Leave Kolobeng again for the Country of Sebituane — Reach the Zouga — The Tsetse — A Party of Englishmen — Death of Mr. Rider — Obtain Guides — Children fall sick with Fever — Relinquish the Attempt to reach Sebituane — Mr. Oswell’s Elephant-hunting — Return to Kolobeng — Make a third Start thence — Reach Nchokotsa — Salt-pans — “Links”, or Springs — Bushmen — Our Guide Shobo — The Banajoa — An ugly Chief — The Tsetse — Bite fatal to domestic Animals, but harmless to wild Animals and Man — Operation of the Poison — Losses caused by it — The Makololo — Our Meeting with Sebituane — Sketch of his Career — His Courage and Conquests — Manoeuvres of the Batoka — He outwits them — His Wars with the Matebele — Predictions of a native Prophet — Successes of the Makololo — Renewed Attacks of the Matebele — The Island of Loyelo — Defeat of the Matebele — Sebituane’s Policy — His Kindness to Strangers and to the Poor — His sudden Illness and Death — Succeeded by his Daughter — Her Friendliness to us — Discovery, in June, 1851, of the Zambesi flowing in the Centre of the Continent — Its Size — The Mambari — The Slave-trade — Determine to send Family to England — Return to the Cape in April, 1852 — Safe Transit through the Caffre Country during Hostilities — Need of a “Special Correspondent” — Kindness of the London Missionary Society — Assistance afforded by the Astronomer Royal at the Cape.
Having returned to Kolobeng, I remained there till April, 1850, and then left in company with Mrs. Livingstone, our three children, and the chief Sechele — who had now bought a wagon of his own — in order to go across the Zouga at its lower end, with the intention of proceeding up the northern bank till we gained the Tamunak’le, and of then ascending that river to visit Sebituane in the north. Sekomi had given orders to fill up the wells which we had dug with so much labor at Serotli, so we took the more eastern route through the Bamangwato town and by Letloche. That chief asked why I had avoided him in our former journeys. I replied that my reason was that I knew he did not wish me to go to the lake, and I did not want to quarrel with him. “Well,” he said, “you beat me then, and I am content.”
Parting with Sechele at the ford, as he was eager to visit Lechulatebe, we went along the northern woody bank of the Zouga with great labor, having to cut down very many trees to allow the wagons to pass. Our losses by oxen falling into pitfalls were very heavy. The Bayeiye kindly opened the pits when they knew of our approach; but when that was not the case, we could blame no one on finding an established custom of the country inimical to our interests. On approaching the confluence of the Tamunak’le we were informed that the fly called tsetse12 abounded on its banks. This was a barrier we never expected to meet; and, as it might have brought our wagons to a complete stand-still in a wilderness, where no supplies for the children could be obtained, we were reluctantly compelled to recross the Zouga.
12 ‘Glossina morsitans’, the first specimens of which were brought to England in 1848 by my friend Major Vardon, from the banks of the Limpopo.
From the Bayeiye we learned that a party of Englishmen, who had come to the lake in search of ivory, were all laid low by fever, so we traveled hastily down about sixty miles to render what aid was in our power. We were grieved to find, as we came near, that Mr. Alfred Rider, an enterprising young artist who had come to make sketches of this country and of the lake immediately after its discovery, had died of fever before our arrival; but by the aid of medicines and such comforts as could be made by the only English lady who ever visited the lake, the others happily recovered. The unfinished drawing of Lake Ngami was made by Mr. Rider just before his death, and has been kindly lent for this work by his bereaved mother.
Sechele used all his powers of eloquence with Lechulatebe to induce him to furnish guides that I might be able to visit Sebituane on ox-back, while Mrs. Livingstone and the children remained at Lake Ngami. He yielded at last. I had a very superior London-made gun, the gift of Lieutenant Arkwright, on which I placed the greatest value, both on account of the donor and the impossibility of my replacing it. Lechulatebe fell violently in love with it, and offered whatever number of elephants’ tusks I might ask for it. I too was enamored with Sebituane; and as he promised in addition that he would furnish Mrs. Livingstone with meat all the time of my absence, his arguments made me part with the gun. Though he had no ivory at the time to pay me, I felt the piece would be well spent on those terms, and delivered it to him. All being ready for our departure, I took Mrs. Livingstone about six miles from the town, that she might have a peep at the broad part of the lake. Next morning we had other work to do than part, for our little boy and girl were seized with fever. On the day following, all our servants were down too with the same complaint. As nothing is better in these cases than change of place, I was forced to give up the hope of seeing Sebituane that year; so, leaving my gun as part payment for guides next year, we started for the pure air of the Desert.
