A Cruise on the Tanganyika Lake, by John Hanning Speke

Chapter V.

General Character of the Country Traversed — The Huts — The Geology — Productions — Land of Promise — Advice to Missionaries — Leave Ulekampuri — Return of the Expedition — Register of Temperature — Wages and Kit.

24th August. — During the last four days we have marched fifty-eight miles, and are now at our old village in Ulékampuri. As we have now traversed all the ground, I must try to give a short description, with a few reflections on the general character of all we have seen or heard, before concluding this diary.

To give a faithful idea of a country, it is better that the object selected for comparison should incline to the large and grander scale than to the reverse, otherwise the reader is apt to form too low an idea of it. And yet, though this is leaning to the smaller, I can think of no better comparison for the surface of this high land than the long sweeping waves of the Atlantic Ocean; and where the hills are fewest, and in lines, they resemble small breakers curling on the tops of the rollers, all irregularly arranged, as though disturbed by different currents of wind.

Where the hills are grouped, they remind me of a small chopping sea in the Bristol Channel. That the hills are nowhere high, is proved by the total absence of any rivers along this line, until the lake is reached; and the passages between or over them are everywhere gradual in their rise; so that in travelling through the country, no matter in which direction, the hills seldom interfere with the line of march. The flats and hollows are well peopled, and cattle and cultivation are everywhere abundant. The stone, soil, and aspect of the tract is uniform throughout. The stone is chiefly granite, the rugged rocks of which lie like knobs of sugar over the surface of the little hills, intermingled with sandstone in a highly ferruginous state; whilst the soil is an accumulation of sand the same colour as the stone, a light brownish grey, and appears as if it were formed of disintegrated particles of the rocks worn off by time and weathering. Small trees and brushwood cover all the outcropping hills; and palms on the plains, though few and widely spread, prove that water is very near the surface. Springs, too, are numerous, and generally distributed. The mean level of the country between Unyanyembé and the lake is 3767 feet; that of the lake itself, 3750. The tribes, as a rule, are well disposed towards all strangers, and wish to extend their commerce. Their social state rather represents a conservative than a radical disposition; their government is a sort of semipatriarchal-feudal arrangement; and, like a band of robbers, all hold by their different chiefs from feeling the necessity of mutual support. Bordering the south of the lake there are vast fields of iron; cotton is also abundant, and every tropical plant or tree could grow; those that do exist, even rice, vegetate in the utmost luxuriance. Cattle are very abundant, and hides are found in every house. On the east of the lake ivory is said to be very abundant and cheap; and on the west we hear of many advantages which are especially worthy of our notice. The Karagué hills overlooking the lake are high, cold, and healthy, and have enormous droves of cattle, bearing horns of stupendous size; and ivory, fine timber, and all the necessaries of life, are to be found in great profusion there. Again, beyond the equator, of the kingdom of Uganda we hear from everybody a rapturous account. That country evidently swarms with people who cultivate coffee and all the common grains, and have large flocks and herds, even greater than what I have lately seen. Now if the N’yanza be really the Nile’s fount, which I sincerely believe to be the case, what an advantage this will be to the English merchant on the Nile, and what a field is opened to the world, if England does not neglect this discovery!

