Make a Detour southward — Peculiarities of the Inhabitants — Scarcity of Animals — Forests — Geological Structure of the Country — Abundance and Cheapness of Food near the Chihombo — A Slave lost — The Makololo Opinion of Slaveholders — Funeral Obsequies in Cabango — Send a Sketch of the Country to Mr. Gabriel — Native Information respecting the Kasai and Quango — The Trade with Luba — Drainage of Londa — Report of Matiamvo’s Country and Government — Senhor Faria’s Present to a Chief — The Balonda Mode of spending Time — Faithless Guide — Makololo lament the Ignorance of the Balonda — Eagerness of the Villagers for Trade — Civility of a Female Chief — The Chief Bango and his People — Refuse to eat Beef — Ambition of Africans to have a Village — Winters in the Interior — Spring at Kolobeng — White Ants: “Never could desire to eat any thing better” — Young Herbage and Animals — Valley of the Loembwe — The white Man a Hobgoblin — Specimen of Quarreling — Eager Desire for Calico — Want of Clothing at Kawawa’s — Funeral Observances — Agreeable Intercourse with Kawawa — His impudent Demand — Unpleasant Parting — Kawawa tries to prevent our crossing the River Kasai — Stratagem.
We made a little detour to the southward in order to get provisions in a cheaper market. This led us along the rivulet called Tamba, where we found the people, who had not been visited so frequently by the slave-traders as the rest, rather timid and very civil. It was agreeable to get again among the uncontaminated, and to see the natives look at us without that air of superciliousness which is so unpleasant and common in the beaten track. The same olive color prevailed. They file their teeth to a point, which makes the smile of the women frightful, as it reminds one of the grin of an alligator. The inhabitants throughout this country exhibit as great a variety of taste as appears on the surface of society among ourselves. Many of the men are dandies; their shoulders are always wet with the oil dropping from their lubricated hair, and every thing about them is ornamented in one way or another. Some thrum a musical instrument the livelong day, and, when they wake at night, proceed at once to their musical performance. Many of these musicians are too poor to have iron keys to their instrument, but make them of bamboo, and persevere, though no one hears the music but themselves. Others try to appear warlike by never going out of their huts except with a load of bows and arrows, or a gun ornamented with a strip of hide for every animal they have shot; and others never go any where without a canary in a cage. Ladies may be seen carefully tending little lap-dogs, which are intended to be eaten. Their villages are generally in forests, and composed of groups of irregularly-planted brown huts, with banana and cotton trees, and tobacco growing around. There is also at every hut a high stage erected for drying manioc roots and meal, and elevated cages to hold domestic fowls. Round baskets are laid on the thatch of the huts for the hens to lay in, and on the arrival of strangers, men, women, and children ply their calling as hucksters with a great deal of noisy haggling; all their transactions are conducted with civil banter and good temper.
My men, having the meat of the oxen which we slaughtered from time to time for sale, were entreated to exchange it for meal; no matter how small the pieces offered were, it gave them pleasure to deal.
The landscape around is green, with a tint of yellow, the grass long, the paths about a foot wide, and generally worn deeply in the middle. The tall overhanging grass, when brushed against by the feet and legs, disturbed the lizards and mice, and occasionally a serpent, causing a rustling among the herbage. There are not many birds; every animal is entrapped and eaten. Gins are seen on both sides of the path every ten or fifteen yards, for miles together. The time and labor required to dig up moles and mice from their burrows would, if applied to cultivation, afford food for any amount of fowls or swine, but the latter are seldom met with.
We passed on through forests abounding in climbing-plants, many of which are so extremely tough that a man is required to go in front with a hatchet; and when the burdens of the carriers are caught, they are obliged to cut the climbers with their teeth, for no amount of tugging will make them break. The paths in all these forests are so zigzag that a person may imagine he has traveled a distance of thirty miles, which, when reckoned as the crow flies, may not be fifteen.
