Late in the afternoon of the first day’s steaming, after we left the wooding-place, we called at the village of Chikanda–Kadze, a female chief, to purchase rice for our men; but we were now in the blissful region where time is absolutely of no account, and where men may sit down and rest themselves when tired; so they requested us to wait till next day, and they would then sell us some food. As our forty black men, however, had nothing to cook for supper, we were obliged to steam on to reach a village a few miles above. When we meet those who care not whether we purchase or let it alone, or who think men ought only to be in a hurry when fleeing from an enemy, our ideas about time being money, and the power of the purse, receives a shock. The state of eager competition, which in England wears out both mind and body, and makes life bitter, is here happily unknown. The cultivated spots are mere dots compared to the broad fields of rich soil which is never either grazed or tilled. Pity that the plenty in store for all, from our Father’s bountiful hands, is not enjoyed by more.
The wretched little steamer could not carry all the hands we needed; so, to lighten her, we put some into the boats and towed them astern. In the dark, one of the boats was capsized; but all in it, except one poor fellow who could not swim, were picked up. His loss threw a gloom over us all, and added to the chagrin we often felt at having been so ill-served in our sorry craft.
Next day we arrived at the village of Mboma (16 degrees 56 minutes 30 seconds S.), where the people raised large quantities of rice, and were eager traders; the rice was sold at wonderfully low rates, and we could not purchase a tithe of the food brought for sale.
A native minstrel serenaded us in the evening, playing several quaint tunes on a species of one stringed fiddle, accompanied by wild, but not unmusical songs. He told the Makololo that he intended to play all night to induce us to give him a present. The nights being cold, the thermometer falling to 47 degrees, with occasional fogs, he was asked if he was not afraid of perishing from cold; but, with the genuine spirit of an Italian organ-grinder, he replied, “Oh, no; I shall spend the night with my white comrades in the big canoe; I have often heard of the white men, but have never seen them till now, and I must sing and play well to them.” A small piece of cloth, however, bought him off, and he moved away in good humour. The water of the river was 70 degrees at sunrise, which was 23 degrees warmer than the air at the same time, and this caused fogs, which rose like steam off the river. When this is the case cold bathing in the mornings at this time of the year is improper, for, instead of a glow on coming out, one is apt to get a chill; the air being so much colder than the water.
A range of hills, commencing opposite Senna, comes to within two or three miles of Mboma village, and then runs in a north-westerly direction; the principal hill is named Malawe; a number of villages stand on its tree-covered sides, and coal is found cropping out in the rocks. The country improves as we ascend, the rich valley becoming less swampy, and adorned with a number of trees.
Both banks are dotted with hippopotamus traps, over every track which these animals have made in going up out of the water to graze. The hippopotamus feeds on grass alone, and, where there is any danger, only at night. Its enormous lips act like a mowing-machine, and form a path of short-cropped grass as it feeds. We never saw it eat aquatic plants or reeds. The tusks seem weapons of both offence and defence. The hippopotamus trap consists of a beam five or six feet long, armed with a spear-head or hard-wood spike, covered with poison, and suspended to a forked pole by a cord, which, coming down to the path, is held by a catch, to be set free when the beast treads on it. Being wary brutes, they are still very numerous. One got frightened by the ship, as she was steaming close to the bank. In its eager hurry to escape it rushed on shore, and ran directly under a trap, when down came the heavy beam on its back, driving the poisoned spear-head a foot deep into its flesh. In its agony it plunged back into the river, to die in a few hours, and afterwards furnished a feast for the natives. The poison on the spear-head does not affect the meat, except the part around the wound, and that is thrown away. In some places the descending beam is weighted with heavy stones, but here the hard heavy wood is sufficient.
“She is leaking worse than ever forward, sir, and there is a foot of water in the hold,” was our first salutation on the morning of the 20th. But we have become accustomed to these things now; the cabin-floor is always wet, and one is obliged to mop up the water many times a day, giving some countenance to the native idea that Englishmen live in or on the water, and have no houses but ships. The cabin is now a favourite breeding-place for mosquitoes, and we have to support both the ship-bred and shore-bred bloodsuckers, of which several species show us their irritating attentions. A large brown sort, called by the Portuguese mansos (tame), flies straight to its victim, and goes to work at once, as though it were an invited guest. Some of the small kinds carry uncommonly sharp lancets, and very potent poison. “What would these insects eat, if we did not pass this way?” becomes a natural question.
