Procure Canoes and ascend the Leeambye — Beautiful Islands — Winter Landscape — Industry and Skill of the Banyeti — Rapids — Falls of Gonye — Tradition — Annual Inundations — Fertility of the great Barotse Valley — Execution of two Conspirators — The Slave-dealer’s Stockade — Naliele, the Capital, built on an artificial Mound — Santuru, a great Hunter — The Barotse Method of commemorating any remarkable Event — Better Treatment of Women — More religious Feeling — Belief in a future State, and in the Existence of spiritual Beings — Gardens — Fish, Fruit, and Game — Proceed to the Limits of the Barotse Country — Sekeletu provides Rowers and a Herald — The River and Vicinity — Hippopotamus-hunters — No healthy Location — Determine to go to Loanda — Buffaloes, Elands, and Lions above Libonta — Interview with the Mambari — Two Arabs from Zanzibar — Their Opinion of the Portuguese and the English — Reach the Town of Ma–Sekeletu — Joy of the People at the first Visit of their Chief — Return to Sesheke — Heathenism.
Having at last procured a sufficient number of canoes, we began to ascend the river. I had the choice of the whole fleet, and selected the best, though not the largest; it was thirty-four feet long by twenty inches wide. I had six paddlers, and the larger canoe of Sekeletu had ten. They stand upright, and keep the stroke with great precision, though they change from side to side as the course demands. The men at the head and stern are selected from the strongest and most expert of the whole. The canoes, being flat bottomed, can go into very shallow water; and whenever the men can feel the bottom they use the paddles, which are about eight feet long, as poles to punt with. Our fleet consisted of thirty-three canoes, and about one hundred and sixty men. It was beautiful to see them skimming along so quickly, and keeping the time so well. On land the Makalaka fear the Makololo; on water the Makololo fear them, and can not prevent them from racing with each other, dashing along at the top of their speed, and placing their masters’ lives in danger. In the event of a capsize, many of the Makololo would sink like stones. A case of this kind happened on the first day of our voyage up. The wind, blowing generally from the east, raises very large waves on the Leeambye. An old doctor of the Makololo had his canoe filled by one of these waves, and, being unable to swim, was lost. The Barotse who were in the canoe with him saved themselves by swimming, and were afraid of being punished with death in the evening for not saving the doctor as well. Had he been a man of more influence, they certainly would have suffered death.
We proceeded rapidly up the river, and I felt the pleasure of looking on lands which had never been seen by a European before. The river is, indeed, a magnificent one, often more than a mile broad, and adorned with many islands of from three to five miles in length. Both islands and banks are covered with forest, and most of the trees on the brink of the water send down roots from their branches like the banian, or ‘Ficus Indica’. The islands at a little distance seem great rounded masses of sylvan vegetation reclining on the bosom of the glorious stream. The beauty of the scenery of some of the islands is greatly increased by the date-palm, with its gracefully curved fronds and refreshing light green color, near the bottom of the picture, and the lofty palmyra towering far above, and casting its feathery foliage against a cloudless sky. It being winter, we had the strange coloring on the banks which many parts of African landscape assume. The country adjacent to the river is rocky and undulating, abounding in elephants and all other large game, except leches and nakongs, which seem generally to avoid stony ground. The soil is of a reddish color, and very fertile, as is attested by the great quantity of grain raised annually by the Banyeti. A great many villages of this poor and very industrious people are situated on both banks of the river: they are expert hunters of the hippopotami and other animals, and very proficient in the manufacture of articles of wood and iron. The whole of this part of the country being infested with the tsetse, they are unable to rear domestic animals. This may have led to their skill in handicraft works. Some make large wooden vessels with very neat lids, and wooden bowls of all sizes; and since the idea of sitting on stools has entered the Makololo mind, they have shown great taste in the different forms given to the legs of these pieces of furniture.
Other Banyeti, or Manyeti, as they are called, make neat and strong baskets of the split roots of a certain tree, while others excel in pottery and iron. I can not find that they have ever been warlike. Indeed, the wars in the centre of the country, where no slave-trade existed, have seldom been about any thing else but cattle. So well known is this, that several tribes refuse to keep cattle because they tempt their enemies to come and steal. Nevertheless, they have no objection to eat them when offered, and their country admits of being well stocked. I have heard of but one war having occurred from another cause. Three brothers, Barolongs, fought for the possession of a woman who was considered worth a battle, and the tribe has remained permanently divided ever since.