We reached the River Moamba (lat. 9° 38’ S., long. 20° 13’ 34” E.) on the 7th May. This is a stream of thirty yards wide, and, like the Quilo, Loange, Chikapa, and Loajima, contains both alligators and hippopotami. We crossed it by means of canoes. Here, as on the slopes down to the Quilo and Chikapa, we had an opportunity of viewing the geological structure of the country — a capping of ferruginous conglomerate, which in many parts looks as if it had been melted, for the rounded nodules resemble masses of slag, and they have a smooth scale on the surface; but in all probability it is an aqueous deposit, for it contains water-worn pebbles of all sorts, and generally small. Below this mass lies a pale red hardened sandstone, and beneath that a trap-like whinstone. Lowest of all lies a coarse-grained sandstone containing a few pebbles, and, in connection with it, a white calcareous rock is occasionally met with, and so are banks of loose round quartz pebbles. The slopes are longer from the level country above the further we go eastward, and every where we meet with circumscribed bogs on them, surrounded by clumps of straight, lofty evergreen trees, which look extremely graceful on a ground of yellowish grass. Several of these bogs pour forth a solution of iron, which exhibits on its surface the prismatic colors. The level plateaus between the rivers, both east and west of the Moamba, across which we traveled, were less woody than the river glens. The trees on them are scraggy and wide apart. There are also large open grass-covered spaces, with scarcely even a bush. On these rather dreary intervals between the rivers it was impossible not to be painfully struck with the absence of all animal life. Not a bird was to be seen, except occasionally a tomtit, some of the ‘Sylviadae’ and ‘Drymoica’, also a black bird (‘Dicrurus Ludwigii’, Smith) common throughout the country. We were gladdened by the voice of birds only near the rivers, and there they are neither numerous nor varied. The Senegal longclaw, however, maintains its place, and is the largest bird seen. We saw a butcher-bird in a trap as we passed. There are remarkably few small animals, they having been hunted almost to extermination, and few insects except ants, which abound in considerable number and variety. There are scarcely any common flies to be seen, nor are we ever troubled by mosquitoes.
The air is still, hot, and oppressive; the intensely bright sunlight glances peacefully on the evergreen forest leaves, and all feel glad when the path comes into the shade. The want of life in the scenery made me long to tread again the banks of the Zambesi, and see the graceful antelopes feeding beside the dark buffaloes and sleek elands. Here hippopotami are known to exist only by their footprints on the banks. Not one is ever seen to blow or put his head up at all; they have learned to breathe in silence and keep out of sight. We never heard one uttering the snorting sound so common on the Zambesi.
We crossed two small streams, the Kanesi and Fombeji, before reaching Cabango, a village situated on the banks of the Chihombo. The country was becoming more densely peopled as we proceeded, but it bears no population compared to what it might easily sustain. Provisions were to be had in great abundance; a fowl and basket of meal weighing 20 lbs. were sold for a yard and a half of very inferior cotton cloth, worth not more than threepence. An idea of the cheapness of food may be formed from the fact that Captain Neves purchased 380 lbs. of tobacco from the Bangalas for about two pounds sterling. This, when carried into central Londa, might purchase seven thousand five hundred fowls, or feed with meal and fowls seven thousand persons for one day, giving each a fowl and 5 lbs. of meal. When food is purchased here with either salt or coarse calico, four persons can be well fed with animal and vegetable food at the rate of one penny a day. The chief vegetable food is the manioc and lotsa meal. These contain a very large proportion of starch, and, when eaten alone for any length of time produce most distressing heartburn. As we ourselves experienced in coming north, they also cause a weakness of vision, which occurs in the case of animals fed on pure gluten or amylaceous matter only. I now discovered that when these starchy substances are eaten along with a proportion of ground-nuts, which contain a considerable quantity of oil, no injurious effects follow.
While on the way to Cabango we saw fresh tracks of elands, the first we had observed in this country. A poor little slave girl, being ill, turned aside in the path, and, though we waited all the next day making search for her, she was lost. She was tall and slender for her age, as if of too quick growth, and probably, unable to bear the fatigue of the march, lay down and slept in the forest, then, waking in the dark, went farther and farther astray. The treatment of the slaves witnessed by my men certainly did not raise slaveholders in their estimation. Their usual exclamation was “Ga ba na pelu” (They have no heart); and they added, with reference to the slaves, “Why do they let them?” as if they thought that the slaves had the natural right to rid the world of such heartless creatures, and ought to do it. The uneasiness of the trader was continually showing itself, and, upon the whole, he had reason to be on the alert both day and night. The carriers perpetually stole the goods intrusted to their care, and he could not openly accuse them, lest they should plunder him of all, and leave him quite in the lurch. He could only hope to manage them after getting all the remaining goods safely into a house in Cabango; he might then deduct something from their pay for what they had purloined on the way.
