Increasing Beauty of the Country — Mode of spending the Day — The People and the Falls of Gonye — A Makololo Foray — A second prevented, and Captives delivered up — Politeness and Liberality of the People — The Rains — Present of Oxen — The fugitive Barotse — Sekobinyane’s Misgovernment — Bee-eaters and other Birds — Fresh-water Sponges — Current — Death from a Lion’s Bite at Libonta — Continued Kindness — Arrangements for spending the Night during the Journey — Cooking and Washing — Abundance of animal Life — Different Species of Birds — Water-fowl — Egyptian Geese — Alligators — Narrow Escape of one of my Men — Superstitious Feelings respecting the Alligator — Large Game — The most vulnerable Spot — Gun Medicine — A Sunday — Birds of Song — Depravity; its Treatment — Wild Fruits — Green Pigeons — Shoals of Fish — Hippopotami.
30TH OF NOVEMBER, 1853. At Gonye Falls. No rain has fallen here, so it is excessively hot. The trees have put on their gayest dress, and many flowers adorn the landscape, yet the heat makes all the leaves droop at midday and look languid for want of rain. If the country increases as much in beauty in front as it has done within the last four degrees of latitude, it will be indeed a lovely land.
We all felt great lassitude in traveling. The atmosphere is oppressive both in cloud and sunshine. The evaporation from the river must be excessively great, and I feel as if the fluids of the system joined in the general motion of watery vapor upward, as enormous quantities of water must be drunk to supply its place.
When under way our usual procedure is this: We get up a little before five in the morning; it is then beginning to dawn. While I am dressing, coffee is made; and, having filled my pannikin, the remainder is handed to my companions, who eagerly partake of the refreshing beverage. The servants are busy loading the canoes, while the principal men are sipping the coffee, and, that being soon over, we embark. The next two hours are the most pleasant part of the day’s sail. The men paddle away most vigorously; the Barotse, being a tribe of boatmen, have large, deeply-developed chests and shoulders, with indifferent lower extremities. They often engage in loud scolding of each other in order to relieve the tedium of their work. About eleven we land, and eat any meat which may have remained from the previous evening meal, or a biscuit with honey, and drink water.
After an hour’s rest we again embark and cower under an umbrella. The heat is oppressive, and, being weak from the last attack of fever, I can not land and keep the camp supplied with flesh. The men, being quite uncovered in the sun, perspire profusely, and in the afternoon begin to stop, as if waiting for the canoes which have been left behind. Sometimes we reach a sleeping-place two hours before sunset, and, all being troubled with languor, we gladly remain for the night. Coffee again, and a biscuit, or a piece of coarse bread made of maize meal, or that of the native corn, make up the bill of fare for the evening, unless we have been fortunate enough to kill something, when we boil a potful of flesh. This is done by cutting it up into long strips and pouring in water till it is covered. When that is boiled dry, the meat is considered ready.
The people at Gonye carry the canoes over the space requisite to avoid the falls by slinging them on poles tied on diagonally. They place these on their shoulders, and, setting about the work with good humor, soon accomplish the task. They are a merry set of mortals; a feeble joke sets them off in a fit of laughter. Here, as elsewhere, all petitioned for the magic lantern, and, as it is a good means of conveying instruction, I willingly complied.
The falls of Gonye have not been made by wearing back, like those of Niagara, but are of a fissure form. For many miles below, the river is confined in a narrow space of not more than one hundred yards wide. The water goes boiling along, and gives the idea of great masses of it rolling over and over, so that even the most expert swimmer would find it difficult to keep on the surface. Here it is that the river, when in flood, rises fifty or sixty feet in perpendicular height. The islands above the falls are covered with foliage as beautiful as can be seen any where. Viewed from the mass of rock which overhangs the fall, the scenery was the loveliest I had seen.
Nothing worthy of note occurred on our way up to Nameta. There we heard that a party of the Makololo, headed by Lerimo, had made a foray to the north and up the Leeba, in the very direction in which we were about to proceed. Mpololo, the uncle of Sekeletu, is considered the head man of the Barotse valley; and the perpetrators had his full sanction, because Masiko, a son of Santuru, the former chief of the Barotse, had fled high up the Leeambye, and, establishing himself there, had sent men down to the vicinity of Naliele to draw away the remaining Barotse from their allegiance. Lerimo’s party had taken some of this Masiko’s subjects prisoners, and destroyed several villages of the Balonda, to whom we were going. This was in direct opposition to the policy of Sekeletu, who wished to be at peace with these northern tribes; and Pitsane, my head man, was the bearer of orders to Mpololo to furnish us with presents for the very chiefs they had attacked. Thus we were to get large pots of clarified butter and bunches of beads, in confirmation of the message of peace we were to deliver.
