Effects of Missionary Efforts — Belief in the Deity — Ideas of the Bakwains on Religion — Departure from their Country — Salt-pans — Sour Curd — Nchokotsa — Bitter Waters — Thirst suffered by the wild Animals — Wanton Cruelty in Hunting — Ntwetwe — Mowana-trees — Their extraordinary Vitality — The Mopane-tree — The Morala — The Bushmen — Their Superstitions — Elephant-hunting — Superiority of civilized over barbarous Sportsmen — The Chief Kaisa — His Fear of Responsibility — Beauty of the Country at Unku — The Mohonono Bush — Severe Labor in cutting our Way — Party seized with Fever — Escape of our Cattle — Bakwain Mode of recapturing them — Vagaries of sick Servants — Discovery of grape-bearing Vines — An Ant-eater — Difficulty of passing through the Forest — Sickness of my Companion — The Bushmen — Their Mode of destroying Lions — Poisons — The solitary Hill — A picturesque Valley — Beauty of the Country — Arrive at the Sanshureh River — The flooded Prairies — A pontooning Expedition — A night Bivouac — The Chobe — Arrive at the Village of Moremi — Surprise of the Makololo at our sudden Appearance — Cross the Chobe on our way to Linyanti.
The Bakalahari, who live at Motlatsa wells, have always been very friendly to us, and listen attentively to instruction conveyed to them in their own tongue. It is, however, difficult to give an idea to a European of the little effect teaching produces, because no one can realize the degradation to which their minds have been sunk by centuries of barbarism and hard struggling for the necessaries of life: like most others, they listen with respect and attention, but, when we kneel down and address an unseen Being, the position and the act often appear to them so ridiculous that they can not refrain from bursting into uncontrollable laughter. After a few services they get over this tendency. I was once present when a missionary attempted to sing among a wild heathen tribe of Bechuanas, who had no music in their composition; the effect on the risible faculties of the audience was such that the tears actually ran down their cheeks. Nearly all their thoughts are directed to the supply of their bodily wants, and this has been the case with the race for ages. If asked, then, what effect the preaching of the Gospel has at the commencement on such individuals, I am unable to tell, except that some have confessed long afterward that they then first began to pray in secret. Of the effects of a long-continued course of instruction there can be no reasonable doubt, as mere nominal belief has never been considered sufficient proof of conversion by any body of missionaries; and, after the change which has been brought about by this agency, we have good reason to hope well for the future — those I have myself witnessed behaving in the manner described, when kindly treated in sickness often utter imploring words to Jesus, and I believe sometimes really do pray to him in their afflictions. As that great Redeemer of the guilty seeks to save all he can, we may hope that they find mercy through His blood, though little able to appreciate the sacrifice He made. The indirect and scarcely appreciable blessings of Christian missionaries going about doing good are thus probably not so despicable as some might imagine; there is no necessity for beginning to tell even the most degraded of these people of the existence of a God or of a future state, the facts being universally admitted. Every thing that can not be accounted for by common causes is ascribed to the Deity, as creation, sudden death, etc. “How curiously God made these things!” is a common expression; as is also, “He was not killed by disease, he was killed by God.” And, when speaking of the departed — though there is naught in the physical appearance of the dead to justify the expression — they say, “He has gone to the gods,” the phrase being identical with “abiit ad plures”.
On questioning intelligent men among the Bakwains as to their former knowledge of good and evil, of God and the future state, they have scouted the idea of any of them ever having been without a tolerably clear conception on all these subjects. Respecting their sense of right and wrong, they profess that nothing we indicate as sin ever appeared to them as otherwise, except the statement that it was wrong to have more wives than one; and they declare that they spoke in the same way of the direct influence exercised by God in giving rain in answer to prayers of the rain-makers, and in granting deliverances in times of danger, as they do now, before they ever heard of white men. The want, however, of any form of public worship, or of idols, or of formal prayers or sacrifice, make both Caffres and Bechuanas appear as among the most godless races of mortals known any where. But, though they all possess a distinct knowledge of a deity and of a future state, they show so little reverence, and feel so little connection with either, that it is not surprising that some have supposed them entirely ignorant on the subject. At Lotlakani we met an old Bushman who at first seemed to have no conception of morality whatever; when his heart was warmed by our presents of meat, he sat by the fire relating his early adventures: among these was killing five other Bushmen. “Two,” said he, counting on his fingers, “were females, one a male, and the other two calves.” “What a villain you are, to boast of killing women and children of your own nation! what will God say when you appear before him?” “He will say,” replied he, “that I was a very clever fellow.” This man now appeared to me as without any conscience, and, of course, responsibility; but, on trying to enlighten him by further conversation, I discovered that, though he was employing the word that is used among the Bakwains when speaking of the Deity, he had only the idea of a chief, and was all the while referring to Sekomi, while his victims were a party of rebel Bushmen against whom he had been sent. If I had known the name of God in the Bushman tongue the mistake could scarcely have occurred. It must, however, be recollected, while reflecting on the degradation of the natives of South Africa, that the farther north, the more distinct do the native ideas on religious subjects become, and I have not had any intercourse with either Caffres or Bushmen in their own tongues.