The juices of plants, and decaying vegetable matter in the mud, probably form the natural food of mosquitoes, and blood is not necessary for their existence. They appear so commonly at malarious spots, that their presence may be taken as a hint to man to be off to more healthy localities. None appear on the high lands. On the low lands they swarm in myriads. The females alone are furnished with the biting apparatus, and their number appears to be out of all proportion in excess of the males. At anchor, on a still evening, they were excessively annoying; and the sooner we took refuge under our mosquito curtains, the better. The miserable and sleepless night that only one mosquito inside the curtain can cause, is so well known, and has been so often described, that it is needless to describe it here. One soon learns, from experience, that to beat out the curtains thoroughly before entering them, so that not one of these pests can possibly be harboured within, is the only safeguard against such severe trials to one’s tranquillity and temper.
A few miles above Mboma we came again to the village (16 degrees 44 minutes 30 seconds S.) of the chief Tingane, the beat of whose war-drums can speedily muster some hundreds of armed men. The bows and poisoned arrows here are of superior workmanship to those below. Mariano’s slave-hunting parties stood in great awe of these barbed arrows, and long kept aloof from Tingane’s villages. His people were friendly enough with us now, and covered the banks with a variety of articles for sale. The majestic mountain, Chipirone, to which we have given the name of Mount Clarendon, now looms in sight, and further to the N.W. the southern end of the grand Milanje range rises in the form of an unfinished sphinx looking down on Lake Shirwa. The Ruo (16 degrees 31 minutes 0 seconds S.) is said to have its source in the Milanje mountains, and flows to the S.W., to join the Shire some distance above Tingane’s. A short way beyond the Ruo lies the Elephant marsh, or Nyanja Mukulu, which is frequented by vast herds of these animals. We believe that we counted eight hundred elephants in sight at once. In the choice of such a strong hold, they have shown their usual sagacity, for no hunter can get near them through the swamps. They now keep far from the steamer; but, when she first came up, we steamed into the midst of a herd, and some were shot from the ship’s deck. A single lesson was sufficient to teach them that the steamer was a thing to be avoided; and at the first glimpse they are now off two or three miles to the midst of the marsh, which is furrowed in every direction by wandering branches of the Shire. A fine young elephant was here caught alive, as he was climbing up the bank to follow his retreating dam. When laid hold of, he screamed with so much energy that, to escape a visit from the enraged mother, we steamed off, and dragged him through the water by the proboscis. As the men were holding his trunk over the gunwale, Monga, a brave Makololo elephant-hunter, rushed aft, and drew his knife across it in a sort of frenzy peculiar to the chase. The wound was skilfully sewn up, and the young animal soon became quite tame, but, unfortunately the breathing prevented the cut from healing, and he died in a few days from loss of blood. Had he lived, and had we been able to bring him home, he would have been the first AFRICAN elephant ever seen in England. The African male elephant is from ten to a little over eleven feet in height, and differs from the Asiatic species more particularly in the convex shape of his forehead, and the enormous size of his ears. In Asia many of the males, and all the females, are without tusks, but in Africa both sexes are provided with these weapons. The enamel in the molar teeth is arranged differently in the two species. By an admirable provision, new teeth constantly come up at the part where in man the wisdom teeth appear, and these push the others along, and out at the front end of the jaws, thus keeping the molars sound by renewal, till the animal attains a very great age. The tusks of animals from dry rocky countries are very munch more dense and heavier than those from wet and marshy districts, but the latter attain much the larger size.