From the bend up to the north, called Katima-molelo (I quenched fire), the bed of the river is rocky, and the stream runs fast, forming a succession of rapids and cataracts, which prevent continuous navigation when the water is low. The rapids are not visible when the river is full, but the cataracts of Nambwe, Bombwe, and Kale must always be dangerous. The fall at each of these is between four and six feet. But the falls of Gonye present a much more serious obstacle. There we were obliged to take the canoes out of the water, and carry them more than a mile by land. The fall is about thirty feet. The main body of water, which comes over the ledge of rock when the river is low, is collected into a space seventy or eighty yards wide before it takes the leap, and, a mass of rock being thrust forward against the roaring torrent, a loud sound is produced. Tradition reports the destruction in this place of two hippopotamus-hunters, who, over-eager in the pursuit of a wounded animal, were, with their intended prey, drawn down into the frightful gulf. There is also a tradition of a man, evidently of a superior mind, who left his own countrymen, the Barotse, and came down the river, took advantage of the falls, and led out a portion of the water there for irrigation. Such minds must have arisen from time to time in these regions, as well as in our own country, but, ignorant of the use of letters, they have left no memorial behind them. We dug out some of an inferior kind of potato (‘Sisinyane’) from his garden, for when once planted it never dies out. This root is bitter and waxy, though it is cultivated. It was not in flower, so I can not say whether it is a solanaceous plant or not. One never expects to find a grave nor a stone of remembrance set up in Africa; the very rocks are illiterate, they contain so few fossils. Those here are of reddish variegated, hardened sandstone, with madrepore holes in it. This, and broad horizontal strata of trap, sometimes a hundred miles in extent, and each layer having an inch or so of black silicious matter on it, as if it had floated there while in a state of fusion, form a great part of the bottom of the central valley. These rocks, in the southern part of the country especially, are often covered with twelve or fifteen feet of soft calcareous tufa. At Bombwe we have the same trap, with radiated zeolite, probably mesotype, and it again appears at the confluence of the Chobe, farther down.
As we passed up the river, the different villages of Banyeti turned out to present Sekeletu with food and skins, as their tribute. One large village is placed at Gonye, the inhabitants of which are required to assist the Makololo to carry their canoes past the falls. The tsetse here lighted on us even in the middle of the stream. This we crossed repeatedly, in order to make short cuts at bends of the river. The course is, however, remarkably straight among the rocks; and here the river is shallow, on account of the great breadth of surface which it covers. When we came to about 16° 16’ S. latitude, the high wooded banks seemed to leave the river, and no more tsetse appeared. Viewed from the flat, reedy basin in which the river then flowed, the banks seemed prolonged into ridges, of the same wooded character, two or three hundred feet high, and stretched away to the N.N.E. and N.N.W. until they were twenty or thirty miles apart. The intervening space, nearly one hundred miles in length, with the Leeambye winding gently near the middle, is the true Barotse valley. It bears a close resemblance to the valley of the Nile, and is inundated annually, not by rains, but by the Leeambye, exactly as Lower Egypt is flooded by the Nile. The villages of the Barotse are built on mounds, some of which are said to have been raised artificially by Santuru, a former chief of the Barotse, and during the inundation the whole valley assumes the appearance of a large lake, with the villages on the mounds like islands, just as occurs in Egypt with the villages of the Egyptians. Some portion of the waters of inundation comes from the northwest, where great floodings also occur, but more comes from the north and northeast, descending the bed of the Leeambye itself. There are but few trees in this valley: those which stand on the mounds were nearly all transplanted by Santuru for shade. The soil is extremely fertile, and the people are never in want of grain, for, by taking advantage of the moisture of the inundation, they can take two crops a year. The Barotse are strongly attached to this fertile valley; they say, “Here hunger is not known.” There are so many things besides corn which a man can find in it for food, that it is no wonder they desert from Linyanti to return to this place.
The great valley is not put to a tithe of the use it might be. It is covered with coarse succulent grasses, which afford ample pasturage for large herds of cattle; these thrive wonderfully, and give milk copiously to their owners. When the valley is flooded, the cattle are compelled to leave it and go to the higher lands, where they fall off in condition; their return is a time of joy.