Some mistake had happened in the arrangement with Mr. Oswell, for we met him on the Zouga on our return, and he devoted the rest of this season to elephant-hunting, at which the natives universally declare he is the greatest adept that ever came into the country. He hunted without dogs. It is remarkable that this lordly animal is so completely harassed by the presence of a few yelping curs as to be quite incapable of attending to man. He makes awkward attempts to crush them by falling on his knees; and sometimes places his forehead against a tree ten inches in diameter; glancing on one side of the tree and then on the other, he pushes it down before him, as if he thought thereby to catch his enemies. The only danger the huntsman has to apprehend is the dogs running toward him, and thereby leading the elephant to their master. Mr. Oswell has been known to kill four large old male elephants a day. The value of the ivory in these cases would be one hundred guineas. We had reason to be proud of his success, for the inhabitants conceived from it a very high idea of English courage; and when they wished to flatter me would say, “If you were not a missionary you would just be like Oswell; you would not hunt with dogs either.” When, in 1852, we came to the Cape, my black coat eleven years out of fashion, and without a penny of salary to draw, we found that Mr. Oswell had most generously ordered an outfit for the half-naked children, which cost about £200, and presented it to us, saying he thought Mrs. Livingstone had a right to the game of her own preserves.
Foiled in this second attempt to reach Sebituane, we returned again to Kolobeng, whither we were soon followed by a number of messengers from that chief himself. When he heard of our attempts to visit him, he dispatched three detachments of his men with thirteen brown cows to Lechulatebe, thirteen white cows to Sekomi, and thirteen black cows to Sechele, with a request to each to assist the white men to reach him. Their policy, however, was to keep him out of view, and act as his agents in purchasing with his ivory the goods he wanted. This is thoroughly African; and that continent being without friths and arms of the sea, the tribes in the centre have always been debarred from European intercourse by its universal prevalence among all the people around the coasts.
Before setting out on our third journey to Sebituane, it was necessary to visit Kuruman; and Sechele, eager, for the sake of the commission thereon, to get the ivory of that chief into his own hands, allowed all the messengers to leave before our return. Sekomi, however, was more than usually gracious, and even furnished us with a guide, but no one knew the path beyond Nchokotsa which we intended to follow. When we reached that point, we found that the main spring of the gun of another of his men, who was well acquainted with the Bushmen, through whose country we should pass, had opportunely broken. I never undertook to mend a gun with greater zest than this; for, under promise of his guidance, we went to the north instead of westward. All the other guides were most liberally rewarded by Mr. Oswell.
We passed quickly over a hard country, which is perfectly flat. A little soil lying on calcareous tufa, over a tract of several hundreds of miles, supports a vegetation of fine sweet short grass, and mopane and baobab trees. On several parts of this we found large salt-pans, one of which, Ntwetwe, is fifteen miles broad and one hundred long. The latitude might have been taken on its horizon as well as upon the sea.
Although these curious spots seem perfectly level, all those in this direction have a gentle slope to the northeast: thither the rain-water, which sometimes covers them, gently gravitates. This, it may be recollected, is the direction of the Zouga. The salt dissolved in the water has by this means all been transferred to one pan in that direction, named Chuantsa; on it we see a cake of salt and lime an inch and a half thick. All the others have an efflorescence of lime and one of the nitrates only, and some are covered thickly with shells. These shells are identical with those of the mollusca of Lake Ngami and the Zouga. There are three varieties, spiral, univalve, and bivalve.
In every salt-pan in the country there is a spring of water on one side. I can remember no exception to this rule. The water of these springs is brackish, and contains the nitrate of soda. In one instance there are two springs, and one more saltish than the other. If this supply came from beds of rock salt the water would not be drinkable, as it generally is, and in some instances, where the salt contained in the pan in which these springs appear has been removed by human agency, no fresh deposit occurs. It is therefore probable that these deposits of salt are the remains of the very slightly brackish lakes of antiquity, large portions of which must have been dried out in the general desiccation. We see an instance in Lake Ngami, which, when low, becomes brackish, and this view seems supported by the fact that the largest quantities of salt have been found in the deepest hollows or lowest valleys, which have no outlet or outgoing gorge; and a fountain, about thirty miles south of the Bamangwato — the temperature of which is upward of 100° — while strongly impregnated with pure salt, being on a flat part of the country, is accompanied by no deposit.
When these deposits occur in a flat tufaceous country like the present, a large space is devoid of vegetation, on account of the nitrates dissolving the tufa, and keeping it in a state unfavorable to the growth of plants.
We found a great number of wells in this tufa. A place called Matlomagan-yana, or the “Links”, is quite a chain of these never-failing springs. As they occasionally become full in seasons when no rain falls, and resemble somewhat in this respect the rivers we have already mentioned, it is probable they receive some water by percolation from the river system in the country beyond. Among these links we found many families of Bushmen; and, unlike those on the plains of the Kalahari, who are generally of short stature and light yellow color, these were tall, strapping fellows, of dark complexion. Heat alone does not produce blackness of skin, but heat with moisture seems to insure the deepest hue.
