Departure from Linyanti for Sesheke — Level Country — Ant-hills — Wild Date-trees — Appearance of our Attendants on the March — The Chief’s Guard — They attempt to ride on Ox-back — Vast Herds of the new Antelopes, Leches, and Nakongs — The native way of hunting them — Reception at the Villages — Presents of Beer and Milk — Eating with the Hand — The Chief provides the Oxen for Slaughter — Social Mode of Eating — The Sugar-cane — Sekeletu’s novel Test of Character — Cleanliness of Makololo Huts — Their Construction and Appearance — The Beds — Cross the Leeambye — Aspect of this part of the Country — The small Antelope Tianyane unknown in the South — Hunting on foot — An Eland.
Having waited a month at Linyanti (lat. 18° 17’ 20” S., long. 23° 50’ 9” E.), we again departed, for the purpose of ascending the river from Sesheke (lat. 17° 31’ 38” S., long. 25° 13’ E.). To the Barotse country, the capital of which is Nariele or Naliele (lat. 15° 24’ 17” S., long. 23° 5’ 54” E.), I went in company with Sekeletu and about one hundred and sixty attendants. We had most of the young men with us, and many of the under-chiefs besides. The country between Linyanti and Sesheke is perfectly flat, except patches elevated only a few feet above the surrounding level. There are also many mounds where the gigantic ant-hills of the country have been situated or still appear: these mounds are evidently the work of the termites. No one who has not seen their gigantic structures can fancy the industry of these little laborers; they seem to impart fertility to the soil which has once passed through their mouths, for the Makololo find the sides of ant-hills the choice spots for rearing early maize, tobacco, or any thing on which they wish to bestow especial care. In the parts through which we passed the mounds are generally covered with masses of wild date-trees; the fruit is small, and no tree is allowed to stand long, for, having abundance of food, the Makololo have no inclination to preserve wild fruit-trees; accordingly, when a date shoots up to seed, as soon as the fruit is ripe they cut down the tree rather than be at the trouble of climbing it. The other parts of the more elevated land have the camel-thorn (‘Acacia giraffae’), white-thorned mimosa (‘Acacia horrida’), and baobabs. In sandy spots there are palmyras somewhat similar to the Indian, but with a smaller seed. The soil on all the flat parts is a rich, dark, tenacious loam, known as the “cotton-ground” in India; it is covered with a dense matting of coarse grass, common on all damp spots in this country. We had the Chobe on our right, with its scores of miles of reed occupying the horizon there. It was pleasant to look back on the long-extended line of our attendants, as it twisted and bent according to the curves of the footpath, or in and out behind the mounds, the ostrich feathers of the men waving in the wind. Some had the white ends of ox-tails on their heads, Hussar fashion, and others great bunches of black ostrich feathers, or caps made of lions’ manes. Some wore red tunics, or various-colored prints which the chief had bought from Fleming; the common men carried burdens; the gentlemen walked with a small club of rhinoceros-horn in their hands, and had servants to carry their shields; while the “Machaka”, battle-axe men, carried their own, and were liable at any time to be sent off a hundred miles on an errand, and expected to run all the way.
Sekeletu is always accompanied by his own Mopato, a number of young men of his own age. When he sits down they crowd around him; those who are nearest eat out of the same dish, for the Makololo chiefs pride themselves on eating with their people. He eats a little, then beckons his neighbors to partake. When they have done so, he perhaps beckons to some one at a distance to take a share; that person starts forward, seizes the pot, and removes it to his own companions. The comrades of Sekeletu, wishing to imitate him in riding on my old horse, leaped on the backs of a number of half-broken Batoka oxen as they ran, but, having neither saddle nor bridle, the number of tumbles they met with was a source of much amusement to the rest. Troops of leches, or, as they are here called, “lechwes”, appeared feeding quite heedlessly all over the flats; they exist here in prodigious herds, although the numbers of them and of the “nakong” that are killed annually must be enormous. Both are water antelopes, and, when the lands we now tread upon are flooded, they betake themselves to the mounds I have alluded to. The Makalaka, who are most expert in the management of their small, thin, light canoes, come gently toward them; the men stand upright in the canoe, though it is not more than fifteen or eighteen inches wide and about fifteen feet long; their paddles, ten feet in height, are of a kind of wood called molompi, very light, yet as elastic as ash. With these they either punt or paddle, according to the shallowness or depth of the water. When they perceive the antelopes beginning to move they increase their speed, and pursue them with great velocity. They make the water dash away from the gunwale, and, though the leche goes off by a succession of prodigious bounds, its feet appearing to touch the bottom at each spring, they manage to spear great numbers of them.
The nakong often shares a similar fate. This is a new species, rather smaller than the leche, and in shape has more of paunchiness than any antelope I ever saw. Its gait closely resembles the gallop of a dog when tired. The hair is long and rather sparse, so that it is never sleek-looking. It is of a grayish-brown color, and has horns twisted in the manner of a koodoo, but much smaller, and with a double ridge winding round each of them.
