We anchored on the Great Luabo mouth of the Zambesi, because wood was much more easily obtained there than at the Kongone.
On the 30th, H.M.S. “Gorgon” arrived, towing the brig which brought Mrs. Livingstone, some ladies about to join their relatives in the Universities’ Mission, and the twenty-four sections of a new iron steamer intended for the navigation of Lake Nyassa. The “Pioneer” steamed out, and towed the brig into the Kongone harbour. The new steamer was called the “Lady of the Lake,” or the “Lady Nyassa,” and as much as could be carried of her in one trip was placed, by the help of the officers and men of the “Gorgon,” on board the “Pioneer,” and the two large paddle-box boats of H.M.‘s ship. We steamed off for Ruo on the 10th of February, having on board Captain Wilson, with a number of his officers and men to help us to discharge the cargo. Our progress up was distressingly slow. The river was in flood, and we had a three-knot current against us in many places. These delays kept us six months in the delta, instead of, as we anticipated, only six days; for, finding it impossible to carry the sections up to the Ruo without great loss of time, it was thought best to land them at Shupanga, and, putting the hull of the “Lady Nyassa” together there, to tow her up to the foot of the Murchison Cataracts.
A few days before the “Pioneer” reached Shupanga, Captain Wilson, seeing the hopeless state of affairs, generously resolved to hasten with the Mission ladies up to those who, we thought, were anxiously awaiting their arrival, and therefore started in his gig for the Ruo, taking Miss Mackenzie, Mrs. Burrup, and his surgeon, Dr. Ramsay. They were accompanied by Dr. Kirk and Mr. Sewell, paymaster of the “Gorgon,” in the whale-boat of the “Lady Nyassa.” As our slow-paced-launch, “Ma Robert,” had formerly gone up to the foot of the cataracts in nine days’ steaming, it was supposed that the boats might easily reach the expected meeting-place at the Ruo in a week; but the Shire was now in flood, and in its most rapid state; and they were longer in getting up about half the distance, than it was hoped they would be in the whole navigable part of the river. They could hear nothing of the Bishop from the chief of the island, Malo, at the mouth of the Ruo. “No white man had ever come to his village,” he said. They proceeded on to Chibisa’s, suffering terribly from mosquitoes at night. Their toil in stemming the rapid current made them estimate the distance, by the windings, as nearer 300 than 200 miles. The Makololo who had remained at Chibisa’s told them the sad news of the death of the good Bishop and of Mr. Burrup. Other information received there awakened fresh anxiety on behalf of the survivors; so, leaving the ladies with Dr. Ramsay and the Makololo, Captain Wilson and Dr. Kirk went up the hills, in hopes of being able to render assistance, and on the way they met some of the Mission party at Soche’s. The excessive fatigue that our friends had undergone in the voyage up to Chibisa’s in no wise deterred them from this further attempt for the benefit of their countrymen, but the fresh labour, with diminished rations, was too much for their strength. They were reduced to a diet of native beans and an occasional fowl. Both became very ill of fever, Captain Wilson so dangerously that his fellow-sufferer lost all hopes of his recovery. His strong able-bodied cockswain did good service in cheerfully carrying his much-loved Commander, and they managed to return to the boat, and brought the two bereaved and sorrow-stricken ladies back to the “Pioneer.”
We learnt that the Bishop, wishing to find a shorter route down to the Shire, had sent two men to explore the country between Magomero and the junction of the Ruo; and in December Messrs. Proctor and Scudamore, with a number of Manganja carriers, left Magomero for the same purpose. They were to go close to Mount Choro, and then skirt the Elephant Marsh, with Mount Clarendon on their left. Their guides seem to have led them away to the east, instead of south; to the upper waters of the Ruo in the Shirwa valley, instead of to its mouth. Entering an Anguru slave-trading village, they soon began to suspect that the people meant mischief, and just before sunset a woman told some of their men that if they slept there they would all be killed. On their preparing to leave, the Anguru followed them and shot their arrows at the retreating party. Two of the carriers were captured, and all the goods were taken by these robbers. An arrow-head struck deep into the stock of Proctor’s gun; and the two missionaries, barely escaping with their lives, swam a deep river at night, and returned to Magomero famished and exhausted.
The wives of the captive carriers came to the Bishop day after day weeping and imploring him to rescue their husbands from slavery. The men had been caught while in his service, no one else could be entreated; there was no public law nor any power superior to his own, to which an appeal could be made; for in him Church and State were, in the disorganized state of the country, virtually united. It seemed to him to be clearly his duty to try and rescue these kidnapped members of the Mission family. He accordingly invited the veteran Makololo to go with him on this somewhat hazardous errand. Nothing could have been proposed to them which they would have liked better, and they went with alacrity to eat the sheep of the Anguru, only regretting that the enemy did not keep cattle as well. Had the matter been left entirely in their hands, they would have made a clean sweep of that part of the country; but the Bishop restrained them, and went in an open manner, thus commending the measure to all the natives, as one of justice. This deliberation, however, gave the delinquents a chance of escape.