It is impossible to say whether this valley, which contains so much moisture, would raise wheat as the valley of the Nile does. It is probably too rich, and would make corn run entirely to straw, for one species of grass was observed twelve feet high, with a stem as thick as a man’s thumb. At present the pasturage is never eaten off, though the Makololo possess immense herds of cattle.
There are no large towns, the mounds on which the towns and villages are built being all small, and the people require to live apart on account of their cattle.
This visit was the first Sekeletu had made to these parts since he attained the chieftainship. Those who had taken part with Mpepe were consequently in great terror. When we came to the town of Mpepe’s father, as he and another man had counseled Mamochisane to put Sekeletu to death and marry Mpepe, the two were led forth and tossed into the river. Nokuane was again one of the executioners. When I remonstrated against human blood being shed in the offhand way in which they were proceeding, the counselors justified their acts by the evidence given by Mamochisane, and calmly added, “You see we are still Boers; we are not yet taught.”
Mpepe had given full permission to the Mambari slave-dealers to trade in all the Batoka and Bashukulompo villages to the east of this. He had given them cattle, ivory, and children, and had received in return a large blunderbuss to be mounted as a cannon. When the slight circumstance of my having covered the body of the chief with my own deranged the whole conspiracy, the Mambari, in their stockade, were placed in very awkward circumstances. It was proposed to attack them and drive them out of the country at once; but, dreading a commencement of hostilities, I urged the difficulties of that course, and showed that a stockade defended by perhaps forty muskets would be a very serious affair. “Hunger is strong enough for that,” said an under-chief; “a very great fellow is he.” They thought of attacking them by starvation. As the chief sufferers in case of such an attack would have been the poor slaves chained in gangs, I interceded for them, and the result of an intercession of which they were ignorant was that they were allowed to depart in peace.
Naliele, the capital of the Barotse, is built on a mound which was constructed artificially by Santuru, and was his store-house for grain. His own capital stood about five hundred yards to the south of that, in what is now the bed of the river. All that remains of the largest mound in the valley are a few cubic yards of earth, to erect which cost the whole of the people of Santuru the labor of many years. The same thing has happened to another ancient site of a town, Linangelo, also on the left bank. It would seem, therefore, that the river in this part of the valley must be wearing eastward. No great rise of the river is required to submerge the whole valley; a rise of ten feet above the present low-water mark would reach the highest point it ever attains, as seen in the markings of the bank on which stood Santuru’s ancient capital, and two or three feet more would deluge all the villages. This never happens, though the water sometimes comes so near the foundations of the huts that the people can not move outside the walls of reeds which encircle their villages. When the river is compressed among the high rocky banks near Gonye, it rises sixty feet.
The influence of the partial obstruction it meets with there is seen in the more winding course of the river north of 16°; and when the swell gets past Katima-molelo, it spreads out on the lands on both banks toward Sesheke.
Santuru, at whose ancient granary we are staying, was a great hunter, and very fond of taming wild animals. His people, aware of his taste, brought to him every young antelope they could catch, and, among other things, two young hippopotami. These animals gamboled in the river by day, but never failed to remember to come up to Naliele for their suppers of milk and meal. They were the wonder of the country, till a stranger, happening to come to visit Santuru, saw them reclining in the sun, and speared one of them on the supposition that it was wild. The same unlucky accident happened to one of the cats I had brought to Sekeletu. A stranger, seeing an animal he had never viewed before, killed it, and brought the trophy to the chief, thinking that he had made a very remarkable discovery; we thereby lost the breed of cats, of which, from the swarms of mice, we stood in great need.
On making inquiries to ascertain whether Santuru, the Moloiana, had ever been visited by white men, I could find no vestige of any such visit;25 there is no evidence of any of Santuru’s people having ever seen a white man before the arrival of Mr. Oswell and myself in 1851. The people have, it is true, no written records; but any remarkable event here is commemorated in names, as was observed by Park to be the case in the countries he traversed. The year of our arrival is dignified by the name of the year when the white men came, or of Sebituane’s death; but they prefer the former, as they avoid, if possible, any direct reference to the departed. After my wife’s first visit, great numbers of children were named Ma–Robert, or mother of Robert, her eldest child; others were named Gun, Horse, Wagon, Monare, Jesus, etc.; but though our names, and those of the native Portuguese who came in 1853, were adopted, there is not a trace of any thing of the sort having happened previously among the Barotse: the visit of a white man is such a remarkable event, that, had any taken place during the last three hundred years, there must have remained some tradition of it.