The Shire marshes support prodigious numbers of many kinds of water-fowl. An hour at the mast-head unfolds novel views of life in an African marsh. Near the edge, and on the branches of some favourite tree, rest scores of plotuses and cormorants, which stretch their snake-like necks, and in mute amazement turn one eye and then another towards the approaching monster. By and-by the timid ones begin to fly off, or take “headers” into the stream; but a few of the bolder, or more composed, remain, only taking the precaution to spread their wings ready for instant flight. The pretty ardetta (Herodias bubulcus), of a light yellow colour when at rest, but seemingly of a pure white when flying, takes wing, and sweeps across the green grass in large numbers, often showing us where buffaloes and elephants are, by perching on their backs. Flocks of ducks, of which the kind called “Soriri” (Dendrocygna personata) is most abundant, being night feeders, meditate quietly by the small lagoons, until startled by the noise of the steam machinery. Pelicans glide over the water, catching fish, while the Scopus (Scopus umbretta) and large herons peer intently into pools. The large black and white spur-winged goose (a constant marauder of native gardens) springs up, and circles round to find out what the disturbance can be, and then settles down again with a splash. Hundreds of Linongolos (Anastomus lamelligerus) rise on the wing from the clumps of reeds, or low trees (the Eschinomena, from which pith hats are made), on which they build in colonies, and are speedily high in mid-air. Charming little red and yellow weavers (Ploceidae) remind one of butterflies, as they fly in and out of the tall grass, or hang to the mouths of their pendent nests, chattering briskly to their mates within. These weavers seem to have “cock nests,” built with only a roof, and a perch beneath, with a doorway on each side. The natives say they are made to protect the bird from the rain. Though her husband is very attentive, we have seen the hen bird tearing her mate’s nest to pieces, but why we cannot tell. Kites and vultures are busy overhead, beating the ground for their repast of carrion; and the solemn-looking, stately-stepping Marabout, with a taste for dead fish, or men, stalks slowly along the almost stagnant channels. Groups of men and boys are searching diligently in various places for lotus and other roots. Some are standing in canoes, on the weed-covered ponds, spearing fish, while others are punting over the small intersecting streams, to examine their sunken fish-baskets.
Towards evening, hundreds of pretty little hawks (Erythropus vespertinus) are seen flying in a southerly direction, and feeding on dragon-flies and locusts. They come, apparently, from resting on the palm-trees during the heat of the day. Flocks of scissor-bills (Rhyncops) are then also on the wing, and in search of food, ploughing the water with their lower mandibles, which are nearly half an inch longer than the upper ones.
At the north-eastern end of the marsh, and about three miles from the river, commences a great forest of palm-trees (Borassus Aethiopium). It extends many miles, and at one point comes close to the river. The grey trunks and green tops of this immense mass of trees give a pleasing tone of colour to the view. The mountain-range, which rises close behind the palms, is generally of a cheerful green, and has many trees, with patches of a lighter tint among them, as if spots of land had once been cultivated. The sharp angular rocks and dells on its sides have the appearance of a huge crystal broken; and this is so often the case in Africa, that one can guess pretty nearly at sight whether a range is of the old crystalline rocks or not. The Borassus, though not an oil-bearing palm, is a useful tree. The fibrous pulp round the large nuts is of a sweet fruity taste, and is eaten by men and elephants. The natives bury the nuts until the kernels begin to sprout; when dug up and broken, the inside resembles coarse potatoes, and is prized in times of scarcity as nutritious food. During several months of the year, palm-wine, or sura, is obtained in large quantities; when fresh, it is a pleasant drink, somewhat like champagne, and not at all intoxicating; though, after standing a few hours, it becomes highly so. Sticks, a foot long, are driven into notches in the hard outside of the tree — the inside being soft or hollow — to serve as a ladder; the top of the fruit-shoot is cut off, and the sap, pouring out at the fresh wound, is caught in an earthen pot, which is hung at the point. A thin slice is taken off the end, to open the pores, and make the juice flow every time the owner ascends to empty the pot. Temporary huts are erected in the forest, and men and boys remain by their respective trees day and night; the nuts, fish, and wine, being their sole food. The Portuguese use the palm-wine as yeast, and it makes bread so light, that it melts in the mouth like froth.
Beyond the marsh the country is higher, and has a much larger population. We passed a long line of temporary huts, on a plain on the right bank, with crowds of men and women hard at work making salt. They obtain it by mixing the earth, which is here highly saline, with water, in a pot with a small hole in it, and then evaporating the liquid, which runs through, in the sun. From the number of women we saw carrying it off in bags, we concluded that vast quantities must be made at these works. It is worth observing that on soils like this, containing salt, the cotton is of larger and finer staple than elsewhere. We saw large tracts of this rich brackish soil both in the Shire and Zambesi valleys, and hence, probably, sea-island cotton would do well; a single plant of it, reared by Major Sicard, flourished and produced the long staple and peculiar tinge of this celebrated variety, though planted only in the street at Tette; and there also a salt efflorescence appears, probably from decomposition of the rock, off which the people scrape it for use.
The large village of the chief, Mankokwe, occupies a site on the right bank; he owns a number of fertile islands, and is said to be the Rundo, or paramount chief, of a large district. Being of an unhappy suspicious disposition, he would not see us; so we thought it best to move on, rather than spend time in seeking his favour.