The missionaries were successful; the offending village was burned, and a few sheep and goats were secured which could not be considered other than a very mild punishment for the offence committed; the headman, Muana-somba, afraid to retain the prisoners any longer, forthwith liberated them, and they returned to their homes. This incident took place at the time we were at the Ruo and during the rains, and proved very trying to the health of the missionaries; they were frequently wetted, and had hardly any food but roasted maize. Mr. Scudamore was never well afterwards. Directly on their return to Magomero, the Bishop and Mr. Burrup, both suffering from diarrhoea in consequence of wet, hunger, and exposure, started for Chibisa’s to go down to the Ruo by the Shire. So fully did the Bishop expect a renewal of the soaking wet from which he had just returned, that on leaving Magomero he walked through the stream. The rivulets were so swollen that it took five days to do a journey that would otherwise have occupied only two days and a half.
None of the Manganja being willing to take them down the river during the flood, three Makololo canoe-men agreed to go with them. After paddling till near sunset, they decided to stop and sleep on shore; but the mosquitoes were so numerous that they insisted on going on again; the Bishop, being a week behind the time he had engaged to be at the Ruo, reluctantly consented, and in the darkness the canoe was upset in one of the strong eddies or whirlpools, which suddenly boil up in flood time near the outgoing branches of the river; clothing, medicines, tea, coffee, and sugar were all lost. Wet and weary, and tormented by mosquitoes, they lay in the canoe till morning dawned, and then proceeded to Malo, an island at the mouth of the Ruo, where the Bishop was at once seized with fever.
Had they been in their usual health, they would doubtless have pushed on to Shupanga, or to the ship; but fever rapidly prostrates the energies, and induces a drowsy stupor, from which, if not roused by medicine, the patient gradually sinks into the sleep of death. Still mindful, however, of his office, the Bishop consoled himself by thinking that he might gain the friendship of the chief, which would be of essential service to him in his future labours. That heartless man, however, probably suspicious of all foreigners from the knowledge he had acquired of white slave-traders, wanted to turn the dying Bishop out of the hut, as he required it for his corn, but yielded to the expostulations of the Makololo. Day after day for three weeks did these faithful fellows remain beside his mat on the floor; till, without medicine or even proper food, he died. They dug his grave on the edge of the deep dark forest where the natives buried their dead. Mr. Burrup, himself far gone with dysentery, staggered from the hut, and, as in the dusk of evening they committed the Bishop’s body to the grave, repeated from memory portions of our beautiful service for the Burial of the Dead —“earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in this sad way ended the earthly career of one, of whom it can safely be said that for unselfish goodness of heart, and earnest devotion to the noble work he had undertaken, none of the commendations of his friends can exceed the reality. The grave in which his body rests is about a hundred yards from the confluence of the Ruo, on the left bank of the Shire, and opposite the island of Malo. The Makololo then took Mr. Burrup up in the canoe as far as they could, and, making a litter of branches, carried him themselves, or got others to carry him, all the way back to his countrymen at Magomero. They hurried him on lest he should die in their hands, and blame be attached to them. Soon after his return he expired, from the disease which was on him when he started to meet his wife.
Captain Wilson arrived at Shupanga on the 11th of March, having been three weeks on the Shire. On the 15th the “Pioneer” steamed down to the Kongone. The “Gorgon” had been driven out to sea in a gale, and had gone to Johanna for provisions, and it was the 2nd of April before she returned. It was fortunate for us that she had obtained a supply, as our provisions were exhausted, and we had to buy some from the master of the brig. The “Gorgon” left for the Cape on the 4th, taking all, except one, of the Mission party who had come in January. We take this opportunity of expressing our heartfelt gratitude to the gallant Captain I. C. Wilson and his officers for innumerable acts of kindness and hearty co-operation. Our warmest thanks are also due to Captain R. B. Oldfield and the other officers from the Admiral downwards, and we beg to assure them that nothing could be more encouraging to us in our difficulties and trials, than the knowledge that we possessed their friendship and sympathy in our labours.
The Rev. James Stewart, of the Free Church of Scotland, arrived in the “Gorgon.” He had wisely come out to inspect the country, before deciding on the formation of a Mission in the interior. To this object he devoted many months of earnest labour. This Mission was intended to embrace both the industrial and the religious element; and as the route by the Zambesi and Shire forms the only one at present known, with but a couple of days’ land journey to the highlands, which stretch to an unknown distance into the continent, and as no jealousy was likely to be excited in the mind of a man of Bishop Mackenzie’s enlarged views — there being moreover room for hundreds of Missions — we gladly extended the little aid in our power to an envoy from the energetic body above mentioned, but recommended him to examine the field with his own eyes.
During our subsequent detention at Shupanga, he proceeded as far up the Shire as the Upper Cataracts, and saw the mere remnants of that dense population, which we at first had found living in peace and plenty, but which was now scattered and destroyed by famine and slave-hunting. The land, which both before and after we found so fair and fruitful, was burned up by a severe drought; in fact, it was at its very worst. With most praiseworthy energy, and in spite of occasional attacks of fever, he then ascended the Zambesi as far as Kebrabasa; and, what may be of interest to some, compared it, in parts, to the Danube. His estimate of the highlands would naturally be lower than ours. The main drawbacks in his opinion, however, were the slave-trade, and the power allowed the effete Portuguese of shutting up the country from all except a few convicts of their own nation. The time of his coming was inopportune; the disasters which, from inexperience, had befallen the Mission of the Universities, had a depressing effect on the minds of many at home, and rendered a new attempt unadvisable; though, had the Scotch perseverance and energy been introduced, it is highly probable that they would have reacted, most beneficially, on the zeal of our English brethren, and desertion would never have been heard of. After examining the country, Mr. Stewart descended the Zambesi in the beginning of the following year, and proceeded homewards with his report, by Mosambique and the Cape.