Cabango (lat. 9° 31’ S., long. 20° 31’ or 32’ E.) is the dwelling-place of Muanzanza, one of Matiamvo’s subordinate chiefs. His village consists of about two hundred huts and ten or twelve square houses, constructed of poles with grass interwoven. The latter are occupied by half-caste Portuguese from Ambaca, agents for the Cassange traders. The cold in the mornings was now severe to the feelings, the thermometer ranging from 58° to 60°, though, when protected, sometimes standing as high as 64° at six A.M. When the sun is well up, the thermometer in the shade rises to 80°, and in the evenings it is about 78°
A person having died in this village, we could transact no business with the chief until the funeral obsequies were finished. These occupy about four days, during which there is a constant succession of dancing, wailing, and feasting. Guns are fired by day, and drums beaten by night, and all the relatives, dressed in fantastic caps, keep up the ceremonies with spirit proportionate to the amount of beer and beef expended. When there is a large expenditure, the remark is often made afterward, “What a fine funeral that was!” A figure, consisting chiefly of feathers and beads, is paraded on these occasions, and seems to be regarded as an idol.
Having met with an accident to one of my eyes by a blow from a branch in passing through a forest, I remained some days here, endeavoring, though with much pain, to draw a sketch of the country thus far, to be sent back to Mr. Gabriel at Loanda. I was always anxious to transmit an account of my discoveries on every possible occasion, lest, any thing happening in the country to which I was going, they should be entirely lost. I also fondly expected a packet of letters and papers which my good angel at Loanda would be sure to send if they came to hand, but I afterward found that, though he had offered a large sum to any one who would return with an assurance of having delivered the last packet he sent, no one followed me with it to Cabango. The unwearied attentions of this good Englishman, from his first welcome to me when, a weary, dejected, and worn-down stranger, I arrived at his residence, and his whole subsequent conduct, will be held in lively remembrance by me to my dying day.
Several of the native traders here having visited the country of Luba, lying far to the north of this, and there being some visitors also from the town of Mai, which is situated far down the Kasai, I picked up some information respecting those distant parts. In going to the town of Mai the traders crossed only two large rivers, the Loajima and Chihombo. The Kasai flows a little to the east of the town of Mai, and near it there is a large waterfall. They describe the Kasai as being there of very great size, and that it thence bends round to the west. On asking an old man, who was about to return to his chief Mai, to imagine himself standing at his home, and point to the confluence of the Quango and Kasai, he immediately turned, and, pointing to the westward, said, “When we travel five days (thirty-five or forty miles) in that direction, we come to it.” He stated also that the Kasai received another river, named the Lubilash. There is but one opinion among the Balonda respecting the Kasai and Quango. They invariably describe the Kasai as receiving the Quango, and, beyond the confluence, assuming the name of Zaire or Zerezere. And the Kasai, even previous to the junction, is much larger than the Quango, from the numerous branches it receives. Besides those we have already crossed, there is the Chihombo at Cabango; and forty-two miles beyond this, eastward, runs the Kasai itself; fourteen miles beyond that, the Kaunguesi; then, forty-two miles farther east, flows the Lolua; besides numbers of little streams, all of which contribute to swell the Kasai.
About thirty-four miles east of the Lolua, or a hundred and thirty-two miles E.N.E. of Cabango, stands the town of Matiamvo, the paramount chief of all the Balonda. The town of Mai is pointed out as to the N.N.W. of Cabango, and thirty-two days or two hundred and twenty-four miles distant, or about lat. S. 5° 45’. The chief town of Luba, another independent chief, is eight days farther in the same direction, or lat. S. 4° 50’. Judging from the appearance of the people who had come for the purposes of trade from Mai, those in the north are in quite as uncivilized a condition as the Balonda. They are clad in a kind of cloth made of the inner bark of a tree. Neither guns nor native traders are admitted into the country, the chief of Luba entertaining a dread of innovation. If a native trader goes thither, he must dress like the common people in Angola, in a loose robe resembling a kilt. The chief trades in shells and beads only. His people kill the elephants by means of spears, poisoned arrows, and traps. All assert that elephants’ tusks from that country are heavier and of greater length than any others.