One of these Bushmen, named Shobo, consented to be our guide over the waste between these springs and the country of Sebituane. Shobo gave us no hope of water in less than a month. Providentially, however, we came sooner than we expected to some supplies of rain-water in a chain of pools. It is impossible to convey an idea of the dreary scene on which we entered after leaving this spot: the only vegetation was a low scrub in deep sand; not a bird or insect enlivened the landscape. It was, without exception, the most uninviting prospect I ever beheld; and, to make matters worse, our guide Shobo wandered on the second day. We coaxed him on at night, but he went to all points of the compass on the trails of elephants which had been here in the rainy season, and then would sit down in the path, and in his broken Sichuana say, “No water, all country only; Shobo sleeps; he breaks down; country only;” and then coolly curl himself up and go to sleep. The oxen were terribly fatigued and thirsty; and on the morning of the fourth day, Shobo, after professing ignorance of every thing, vanished altogether. We went on in the direction in which we last saw him, and about eleven o’clock began to see birds; then the trail of a rhinoceros. At this we unyoked the oxen, and they, apparently knowing the sign, rushed along to find the water in the River Mahabe, which comes from the Tamunak’le, and lay to the west of us. The supply of water in the wagons had been wasted by one of our servants, and by the afternoon only a small portion remained for the children. This was a bitterly anxious night; and next morning the less there was of water, the more thirsty the little rogues became. The idea of their perishing before our eyes was terrible. It would almost have been a relief to me to have been reproached with being the entire cause of the catastrophe; but not one syllable of upbraiding was uttered by their mother, though the tearful eye told the agony within. In the afternoon of the fifth day, to our inexpressible relief, some of the men returned with a supply of that fluid of which we had never before felt the true value.
The cattle, in rushing along to the water in the Mahabe, probably crossed a small patch of trees containing tsetse, an insect which was shortly to become a perfect pest to us. Shobo had found his way to the Bayeiye, and appeared, when we came up to the river, at the head of a party; and, as he wished to show his importance before his friends, he walked up boldly and commanded our whole cavalcade to stop, and to bring forth fire and tobacco, while he coolly sat down and smoked his pipe. It was such an inimitably natural way of showing off, that we all stopped to admire the acting, and, though he had left us previously in the lurch, we all liked Shobo, a fine specimen of that wonderful people, the Bushmen.
Next day we came to a village of Banajoa, a tribe which extends far to the eastward. They were living on the borders of a marsh in which the Mahabe terminates. They had lost their crop of corn (‘Holcus sorghum’), and now subsisted almost entirely on the root called “tsitla”, a kind of aroidoea, which contains a very large quantity of sweet-tasted starch. When dried, pounded into meal, and allowed to ferment, it forms a not unpleasant article of food. The women shave all the hair off their heads, and seem darker than the Bechuanas. Their huts were built on poles, and a fire is made beneath by night, in order that the smoke may drive away the mosquitoes, which abound on the Mababe and Tamunak’le more than in any other part of the country. The head man of this village, Majane, seemed a little wanting in ability, but had had wit enough to promote a younger member of the family to the office. This person, the most like the ugly negro of the tobacconists’ shops I ever saw, was called Moroa Majane, or son of Majane, and proved an active guide across the River Sonta, and to the banks of the Chobe, in the country of Sebituane. We had come through another tsetse district by night, and at once passed our cattle over to the northern bank to preserve them from its ravages.
A few remarks on the Tsetse, or ‘Glossina morsitans’, may here be appropriate. It is not much larger than the common house-fly, and is nearly of the same brown color as the common honey-bee; the after part of the body has three or four yellow bars across it; the wings project beyond this part considerably, and it is remarkably alert, avoiding most dexterously all attempts to capture it with the hand at common temperatures; in the cool of the mornings and evenings it is less agile. Its peculiar buzz when once heard can never be forgotten by the traveler whose means of locomotion are domestic animals; for it is well known that the bite of this poisonous insect is certain death to the ox, horse, and dog. In this journey, though we were not aware of any great number having at any time lighted on our cattle, we lost forty-three fine oxen by its bite. We watched the animals carefully, and believe that not a score of flies were ever upon them.
A most remarkable feature in the bite of the tsetse is its perfect harmlessness in man and wild animals, and even calves, so long as they continue to suck the cows. We never experienced the slightest injury from them ourselves, personally, although we lived two months in their HABITAT, which was in this case as sharply defined as in many others, for the south bank of the Chobe was infested by them, and the northern bank, where our cattle were placed, only fifty yards distant, contained not a single specimen. This was the more remarkable, as we often saw natives carrying over raw meat to the opposite bank with many tsetse settled upon it.
