Preliminary Arrangements for the Journey — A Picho — Twenty-seven Men appointed to accompany me to the West — Eagerness of the Makololo for direct Trade with the Coast — Effects of Fever — A Makololo Question — The lost Journal — Reflections — The Outfit for the Journey — 11th November, 1853, leave Linyanti, and embark on the Chobe — Dangerous Hippopotami — Banks of Chobe — Trees — The Course of the River — The Island Mparia at the Confluence of the Chobe and the Leeambye — Anecdote — Ascend the Leeambye — A Makalaka Mother defies the Authority of the Makololo Head Man at Sesheke — Punishment of Thieves — Observance of the new Moon — Public Addresses at Sesheke — Attention of the People — Results — Proceed up the River — The Fruit which yields ‘Nux vomica’ — Other Fruits — The Rapids — Birds — Fish — Hippopotami and their Young.
Linyanti, SEPTEMBER, 1853. The object proposed to the Makololo seemed so desirable that it was resolved to proceed with it as soon as the cooling influence of the rains should be felt in November. The longitude and latitude of Linyanti (lat. 18° 17’ 20” S., long. 23° 50’ 9” E.) showed that St. Philip de Benguela was much nearer to us than Loanda; and I might have easily made arrangements with the Mambari to allow me to accompany them as far as Bihe, which is on the road to that port; but it is so undesirable to travel in a path once trodden by slave-traders that I preferred to find out another line of march.
Accordingly, men were sent at my suggestion to examine all the country to the west, to see if any belt of country free from tsetse could be found to afford us an outlet. The search was fruitless. The town and district of Linyanti are surrounded by forests infested by this poisonous insect, except at a few points, as that by which we entered at Sanshureh and another at Sesheke. But the lands both east and west of the Barotse valley are free from this insect plague. There, however, the slave-trade had defiled the path, and no one ought to follow in its wake unless well armed. The Mambari had informed me that many English lived at Loanda, so I prepared to go thither. The prospect of meeting with countrymen seemed to overbalance the toils of the longer march.
A “picho” was called to deliberate on the steps proposed. In these assemblies great freedom of speech is allowed; and on this occasion one of the old diviners said, “Where is he taking you to? This white man is throwing you away. Your garments already smell of blood.” It is curious to observe how much identity of character appears all over the world. This man was a noted croaker. He always dreamed something dreadful in every expedition, and was certain that an eclipse or comet betokened the propriety of flight. But Sebituane formerly set his visions down to cowardice, and Sekeletu only laughed at him now. The general voice was in my favor; so a band of twenty-seven were appointed to accompany me to the west. These men were not hired, but sent to enable me to accomplish an object as much desired by the chief and most of his people as by me. They were eager to obtain free and profitable trade with white men. The prices which the Cape merchants could give, after defraying the great expenses of a long journey hither, being very small, made it scarce worth while for the natives to collect produce for that market; and the Mambari, giving only a few bits of print and baize for elephants’ tusks worth more pounds than they gave yards of cloth, had produced the belief that trade with them was throwing ivory away. The desire of the Makololo for direct trade with the sea-coast coincided exactly with my own conviction that no permanent elevation of a people can be effected without commerce. Neither could there be a permanent mission here, unless the missionaries should descend to the level of the Makololo, for even at Kolobeng we found that traders demanded three or four times the price of the articles we needed, and expected us to be grateful to them besides for letting us have them at all.
The three men whom I had brought from Kuruman had frequent relapses of the fever; so, finding that instead of serving me I had to wait on them, I decided that they should return to the south with Fleming as soon as he had finished his trading. I was then entirely dependent on my twenty-seven men, whom I might name Zambesians, for there were two Makololo only, while the rest consisted of Barotse, Batoka, Bashubia, and two of the Ambonda.
The fever had caused considerable weakness in my own frame, and a strange giddiness when I looked up suddenly to any celestial object, for every thing seemed to rush to the left, and if I did not catch hold of some object, I fell heavily on the ground: something resembling a gush of bile along the duct from the liver caused the same fit to occur at night, whenever I turned suddenly round.