It is evident, from all the information I could collect both here and elsewhere, that the drainage of Londa falls to the north and then runs westward. The countries of Luba and Mai are evidently lower than this, and yet this is of no great altitude — probably not much more than 3500 feet above the level of the sea. Having here received pretty certain information on a point in which I felt much interest, namely, that the Kasai is not navigable from the coast, owing to the large waterfall near the town of Mai, and that no great kingdom exists in the region beyond, between this and the equator, I would fain have visited Matiamvo. This seemed a very desirable step, as it is good policy as well as right to acknowledge the sovereign of a country; and I was assured, both by Balonda and native traders, that a considerable branch of the Zambesi rises in the country east of his town, and flows away to the south. The whole of this branch, extending down even to where it turns westward to Masiko, is probably placed too far eastward on the map. It was put down when I believed Matiamvo and Cazembe to be farther east than I have since seen reason to believe them. All, being derived from native testimony, is offered to the reader with diffidence, as needing verification by actual explorers. The people of that part, named Kanyika and Kanyoka, living on its banks, are represented as both numerous and friendly, but Matiamvo will on no account permit any white person to visit them, as his principal supplies of ivory are drawn from them. Thinking that we might descend this branch of the Zambesi to Masiko, and thence to the Barotse, I felt a strong inclination to make the attempt. The goods, however, we had brought with us to pay our way, had, by the long detention from fever and weakness in both myself and men, dwindled to a mere fragment; and, being but slightly acquainted with the Balonda dialect, I felt that I could neither use persuasion nor presents to effect my object. From all I could hear of Matiamvo, there was no chance of my being allowed to proceed through his country to the southward. If I had gone merely to visit him, all the goods would have been expended by the time I returned to Cabango; and we had not found mendicity so pleasant on our way to the north as to induce us to desire to return to it.
The country of Matiamvo is said to be well peopled, but they have little or no trade. They receive calico, salt, gunpowder, coarse earthenware, and beads, and give in return ivory and slaves. They possess no cattle, Matiamvo alone having a single herd, which he keeps entirely for the sake of the flesh. The present chief is said to be mild in his government, and will depose an under-chief for unjust conduct. He occasionally sends the distance of a hundred miles or more to behead an offending officer. But, though I was informed by the Portuguese that he possesses absolute power, his name had less influence over his subjects with whom I came in contact than that of Sekeletu has over his people living at a much greater distance from the capital.
As we thought it best to strike away to the S.E. from Cabango to our old friend Katema, I asked a guide from Muanzanza as soon as the funeral proceedings were over. He agreed to furnish one, and also accepted a smaller present from me than usual, when it was represented to him by Pascoal and Faria that I was not a trader. He seemed to regard these presents as his proper dues; and as a cargo of goods had come by Senhor Pascoal, he entered the house for the purpose of receiving his share, when Senhor Faria gravely presented him with the commonest earthenware vessel, of which great numbers are brought for this trade. The chief received it with expressions of abundant gratitude, as these vessels are highly valued, because from their depth they can hold so much food or beer. The association of ideas is sometimes so very ludicrous that it is difficult to maintain one’s gravity.
Several of the children of the late Matiamvo came to beg from me, but never to offer any food. Having spoken to one young man named Liula (Heavens) about their stinginess, he soon brought bananas and manioc. I liked his appearance and conversation, and believe that the Balonda would not be difficult to teach, but their mode of life would be a drawback. The Balonda in this quarter are much more agreeable-looking than any of the inhabitants nearer the coast. The women allow their teeth to remain in their beautifully white state, and would be comely but for the custom of inserting pieces of reed into the cartilage of the nose. They seem generally to be in good spirits, and spend their time in everlasting talk, funeral ceremonies, and marriages. This flow of animal spirits must be one reason why they are such an indestructible race. The habitual influence on their minds of the agency of unseen spirits may have a tendency in the same direction, by preserving the mental quietude of a kind of fatalism.
We were forced to prepay our guide and his father too, and he went but one day, although he promised to go with us to Katema. He was not in the least ashamed at breaking his engagements, and probably no disgrace will be attached to the deed by Muanzanza. Among the Bakwains he would have been punished. My men would have stripped him of the wages which he wore on his person, but thought that, as we had always acted on the mildest principles, they would let him move off with his unearned gains.
They frequently lamented the want of knowledge in these people, saying, in their own tongue, “Ah! they don’t know that we are men as well as they, and that we are only bearing with their insolence with patience because we are men.” Then would follow a hearty curse, showing that the patience was nearly expended; but they seldom quarreled in the language of the Balonda. The only one who ever lost his temper was the man who struck a head man of one of the villages on the mouth, and he was the most abject individual in our company.
The reason why we needed a guide at all was to secure the convenience of a path, which, though generally no better than a sheep-walk, is much easier than going straight in one direction, through tangled forests and tropical vegetation. We knew the general direction we ought to follow, and also if any deviation occurred from our proper route; but, to avoid impassable forests and untreadable bogs, and to get to the proper fords of the rivers, we always tried to procure a guide, and he always followed the common path from one village to another when that lay in the direction we were going.
