds the Arabs penetrating farther inland. Now, it will be seen that the Zanzibar Arabs have reached the uttermost limits of their tether; for Uruwa is half-way across the continent, and in a few years they must unite their labours with the people who come from Loando on the opposite coast.

As to obtain the dhow would, in our hampered state, have been of much importance — for our cloth and supplies were all fast ebbing away — I did not yet give in applying for it, and next day tried another device to tempt this wily Arab, by offering 500 dollars, or £100, if he would defer his journey for a short time, and accompany us round the lake. This was a large, and evidently an unexpected offer, and tried his cupidity sorely; it produced a nervous fidgetiness, and he begged leave to retire and con the matter over. Next day, however, to my great distress, he said he was sorry that he must decline, for his business would not stand deferment, but declared himself willing to sail with us on his return from Uruwa, three months hence, if we could only stay till then.15

Feeling now satisfied that nothing would prevail upon Hamed to let us have the dhow, I wished to quit the island and return to Ujiji, but found my crew had taken French leave, and gone foraging on the mainland, where, all grain being so much cheaper than at Ujiji, they wanted to procure a supply. I therefore employed the day in strolling all over the island, and took bearings of some of the principal features of the lake: of Thembué, a distant promontory on the western shore, south of this, which is occupied by a powerful sultan, and contains a large population of very boisterous savages; of Ukungué, on the east shore; and of the islands of Kivira and Kabizia. I could also see two other small islands lying amidst these larger ones, too small for habitation. Though my canoe arrived on the 20th, bad weather prevented our leaving till the 22d, morning, completing twelve days at Kasengé. I now took leave of my generous host; and, bidding adieu to Kasengé, soon arrived and spent the day at Kabizia, mourning in my mind that I had induced Captain Burton to discharge Ramji’s slaves, for Bombay said they were all sailors, and would have handled the dhow in first-rate style.

23d. — We crossed over to Kivira, and pitched the tent in our former harbour. Next day we halted from stress of weather; and the following day also remaining boisterous, we could not put to sea; but, to obtain a better view of the lake, and watch the weather for choosing a favourable time to cross, we changed Khambi for a place farther up the island.

24th. — We moved out two miles in the morning, but returned again from fear of the weather, as the sailors could discern a small but very alarming-looking cloud many miles distant, hanging on the top of one of the hills, and there was a gentle breeze. In the evening, as the portentous elements still frowned upon us, the wise crew surmised that the uganga (church) was angry at my endeavouring to carry across the waters the goat which the sultan had given me, and which, they said, ought never to have left the spot it was presented in alive; and declared their intention of applying to the mganga (priest) to ascertain his opinion before venturing out again. As the goat had just given a kid, and produced a good supply of milk, I was anxious to bring her to Ujiji for my sick companion, and told the sailors so; yet still they persisted, and said they would run away rather than venture on the water with the goat again. Fearing detention, and guessing their motive was only to obtain a share in the eating her, I killed both kid and mother at once, and divided them amongst my party, taking care that none of the crew received any of the flesh. At night we sallied forth again, but soon returned from the same cause that hindered us in the morning. And I did not spare the men’s feelings who had caused the death of my goat in the morning, now that their superstitious fears concerning it, if they ever possessed any, were proven to be without foundation.

27th. — We took our final departure from Kivira in the morning, and crossed the broad lake again in fourteen hours, two of them, as before, being spent in pipes and rest. I have now measured the lake’s centre pretty satisfactorily by triangulation, by compass in connection with astronomical observation, and twice by dead reckoning. It is twenty-six miles broad at the place of crossing, which is its narrowest central part. But, alas! that I should have omitted to bring a sounding-line with me, and not have ascertained that highly interesting feature — its depth. There is very little doubt in my mind that its bed is very deep, owing to the trough-like formation of it, and also because I have seen my crew haul up fishing-baskets, sunk in the sea near to the shore, from very considerable depths, by long ropes with trimmers attached. For the benefit of science, and as a hint to future travellers, I may mention that, had I brought a lead, I might, as if by accident, have dropped it in the sea when they were resting — have tapped the bottom, and ascertained its depth — whilst the superstitious crew would have only wondered in vain as to what I was about.

28th. — We started up coast early, and at 10 A.M. put in amongst some reeds opposite the Luguvu river, as the wind, rain, and waves had very nearly swamped the boat, and drenched us all from head to foot. I pitched the tent in the canoe, to protect me from the storm, but it only served to keep the wind from blowing on my wet clothes and chilling me, for wave after wave washed over the gunwale, and kept me and all my kit constantly drenched through. Three lingering miserable hours were passed in this fashion; for there was no place to land in, and we could not venture forward. The sea abated in the afternoon, and we gained Mgiti Khambi. After a day’s halt, the weather being stormy, and everything being wet and comfortless, we hailed with delight the succeeding sunny day, and, making good our time, reached the old tree on the right bank of the mouth of the Ruché by 9 P.M.

