The Expedition left England on the 10th of March, 1858, in Her Majesty’s Colonial Steamer “Pearl,” commanded by Captain Duncan; and, after enjoying the generous hospitality of our friends at Cape Town, with the obliging attentions of Sir George Grey, and receiving on board Mr. Francis Skead, R.N., as surveyor, we reached the East Coast in the following May.
Our first object was to explore the Zambesi, its mouths and tributaries, with a view to their being used as highways for commerce and Christianity to pass into the vast interior of Africa. When we came within five or six miles of the land, the yellowish-green tinge of the sea in soundings was suddenly succeeded by muddy water with wrack, as of a river in flood. The two colours did not intermingle, but the line of contact was as sharply defined as when the ocean meets the land. It was observed that under the wrack — consisting of reeds, sticks, and leaves. — and even under floating cuttlefish bones and Portuguese “men-of-war” (Physalia), numbers of small fish screen themselves from the eyes of birds of prey, and from the rays of the torrid sun.
We entered the river Luawe first, because its entrance is so smooth and deep, that the “Pearl,” drawing 9 feet 7 inches, went in without a boat sounding ahead. A small steam launch having been brought out from England in three sections on the deck of the “Pearl” was hoisted out and screwed together at the anchorage, and with her aid the exploration was commenced. She was called the “Ma Robert,” after Mrs. Livingstone, to whom the natives, according to their custom, gave the name Ma (mother) of her eldest son. The harbour is deep, but shut in by mangrove swamps; and though the water a few miles up is fresh, it is only a tidal river; for, after ascending some seventy miles, it was found to end in marshes blocked up with reeds and succulent aquatic plants. As the Luawe had been called “West Luabo,” it was supposed to be a branch of the Zambesi, the main stream of which is called “Luabo,” or “East Luabo.” The “Ma Robert” and “Pearl” then went to what proved to be a real mouth of the river we sought.
The Zambesi pours its waters into the ocean by four mouths, namely, the Milambe, which is the most westerly, the Kongone, the Luabo, and the Timbwe (or Muselo). When the river is in flood, a natural canal running parallel with the coast, and winding very much among the swamps, forms a secret way for conveying slaves from Quillimane to the bays Massangano and Nameara, or to the Zambesi itself. The Kwakwa, or river of Quillimane, some sixty miles distant from the mouth of the Zambesi, has long been represented as the principal entrance to the Zambesi, in order, as the Portuguese now maintain, that the English cruisers might be induced to watch the false mouth, while slaves were quietly shipped from the true one; and, strange to say, this error has lately been propagated by a map issued by the colonial minister of Portugal.
After the examination of three branches by the able and energetic surveyor, Francis Skead, R.N., the Kongone was found to be the best entrance. The immense amount of sand brought down by the Zambesi has in the course of ages formed a sort of promontory, against which the long swell of the Indian Ocean, beating during the prevailing winds, has formed bars, which, acting against the waters of the delta, may have led to their exit sideways. The Kongone is one of those lateral branches, and the safest; inasmuch as the bar has nearly two fathoms on it at low water, and the rise at spring tides is from twelve to fourteen feet. The bar is narrow, the passage nearly straight, and, were it buoyed and a beacon placed on Pearl Island, would always be safe to a steamer. When the wind is from the east or north, the bar is smooth; if from the south and south-east, it has a heavy break on it, and is not to be attempted in boats. A strong current setting to the east when the tide is flowing, and to the west when ebbing, may drag a boat or ship into the breakers. If one is doubtful of his longitude and runs east, he will soon see the land at Timbwe disappear away to the north; and coming west again, he can easily make out East Luabo from its great size; and Kongone follows several miles west. East Luabo has a good but long bar, and not to be attempted unless the wind be north-east or east. It has sometimes been called “Barra Catrina,” and was used in the embarkations of slaves. This may have been the “River of Good Signs,” of Vasco da Gama, as the mouth is more easily seen from the seaward than any other; but the absence of the pillar dedicated by that navigator to “St. Raphael,” leaves the matter in doubt. No Portuguese live within eighty miles of any mouth of the Zambesi.
The Kongone is five miles east of the Milambe, or western branch, and seven miles west from East Luabo, which again is five miles from the Timbwe. We saw but few natives, and these, by escaping from their canoes into the mangrove thickets the moment they caught sight of us, gave unmistakeable indications that they had no very favourable opinion of white men. They were probably fugitives from Portuguese slavery. In the grassy glades buffaloes, wart-hogs, and three kinds of antelope were abundant, and the latter easily obtained. A few hours’ hunting usually provided venison enough for a score of men for several days.
On proceeding up the Kongone branch it was found that, by keeping well in the bends, which the current had worn deep, shoals were easily avoided. The first twenty miles are straight and deep; then a small and rather tortuous natural canal leads off to the right, and, after about five miles, during which the paddles almost touch the floating grass of the sides, ends in the broad Zambesi. The rest of the Kongone branch comes out of the main stream considerably higher up as the outgoing branch called Doto.