After leaving Cabango on the 21st, we crossed several little streams running into the Chihombo on our left, and in one of them I saw tree ferns (‘Cyathea dregei’) for the first time in Africa. The trunk was about four feet high and ten inches in diameter. We saw also grass trees of two varieties, which, in damp localities, had attained a height of forty feet. On crossing the Chihombo, which we did about twelve miles above Cabango, we found it waist-deep and rapid. We were delighted to see the evidences of buffalo and hippopotami on its banks. As soon as we got away from the track of the slave-traders, the more kindly spirit of the southern Balonda appeared, for an old man brought a large present of food from one of the villages, and volunteered to go as guide himself. The people, however, of the numerous villages which we passed always made efforts to detain us, that they might have a little trade in the way of furnishing our suppers. At one village, indeed, they would not show us the path at all unless we remained at least a day with them. Having refused, we took a path in the direction we ought to go, but it led us into an inextricable thicket. Returning to the village again, we tried another footpath in a similar direction, but this led us into an equally impassable and trackless forest. We were thus forced to come back and remain. In the following morning they put us in the proper path, which in a few hours led us through a forest that would otherwise have taken us days to penetrate.
Beyond this forest we found the village of Nyakalonga, a sister of the late Matiamvo, who treated us handsomely. She wished her people to guide us to the next village, but this they declined unless we engaged in trade. She then requested us to wait an hour or two till she could get ready a present of meal, manioc roots, ground-nuts, and a fowl. It was truly pleasant to meet with people possessing some civility, after the hauteur we had experienced on the slave-path. She sent her son to the next village without requiring payment. The stream which ran past her village was quite impassable there, and for a distance of about a mile on either side, the bog being soft and shaky, and, when the crust was broken through, about six feet deep.
On the 28th we reached the village of the chief Bango (lat. 12° 22’ 53” S., long. 20° 58’ E.), who brought us a handsome present of meal, and the meat of an entire pallah. We here slaughtered the last of the cows presented to us by Mr. Schut, which I had kept milked until it gave only a teaspoonful at a time. My men enjoyed a hearty laugh when they found that I had given up all hope of more, for they had been talking among themselves about my perseverance. We offered a leg of the cow to Bango, but he informed us that neither he nor his people ever partook of beef, as they looked upon cattle as human, and living at home like men. None of his people purchased any of the meat, which was always eagerly done every where else. There are several other tribes who refuse to keep cattle, though not to eat them when offered by others, because, say they, oxen bring enemies and war; but this is the first instance I have met with in which they have been refused as food. The fact of killing the pallahs for food shows that the objection does not extend to meat in general.
The little streams in this part of the country did not flow in deep dells, nor were we troubled with the gigantic grasses which annoyed our eyes on the slopes of the streams before we came to Cabango. The country was quite flat, and the people cultivated manioc very extensively. There is no large collection of the inhabitants in any one spot. The ambition of each seems to be to have his own little village; and we see many coming from distant parts with the flesh of buffaloes and antelopes as the tribute claimed by Bango. We have now entered again the country of the game, but they are so exceedingly shy that we have not yet seen a single animal. The arrangement into many villages pleases the Africans vastly, for every one who has a few huts under him feels himself in some measure to be a chief. The country at this time is covered with yellowish grass quite dry. Some of the bushes and trees are green; others are shedding their leaves, the young buds pushing off the old foliage. Trees, which in the south stand bare during the winter months, have here but a short period of leaflessness. Occasionally, however, a cold north wind comes up even as far as Cabango, and spreads a wintry aspect on all the exposed vegetation. The tender shoots of the evergreen trees on the south side become as if scorched; the leaves of manioc, pumpkins, and other tender plants are killed; while the same kinds, in spots sheltered by forests, continue green through the whole year. All the interior of South Africa has a distinct winter of cold, varying in intensity with the latitudes. In the central parts of the Cape Colony the cold in the winter is often severe, and the ground is covered with snow. At Kuruman snow seldom falls, but the frost is keen. There is frost even as far as the Chobe, and a partial winter in the Barotse valley, but beyond the Orange River we never have cold and damp combined. Indeed, a shower of rain seldom or never falls during winter, and hence the healthiness of the Bechuana climate. From the Barotse valley northward it is questionable if it ever freezes; but, during the prevalence of the south wind, the thermometer sinks as low as 42°, and conveys the impression of bitter cold.