When we reached Litofe, we heard that a fresh foray was in contemplation, but I sent forward orders to disband the party immediately. At Ma–Sekeletu’s town we found the head offender, Mpololo himself, and I gave him a bit of my mind, to the effect that, as I was going with the full sanction of Sekeletu, if any harm happened to me in consequence of his ill-advised expedition, the guilt would rest with him. Ma–Sekeletu, who was present, heartily approved all I said, and suggested that all the captives taken by Lerimo should be returned by my hand, to show Masiko that the guilt of the foray lay not with the superior persons of the Makololo, but with a mere servant. Her good sense appeared in other respects besides, and, as this was exactly what my own party had previously resolved to suggest, we were pleased to hear Mpololo agree to do what he was advised. He asked me to lay the matter before the under-chiefs of Naliele, and when we reached that place, on the 9th of December, I did so in a picho, called expressly for the purpose. Lerimo was present, and felt rather crestfallen when his exploit was described by Mohorisi, one of my companions, as one of extreme cowardice, he having made an attack upon the defenseless villagers of Londa, while, as we had found on our former visit, a lion had actually killed eight people of Naliele without his daring to encounter it. The Makololo are cowardly in respect to animals, but brave against men. Mpololo took all the guilt upon himself before the people, and delivered up a captive child whom his wife had in her possession; others followed his example, till we procured the release of five of the prisoners. Some thought, as Masiko had tried to take their children by stratagem, they ought to take his by force, as the two modes suited the genius of each people — the Makalaka delight in cunning, and the Makololo in fighting; and others thought, if Sekeletu meant them to be at peace with Masiko, he ought to have told them so.
It is rather dangerous to tread in the footsteps of a marauding party with men of the same tribe as the aggressors, but my people were in good spirits, and several volunteers even offered to join our ranks. We, however, adhered strictly to the orders of Sekeletu as to our companions, and refused all others.
The people of every village treated us most liberally, presenting, besides oxen, butter, milk, and meal, more than we could stow away in our canoes. The cows in this valley are now yielding, as they frequently do, more milk than the people can use, and both men and women present butter in such quantity that I shall be able to refresh my men as we move along. Anointing the skin prevents the excessive evaporation of the fluids of the body, and acts as clothing in both sun and shade. They always made their presents gracefully. When an ox was given, the owner would say, “Here is a little bit of bread for you.” This was pleasing, for I had been accustomed to the Bechuanas presenting a miserable goat, with the pompous exclamation, “Behold an ox!” The women persisted in giving me copious supplies of shrill praises, or “lullilooing”; but, though I frequently told them to modify their “great lords” and “great lions” to more humble expressions, they so evidently intended to do me honor that I could not help being pleased with the poor creatures’ wishes for our success.
The rains began while we were at Naliele; this is much later than usual; but, though the Barotse valley has been in need of rain, the people never lack abundance of food. The showers are refreshing, but the air feels hot and close; the thermometer, however, in a cool hut, stands only at 84° The access of the external air to any spot at once raises its temperature above 90° A new attack of fever here caused excessive languor; but, as I am already getting tired of quoting my fevers, and never liked to read travels myself where much was said about the illnesses of the traveler, I shall henceforth endeavor to say little about them.
We here sent back the canoe of Sekeletu, and got the loan of others from Mpololo. Eight riding oxen, and seven for slaughter, were, according to the orders of that chief, also furnished; some were intended for our own use, and others as presents to the chiefs of the Balonda. Mpololo was particularly liberal in giving all that Sekeletu ordered, though, as he feeds on the cattle he has in charge, he might have felt it so much abstracted from his own perquisites. Mpololo now acts the great man, and is followed every where by a crowd of toadies, who sing songs in disparagement of Mpepe, of whom he always lived in fear. While Mpepe was alive, he too was regaled with the same fulsome adulation, and now they curse him. They are very foul-tongued; equals, on meeting, often greet each other with a profusion of oaths, and end the volley with a laugh.