The first twenty miles of the Kongone are enclosed in mangrove jungle; some of the trees are ornamented with orchilla weed, which appears never to have been gathered. Huge ferns, palm bushes, and occasionally wild date-palms peer out in the forest, which consists of different species of mangroves; the bunches of bright yellow, though scarcely edible fruit, contrasting prettily with the graceful green leaves. In some spots the Milola, an umbrageous hibiscus, with large yellowish flowers, grows in masses along the bank. Its bark is made into cordage, and is especially valuable for the manufacture of ropes attached to harpoons for killing the hippopotamus. The Pandanus or screw-palm, from which sugar bags are made in the Mauritius, also appears, and on coming out of the canal into the Zambesi many are so tall as in the distance to remind us of the steeples of our native land, and make us relish the remark of an old sailor, “that but one thing was wanting to complete the picture, and that was a ‘grog-shop near the church.’” We find also a few guava and lime-trees growing wild, but the natives claim the crops. The dark woods resound with the lively and exultant song of the kinghunter (Halcyon striolata), as he sits perched on high among the trees. As the steamer moves on through the winding channel, a pretty little heron or bright kingfisher darts out in alarm from the edge of the bank, flies on ahead a short distance, and settles quietly down to be again frightened off in a few seconds as we approach. The magnificent fishhawk (Halietus vocifer) sits on the top of a mangrove-tree, digesting his morning meal of fresh fish, and is clearly unwilling to stir until the imminence of the danger compels him at last to spread his great wings for flight. The glossy ibis, acute of ear to a remarkable degree, hears from afar the unwonted sound of the paddles, and, springing from the mud where his family has been quietly feasting, is off, screaming out his loud, harsh, and defiant Ha! ha! ha! long before the danger is near.
Several native huts now peep out from the bananas and cocoa-palms on the right bank; they stand on piles a few feet above the low damp ground, and their owners enter them by means of ladders. The soil is wonderfully rich, and the gardens are really excellent. Rice is cultivated largely; sweet potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbages, onions (shalots), peas, a little cotton, and sugar-cane are also raised. It is said that English potatoes, when planted at Quillimane on soil resembling this, in the course of two years become in taste like sweet potatoes (Convolvulus batatas), and are like our potato frosted. The whole of the fertile region extending from the Kongone canal to beyond Mazaro, some eighty miles in length, and fifty in breadth, is admirably adapted for the growth of sugar-cane; and were it in the hands of our friends at the Cape, would supply all Europe with sugar. The remarkably few people seen appear to be tolerably well fed, but there was a dearth of clothing among them; all were blacks, and nearly all Portuguese “colonos” or serfs. They manifested no fear of white men, and stood in groups on the bank gazing in astonishment at the steamers, especially at the “Pearl,” which accompanied us thus far up the river. One old man who came on board remarked that never before had he seen any vessel so large as the “Pearl,” it was like a village, “Was it made out of one tree?” All were eager traders, and soon came off to the ship in light swift canoes with every kind of fruit and food they possessed; a few brought honey and beeswax, which are found in quantities in the mangrove forests. As the ships steamed off, many anxious sellers ran along the bank, holding up fowls, baskets of rice and meal, and shouting “Malonda, Malonda,” “things for sale,” while others followed in canoes, which they sent through the water with great velocity by means of short broad-bladed paddles.
Finding the “Pearl’s” draught too great for that part of the river near the island of Simbo, where the branch called the Doto is given off to the Kongone on the right bank, and another named Chinde departs to the secret canal already mentioned on the left, the goods belonging to the expedition were taken out of her, and placed on one of the grassy islands about forty miles from the bar. The “Pearl” then left us, and we had to part with our good friends Duncan and Skead; the former for Ceylon, the latter to return to his duties as Government Surveyor at the Cape.
Of those who eventually did the work of the expedition the majority took a sober common-sense view of the enterprise in which we were engaged. Some remained on Expedition Island from the 18th June until the 13th August, while the launch and pinnace were carrying the goods up to Shupanga and Senna. The country was in a state of war, our luggage was in danger, and several of our party were exposed to disease from inactivity in the malaria of the delta. Here some had their first introduction to African life, and African fever. Those alone were safe who were actively employed with the vessels, and of course, remembering the perilous position of their fellows, they strained every nerve to finish the work and take them away.
Large columns of smoke rose daily from different points of the horizon, showing that the natives were burning off the immense crops of tall grass, here a nuisance, however valuable elsewhere. A white cloud was often observed to rest on the head of the column, as if a current of hot damp air was sent up by the heat of the flames and its moisture was condensed at the top. Rain did not follow, though theorists have imagined that in such cases it ought.
Large game, buffaloes, and zebras, were abundant abreast the island, but no men could be seen. On the mainland, over on the right bank of the river, we were amused by the eccentric gyrations and evolutions of flocks of small seed-eating birds, who in their flight wheeled into compact columns with such military precision as to give us the impression that they must be guided by a leader, and all directed by the same signal. Several other kinds of small birds now go in flocks, and among others the large Senegal swallow. The presence of this bird, being clearly in a state of migration from the north, while the common swallow of the country, and the brown kite are away beyond the equator, leads to the conjecture that there may be a double migration, namely, of birds from torrid climates to the more temperate, as this now is, as well as from severe winters to sunny regions; but this could not be verified by such birds of passage as ourselves.