25 The Barotse call themselves the Baloiana or little Baloi, as if they had been an offset from Loi, or Lui, as it is often spelt. As Lui had been visited by Portuguese, but its position not well ascertained, my inquiries referred to the identity of Naliele with Lui. On asking the head man of the Mambari party, named Porto, whether he had ever heard of Naliele being visited previously, he replied in the negative, and stated that he “had himself attempted to come from Bihe three times, but had always been prevented by the tribe called Ganguellas.” He nearly succeeded in 1852, but was driven back. He now (in 1853) attempted to go eastward from Naliele, but came back to the Barotse on being unable to go beyond Kainko’s village, which is situated on the Bashukulompo River, and eight days distant. The whole party was anxious to secure a reward believed to be promised by the Portuguese government. Their want of success confirmed my impression that I ought to go westward. Porto kindly offered to aid me, if I would go with him to Bihe; but when I declined, he preceded me to Loanda, and was publishing his Journal when I arrived at that city. Ben Habib told me that Porto had sent letters to Mozambique by the Arab, Ben Chombo, whom I knew; and he has since asserted, in Portugal, that he himself went to Mozambique as well as his letters!
But Santuru was once visited by the Mambari, and a distinct recollection of that visit is retained. They came to purchase slaves, and both Santuru and his head men refused them permission to buy any of the people. The Makololo quoted this precedent when speaking of the Mambari, and said that they, as the present masters of the country, had as good a right to expel them as Santuru. The Mambari reside near Bihe, under an Ambonda chief named Kangombe. They profess to use the slaves for domestic purposes alone.
Some of these Mambari visited us while at Naliele. They are of the Ambonda family, which inhabits the country southeast of Angola, and speak the Bunda dialect, which is of the same family of languages with the Barotse, Bayeiye, etc., or those black tribes comprehended under the general term Makalaka. They plait their hair in three-fold cords, and lay them carefully down around the sides of the head. They are quite as dark as the Barotse, but have among them a number of half-castes, with their peculiar yellow sickly hue. On inquiring why they had fled on my approach to Linyanti, they let me know that they had a vivid idea of the customs of English cruisers on the coast. They showed also their habits in their own country by digging up and eating, even here where large game abounds, the mice and moles which infest the country. The half-castes, or native Portuguese, could all read and write, and the head of the party, if not a real Portuguese, had European hair, and, influenced probably by the letter of recommendation which I held from the Chevalier Duprat, his most faithful majesty’s Arbitrator in the British and Portuguese Mixed Commission at Cape Town, was evidently anxious to show me all the kindness in his power. These persons I feel assured were the first individuals of Portuguese blood who ever saw the Zambesi in the centre of the country, and they had reached it two years after our discovery in 1851.
The town or mound of Santuru’s mother was shown to me; this was the first symptom of an altered state of feeling with regard to the female sex that I had observed. There are few or no cases of women being elevated to the headships of towns further south. The Barotse also showed some relics of their chief, which evinced a greater amount of the religious feeling than I had ever known displayed among Bechuanas. His more recent capital, Lilonda, built, too, on an artificial mound, is covered with different kinds of trees, transplanted when young by himself. They form a grove on the end of the mound, in which are to be seen various instruments of iron just in the state he left them. One looks like the guard of a basket-hilted sword; another has an upright stem of the metal, on which are placed branches worked at the ends into miniature axes, hoes, and spears; on these he was accustomed to present offerings, according as he desired favors to be conferred in undertaking hewing, agriculture, or fighting. The people still living there, in charge of these articles, were supported by presents from the chief; and the Makololo sometimes follow the example. This was the nearest approach to a priesthood I met. When I asked them to part with one of these relics, they replied, “Oh no, he refuses.” “Who refuses?” “Santuru,” was their reply, showing their belief in a future state of existence. After explaining to them, as I always did when opportunity offered, the nature of true worship, and praying with them in the simple form which needs no offering from the worshiper except that of the heart, and planting some fruit-tree seeds in the grove, we departed.