Its habitat is the marsh and the muddy bogs; the great length of its foot between the point of the toe and supplemental hoofs enables it to make a print about a foot in length; it feeds by night, and lies hid among the reeds and rushes by day; when pursued, it dashes into sedgy places containing water, and immerses the whole body, leaving only the point of the nose and ends of the horns exposed. The hunters burn large patches of reed in order to drive the nakong out of his lair; occasionally the ends of the horns project above the water; but when it sees itself surrounded by enemies in canoes, it will rather allow its horns to be scorched in the burning reed than come forth from its hiding-place.
When we arrived at any village the women all turned out to lulliloo their chief. Their shrill voices, to which they give a tremulous sound by a quick motion of the tongue, peal forth, “Great lion!” “Great chief!” “Sleep, my lord!” etc. The men utter similar salutations; and Sekeletu receives all with becoming indifference. After a few minutes’ conversation and telling the news, the head man of the village, who is almost always a Makololo, rises, and brings forth a number of large pots of beer. Calabashes, being used as drinking-cups, are handed round, and as many as can partake of the beverage do so, grasping the vessels so eagerly that they are in danger of being broken.
They bring forth also large pots and bowls of thick milk; some contain six or eight gallons; and each of these, as well as of the beer, is given to a particular person, who has the power to divide it with whom he pleases. The head man of any section of the tribe is generally selected for this office. Spoons not being generally in fashion, the milk is conveyed to the mouth with the hand. I often presented my friends with iron spoons, and it was curious to observe how their habit of hand-eating prevailed, though they were delighted with the spoons. They lifted out a little with the utensil, then put it on the left hand, and ate it out of that.
As the Makololo have great abundance of cattle, and the chief is expected to feed all who accompany him, he either selects an ox or two of his own from the numerous cattle stations that he possesses at different spots all over the country, or is presented by the head men of the villages he visits with as many as he needs by way of tribute. The animals are killed by a thrust from a small javelin in the region of the heart, the wound being purposely small in order to avoid any loss of blood, which, with the internal parts, are the perquisites of the men who perform the work of the butcher; hence all are eager to render service in that line. Each tribe has its own way of cutting up and distributing an animal. Among the Makololo the hump and ribs belong to the chief; among the Bakwains the breast is his perquisite. After the oxen are cut up, the different joints are placed before Sekeletu, and he apportions them among the gentlemen of the party. The whole is rapidly divided by their attendants, cut into long strips, and so many of these are thrown into the fires at once that they are nearly put out. Half broiled and burning hot, the meat is quickly handed round; every one gets a mouthful, but no one except the chief has time to masticate. It is not the enjoyment of eating they aim at, but to get as much of the food into the stomach as possible during the short time the others are cramming as well as themselves, for no one can eat more than a mouthful after the others have finished. They are eminently gregarious in their eating; and, as they despise any one who eats alone, I always poured out two cups of coffee at my own meals, so that the chief, or some one of the principal men, might partake along with me. They all soon become very fond of coffee; and, indeed, some of the tribes attribute greater fecundity to the daily use of this beverage. They were all well acquainted with the sugar-cane, as they cultivate it in the Barotse country, but knew nothing of the method of extracting the sugar from it. They use the cane only for chewing. Sekeletu, relishing the sweet coffee and biscuits, of which I then had a store, said “he knew my heart loved him by finding his own heart warming to my food.” He had been visited during my absence at the Cape by some traders and Griquas, and “their coffee did not taste half so nice as mine, because they loved his ivory and not himself.” This was certainly an original mode of discerning character.
Sekeletu and I had each a little gipsy-tent in which to sleep. The Makololo huts are generally clean, while those of the Makalaka are infested with vermin. The cleanliness of the former is owing to the habit of frequently smearing the floors with a plaster composed of cowdung and earth. If we slept in the tent in some villages, the mice ran over our faces and disturbed our sleep, or hungry prowling dogs would eat our shoes and leave only the soles. When they were guilty of this and other misdemeanors, we got the loan of a hut. The best sort of Makololo huts consist of three circular walls, with small holes as doors, each similar to that in a dog-house; and it is necessary to bend down the body to get in, even when on all-fours. The roof is formed of reeds or straight sticks, in shape like a Chinaman’s hat, bound firmly together with circular bands, which are lashed with the strong inner bark of the mimosa-tree. When all prepared except the thatch, it is lifted on to the circular wall, the rim resting on a circle of poles, between each of which the third wall is built. The roof is thatched with fine grass, and sewed with the same material as the lashings; and, as it projects far beyond the walls, and reaches within four feet of the ground, the shade is the best to be found in the country. These huts are very cool in the hottest day, but are close and deficient in ventilation by night.