On reaching Mazaro, the mouth of a narrow creek which in floods communicates with the Quillimane river, we found that the Portuguese were at war with a half-caste named Mariano alias Matakenya, from whom they had generally fled, and who, having built a stockade near the mouth of the Shire, owned all the country between that river and Mazaro. Mariano was best known by his native name Matakenya, which in their tongue means “trembling,” or quivering as trees do in a storm. He was a keen slave-hunter, and kept a large number of men, well armed with muskets. It is an entire mistake to suppose that the slave trade is one of buying and selling alone; or that engagements can be made with labourers in Africa as they are in India; Mariano, like other Portuguese, had no labour to spare. He had been in the habit of sending out armed parties on slave-hunting forays among the helpless tribes to the north-east, and carrying down the kidnapped victims in chains to Quillimane, where they were sold by his brother-inlaw Cruz Coimbra, and shipped as “Free emigrants” to the French island of Bourbon. So long as his robberies and murders were restricted to the natives at a distance, the authorities did not interfere; but his men, trained to deeds of violence and bloodshed in their slave forays, naturally began to practise on the people nearer at hand, though belonging to the Portuguese, and even in the village of Senna, under the guns of the fort. A gentleman of the highest standing told us that, while at dinner with his family, it was no uncommon event for a slave to rush into the room pursued by one of Mariano’s men with spear in hand to murder him.
The atrocities of this villain, aptly termed by the late governor of Quillimane a “notorious robber and murderer,” became at length intolerable. All the Portuguese spoke of him as a rare monster of inhumanity. It is unaccountable why half-castes, such as he, are so much more cruel than the Portuguese, but such is undoubtedly the case.
It was asserted that one of his favourite modes of creating an impression in the country, and making his name dreaded, was to spear his captives with his own hands. On one occasion he is reported to have thus killed forty poor wretches placed in a row before him. We did not at first credit these statements, and thought that they were merely exaggerations of the incensed Portuguese, who naturally enough were exasperated with him for stopping their trade, and harbouring their runaway slaves; but we learned afterwards from the natives, that the accounts given us by the Portuguese had not exceeded the truth; and that Mariano was quite as great a ruffian as they had described him. One expects slave-owners to treat their human chattels as well as men do other animals of value, but the slave-trade seems always to engender an unreasoning ferocity, if not blood — thirstiness.
War was declared against Mariano, and a force sent to take him; he resisted for a time; but seeing that he was likely to get the worst of it, and knowing that the Portuguese governors have small salaries, and are therefore “disposed to be reasonable,” he went down to Quillimane to “arrange” with the Governor, as it is termed here; but Colonel da Silva put him in prison, and then sent him for trial to Mozambique. When we came into the country, his people were fighting under his brother Bonga. The war had lasted six months and stopped all trade on the river during that period. On the 15th June we first came into contact with the “rebels.” They appeared as a crowd of well-armed and fantastically-dressed people under the trees at Mazaro. On explaining that we were English, some at once came on board and called to those on shore to lay aside their arms. On landing among them we saw that many had the branded marks of slaves on their chests, but they warmly approved our objects, and knew well the distinctive character of our nation on the slave question. The shout at our departure contrasted strongly with the suspicious questioning on our approach. Hence-forward we were recognized as friends by both parties.
At a later period we were taking in wood within a mile of the scene of action, but a dense fog prevented our hearing the noise of a battle at Mazaro; and on arriving there, immediately after, many natives and Portuguese appeared on the bank.
Dr. Livingstone, landing to salute some of his old friends among the latter, found himself in the sickening smell, and among the mutilated bodies of the slain; he was requested to take the Governor, who was very ill of fever, across to Shupanga, and just as he gave his assent, the rebels renewed the fight, and the balls began to whistle about in all directions. After trying in vain to get some one to assist the Governor down to the steamer, and unwilling to leave him in such danger, as the officer sent to bring our Kroomen did not appear, he went into the hut, and dragged along his Excellency to the ship. He was a very tall man, and as he swayed hither and thither from weakness, weighing down Dr. Livingstone, it must have appeared like one drunken man helping another. Some of the Portuguese white soldiers stood fighting with great bravery against the enemy in front, while a few were coolly shooting at their own slaves for fleeing into the river behind. The rebels soon retired, and the Portuguese escaped to a sandbank in the Zambesi, and thence to an island opposite Shupanga, where they lay for some weeks, looking at the rebels on the mainland opposite. This state of inactivity on the part of the Portuguese could not well be helped, as they had expended all their ammunition and were waiting anxiously for supplies; hoping, no doubt sincerely, that the enemy might not hear that their powder had failed. Luckily their hopes were not disappointed; the rebels waited until a supply came, and were then repulsed after three-and-a-half hours’ hard fighting. Two months afterwards Mariano’s stockade was burned, the garrison having fled in a panic; and as Bonga declared that he did not wish to fight with this Governor, with whom he had no quarrel, the war soon came to an end. His Excellency meanwhile, being a disciple of Raspail, had taken nothing for the fever but a little camphor, and after he was taken to Shupanga became comatose. More potent remedies were administered to him, to his intense disgust, and he soon recovered. The Colonel in attendance, whom he never afterwards forgave, encouraged the treatment. “Give what is right; never mind him; he is very (muito) impertinent:” and all night long, with every draught of water the Colonel gave a quantity of quinine: the consequence was, next morning the patient was cinchonized and better.