The Makololo now put the question, “In the event of your death, will not the white people blame us for having allowed you to go away into an unhealthy, unknown country of enemies?” I replied that none of my friends would blame them, because I would leave a book with Sekeletu, to be sent to Mr. Moffat in case I did not return, which would explain to him all that had happened until the time of my departure. The book was a volume of my Journal; and, as I was detained longer than I expected at Loanda, this book, with a letter, was delivered by Sekeletu to a trader, and I have been unable to trace it. I regret this now, as it contained valuable notes on the habits of wild animals, and the request was made in the letter to convey the volume to my family. The prospect of passing away from this fair and beautiful world thus came before me in a pretty plain, matter-of-fact form, and it did seem a serious thing to leave wife and children — to break up all connection with earth, and enter on an untried state of existence; and I find myself in my journal pondering over that fearful migration which lands us in eternity, wondering whether an angel will soothe the fluttering soul, sadly flurried as it must be on entering the spirit world, and hoping that Jesus might speak but one word of peace, for that would establish in the bosom an everlasting calm. But as I had always believed that, if we serve God at all, it ought to be done in a manly way, I wrote to my brother, commending our little girl to his care, as I was determined to “succeed or perish” in the attempt to open up this part of Africa. The Boers, by taking possession of all my goods, had saved me the trouble of making a will; and, considering the light heart now left in my bosom, and some faint efforts to perform the duty of Christian forgiveness, I felt that it was better to be the plundered party than one of the plunderers.
When I committed the wagon and remaining goods to the care of the Makololo, they took all the articles except one box into their huts; and two warriors, Ponuane and Mahale, brought forward each a fine heifer calf. After performing a number of warlike evolutions, they asked the chief to witness the agreement made between them, that whoever of the two should kill a Matebele warrior first, in defense of the wagon, should possess both the calves.
I had three muskets for my people, a rifle and double-barreled smooth-bore for myself; and, having seen such great abundance of game in my visit to the Leeba, I imagined that I could easily supply the wants of my party. Wishing also to avoid the discouragement which would naturally be felt on meeting any obstacles if my companions were obliged to carry heavy loads, I took only a few biscuits, a few pounds of tea and sugar, and about twenty of coffee, which, as the Arabs find, though used without either milk or sugar, is a most refreshing beverage after fatigue or exposure to the sun. We carried one small tin canister, about fifteen inches square, filled with spare shirting, trowsers, and shoes, to be used when we reached civilized life, and others in a bag, which were expected to wear out on the way; another of the same size for medicines; and a third for books, my stock being a Nautical Almanac, Thomson’s Logarithm Tables, and a Bible; a fourth box contained a magic lantern, which we found of much use. The sextant and artificial horizon, thermometer, and compasses were carried apart. My ammunition was distributed in portions through the whole luggage, so that, if an accident should befall one part, we could still have others to fall back upon. Our chief hopes for food were upon that; but in case of failure, I took about 20 lbs. of beads, worth 40s., which still remained of the stock I brought from Cape Town, a small gipsy tent, just sufficient to sleep in, a sheep-skin mantle as a blanket, and a horse-rug as a bed. As I had always found that the art of successful travel consisted in taking as few “impedimenta” as possible, and not forgetting to carry my wits about me, the outfit was rather spare, and intended to be still more so when we should come to leave the canoes. Some would consider it injudicious to adopt this plan, but I had a secret conviction that if I did not succeed, it would not be for want of the “knick-knacks” advertised as indispensable for travelers, but from want of “pluck”, or because a large array of baggage excited the cupidity of the tribes through whose country we wished to pass.
The instruments I carried, though few, were the best of their kind. A sextant, by the famed makers Troughton and Sims, of Fleet Street; a chronometer watch, with a stop to the seconds hand — an admirable contrivance for enabling a person to take the exact time of observations: it was constructed by Dent, of the Strand (61), for the Royal Geographical Society, and selected for the service by the President, Admiral Smythe, to whose judgment and kindness I am in this and other matters deeply indebted. It was pronounced by Mr. Maclear to equal most chronometers in performance. For these excellent instruments I have much pleasure in recording my obligations to my good friend Colonel Steele, and at the same time to Mr. Maclear for much of my ability to use them. Besides these, I had a thermometer by Dollond; a compass from the Cape Observatory, and a small pocket one in addition; a good small telescope with a stand capable of being screwed into a tree.