Leaving Motlatsa on the 8th of February, 1853, we passed down the Mokoko, which, in the memory of persons now living, was a flowing stream. We ourselves once saw a heavy thunder-shower make it assume its ancient appearance of running to the north. Between Lotlakani and Nchokotsa we passed the small well named Orapa; and another called Thutsa lay a little to our right — its water is salt and purgative; the salt-pan Chuantsa, having a cake of salt one inch and a half in thickness, is about ten miles to the northeast of Orapa. This deposit contains a bitter salt in addition, probably the nitrate of lime; the natives, in order to render it palatable and wholesome, mix the salt with the juice of a gummy plant, then place it in the sand and bake it by making a fire over it; the lime then becomes insoluble and tasteless.
The Bamangwato keep large flocks of sheep and goats at various spots on this side of the Desert. They thrive wonderfully well wherever salt and bushes are to be found. The milk of goats does not coagulate with facility, like that of cows, on account of its richness; but the natives have discovered that the infusion of the fruit of a solanaceous plant, Toluane, quickly produces the effect. The Bechuanas put their milk into sacks made of untanned hide, with the hair taken off. Hung in the sun, it soon coagulates; the whey is then drawn off by a plug at the bottom, and fresh milk added, until the sack is full of a thick, sour curd, which, when one becomes used to it, is delicious. The rich mix this in the porridge into which they convert their meal, and, as it is thus rendered nutritious and strength-giving, an expression of scorn is sometimes heard respecting the poor or weak, to the effect that “they are water-porridge men.” It occupies the place of our roast beef.
At Nchokotsa, the rainy season having this year been delayed beyond the usual time, we found during the day the thermometer stand at 96° in the coolest possible shade. This height at Kolobeng always portended rain at hand. At Kuruman, when it rises above 84°, the same phenomenon may be considered near; while farther north it rises above 100° before the cooling influence of the evaporation from rain may be expected. Here the bulb of the thermometer, placed two inches beneath the soil, stood at 128° All around Nchokotsa the country looked parched, and the glare from the white efflorescence which covers the extensive pans on all sides was most distressing to the eyes. The water of Nchokotsa was bitter, and presented indications not to be mistaken of having passed through animal systems before. All these waters contain nitrates, which stimulate the kidneys and increase the thirst. The fresh additions of water required in cooking meat, each imparting its own portion of salt, make one grumble at the cook for putting too much seasoning in, while in fact he has put in none at all, except that contained in the water. Of bitter, bad, disgusting waters I have drunk not a few nauseous draughts; you may try alum, vitriol, boiling, etc., etc., to convince yourself that you are not more stupid than travelers you will meet at home, but the ammonia and other salts are there still; and the only remedy is to get away as quickly as possible to the north.
We dug out several wells; and as we had on each occasion to wait till the water flowed in again, and then allow our cattle to feed a day or two and slake their thirst thoroughly, as far as that could be done, before starting, our progress was but slow. At Koobe there was such a mass of mud in the pond, worked up by the wallowing rhinoceros to the consistency of mortar, that only by great labor could we get a space cleared at one side for the water to ooze through and collect in for the oxen. Should the rhinoceros come back, a single roll in the great mass we had thrown on one side would have rendered all our labor vain. It was therefore necessary for us to guard the spot at night. On these great flats all around we saw in the white sultry glare herds of zebras, gnus, and occasionally buffaloes, standing for days, looking wistfully toward the wells for a share of the nasty water. It is mere wanton cruelty to take advantage of the necessities of these poor animals, and shoot them down one after another, without intending to make the smallest use of either the flesh, skins, or horns. In shooting by night, animals are more frequently wounded than killed; the flowing life-stream increases the thirst, so that in desperation they come slowly up to drink in spite of the danger, “I must drink, though I die.” The ostrich, even when not wounded, can not, with all his wariness, resist the excessive desire to slake his burning thirst. It is Bushman-like practice to take advantage of its piteous necessities, for most of the feathers they obtain are procured in this way; but they eat the flesh, and are so far justifiable.
I could not order my men to do what I would not do myself, but, though I tried to justify myself on the plea of necessity, I could not adopt this mode of hunting. If your object is to secure the best specimens for a museum, it may be allowable, and even deserving of commendation, as evincing a desire to kill only those really wanted; but if, as has been practiced by some Griquas and others who came into the country after Mr. Cumming, and fired away indiscriminately, great numbers of animals are wounded and allowed to perish miserably, or are killed on the spot and left to be preyed on by vultures and hyenas, and all for the sole purpose of making a “bag”, then I take it to be evident that such sportsmen are pretty far gone in the hunting form of insanity.