For sixty or seventy miles before reaching Mazaro, the scenery is tame and uninteresting. On either hand is a dreary uninhabited expanse, of the same level grassy plains, with merely a few trees to relieve the painful monotony. The round green top of the stately palm-tree looks at a distance, when its grey trunk cannot be seen, as though hung in mid-air. Many flocks of busy sand-martins, which here, and as far south as the Orange River, do not migrate, have perforated the banks two or three feet horizontally, in order to place their nests at the ends, and are now chasing on restless wing the myriads of tropical insects. The broad river has many low islands, on which are seen various kinds of waterfowl, such as geese, spoonbills, herons, and flamingoes. Repulsive crocodiles, as with open jaws they sleep and bask in the sun on the low banks, soon catch the sound of the revolving paddles and glide quietly into the stream. The hippopotamus, having selected some still reach of the river to spend the day, rises out of the bottom, where he has been enjoying his morning bath after the labours of the night on shore, blows a puff of spray from his nostrils, shakes the water out of his ears, puts his enormous snout up straight and yawns, sounding a loud alarm to the rest of the herd, with notes as of a monster bassoon.
As we approach Mazaro the scenery improves. We see the well-wooded Shupanga ridge stretching to the left, and in front blue hills rise dimly far in the distance. There is no trade whatever on the Zambesi below Mazaro. All the merchandise of Senna and Tette is brought to that point in large canoes, and thence carried six miles across the country on men’s heads to be reshipped on a small stream that flows into the Kwakwa, or Quillimane river, which is entirely distinct from the Zambesi. Only on rare occasions and during the highest floods can canoes pass from the Zambesi to the Quillimane river through the narrow natural canal Mutu. The natives of Maruru, or the country around Mazaro, the word Mazaro meaning the “mouth of the creek” Mutu, have a bad name among the Portuguese; they are said to be expert thieves, and the merchants sometimes suffer from their adroitness while the goods are in transit from one river to the other. In general they are trained canoe-men, and man many of the canoes that ply thence to Senna and Tette; their pay is small, and, not trusting the traders, they must always have it before they start. Africans being prone to assign plausible reasons for their conduct, like white men in more enlightened lands, it is possible they may be good-humouredly giving their reason for insisting on being invariably paid in advance in the words of their favourite canoe-song, “Uachingere, Uachingere Kale,” “You cheated me of old;” or, “Thou art slippery slippery truly.”
The Landeens or Zulus are lords of the right bank of the Zambesi; and the Portuguese, by paying this fighting tribe a pretty heavy annual tribute, practically admit this. Regularly every year come the Zulus in force to Senna and Shupanga for the accustomed tribute. The few wealthy merchants of Senna groan under the burden, for it falls chiefly on them. They submit to pay annually 200 pieces of cloth, of sixteen yards each, besides beads and brass wire, knowing that refusal involves war, which might end in the loss of all they possess. The Zulus appear to keep as sharp a look out on the Senna and Shupanga people as ever landlord did on tenant; the more they cultivate, the more tribute they have to pay. On asking some of them why they did not endeavour to raise certain highly profitable products, we were answered, “What’s the use of our cultivating any more than we do? the Landeens would only come down on us for more tribute.”
In the forests of Shupanga the Mokundu-kundu tree abounds; its bright yellow wood makes good boat-masts, and yields a strong bitter medicine for fever; the Gunda-tree attains to an immense size; its timber is hard, rather cross-grained, with masses of silica deposited in its substance; the large canoes, capable of carrying three or four tons, are made of its wood. For permission to cut these trees, a Portuguese gentleman of Quillimane was paying the Zulus, in 1858, two hundred dollars a year, and his successor now pays three hundred.
At Shupanga, a one-storied stone house stands on the prettiest site on the river. In front a sloping lawn, with a fine mango orchard at its southern end, leads down to the broad Zambesi, whose green islands repose on the sunny bosom of the tranquil waters. Beyond, northwards, lie vast fields and forests of palm and tropical trees, with the massive mountain of Morambala towering amidst the white clouds; and further away more distant hills appear in the blue horizon. This beautifully situated house possesses a melancholy interest from having been associated in a most mournful manner with the history of two English expeditions. Here, in 1826, poor Kirkpatrick, of Captain Owen’s Surveying Expedition, died of fever; and here, in 1862, died, of the same fatal disease, the beloved wife of Dr. Livingstone. A hundred yards east of the house, under a large Baobab-tree, far from their native land, both are buried.