The bed is a mat made of rushes sewn together with twine; the hip-bone soon becomes sore on the hard flat surface, as we are not allowed to make a hole in the floor to receive the prominent part called trochanter by anatomists, as we do when sleeping on grass or sand.
Our course at this time led us to a part above Sesheke, called Katonga, where there is a village belonging to a Bashubia man named Sekhosi — latitude 17° 29’ 13”, longitude 24° 33’. The river here is somewhat broader than at Sesheke, and certainly not less than six hundred yards. It flows somewhat slowly in the first part of its eastern course. When the canoes came from Sekhosi to take us over, one of the comrades of Sebituane rose, and, looking to Sekeletu, called out, “The elders of a host always take the lead in an attack.” This was understood at once; and Sekeletu, with all the young men, were obliged to give the elders the precedence, and remain on the southern bank and see that all went orderly into the canoes. It took a considerable time to ferry over the whole of our large party, as, even with quick paddling, from six to eight minutes were spent in the mere passage from bank to bank.
Several days were spent in collecting canoes from different villages on the river, which we now learned is called by the whole of the Barotse the Liambai or Leeambye. This we could not ascertain on our first visit, and, consequently, called the river after the town “Sesheke”. This term Sesheke means “white sand-banks”, many of which exist at this part. There is another village in the valley of the Barotse likewise called Sesheke, and for the same reason; but the term Leeambye means “the large river”, or the river PAR EXCELLENCE. Luambeji, Luambesi, Ambezi, Ojimbesi, and Zambesi, etc., are names applied to it at different parts of its course, according to the dialect spoken, and all possess a similar signification, and express the native idea of this magnificent stream being the main drain of the country.
In order to assist in the support of our large party, and at the same time to see the adjacent country, I went several times, during our stay, to the north of the village for game. The country is covered with clumps of beautiful trees, among which fine open glades stretch away in every direction; when the river is in flood these are inundated, but the tree-covered elevated spots are much more numerous here than in the country between the Chobe and the Leeambye. The soil is dark loam, as it is every where on spots reached by the inundation, while among the trees it is sandy, and not covered so densely with grass as elsewhere. A sandy ridge covered with trees, running parallel to, and about eight miles from the river, is the limit of the inundation on the north; there are large tracts of this sandy forest in that direction, till you come to other districts of alluvial soil and fewer trees. The latter soil is always found in the vicinity of rivers which either now overflow their banks annually, or formerly did so. The people enjoy rain in sufficient quantity to raise very large supplies of grain and ground-nuts.
This district contains great numbers of a small antelope named Tianyane, unknown in the south. It stands about eighteen inches high, is very graceful in its movements, and utters a cry of alarm not unlike that of the domestic fowl; it is of a brownish-red color on the sides and back, with the belly and lower part of the tail white; it is very timid, but the maternal affection that the little thing bears to its young will often induce it to offer battle even to a man approaching it. When the young one is too tender to run about with the dam, she puts one foot on the prominence about the seventh cervical vertebra, or withers; the instinct of the young enables it to understand that it is now required to kneel down, and to remain quite still till it hears the bleating of its dam. If you see an otherwise gregarious she-antelope separated from the herd, and going alone any where, you may be sure she has laid her little one to sleep in some cozy spot. The color of the hair in the young is better adapted for assimilating it with the ground than that of the older animals, which do not need to be screened from the observation of birds of prey. I observed the Arabs at Aden, when making their camels kneel down, press the thumb on the withers in exactly the same way the antelopes do with their young; probably they have been led to the custom by seeing this plan adopted by the gazelle of the Desert.
Great numbers of buffaloes, zebras, tsessebes, tahaetsi, and eland, or pohu, grazed undisturbed on these plains, so that very little exertion was required to secure a fair supply of meat for the party during the necessary delay. Hunting on foot, as all those who have engaged in it in this country will at once admit, is very hard work indeed. The heat of the sun by day is so great, even in winter, as it now was, that, had there been any one on whom I could have thrown the task, he would have been most welcome to all the sport the toil is supposed to impart. But the Makololo shot so badly, that, in order to save my powder, I was obliged to go myself.
We shot a beautiful cow-eland, standing in the shade of a fine tree. It was evident that she had lately had her calf killed by a lion, for there were five long deep scratches on both sides of her hind-quarters, as if she had run to the rescue of her calf, and the lion, leaving it, had attacked herself, but was unable to pull her down. When lying on the ground, the milk flowing from the large udder showed that she must have been seeking the shade, from the distress its non-removal in the natural manner caused. She was a beautiful creature, and Lebeole, a Makololo gentleman who accompanied me, speaking in reference to its size and beauty, said, “Jesus ought to have given us these instead of cattle.” It was a new, undescribed variety of this splendid antelope. It was marked with narrow white bands across the body, exactly like those of the koodoo, and had a black patch of more than a handbreadth on the outer side of the fore-arm.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57