My men shot a black rhinoceros in this way, and I felt glad to get away from the only place in which I ever had any share in night-hunting. We passed over the immense pan Ntwetwe, on which the latitude could be taken as at sea. Great tracts of this part of the country are of calcareous tufa, with only a thin coating of soil; numbers of “baobab” and “mopane” trees abound all over this hard, smooth surface. About two miles beyond the northern bank of the pan we unyoked under a fine specimen of the baobab, here called, in the language of Bechuanas, Mowana; it consisted of six branches united into one trunk. At three feet from the ground it was eighty-five feet in circumference.
These mowana-trees are the most wonderful examples of vitality in the country; it was therefore with surprise that we came upon a dead one at Tlomtla, a few miles beyond this spot. It is the same as those which Adamson and others believed, from specimens seen in Western Africa, to have been alive before the flood. Arguing with a peculiar mental idiosyncracy resembling color-blindness, common among the French of the time, these savans came to the conclusion that “therefore there never was any flood at all.” I would back a true mowana against a dozen floods, provided you do not boil it in hot sea-water; but I can not believe that any of those now alive had a chance of being subjected to the experiment of even the Noachian deluge. The natives make a strong cord from the fibres contained in the pounded bark. The whole of the trunk, as high as they can reach, is consequently often quite denuded of its covering, which in the case of almost any other tree would cause its death, but this has no effect on the mowana except to make it throw out a new bark, which is done in the way of granulation. This stripping of the bark is repeated frequently, so that it is common to see the lower five or six feet an inch or two less in diameter than the parts above; even portions of the bark which have broken in the process of being taken off, but remain separated from the parts below, though still connected with the tree above, continue to grow, and resemble closely marks made in the necks of the cattle of the island of Mull and of Caffre oxen, where a piece of skin is detached and allowed to hang down. No external injury, not even a fire, can destroy this tree from without; nor can any injury be done from within, as it is quite common to find it hollow; and I have seen one in which twenty or thirty men could lie down and sleep as in a hut. Nor does cutting down exterminate it, for I saw instances in Angola in which it continued to grow in length after it was lying on the ground. Those trees called exogenous grow by means of successive layers on the outside. The inside may be dead, or even removed altogether, without affecting the life of the tree. This is the case with most of the trees of our climate. The other class is called endogenous, and increases by layers applied to the inside; and when the hollow there is full, the growth is stopped — the tree must die. Any injury is felt most severely by the first class on the bark; by the second on the inside; while the inside of the exogenous may be removed, and the outside of the endogenous may be cut, without stopping the growth in the least. The mowana possesses the powers of both. The reason is that each of the laminae possesses its own independent vitality; in fact, the baobab is rather a gigantic bulb run up to seed than a tree. Each of eighty-four concentric rings had, in the case mentioned, grown an inch after the tree had been blown over. The roots, which may often be observed extending along the surface of the ground forty or fifty yards from the trunk, also retain their vitality after the tree is laid low; and the Portuguese now know that the best way to treat them is to let them alone, for they occupy much more room when cut down than when growing.
The wood is so spongy and soft that an axe can be struck in so far with a good blow that there is great difficulty in pulling it out again. In the dead mowana mentioned the concentric rings were well seen. The average for a foot at three different places was eighty-one and a half of these rings. Each of the laminae can be seen to be composed of two, three, or four layers of ligneous tubes; but supposing each ring the growth of one year, and the semidiameter of a mowana of one hundred feet in circumference about seventeen feet, if the central point were in the centre of the tree, then its age would lack some centuries of being as old as the Christian era (1400). Though it possesses amazing vitality, it is difficult to believe that this great baby-looking bulb or tree is as old as the Pyramids.
The mopane-tree (‘bauhinia’) is remarkable for the little shade its leaves afford. They fold together and stand nearly perpendicular during the heat of the day, so that only the shadow of their edges comes to the ground. On these leaves the small larvae of a winged insect appear covered over with a sweet, gummy substance. The people collect this in great quantities, and use it as food;22 and the lopane — large caterpillars three inches long, which feed on the leaves, and are seen strung together — share the same fate.
22 I am favored with Mr. Westwood’s remarks on this insect as follows:
“Taylor Institution, Oxford, July 9, 1857.
“The insect (and its secretion) on the leaves of the bauhinia, and which is eaten by the Africans, proves to be a species of Psylla, a genus of small, very active Homoptera, of which we have one very common species in the box; but our species, Psylla buxi, emits its secretion in the shape of very long, white, cotton-like filaments. But there is a species in New Holland, found on the leaves of the Eucalyptus, which emits a secretion very similar to that of Dr. Livingstone’s species. This Australian secretion (and its insect originator) is known by the name of wo-me-la, and, like Dr. Livingstone’s, it is scraped off the leaves and eaten by the aborigines as a saccharine dainty. The insects found beneath the secretion, brought home by Dr. Livingstone, are in the pupa state, being flattened, with large scales at the sides of the body, inclosing the future wings of the insect. The body is pale yellowish-colored, with dark-brown spots. It will be impossible to describe the species technically until we receive the perfect insect. The secretion itself is flat and circular, apparently deposited in concentric rings, gradually increasing in size till the patches are about a quarter or a third of an inch in diameter.