On the 7th of April we had only one man fit for duty; all the rest were down with fever, or with the vile spirit secretly sold to them by the Portuguese officer of customs, in spite of our earnest request to him to refrain from the pernicious traffic.
We started on the 11th for Shupanga with another load of the “Lady Nyassa.” As we steamed up the delta, we observed many of the natives wearing strips of palm-leaf, the signs of sickness and mourning; for they too suffer from fever. This is the unhealthy season; the rains are over, and the hot sun draws up malaria from the decayed vegetation; disease seemed peculiarly severe this year. On our way up we met Mr. Waller, who had come from Magomero for provisions; the missionaries were suffering severely from want of food; the liberated people were starving, and dying of diarrhoea, and loathsome sores. The Ajawa, stimulated in their slave raids by supplies of ammunition and cloth from the Portuguese, had destroyed the large crops of the past year; a drought had followed, and little or no food could be bought. With his usual energy, Mr. Waller hired canoes, loaded them with stores, and took them up the long weary way to Chibisa’s. Before he arrived he was informed that the Mission of the Universities, now deprived of its brave leader, had retired from the highlands down to the Low Shire Valley. This appeared to us, who knew the danger of leading a sedentary life, the greatest mistake they could have made, and was the result of no other counsel or responsibility than their own. Waller would have reascended at once to the higher altitude, but various objections stood in the way. The loss of poor Scudamore and Dickinson, in this low-lying situation, but added to the regret that the highlands had not received a fair trial.
When the news of the Bishop’s unfortunate collisions with the natives, and of his untimely end, reached England, much blame was imputed to him. The policy, which with the formal sanction of all his companions he had adopted, being directly contrary to the advice which Dr. Livingstone tendered, and to the assurances of the peaceable nature of the Mission which the Doctor had given to the natives, a friendly disapproval of a bishop’s engaging in war was ventured on, when we met him at Chibisa’s in November. But when we found his conduct regarded with so much bitterness in England, whether from a disposition to “stand by the down man,” or from having an intimate knowledge of the peculiar circumstances of the country in which he was placed, or from the thorough confidence which intimacy caused us to repose in his genuine piety, and devout service of God, we came to think much more leniently of his proceedings, than his assailants did. He never seemed to doubt but that he had done his duty; and throughout he had always been supported by his associates.
The question whether a Bishop, in the event of his flock being torn from his bosom, may make war to rescue them, requires serious consideration. It seems to narrow itself into whether a Christian man may lawfully use the civil power or the sword at all in defensive war, as police or otherwise. We would do almost anything to avoid a collision with degraded natives; but in case of an invasion — our blood boils at the very thought of our wives, daughters, or sisters being touched — we, as men with human feelings, would unhesitatingly fight to the death, with all the fury in our power.
The good Bishop was as intensely averse to using arms, before he met the slave-hunters, as any man in England. In the course he pursued he may have made a mistake, but it is a mistake which very few Englishmen on meeting bands of helpless captives, or members of his family in bonds, would have failed to commit likewise.
During unhealthy April, the fever was more severe in Shupanga and Mazaro than usual. We had several cases on board — they were quickly cured, but, from our being in the delta, as quickly returned. About the middle of the month Mrs. Livingstone was prostrated by this disease; and it was accompanied by obstinate vomiting. Nothing is yet known that can allay this distressing symptom, which of course renders medicine of no avail, as it is instantly rejected. She received whatever medical aid could be rendered from Dr. Kirk, but became unconscious, and her eyes were closed in the sleep of death as the sunset on the evening of the Christian Sabbath, the 27th April, 1862. A coffin was made during the night, a grave was dug next day under the branches of the great baobab-tree, and with sympathizing hearts the little band of his countrymen assisted the bereaved husband in burying his dead. At his request, the Rev. James Stewart read the burial-service; and the seamen kindly volunteered to mount guard for some nights at the spot where her body rests in hope. Those who are not aware how this brave, good, English wife made a delightful home at Kolobeng, a thousand miles inland from the Cape, and as the daughter of Moffat and a Christian lady exercised most beneficial influence over the rude tribes of the interior, may wonder that she should have braved the dangers and toils of this down-trodden land. She knew them all, and, in the disinterested and dutiful attempt to renew her labours, was called to her rest instead. “Fiat, Domine, voluntas tua!”
On the 5th of May Dr. Kirk and Charles Livingstone started in the boat for Tette, in order to see the property of the Expedition brought down in canoes. They took four Mazaro canoe-men to manage the boat, and a white sailor to cook for them; but, unfortunately, he caught fever the very day after leaving the ship, and was ill most of the trip; so they had to cook for themselves, and to take care of him besides.