But I must not expatiate too much on the merits and capabilities of this part of inner Africa, lest I mislead any commercial inquirers; and it is as well to say at present, that the people near the coast are in such a state of helplessness and insecurity, caused by the slave-hunts, that for many years, until commerce, by steady and certain advance, shall in some degree overcome the existing apathy, and excite the population to strive to better their position by setting up strong constitutions to protect themselves and their property, no one need expect to make a large fortune by dealing with them. That commerce does make wonderful improvements on the barbarous habits of the Africans, can now be seen in the Masai country, and the countries extending north-westward from Mombas up through Kikuyu into the interior, where the process has been going on during the last few years. There even the roving wild pastorals, formerly untamable, are now gradually becoming reduced to subjection; and they no doubt will ere long have as strong a desire for cloths and other luxuries as any other civilised beings, from the natural desire to equal in comfort and dignity of appurtenances those whom they now must see constantly passing through their country. Caravans are penetrating farther, and going in greater numbers, every succeeding year, in those directions, and Arab merchants say that those countries are everywhere healthy. The best proof we have that the district is largely productive is the fact that the caravans and competition increase on those lines more and more every day. I would add, that in the meanwhile the staple exports derived from the far interior of the continent will consist of ivory, hides, and horns; whilst from the coast and its vicinity the clove, the gum copal, some textile materials drawn from the banana, aloe, and pine-apples, with oleaginous plants such as the ground-nut and cocoa-nut, are the chief exportable products. The cotton plant which grows here, judging from its size and difference from the plant usually grown in India, I consider to be a tree cotton and a perennial. It is this cotton which the natives weave into coarse fabrics in their looms. Rice, although it is not indigenous to Africa, I believe is certainly capable of being produced in great quantity and of very superior quality; and this is also the case with sugar-cane and tobacco, both of which are grown generally over the continent. There is also a species of palm growing on the borders of the Tanganyika Lake, which yields a concrete oil very much like, if not the same as, the palm-oil of Western Africa; but this is limited in quantity, and would never be of much value. Salt, which is found in great quantity in pits near the Malagarazi river, and the iron I have already spoken about, could only be of use to the country itself in facilitating traffic, and in maturing its resources.

These fertile regions have been hitherto unknown from the same cause which Dr Livingstone has so ably explained in regard to the western side of Africa — the jealousy of the shortsighted people who live on the coast, who, to preserve a monopoly of one particular article exclusively to themselves (ivory), have done their best to keep everybody away from the interior. I say shortsighted; for it is obvious that, were the resources of the country once fairly opened, the people on the coast would double or triple their present incomes, and Zanzibar would soon swell into a place of real importance. All hands would then be employed, and luxury would take the place of beggary.

I must now (after expressing a fervent hope that England especially, and the civilised world generally, will not neglect this land of promise) call attention to the marked fact, that the missionaries, residing for many years at Zanzibar, are the prime and first promoters of this discovery. They have been for years past doing their utmost, with simple sincerity, to Christianise this negro land, and promote a civilised and happy state of existence among these benighted beings. During their sojourn among these blackamoors, they heard from Arabs and others of many of the facts I have now stated, but only in a confused way, such as might be expected in information derived from an uneducated people. Amongst the more important disclosures made by the Arabs was the constant reference to a large lake or inland sea, which their caravans were in the habit of visiting. It was a singular thing that, at whatever part of the coast the missionaries arrived, on inquiring from the travelling merchants where they went to, they one and all stated to an inland sea, the dimensions of which were such that nobody could give any estimate of its length or width. The directions they travelled in pointed north-west, west, and south-west, and their accounts seemed to indicate a single sheet of water, extending from the Line down to 14° south latitude — a sea of about 840 miles in length, with an assumed breadth of two to three hundred miles. In fact, from this great combination of testimony that water lay generally in a continuous line from the equator up to 14° south latitude, and from not being able to gain information of there being any land separations to the said water, they very naturally, and I may add fortunately, put upon the map that monster slug of an inland sea which so much attracted the attention of the geographical world in 1855–56, and caused our being sent out to Africa. The good that may result from this little, yet happy accident, will, I trust, prove proportionately as large and fruitful as the produce from the symbolical grain of mustard-seed; and nobody knows or believes in this more fully than one of the chief promoters of this exciting investigation, Mr Rebmann. From these late explorations, he feels convinced, as he has oftentimes told me, that the first step has been taken in the right direction for the development of the commercial resources of the country, the spread of civilisation, and the extension of our geographical knowledge.