Jno. O. Westwood.”
In passing along we see every where the power of vegetation in breaking up the outer crust of tufa. A mopane-tree, growing in a small chink, as it increases in size rends and lifts up large fragments of the rock all around it, subjecting them to the disintegrating influence of the atmosphere. The wood is hard, and of a fine red color, and is named iron-wood by the Portuguese. The inhabitants, observing that the mopane is more frequently struck by lightning than other trees, caution travelers never to seek its shade when a thunder-storm is near — “Lightning hates it;” while another tree, the “Morala”, which has three spines opposite each other on the branches, and has never been known to be touched by lightning, is esteemed, even as far as Angola, a protection against the electric fluid. Branches of it may be seen placed on the houses of the Portuguese for the same purpose. The natives, moreover, believe that a man is thoroughly protected from an enraged elephant if he can get into the shade of this tree. There may not be much in this, but there is frequently some foundation of truth in their observations.
At Rapesh we came among our old friends the Bushmen, under Horoye. This man, Horoye, a good specimen of that tribe, and his son Mokantsa and others, were at least six feet high, and of a darker color than the Bushmen of the south. They have always plenty of food and water; and as they frequent the Zouga as often as the game in company with which they live, their life is very different from that of the inhabitants of the thirsty plains of the Kalahari. The animal they refrain from eating is the goat, which fact, taken in connection with the superstitious dread which exists in every tribe toward a particular animal, is significant of their feelings to the only animals they could have domesticated in their desert home. They are a merry laughing set, and do not tell lies wantonly. They have in their superstitious rites more appearance of worship than the Bechuanas; and at a Bushman’s grave we once came to on the Zouga, the observances showed distinctly that they regarded the dead as still in another state of being; for they addressed him, and requested him not to be offended even though they wished still to remain a little while longer in this world.
Those among whom we now were kill many elephants, and when the moon is full choose that time for the chase, on account of its coolness. Hunting this animal is the best test of courage this country affords. The Bushmen choose the moment succeeding a charge, when the elephant is out of breath, to run in and give him a stab with their long-bladed spears. In this case the uncivilized have the advantage over us, but I believe that with half their training Englishmen would beat the Bushmen. Our present form of civilization does not necessarily produce effeminacy, though it unquestionably increases the beauty, courage, and physical powers of the race. When at Kolobeng I took notes of the different numbers of elephants killed in the course of the season by the various parties which went past our dwelling, in order to form an idea of the probable annual destruction of this noble animal. There were parties of Griquas, Bechuanas, Boers, and Englishmen. All were eager to distinguish themselves, and success depended mainly on the courage which leads the huntsman to go close to the animal, and not waste the force of his shot on the air. It was noticeable that the average for the natives was under one per man, for the Griquas one per man, for the Boers two, and for the English officers twenty each. This was the more remarkable, as the Griquas, Boers, and Bechuanas employed both dogs and natives to assist them, while the English hunters generally had no assistance from either. They approached to within thirty yards of the animal, while the others stood at a distance of a hundred yards, or even more, and of course spent all the force of their bullets on the air. One elephant was found by Mr. Oswell with quite a crowd of bullets in his side, all evidently fired in this style, and they had not gone near the vital parts.
It would thus appear that our more barbarous neighbors do not possess half the courage of the civilized sportsman. And it is probable that in this respect, as well as in physical development, we are superior to our ancestors. The coats of mail and greaves of the Knights of Malta, and the armor from the Tower exhibited at the Eglinton tournament, may be considered decisive as to the greater size attained by modern civilized men.
At Maila we spent a Sunday with Kaisa, the head man of a village of Mashona, who had fled from the iron sway of Mosilikatse, whose country lies east of this. I wished him to take charge of a packet of letters for England, to be forwarded when, as is the custom of the Bamangwato, the Bechuanas come hither in search of skins and food among the Bushmen; but he could not be made to comprehend that there was no danger in the consignment. He feared the responsibility and guilt if any thing should happen to them; so I had to bid adieu to all hope of letting my family hear of my welfare till I should reach the west coast.
At Unku we came into a tract of country which had been visited by refreshing showers long before, and every spot was covered with grass run up to seed, and the flowers of the forest were in full bloom. Instead of the dreary prospect around Koobe and Nchokotsa, we had here a delightful scene, all the ponds full of water, and the birds twittering joyfully. As the game can now obtain water every where, they become very shy, and can not be found in their accustomed haunts.
1ST MARCH. The thermometer in the shade generally stood at 98° from 1 to 3 P.M., but it sank as low as 65° by night, so that the heat was by no means exhausting. At the surface of the ground, in the sun, the thermometer marked 125°, and three inches below it 138° The hand can not be held on the ground, and even the horny soles of the feet of the natives must be protected by sandals of hide; yet the ants were busy working on it. The water in the ponds was as high as 100°; but as water does not conduct heat readily downward, deliciously cool water may be obtained by any one walking into the middle and lifting up the water from the bottom to the surface with his hands.
