Our path followed the Shire above the cataracts, which is now a broad deep river, with but little current. It expands in one place into a lakelet, called Pamalombe, full of fine fish, and ten or twelve miles long by five or six in breadth. Its banks are low, and a dense wall of papyrus encircles it. On its western shore rises a range of hills running north. On reaching the village of the chief Muana–Moesi, and about a day’s march distant from Nyassa, we were told that no lake had ever been heard of there; that the River Shire stretched on as we saw it now to a distance of “two months,” and then came out from between perpendicular rocks, which towered almost to the skies. Our men looked blank at this piece of news, and said, “Let us go back to the ship, it is of no use trying to find the lake.” “We shall go and see those wonderful rocks at any rate,” said the Doctor. “And when you see them,” replied Masakasa, “you will just want to see something else. But there IS a lake,” rejoined Masakasa, “for all their denying it, for it is down in a book.” Masakasa, having unbounded faith in whatever was in a book, went and scolded the natives for telling him an untruth. “There is a lake,” said he, “for how could the white men know about it in a book if it did not exist?” They then admitted that there was a lake a few miles off. Subsequent inquiries make it probable that the story of the “perpendicular rocks” may have had reference to a fissure, known to both natives and Arabs, in the north-eastern portion of the lake. The walls rise so high that the path along the bottom is said to be underground. It is probably a crack similar to that which made the Victoria Falls, and formed the Shire Valley.
The chief brought a small present of meal in the evening, and sat with us for a few minutes. On leaving us he said that he wished we might sleep well. Scarce had he gone, when a wild sad cry arose from the river, followed by the shrieking of women. A crocodile had carried off his principal wife, as she was bathing. The Makololo snatched up their arms, and rushed to the bank, but it was too late, she was gone. The wailing of the women continued all night, and next morning we met others coming to the village to join in the general mourning. Their grief was evidently heartfelt, as we saw the tears coursing down their cheeks. In reporting this misfortune to his neighbours, Muana–Moesi said, “that white men came to his village; washed themselves at the place where his wife drew water and bathed; rubbed themselves with a white medicine (soap); and his wife, having gone to bathe afterwards, was taken by a crocodile; he did not know whether in consequence of the medicine used or not.” This we could not find fault with. On our return we were viewed with awe, and all the men fled at our approach; the women remained; and this elicited the remark from our men, “The women have the advantage of men, in not needing to dread the spear.” The practice of bathing, which our first contact with Chinsunse’s people led us to believe was unknown to the natives, we afterwards found to be common in other parts of the Manganja country.
We discovered Lake Nyassa a little before noon of the 16th September, 1859. Its southern end is in 14 degrees 25 minutes S. Lat., and 35 degrees 30 minutes E. Long. At this point the valley is about twelve miles wide. There are hills on both sides of the lake, but the haze from burning grass prevented us at the time from seeing far. A long time after our return from Nyassa, we received a letter from Captain R. B. Oldfield, R.N., then commanding H.M.S. “Lyra,” with the information that Dr. Roscher, an enterprising German who unfortunately lost his life in his zeal for exploration, had also reached the Lake, but on the 19th November following our discovery; and on his arrival had been informed by the natives that a party of white men were at the southern extremity. On comparing dates (16th September and 19th November) we were about two months before Dr. Roscher.
It is not known where Dr. Roscher first saw its waters; as the exact position of Nusseewa on the borders of the Lake, where he lived some time, is unknown. He was three days north-east of Nusseewa, and on the Arab road back to the usual crossing-place of the Rovuma, when he was murdered. The murderers were seized by one of the chiefs, sent to Zanzibar, and executed. He is said to have kept his discoveries to himself, with the intention of publishing in Europe the whole at once, in a splendid book of travels.
The chief of the village near the confluence of the Lake and River Shire, an old man, called Mosauka, hearing that we were sitting under a tree, came and kindly invited us to his village. He took us to a magnificent banyan-tree, of which he seemed proud. The roots had been trained down to the ground into the form of a gigantic arm-chair, without the seat. Four of us slept in the space betwixt its arms. Mosauka brought us a present of a goat and basket of meal “to comfort our hearts.” He told us that a large slave party, led by Arabs, were encamped close by. They had been up to Cazembe’s country the past year, and were on their way back, with plenty of slaves, ivory, and malachite. In a few minutes half a dozen of the leaders came over to see us. They were armed with long muskets, and, to our mind, were a villanous-looking lot. They evidently thought the same of us, for they offered several young children for sale, but, when told that we were English, showed signs of fear, and decamped during the night. On our return to the Kongone, we found that H.M.S. “Lynx” had caught some of these very slaves in a dhow; for a woman told us she first saw us at Mosauka’s, and that the Arabs had fled for fear of an UNCANNY sort of Basungu.