11TH OF NOVEMBER, 1853. Left the town of Linyanti, accompanied by Sekeletu and his principal men, to embark on the Chobe. The chief came to the river in order to see that all was right at parting. We crossed five branches of the Chobe before reaching the main stream: this ramification must be the reason why it appeared so small to Mr. Oswell and myself in 1851. When all the departing branches re-enter, it is a large, deep river. The spot of embarkation was the identical island where we met Sebituane, first known as the island of Maunku, one of his wives. The chief lent me his own canoe, and, as it was broader than usual, I could turn about in it with ease.
The Chobe is much infested by hippopotami, and, as certain elderly males are expelled the herd, they become soured in their temper, and so misanthropic as to attack every canoe that passes near them. The herd is never dangerous, except when a canoe passes into the midst of it when all are asleep, and some of them may strike the canoe in terror. To avoid this, it is generally recommended to travel by day near the bank, and by night in the middle of the stream. As a rule, these animals flee the approach of man. The “solitaires”, however, frequent certain localities well known to the inhabitants on the banks, and, like the rogue elephants, are extremely dangerous. We came, at this time, to a canoe which had been smashed to pieces by a blow from the hind foot of one of them. I was informed by my men that, in the event of a similar assault being made upon ours, the proper way was to dive to the bottom of the river, and hold on there for a few seconds, because the hippopotamus, after breaking a canoe, always looks for the people on the surface, and, if he sees none, he soon moves off. I have seen some frightful gashes made on the legs of the people who have had the misfortune to be attacked, and were unable to dive. This animal uses his teeth as an offensive weapon, though he is quite a herbivorous feeder. One of these “bachelors”, living near the confluence, actually came out of his lair, and, putting his head down, ran after some of our men who were passing with very considerable speed.
The part of the river called Zabesa, or Zabenza, is spread out like a little lake, surrounded on all sides by dense masses of tall reeds. The river below that is always one hundred or one hundred and twenty yards broad, deep, and never dries up so much as to become fordable. At certain parts, where the partial absence of reeds affords a view of the opposite banks, the Makololo have placed villages of observation against their enemies the Matebele. We visited all these in succession, and found here, as every where in the Makololo country, orders had preceded us, “that Nake (nyake means doctor) must not be allowed to become hungry.”
The banks of the Chobe, like those of the Zouga, are of soft calcareous tufa, and the river has cut out for itself a deep, perpendicular-sided bed. Where the banks are high, as at the spot where the wagons stood in 1851, they are covered with magnificent trees, the habitat of tsetse, and the retreat of various antelopes, wild hogs, zebras, buffaloes, and elephants.
Among the trees may be observed some species of the ‘Ficus Indica’, light-green colored acacias, the splendid motsintsela, and evergreen cypress-shaped motsouri. The fruit of the last-named was ripe, and the villagers presented many dishes of its beautiful pink-colored plums; they are used chiefly to form a pleasant acid drink. The motsintsela is a very lofty tree, yielding a wood of which good canoes are made; the fruit is nutritious and good, but, like many wild fruits of this country, the fleshy parts require to be enlarged by cultivation: it is nearly all stone.
The course of the river we found to be extremely tortuous; so much so, indeed, as to carry us to all points of the compass every dozen miles. Some of us walked from a bend at the village of Moremi to another nearly due east of that point, in six hours, while the canoes, going at more than double our speed, took twelve to accomplish the voyage between the same two places. And though the river is from thirteen to fifteen feet in depth at its lowest ebb, and broad enough to allow a steamer to ply upon it, the suddenness of the bendings would prevent navigation; but, should the country ever become civilized, the Chobe would be a convenient natural canal. We spent forty-two and a half hours, paddling at the rate of five miles an hour, in coming from Linyanti to the confluence; there we found a dike of amygdaloid lying across the Leeambye.
This amygdaloid with analami and mesotype contains crystals, which the water gradually dissolves, leaving the rock with a worm-eaten appearance. It is curious to observe that the water flowing over certain rocks, as in this instance, imbibes an appreciable, though necessarily most minute, portion of the minerals they contain. The water of the Chobe up to this point is of a dark mossy hue, but here it suddenly assumes a lighter tint; and wherever this light color shows a greater amount of mineral, there are not mosquitoes enough to cause serious annoyance to any except persons of very irritable temperaments.