Proceeding to the north, from Kama-kama, we entered into dense Mohonono bush, which required the constant application of the axe by three of our party for two days. This bush has fine silvery leaves, and the bark has a sweet taste. The elephant, with his usual delicacy of taste, feeds much on it. On emerging into the plains beyond, we found a number of Bushmen, who afterward proved very serviceable. The rains had been copious, but now great numbers of pools were drying up. Lotus-plants abounded in them, and a low, sweet-scented plant covered their banks. Breezes came occasionally to us from these drying-up pools, but the pleasant odor they carried caused sneezing in both myself and people; and on the 10th of March (when in lat. 19° 16’ 11” S., long. 24° 24’ E.) we were brought to a stand by four of the party being seized with fever. I had seen this disease before, but did not at once recognize it as the African fever; I imagined it was only a bilious attack, arising from full feeding on flesh, for, the large game having been very abundant, we always had a good supply; but instead of the first sufferers recovering soon, every man of our party was in a few days laid low, except a Bakwain and myself. He managed the oxen, while I attended to the wants of the patients, and went out occasionally with the Bushmen to get a zebra or buffalo, so as to induce them to remain with us.
Here for the first time I had leisure to follow the instructions of my kind teacher, Mr. Maclear, and calculated several longitudes from lunar distances. The hearty manner in which that eminent astronomer and frank, friendly man had promised to aid me in calculating and verifying my work, conduced more than any thing else to inspire me with perseverance in making astronomical observations throughout the journey.
The grass here was so tall that the oxen became uneasy, and one night the sight of a hyaena made them rush away into the forest to the east of us. On rising on the morning of the 19th, I found that my Bakwain lad had run away with them. This I have often seen with persons of this tribe, even when the cattle are startled by a lion. Away go the young men in company with them, and dash through bush and brake for miles, till they think the panic is a little subsided; they then commence whistling to the cattle in the manner they do when milking the cows: having calmed them, they remain as a guard till the morning. The men generally return with their shins well peeled by the thorns. Each comrade of the Mopato would expect his fellow to act thus, without looking for any other reward than the brief praise of the chief. Our lad, Kibopechoe, had gone after the oxen, but had lost them in the rush through the flat, trackless forest. He remained on their trail all the next day and all the next night. On Sunday morning, as I was setting off in search of him, I found him near the wagon. He had found the oxen late in the afternoon of Saturday, and had been obliged to stand by them all night. It was wonderful how he managed without a compass, and in such a country, to find his way home at all, bringing about forty oxen with him.
The Bechuanas will keep on the sick-list as long as they feel any weakness; so I at last began to be anxious that they should make a little exertion to get forward on our way. One of them, however, happening to move a hundred yards from the wagon, fell down, and, being unobserved, remained the whole night in the pouring rain totally insensible; another was subjected to frequent swooning; but, making beds in the wagons for these our worst cases, with the help of the Bakwain and the Bushmen, we moved slowly on. We had to nurse the sick like children; and, like children recovering from illness, the better they became the more impudent they grew. This was seen in the peremptory orders they would give with their now piping voices. Nothing that we did pleased them; and the laughter with which I received their ebullitions, though it was only the real expression of gladness at their recovery, and amusement at the ridiculous part they acted, only increased their chagrin. The want of power in the man who guided the two front oxen, or, as he was called, the “leader”, caused us to be entangled with trees, both standing and fallen, and the labor of cutting them down was even more severe than ordinary; but, notwithstanding an immense amount of toil, my health continued good.
We wished to avoid the tsetse of our former path, so kept a course on the magnetic meridian from Lurilopepe. The necessity of making a new path much increased our toil. We were, however, rewarded in lat. 18° with a sight we had not enjoyed the year before, namely, large patches of grape-bearing vines. There they stood before my eyes; but the sight was so entirely unexpected that I stood some time gazing at the clusters of grapes with which they were loaded, with no more thought of plucking than if I had been beholding them in a dream. The Bushmen know and eat them; but they are not well flavored on account of the great astringency of the seeds, which are in shape and size like split peas. The elephants are fond of the fruit, plant, and root alike. I here found an insect which preys on ants; it is about an inch and a quarter long, as thick as a crow-quill, and covered with black hair. It puts its head into a little hole in the ground, and quivers its tail rapidly; the ants come near to see it, and it snaps up each as he comes within the range of the forceps on its tail. As its head is beneath the ground, it becomes a question how it can guide its tail to the ants. It is probably a new species of ant-lion (‘Myrmeleon formicaleo’), great numbers of which, both in the larvae and complete state, are met with. The ground under every tree is dotted over with their ingenious pitfalls, and the perfect insect, the form of which most persons are familiar with in the dragon-fly, may be seen using its tail in the same active manner as this insect did. Two may be often seen joined in their flight, the one holding on by the tail-forceps to the neck of the other. On first observing this imperfect insect, I imagined the forceps were on its head; but when the insect moved, their true position was seen.