In coming up the river to Naliele we met a party of fugitive Barotse returning to their homes, and, as the circumstance illustrates the social status of these subjects of the Makololo, I introduce it here. The villagers in question were the children, or serfs, if we may use the term, of a young man of the same age and tribe as Sekeletu, who, being of an irritable temper, went by the nickname of Sekobinyane — a little slavish thing. His treatment of his servants was so bad that most of them had fled; and when the Mambari came, and, contrary to the orders of Sekeletu, purchased slaves, Sekobinyane sold one or two of the Barotse children of his village. The rest fled immediately to Masiko, and were gladly received by that Barotse chief as his subjects.
When Sekeletu and I first ascended the Leeambye, we met Sekobinyane coming down, on his way to Linyanti. On being asked the news, he remained silent about the loss of his village, it being considered a crime among the Makololo for any one to treat his people so ill as to cause them to run away from him. He then passed us, and, dreading the vengeance of Sekeletu for his crime, secretly made his escape from Linyanti to Lake Ngami. He was sent for, however, and the chief at the lake delivered him up, on Sekeletu declaring that he had no intention of punishing him otherwise than by scolding. He did not even do that, as Sekobinyane was evidently terrified enough, and also became ill through fear.
The fugitive villagers remained only a few weeks with their new master Masiko, and then fled back again, and were received as if they had done nothing wrong. All united in abusing the conduct of Sekobinyane, and no one condemned the fugitives; and the cattle, the use of which they had previously enjoyed, never having been removed from their village, they re-established themselves with apparent gladness.
This incident may give some idea of the serfdom of the subject tribes, and, except that they are sometimes punished for running away and other offenses, I can add nothing more by way of showing the true nature of this form of servitude.
Leaving Naliele, amid abundance of good wishes for the success of our expedition, and hopes that we might return accompanied with white traders, we began again our ascent of the river. It was now beginning to rise, though the rains had but just commenced in the valley. The banks are low, but cleanly cut, and seldom sloping. At low water they are from four to eight feet high, and make the river always assume very much the aspect of a canal. They are in some parts of whitish, tenacious clay, with strata of black clay intermixed, and black loam in sand, or pure sand stratified. As the river rises it is always wearing to one side or the other, and is known to have cut across from one bend to another, and to form new channels. As we coast along the shore, pieces which are undermined often fall in with a splash like that caused by the plunge of an alligator, and endanger the canoe.
These perpendicular banks afford building-places to a pretty bee-eater,27 which loves to breed in society. The face of the sand-bank is perforated with hundreds of holes leading to their nests, each of which is about a foot apart from the other; and as we pass they pour out of their hiding-places, and float overhead.
27 ‘Merops apiaster’ and ‘M. bullockoides’ (Smith).
A speckled kingfisher is seen nearly every hundred yards, which builds in similar spots, and attracts the attention of herd-boys, who dig out its nest for the sake of the young. This, and a most lovely little blue and orange kingfisher, are seen every where along the banks, dashing down like a shot into the water for their prey. A third, seen more rarely, is as large as a pigeon, and is of a slaty color.
Another inhabitant of the banks is the sand-martin, which also likes company in the work of raising a family. They never leave this part of the country. One may see them preening themselves in the very depth of winter, while the swallows, of which we shall yet speak, take winter trips. I saw sand-martins at the Orange River during a period of winter frost; it is, therefore, probable that they do not migrate even from thence.
Around the reeds, which in some parts line the banks, we see fresh-water sponges. They usually encircle the stalk, and are hard and brittle, presenting numbers of small round grains near their circumference.
The river was running at the rate of five miles an hour, and carried bunches of reed and decaying vegetable matter on its surface; yet the water was not discolored. It had, however, a slightly yellowish-green tinge, somewhat deeper than its natural color. This arose from the quantity of sand carried by the rising flood from sand-banks, which are annually shifted from one spot to another, and from the pieces falling in as the banks are worn; for when the water is allowed to stand in a glass, a few seconds suffice for its deposit at the bottom. This is considered an unhealthy period. When waiting, on one occasion, for the other canoes to come up, I felt no inclination to leave the one I was in; but my head boatman, Mashauana, told me never to remain on board while so much vegetable matter was floating down the stream.
17TH DECEMBER. At Libonta. We were detained for days together collecting contributions of fat and butter, according to the orders of Sekeletu, as presents to the Balonda chiefs. Much fever prevailed, and ophthalmia was rife, as is generally the case before the rains begin. Some of my own men required my assistance, as well as the people of Libonta. A lion had done a good deal of mischief here, and when the people went to attack it two men were badly wounded; one of them had his thigh-bone quite broken, showing the prodigious power of this animal’s jaws. The inflammation produced by the teeth-wounds proved fatal to one of them.