Nothing can exceed the beauty of the change from the wintry appearance to that of spring at Kolobeng. Previous to the commencement of the rains, an easterly wind blows strongly by day, but dies away at night. The clouds collect in increasing masses, and relieve in some measure the bright glare of the southern sun. The wind dries up every thing, and when at its greatest strength is hot, and raises clouds of dust. The general temperature during the day rises above 96°: then showers begin to fall; and if the ground is but once well soaked with a good day’s rain, the change produced is marvelous. In a day or two a tinge of green is apparent all over the landscape, and in five or six days the fresh leaves sprouting forth, and the young grass shooting up, give an appearance of spring which it requires weeks of a colder climate to produce. The birds, which in the hot, dry, windy season had been silent, now burst forth into merry twittering songs, and are busy building their nests. Some of them, indeed, hatch several times a year. The lowering of the temperature, by rains or other causes, has much the same effect as the increasing mildness of our own spring. The earth teems with myriads of young insects; in some parts of the country hundreds of centipedes, myriapedes, and beetles emerge from their hiding-places, somewhat as our snails at home do; and in the evenings the white ants swarm by thousands. A stream of them is seen to rush out of a hole, and, after flying one or two hundred yards, they descend; and if they light upon a piece of soil proper for the commencement of a new colony, they bend up their tails, unhook their wings, and, leaving them on the surface, quickly begin their mining operations. If an attempt is made to separate the wings from the body by drawing them away backward, they seem as if hooked into the body, and tear away large portions of the insect; but if turned forward, as the ant itself does, they snap off with the greatest ease. Indeed, they seem formed only to serve the insect in its short flight to a new habitation, and then to be thrown aside. Nothing can exceed the eagerness with which, at the proper time, they rush out from their birth-place. Occasionally this occurs in a house, and then, in order to prevent every corner from being filled with them, I have seen a fire placed over the orifice; but they hesitate not even to pass through the fire. While swarming they appear like snow-flakes floating about in the air, and dogs, cats, hawks, and almost every bird, may be seen busily devouring them. The natives, too, profit by the occasion, and actively collect them for food, they being about half an inch long, as thick as a crow-quill, and very fat. When roasted they are said to be good, and somewhat resemble grains of boiled rice. An idea may be formed of this dish by what once occurred on the banks of the Zouga. The Bayeiye chief Palani visiting us while eating, I gave him a piece of bread and preserved apricots; and as he seemed to relish it much, I asked him if he had any food equal to that in his country. “Ah!” said he, “did you ever taste white ants?” As I never had, he replied, “Well, if you had, you never could have desired to eat any thing better.” The general way of catching them is to dig into the ant-hill, and wait till the builders come forth to repair the damage, then brush them off quickly into a vessel, as the ant-eater does into his mouth.
The fall of the rain makes all the cattle look fresh and clean, and both men and women proceed cheerily to their already hoed gardens, and sow the seed. The large animals in the country leave the spots where they had been compelled to congregate for the sake of water, and become much wilder. Occasionally a herd of buffaloes or antelopes smell rain from afar, and set off in a straight line toward the place. Sometimes they make mistakes, and are obliged to return to the water they had left.
Very large tracts of country are denuded of old grass during the winter by means of fire, in order to attract the game to that which there springs up unmixed with the older crop. This new herbage has a renovating tendency, for as long as they feed on the dry grass of the former season they continue in good condition; but no sooner are they able to indulge their appetites on the fresh herbage, than even the marrow in their bones becomes dissolved, and a red, soft, uneatable mass is left behind. After this commences the work of regaining their former plumpness.
MAY 30TH. We left Bango, and proceeded to the River Loembwe, which flows to the N.N.E., and abounds in hippopotami. It is about sixty yards wide, and four feet deep, but usually contains much less water than this, for there are fishing-weirs placed right across it. Like all the African rivers in this quarter, it has morasses on each bank, yet the valley in which it winds, when seen from the high lands above, is extremely beautiful. This valley is about the fourth of a mile wide, and it was easy to fancy the similarity of many spots on it to the goodly manors in our own country, and feel assured that there was still ample territory left for an indefinite increase of the world’s population. The villages are widely apart and difficult of access, from the paths being so covered with tall grass that even an ox can scarcely follow the track. The grass cuts the feet of the men; yet we met a woman with a little child, and a girl, wending their way home with loads of manioc. The sight of a white man always infuses a tremor into their dark bosoms, and in every case of the kind they appeared immensely relieved when I had fairly passed without having sprung upon them. In the villages the dogs run away with their tails between their legs, as if they had seen a lion. The women peer from behind the walls till he comes near them, and then hastily dash into the house. When a little child, unconscious of danger, meets you in the street, he sets up a scream at the apparition, and conveys the impression that he is not far from going into fits. Among the Bechuanas I have been obliged to reprove the women for making a hobgoblin of the white man, and telling their children that they would send for him to bite them.