This is one of the great slave-paths from the interior, others cross the Shire a little below, and some on the lake itself. We might have released these slaves but did not know what to do with them afterwards. On meeting men, led in slave-sticks, the Doctor had to bear the reproaches of the Makololo, who never slave, “Ay, you call us bad, but are we yellow-hearted, like these fellows — why won’t you let us choke them?” To liberate and leave them, would have done but little good, as the people of the surrounding villages would soon have seized them, and have sold them again into slavery. The Manganja chiefs sell their own people, for we met Ajawa and slave-dealers in several highland villages, who had certainly been encouraged to come among them for slaves. The chiefs always seemed ashamed of the traffic, and tried to excuse themselves. “We do not sell many, and only those who have committed crimes.” As a rule the regular trade is supplied by the low and criminal classes, and hence the ugliness of slaves. Others are probably sold besides criminals, as on the accusation of witchcraft. Friendless orphans also sometimes disappear suddenly, and no one inquires what has become of them. The temptation to sell their people is peculiarly great, as there is but little ivory on the hills, and often the chief has nothing but human flesh with which to buy foreign goods. The Ajawa offer cloth, brass rings, pottery, and sometimes handsome young women, and agree to take the trouble of carrying off by night all those whom the chief may point out to them. They give four yards of cotton cloth for a man, three for a woman, and two for a boy or girl, to be taken to the Portuguese at Mozambique, Iboe, and Quillimane.
The Manganja were more suspicious and less hospitable than the tribes on the Zambesi. They were slow to believe that our object in coming into their country was really what we professed it to be. They naturally judge us by the motives which govern themselves. A chief in the Upper Shire Valley, whose scared looks led our men to christen him Kitlabolawa (I shall be killed), remarked that parties had come before, with as plausible a story as ours, and, after a few days, had jumped up and carried off a number of his people as slaves. We were not allowed to enter some of the villages in the valley, nor would the inhabitants even sell us food; Zimika’s men, for instance, stood at the entrance of the euphorbia hedge, and declared we should not pass in. We sat down under a tree close by. A young fellow made an angry oration, dancing from side to side with his bow and poisoned arrows, and gesticulating fiercely in our faces. He was stopped in the middle of his harangue by an old man, who ordered him to sit down, and not talk to strangers in that way; he obeyed reluctantly, scowling defiance, and thrusting out his large lips very significantly. The women were observed leaving the village; and, suspecting that mischief might ensue, we proceeded on our journey, to the great disgust of our men. They were very angry with the natives for their want of hospitality to strangers, and with us, because we would not allow them to give “the things a thrashing.” “This is what comes of going with white men,” they growled out; “had we been with our own chief, we should have eaten their goats to-night, and had some of themselves to carry the bundles for us tomorrow.” On our return by a path which left his village on our right, Zimika sent to apologize, saying that “he was ill, and in another village at the time; it was not by his orders we were sent away; his men did not know that we were a party wishing the land to dwell in peace.”
We were not able, when hastening back to the men left in the ship, to remain in the villages belonging to this chief; but the people came after us with things for sale, and invited us to stop, and spend the night with them, urging, “Are we to have it said that white people passed through our country and we did not see them?” We rested by a rivulet to gratify these sight-seers. We appear to them to be red rather than white; and, though light colour is admired among themselves, our clothing renders us uncouth in aspect. Blue eyes appear savage, and a red beard hideous. From the numbers of aged persons we saw on the highlands, and the increase of mental and physical vigour we experienced on our ascent from the lowlands, we inferred that the climate was salubrious, and that our countrymen might there enjoy good health, and also be of signal benefit, by leading the multitude of industrious inhabitants to cultivate cotton, buaze, sugar, and other valuable produce, to exchange for goods of European manufacture; at the same time teaching them, by precept and example, the great truths of our Holy Religion.
Our stay at the Lake was necessarily short. We had found that the best plan for allaying any suspicions, that might arise in the minds of a people accustomed only to slave-traders, was to pay a hasty visit, and then leave for a while, and allow the conviction to form among the people that, though our course of action was so different from that of others, we were not dangerous, but rather disposed to be friendly. We had also a party at the vessel, and any indiscretion on their part might have proved fatal to the character of the Expedition.