On the 25th August we reached Dakanamoio island, opposite the perpendicular bluff on which Chibisa’s village stands; he had gone, with most of his people, to live near the Zambesi, but his headman was civil, and promised us guides and whatever else we needed. A few of the men were busy cleaning, sorting, spinning, and weaving cotton. This is a common sight in nearly every village, and each family appears to have its patch of cotton, as our own ancestors in Scotland had each his patch of flax. Near sunset an immense flock of the large species of horn-bill (Buceros cristatus) came here to roost on the great trees which skirt the edge of the cliff. They leave early in the morning, often before sunrise, for their feeding-places, coming and going in pairs. They are evidently of a loving disposition, and strongly attached to each other, the male always nestling close beside his mate. A fine male fell to the ground, from fear, at the report of Dr. Kirk’s gun; it was caught and kept on board; the female did not go off in the mornings to feed with the others, but flew round the ship, anxiously trying, by her plaintive calls, to induce her beloved one to follow her: she came again in the evenings to repeat the invitations. The poor disconsolate captive soon refused to eat, and in five days died of grief, because he could not have her company. No internal injury could be detected after death.
Chibisa and his wife, with a natural show of parental feeling, had told the Doctor, on his previous visit, that a few years before some of Chisaka’s men had kidnapped and sold their little daughter, and that she was now a slave to the padre at Tette. On his return to Tette, the Doctor tried hard to ransom and restore the girl to her parents, and offered twice the value of a slave; the padre seemed willing, but she could not be found. This padre was better than the average men of the country; and, being always civil and obliging, would probably have restored her gratuitously, but she had been sold, it might be to the distant tribe Bazizulu, or he could not tell where. Custom had rendered his feelings callous, and Chibisa had to be told that his child would never return. It is this callous state of mind which leads some of our own blood to quote Scripture in support of slavery. If we could afford to take a backward step in civilization, we might find men among ourselves who would in like manner prove Mormonism or any other enormity to be divine.
We left the ship on the 28th of August, 1859, for the discovery of Lake Nyassa. Our party numbered forty-two in all — four whites, thirty-six Makololo, and two guides. We did not actually need so many, either for carriage or defence; but took them because we believed that, human nature being everywhere the same, blacks are as ready as whites to take advantage of the weak, and are as civil and respectful to the powerful. We armed our men with muskets, which gave us influence, although it did not add much to our strength, as most of the men had never drawn a trigger, and in any conflict would in all probability have been more dangerous to us than the enemy.
Our path crossed the valley, in a north-easterly direction, up the course of a beautiful flowing stream. Many of the gardens had excellent cotton growing in them. An hour’s march brought us to the foot of the Manganja hills, up which lay the toilsome road. The vegetation soon changed; as we rose bamboos appeared, and new trees and plants were met with, which gave such incessant employment to Dr. Kirk, that he travelled the distance three times over. Remarkably fine trees, one of which has oil-yielding seeds, and belongs to the mahogany family, grow well in the hollows along the rivulet courses. The ascent became very fatiguing, and we were glad of a rest. Looking back from an elevation of a thousand feet, we beheld a lovely prospect. The eye takes in at a glance the valley beneath, and the many windings of its silver stream Makubula, or Kubvula, from the shady hill-side, where it emerges in foaming haste, to where it slowly glides into the tranquil Shire; then the Shire itself is seen for many a mile above and below Chibisa’s, and the great level country beyond, with its numerous green woods; until the prospect, west and north-west, is bounded far away by masses of peaked and dome-shaped blue mountains, that fringe the highlands of the Maravi country.