Here we demanded the remainder of the captives, and got our number increased to nineteen. They consisted of women and children, and one young man of twenty. One of the boys was smuggled away in the crowd as we embarked. The Makololo under-chiefs often act in direct opposition to the will of the head chief, trusting to circumstances and brazenfacedness to screen themselves from his open displeasure; and as he does not always find it convenient to notice faults, they often go to considerable lengths in wrong-doing.
Libonta is the last town of the Makololo; so, when we parted from it, we had only a few cattle-stations and outlying hamlets in front, and then an uninhabited border country till we came to Londa or Lunda. Libonta is situated on a mound like the rest of the villages in the Barotse valley, but here the tree-covered sides of the valley begin to approach nearer the river. The village itself belongs to two of the chief wives of Sebituane, who furnished us with an ox and abundance of other food. The same kindness was manifested by all who could afford to give any thing; and as I glance over their deeds of generosity recorded in my journal, my heart glows with gratitude to them, and I hope and pray that God may spare me to make them some return.
Before leaving the villages entirely, we may glance at our way of spending the nights. As soon as we land, some of the men cut a little grass for my bed, while Mashauana plants the poles of the little tent. These are used by day for carrying burdens, for the Barotse fashion is exactly like that of the natives of India, only the burden is fastened near the ends of the pole, and not suspended by long cords. The bed is made, and boxes ranged on each side of it, and then the tent pitched over all. Four or five feet in front of my tent is placed the principal or kotla fire, the wood for which must be collected by the man who occupies the post of herald, and takes as his perquisite the heads of all the oxen slaughtered, and of all the game too. Each person knows the station he is to occupy, in reference to the post of honor at the fire in front of the door of the tent. The two Makololo occupy my right and left, both in eating and sleeping, as long as the journey lasts. But Mashauana, my head boatman, makes his bed at the door of the tent as soon as I retire. The rest, divided into small companies according to their tribes, make sheds all round the fire, leaving a horseshoe-shaped space in front sufficient for the cattle to stand in. The fire gives confidence to the oxen, so the men are always careful to keep them in sight of it. The sheds are formed by planting two stout forked poles in an inclined direction, and placing another over these in a horizontal position. A number of branches are then stuck in the ground in the direction to which the poles are inclined, the twigs drawn down to the horizontal pole and tied with strips of bark. Long grass is then laid over the branches in sufficient quantity to draw off the rain, and we have sheds open to the fire in front, but secure from beasts behind. In less than an hour we were usually all under cover. We never lacked abundance of grass during the whole journey. It is a picturesque sight at night, when the clear bright moon of these climates glances on the sleeping forms around, to look out upon the attitudes of profound repose both men and beasts assume. There being no danger from wild animals in such a night, the fires are allowed almost to go out; and as there is no fear of hungry dogs coming over sleepers and devouring the food, or quietly eating up the poor fellows’ blankets, which at best were but greasy skins, which sometimes happened in the villages, the picture was one of perfect peace.
The cooking is usually done in the natives’ own style, and, as they carefully wash the dishes, pots, and the hands before handling food, it is by no means despicable. Sometimes alterations are made at my suggestion, and then they believe that they can cook in thorough white man’s fashion. The cook always comes in for something left in the pot, so all are eager to obtain the office.
I taught several of them to wash my shirts, and they did it well, though their teacher had never been taught that work himself. Frequent changes of linen and sunning of my blanket kept me more comfortable than might have been anticipated, and I feel certain that the lessons of cleanliness rigidly instilled by my mother in childhood helped to maintain that respect which these people entertain for European ways. It is questionable if a descent to barbarous ways ever elevates a man in the eyes of savages.
When quite beyond the inhabited parts, we found the country abounding in animal life of every form. There are upward of thirty species of birds on the river itself. Hundreds of the ‘Ibis religiosa’ come down the Leeambye with the rising water, as they do on the Nile; then large white pelicans, in flocks of three hundred at a time, following each other in long extending line, rising and falling as they fly so regularly all along as to look like an extended coil of birds; clouds of a black shell-eating bird, called linongolo (‘Anastomus lamelligerus’); also plovers, snipes, curlews, and herons without number.
There are, besides the more common, some strange varieties. The pretty white ‘ardetta’ is seen in flocks, settling on the backs of large herds of buffaloes, and following them on the wing when they run; while the kala (‘Textor erythrorhynchus’) is a better horseman, for it sits on the withers when the animal is at full speed.