The trade of Cazembe and Katanga’s country, and of other parts of the interior, crosses Nyassa and the Shire, on its way to the Arab port, Kilwa, and the Portuguese ports of Iboe and Mozambique. At present, slaves, ivory, malachite, and copper ornaments, are the only articles of commerce. According to information collected by Colonel Rigby at Zanzibar, and from other sources, nearly all the slaves shipped from the above-mentioned ports come from the Nyassa district. By means of a small steamer, purchasing the ivory of the Lake and River above the cataracts, which together have a shore-line of at least 600 miles, the slave-trade in this quarter would be rendered unprofitable — for it is only by the ivory being carried by the slaves, that the latter do not eat up all the profits of a trip. An influence would be exerted over an enormous area of country, for the Mazitu about the north end of the Lake will not allow slave-traders to pass round that way through their country. They would be most efficient allies to the English, and might themselves be benefited by more intercourse. As things are now, the native traders in ivory and malachite have to submit to heavy exactions; and if we could give them the same prices which they at present get after carrying their merchandise 300 miles beyond this to the Coast, it might induce them to return without going further. It is only by cutting off the supplies in the interior, that we can crush the slave-trade on the Coast. The plan proposed would stop the slave-trade from the Zambesi on one side and Kilwa on the other; and would leave, beyond this tract, only the Portuguese port of Inhambane on the south, and a portion of the Sultan of Zanzibar’s dominion on the north, for our cruisers to look after. The Lake people grow abundance of cotton for their own consumption, and can sell it for a penny a pound or even less. Water-carriage exists by the Shire and Zambesi all the way to England, with the single exception of a portage of about thirty-five miles past the Murchison Cataracts, along which a road of less than forty miles could be made at a trifling expense; and it seems feasible that a legitimate and thriving trade might, in a short time, take the place of the present unlawful traffic.
Colonel Rigby, Captains Wilson, Oldfield, and Chapman, and all the most intelligent officers on the Coast, were unanimous in the belief, that one small vessel on the Lake would have decidedly more influence, and do more good in suppressing the slave-trade, than half a dozen men-of-war on the ocean. By judicious operations, therefore, on a small scale inland, little expense would be incurred, and the English slave-trade policy on the East would have the same fair chance of success, as on the West Coast.
After a land-journey of forty days, we returned to the ship on the 6th of October, 1859, in a somewhat exhausted condition, arising more from a sort of poisoning, than from the usual fatigue of travel. We had taken a little mulligatawney paste, for making soup, in case of want of time to cook other food. Late one afternoon, at the end of an unusually long march, we reached Mikena, near the base of Mount Njongone to the north of Zomba, and the cook was directed to use a couple of spoonfuls of the paste; but, instead of doing so, he put in the whole potful. The soup tasted rather hot, but we added boiled rice to it, and, being very hungry, partook freely of it; and, in consequence of the overdose, we were delayed several days in severe suffering, and some of the party did not recover till after our return to the ship. Our illness may partly have arisen from another cause. One kind of cassava (Jatropha maligna) is known to be, in its raw state, poisonous, but by boiling it carefully in two waters, which must be thrown off, the poison is extracted and the cassava rendered fit for food. The poisonous sort is easily known by raising a bit of the bark of the root, and putting the tongue to it. A bitter taste shows poison, but it is probable that even the sweet kind contains an injurious principle. The sap, which, like that of our potatoes, is injurious as an article of food, is used in the “Pepper-pot” of the West Indies, under the name of “Cassereep,” as a perfect preservative of meat. This juice put into an earthen vessel with a little water and Chili pepper is said to keep meat, that is immersed in it, good for a great length of time; even for years. No iron or steel must touch the mixture, or it will become sour. This “Pepper-pot,” of which we first heard from the late Archbishop Whately, is a most economical meat-safe in a hot climate; any beef, mutton, pork, or fowl that may be left at dinner, if put into the mixture and a little fresh cassereep added, keeps perfectly, though otherwise the heat of the climate or flies would spoil it. Our cook, however, boiled the cassava root as he was in the habit of cooking meat, namely, by filling the pot with it, and then pouring in water, which he allowed to stand on the fire until it had become absorbed and boiled away. This method did not expel the poisonous properties of the root, or render it wholesome; for, notwithstanding our systematic caution in purchasing only the harmless sort, we suffered daily from its effects, and it was only just before the end of our trip that this pernicious mode of boiling it was discovered by us.
In ascending 3000 feet from the lowlands to the highlands, or on reaching the low valley of the Shire from the higher grounds, the change of climate was very marked. The heat was oppressive below, the thermometer standing at from 84 degrees to 103 degrees in the shade; and our spirits were as dull and languid as they had been exhilarated on the heights in a temperature cooler by some 20 degrees. The water of the river was sometimes 84 degrees or higher, whilst that we had been drinking in the hill streams was only 65 degrees.