Another incident, which occurred at the confluence of the Leeba and Leeambye, may be mentioned here, as showing a more vivid perception of the existence of spiritual beings, and greater proneness to worship than among the Bechuanas. Having taken lunar observations in the morning, I was waiting for a meridian altitude of the sun for the latitude; my chief boatman was sitting by, in order to pack up the instruments as soon as I had finished; there was a large halo, about 20° in diameter, round the sun; thinking that the humidity of the atmosphere, which this indicated, might betoken rain, I asked him if his experience did not lead him to the same view. “Oh no,” replied he; “it is the Barimo (gods or departed spirits), who have called a picho; don’t you see they have the Lord (sun) in the centre?”
While still at Naliele I walked out to Katongo (lat. 15° 16’ 33”), on the ridge which bounds the valley of the Barotse in that direction, and found it covered with trees. It is only the commencement of the lands which are never inundated; their gentle rise from the dead level of the valley much resembles the edge of the Desert in the valley of the Nile. But here the Banyeti have fine gardens, and raise great quantities of maize, millet, and native corn (‘Holcus sorghum’), of large grain and beautifully white. They grow, also, yams, sugar-cane, the Egyptian arum, sweet potato (‘Convolulus batata’), two kinds of manioc or cassava (‘Jatropha manihot’ and ‘J. utilissima’, a variety containing scarcely any poison), besides pumpkins, melons, beans, and ground-nuts. These, with plenty of fish in the river, its branches and lagoons, wild fruits and water-fowl, always make the people refer to the Barotse as the land of plenty. The scene from the ridge, on looking back, was beautiful. One can not see the western side of the valley in a cloudy day, such as that was when we visited the stockade, but we could see the great river glancing out at different points, and fine large herds of cattle quietly grazing on the green succulent herbage, among numbers of cattle-stations and villages which are dotted over the landscape. Leches in hundreds fed securely beside them, for they have learned only to keep out of bow-shot, or two hundred yards. When guns come into a country the animals soon learn their longer range, and begin to run at a distance of five hundred yards.
I imagined the slight elevation (Katongo) might be healthy, but was informed that no part of this region is exempt from fever. When the waters begin to retire from this valley, such masses of decayed vegetation and mud are exposed to the torrid sun that even the natives suffer severely from attacks of fever. The grass is so rank in its growth that one can not see the black alluvial soil of the bottom of this periodical lake. Even when the grass falls down in winter, or is “laid” by its own weight, one is obliged to lift the feet so high, to avoid being tripped up by it, as to make walking excessively fatiguing. Young leches are hidden beneath it by their dams; and the Makololo youth complain of being unable to run in the Barotse land on this account. There was evidently no healthy spot in this quarter; and the current of the river being about four and a half miles per hour (one hundred yards in sixty seconds), I imagined we might find what we needed in the higher lands, from which the river seemed to come. I resolved, therefore, to go to the utmost limits of the Barotse country before coming to a final conclusion. Katongo was the best place we had seen; but, in order to accomplish a complete examination, I left Sekeletu at Naliele, and ascended the river. He furnished me with men, besides my rowers, and among the rest a herald, that I might enter his villages in what is considered a dignified manner. This, it was supposed, would be effected by the herald shouting out at the top of his voice, “Here comes the lord; the great lion;” the latter phrase being “tau e tona”, which, in his imperfect way of pronunciation, became “Sau e tona”, and so like “the great sow” that I could not receive the honor with becoming gravity, and had to entreat him, much to the annoyance of my party, to be silent.
In our ascent we visited a number of Makololo villages, and were always received with a hearty welcome, as messengers to them of peace, which they term “sleep”. They behave well in public meetings, even on the first occasion of attendance, probably from the habit of commanding the Makalaka, crowds of whom swarm in every village, and whom the Makololo women seem to consider as especially under their charge.
The river presents the same appearance of low banks without trees as we have remarked it had after we came to 16° 16’, until we arrive at Libonta (14° 59’ S. lat.). Twenty miles beyond that, we find forest down to the water’s edge, and tsetse. Here I might have turned back, as no locality can be inhabited by Europeans where that scourge exists; but hearing that we were not far from the confluence of the River of Londa or Lunda, named Leeba or Loiba, and the chiefs of that country being reported to be friendly to strangers, and therefore likely to be of use to me on my return from the west coast, I still pushed on to latitude 14° 11’ 3” S. There the Leeambye assumes the name Kabompo, and seems to be coming from the east. It is a fine large river, about three hundred yards wide, and the Leeba two hundred and fifty. The Loeti, a branch of which is called Langebongo, comes from W.N.W., through a level grassy plain named Mango; it is about one hundred yards wide, and enters the Leeambye from the west; the waters of the Loeti are of a light color, and those of the Leeba of a dark mossy hue. After the Loeti joins the Leeambye the different colored waters flow side by side for some distance unmixed.