The Shupanga-house was the head-quarters of the Governor during the Mariano war. He told us that the province of Mosambique costs the Home Government between 5000l. and 6000l. annually, and East Africa yields no reward in return to the mother country. We met there several other influential Portuguese. All seemed friendly, and expressed their willingness to assist the expedition in every way in their power; and better still, Colonel Nunes and Major Sicard put their good-will into action, by cutting wood for the steamer and sending men to help in unloading. It was observable that not one of them knew anything about the Kongone Mouth; all thought that we had come in by the “Barra Catrina,” or East Luabo. Dr. Kirk remained here a few weeks; and, besides exploring a small lake twenty miles to the south-west, had the sole medical care of the sick and wounded soldiers, for which valuable services he received the thanks of the Portuguese Government. We wooded up at this place with African ebony or black wood, and lignum vitae; the latter tree attains an immense size, sometimes as much as four feet in diameter; our engineer, knowing what ebony and lignum vitae cost at home, said it made his heart sore to burn wood so valuable. Though botanically different, they are extremely alike; the black wood as grown in some districts is superior, and the lignum vitae inferior in quality, to these timbers brought from other countries. Caoutchouc, or India-rubber, is found in abundance inland from Shupanga-house, and calumba-root is plentiful in the district; indigo, in quantities, propagates itself close to the banks of the Aver, and was probably at some time cultivated, for manufactured indigo was once exported. The India-rubber is made into balls for a game resembling “fives,” and calumba — root is said to be used as a mordant for certain colours, but not as a dye itself.
We started for Tette on the 17th August, 1858; the navigation was rather difficult, the Zambesi from Shupanga to Senna being wide and full of islands; our black pilot, John Scisssors, a serf, sometimes took the wrong channel and ran us aground. Nothing abashed, he would exclaim in an aggrieved tone, “This is not the path, it is back yonder.” “Then why didn’t you go yonder at first?” growled out our Kroomen, who had the work of getting the vessel off. When they spoke roughly to poor Scissors, the weak cringing slave-spirit came forth in, “Those men scold me so, I am ready to run away.” This mode of finishing up an engagement is not at all uncommon on the Zambesi; several cases occurred, when we were on the river, of hired crews decamping with most of the goods in their charge. If the trader cannot redress his own wrongs, he has to endure them. The Landeens will not surrender a fugitive slave, even to his master. One belonging to Mr. Azevedo fled, and was, as a great favour only, returned after a present of much more than his value.
We landed to wood at Shamoara, just below the confluence of the Shire. Its quartz hills are covered with trees and gigantic grasses; the buaze, a small forest-tree, grows abundantly; it is a species of polygala; its beautiful clusters of sweet-scented pinkish flowers perfume the air with a rich fragrance; its seeds produce a fine drying oil, and the bark of the smaller branches yields a fibre finer and stronger than flax; with which the natives make their nets for fishing. Bonga, the brother of the rebel Mariano, and now at the head of the revolted natives, with some of his principal men came to see us, and were perfectly friendly, though told of our having carried the sick Governor across to Shupanga, and of our having cured him of fever. On our acquainting Bonga with the object of the expedition, he remarked that we should suffer no hindrance from his people in our good work. He sent us a present of rice, two sheep, and a quantity of firewood. He never tried to make any use of us in the strife; the other side showed less confidence, by carefully cross-questioning our pilot whether we had sold any powder to the enemy. We managed, however, to keep on good terms with both rebels and Portuguese.
Senna is built on a low plain, on the right bank of the Zambesi, with some pretty detached hills in the background; it is surrounded by a stockade of living trees to protect its inhabitants from their troublesome and rebellious neighbours. It contains a few large houses, some ruins of others, and a weather-beaten cross, where once stood a church; a mound shows the site of an ancient monastery, and a mud fort by the river is so dilapidated, that cows were grazing peacefully over its prostrate walls.
The few Senna merchants, having little or no trade in the village, send parties of trusted slaves into the interior to hunt for and purchase ivory. It is a dull place, and very conducive to sleep. One is sure to take fever in Senna on the second day, if by chance one escapes it on the first day of a sojourn there; but no place is entirely bad. Senna has one redeeming feature: it is the native village of the large-hearted and hospitable Senhor H. A. Ferrao. The benevolence of this gentleman is unbounded. The poor black stranger passing through the town goes to him almost as a matter of course for food, and is never sent away hungry. In times of famine the starving natives are fed by his generosity; hundreds of his own people he never sees except on these occasions; and the only benefit derived from being their master is, that they lean on him as a patriarchal chief, and he has the satisfaction of settling their differences, and of saving their lives in seasons of drought and scarcity.
Senhor Ferrao received us with his usual kindness, and gave us a bountiful breakfast. During the day the principal men of the place called, and were unanimously of opinion that the free natives would willingly cultivate large quantities of cotton, could they find purchasers. They had in former times exported largely both cotton and cloth to Manica and even to Brazil. “On their own soil,” they declared, “the natives are willing to labour and trade, provided only they can do so to advantage: when it is for their interest, blacks work very hard.” We often remarked subsequently that this was the opinion of men of energy; and that all settlers of activity, enterprise, and sober habits had become rich, while those who were much addicted to lying on their backs smoking, invariably complained of the laziness of the negroes, and were poor, proud, and despicable.
Beyond Pita lies the little island Nyamotobsi, where we met a small fugitive tribe of hippopotamus hunters, who had been driven by war from their own island in front. All were busy at work; some were making gigantic baskets for grain, the men plaiting from the inside. With the civility so common among them the chief ordered a mat to be spread for us under a shed, and then showed us the weapon with which they kill the hippopotamus; it is a short iron harpoon inserted in the end of a long pole, but being intended to unship, it is made fast to a strong cord of milola, or hibiscus, bark, which is wound closely round the entire length of the shaft, and secured at its opposite end. Two men in a swift canoe steal quietly down on the sleeping animal. The bowman dashes the harpoon into the unconscious victim, while the quick steersman sweeps the light craft back with his broad paddle; the force of the blow separates the harpoon from its corded handle, which, appearing on the surface, sometimes with an inflated bladder attached, guides the hunters to where the wounded beast hides below until they despatch it.