The large island called Mparia stands at the confluence. This is composed of trap (zeolite, probably mesotype) of a younger age than the deep stratum of tufa in which the Chobe has formed its bed, for, at the point where they come together, the tufa has been transformed into saccharoid limestone.
The actual point of confluence of these two rivers, the Chobe and the Leeambye, is ill defined, on account of each dividing into several branches as they inosculate; but when the whole body of water collects into one bed, it is a goodly sight for one who has spent many years in the thirsty south. Standing on one bank, even the keen eye of the natives can not detect whether two large islands, a few miles east of the junction, are main land or not. During a flight in former years, when the present chief Sekomi was a child in his mother’s arms, the Bamangwato men were separated from their women, and inveigled on to one of these islands by the Makalaka chief of Mparia, on pretense of ferrying them across the Leeambye. They were left to perish after seeing their wives taken prisoners by these cruel lords of the Leeambye, and Sekomi owed his life to the compassion of one of the Bayeiye, who, pitying the young chieftain, enabled his mother to make her escape by night.
After spending one night at the Makololo village on Mparia, we left the Chobe, and, turning round, began to ascend the Leeambye; on the 19th of November we again reached the town of Sesheke. It stands on the north bank of the river, and contains a large population of Makalaka, under Moriantsane, brother-in-law of Sebituane. There are parties of various tribes here, assembled under their respective head men, but a few Makololo rule over all. Their sway, though essentially despotic, is considerably modified by certain customs and laws. One of the Makalaka had speared an ox belonging to one of the Makololo, and, being unable to extract the spear, was thereby discovered to be the perpetrator of the deed. His object had been to get a share of the meat, as Moriantsane is known to be liberal with any food that comes into his hands. The culprit was bound hand and foot, and placed in the sun to force him to pay a fine, but he continued to deny his guilt. His mother, believing in the innocence of her son, now came forward, with her hoe in hand, and, threatening to cut down any one who should dare to interfere, untied the cords with which he had been bound and took him home. This open defiance of authority was not resented by Moriantsane, but referred to Sekeletu at Linyanti.
The following circumstance, which happened here when I was present with Sekeletu, shows that the simple mode of punishment, by forcing a criminal to work out a fine, did not strike the Makololo mind until now.
A stranger having visited Sesheke for the purpose of barter, was robbed by one of the Makalaka of most of his goods. The thief, when caught, confessed the theft, and that he had given the articles to a person who had removed to a distance. The Makololo were much enraged at the idea of their good name being compromised by this treatment of a stranger. Their customary mode of punishing a crime which causes much indignation is to throw the criminal into the river; but, as this would not restore the lost property, they were sorely puzzled how to act. The case was referred to me, and I solved the difficulty by paying for the loss myself, and sentencing the thief to work out an equivalent with his hoe in a garden. This system was immediately introduced, and thieves are now sentenced to raise an amount of corn proportioned to their offenses. Among the Bakwains, a woman who had stolen from the garden of another was obliged to part with her own entirely: it became the property of her whose field was injured by the crime.
There is no stated day of rest in any part of this country, except the day after the appearance of the new moon, and the people then refrain only from going to their gardens. A curious custom, not to be found among the Bechuanas, prevails among the black tribes beyond them. They watch most eagerly for the first glimpse of the new moon, and, when they perceive the faint outline after the sun has set deep in the west, they utter a loud shout of “Kua!” and vociferate prayers to it. My men, for instance, called out, “Let our journey with the white man be prosperous! Let our enemies perish, and the children of Nake become rich! May he have plenty of meat on this journey!” etc., etc.