Then those strange birds, the scissor-bills, with snow-white breast, jet-black coat, and red beak, sitting by day on the sand-banks, the very picture of comfort and repose. Their nests are only little hollows made on these same sand-banks, without any attempt of concealment; they watch them closely, and frighten away the marabou and crows from their eggs by feigned attacks at their heads. When man approaches their nests, they change their tactics, and, like the lapwing and ostrich, let one wing drop and make one leg limp, as if lame. The upper mandible being so much shorter than the lower, the young are more helpless than the stork in the fable with the flat dishes, and must have every thing conveyed into the mouth by the parents till they are able to provide for themselves. The lower mandible, as thin as a paper-knife, is put into the water while the bird skims along the surface, and scoops up any little insects it meets. It has great length of wing, and can continue its flight with perfect ease, the wings acting, though kept above the level of the body. The wonder is, how this plowing of the surface of the water can be so well performed as to yield a meal, for it is usually done in the dark. Like most aquatic feeders, they work by night, when insects and fishes rise to the surface. They have great affection for their young, its amount being increased in proportion to the helplessness of the offspring.
There are also numbers of spoonbills, nearly white in plumage; the beautiful, stately flamingo; the Numidian crane, or demoiselle, some of which, tamed at Government House, Cape Town, struck every one as most graceful ornaments to a noble mansion, as they perched on its pillars. There are two cranes besides — one light blue, the other also light blue, but with a white neck; and gulls (‘Procellaria’) of different sizes abound.
One pretty little wader, an avoset, appears as if standing on stilts, its legs are so long; and its bill seems bent the wrong way, or upward. It is constantly seen wading in the shallows, digging up little slippery insects, the peculiar form of the bill enabling it to work them easily out of the sand. When feeding, it puts its head under the water to seize the insect at the bottom, then lifts it up quickly, making a rapid gobbling, as if swallowing a wriggling worm.
The ‘Parra Africana’ runs about on the surface, as if walking on water, catching insects. It too has long, thin legs, and extremely long toes, for the purpose of enabling it to stand on the floating lotus-leaves and other aquatic plants. When it stands on a lotus-leaf five inches in diameter, the spread of the toes, acting on the principle of snow-shoes, occupies all the surface, and it never sinks, though it obtains a livelihood, not by swimming or flying, but by walking on the water.
Water-birds, whose prey or food requires a certain aim or action in one direction, have bills quite straight in form, as the heron and snipe; while those which are intended to come in contact with hard substances, as breaking shells, have the bills gently curved, in order that the shock may not be communicated to the brain.
The Barotse valley contains great numbers of large black geese.28 They may be seen every where walking slowly about, feeding. They have a strong black spur on the shoulder, like the armed plover, and as strong as that on the heel of a cock, but are never seen to use them, except in defense of their young. They choose ant-hills for their nests, and in the time of laying the Barotse consume vast quantities of their eggs. There are also two varieties of geese, of somewhat smaller size, but better eating. One of these, the Egyptian goose, or Vulpanser, can not rise from the water, and during the floods of the river great numbers are killed by being pursued in canoes. The third is furnished with a peculiar knob on the beak. These, with myriads of ducks of three varieties, abound every where on the Leeambye. On one occasion the canoe neared a bank on which a large flock was sitting. Two shots furnished our whole party with a supper, for we picked up seventeen ducks and a goose. No wonder the Barotse always look back to this fruitful valley as the Israelites did to the flesh-pots of Egypt. The poorest persons are so well supplied with food from their gardens, fruits from the forest trees, and fish from the river, that their children, when taken into the service of the Makololo, where they have only one large meal a day, become quite emaciated, and pine for a return to their parents.
28 ‘Anser leucagaster’ and ‘melanogaster’.