After a weary march we halted at Makolongwi, the village of Chitimba. It stands in a woody hollow on the first of the three terraces of the Manganja hills, and, like all other Manganja villages, is surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of poisonous euphorbia. This tree casts a deep shade, which would render it difficult for bowmen to take aim at the villagers inside. The grass does not grow beneath it, and this may be the reason why it is so universally used, for when dry the grass would readily convey fire to the huts inside; moreover, the hedge acts as a fender to all flying sparks. As strangers are wont to do, we sat down under some fine trees near the entrance of the village. A couple of mats, made of split reeds, were spread for the white men to sit on; and the headman brought a seguati, or present, of a small goat and a basket of meal. The full value in beads and cotton cloth was handed to him in return. He measured the cloth, doubled it, and then measured that again. The beads were scrutinized; he had never seen beads of that colour before, and should like to consult with his comrades before accepting them, and this, after repeated examinations and much anxious talk, he concluded to do. Meal and peas were then brought for sale. A fathom of blue cotton cloth, a full dress for man or woman, was produced. Our Makololo headman, Sininyane, thinking a part of it was enough for the meal, was proceeding to tear it, when Chitimba remarked that it was a pity to cut such a nice dress for his wife, he would rather bring more meal. “All right,” said Sininyane; “but look, the cloth is very wide, so see that the basket which carries the meal be wide too, and add a cock to make the meal taste nicely.” A brisk trade sprang up at once, each being eager to obtain as fine things as his neighbour,- -and all were in good humour. Women and girls began to pound and grind meal, and men and boys chased the screaming fowls over the village, until they ran them down. In a few hours the market was completely glutted with every sort of native food; the prices, however, rarely fell, as they could easily eat what was not sold.
We slept under the trees, the air being pheasant, and no mosquitoes on the hills. According to our usual plan of marching, by early dawn our camp was in motion. After a cup of coffee and a bit of biscuit we were on the way. The air was deliciously cool, and the path a little easier than that of yesterday. We passed a number of villages, occupying very picturesque spots among the hills, and in a few hours gained the upper terrace, 3000 feet above the level of the sea. The plateau lies west of the Milanje mountains, and its north-eastern border slopes down to Lake Shirwa. We were all charmed with the splendid country, and looked with never-failing delight on its fertile plains, its numerous hills, and majestic mountains. In some of the passes we saw bramble-berries growing; and the many other flowers, though of great beauty, did not remind us of youth and of home like the ungainly thorny bramble-bushes. We were a week in crossing the high-lands in a northerly direction; then we descended into the Upper Shire Valley, which is nearly 1200 feet above the level of the sea. This valley is wonderfully fertile, and supports a large population. After leaving the somewhat flat-topped southern portion, the most prominent mountain of the Zomba range is Njongone, which has a fine stream running past its northern base. We were detained at the end of the chain some days by one of our companions being laid up with fever. One night we were suddenly aroused by buffaloes rushing close by the sick-bed. We were encamped by a wood on the border of a marsh, but our patient soon recovered, notwithstanding the unfavourable situation, and the poor accommodation.
The Manganja country is delightfully well watered. The clear, cool, gushing streams are very numerous. Once we passed seven fine brooks and a spring in a single hour, and this, too, near the close of the dry season. Mount Zomba, which is twenty miles long, and from 7000 to 8000 feet high, has a beautiful stream flowing through a verdant valley on its summit, and running away down into Lake Shirwa. The highlands are well wooded, and many trees, admirable for their height and timber, grow on the various watercourses. “Is this country good for cattle?” we inquired of a Makololo herdsman, whose occupation had given him skill in pasturage. “Truly,” he replied, “do you not see abundance of those grasses which the cattle love, and get fat upon?” Yet the people have but few goats, and fewer sheep. With the exception of an occasional leopard, there are no beasts of prey to disturb domestic animals. Wool-sheep would, without doubt, thrive on these highlands. Part of the Upper Shire valley has a lady paramount, named Nyango; and in her dominions women rank higher and receive more respectful treatment than their sisters on the hills.
The hill chief, Mongazi, called his wife to take charge of a present we had given him. She dropped down on her knees, clapping her hands in reverence, before and after receiving our presents from his lordly hands. It was painful to see the abject manner in which the women of the hill tribes knelt beside the path as we passed; but a great difference took place when we got into Nyango’s country.
On entering a village, we proceeded, as all strangers do, at once to the Boalo: mats of split reeds or bamboo were usually spread for us to sit on. Our guides then told the men who might be there, who we were, whence we had come, whither we wanted to go, and what were our objects. This information was duly carried to the chief, who, if a sensible man, came at once; but, if he happened to be timid and suspicious, waited until he had used divination, and his warriors had time to come in from outlying hamlets. When he makes his appearance, all the people begin to clap their hands in unison, and continue doing so till he sits down opposite to us. His counsellors take their places beside him. He makes a remark or two, and is then silent for a few seconds. Our guides then sit down in front of the chief and his counsellors, and both parties lean forward, looking earnestly at each other; the chief repeats a word, such as “Ambuiatu” (our Father, or master)— or “moio” (life), and all clap their hands. Another word is followed by two claps, a third by still more clapping, when each touches the ground with both hands placed together. Then all rise and lean forward with measured clap, and sit down again with clap, clap, clap, fainter, and still fainter, till the last dies away, or is brought to an end by a smart loud clap from the chief. They keep perfect time in this species of court etiquette. Our guides now tell the chief, often in blank verse, all they have already told his people, with the addition perhaps of their own suspicions of the visitors. He asks some questions, and then converses with us through the guides. Direct communication between the chief and the head of the stranger party is not customary. In approaching they often ask who is the spokesman, and the spokesman of the chief addresses the person indicated exclusively. There is no lack of punctilious good manners. The accustomed presents are exchanged with civil ceremoniousness; until our men, wearied and hungry, call out, “English do not buy slaves, they buy food,” and then the people bring meal, maize, fowls, batatas, yams, beans, beer, for sale.