The forest, through which we were slowly toiling, daily became more dense, and we were kept almost constantly at work with the axe; there was much more leafiness in the trees here than farther south. The leaves are chiefly of the pinnate and bi-pinnate forms, and are exceedingly beautiful when seen against the sky; a great variety of the papilionaceous family grow in this part of the country.
Fleming had until this time always assisted to drive his own wagon, but about the end of March he knocked up, as well as his people. As I could not drive two wagons, I shared with him the remaining water, half a caskful, and went on, with the intention of coming back for him as soon as we should reach the next pool. Heavy rain now commenced; I was employed the whole day in cutting down trees, and every stroke of the axe brought down a thick shower on my back, which in the hard work was very refreshing, as the water found its way down into my shoes. In the evening we met some Bushmen, who volunteered to show us a pool; and having unyoked, I walked some miles in search of it. As it became dark they showed their politeness — a quality which is by no means confined entirely to the civilized — by walking in front, breaking the branches which hung across the path, and pointing out the fallen trees. On returning to the wagon, we found that being left alone had brought out some of Fleming’s energy, for he had managed to come up.
As the water in this pond dried up, we were soon obliged to move again. One of the Bushmen took out his dice, and, after throwing them, said that God told him to go home. He threw again in order to show me the command, but the opposite result followed; so he remained and was useful, for we lost the oxen again by a lion driving them off to a very great distance. The lions here are not often heard. They seem to have a wholesome dread of the Bushmen, who, when they observe evidence of a lion’s having made a full meal, follow up his spoor so quietly that his slumbers are not disturbed. One discharges a poisoned arrow from a distance of only a few feet, while his companion simultaneously throws his skin cloak on the beast’s head. The sudden surprise makes the lion lose his presence of mind, and he bounds away in the greatest confusion and terror. Our friends here showed me the poison which they use on these occasions. It is the entrails of a caterpillar called N’gwa, half an inch long. They squeeze out these, and place them all around the bottom of the barb, and allow the poison to dry in the sun. They are very careful in cleaning their nails after working with it, as a small portion introduced into a scratch acts like morbid matter in dissection wounds. The agony is so great that the person cuts himself, calls for his mother’s breast as if he were returned in idea to his childhood again, or flies from human habitations a raging maniac. The effects on the lion are equally terrible. He is heard moaning in distress, and becomes furious, biting the trees and ground in rage.
As the Bushmen have the reputation of curing the wounds of this poison, I asked how this was effected. They said that they administer the caterpillar itself in combination with fat; they also rub fat into the wound, saying that “the N’gwa wants fat, and, when it does not find it in the body, kills the man: we give it what it wants, and it is content:” a reason which will commend itself to the enlightened among ourselves.
The poison more generally employed is the milky juice of the tree Euphorbia (‘E. arborescens’). This is particularly obnoxious to the equine race. When a quantity is mixed with the water of a pond a whole herd of zebras will fall dead from the effects of the poison before they have moved away two miles. It does not, however, kill oxen or men. On them it acts as a drastic purgative only. This substance is used all over the country, though in some places the venom of serpents and a certain bulb, ‘Amaryllis toxicaria’, are added, in order to increase the virulence.
Father Pedro, a Jesuit, who lived at Zumbo, made a balsam, containing a number of plants and CASTOR OIL, as a remedy for poisoned arrow-wounds. It is probable that he derived his knowledge from the natives as I did, and that the reputed efficacy of the balsam is owing to its fatty constituent.
In cases of the bites of serpents a small key ought to be pressed down firmly on the wound, the orifice of the key being applied to the puncture, until a cupping-glass can be got from one of the natives. A watch-key pressed firmly on the point stung by a scorpion extracts the poison, and a mixture of fat or oil and ipecacuanha relieves the pain.
The Bushmen of these districts are generally fine, well-made men, and are nearly independent of every one. We observed them to be fond of a root somewhat like a kidney potato, and the kernel of a nut, which Fleming thought was a kind of betel; the tree is a fine, large-spreading one, and the leaves palmate. From the quantities of berries and the abundance of game in these parts, the Bushmen can scarcely ever be badly off for food. As I could, without much difficulty, keep them well supplied with meat, and wished them to remain, I proposed that they should bring their wives to get a share, but they remarked that the women could always take care of themselves.