Part of our company marched along the banks with the oxen, and part went in the canoes, but our pace was regulated by the speed of the men on shore. Their course was rather difficult, on account of the numbers of departing and re-entering branches of the Leeambye, which they had to avoid or wait at till we ferried them over. The number of alligators is prodigious, and in this river they are more savage than in some others. Many children are carried off annually at Sesheke and other towns; for, notwithstanding the danger, when they go down for water they almost always must play a while. This reptile is said by the natives to strike the victim with its tail, then drag him in and drown him. When lying in the water watching for prey, the body never appears. Many calves are lost also, and it is seldom that a number of cows can swim over at Sesheke without some loss. I never could avoid shuddering on seeing my men swimming across these branches, after one of them had been caught by the thigh and taken below. He, however, retained, as nearly all of them in the most trying circumstances do, his full presence of mind, and, having a small, square, ragged-edged javelin with him, when dragged to the bottom gave the alligator a stab behind the shoulder. The alligator, writhing in pain, left him, and he came out with the deep marks of the reptile’s teeth on his thigh. Here the people have no antipathy to persons who have met with such an adventure, but, in the Bamangwato and Bakwain tribes, if a man is either bitten or even has had water splashed over him by the reptile’s tail, he is expelled his tribe. When on the Zouga we saw one of the Bamangwato living among the Bayeiye, who had the misfortune to have been bitten and driven out of his tribe in consequence. Fearing that I would regard him with the same disgust which his countrymen profess to feel, he would not tell me the cause of his exile, but the Bayeiye informed me of it, and the scars of the teeth were visible on his thigh. If the Bakwains happened to go near an alligator they would spit on the ground, and indicate its presence by saying “Boleo ki bo” — “There is sin”. They imagine the mere sight of it would give inflammation of the eyes; and though they eat the zebra without hesitation, yet if one bites a man he is expelled the tribe, and obliged to take his wife and family away to the Kalahari. These curious relics of the animal-worship of former times scarcely exist among the Makololo. Sebituane acted on the principle, “Whatever is food for men is food for me;” so no man is here considered unclean. The Barotse appear inclined to pray to alligators and eat them too, for when I wounded a water-antelope, called mochose, it took to the water; when near the other side of the river an alligator appeared at its tail, and then both sank together. Mashauana, who was nearer to it than I, told me that, “though he had called to it to let his meat alone, it refused to listen.” One day we passed some Barotse lads who had speared an alligator, and were waiting in expectation of its floating soon after. The meat has a strong musky odor, not at all inviting for any one except the very hungry.
When we had gone thirty or forty miles above Libonta we sent eleven of our captives to the west, to the chief called Makoma, with an explanatory message. This caused some delay; but as we were loaded with presents of food from the Makololo, and the wild animals were in enormous herds, we fared sumptuously. It was grievous, however, to shoot the lovely creatures, they were so tame. With but little skill in stalking, one could easily get within fifty or sixty yards of them. There I lay, looking at the graceful forms and motions of beautiful pokus,29 leches, and other antelopes, often till my men, wondering what was the matter, came up to see, and frightened them away. If we had been starving, I could have slaughtered them with as little hesitation as I should cut off a patient’s leg; but I felt a doubt, and the antelopes got the benefit of it. Have they a guardian spirit over them? I have repeatedly observed, when I approached a herd lying beyond an ant-hill with a tree on it, and viewed them with the greatest caution, they very soon showed symptoms of uneasiness. They did not sniff danger in the wind, for I was to leeward of them; but the almost invariable apprehension of danger which arose, while unconscious of the direction in which it lay, made me wonder whether each had what the ancient physicians thought we all possessed, an archon, or presiding spirit.
29 I propose to name this new species ‘Antilope Vardonii’, after the African traveler, Major Vardon.
If we could ascertain the most fatal spot in an animal, we could dispatch it with the least possible amount of suffering; but as that is probably the part to which the greatest amount of nervous influence is directed at the moment of receiving the shot, if we can not be sure of the heart or brain, we are never certain of speedy death. Antelopes, formed for a partially amphibious existence, and other animals of that class, are much more tenacious of life than those which are purely terrestrial. Most antelopes, when in distress or pursued, make for the water. If hunted, they always do. A leche shot right through the body, and no limb-bone broken, is almost sure to get away, while a zebra, with a wound of no greater severity, will probably drop down dead. I have seen a rhinoceros, while standing apparently chewing the cud, drop down dead from a shot in the stomach, while others shot through one lung and the stomach go off as if little hurt. But if one should crawl up silently to within twenty yards either of the white or black rhinoceros, throwing up a pinch of dust every now and then, to find out that the anxiety to keep the body concealed by the bushes has not led him to the windward side, then sit down, rest the elbow on the knees, and aim, slanting a little upward, at a dark spot behind the shoulders, it falls stone dead.