We now proceeded with preparations for the launch of the “Lady Nyassa.” Ground was levelled on the bank at Shupanga, for the purpose of arranging the compartments in order: she was placed on palm-trees which were brought from a place lower down the river for ways, and the engineer and his assistants were soon busily engaged; about a fortnight after they were all brought from Kongone, the sections were screwed together. The blacks are more addicted to stealing where slavery exists than elsewhere. We were annoyed by thieves who carried off the iron screw-bolts, but were gratified to find that strychnine saved us from the man-thief as well as the hyena-thief. A hyena was killed by it, and after the natives saw the dead animal and knew how we had destroyed it, they concluded that it was not safe to steal from men who possessed a medicine so powerful. The half-caste, who kept Shupanga-house, said he wished to have some to give to the Zulus, of whom he was mortally afraid, and to whom he had to pay an unwilling tribute.
The “Pioneer” made several trips to the Kongone, and returned with the last load on the 12th of June. On the 23rd the “Lady Nyassa” was safely launched, the work of putting her together having been interrupted by fever and dysentery, and many other causes which it would only weary the reader to narrate in detail. Natives from all parts of the country came to see the launch, most of them quite certain that, being made of iron, she must go to the bottom as soon as she entered the water. Earnest discussions had taken place among them with regard to the propriety of using iron for ship-building. The majority affirmed that it would never answer. They said, “If we put a hoe into the water, or the smallest bit of iron, it sinks immediately. How then can such a mass of iron float? it must go to the bottom.” The minority answered that this might be true with them, but white men had medicine for everything. “They could even make a woman, all except the speaking; look at that one on the figure-head of the vessel.” The unbelievers were astonished, and could hardly believe their eyes, when they saw the ship float lightly and gracefully on the river, instead of going to the bottom, as they so confidently predicted. “Truly,” they said, “these men have powerful medicine.”
Birds are numerous on the Shupanga estate. Some kinds remain all the year round, while many others are there only for a few months. Flocks of green pigeons come in April to feed on the young fruit of the wild fig-trees, which is also eaten by a large species of bat in the evenings. The pretty little black weaver, with yellow shoulders, appears to enjoy life intensely after assuming his wooing dress. A hearty breakfast is eaten in the mornings and then come the hours for making merry. A select party of three or four perch on the bushes which skirt a small grassy plain, and cheer themselves with the music of their own quiet and self-complacent song. A playful performance on the wind succeeds. Expanding his soft velvet-like plumage, one glides with quivering pinions to the centre of the open space, singing as he flies, then turns with a rapid whirring sound from his wings — somewhat like a child’s rattle — and returns to his place again. One by one the others perform the same feat, and continue the sport for hours, striving which can produce the loudest brattle while turning. These games are only played during the season of courting and of the gay feathers; the merriment seems never to be thought of while the bird wears his winter suit of sober brown.
We received two mules from the Cape to aid us in transporting the pieces of the “Lady Nyassa” past the cataracts and landed them at Shupanga, but they soon perished. A Portuguese gentleman kindly informed us, AFTER both the mules were dead, that he knew they would die; for the land there had been often tried, and nothing would live on it — not even a pig. He said he had not told us so before, because he did not like to appear officious!
By the time everything had been placed on board the “Lady Nyassa,” the waters of the Zambesi and the Shire had fallen so low that it was useless to attempt taking her up to the cataracts before the rains in December. Draught oxen and provisions also were required, and could not be obtained nearer than the Island of Johanna. The Portuguese, without refusing positively to let trade enter the Zambesi, threw impediments in the way; they only wanted a small duty! They were about to establish a river police, and rearrange the Crown lands, which have long since become Zulu lands; meanwhile they were making the Zambesi, by slaving, of no value to any one.
The Rovuma, which was reported to come from Lake Nyassa, being out of their claims and a free river, we determined to explore it in our boats immediately on our return from Johanna, for which place, after some delay at the Kongone, in repairing engines, paddle-wheel, and rudder, we sailed on the 6th of August. A store of naval provisions had been formed on a hulk in Pomone Bay of that island for the supply of the cruisers, and was in charge of Mr. Sunley, the Consul, from whom we always received the kindest attentions and assistance. He now obliged us by parting with six oxen, trained for his own use in sugar-making. Though sadly hampered in his undertaking by being obliged to employ slave labour, he has by indomitable energy overcome obstacles under which most persons would have sunk. He has done all that under the circumstances could be done to infuse a desire for freedom, by paying regular wages; and has established a large factory, and brought 300 acres of rich soil under cultivation with sugar-cane. We trust he will realize the fortune which he so well deserves to earn. Had Mr. Sunley performed the same experiment on the mainland, where people would have flocked to him for the wages he now gives, he would certainly have inaugurated a new era on the East Coast of Africa. On a small island where the slaveholders have complete power over the slaves, and where there is no free soil such as is everywhere met with in Africa, the experiment ought not to be repeated. Were Mr. Sunley commencing again, it should neither be in Zanzibar nor Johanna, but on African soil, where, if even a slave is ill-treated, he can easily by flight become free. On an island under native rule a joint manufacture by Arabs and Englishmen might only mean that the latter were to escape the odium of flogging the slaves.