The poison does not seem to be injected by a sting, or by ova placed beneath the skin; for, when one is allowed to feed freely on the hand, it is seen to insert the middle prong of three portions, into which the proboscis divides, somewhat deeply into the true skin; it then draws it out a little way, and it assumes a crimson color as the mandibles come into brisk operation. The previously shrunken belly swells out, and, if left undisturbed, the fly quietly departs when it is full. A slight itching irritation follows, but not more than in the bite of a mosquito. In the ox this same bite produces no more immediate effects than in man. It does not startle him as the gad-fly does; but a few days afterward the following symptoms supervene: the eye and nose begin to run, the coat stares as if the animal were cold, a swelling appears under the jaw, and sometimes at the navel; and, though the animal continues to graze, emaciation commences, accompanied with a peculiar flaccidity of the muscles, and this proceeds unchecked until, perhaps months afterward, purging comes on, and the animal, no longer able to graze, perishes in a state of extreme exhaustion. Those which are in good condition often perish soon after the bite is inflicted with staggering and blindness, as if the brain were affected by it. Sudden changes of temperature produced by falls of rain seem to hasten the progress of the complaint; but, in general, the emaciation goes on uninterruptedly for months, and, do what we will, the poor animals perish miserably.
When opened, the cellular tissue on the surface of the body beneath the skin is seen to be injected with air, as if a quantity of soap-bubbles were scattered over it, or a dishonest, awkward butcher had been trying to make it look fat. The fat is of a greenish-yellow color and of an oily consistence. All the muscles are flabby, and the heart often so soft that the fingers may be made to meet through it. The lungs and liver partake of the disease. The stomach and bowels are pale and empty, and the gall-bladder is distended with bile.
These symptoms seem to indicate what is probably the case, a poison in the blood, the germ of which enters when the proboscis is inserted to draw blood. The poison-germ, contained in a bulb at the root of the proboscis, seems capable, although very minute in quantity, of reproducing itself, for the blood after death by tsetse is very small in quantity, and scarcely stains the hands in dissection. I shall have by-and-by to mention another insect, which by the same operation produces in the human subject both vomiting and purging.
The mule, ass, and goat enjoy the same immunity from the tsetse as man and the game. Many large tribes on the Zambesi can keep no domestic animals except the goat, in consequence of the scourge existing in their country. Our children were frequently bitten, yet suffered no harm; and we saw around us numbers of zebras, buffaloes, pigs, pallahs and other antelopes, feeding quietly in the very habitat of the tsetse, yet as undisturbed by its bite as oxen are when they first receive the fatal poison. There is not so much difference in the natures of the horse and zebra, the buffalo and ox, the sheep and antelope, as to afford any satisfactory explanation of the phenomenon. Is a man not as much a domestic animal as a dog? The curious feature in the case, that dogs perish though fed on milk, whereas the calves escape so long as they continue sucking, made us imagine that the mischief might be produced by some plant in the locality, and not by tsetse; but Major Vardon, of the Madras Army, settled that point by riding a horse up to a small hill infested by the insect without allowing him time to graze, and, though he only remained long enough to take a view of the country and catch some specimens of tsetse on the animal, in ten days afterward the horse was dead.
The well-known disgust which the tsetse shows to animal excreta, as exhibited when a village is placed in its habitat, has been observed and turned to account by some of the doctors. They mix droppings of animals, human milk, and some medicines together, and smear the animals that are about to pass through a tsetse district; but this, though it proves a preventive at the time, is not permanent. There is no cure yet known for the disease. A careless herdsman allowing a large number of cattle to wander into a tsetse district loses all except the calves; and Sebituane once lost nearly the entire cattle of his tribe, very many thousands, by unwittingly coming under its influence. Inoculation does not insure immunity, as animals which have been slightly bitten in one year may perish by a greater number of bites in the next; but it is probable that with the increase of guns the game will perish, as has happened in the south, and the tsetse, deprived of food, may become extinct simultaneously with the larger animals.
The Makololo whom we met on the Chobe were delighted to see us; and as their chief Sebituane was about twenty miles down the river, Mr. Oswell and I proceeded in canoes to his temporary residence. He had come from the Barotse town of Naliele down to Sesheke as soon as he heard of white men being in search of him, and now came one hundred miles more to bid us welcome into his country. He was upon an island, with all his principal men around him, and engaged in singing when we arrived. It was more like church music than the sing-song ee ee ee, ae ae ae, of the Bechuanas of the south, and they continued the tune for some seconds after we approached. We informed him of the difficulties we had encountered, and how glad we were that they were all at an end by at last reaching his presence. He signified his own joy, and added, “Your cattle are all bitten by the tsetse, and will certainly die; but never mind, I have oxen, and will give you as many as you need.” We, in our ignorance, then thought that as so few tsetse had bitten them no great mischief would follow. He then presented us with an ox and a jar of honey as food, and handed us over to the care of Mahale, who had headed the party to Kolobeng, and would now fain appropriate to himself the whole credit of our coming. Prepared skins of oxen, as soft as cloth, were given to cover us through the night; and, as nothing could be returned to this chief, Mahale became the owner of them. Long before it was day Sebituane came, and sitting down by the fire, which was lighted for our benefit behind the hedge where we lay, he narrated the difficulties he had himself experienced, when a young man, in crossing that same desert which we had mastered long afterward. As he has been most remarkable in his career, and was unquestionably the greatest man in all that country, a short sketch of his life may prove interesting to the reader.