The Manganja are an industrious race; and in addition to working in iron, cotton, and basket-making, they cultivate the soil extensively. All the people of a village turn out to labour in the fields. It is no uncommon thing to see men, women, and children hard at work, with the baby lying close by beneath a shady bush. When a new piece of woodland is to be cleared, they proceed exactly as farmers do in America. The trees are cut down with their little axes of soft native iron; trunks and branches are piled up and burnt, and the ashes spread on the soil. The corn is planted among the standing stumps which are left to rot. If grass land is to be brought under cultivation, as much tall grass as the labourer can conveniently lay hold of is collected together and tied into a knot. He then strikes his hoe round the tufts to sever the roots, and leaving all standing, proceeds until the whole ground assumes the appearance of a field covered with little shocks of corn in harvest. A short time before the rains begin, these grass shocks are collected in small heaps, covered with earth, and burnt, the ashes and burnt soil being used to fertilize the ground. Large crops of the mapira, or Egyptian dura (Holcus sorghum), are raised, with millet, beans, and ground-nuts; also patches of yams, rice, pumpkins, cucumbers, cassava, sweet potatoes, tobacco, and hemp, or bang (Cannabis setiva). Maize is grown all the year round. Cotton is cultivated at almost every village. Three varieties of cotton have been found in the country, namely, two foreign and one native. The “tonje manga,” or foreign cotton, the name showing that it has been introduced, is of excellent quality, and considered at Manchester to be nearly equal to the best New Orleans. It is perennial, but requires replanting once in three years. A considerable amount of this variety is grown in the Upper and Lower Shire valleys. Every family of any importance owns a cotton patch which, from the entire absence of weeds, seemed to be carefully cultivated. Most were small, none seen on this journey exceeding half an acre; but on the former trip some were observed of more than twice that size.
The “tonje cadja,” or indigenous cotton, is of shorter staple, and feels in the hand like wool. This kind has to be planted every season in the highlands; yet, because it makes stronger cloth, many of the people prefer it to the foreign cotton; the third variety is not found here. It was remarked to a number of men near the Shire Lakelet, a little further on towards Nyassa, “You should plant plenty of cotton, and probably the English will come and buy it.” “Truly,” replied a far-travelled Babisa trader to his fellows, “the country is full of cotton, and if these people come to buy they will enrich us.” Our own observation on the cotton cultivated convinced us that this was no empty flourish, but a fact. Everywhere we met with it, and scarcely ever entered a village without finding a number of men cleaning, spinning, and weaving. It is first carefully separated from the seed by the fingers, or by an iron roller, on a little block of wood, and rove out into long soft bands without twist. Then it receives its first twist on the spindle, and becomes about the thickness of coarse candlewick; after being taken off and wound into a large ball, it is given the final hard twist, and spun into a firm cop on the spindle again: all the processes being painfully slow.