On leaving Johanna and our oxen for a time, H.M.S. “Orestes” towed us thence to the mouth of the Rovuma at the beginning of September. Captain Gardner, her commander, and several of his officers, accompanied us up the river for two days in the gig and cutter. The water was unusually low, and it was rather dull work for a few hours in the morning; but the scene became livelier and more animated when the breeze began to blow. Our four boats they swept on under full sail, the men on the look out in the gig and cutter calling, “Port, sir!” “Starboard, sir!” “As you go, sir!” while the black men in the bows of the others shouted the practical equivalents, “Pagombe! Pagombe!” “Enda quete!” “Berane! Berane!” Presently the leading-boat touches on a sandbank; down comes the fluttering sail; the men jump out to shove her off, and the other boats, shunning the obstruction, shoot on ahead to be brought up each in its turn by mistaking a sandbank for the channel, which had often but a very little depth of water.
A drowsy herd of hippopotami were suddenly startled by a score of rifle-shots, and stared in amazement at the strange objects which had invaded their peaceful domains, until a few more bullets compelled them to seek refuge at the bottom of the deep pool, near which they had been quietly reposing. On our return, one of the herd retaliated. He followed the boat, came up under it, and twice tried to tear the bottom out of it; but fortunately it was too flat for his jaws to get a good grip, so he merely damaged one of the planks with his tusks, though he lifted the boat right up, with ten men and a ton of ebony in it.
We slept, one of the two nights Captain Gardner was with us, opposite the lakelet Chidia, which is connected with the river in flood time, and is nearly surrounded by hills some 500 or 600 feet high, dotted over with trees. A few small groups of huts stood on the hill-sides, with gardens off which the usual native produce had been reaped. The people did not seem much alarmed by the presence of the large party which had drawn up on the sandbanks below their dwellings. There is abundance of large ebony in the neighbourhood. The pretty little antelope (Cephalophus caeruleus), about the size of a hare, seemed to abound, as many of their skins were offered for sale. Neat figured date-leaf mats of various colours are woven here, the different dyes being obtained from the barks of trees. Cattle could not live on the banks of the Rovuma on account of the tsetse, which are found from near the mouth, up as far as we could take the boats. The navigation did not improve as we ascended; snags, brought down by the floods, were common, and left in the channel on the sudden subsidence of the water. In many places, where the river divided into two or three channels, there was not water enough in any of them for a boat drawing three feet, so we had to drag ours over the shoals; but we saw the river at its very lowest, and it may be years before it is so dried up again.
The valley of the Rovuma, bounded on each side by a range of highlands, is from two to four miles in width, and comes in a pretty straight course from the W.S.W.; but the channel of the river is winding, and now at its lowest zigzagged so perversely, that frequently the boats had to pass over three miles to make one in a straight line. With a full stream it must of course be much easier work. Few natives were seen during the first week. Their villages are concealed in the thick jungle on the hill-sides, for protection from marauding slave-parties. Not much of interest was observed on this part of the silent and shallow river. Though feeling convinced that it was unfit for navigation, except for eight months of the year, we pushed on, resolved to see if, further inland, the accounts we had received from different naval officers of its great capabilities would prove correct; or if, by communication with Lake Nyassa, even the upper part could be turned to account. Our exploration showed us that the greatest precaution is required in those who visit new countries.
The reports we received from gentlemen, who had entered the river and were well qualified to judge, were that the Rovuma was infinitely superior to the Zambesi, in the absence of any bar at its mouth, in its greater volume of water, and in the beauty of the adjacent lands. We probably came at a different season from that in which they visited it, and our account ought to be taken with theirs to arrive at the truth. It might be available as a highway for commerce during three quarters of each year; but casual visitors, like ourselves and others, are all ill able to decide. The absence of animal life was remarkable. Occasionally we saw pairs of the stately jabirus, or adjutant-looking marabouts, wading among the shoals, and spur-winged geese, and other water-fowl, but there was scarcely a crocodile or a hippopotamus to be seen.
At the end of the first week, an old man called at our camp, and said he would send a present from his village, which was up among the hills. He appeared next morning with a number of his people, bringing meal, cassava-root, and yams. The language differs considerably from that on the Zambesi, but it is of the same family. The people are Makonde, and are on friendly terms with the Mabiha, and the Makoa, who live south of the Rovuma. When taking a walk up the slopes of the north bank, we found a great variety of trees we had seen nowhere else. Those usually met with far inland seem here to approach the coast. African ebony, generally named mpingu, is abundant within eight miles of the sea; it attains a larger size, and has more of the interior black wood than usual. A good timber tree called mosoko is also found; and we saw half-caste Arabs near the coast cutting up a large log of it into planks. Before reaching the top of the rise we were in a forest of bamboos. On the plateau above, large patches were cleared and cultivated. A man invited us to take a cup of beer; on our complying with his request, the fear previously shown by the bystanders vanished. Our Mazaro men could hardly understand what they said. Some of them waded in the river and caught a curious fish in holes in the claybank. Its ventral fin is peculiar, being unusually large, and of a circular shape, like boys’ playthings called “suckers.” We were told that this fish is found also in the Zambesi, and is called Chirire. Though all its fins are large, it is asserted that it rarely ventures out into the stream, but remains near its hole, where it is readily caught by the hand.