Sebituane was about forty-five years of age; of a tall and wiry form, an olive or coffee-and-milk color, and slightly bald; in manner cool and collected, and more frank in his answers than any other chief I ever met. He was the greatest warrior ever heard of beyond the colony; for, unlike Mosilikatse, Dingaan, and others, he always led his men into battle himself. When he saw the enemy, he felt the edge of his battle-axe, and said, “Aha! it is sharp, and whoever turns his back on the enemy will feel its edge.” So fleet of foot was he, that all his people knew there was no escape for the coward, as any such would be cut down without mercy. In some instances of skulking he allowed the individual to return home; then calling him, he would say, “Ah! you prefer dying at home to dying in the field, do you? You shall have your desire.” This was the signal for his immediate execution.
He came from the country near the sources of the Likwa and Namagari rivers in the south, so we met him eight hundred or nine hundred miles from his birth-place. He was not the son of a chief, though related closely to the reigning family of the Basutu; and when, in an attack by Sikonyele, the tribe was driven out of one part, Sebituane was one in that immense horde of savages driven back by the Griquas from Kuruman in 1824.13 He then fled to the north with an insignificant party of men and cattle. At Melita the Bangwaketse collected the Bakwains, Bakatla, and Bahurutse, to “eat them up”. Placing his men in front, and the women behind the cattle, he routed the whole of his enemies at one blow. Having thus conquered Makabe, the chief of the Bangwaketse, he took immediate possession of his town and all his goods.
13 See an account of this affair in Moffat’s “Missionary Enterprise in Africa”.
Sebituane subsequently settled at the place called Litubaruba, where Sechele now dwells, and his people suffered severely in one of those unrecorded attacks by white men, in which murder is committed and materials laid up in the conscience for a future judgment.
A great variety of fortune followed him in the northern part of the Bechuana country; twice he lost all his cattle by the attacks of the Matabele, but always kept his people together, and retook more than he lost. He then crossed the Desert by nearly the same path that we did. He had captured a guide, and, as it was necessary to travel by night in order to reach water, the guide took advantage of this and gave him the slip. After marching till morning, and going as they thought right, they found themselves on the trail of the day before. Many of his cattle burst away from him in the phrensy of thirst, and rushed back to Serotli, then a large piece of water, and to Mashue and Lopepe, the habitations of their original owners. He stocked himself again among the Batletli, on Lake Kumadau, whose herds were of the large-horned species of cattle.14 Conquering all around the lake, he heard of white men living at the west coast; and, haunted by what seems to have been the dream of his whole life, a desire to have intercourse with the white man, he passed away to the southwest, into the parts opened up lately by Messrs. Galton and Andersson. There, suffering intensely from thirst, he and his party came to a small well. He decided that the men, not the cattle, should drink it, the former being of most value, as they could fight for more should these be lost. In the morning they found the cattle had escaped to the Damaras.
14 We found the Batauana in possession of this breed when we discovered Lake Ngami. One of these horns, brought to England by Major Vardon, will hold no less than twenty-one imperial pints of water; and a pair, brought by Mr. Oswell, and now in the possession of Colonel Steele, measures from tip to tip eight and a half feet.
Returning to the north poorer than he started, he ascended the Teoughe to the hill Sorila, and crossed over a swampy country to the eastward. Pursuing his course onward to the low-lying basin of the Leeambye, he saw that it presented no attraction to a pastoral tribe like his, so he moved down that river among the Bashubia and Batoka, who were then living in all their glory. His narrative resembled closely the “Commentaries of Caesar”, and the history of the British in India. He was always forced to attack the different tribes, and to this day his men justify every step he took as perfectly just and right. The Batoka lived on large islands in the Leeambye or Zambesi, and, feeling perfectly secure in their fastnesses, often allured fugitive or wandering tribes on to uninhabited islets on pretense of ferrying them across, and there left them to perish for the sake of their goods. Sekomi, the chief of the Bamangwato, was, when a child, in danger of meeting this fate; but a man still living had compassion on him, and enabled his mother to escape with him by night. The river is so large that the sharpest eye can not tell the difference between an island and the bend of the opposite bank; but Sebituane, with his usual foresight, requested the island chief who ferried him across to take his seat in the canoe with him, and detained him by his side till all his people and cattle were safely landed. The whole Batoka country was then densely peopled, and they had a curious taste for ornamenting their villages with the skulls of strangers. When Sebituane appeared near the great falls, an immense army collected to make trophies of the Makololo skulls; but, instead of succeeding in this, they gave him a good excuse for conquering them, and capturing so many cattle that his people were quite incapable of taking any note of the sheep and goats. He overran all the high lands toward the Kafue, and settled in what is called a pastoral country, of gently undulating plains, covered with short grass and but little forest. The Makololo have never lost their love for this fine, healthy region.