I gave many public addresses to the people of Sesheke under the outspreading camel-thorn-tree, which serves as a shade to the kotla on the high bank of the river. It was pleasant to see the long lines of men, women, and children winding along from different quarters of the town, each party following behind their respective head men. They often amounted to between five and six hundred souls, and required an exertion of voice which brought back the complaint for which I had got the uvula excised at the Cape. They were always very attentive; and Moriantsane, in order, as he thought, to please me, on one occasion rose up in the middle of the discourse, and hurled his staff at the heads of some young fellows whom he saw working with a skin instead of listening. My hearers sometimes put very sensible questions on the subjects brought before them; at other times they introduced the most frivolous nonsense immediately after hearing the most solemn truths. Some begin to pray to Jesus in secret as soon as they hear of the white man’s God, with but little idea of what they are about; and no doubt are heard by Him who, like a father, pitieth his children. Others, waking by night, recollect what has been said about the future world so clearly that they tell next day what a fright they got by it, and resolve not to listen to the teaching again; and not a few keep to the determination not to believe, as certain villagers in the south, who put all their cocks to death because they crowed the words, “Tlang lo rapeleng” — “Come along to prayers”.
On recovering partially from a severe attack of fever which remained upon me ever since our passing the village of Moremi on the Chobe, we made ready for our departure up the river by sending messages before us to the villages to prepare food. We took four elephants’ tusks, belonging to Sekeletu, with us, as a means of testing the difference of prices between the Portuguese, whom we expected to reach, and the white traders from the south. Moriantsane supplied us well with honey, milk, and meal. The rains were just commencing in this district; but, though showers sufficient to lay the dust had fallen, they had no influence whatever on the amount of water in the river, yet never was there less in any part than three hundred yards of a deep flowing stream.
Our progress up the river was rather slow; this was caused by waiting opposite different villages for supplies of food. We might have done with much less than we got; but my Makololo man, Pitsane, knew of the generous orders of Sekeletu, and was not at all disposed to allow them to remain a dead letter. The villages of the Banyeti contributed large quantities of mosibe, a bright red bean yielded by a large tree. The pulp inclosing the seed is not much thicker than a red wafer, and is the portion used. It requires the addition of honey to render it at all palatable.
To these were added great numbers of the fruit which yields a variety of the nux vomica, from which we derive that virulent poison strychnia. The pulp between the nuts is the part eaten, and it is of a pleasant juicy nature, having a sweet acidulous taste. The fruit itself resembles a large yellow orange, but the rind is hard, and, with the pips and bark, contains much of the deadly poison. They evince their noxious qualities by an intensely bitter taste. The nuts, swallowed inadvertently, cause considerable pain, but not death; and to avoid this inconvenience, the people dry the pulp before the fire, in order to be able the more easily to get rid of the noxious seeds.
A much better fruit, called mobola, was also presented to us. This bears, around a pretty large stone, as much of the fleshy part as the common date, and it is stripped off the seeds and preserved in bags in a similar manner to that fruit. Besides sweetness, the mobola has the flavor of strawberries, with a touch of nauseousness. We carried some of them, dried as provisions, more than a hundred miles from this spot.
The next fruit, named mamosho (mother of morning), is the most delicious of all. It is about the size of a walnut, and, unlike most of the other uncultivated fruits, has a seed no larger than that of a date. The fleshy part is juicy, and somewhat like the cashew-apple, with a pleasant acidity added. Fruits similar to those which are here found on trees are found on the plains of the Kalahari, growing on mere herbaceous plants. There are several other examples of a similar nature. Shrubs, well known as such in the south, assume the rank of trees as we go to the north; and the change is quite gradual as our latitude decreases, the gradations being herbaceous plants, shrubs, bushes, small, then large trees. But it is questionable if, in the cases of mamosho, mobola, and mawa, the tree and shrub are identical, though the fruits so closely resemble each other; for I found both the dwarf and tree in the same latitude. There is also a difference in the leaves, and they bear at different seasons.