It was found necessary to send two of our number across from the Shire to Tette; and Dr. Kirk, with guides from Chibisa, and accompanied by Mr. Rae, the engineer, accomplished the journey. We had found the country to the north and east so very well watered, that no difficulty was anticipated in this respect in a march of less than a hundred miles; but on this occasion our friends suffered severely. The little water to be had at this time of the year, by digging in the beds of dry watercourses, was so brackish as to increase thirst — some of the natives indeed were making salt from it; and when at long intervals a less brackish supply was found, it was nauseous and muddy from the frequent visits of large game. The tsetse abounded. The country was level, and large tracts of it covered with mopane forest, the leaves of which afford but scanty shade to the baked earth, so that scarcely any grass grows upon it. The sun was so hot, that the men frequently jumped from the path, in the vain hope of cooling, for a moment, their scorched feet under the almost shadeless bushes; and the native who carried the provision of salt pork got lost, and came into Tette two days after the rest of the party, with nothing but the fibre of the meat left, the fat, melted by the blazing sun, having all run down his back. This path was soon made a highway for slaving parties by Captain Raposo, the Commandant. The journey nearly killed our two active young friends; and what the slaves must have since suffered on it no one can conceive; but slaving probably can never be conducted without enormous suffering and loss of life.
Mankokwe now sent a message to say that he wished us to stop at his village on our way down. He came on board on our arrival there with a handsome present, and said that his young people had dissuaded him from visiting us before; but now he was determined to see what every one else was seeing. A bald square-headed man, who had been his Prime Minister when we came up, was now out of office, and another old man, who had taken his place accompanied the chief. In passing the Elephant Marsh, we saw nine large herds of elephants; they sometimes formed a line two miles long.
On the 2nd of November we anchored off Shamoara, and sent the boat to Senna for biscuit and other provisions. Senhor Ferrao, with his wonted generosity, gave us a present of a bullock, which he sent to us in a canoe. Wishing to know if a second bullock would be acceptable to us, he consulted his Portuguese and English dictionary, and asked the sailor in charge if he would take ANOTHER; but Jack, mistaking the Portuguese pronunciation of the letter h, replied, “Oh no, sir, thank you, I don’t want an OTTER in the boat, they are such terrible biters!”
We had to ground the vessel on a shallow sandbank every night; she leaked so fast, that in deep water she would have sunk, and the pump had to be worked all day to keep her afloat. Heavy rains fell daily, producing the usual injurious effects in the cabin; and, unable to wait any longer for our associates, who had gone overland from the Shire to Tette, we ran down the Kongone and beached her for repairs. Her Majesty’s ship “Lynx,” Lieut. Berkeley commanding, called shortly afterwards with supplies; the bar, which had been perfectly smooth for some time before, became rather rough just before her arrival, so that it was two or three days before she could communicate with us. Two of her boats tried to come in on the second day, and one of them, mistaking the passage, capsized in the heavy breakers abreast of the island. Mr. Hunt, gunner, the officer in charge of the second boat, behaved nobly, and by his skilful and gallant conduct succeeded in rescuing every one of the first boat’s crew. Of course the things that they were bringing to us were lost, but we were thankful that all the men were saved. The loss of the mail-bags, containing Government despatches and our friends’ letters for the past year, was felt severely, as we were on the point of starting on an expedition into the interior, which might require eight or nine months; and twenty months is a weary time to be without news of friends and family. In the repairing of our crazy craft, we received kind and efficient aid from Lieutenant Berkeley, and we were enabled to leave for Tette on December 16th.
We had now frequent rains, and the river rose considerably; our progress up the stream was distressingly slow, and it was not until the 2nd of February, 1860, that we reached Tette. Mr. Thornton returned on the same day from a geological tour, by which some Portuguese expected that a fabulous silver-mine would be rediscovered. The tradition in the country is, that the Jesuits formerly knew and worked a precious lode at Chicova. Mr. Thornton had gone beyond Zumbo, in company with a trader of colour; he soon after this left the Zambesi and, joining the expedition of the Baron van der Decken, explored the snow mountain Kilimanjaro, north-west of Zanzibar. Mr. Thornton’s companion, the trader, brought back much ivory, having found it both abundant and cheap. He was obliged, however, to pay heavy fines to the Banyai and other tribes, in the country which is coolly claimed in Europe as Portuguese. During this trip of six mouths 200 pieces of cotton cloth of sixteen yards each, besides beads and brass wire, were paid to the different chiefs, for leave to pass through their country. In addition to these sufficiently weighty exactions, the natives of THIS DOMINION have got into the habit of imposing fines for alleged milandos, or crimes, which the traders’ men may have unwittingly committed. The merchants, however, submit rather than run the risk of fighting.