None of the men of our party had died, but two seemed unlikely to recover; and Kibopechoe, my willing Mokwain, at last became troubled with boils, and then got all the symptoms of fever. As he lay down, the others began to move about, and complained of weakness only. Believing that frequent change of place was conducive to their recovery, we moved along as much as we could, and came to the hill N’gwa (lat. 18° 27’ 20” S., long. 24° 13’ 36” E.). This being the only hill we had seen since leaving Bamangwato, we felt inclined to take off our hats to it. It is three or four hundred feet high, and covered with trees. Its geographical position is pretty accurately laid down from occultation and other observations. I may mention that the valley on its northern side, named Kandehy or Kandehai, is as picturesque a spot as is to be seen in this part of Africa. The open glade, surrounded by forest trees of various hues, had a little stream meandering in the centre. A herd of reddish-colored antelopes (pallahs) stood on one side, near a large baobab, looking at us, and ready to run up the hill; while gnus, tsessebes, and zebras gazed in astonishment at the intruders. Some fed carelessly, and others put on the peculiar air of displeasure which these animals sometimes assume before they resolve on flight. A large white rhinoceros came along the bottom of the valley with his slow sauntering gait without noticing us; he looked as if he meant to indulge in a mud bath. Several buffaloes, with their dark visages, stood under the trees on the side opposite to the pallahs. It being Sunday, all was peace, and, from the circumstances in which our party was placed, we could not but reflect on that second stage of our existence which we hope will lead us into scenes of perfect beauty. If pardoned in that free way the Bible promises, death will be a glorious thing; but to be consigned to wait for the Judgment-day, with nothing else to ponder on but sins we would rather forget, is a cheerless prospect.
Our Bushmen wished to leave us, and, as there was no use in trying to thwart these independent gentlemen, I paid them, and allowed them to go. The payment, however, acted as a charm on some strangers who happened to be present, and induced them to volunteer their aid.
The game hereabouts is very tame. Koodoos and giraffes stood gazing at me as a strange apparition when I went out with the Bushmen. On one occasion a lion came at daybreak, and went round and round the oxen. I could only get a glimpse of him occasionally from the wagon-box; but, though barely thirty yards off, I could not get a shot. He then began to roar at the top of his voice; but the oxen continuing to stand still, he was so disgusted that he went off, and continued to use his voice for a long time in the distance. I could not see that he had a mane; if he had not, then even the maneless variety can use their tongues. We heard others also roar; and, when they found they could not frighten the oxen, they became equally angry. This we could observe in their tones.
As we went north the country became very lovely; many new trees appeared; the grass was green, and often higher than the wagons; the vines festooned the trees, among which appeared the real banian (‘Ficus Indica’), with its drop-shoots, and the wild date and palmyra, and several other trees which were new to me; the hollows contained large patches of water. Next came water-courses, now resembling small rivers, twenty yards broad and four feet deep. The further we went, the broader and deeper these became; their bottoms contained great numbers of deep holes, made by elephants wading in them; in these the oxen floundered desperately, so that our wagon-pole broke, compelling us to work up to the breast in water for three hours and a half; yet I suffered no harm.
We at last came to the Sanshureh, which presented an impassable barrier, so we drew up under a magnificent baobab-tree, (lat. 18° 4’ 27” S., long. 24° 6’ 20” E.), and resolved to explore the river for a ford. The great quantity of water we had passed through was part of the annual inundation of the Chobe; and this, which appeared a large, deep river, filled in many parts with reeds, and having hippopotami in it, is only one of the branches by which it sends its superabundant water to the southeast. From the hill N’gwa a ridge of higher land runs to the northeast, and bounds its course in that direction. We, being ignorant of this, were in the valley, and the only gap in the whole country destitute of tsetse. In company with the Bushmen I explored all the banks of the Sanshureh to the west till we came into tsetse on that side. We waded a long way among the reeds in water breast deep, but always found a broad, deep space free from vegetation and unfordable. A peculiar kind of lichen, which grows on the surface of the soil, becomes detached and floats on the water, giving out a very disagreeable odor, like sulphureted hydrogen, in some of these stagnant waters.
We made so many attempts to get over the Sanshureh, both to the west and east of the wagon, in the hope of reaching some of the Makololo on the Chobe, that my Bushmen friends became quite tired of the work. By means of presents I got them to remain some days; but at last they slipped away by night, and I was fain to take one of the strongest of my still weak companions and cross the river in a pontoon, the gift of Captains Codrington and Webb. We each carried some provisions and a blanket, and penetrated about twenty miles to the westward, in the hope of striking the Chobe. It was much nearer to us in a northerly direction, but this we did not then know. The plain, over which we splashed the whole of the first day, was covered with water ankle deep, and thick grass which reached above the knees. In the evening we came to an immense wall of reeds, six or eight feet high, without any opening admitting of a passage. When we tried to enter, the water always became so deep that we were fain to desist. We concluded that we had come to the banks of the river we were in search of, so we directed our course to some trees which appeared in the south, in order to get a bed and a view of the adjacent locality. Having shot a leche, and made a glorious fire, we got a good cup of tea and had a comfortable night. While collecting wood that evening, I found a bird’s nest consisting of live leaves sewn together with threads of the spider’s web. Nothing could exceed the airiness of this pretty contrivance; the threads had been pushed through small punctures and thickened to resemble a knot. I unfortunately lost it. This was the second nest I had seen resembling that of the tailor-bird of India.