31st. — We arrived at Ujiji by breakfast-time, when I disclosed to Captain Burton, then happily a little restored, the mortifying intelligence of my failing to procure the dhow. This appeared doubly distressing to him, for he had been led to expect it by Khamis, whom I passed at Kabizia, and who had delivered Hamed’s letter, stating that the dhow was at his service. Hamed’s manoeuvring with the dhow bears much the appearance of one anxious to obtain the credit of generosity without incurring the attendant inconvenience of its reality. Otherwise I cannot divine what good his procrastinations and the means he took for keeping me near him so long could have been to him; for he made no overtures to me whatever. Bombay now thought, when it was too late, that if I had offered to give him 500 dollars’ worth of cloth, landed at his house, he could not have resisted the offer. I give this notice for the advantage of any future explorers on the lake. I could not form a true estimate of the lake’s average breadth, in consequence of the numberless bays and promontories that diversify the regularity of its coast-line; but I should say that from thirty to forty miles is probably near the truth.

We had now no other resource left us but to proceed with the investigation of the lake in common canoes; for we could not wait any longer, as our supplies were fast on the wane. I was sorry for it, as my companion was still suffering so severely, that anybody seeing him attempt to go would have despaired of his ever returning. Yet he could not endure being left behind. Travelling in canoes, as I could now testify from my late experiences, is, without joke, a very trying business to a sick man, even in the best weather; and here we were still in the height of the monsoon. Negotiations for the means of carrying out our object (of proceeding to the north of the lake, surveying it, and ascertaining whether Hamed’s story about a large river running out of it was based upon a true foundation) were then commenced, and Kannina was applied to. He likewise, it appeared, had a plan in view of carrying on some ivory transactions with the Sultan of Uvira, governing a district at the northern end and western shore of the lake, and agreed to take us there, and also show us the river in question. It was settled that we should go in two canoes; Captain Burton, with Kannina, in a very large one, paddled by forty men at once, and I in another considerably smaller — our party to pay all expenses; and, in fact, to do Kannina’s business in consideration of his protection. This we did do, and no more; for, after arriving at Uvira, nothing could induce him to take us to the river at the end of the lake, although the remaining distance could have been accomplished in about six hours’ paddling. His reason, which he must have known before, was, that the savages resident there, the Warundi tribe, were inimical to his people, the Wajiji. This was a sore disappointment, though not so great as it would have been had we not ascertained that Hamed’s story was a mere fabrication. He had never been to the north end of the lake, nor had he had the fight he described with the natives; and, moreover, Bombay assured both Captain Burton and myself that Hamed really meant that the river ran into the lake. Had I thought of it, I should then have changed the course of the Marungu river on my map, and made it run out of the lake, but I did not. Next the sultan’s son, who visited us immediately on our arrival at Uvira, told us that the river, which is named Rusizi, drained the high mountains encircling our immediate north, and discharged its waters into the lake. I should not have been satisfied with this counter-statement alone, had I not ascended some neighbouring heights, and observed the mountains increasing in size as they extended away to the northward, and effectually closing in this low lake, which is not quite half the altitude of the surface-level of the general interior plateau. Although wrong in most respects, Hamed was right about the distance the lake’s northern end lay from Ujiji; for, properly divided, it takes eight days, the time he specified, exactly. On coming up the lake, we travelled the first half up the east coast, then crossed over to the end of a long island called Ubuari, made for the western shore, and coasted up it to Uvira. It would have amused any one very much to have seen our two canoes racing together up the lake. The naked savages were never tired of testing their respective strengths. They would paddle away like so many black devils — dashing up the water whenever they succeeded in coming near each other, and delighting in drenching us with the spray. The greatest pleasure to them, it appeared, was torturing others with impunity to themselves. Because the Wazungu had clothes, and they had none, they cared not how the water flew about; and the more they were asked to desist, the more obstinately they persevered. For fear of misapprehension, I must state that though these negroes go stark naked when cruising or working during a shower of rain, they all possess a mantle or goat-skin, which they sling over their shoulders, and strut about in when on shore and the weather is fine.

It is a curious sight, when encamped on a showery day, to see every man take off his skin, wrap it carefully up, and place it in his mzigo or load, and stand, whilst his garment is thus comfortably disposed of, cowering and trembling like a dog which has just emerged from a cold pond.

Now we have done with the Tanganyika Lake, I must say for it, that in no part of Africa hitherto visited by us had we seen such splendid vegetation as covers its basin, from the mountain-tops to its shores. To the northward, rain falls all the year round in frequent showers, but on the southern half rain only falls during those six months when the sun is in its southern declination. Hence the northern half must be richer than the southern; and the lake must owe its existence to the constant inflows from the north.

13 Khambi— Encampment.

14 The Babisa purchase ivory at Luwemba for the Kilua merchants, and are met there by the Kazé merchants.

15 I have since heard from Colonel Rigby (Colonel Hamerton’s successor) that Hamed and all his slaves were murdered on their journey to Uruwa, and their property was seized by the natives.


Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30