To show that a shock on the part of the system to which much nervous force is at the time directed will destroy life, it may be mentioned that an eland, when hunted, can be dispatched by a wound which does little more than injure the muscular system; its whole nervous force is then imbuing the organs of motion; and a giraffe, when pressed hard by a good horse only two or three hundred yards, has been known to drop down dead, without any wound being inflicted at all. A full gallop by an eland or giraffe quite dissipates its power, and the hunters, aware of this, always try to press them at once to it, knowing that they have but a short space to run before the animals are in their power. In doing this, the old sportsmen are careful not to go too close to the giraffe’s tail, for this animal can swing his hind foot round in a way which would leave little to choose between a kick with it and a clap from the arm of a windmill.
When the nervous force is entire, terrible wounds may be inflicted without killing; a tsessebe having been shot through the neck while quietly feeding, we went to him, and one of the men cut his throat deep enough to bleed him largely. He started up after this and ran more than a mile, and would have got clear off had not a dog brought him to bay under a tree, where we found him standing.
My men, having never had fire-arms in their hands before, found it so difficult to hold the musket steady at the flash of fire in the pan, that they naturally expected me to furnish them with “gun medicine”, without which, it is almost universally believed, no one can shoot straight. Great expectations had been formed when I arrived among the Makololo on this subject; but, having invariably declined to deceive them, as some for their own profit have done, my men now supposed that I would at last consent, and thereby relieve myself from the hard work of hunting by employing them after due medication. This I was most willing to do, if I could have done it honestly; for, having but little of the hunting ‘furore’ in my composition, I always preferred eating the game to killing it. Sulphur is the remedy most admired, and I remember Sechele giving a large price for a very small bit. He also gave some elephants’ tusks, worth £30, for another medicine which was to make him invulnerable to musket balls. As I uniformly recommended that these things should be tested by experiment, a calf was anointed with the charm and tied to a tree. It proved decisive, and Sechele remarked it was “pleasanter to be deceived than undeceived.” I offered sulphur for the same purpose, but that was declined, even though a person came to the town afterward and rubbed his hands with a little before a successful trial of shooting at a mark.
I explained to my men the nature of a gun, and tried to teach them, but they would soon have expended all the ammunition in my possession. I was thus obliged to do all the shooting myself ever afterward. Their inability was rather a misfortune; for, in consequence of working too soon after having been bitten by the lion, the bone of my left arm had not united well. Continual hard manual labor, and some falls from ox-back, lengthened the ligament by which the ends of the bones were united, and a false joint was the consequence. The limb has never been painful, as those of my companions on the day of the rencounter with the lion have been, but, there being a joint too many, I could not steady the rifle, and was always obliged to shoot with the piece resting on the left shoulder. I wanted steadiness of aim, and it generally happened that the more hungry the party became, the more frequently I missed the animals.
We spent a Sunday on our way up to the confluence of the Leeba and Leeambye. Rains had fallen here before we came, and the woods had put on their gayest hue. Flowers of great beauty and curious forms grow every where; they are unlike those in the south, and so are the trees. Many of the forest-tree leaves are palmated and largely developed; the trunks are covered with lichens, and the abundance of ferns which appear in the woods shows we are now in a more humid climate than any to the south of the Barotse valley. The ground begins to swarm with insect life; and in the cool, pleasant mornings the welkin rings with the singing of birds, which is not so delightful as the notes of birds at home, because I have not been familiar with them from infancy. The notes here, however, strike the mind by their loudness and variety, as the wellings forth from joyous hearts of praise to Him who fills them with overflowing gladness. All of us rise early to enjoy the luscious balmy air of the morning. We then have worship; but, amid all the beauty and loveliness with which we are surrounded, there is still a feeling of want in the soul in viewing one’s poor companions, and hearing bitter, impure words jarring on the ear in the perfection of the scenes of Nature, and a longing that both their hearts and ours might be brought into harmony with the Great Father of Spirits. I pointed out, in, as usual, the simplest words I could employ, the remedy which God has presented to us, in the inexpressibly precious gift of His own Son, on whom the Lord “laid the iniquity of us all.” The great difficulty in dealing with these people is to make the subject plain. The minds of the auditors can not be understood by one who has not mingled much with them. They readily pray for the forgiveness of sins, and then sin again; confess the evil of it, and there the matter ends.