These hippopotamus hunters form a separate people, called Akombwi, or Mapodzo, and rarely — the women it is said never — intermarry with any other tribe. The reason for their keeping aloof from certain of the natives on the Zambesi is obvious enough, some having as great an abhorrence of hippopotamus meat as Mahomedans have of swine’s flesh. Our pilot, Scissors, was one of this class; he would not even cook his food in a pot which had contained hippopotamus meat, preferring to go hungry till he could find another; and yet he traded eagerly in the animal’s tusks, and ate with great relish the flesh of the foul-feeding marabout. These hunters go out frequently on long expeditions, taking in their canoes their wives and children, cooking-pots, and sleeping-mats. When they reach a good game district, they erect temporary huts on the bank, and there dry the meat they have killed. They are rather a comely-looking race, with very black smooth skins, and never disfigure themselves with the frightful ornaments of some of the other tribes. The chief declined to sell a harpoon, because they could not now get the milola bark from the coast on account of Mariano’s war. He expressed some doubts about our being children of the same Almighty Father, remarking that “they could not become white, let them wash ever so much.” We made him a present of a bit of cloth, and he very generously gave us in return some fine fresh fish and Indian corn.
The heat of the weather steadily increases during this month (August), and foggy mornings are now rare. A strong breeze ending in a gale blows up stream every night. It came in the afternoon a few weeks ago, then later, and at present its arrival is near midnight; it makes our frail cabin-doors fly open before it, but continues only for a short time, and is succeeded by a dead calm. Game becomes more abundant; near our wooding-places we see herds of zebras, both Burchell’s and the mountain variety, pallahs (Antelope melampus), waterbuck, and wild hogs, with the spoor of buffaloes and elephants.
Shiramba Dembe, on the right bank, is deserted; a few old iron guns show where a rebel stockade once stood; near the river above this, stands a magnificent Baobab hollowed out into a good-sized hut, with bark inside as well as without. The old oaks in Sherwood Forest, when hollow, have the inside dead or rotten; but the Baobab, though stripped of its bark outside, and hollowed to a cavity inside, has the power of exuding new bark from its substance to both the outer and inner surfaces; so, a hut made like that in the oak called the “Forest Queen,” in Sherwood, would soon all be lined with bark.
The portions of the river called Shigogo and Shipanga are bordered by a low level expanse of marshy country, with occasional clumps of palm-trees and a few thorny acacias. The river itself spreads out to a width of from three to four miles, with many islands, among which it is difficult to navigate, except when the river is in flood. In front, a range of high hills from the north-east crosses and compresses it into a deep narrow channel, called the Lupata Gorge. The Portuguese thought the steamer would not stem the current here; but as it was not more than about three knots, and as there was a strong breeze in our favour, steam and sails got her through with ease. Heavy-laden canoes take two days to go up this pass. A current sweeps round the little rocky promontories Chifura and Kangomba, forming whirlpools and eddies dangerous for the clumsy craft, which are dragged past with long ropes.
The paddlers place meal on these rocks as an offering to the turbulent deities, which they believe preside over spots fatal to many a large canoe. We were slily told that native Portuguese take off their hats to these river gods, and pass in solemn silence; when safely beyond the promontories, they fire muskets, and, as we ought to do, give the canoe-men grog. From the spoor of buffaloes and elephants it appears that these animals frequent Lupata in considerable numbers, and — we have often observed the association — the tsetse fly is common. A horse for the Governor of Tette was sent in a canoe from Quillimane; and, lest it should be wrecked on the Chifura and Kangomba rocks, it was put on shore and sent in the daytime through the pass. It was of course bitten by the tsetse, and died soon after; it was thought that the AIR of Tette had not agreed with it. The currents above Lupata are stronger than those below; the country becomes more picturesque and hilly, and there is a larger population.
The ship anchored in the stream, off Tette, on the 8th September, 1858, and Dr. Livingstone went ashore in the boat. No sooner did the Makololo recognize him, than they rushed to the water’s edge, and manifested great joy at seeing him again. Some were hastening to embrace him, but others cried out, “Don’t touch him, you will spoil his new clothes.” The five headmen came on board and listened in quiet sadness to the story of poor Sekwebu, who died at the Mauritius on his way to England. “Men die in any country,” they observed, and then told us that thirty of their own number had died of smallpox, having been bewitched by the people of Tette, who envied them because, during the first year, none of their party had died. Six of their young men, becoming tired of cutting firewood for a meagre pittance, proposed to go and dance for gain before some of the neighbouring chiefs. “Don’t go,” said the others, “we don’t know the people of this country;” but the young men set out and visited an independent half-caste chief, a few miles to the north, named Chisaka, who some years ago burned all the Portuguese villas on the north bank of the river; afterwards the young men went to Bonga, son of another half-caste chief, who bade defiance to the Tette authorities, and had a stockade at the confluence of the Zambesi and Luenya, a few miles below that village. Asking the Makololo whence they came, Bonga rejoined, “Why do you come from my enemy to me? You have brought witchcraft medicine to kill me.” In vain they protested that they did not belong to the country; they were strangers, and had come from afar with an Englishman. The superstitious savage put them all to death. “We do not grieve,” said their companions, “for the thirty victims of the smallpox, who were taken away by Morimo (God); but our hearts are sore for the six youths who were murdered by Bonga.” Any hope of obtaining justice on the murderer was out of the question. Bonga once caught a captain of the Portuguese army, and forced him to perform the menial labour of pounding maize in a wooden mortar. No punishment followed on this outrage. The Government of Lisbon has since given Bonga the honorary title of Captain, by way of coaxing him to own their authority; but he still holds his stockade.