Having passed the Loembwe, we were in a more open country, with every few hours a small valley, through which ran a little rill in the middle of a bog. These were always difficult to pass, and being numerous, kept the lower part of the person constantly wet. At different points in our course we came upon votive offerings to the Barimo. These usually consisted of food; and every deserted village still contained the idols and little sheds with pots of medicine in them. One afternoon we passed a small frame house with the head of an ox in it as an object of worship. The dreary uniformity of gloomy forests and open flats must have a depressing influence on the minds of the people. Some villages appear more superstitious than others, if we may judge from the greater number of idols they contain.
Only on one occasion did we witness a specimen of quarreling. An old woman, standing by our camp, continued to belabor a good-looking young man for hours with her tongue. Irritated at last, he uttered some words of impatience, when another man sprang at him, exclaiming, “How dare you curse my ‘Mama’?” They caught each other, and a sort of pushing, dragging wrestling-match ensued. The old woman who had been the cause of the affray wished us to interfere, and the combatants themselves hoped as much; but we, preferring to remain neutral, allowed them to fight it out. It ended by one falling under the other, both, from their scuffling, being in a state of nudity. They picked up their clothing and ran off in different directions, each threatening to bring his gun and settle the dispute in mortal combat. Only one, however, returned, and the old woman continued her scolding till my men, fairly tired of her tongue, ordered her to be gone. This trifling incident was one of interest to me, for, during the whole period of my residence in the Bechuana country, I never saw unarmed men strike each other. Their disputes are usually conducted with great volubility and noisy swearing, but they generally terminate by both parties bursting into a laugh.
At every village attempts were made to induce us to remain a night. Sometimes large pots of beer were offered to us as a temptation. Occasionally the head man would peremptorily order us to halt under a tree which he pointed out. At other times young men volunteered to guide us to the impassable part of the next bog, in the hope of bringing us to a stand, for all are excessively eager to trade; but food was so very cheap that we sometimes preferred paying them to keep it, and let us part in good humor. A good-sized fowl could be had for a single charge of gunpowder. Each native who owns a gun carries about with him a measure capable of holding but one charge, in which he receives his powder. Throughout this region the women are almost entirely naked, their gowns being a patch of cloth frightfully narrow, with no flounces; and nothing could exceed the eagerness with which they offered to purchase strips of calico of an inferior description. They were delighted with the large pieces we gave, though only about two feet long, for a fowl and a basket of upward of 20 lbs. of meal. As we had now only a small remnant of our stock, we were obliged to withstand their importunity, and then many of their women, with true maternal feelings, held up their little naked babies, entreating us to sell only a little rag for them. The fire, they say, is their only clothing by night, and the little ones derive heat by sticking closely to their parents. Instead of a skin or cloth to carry their babies in, the women plait a belt about four inches broad, of the inner bark of a tree, and this, hung from the one shoulder to the opposite side, like a soldier’s belt, enables them to support the child by placing it on their side in a sitting position. Their land is very fertile, and they can raise ground-nuts and manioc in abundance. Here I observed no cotton, nor any domestic animals except fowls and little dogs. The chief possessed a few goats, and I never could get any satisfactory reason why the people also did not rear them.
On the evening of the 2d of June we reached the village of Kawawa, rather an important personage in these parts. This village consists of forty or fifty huts, and is surrounded by forest. Drums were beating over the body of a man who had died the preceding day, and some women were making a clamorous wail at the door of his hut, and addressing the deceased as if alive. The drums continued beating the whole night, with as much regularity as a steam-engine thumps on board ship. We observed that a person dressed fantastically with a great number of feathers left the people at the dance and wailing, and went away into the deep forest in the morning, to return again to the obsequies in the evening; he is intended to represent one of the Barimo.
In the morning we had agreeable intercourse with Kawawa; he visited us, and we sat and talked nearly the whole day with him and his people. When we visited him in return, we found him in his large court-house, which, though of a beehive shape, was remarkably well built. As I had shown him a number of curiosities, he now produced a jug, of English ware, shaped like an old man holding a can of beer in his hand, as the greatest curiosity he had to exhibit.