But the Matebele, a Caffre or Zulu tribe, under Mosilikatse, crossed the Zambesi, and, attacking Sebituane in this choice spot, captured his cattle and women. Rallying his men, he followed and recaptured the whole. A fresh attack was also repulsed, and Sebituane thought of going farther down the Zambesi, to the country of the white men. He had an idea, whence imbibed I never could learn, that if he had a cannon he might live in peace. He had led a life of war, yet no one apparently desired peace more than he did. A prophet induced him to turn his face again to the westward. This man, by name Tlapane, was called a “senoga” — one who holds intercourse with the gods. He probably had a touch of insanity, for he was in the habit of retiring no one knew whither, but perhaps into some cave, to remain in a hypnotic or mesmeric state until the moon was full. Then, returning to the tribe quite emaciated, he excited himself, as others do who pretend to the prophetic AFFLATUS, until he was in a state of ecstasy. These pretended prophets commence their operations by violent action of the voluntary muscles. Stamping, leaping, and shouting in a peculiarly violent manner, or beating the ground with a club, they induce a kind of fit, and while in it pretend that their utterances are unknown to themselves. Tlapane, pointing eastward, said, “There, Sebituane, I behold a fire: shun it; it is a fire which may scorch thee. The gods say, go not thither.” Then, turning to the west, he said, “I see a city and a nation of black men — men of the water; their cattle are red; thine own tribe, Sebituane, is perishing, and will be all consumed; thou wilt govern black men, and, when thy warriors have captured red cattle, let not the owners be killed; they are thy future tribe — they are thy city; let them be spared to cause thee to build. And thou, Ramosinii, thy village will perish utterly. If Mokari removes from that village he will perish first, and thou, Ramosinii, wilt be the last to die.” Concerning himself he added, “The gods have caused other men to drink water, but to me they have given bitter water of the chukuru (rhinoceros). They call me away myself. I can not stay much longer.”
This vaticination, which loses much in the translation, I have given rather fully, as it shows an observant mind. The policy recommended was wise, and the deaths of the “senoga” and of the two men he had named, added to the destruction of their village, having all happened soon after, it is not wonderful that Sebituane followed implicitly the warning voice. The fire pointed to was evidently the Portuguese fire-arms, of which he must have heard. The black men referred to were the Barotse, or, as they term themselves, Baloiana; and Sebituane spared their chiefs, even though they attacked him first. He had ascended the Barotse valley, but was pursued by the Matebele, as Mosilikatse never could forgive his former defeats. They came up the river in a very large body. Sebituane placed some goats on one of the large islands of the Zambesi as a bait to the warriors, and some men in canoes to co-operate in the manoeuvre. When they were all ferried over to the island, the canoes were removed, and the Matebele found themselves completely in a trap, being perfectly unable to swim. They subsisted for some time on the roots of grass after the goats were eaten, but gradually became so emaciated that, when the Makololo landed, they had only to perform the part of executioners on the adults, and to adopt the rest into their own tribe. Afterward Mosilikatse was goaded on by his warriors to revenge this loss; so he sent an immense army, carrying canoes with them, in order that no such mishap might occur again. Sebituane had by this time incorporated the Barotse, and taught his young men to manage canoes; so he went from island to island, and watched the Matebele on the main land so closely that they could not use their canoes to cross the river any where without parting their forces. At last all the Makololo and their cattle were collected on the island of Loyelo, and lay all around, keeping watch night and day over the enemy. After some time spent in this way, Sebituane went in a canoe toward them, and, addressing them by an interpreter, asked why they wished to kill him; he had never attacked them, never harmed their chief: “Au!” he continued, “the guilt is on your side.” The Matebele made no reply; but the Makololo next day saw the canoes they had carried so far lying smashed, and the owners gone. They returned toward their own country, and fever, famine, and the Batoka completed their destruction; only five men returned to Mosilikatse.