Before reaching the Loeti we came to a number of people from the Lobale region, hunting hippopotami. They fled precipitately as soon as they saw the Makololo, leaving their canoes and all their utensils and clothing. My own Makalaka, who were accustomed to plunder wherever they went, rushed after them like furies, totally regardless of my shouting. As this proceeding would have destroyed my character entirely at Lobale, I took my stand on a commanding position as they returned, and forced them to lay down all the plunder on a sand-bank, and leave it there for its lawful owners.
It was now quite evident that no healthy location could be obtained in which the Makololo would be allowed to live in peace. I had thus a fair excuse, if I had chosen to avail myself of it, of coming home and saying that the “door was shut”, because the Lord’s time had not yet come. But believing that it was my duty to devote some portion of my life to these (to me at least) very confiding and affectionate Makololo, I resolved to follow out the second part of my plan, though I had failed in accomplishing the first. The Leeba seemed to come from the N. and by W., or N.N.W.; so, having an old Portuguese map, which pointed out the Coanza as rising from the middle of the continent in 9° S. lat., I thought it probable that, when we had ascended the Leeba (from 14° 11’) two or three degrees, we should then be within one hundred and twenty miles of the Coanza, and find no difficulty in following it down to the coast near Loanda. This was the logical deduction; but, as is the case with many a plausible theory, one of the premises was decidedly defective. The Coanza, as we afterward found, does not come from any where near the centre of the country.
The numbers of large game above Libonta are prodigious, and they proved remarkably tame. Eighty-one buffaloes defiled in slow procession before our fire one evening, within gunshot; and herds of splendid elands stood by day, without fear, at two hundred yards distance. They were all of the striped variety, and with their forearm markings, large dewlaps, and sleek skins, were a beautiful sight to see. The lions here roar much more than in the country near the lake, Zouga, and Chobe. One evening we had a good opportunity of hearing the utmost exertions the animal can make in that line. We had made our beds on a large sand-bank, and could be easily seen from all sides. A lion on the opposite shore amused himself for hours by roaring as loudly as he could, putting, as is usual in such cases, his mouth near the ground, to make the sound reverberate. The river was too broad for a ball to reach him, so we let him enjoy himself, certain that he durst not have been guilty of the impertinence in the Bushman country. Wherever the game abounds, these animals exist in proportionate numbers. Here they were very frequently seen, and two of the largest I ever saw seemed about as tall as common donkeys; but the mane made their bodies appear rather larger.
A party of Arabs from Zanzibar were in the country at this time. Sekeletu had gone from Naliele to the town of his mother before we arrived from the north, but left an ox for our use, and instructions for us to follow him thither. We came down a branch of the Leeambye called Marile, which departs from the main river in latitude 15° 15’ 43” S., and is a fine deep stream about sixty yards wide. It makes the whole of the country around Naliele an island. When sleeping at a village in the same latitude as Naliele town, two of the Arabs mentioned made their appearance. They were quite as dark as the Makololo, but, having their heads shaved, I could not compare their hair with that of the inhabitants of the country. When we were about to leave they came to bid adieu, but I asked them to stay and help us to eat our ox. As they had scruples about eating an animal not blooded in their own way, I gained their good-will by saying I was quite of their opinion as to getting quit of the blood, and gave them two legs of an animal slaughtered by themselves. They professed the greatest detestation of the Portuguese, “because they eat pigs;” and disliked the English, “because they thrash them for selling slaves.” I was silent about pork; though, had they seen me at a hippopotamus two days afterward, they would have set me down as being as much a heretic as any of that nation; but I ventured to tell them that I agreed with the English, that it was better to let the children grow up and comfort their mothers when they became old, than to carry them away and sell them across the sea. This they never attempt to justify; “they want them only to cultivate the land, and take care of them as their children.” It is the same old story, justifying a monstrous wrong on pretense of taking care of those degraded portions of humanity which can not take care of themselves; doing evil that good may come.