The Zambesi men thoroughly understood the characteristic marks of deep or shallow water, and showed great skill in finding out the proper channel. The Molimo is the steersman at the helm, the Mokadamo is the head canoe-man, and he stands erect on the bows with a long pole in his hands, and directs the steersman where to go, aiding the rudder, if necessary, with his pole. The others preferred to stand and punt our boat, rather than row with our long oars, being able to shove her ahead faster than they could pull her. They are accustomed to short paddles. Our Mokadamo was affected with moon-blindness, and could not see at all at night. His comrades then led him about, and handed him his food. They thought that it was only because his eyes rested all night, that he could see the channel so well by day. At difficult places the Mokadamo sometimes, however, made mistakes, and ran us aground; and the others, evidently imbued with the spirit of resistance to constituted authority, and led by Joao an aspirant for the office, jeered him for his stupidity. “Was he asleep? Why did he allow the boat to come there? Could he not see the channel was somewhere else?” At last the Mokadamo threw down the pole in disgust, and told Joao he might be a Mokadamo himself. The office was accepted with alacrity; but in a few minutes he too ran us into a worse difficulty than his predecessor ever did, and was at once disrated amidst the derision of his comrades.
On the 16th September, we arrived at the inhabited island of Kichokomane. The usual way of approaching an unknown people is to call out in a cheerful tone “Malonda!” Things for sale, or do you want to sell anything? If we can obtain a man from the last village, he is employed, though only useful in explaining to the next that we come in a friendly way. The people here were shy of us at first, and could not be induced to sell any food; until a woman, more adventurous than the rest, sold us a fowl. This opened the market, and crowds came with fowls and meal, far beyond our wants. The women are as ugly as those on Lake Nyassa, for who can be handsome wearing the pelele, or upper-lip ring, of large dimensions? We were once surprised to see young men wearing the pelele, and were told that in the tribe of the Mabiha, on the south bank, men as well as women wore them.
Along the left bank, above Kichokomane, is an exceedingly fertile plain, nearly two miles broad, and studded with a number of deserted villages. The inhabitants were living in temporary huts on low naked sandbanks; and we found this to be the case as far as we went. They leave most of their property and food behind, because they are not afraid of these being stolen, but only fear being stolen themselves. The great slave-route from Nyassa to Kilwa passes to N.E. from S.W., just beyond them; and it is dangerous to remain in their villages at this time of year, when the kidnappers are abroad. In one of the temporary villages, we saw, in passing, two human heads lying on the ground. We slept a couple of miles above this village.
Before sunrise next morning, a large party armed with bows and arrows and muskets came to the camp, two or three of them having a fowl each, which we refused to purchase, having bought enough the day before. They followed us all the morning, and after breakfast those on the left bank swam across and joined the main party on the other side. It was evidently their intention to attack us at a chosen spot, where we had to pass close to a high bank, but their plan was frustrated by a stiff breeze sweeping the boat past, before the majority could get to the place. They disappeared then, but came out again ahead of us, on a high wooded bank, walking rapidly to the bend, near which we were obliged to sail. An arrow was shot at the foremost boat; and seeing the force at the bend, we pushed out from the side, as far as the shoal water would permit, and tried to bring them to a parley, by declaring that we had not come to fight, but to see the river. “Why did you fire a gun, a little while ago?” they asked. “We shot a large puff-adder, to prevent it from killing men; you may see it lying dead on the beach.” With great courage, our Mokadamo waded to within thirty yards of the bank, and spoke with much earnestness, assuring them that we were a peaceable party, and had not come for war, but to see the river. We were friends, and our countrymen bought cotton and ivory, and wished to come and trade with them. All we wanted was to go up quietly to look at the river, and then return to the sea. While he was talking with those on the shore, the old rogue, who appeared to be the ringleader, stole up the bank, and with a dozen others, waded across to the island, near which the boats lay, and came down behind us. Wild with excitement, they rushed into the water, and danced in our rear, with drawn bows, taking aim, and making various savage gesticulations. Their leader urged them to get behind some snags, and then shoot at us. The party on the bank in front had many muskets — and those of them, who had bows, held them with arrows ready set in the bowstrings. They had a mass of thick bush and trees behind them, into which they could in a moment dart, after discharging their muskets and arrows, and be completely hidden from our sight; a circumstance that always gives people who use bows and arrows the greatest confidence. Notwithstanding these demonstrations, we were exceedingly loath to come to blows. We spent a full half-hour exposed at any moment to be struck by a bullet or poisoned arrow. We explained that we were better armed than they were, and had plenty of ammunition, the suspected want of which often inspires them with courage, but that we did not wish to shed the blood of the children of the same Great Father with ourselves; that if we must fight, the guilt would be all theirs.