As many clergymen, missionaries, and others, have begged me to publish what facilities are open to the better prosecution of their noble ends in this wild country, I would certainly direct their attention to the Karagué district, in preference to any other. There they will find, I feel convinced, a fine healthy country; a choice of ground from the mountain-top to the level of the lake, capable of affording them every comfort of life which an isolated place can produce; and being the most remote region from the coast, they would have less interference from the Mohammedan communities that reside by the sea. But then, I think, missionaries would have but a poor chance of success unless they went there in a body, with wives and families all as assiduous in working to the same end as themselves, and all capable of other useful occupations besides that of disseminating the Gospel, which should come after, and not before, the people are awake and prepared to receive it. As that country must be cold in consequence of its great altitude, the people would much sooner than in the hotter and more enervating lowlands, learn any lessons of industry they might be taught. To live idle in regard to everything but endeavouring to cram these negroes with Scriptural doctrines, as has too often been and now is done, is, although apparently the straightest, the longest way to reach the goal of their desires.

The missionary, I think, should be a Jack-of-all-trades — a man that can turn his hand to anything; and being useful in all cases, he would, at any rate, make himself influential with those who were living around him. To instruct him is the surest way of gaining a black man’s heart, which, once obtained, can easily be turned in any way the preceptor pleases, as is the case with all Asiatics: they soon learn to bow to the superior intellect of the European, and are as easily ruled as a child is by his father.41

25th. — We left Ulékampuri at 1 A.M., and marched the last eighteen miles into Kazé under the delightful influence of a cool night and a bright full moon. As the caravan, according to its usual march of single file, moved along the serpentine footpath in peristaltic motion, firing muskets and singing “the return,” the Unyanyembé villagers, men, women, and children, came running out and flocking on it, piercing the air with loud shrill noises, accompanied with the lullabooing of these fairs — which, once heard, can never be mistaken. The crowd was composed in great part of the relatives of my porters, who evinced their feelings towards their adult masters as eagerly as stray deer do in running to join a long-missing herd. The Arabs, one and all, came out to meet us, and escorted us into their depôt. Captain Burton greeted me on arrival at the old house, and said he had been very anxious for some time past about our safety, as numerous reports had been set afloat with regard to the civil wars we had had to circumvent, which had impressed the Arabs as well as himself with alarming fears. I laughed over the matter, but expressed my regret that he did not accompany me, as I felt quite certain in my mind I had discovered the source of the Nile. This he naturally objected to, even after hearing all my reasons for saying so, and therefore the subject was dropped. Nevertheless, the Captain accepted all my geography leading from Kazé to the Nile, and wrote it down in his book — contracting only my distances, which he said he thought were exaggerated, and of course taking care to sever my lake from the Nile by his Mountains of the Moon.

It affords me great pleasure to be able to report the safe return of the expedition in a state of high spirits and gratification. All enjoyed the salubrity of the climate, the kind entertainments of the sultans, the variety and richness of the country, and the excellent fare everywhere. Further, the Beluches, by their exemplary conduct, proved themselves a most efficient, willing, and trustworthy guard, and are deserving of the highest encomiums; they, with Bombay, were the life and success of everything, and I sincerely hope they may not be forgotten.

The Arabs told me I could reach the N’yanza in fifteen to seventeen marches, and I returned in sixteen, although I had to take a circuitous line instead of a direct one. The provisions, too, just held out. I took a supply for six weeks, and completed that time this day. The total road-distance there and back is 452 miles, which, admitting that the Arabs make sixteen marches of it, gives them a marching rate of more than fourteen miles a — day.

The temperature is greater at this than at any other time of the year, in consequence of its being the end of the dry season; still, as will be seen by the annexed register of one week, the Unyamuézi plateau is not unbearably hot.

Thermometer hung in a passage of our house showed — Morning, Noon, and Afternoon respectively —
6 A.M. 9 A.M. Noon. 3 P.M. 6 P.M.
73° 75° 84° 86° 84° Mean temperature during first week or seven days of September 1858.
71° --- --- 88° --- Extreme: difference, 17° of variation during 12 hours of day.
Thermometer suspended from ridge-pole of a one-cloth tent pitched in a close yard:—
6 A.M. 9 A.M. Noon. 3 P.M. 6 P.M.
65° 85° 108° 107° 80° Mean temperature.
63° --- --- 113° --- Extreme: difference, 50° of variation.
List of Stores along this Line.