Next morning, by climbing the highest trees, we could see a fine large sheet of water, but surrounded on all sides by the same impenetrable belt of reeds. This is the broad part of the River Chobe, and is called Zabesa. Two tree-covered islands seemed to be much nearer to the water than the shore on which we were, so we made an attempt to get to them first. It was not the reeds alone we had to pass through; a peculiar serrated grass, which at certain angles cut the hands like a razor, was mingled with the reed, and the climbing convolvulus, with stalks which felt as strong as whipcord, bound the mass together. We felt like pigmies in it, and often the only way we could get on was by both of us leaning against a part and bending it down till we could stand upon it. The perspiration streamed off our bodies, and as the sun rose high, there being no ventilation among the reeds, the heat was stifling, and the water, which was up to the knees, felt agreeably refreshing. After some hours’ toil we reached one of the islands. Here we met an old friend, the bramble-bush. My strong moleskins were quite worn through at the knees, and the leather trowsers of my companion were torn and his legs bleeding. Tearing my handkerchief in two, I tied the pieces round my knees, and then encountered another difficulty. We were still forty or fifty yards from the clear water, but now we were opposed by great masses of papyrus, which are like palms in miniature, eight or ten feet high, and an inch and a half in diameter. These were laced together by twining convolvulus, so strongly that the weight of both of us could not make way into the clear water. At last we fortunately found a passage prepared by a hippopotamus. Eager as soon as we reached the island to look along the vista to clear water, I stepped in and found it took me at once up to the neck.
Returning nearly worn out, we proceeded up the bank of the Chobe till we came to the point of departure of the branch Sanshureh; we then went in the opposite direction, or down the Chobe, though from the highest trees we could see nothing but one vast expanse of reed, with here and there a tree on the islands. This was a hard day’s work; and when we came to a deserted Bayeiye hut on an ant-hill, not a bit of wood or any thing else could be got for a fire except the grass and sticks of the dwelling itself. I dreaded the “Tampans”, so common in all old huts; but outside of it we had thousands of mosquitoes, and cold dew began to be deposited, so we were fain to crawl beneath its shelter.
We were close to the reeds, and could listen to the strange sounds which are often heard there. By day I had seen water-snakes putting up their heads and swimming about. There were great numbers of otters (‘Lutra inunguis’, F. Cuvier), which have made little spoors all over the plains in search of the fishes, among the tall grass of these flooded prairies; curious birds, too, jerked and wriggled among these reedy masses, and we heard human-like voices and unearthly sounds, with splash, guggle, jupp, as if rare fun were going on in their uncouth haunts. At one time something came near us, making a splashing like that of a canoe or hippopotamus; thinking it to be the Makololo, we got up, listened, and shouted; then discharged a gun several times; but the noise continued without intermission for an hour. After a damp, cold night we set to, early in the morning, at our work of exploring again, but left the pontoon in order to lighten our labor. The ant-hills are here very high, some thirty feet, and of a base so broad that trees grow on them; while the lands, annually flooded, bear nothing but grass. From one of these ant-hills we discovered an inlet to the Chobe; and, having gone back for the pontoon, we launched ourselves on a deep river, here from eighty to one hundred yards wide. I gave my companion strict injunctions to stick by the pontoon in case a hippopotamus should look at us; nor was this caution unnecessary, for one came up at our side and made a desperate plunge off. We had passed over him. The wave he made caused the pontoon to glide quickly away from him.
We paddled on from midday till sunset. There was nothing but a wall of reed on each bank, and we saw every prospect of spending a supperless night in our float; but just as the short twilight of these parts was commencing, we perceived on the north bank the village of Moremi, one of the Makololo, whose acquaintance I had made on our former visit, and who was now located on the island Mahonta (lat. 17° 58’ S., long. 24° 6’ E.). The villagers looked as we may suppose people do who see a ghost, and in their figurative way of speaking said, “He has dropped among us from the clouds, yet came riding on the back of a hippopotamus! We Makololo thought no one could cross the Chobe without our knowledge, but here he drops among us like a bird.”
Next day we returned in canoes across the flooded lands, and found that, in our absence, the men had allowed the cattle to wander into a very small patch of wood to the west containing the tsetse; this carelessness cost me ten fine large oxen. After remaining a few days, some of the head men of the Makololo came down from Linyanti, with a large party of Barotse, to take us across the river. This they did in fine style, swimming and diving among the oxen more like alligators than men, and taking the wagons to pieces and carrying them across on a number of canoes lashed together. We were now among friends; so going about thirty miles to the north, in order to avoid the still flooded lands on the north of the Chobe, we turned westward toward Linyanti (lat. 18° 17’ 20” S., long. 23° 50’ 9” E.), where we arrived on the 23d of May, 1853. This is the capital town of the Makololo, and only a short distance from our wagon-stand of 1851 (lat. 18° 20’ S., long. 23° 50’ E.).
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57