Tette stands on a succession of low sandstone ridges on the right bank of the Zambesi, which is here nearly a thousand yards wide (960 yards). Shallow ravines, running parallel with the river, form the streets, the houses being built on the ridges. The whole surface of the streets, except narrow footpaths, were overrun with self-sown indigo, and tons of it might have been collected. In fact indigo, senna, and stramonium, with a species of cassia, form the weeds of the place, which are annually hoed off and burned. A wall of stone and mud surrounds the village, and the native population live in huts outside. The fort and the church, near the river, are the strongholds; the natives having a salutary dread of the guns of the one, and a superstitious fear of the unknown power of the other. The number of white inhabitants is small, and rather select, many of them having been considerately sent out of Portugal “for their country’s good.” The military element preponderates in society; the convict and “incorrigible” class of soldiers, receiving very little pay, depend in great measure on the produce of the gardens of their black wives; the moral condition of the resulting population may be imagined.
Droughts are of frequent occurrence at Tette, and the crops suffer severely. This may arise partly from the position of the town between the ranges of hills north and south, which appear to have a strong attraction for the rain-clouds. It is often seen to rain on these hills when not a drop falls at Tette. Our first season was one of drought. Thrice had the women planted their gardens in vain, the seed, after just vegetating, was killed by the intense dry heat. A fourth planting shared the same hard fate, and then some of the knowing ones discovered the cause of the clouds being frightened away: our unlucky rain-gauge in the garden. We got a bad name through that same rain-gauge, and were regarded by many as a species of evil omen. The Makololo in turn blamed the people of Tette for drought: “A number of witches live here, who won’t let it rain.” Africans in general are sufficiently superstitious, but those of Tette are in this particular pre-eminent above their fellows. Coming from many different tribes, all the rays of the separate superstitions converge into a focus at Tette, and burn out common sense from the minds of the mixed breed. They believe that many evil spirits live in the air, the earth, and the water. These invisible malicious beings are thought to inflict much suffering on the human race; but, as they have a weakness for beer and a craving for food, they may be propitiated from time to time by offerings of meat and drink. The serpent is an object of worship, and hideous little images are hung in the huts of the sick and dying. The uncontaminated Africans believe that Morungo, the Great Spirit who formed all things, lives above the stars; but they never pray to him, and know nothing of their relation to him, or of his interest in them. The spirits of their departed ancestors are all good, according to their ideas, and on special occasions aid them in their enterprises. When a man has his hair cut, he is careful to burn it, or bury it secretly, lest, falling into the hands of one who has an evil eye, or is a witch, it should be used as a charm to afflict him with headache. They believe, too, that they will live after the death of the body, but do not know anything of the state of the Barimo (gods, or departed spirits).
The mango-tree grows luxuriantly above Lupata, and furnishes a grateful shade. Its delicious fruit is superior to that on the coast. For weeks the natives who have charge of the mangoes live entirely on the fruit, and, as some trees bear in November and some in March, while the main crop comes between, fruit in abundance may easily be obtained during four months of the year; but no native can be induced to plant a mango. A wide-spread superstition has become riveted in the native mind, that if any one plants this tree he will soon die. The Makololo, like other natives, were very fond of the fruit; but when told to take up some mango-stones, on their return, and plant them in their own country — they too having become deeply imbued with the belief that it was a suicidal act to do so — replied “they did not wish to die too soon.” There is also a superstition even among the native Portuguese of Tette, that if a man plants coffee he will never afterwards be happy: they drink it, however, and seem the happier for it.
The Portuguese of Tette have many slaves, with all the usual vices of their class, as theft, lying, and impurity. As a general rule the real Portuguese are tolerably humane masters and rarely treat a slave cruelly; this may be due as much to natural kindness of heart as to a fear of losing the slaves by their running away. When they purchase an adult slave they buy at the same time, if possible, all his relations along with him. They thus contrive to secure him to his new home by domestic ties. Running away then would be to forsake all who hold a place in his heart, for the mere chance of acquiring a freedom, which would probably be forfeited on his entrance into the first native village, for the chief might, without compunction, again sell him into slavery.