Rice is grown at Unyanyembé, or wherever the Arabs settle, but is not common, as the negroes, considering it poor food, seldom eat it.


Cows, sheep, goats, fowls, donkeys, eggs, milk, butter, honey. P.S. — Donkeys are very scarce; only found in a few places in the Unyamuézi country.


Rice, jowari, bagri, maize, manioc, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, tobacco, cotton, pulse in great varieties, chilis, bénghans, plantains, tomatoes, sesamum.

The Quantity of Kit taken for this Journey consisted of —

9 Gorahs merikani; 1 Gorah or piece of American sheeting, = 15 cloths of 4 cubits each.
30 Do. Kiniki; 1 Gorah Kiniki, a common indigo-dyed stuff, = 4 cloths of 4 cubits each.
1 Sahari, a coloured cloth.
1 Dubuani, a coloured cloth.
2 Barsati, a coloured cloth.
These cloths are more expensive being of better stuff, and are used chiefly by the sultans and other black swells.
20 Maunds white beads = 70 lb.
3 loads of rice grown at Unyanyembé by the Arabs.
Expenditure for the Journey from 9th July to 25th August 1858.
10 Beluches’ wages, 150 shukkas, or 4 cubits apiece merikani, 100 dols.
10 Beluches’ rations, given in advance, 30 lb. white beads, 5
15 Pagazis’ wages, 75 shukkas merikani, 50
26 Men, including self, rations, 60 lb. white beads, 10
2 Pagazis, extra wages, 7 shukkas of merikani and kiniki mixed, 5
6 Sultans’ hongos or presents, 22 shukkas of merikani and kiniki, mixed, 16
6 Do. Do. Do. 2 barsatis, 2
Total expenditure, 188 dols.
Or £39, 3s. 4d.

The Indian Government also very generously authorised me to pay, on my last expedition, those poor men who had carried our property down from Kazé to Zungoméro; but unfortunately for them, as well as for our own credit, I could not find one man of the lot.

41 Since writing this, as I have had more insight into Africa by travelling from Kazé to Egypt down the whole length of the Nile, I would be sorry to leave this opinion standing without making a few more remarks. Of all places in Africa, by far the most inviting to missionary enterprise are the kingdoms of Karagué, Uganda, and Unyoro. They are extremely fertile and healthy, and the temperature is delightfully moderate. So abundant, indeed, are all provisions, and so prolific the soil, that a missionary establishment, however large, could support itself after the first year’s crop. Being ruled by kings of the Abyssinian type, there is no doubt but that they have a latent Christianity in them. These kings are powerful enough to keep up their governments under numerous officers. They have expressed a wish to have their children educated; and I am sure the missionary need only go there to obtain all he desires on as secure a basis as he will find anywhere else in those parts of Africa which are not under the rule of Europeans. If this was effected by the aid of an Egyptian force at Gondokoro, together with an arrangement for putting the White Nile trade on a legitimate footing between that station and Unyoro, the heathen would not only be blessed, but we should soon have a great and valuable commerce. Without protection, though, I would not advise any one to go there.