This being a common mode of expostulation among themselves, we so far succeeded, that with great persuasion the leader and others laid down their arms, and waded over from the bank to the boats to talk the matter over. “This was their river; they did not allow white men to use it. We must pay toll for leave to pass.” It was somewhat humiliating to do so, but it was pay or fight; and, rather than fight, we submitted to the humiliation of paying for their friendship, and gave them thirty yards of cloth. They pledged themselves to be our friends ever afterwards, and said they would have food cooked for us on our return. We then hoisted sail, and proceeded, glad that the affair had been amicably settled. Those on shore walked up to the bend above to look at the boat, as we supposed; but the moment she was abreast of them, they gave us a volley of musket-balls and poisoned arrows, without a word of warning. Fortunately we were so near, that all the arrows passed clear over us, but four musket-balls went through the sail just above our heads. All our assailants bolted into the bushes and long grass the instant after firing, save two, one of whom was about to discharge a musket and the other an arrow, when arrested by the fire of the second boat. Not one of them showed their faces again, till we were a thousand yards away. A few shots were then fired over their heads, to give them an idea of the range of our rifles, and they all fled into the woods. Those on the sandbank rushed off too, with the utmost speed; but as they had not shot at us, we did not molest them, and they went off safely with their cloth. They probably expected to kill one of our number, and in the confusion rob the boats. It is only where the people are slavers that the natives of this part of Africa are bloodthirsty.
These people have a bad name in the country in front, even among their own tribe. A slave-trading Arab we met above, thinking we were then on our way down the river, advised us not to land at the villages, but to stay in the boats, as the inhabitants were treacherous, and attacked at once, without any warning or provocation. Our experience of their conduct fully confirmed the truth of what he said. There was no trade on the river where they lived, but beyond that part there was a brisk canoe-trade in rice and salt; those further in the interior cultivating rice, and sending it down the river to be exchanged for salt, which is extracted from the earth in certain places on the banks. Our assailants hardly anticipated resistance, and told a neighbouring chief that, if they had known who we were, they would not have attacked English, who can “bite hard.” They offered no molestations on our way down, though we were an hour in passing their village. Our canoe-men plucked up courage on finding that we had come off unhurt. One of them, named Chiku, acknowledging that he had been terribly frightened, said. “His fear was not the kind which makes a man jump overboard and run away; but that which brings the heart up to the mouth, and renders the man powerless, and no more able to fight than a woman.”
In the country of Chonga Michi, about 80 or 90 miles up the river, we found decent people, though of the same tribe, who treated strangers with civility. A body of Makoa had come from their own country in the south, and settled here. The Makoa are known by a cicatrice in the forehead shaped like the new moon with the horns turned downwards. The tribe possesses all the country west of Mosambique; and they will not allow any of the Portuguese to pass into their country more than two hours’ distance from the fort. A hill some ten or twelve miles distant, called Pau, has been visited during the present generation only by one Portuguese and one English officer, and this visit was accomplished only by the influence of the private friendship of a chief for this Portuguese gentleman. Our allies have occupied the Fort of Mosambique for three hundred years, but in this, as in all other cases, have no power further than they can see from a gun-carriage.
The Makoa chief, Matingula, was hospitable and communicative, telling us all he knew of the river and country beyond. He had been once to Iboe and once at Mosambique with slaves. Our men understood his language easily. A useless musket he had bought at one of the above places was offered us for a little cloth. Having received a present of food from him, a railway rug was handed to him: he looked at it — had never seen cloth like that before — did not approve of it, and would rather have cotton cloth. “But this will keep you warm at night.”—“Oh, I do not wish to be kept warm at night.”— We gave him a bit of cotton cloth, not one-third the value of the rug, but it was more highly prized. His people refused to sell their fowls for our splendid prints and drab cloths. They had probably been taken in with gaudy-patterned sham prints before. They preferred a very cheap, plain, blue stuff of which they had experience. A great quantity of excellent honey is collected all along the river, by bark hives being placed for the bees on the high trees on both banks. Large pots of it, very good and clear, were offered in exchange for a very little cloth. No wax was brought for sale; there being no market for this commodity, it is probably thrown away as useless.
At Michi we lose the tableland which, up to this point, bounds the view on both sides of the river, as it were, with ranges of flat-topped hills, 600 or 800 feet high; and to this plateau a level fertile plain succeeds, on which stand detached granite hills. That portion of the tableland on the right bank seems to bend away to the south, still preserving the appearance of a hill range. The height opposite extends a few miles further west, and then branches off in a northerly direction. A few small pieces of coal were picked up on the sandbanks, showing that this useful mineral exists on the Rovuma, or on some of its tributaries: the natives know that it will burn. At the lakelet Chidia, we noticed the same sandstone rock, with fossil wood on it, which we have on the Zambesi, and knew to be a sure evidence of coal beneath. We mentioned this at the time to Captain Gardner, and our finding coal now seemed a verification of what we then said; the coal-field probably extends from the Zambesi to the Rovuma, if not beyond it. Some of the rocks lower down have the permanent water-line three feet above the present height of the water.
A few miles west of the Makoa of Matingula, we came again among the Makonde, but now of good repute. War and slavery have driven them to seek refuge on the sand-banks. A venerable-looking old man hailed us as we passed, and asked us if we were going by without speaking. We landed, and he laid down his gun and came to us; he was accompanied by his brother, who shook hands with every one in the boat, as he had seen people do at Kilwa. “Then you have seen white men before?” we said. “Yes,” replied the polite African, “but never people of your quality.” These men were very black, and wore but little clothing. A young woman, dressed in the highest style of Makonde fashion, punting as dexterously as a man could, brought a canoe full of girls to see us. She wore an ornamental head-dress of red beads tied to her hair on one side of her head, a necklace of fine beads of various colours, two bright figured brass bracelets on her left arm, and scarcely a farthing’s worth of cloth, though it was at its cheapest.