The banks of the river were at this time appearing to greater advantage than before. Many trees were putting on their fresh green leaves, though they had got no rain, their lighter green contrasting beautifully with the dark motsouri, or moyela, now covered with pink plums as large as cherries. The rapids, having comparatively little water in them, rendered our passage difficult. The canoes must never be allowed to come broadside on to the stream, for, being flat-bottomed, they would, in that case, be at once capsized, and every thing in them be lost. The men work admirably, and are always in good humor; they leap into the water without the least hesitation, to save the canoe from being caught by eddies or dashed against the rocks. Many parts were now quite shallow, and it required great address and power in balancing themselves to keep the vessel free from rocks, which lay just beneath the surface. We might have got deeper water in the middle, but the boatmen always keep near the banks, on account of danger from the hippopotami. But, though we might have had deeper water farther out, I believe that no part of the rapids is very deep. The river is spread out more than a mile, and the water flows rapidly over the rocky bottom. The portions only three hundred yards wide are very deep, and contain large volumes of flowing water in narrow compass, which, when spread over the much larger surface at the rapids, must be shallow. Still, remembering that this was the end of the dry season, when such rivers as the Orange do not even contain a fifth part of the water of the Chobe, the difference between the rivers of the north and south must be sufficiently obvious.
The rapids are caused by rocks of dark brown trap, or of hardened sandstone, stretching across the stream. In some places they form miles of flat rocky bottom, with islets covered with trees. At the cataracts noted in the map, the fall is from four to six feet, and, in guiding up the canoe, the stem goes under the water, and takes in a quantity before it can attain the higher level. We lost many of our biscuits in the ascent through this.
These rocks are covered with a small, hard aquatic plant, which, when the surface is exposed, becomes dry and crisp, crackling under the foot as if it contained much stony matter in its tissue. It probably assists in disintegrating the rocks; for, in parts so high as not to be much exposed to the action of the water or the influence of the plant, the rocks are covered with a thin black glaze.
In passing along under the overhanging trees of the banks, we often saw the pretty turtle-doves sitting peacefully on their nests above the roaring torrent. An ibis26 had perched her home on the end of a stump. Her loud, harsh scream of “Wa-wa-wa”, and the piping of the fish-hawk, are sounds which can never be forgotten by any one who has sailed on the rivers north of 20° south. If we step on shore, the ‘Charadrius caruncula’, a species of plover, a most plaguy sort of “public-spirited individual”, follows you, flying overhead, and is most persevering in its attempts to give fair warning to all the animals within hearing to flee from the approaching danger. The alarm-note, “tinc-tinc-tinc”, of another variety of the same family (‘Pluvianus armatus’ of Burchell) has so much of a metallic ring, that this bird is called “setula-tsipi”, or hammering-iron. It is furnished with a sharp spur on its shoulder, much like that on the heel of a cock, but scarcely half an inch in length. Conscious of power, it may be seen chasing the white-necked raven with great fury, and making even that comparatively large bird call out from fear. It is this bird which is famed for its friendship with the crocodile of the Nile by the name ‘siksak’, and which Mr. St. John actually saw performing the part of toothpicker to the ugly reptile. They are frequently seen on the sand-banks with the alligator, and, to one passing by, often appear as if on that reptile’s back; but I never had the good fortune to witness the operation described not only by St. John and Geoffrey St. Hilaire, but also by Herodotus. However, that which none of these authors knew my head boatman, Mashauana, stopped the canoe to tell us, namely, that a water-turtle which, in trying to ascend a steep bank to lay her eggs, had toppled on her back, thus enabling us to capture her, was an infallible omen of good luck for our journey.
26 The ‘Hagidash’, Latham; or ‘Tantalus capensis’ of Lich.
Among the forest-trees which line the banks of the rocky parts of the Leeambye several new birds were observed. Some are musical, and the songs are pleasant in contrast with the harsh voice of the little green, yellow-shouldered parrots of the country. There are also great numbers of jet-black weavers, with yellowish-brown band on the shoulders.
Here we saw, for the first time, a pretty little bird, colored dark blue, except the wings and tail, which were of a chocolate hue. From the tail two feathers are prolonged beyond the rest six inches. Also, little birds colored white and black, of great vivacity, and always in companies of six or eight together, and various others. From want of books of reference, I could not decide whether they were actually new to science.