Sebituane had now not only conquered all the black tribes over an immense tract of country, but had made himself dreaded even by the terrible Mosilikatse. He never could trust this ferocious chief, however; and, as the Batoka on the islands had been guilty of ferrying his enemies across the Zambesi, he made a rapid descent upon them, and swept them all out of their island fastnesses. He thus unwittingly performed a good service to the country by completely breaking down the old system which prevented trade from penetrating into the great central valley. Of the chiefs who escaped, he said, “They love Mosilikatse, let them live with him: the Zambesi is my line of defense;” and men were placed all along it as sentinels. When he heard of our wish to visit him, he did all he could to assist our approach. Sechele, Sekomi, and Lechulatebe owed their lives to his clemency; and the latter might have paid dearly for his obstructiveness. Sebituane knew every thing that happened in the country, for he had the art of gaining the affections both of his own people and of strangers. When a party of poor men came to his town to sell their hoes or skins, no matter how ungainly they might be, he soon knew them all. A company of these indigent strangers, sitting far apart from the Makololo gentlemen around the chief, would be surprised to see him come alone to them, and, sitting down, inquire if they were hungry. He would order an attendant to bring meal, milk, and honey, and, mixing them in their sight, in order to remove any suspicion from their minds, make them feast, perhaps for the first time in their lives, on a lordly dish. Delighted beyond measure with his affability and liberality, they felt their hearts warm toward him, and gave him all the information in their power; and as he never allowed a party of strangers to go away without giving every one of them, servants and all, a present, his praises were sounded far and wide. “He has a heart! he is wise!” were the usual expressions we heard before we saw him.
He was much pleased with the proof of confidence we had shown in bringing our children, and promised to take us to see his country, so that we might choose a part in which to locate ourselves. Our plan was, that I should remain in the pursuit of my objects as a missionary, while Mr. Oswell explored the Zambesi to the east. Poor Sebituane, however, just after realizing what he had so long ardently desired, fell sick of inflammation of the lungs, which originated in and extended from an old wound got at Melita. I saw his danger, but, being a stranger, I feared to treat him medically, lest, in the event of his death, I should be blamed by his people. I mentioned this to one of his doctors, who said, “Your fear is prudent and wise; this people would blame you.” He had been cured of this complaint, during the year before, by the Barotse making a large number of free incisions in the chest. The Makololo doctors, on the other hand, now scarcely cut the skin. On the Sunday afternoon in which he died, when our usual religious service was over, I visited him with my little boy Robert. “Come near,” said Sebituane, “and see if I am any longer a man. I am done.” He was thus sensible of the dangerous nature of his disease, so I ventured to assent, and added a single sentence regarding hope after death. “Why do you speak of death?” said one of a relay of fresh doctors; “Sebituane will never die.” If I had persisted, the impression would have been produced that by speaking about it I wished him to die. After sitting with him some time, and commending him to the mercy of God, I rose to depart, when the dying chieftain, raising himself up a little from his prone position, called a servant, and said, “Take Robert to Maunku (one of his wives), and tell her to give him some milk.” These were the last words of Sebituane.
We were not informed of his death until the next day. The burial of a Bechuana chief takes place in his cattle-pen, and all the cattle are driven for an hour or two around and over the grave, so that it may be quite obliterated. We went and spoke to the people, advising them to keep together and support the heir. They took this kindly; and in turn told us not to be alarmed, for they would not think of ascribing the death of their chief to us; that Sebituane had just gone the way of his fathers; and though the father had gone, he had left children, and they hoped that we would be as friendly to his children as we intended to have been to himself.
He was decidedly the best specimen of a native chief I ever met. I never felt so much grieved by the loss of a black man before; and it was impossible not to follow him in thought into the world of which he had just heard before he was called away, and to realize somewhat of the feelings of those who pray for the dead. The deep, dark question of what is to become of such as he, must, however, be left where we find it, believing that, assuredly, the “Judge of all the earth will do right.”
At Sebituane’s death the chieftainship devolved, as her father intended, on a daughter named Ma-mochisane. He had promised to show us his country and to select a suitable locality for our residence. We had now to look to the daughter, who was living twelve days to the north, at Naliele. We were obliged, therefore, to remain until a message came from her; and when it did, she gave us perfect liberty to visit any part of the country we chose. Mr. Oswell and I then proceeded one hundred and thirty miles to the northeast, to Sesheke; and in the end of June, 1851, we were rewarded by the discovery of the Zambesi, in the centre of the continent. This was a most important point, for that river was not previously known to exist there at all. The Portuguese maps all represent it as rising far to the east of where we now were; and if ever any thing like a chain of trading stations had existed across the country between the latitudes 12° and 18° south, this magnificent portion of the river must have been known before. We saw it at the end of the dry season, at the time when the river is about at its lowest, and yet there was a breadth of from three hundred to six hundred yards of deep flowing water. Mr. Oswell said he had never seen such a fine river, even in India. At the period of its annual inundation it rises fully twenty feet in perpendicular height, and floods fifteen or twenty miles of lands adjacent to its banks.