Iron ore is dug out of the hills, and its manufacture is the staple trade of the southern highlands. Each village has its smelting-house, its charcoal-burners, and blacksmiths. They make good axes, spears, needles, arrowheads, bracelets and anklets, which, considering the entire absence of machinery, are sold at surprisingly low rates; a hoe over two pounds in weight is exchanged for calico of about the value of fourpence. In villages near Lake Shirwa and elsewhere, the inhabitants enter pretty largely into the manufacture of crockery, or pottery, making by hand all sorts of cooking, water, and grain pots, which they ornament with plumbago found in the hills. Some find employment in weaving neat baskets from split bamboos, and others collect the fibre of the buaze, which grows abundantly on the hills, and make it into fish-nets. These they either use themselves, or exchange with the fishermen on the river or lakes for dried fish and salt. A great deal of native trade is carried on between the villages, by means of barter in tobacco, salt, dried fish, skins, and iron. Many of the men are intelligent-looking, with well-shaped heads, agreeable faces, and high foreheads. We soon learned to forget colour, and we frequently saw countenances resembling those of white people we had known in England, which brought back the looks of forgotten ones vividly before the mind. The men take a good deal of pride in the arrangement of their hair; the varieties of style are endless. One trains his long locks till they take the admired form of the buffalo’s horns; others prefer to let their hair hang in a thick coil down their backs, like that animal’s tail; while another wears it in twisted cords, which, stiffened by fillets of the inner bark of a tree wound spirally round each curl, radiate from the head in all directions. Some have it hanging all round the shoulders in large masses; others shave it off altogether. Many shave part of it into ornamental figures, in which the fancy of the barber crops out conspicuously. About as many dandies run to seed among the blacks as among the whites. The Man ganja adorn their bodies extravagantly, wearing rings on their fingers and thumbs, besides throatlets, bracelets, and anklets of brass, copper, or iron. But the most wonderful of ornaments, if such it may be called, is the pelele, or upper-lip ring of the women. The middle of the upper lip of the girls is pierced close to the septum of the nose, and a small pin inserted to prevent the puncture closing up. After it has healed, the pin is taken out and a larger one is pressed into its place, and so on successively for weeks, and months, and years. The process of increasing the size of the lip goes on till its capacity becomes so great that a ring of two inches diameter can be introduced with ease. All the highland women wear the pelele, and it is common on the Upper and Lower Shire. The poorer classes make them of hollow or of solid bamboo, but the wealthier of ivory or tin. The tin pelele is often made in the form of a small dish. The ivory one is not unlike a napkin-ring. No woman ever appears in public without the pelele, except in times of mourning for the dead. It is frightfully ugly to see the upper lip projecting two inches beyond the tip of the nose. When an old wearer of a hollow bamboo ring smiles, by the action of the muscles of the cheeks, the ring and lip outside it are dragged back and thrown above the eyebrows. The nose is seen through the middle of the ring, amid the exposed teeth show how carefully they have been chipped to look like those of a cat or crocodile. The pelele of an old lady, Chikanda Kadze, a chieftainess, about twenty miles north of Morambala, hung down below her chin, with, of course, a piece of the upper lip around its border. The labial letters cannot be properly pronounced, but the under lip has to do its best for them, against the upper teeth and gum. Tell them it makes them ugly; they had better throw it away; they reply, “Kodi! Really! it is the fashion.” How this hideous fashion originated is an enigma. Can thick lips ever have been thought beautiful, and this mode of artificial enlargement resorted to in consequence? The constant twiddling of the pelele with the tongue by the younger women suggested the irreverent idea that it might have been invented to give safe employment to that little member. “Why do the women wear these things?” we inquired of the old chief, Chinsunse. Evidently surprised at such a stupid question, he replied, “For beauty, to be sure! Men have beards and whiskers; women have none; and what kind of creature would a woman be without whiskers, and without the pelele? She would have a mouth like a man, and no beard; ha! ha! ha!” Afterwards on the Rovuma, we found men wearing the pelele, as well as women. An idea suggested itself on seeing the effects of the slight but constant pressure exerted on the upper gum and front teeth, of which our medical brethren will judge the value. In many cases the upper front teeth, instead of the natural curve outwards, which the row presents, had been pressed so as to appear as if the line of alveoli in which they were planted had an inward curve. As this was produced by the slight pressure of the pelele backwards, persons with too prominent teeth might by slight, but long-continued pressure, by some appliance only as elastic as the lip, have the upper gum and teeth depressed, especially in youth, more easily than is usually imagined. The pressure should be applied to the upper gum more than to the teeth.