I shall not often advert to their depravity. My practice has always been to apply the remedy with all possible earnestness, but never allow my own mind to dwell on the dark shades of men’s characters. I have never been able to draw pictures of guilt, as if that could awaken Christian sympathy. The evil is there. But all around in this fair creation are scenes of beauty, and to turn from these to ponder on deeds of sin can not promote a healthy state of the faculties. I attribute much of the bodily health I enjoy to following the plan adopted by most physicians, who, while engaged in active, laborious efforts to assist the needy, at the same time follow the delightful studies of some department of natural history. The human misery and sin we endeavor to alleviate and cure may be likened to the sickness and impurity of some of the back slums of great cities. One contents himself by ministering to the sick and trying to remove the causes, without remaining longer in the filth than is necessary for his work; another, equally anxious for the public good, stirs up every cesspool, that he may describe its reeking vapors, and, by long contact with impurities, becomes himself infected, sickens, and dies.
The men went about during the day, and brought back wild fruits of several varieties, which I had not hitherto seen. One, called mogametsa, is a bean with a little pulp round it, which tastes like sponge-cake; another, named mawa, grows abundantly on a low bush. There are many berries and edible bulbs almost every where. The mamosho or moshomosho, and milo (a medlar), were to be found near our encampment. These are both good, if indeed one can be a fair judge who felt quite disposed to pass a favorable verdict on every fruit which had the property of being eatable at all. Many kinds are better than our crab-apple or sloe, and, had they the care and culture these have enjoyed, might take high rank among the fruits of the world. All that the Africans have thought of has been present gratification; and now, as I sometimes deposit date-seeds in the soil, and tell them I have no hope whatever of seeing the fruit, it seems to them as the act of the South Sea Islanders appears to us, when they planted in their gardens iron nails received from Captain Cook.
There are many fruits and berries in the forests, the uses of which are unknown to my companions. Great numbers of a kind of palm I have never met with before were seen growing at and below the confluence of the Loeti and Leeambye; the seed probably came down the former river. It is nearly as tall as the palmyra. The fruit is larger than of that species; it is about four inches long, and has a soft yellow pulp round the kernel or seed; when ripe, it is fluid and stringy, like the wild mango, and not very pleasant to eat.
Before we came to the junction of the Leeba and Leeambye we found the banks twenty feet high, and composed of marly sandstone. They are covered with trees, and the left bank has the tsetse and elephants. I suspect the fly has some connection with this animal, and the Portuguese in the district of Tete must think so too, for they call it the ‘Musca da elephant’ (the elephant fly).
The water of inundation covers even these lofty banks, but does not stand long upon them; hence the crop of trees. Where it remains for any length of time, trees can not live. On the right bank, or that in which the Loeti flows, there is an extensive flat country called Manga, which, though covered with grass, is destitute in a great measure of trees.
Flocks of green pigeons rose from the trees as we passed along the banks, and the notes of many birds told that we were now among strangers of the feathered tribe. The beautiful trogon, with bright scarlet breast and black back, uttered a most peculiar note, similar to that we read of as having once been emitted by Memnon, and likened to the tuning of a lyre. The boatmen answered it by calling “Nama, nama!” — meat, meat — as if they thought that a repetition of the note would be a good omen for our success in hunting. Many more interesting birds were met; but I could make no collection, as I was proceeding on the plan of having as little luggage as possible, so as not to excite the cupidity of those through whose country we intended to pass.
Vast shoals of fish come down the Leeambye with the rising waters, as we observed they also do in the Zouga. They are probably induced to make this migration by the increased rapidity of the current dislodging them from their old pasture-grounds higher up the river. Insects constitute but a small portion of the food of many fish. Fine vegetable matter, like slender mosses, growing on the bottom, is devoured greedily; and as the fishes are dislodged from the main stream by the force of the current, and find abundant pasture on the flooded plains, the whole community becomes disturbed and wanders.
The mosala (‘Clarias Capensis’ and ‘Glanis siluris’), the mullet (‘Mugil Africanus’), and other fishes, spread over the Barotse valley in such numbers that when the waters retire all the people are employed in cutting them up and drying them in the sun. The supply exceeds the demand, and the land in numerous places is said to emit a most offensive smell. Wherever you see the Zambesi in the centre of the country, it is remarkable for the abundance of animal life in and upon its waters, and on the adjacent banks.
We passed great numbers of hippopotami. They are very numerous in the parts of the river where they are never hunted. The males appear of a dark color, the females of yellowish brown. There is not such a complete separation of the sexes among them as among elephants. They spend most of their time in the water, lolling about in a listless, dreamy manner. When they come out of the river by night, they crop off the soft succulent grasses very neatly. When they blow, they puff up the water about three feet high.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52