The country over which we had traveled from the Chobe was perfectly flat, except where there were large ant-hills, or the remains of former ones, which had left mounds a few feet high. These are generally covered with wild date-trees and palmyras, and in some parts there are forests of mimosae and mopane. Occasionally the country between the Chobe and Zambesi is flooded, and there are large patches of swamps lying near the Chobe or on its banks. The Makololo were living among these swamps for the sake of the protection the deep reedy rivers afforded them against their enemies.
Now, in reference to a suitable locality for a settlement for myself, I could not conscientiously ask them to abandon their defenses for my convenience alone. The healthy districts were defenseless, and the safe localities were so deleterious to human life, that the original Basutos had nearly all been cut off by the fever; I therefore feared to subject my family to the scourge.
As we were the very first white men the inhabitants had ever seen, we were visited by prodigious numbers. Among the first who came to see us was a gentleman who appeared in a gaudy dressing-gown of printed calico. Many of the Makololo, besides, had garments of blue, green, and red baize, and also of printed cottons; on inquiry, we learned that these had been purchased, in exchange for boys, from a tribe called Mambari, which is situated near Bihe. This tribe began the slave-trade with Sebituane only in 1850, and but for the unwillingness of Lechulatebe to allow us to pass, we should have been with Sebituane in time to have prevented it from commencing at all. The Mambari visited in ancient times the chief of the Barotse, whom Sebituane conquered, and he refused to allow any one to sell a child. They never came back again till 1850; and as they had a number of old Portuguese guns marked “Legitimo de Braga”, which Sebituane thought would be excellent in any future invasion of Matebele, he offered to purchase them with cattle or ivory, but the Mambari refused every thing except boys about fourteen years of age. The Makololo declare they never heard of people being bought and sold till then, and disliked it, but the desire to possess the guns prevailed, and eight old guns were exchanged for as many boys; these were not their own children, but captives of the black races they had conquered. I have never known in Africa an instance of a parent selling his own offspring. The Makololo were afterward incited to make a foray against some tribes to the eastward; the Mambari bargaining to use their guns in the attack for the captives they might take, and the Makololo were to have all the cattle. They went off with at least two hundred slaves that year. During this foray the Makololo met some Arabs from Zanzibar, who presented them with three English muskets, and in return received about thirty of their captives.
In talking with my companions over these matters, the idea was suggested that, if the slave-market were supplied with articles of European manufacture by legitimate commerce, the trade in slaves would become impossible. It seemed more feasible to give the goods, for which the people now part with their servants, in exchange for ivory and other products of the country, and thus prevent the trade at the beginning, than to try to put a stop to it at any of the subsequent steps. This could only be effected by establishing a highway from the coast into the centre of the country.
As there was no hope of the Boers allowing the peaceable instruction of the natives at Kolobeng, I at once resolved to save my family from exposure to this unhealthy region by sending them to England, and to return alone, with a view to exploring the country in search of a healthy district that might prove a centre of civilization, and open up the interior by a path to either the east or west coast. This resolution led me down to the Cape in April, 1852, being the first time during eleven years that I had visited the scenes of civilization. Our route to Cape Town led us to pass through the centre of the colony during the twentieth month of a Caffre war; and if those who periodically pay enormous sums for these inglorious affairs wish to know how our little unprotected party could quietly travel through the heart of the colony to the capital with as little sense or sign of danger as if we had been in England, they must engage a “‘Times’ Special Correspondent” for the next outbreak to explain where the money goes, and who have been benefited by the blood and treasure expended.
Having placed my family on board a homeward-bound ship, and promised to rejoin them in two years, we parted, for, as it subsequently proved, nearly five years. The Directors of the London Missionary Society signified their cordial approval of my project by leaving the matter entirely to my own discretion; and I have much pleasure in acknowledging my obligations to the gentlemen composing that body for always acting in an enlightened spirit, and with as much liberality as their constitution would allow.
I have the like pleasure in confessing my thankfulness to the Astronomer Royal at the Cape, Thomas Maclear, Esq., for enabling me to recall the little astronomical knowledge which constant manual labor and the engrossing nature of missionary duties had effaced from my memory, and in adding much that I did not know before. The promise he made on parting, that he would examine and correct all my observations, had more effect in making me persevere in overcoming the difficulties of an unassisted solitary observer than any thing else; so whatever credit may be attached to the geographical positions laid down in my route must be attributed to the voluntary aid of the excellent and laborious astronomer of the Cape observatory.
Having given the reader as rapid a sketch as possible of events which attracted notice between 1840 and 1852, I now proceed to narrate the incidents of the last and longest journey of all, performed in 1852–6.
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