The Manganja are not a sober people: they brew large quantities of beer, and like it well. Having no hops, or other means of checking fermentation, they are obliged to drink the whole brew in a few days, or it becomes unfit for use. Great merry-makings take place on these occasions, and drinking, drumming, and dancing continue day and night, till the beer is gone. In crossing the hills we sometimes found whole villages enjoying this kind of mirth. The veteran traveller of the party remarked, that he had not seen so much drunkenness during all the sixteen years he had spent in Africa. As we entered a village one afternoon, not a man was to be seen; but some women were drinking beer under a tree. In a few moments the native doctor, one of the innocents, “nobody’s enemy but his own,” staggered out of a hut, with his cupping-horn dangling from his neck, and began to scold us for a breach of etiquette. “Is this the way to come into a man’s village, without sending him word that you are coming?” Our men soon pacified the fuddled but good-humoured medico, who, entering his beer-cellar, called on two of them to help him to carry out a huge pot of beer, which he generously presented to us. While the “medical practitioner” was thus hospitably employed, the chief awoke in a fright, and shouted to the women to run away, or they would all be killed. The ladies laughed at the idea of their being able to run away, and remained beside the beer-pots. We selected a spot for our camp, our men cooked the dinner as usual, and we were quietly eating it, when scores of armed men, streaming with perspiration, came pouring into the village. They looked at us, then at each other, and turning to the chief upbraided him for so needlessly sending for them. “These people are peaceable; they do not hurt you; you are killed with beer:” so saying, they returned to their homes.
Native beer has a pinkish colour, and the consistency of gruel. The grain is made to vegetate, dried in the sun, pounded into meal, and gently boiled. When only a day or two old, the beer is sweet, with a slight degree of acidity, which renders it a most grateful beverage in a hot climate, or when fever begets a sore craving for acid drinks. A single draught of it satisfies this craving at once. Only by deep and long-continued potations can intoxication be produced: the grain being in a minutely divided state, it is a good way of consuming it, and the decoction is very nutritious. At Tette a measure of beer is exchanged for an equal-sized pot full of grain. A present of this beer, so refreshing to our dark comrades, was brought to us in nearly every village. Beer-drinking does not appear to produce any disease, or to shorten life on the hills. Never before did we see so many old, grey-headed men and women; leaning on their staves they came with the others to see the white men. The aged chief, Muata Manga, could hardly have been less than ninety years of age; his venerable appearance struck the Makololo. “He is an old man,” said they, “a very old man; his skin hangs in wrinkles, just like that on elephants’ hips.” “Did you never,” he was asked, “have a fit of travelling come over you; a desire to see other lands and people?” No, he had never felt that, and had never been far from home in his life. For long life they are not indebted to frequent ablutions. An old man told us that he remembered to have washed once in his life, but it was so long since that he had forgotten how it felt. “Why do you wash?” asked Chinsunse’s women of the Makololo; “our men never do.”
The superstitious ordeal, by drinking the poisonous muave, obtains credit here; and when a person is suspected of crime, this ordeal is resorted to. If the stomach rejects the poison, the accused is pronounced innocent; but if it is retained, guilt is believed to be demonstrated. Their faith is so firm in its discriminating power, that the supposed criminal offers of his own accord to drink it, and even chiefs are not exempted. Chibisa, relying on its efficacy, drank it several times, in order to vindicate his character. When asserting that all his wars had been just, it was hinted that, as every chief had the same tale of innocence to tell, we ought to suspend our judgment. “If you doubt my word,” said he, “give me the muave to drink.” A chief at the foot of Mount Zomba successfully went through the ordeal the day we reached his village; and his people manifested their joy at his deliverance by drinking beer, dancing, and drumming for two days and nights. It is possible that the native doctor, who mixes the ingredients of the poisoned bowl, may be able to save those whom he considers innocent; but it is difficult to get the natives to speak about the matter, and no one is willing to tell what the muave poison consists of. We have been shown trees said to be used, but had always reason to doubt the accuracy of our informants. We once found a tree in a village, with many pieces of the bark chipped off, closely allied to the Tangena or Tanghina, the ordeal poison tree of Madagascar; but we could not ascertain any particulars about it. Death is inflicted on those found guilty of witchcraft, by the muave.
The women wail for the dead two days. Seated on the ground they chant a few plaintive words, and end each verse with the prolonged sound of a-a, or o-o, or ea-ea-ea — a. Whatever beer is in the house of the deceased, is poured out on the ground with the meal, and all cooking and water pots are broken, as being of no further use. Both men and women wear signs of mourning for their dead relatives. These consist of narrow strips of the palm-leaf wound round the head, the arms, legs, neck, and breasts, and worn till they drop off from decay. They believe in the existence of a supreme being, called Mpambe, and also Morungo, and in a future state. “We live only a few days here,” said old Chinsunse, “but we live again after death: we do not know where, or in what condition, or with what companions, for the dead never return to tell us. Sometimes the dead do come back, and appear to us in dreams; but they never speak nor tell us where they have gone, nor how they fare.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52