Now, for the use of commercial inquirers, I may also add, that it may be seen in my ‘Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile,’ that the kings of these three countries were all, more or less, adverse to my passing through their countries to the Nile; but they gave way, and permitted my doing so, on my promising to open a direct trade with this country and theirs by the channel of that river. I gave them the promise freely, for I saw by the nature of the land, subjected as it is to frequently recurring showers of rain all the year round, that it will be, in course of time, one of the greatest nations on the earth. It is nearer to Europe than India; it is far more fertile, and it possesses none of those disagreeable elements of discontent which have been such a sharp thorn in our sides in India — I mean a history and a religion far anterior to our own, which makes those we govern there shrink from us, caused by a natural antipathy of being ruled by an inferior race, as we are by them considered to be. These countries, on the contrary, have no literature, and therefore have neither history nor religion to excite discontent should any foreigners intrench on their lands. By this I do not wish it to be supposed that I would willingly see any foreign European power upset these Wahuma governments; but, on the contrary, I would like to see them maintained as long as possible, and I seriously trust some steps may speedily be taken for that most desirable object. Should it not be so, then in a short time these kingdoms will fall into the hands of those vile ruffian traders on the White Nile, in the same way as Kazé has been occupied by the Arabs of Zanzibar. To give an instance of the way it most likely will be effected, I will merely state that the king of Unyoro begged me repeatedly to kill some rebel brothers of his, who were then occupying an island between his palace and the Little Luta Nzige. I would not do it, as I thought it would be a bad example to set in the country; but some time afterwards I felt sorry for it, for on arrival in Madi, where I first met the Nile traders, I found that they were in league with these very rebels to dethrone the king. The atrocities committed by these traders are beyond all civilised belief. They are constantly fighting, robbing, and capturing slaves and cattle. No honest man can either trade or travel in the country, for the natives have been bullied to such an extent that they either fight or run away, according to their strength and circumstance. That a great quantity of ivory is drawn from those countries I must admit, for these traders ramify in all directions, and, vying with one another, see who can get most ivory at the least expense, no matter what means they employ to obtain their ends.

At the same time, I have no hesitation in saying that ten times as much merchandise might be got at less expense, if the trade were protected by government means, and put on a legitimate footing. Those countries teem with cattle. The indigenous cotton is of very superior quality. Indigo, sugar-cane, coffee, tobacco, sesamum, and indeed all things that will grow in a tropical climate, may be grown there within 3° of the equator, in luxurious profusion, and without any chance of failure owing to those long periodical droughts which affect all lands distant more than 3° from the equator.

When I was sailing down the Nile, I could not help remarking to all the pashas I visited how strange it appeared that men so civilised as they were should be living in such a barren, hot, and glaring land as Egypt, when the negroes on the equator were absolutely living in the richest and pleasantest garden in the world, so far as nature has made the two countries.

Now, though I have dwelt so markedly on the surprising fertility of Uganda and Unyoro in particular, I do not wish it to be supposed that I consider those countries alone to be exclusively rich, for I believe there is a continuous zone of fertility stretching right across Africa from east to west, affected only by the nature of the soil. In advancing this argument, I hold that the greatest discovery I have made in Africa consists in my positive knowledge regarding the rainy system of Africa; and to exemplify it irrespectively of my meteorological observations, I will state emphatically that as surely as I have determined the source of the Nile to lie within 3° of the equator, and that it cannot emanate from any point farther south, because all the lands beyond that limit are subject to long periodical droughts — so certain am I that the Tanganyika is supplied from the same source, or rainy zone, though draining in the opposite direction. Again, to its west also, from the same source of supply, the head-waters of the Zambézi take their origin. Still farther west, the fountains of the Congo must have their birth. Again, farther west still, the Chadda branch of the Niger can alone be thus supplied, and the same must be the case with the Gaboon river.

To carry this argument still farther, I would direct attention to the periodical conditions of the Blue Nile and Niger rivers. Both of these rivers rise in high mountains on the coast-range, at about 10° north latitude, but on opposite sides of the continent. They are considered large rivers, but only in consequence of their great floodings, when the sun, in his northern declination, brings the rains over the seats of their birthplaces; for when the sun is in the south they shrink so low that the waters of the Blue river would never have power to reach the sea were they not assisted by the perennial stream of the White Nile.

The most important exploring expedition that any one could undertake now, would be to cross Africa from east to west, keeping close to the first degree of north latitude, to ascertain the geological formation of that parallel. Within the coast-ranges, in consequence of the great elevation of the land, the temperature is always moderate, and it is proved to be much more healthy than any of those parts of Africa subjected to periodical seasons. Next to this scheme, I would recommend this fertile zone to be attacked from Gondokoro on the Nile, and from Gaboon (the French port) on the equator. The Gondokoro line, being known to a considerable extent, is ready for working, and only requires government protection to make it succeed; but the other line from the Gaboon should first be inspected by a scientific expedition.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005


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