Francolins and Guinea-fowl abound along the banks; and on every dead tree and piece of rock may be seen one or two species of the web-footed ‘Plotus’, darter, or snake-bird. They sit most of the day sunning themselves over the stream, sometimes standing erect with their wings outstretched; occasionally they may be seen engaged in fishing by diving, and, as they swim about, their bodies are so much submerged that hardly any thing appears above the water but their necks. The chief time of feeding is by night, and, as the sun declines, they may be seen in flocks flying from their roosting-places to the fishing-grounds. This is a most difficult bird to catch when disabled. It is thoroughly expert in diving — goes down so adroitly and comes up again in the most unlikely places, that the people, though most skillful in the management of the canoes, can rarely secure them. The rump of the darter is remarkably prolonged, and capable of being bent, so as to act both as a rudder in swimming, and as a lever to lift the bird high enough out of the water to give free scope to its wings. It can rise at will from the water by means of this appendage.
The fine fish-hawk, with white head and neck, and reddish-chocolate colored body, may also frequently be seen perched on the trees, and fish are often found dead which have fallen victims to its talons. One most frequently seen in this condition is itself a destroyer of fish. It is a stout-bodied fish, about fifteen or eighteen inches long, of a light yellow color, and gayly ornamented with stripes and spots. It has a most imposing array of sharp, conical teeth outside the lips — objects of dread to the fisherman, for it can use them effectually. One which we picked up dead had killed itself by swallowing another fish, which, though too large for its stomach and throat, could not be disgorged.
This fish-hawk generally kills more prey than it can devour. It eats a portion of the back of the fish, and leaves the rest for the Barotse, who often had a race across the river when they saw an abandoned morsel lying on the opposite sand-banks. The hawk is, however, not always so generous, for, as I myself was a witness on the Zouga, it sometimes plunders the purse of the pelican. Soaring over head, and seeing this large, stupid bird fishing beneath, it watches till a fine fish is safe in the pelican’s pouch; then descending, not very quickly, but with considerable noise of wing, the pelican looks up to see what is the matter, and, as the hawk comes near, he supposes that he is about to be killed, and roars out “Murder!” The opening of his mouth enables the hawk to whisk the fish out of the pouch, upon which the pelican does not fly away, but commences fishing again, the fright having probably made him forget he had any thing in his purse.
A fish called mosheba, about the size of a minnow, often skims along the surface for several yards, in order to get out of the way of the canoe. It uses the pectoral fins, as the flying-fish do, but never makes a clean flight. It is rather a succession of hops along the surface, made by the aid of the side fins. It never becomes large.
Numbers of iguanos (mpulu) sit sunning themselves on overhanging branches of the trees, and splash into the water as we approach. They are highly esteemed as an article of food, the flesh being tender and gelatinous. The chief boatman, who occupies the stem, has in consequence a light javelin always at hand to spear them if they are not quickly out of sight. These, and large alligators gliding in from the banks with a heavy plunge as we come round a sudden bend of the stream, were the occurrences of every hour as we sped up the river.
The rapids in the part of the river between Katima-molelo and Nameta are relieved by several reaches of still, deep water, fifteen or twenty miles long. In these very large herds of hippopotami are seen, and the deep furrows they make, in ascending the banks to graze during the nights, are every where apparent. They are guided back to the water by the scent, but a long continued pouring rain makes it impossible for them to perceive, by that means, in which direction the river lies, and they are found bewildered on the land. The hunters take advantage of their helplessness on these occasions to kill them.
It is impossible to judge of the numbers in a herd, for they are almost always hidden beneath the waters; but as they require to come up every few minutes to breathe, when there is a constant succession of heads thrown up, then the herd is supposed to be large. They love a still reach of the stream, as in the more rapid parts of the channel they are floated down so quickly that much exertion is necessary to regain the distance lost by frequently swimming up again: such constant exertion disturbs them in their nap. They prefer to remain by day in a drowsy, yawning state, and, though their eyes are open, they take little notice of things at a distance. The males utter a loud succession of snorting grunts, which may be heard a mile off. The canoe in which I was, in passing over a wounded one, elicited a distinct grunting, though the animal lay entirely under water.
The young, when very little, take their stand on the neck of the dam, and the small head, rising above the large, comes soonest to the surface. The dam, knowing the more urgent need of her calf, comes more frequently to the surface when it is in her care. But in the rivers of Londa, where they are much in danger of being shot, even the hippopotamus gains wit by experience; for, while those in the Zambesi put up their heads openly to blow, those referred to keep their noses among water-plants, and breathe so quietly that one would not dream of their existence in the river except by footprints on the banks.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52