A rather singular case of voluntary slavery came to our knowledge: a free black, an intelligent active young fellow, called Chibanti, who had been our pilot on the river, told us that he had sold himself into slavery. On asking why he had done this, he replied that he was all alone in the world, had neither father nor mother, nor any one else to give him water when sick, or food when hungry; so he sold himself to Major Sicard, a notoriously kind master, whose slaves had little to do, and plenty to eat. “And how much did you get for yourself?” we asked. “Three thirty-yard pieces of cotton cloth,” he replied; “and I forthwith bought a man, a woman, and child, who cost me two of the pieces, and I had one piece left.” This, at all events, showed a cool and calculating spirit; he afterwards bought more slaves, and in two years owned a sufficient number to man one of the large canoes. His master subsequently employed him in carrying ivory to Quillimane, and gave him cloth to hire mariners for the voyage; he took his own slaves, of course, and thus drove a thriving business; and was fully convinced that he had made a good speculation by the sale of himself, for had he been sick his master must have supported him. Occasionally some of the free blacks become slaves voluntarily by going through the simple but significant ceremony of breaking a spear in the presence of their future master. A Portuguese officer, since dead, persuaded one of the Makololo to remain in Tette, instead of returning to his own country, and tried also to induce him to break a spear before him, and thus acknowledge himself his slave, but the man was too shrewd for this; he was a great elephant doctor, who accompanied the hunters, told them when to attack the huge beast, and gave them medicine to ensure success. Unlike the real Portuguese, many of the half-castes are merciless slave-holders; their brutal treatment of the wretched slaves is notorious. What a humane native of Portugal once said of them is appropriate if not true: “God made white men, and God made black men, but the devil made half-castes.”
The officers and merchants send parties of slaves under faithful headmen to hunt elephants and to trade in ivory, providing them with a certain quantity of cloth, beads, etc., and requiring so much ivory in return. These slaves think that they have made a good thing of it, when they kill an elephant near a village, as the natives give them beer and meal in exchange for some of the elephant’s meat, and over every tusk that is brought there is expended a vast amount of time, talk, and beer. Most of the Africans are natural-born traders, they love trade more for the sake of trading than for what they make by it. An intelligent gentleman of Tette told us that native traders often come to him with a tusk for sale, consider the price he offers, demand more, talk over it, retire to consult about it, and at length go away without selling it; next day they try another merchant, talk, consider, get puzzled and go off as on the previous day, and continue this course daily until they have perhaps seen every merchant in the village, and then at last end by selling the precious tusk to some one for even less than the first merchant had offered. Their love of dawdling in the transaction arises from the self-importance conferred on them by their being the object of the wheedling and coaxing of eager merchants, a feeling to which even the love of gain is subordinate.
The native medical profession is reasonably well represented. In addition to the regular practitioners, who are a really useful class, and know something of their profession, and the nature and power of certain medicines, there are others who devote their talents to some speciality. The elephant doctor prepares a medicine which is considered indispensable to the hunters when attacking that noble and sagacious beast; no hunter is willing to venture out before investing in this precious nostrum. The crocodile doctor sells a charm which is believed to possess the singular virtue of protecting its owner from crocodiles. Unwittingly we offended the crocodile school of medicine while at Tette, by shooting one of these huge reptiles as it lay basking in the sun on a sandbank; the doctors came to the Makololo in wrath, clamouring to know why the white man had shot their crocodile.
A shark’s hook was baited one evening with a dog, of which the crocodile is said to be particularly fond; but the doctors removed the bait, on the principle that the more crocodiles the more demand for medicine, or perhaps because they preferred to eat the dog themselves. Many of the natives of this quarter are known, as in the South Seas, to eat the dog without paying any attention to its feeding. The dice doctor or diviner is an important member of the community, being consulted by Portuguese and natives alike. Part of his business is that of a detective, it being his duty to discover thieves. When goods are stolen, he goes and looks at the place, casts his dice, and waits a few days, and then, for a consideration, tells who is the thief: he is generally correct, for he trusts not to his dice alone; he has confidential agents all over the village, by whose inquiries and information he is enabled to detect the culprit. Since the introduction of muskets, gun doctors have sprung up, and they sell the medicine which professes to make good marksmen; others are rain doctors, etc., etc. The various schools deal in little charms, which are hung round the purchaser’s neck to avert evil: some of them contain the medicine, others increase its power.
Indigo, about three or four feet high, grows in great luxuriance in the streets of Tette, and so does the senna plant. The leaves are undistinguishable from those imported in England. A small amount of first-rate cotton is cultivated by the native population for the manufacture of a coarse cloth. A neighbouring tribe raises the sugar-cane, and makes a little sugar; but they use most primitive wooden rollers, and having no skill in mixing lime with the extracted juice, the product is of course of very inferior quality. Plenty of magnetic iron ore is found near Tette, and coal also to any amount; a single cliff-seam measuring twenty-five feet in thickness. It was found to burn well in the steamer on the first trial. Gold is washed for in the beds of rivers, within a couple of days of Tette. The natives are fully aware of its value, but seldom search for it, and never dig deeper than four or five feet. They dread lest the falling in of the sand of the river’s bed should bury them. In former times, when traders went with hundreds of slaves to the washings, the produce was considerable. It is now insignificant. The gold-producing lands have always been in the hands of independent tribes. Deep cuttings near the sources of the gold-yielding streams seem never to have been tried here, as in California and Australia, nor has any machinery been used save common wooden basins for washing.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10