These Arabs, or Moors, could read and write their own language readily; and, when speaking about our Savior, I admired the boldness with which they informed me “that Christ was a very good prophet, but Mohammed was far greater.” And with respect to their loathing of pork, it may have some foundation in their nature; for I have known Bechuanas, who had no prejudice against the wild animal, and ate the tame without scruple, yet, unconscious of any cause of disgust, vomit it again. The Bechuanas south of the lake have a prejudice against eating fish, and allege a disgust to eating any thing like a serpent. This may arise from the remnants of serpent-worship floating in their minds, as, in addition to this horror of eating such animals, they sometimes render a sort of obeisance to living serpents by clapping their hands to them, and refusing to destroy the reptiles; but in the case of the hog they are conscious of no superstitious feeling.
Having parted with our Arab friends, we proceeded down the Marile till we re-entered the Leeambye, and went to the town of Ma–Sekeletu (mother of Sekeletu), opposite the island of Loyela. Sekeletu had always supplied me most liberally with food, and, as soon as I arrived, presented me with a pot of boiled meat, while his mother handed me a large jar of butter, of which they make great quantities for the purpose of anointing their bodies. He had himself sometimes felt the benefit of my way of putting aside a quantity of the meat after a meal, and had now followed my example by ordering some to be kept for me. According to their habits, every particle of an ox is devoured at one meal; and as the chief can not, without a deviation from their customs, eat alone, he is often compelled to suffer severely from hunger before another meal is ready. We henceforth always worked into each other’s hands by saving a little for each other; and when some of the sticklers for use and custom grumbled, I advised them to eat like men, and not like vultures.
As this was the first visit which Sekeletu had paid to this part of his dominions, it was to many a season of great joy. The head men of each village presented oxen, milk, and beer, more than the horde which accompanied him could devour, though their abilities in that line are something wonderful. The people usually show their joy and work off their excitement in dances and songs. The dance consists of the men standing nearly naked in a circle, with clubs or small battle-axes in their hands, and each roaring at the loudest pitch of his voice, while they simultaneously lift one leg, stamp heavily twice with it, then lift the other and give one stamp with that; this is the only movement in common. The arms and head are often thrown about also in every direction; and all this time the roaring is kept up with the utmost possible vigor; the continued stamping makes a cloud of dust ascend, and they leave a deep ring in the ground where they stood. If the scene were witnessed in a lunatic asylum it would be nothing out of the way, and quite appropriate even, as a means of letting off the excessive excitement of the brain; but here gray-headed men joined in the performance with as much zest as others whose youth might be an excuse for making the perspiration stream off their bodies with the exertion. Motibe asked what I thought of the Makololo dance. I replied, “It is very hard work, and brings but small profit.” “It is,” replied he, “but it is very nice, and Sekeletu will give us an ox for dancing for him.” He usually does slaughter an ox for the dancers when the work is over.
The women stand by, clapping their hands, and occasionally one advances into the circle, composed of a hundred men, makes a few movements, and then retires. As I never tried it, and am unable to enter into the spirit of the thing, I can not recommend the Makololo polka to the dancing world, but I have the authority of no less a person than Motibe, Sekeletu’s father-in-law, for saying “it is very nice.” They often asked if white people ever danced. I thought of the disease called St. Vitus’s dance, but could not say that all our dancers were affected by it, and gave an answer which, I ought to be ashamed to own, did not raise some of our young countrywomen in the estimation of the Makololo.
As Sekeletu had been waiting for me at his mother’s, we left the town as soon as I arrived, and proceeded down the river. Our speed with the stream was very great, for in one day we went from Litofe to Gonye, a distance of forty-four miles of latitude; and if we add to this the windings of the river, in longitude the distance will not be much less than sixty geographical miles. At this rate we soon reached Sesheke, and then the town of Linyanti.
I had been, during a nine weeks’ tour, in closer contact with heathenism than I had ever been before; and though all, including the chief, were as kind and attentive to me as possible, and there was no want of food (oxen being slaughtered daily, sometimes ten at a time, more than sufficient for the wants of all), yet to endure the dancing, roaring, and singing, the jesting, anecdotes, grumbling, quarreling, and murdering of these children of nature, seemed more like a severe penance than any thing I had before met with in the course of my missionary duties. I took thence a more intense disgust at heathenism than I had before, and formed a greatly elevated opinion of the latent effects of missions in the south, among tribes which are reported to have been as savage as the Makololo. The indirect benefits which, to a casual observer, lie beneath the surface and are inappreciable, in reference to the probable wide diffusion of Christianity at some future time, are worth all the money and labor that have been expended to produce them.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10