We had now an opportunity of hearing a case brought before him for judgment. A poor man and his wife were accused of having bewitched the man whose wake was now held in the village. Before Kawawa even heard the defense, he said, “You have killed one of my children; bring all yours before me, that I may choose which of them shall be mine instead.” The wife eloquently defended herself, but this availed little, for these accusations are the means resorted to by some chiefs to secure subjects for the slave-market. He probably thought that I had come to purchase slaves, though I had already given a pretty full explanation of my pursuits both to himself and his people. We exhibited the pictures of the magic lantern in the evening, and all were delighted except Kawawa himself. He showed symptoms of dread, and several times started up as if to run away, but was prevented by the crowd behind. Some of the more intelligent understood the explanations well, and expatiated eloquently on them to the more obtuse. Nothing could exceed the civilities which had passed between us during this day; but Kawawa had heard that the Chiboque had forced us to pay an ox, and now thought he might do the same. When, therefore, I sent next morning to let him know that we were ready to start, he replied in his figurative way, “If an ox came in the way of a man, ought he not to eat it? I had given one to the Chiboque, and must give him the same, together with a gun, gunpowder, and a black robe, like that he had seen spread out to dry the day before; that, if I refused an ox, I must give one of my men, and a book by which he might see the state of Matiamvo’s heart toward him, and which would forewarn him, should Matiamvo ever resolve to cut off his head.” Kawawa came in the coolest manner possible to our encampment after sending this message, and told me he had seen all our goods, and must have all he asked, as he had command of the Kasai in our front, and would prevent us from passing it unless we paid this tribute. I replied that the goods were my property and not his; that I would never have it said that a white man had paid tribute to a black, and that I should cross the Kasai in spite of him. He ordered his people to arm themselves, and when some of my men saw them rushing for their bows, arrows, and spears, they became somewhat panic-stricken. I ordered them to move away, and not to fire unless Kawawa’s people struck the first blow. I took the lead, and expected them all to follow, as they usually had done, but many of my men remained behind. When I knew this, I jumped off the ox, and made a rush to them with the revolver in my hand. Kawawa ran away among his people, and they turned their backs too. I shouted to my men to take up their luggage and march; some did so with alacrity, feeling that they had disobeyed orders by remaining; but one of them refused, and was preparing to fire at Kawawa, until I gave him a punch on the head with the pistol, and made him go too. I felt here, as elsewhere, that subordination must be maintained at all risks. We all moved into the forest, the people of Kawawa standing about a hundred yards off, gazing, but not firing a shot or an arrow. It is extremely unpleasant to part with these chieftains thus, after spending a day or two in the most amicable intercourse, and in a part where the people are generally civil. This Kawawa, however, is not a good specimen of the Balonda chiefs, and is rather notorious in the neighborhood for his folly. We were told that he has good reason to believe that Matiamvo will some day cut off his head for his disregard of the rights of strangers.
Kawawa was not to be balked of his supposed rights by the unceremonious way in which we had left him; for, when we had reached the ford of the Kasai, about ten miles distant, we found that he had sent four of his men, with orders to the ferrymen to refuse us passage. We were here duly informed that we must deliver up all the articles mentioned, and one of our men besides. This demand for one of our number always nettled every heart. The canoes were taken away before our eyes, and we were supposed to be quite helpless without them, at a river a good hundred yards broad, and very deep. Pitsane stood on the bank, gazing with apparent indifference on the stream, and made an accurate observation of where the canoes were hidden among the reeds. The ferrymen casually asked one of my Batoka if they had rivers in his country, and he answered with truth, “No, we have none.” Kawawa’s people then felt sure we could not cross. I thought of swimming when they were gone; but after it was dark, by the unasked loan of one of the hidden canoes, we soon were snug in our bivouac on the southern bank of the Kasai. I left some beads as payment for some meal which had been presented by the ferrymen; and, the canoe having been left on their own side of the river, Pitsane and his companions laughed uproariously at the disgust our enemies would feel, and their perplexity as to who had been our paddler across. They were quite sure that Kawawa would imagine that we had been ferried over by his own people, and would be divining to find out who had done the deed. When ready to depart in the morning, Kawawa’s people appeared on the opposite heights, and could scarcely believe their eyes when they saw us prepared to start away to the south. At last one of them called out, “Ah! ye are bad,” to which Pitsane and his companions retorted, “Ah! ye are good, and we thank you for the loan of your canoe.” We were careful to explain the whole of the circumstances to Katema and the other chiefs, and they all agreed that we were perfectly justifiable under the circumstances, and that Matiamvo would approve our conduct. When any thing that might bear an unfavorable construction happens among themselves, they send explanations to each other. The mere fact of doing so prevents them from losing their character, for there is public opinion even among them.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10