As we pushed on westwards, we found that the river makes a little southing, and some reaches were deeper than any near the sea; but when we had ascended about 140 miles by the river’s course from the sea, soft tufa rocks began to appear; ten miles beyond, the river became more narrow and rocky, and when, according to our measurement, we had ascended 156 miles, our further progress was arrested. We were rather less than two degrees in a straight line from the Coast. The incidents worth noticing were but few: seven canoes with loads of salt and rice kept company with us for some days, and the further we went inland, the more civil the people became.
When we came to a stand, just below the island of Nyamatolo, Long. 38 degrees 36 minutes E., and Lat. 11 degrees 53 minutes, the river was narrow, and full of rocks. Near the island there is a rocky rapid with narrow passages fit only for native canoes; the fall is small, and the banks quite low; but these rocks were an effectual barrier to all further progress in boats. Previous reports represented the navigable part of this river as extending to the distance of a month’s sail from its mouth; we found that, at the ordinary heights of the water, a boat might reach the obstructions which seem peculiar to all African rivers in six or eight days. The Rovuma is remarkable for the high lands that flank it for some eighty miles from the ocean. The cataracts of other rivers occur in mountains, those of the Rovuma are found in a level part, with hills only in the distance. Far away in the west and north we could see high blue heights, probably of igneous origin from their forms, rising out of a plain.
The distance from Ngomano, a spot thirty miles further up, to the Arab crossing-places of Lake Nyassa Tsenga or Kotakota was said to be twelve days. The way we had discovered to Lake Nyassa by Murchison’s Cataracts had so much less land carriage, that we considered it best to take our steamer thither, by the route in which we were well known, instead of working where we were strangers; and accordingly we made up our minds to return.
The natives reported a worse place above our turning-point — the passage being still narrower than this. An Arab, they said, once built a boat above the rapids, and sent it down full of slaves; but it was broken to pieces in these upper narrows. Many still maintained that the Rovuma came from Nyassa, and that it is very narrow as it issues out of the lake. One man declared that he had seen it with his own eyes as it left the lake, and seemed displeased at being cross-questioned, as if we doubted his veracity.
More satisfactory information, as it appeared to us, was obtained from others. Two days, or thirty miles, beyond where we turned back, the Rovuma is joined by the Liende, which, coming from the south-west, rises in the mountains on the east side of Nyassa. The great slave route to Kilwa runs up the banks of this river, which is only ankle-deep at the dry season of the year. The Rovuma itself comes from the W.N.W., and after the traveller passes the confluence of the Liende at Ngomano or “meeting-place,” the chief of which part is named Ndonde, he finds the river narrow, and the people Ajawa.
Crocodiles in the Rovuma have a sorry time of it. Never before were reptiles so persecuted and snubbed. They are hunted with spears, and spring traps are set for them. If one of them enters an inviting pool after fish, he soon finds a fence thrown round it, and a spring trap set in the only path out of the enclosure. Their flesh is eaten, and relished. The banks, on which the female lays her eggs by night, are carefully searched by day, and all the eggs dug out and devoured. The fish-hawk makes havoc among the few young ones that escape their other enemies. Our men were constantly on the look-out for crocodiles’ nests. One was found containing thirty-five newly-laid eggs, and they declared that the crocodile would lay as many more the second night in another place. The eggs were a foot deep in the sand on the top of a bank ten feet high. The animal digs a hole with its foot, covers the eggs, and leaves them till the river rises over the nest in about three months afterwards, when she comes back, and assists the young ones out. We once saw opposite Tette young crocodiles in December, swimming beside an island in company with an old one. The yolk of the egg is nearly as white as the real white. In taste they resemble hen’s eggs with perhaps a smack of custard, and would be as highly relished by whites as by blacks, were it not for their unsavoury origin in men-eaters.
Hunting the Senze (Aulacodus Swindernianus), an animal the size of a large cat, but in shape more like a pig, was the chief business of men and boys as we passed the reedy banks and low islands. They set fire to a mass of reeds, and, armed with sticks, spears, bows and arrows, stand in groups guarding the outlets through which the seared Senze may run from the approaching flames. Dark dense volumes of impenetrable smoke now roll over on the lee side of the islet, and shroud the hunters. At times vast sheets of lurid flames bursting forth, roaring, crackling and exploding, leap wildly far above the tall reeds. Out rush the terrified animals, and amid the smoke are seen the excited hunters dancing about with frantic gesticulations, and hurling stick, spear, and arrow at their burned out victims. Kites hover over the smoke, ready to pounce on the mantis and locusts as they spring from the fire. Small crows and hundreds of swallows are on eager wing, darting into the smoke and out again, seizing fugitive flies. Scores of insects, in their haste to escape from the fire, jump into the river, and the active fish enjoy a rare feast.
We returned to the “Pioneer” on the 9th of October, having been away one month. The ship’s company had used distilled water, a condenser having been sent out from England; and there had not been a single case of sickness on board since we left, though there were so many cases of fever the few days she lay in the same spot last year. Our boat party drank the water of the river, and the three white sailors, who had never been in an African river before, had some slight attacks of fever.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52