The general monotony of existence at Tette is sometimes relieved by an occasional death or wedding. When the deceased is a person of consequence, the quantity of gunpowder his slaves are allowed to expend is enormous. The expense may, in proportion to their means, resemble that incurred by foolishly gaudy funerals in England. When at Tette, we always joined with sympathizing hearts in aiding, by our presence at the last rites, to soothe the sorrows of the surviving relatives. We are sure that they would have done the same to us had we been the mourners. We never had to complain of want of hospitality. Indeed, the great kindness shown by many of whom we have often spoken, will never be effaced from our memory till our dying day. When we speak of their failings it is in sorrow, not in anger. Their trading in slaves is an enormous mistake. Their Government places them in a false position by cutting them off from the rest of the world; and of this they always speak with a bitterness which, were it heard, might alter the tone of the statesmen of Lisbon. But here there is no press, no booksellers’ shops, and scarcely a schoolmaster. Had we been born in similar untoward circumstances — we tremble to think of it!
The weddings are celebrated with as much jollity as weddings are anywhere. We witnessed one in the house of our friend the Padre. It being the marriage of his goddaughter, he kindly invited us to be partakers in his joy; and we there became acquainted with old Donna Engenia, who was a married wife and had children, when the slaves came from Cassange, before any of us were born. The whole merry-making was marked by good taste amid propriety.
About the only interesting object in the vicinity of Tette is the coal a few miles to the north. There, in the feeders of the stream Revubue, it crops out in cliff sections. The seams are from four to seven feet in thickness; one measured was found to be twenty-five feet thick.
Learning that it would be difficult for our party to obtain food beyond Kebrabasa before the new crop came in and knowing the difficulty of hunting for so many men in the wet season, we decided on deferring our departure for the interior until May, and in the mean time to run down once more to the Kongone, in the hopes of receiving letters and despatches from the man-of-war that was to call in March. We left Tette on the 10th, and at Senna heard that our lost mail had been picked up on the beach by natives, west of the Milambe; carried to Quillimane, sent thence to Senna, and, passing us somewhere on the river, on to Tette. At Shupanga the governor informed us that it was a very large mail; no great comfort, seeing it was away up the river.
Mosquitoes were excessively troublesome at the harbour, and especially when a light breeze blew from the north over the mangroves. We lived for several weeks in small huts, built by our men. Those who did the hunting for the party always got wet, and were attacked by fever, but generally recovered in time to be out again before the meat was all consumed. No ship appearing, we started off on the 15th of March, and stopped to wood on the Luabo, near an encampment of hippopotamus hunters; our men heard again, through them, of the canoe path from this place to Quillimane, but they declined to point it out.
We found our friend Major Sicard at Mazaro with picks, shovels, hurdles, and slaves, having come to build a fort and custom-house at the Kongone. As we had no good reason to hide the harbour, but many for its being made known, we supplied him with a chart of the tortuous branches, which, running among the mangroves, perplex the search; and with such directions as would enable him to find his way down to the river. He had brought the relics of our fugitive mail, and it was a disappointment to find that all had been lost, with the exception of a bundle of old newspapers, two photographs, and three letters, which had been written before we left England.
The distance from Mazaro, on the Zambesi side, to the Kwakwa at Nterra, is about six miles, over a surprisingly rich dark soil. We passed the night in the long shed, erected at Nterra, on the banks of this river, for the use of travellers, who have often to wait several days for canoes; we tried to sleep, but the mosquitoes and rats were so troublesome as to render sleep impossible. The rats, or rather large mice, closely resembling Mus pumilio (Smith), of this region, are quite facetious, and, having a great deal of fun in them, often laugh heartily. Again and again they woke us up by scampering over our faces, and then bursting into a loud laugh of He! he! he! at having performed the feat. Their sense of the ludicrous appears to be exquisite; they screamed with laughter at the attempts which disturbed and angry human nature made in the dark to bring their ill-timed merriment to a close. Unlike their prudent European cousins, which are said to leave a sinking ship, a party of these took up their quarters in our leaky and sinking vessel. Quiet and invisible by day, they emerged at night, and cut their funny pranks. No sooner were we all asleep, than they made a sudden dash over the lockers and across our faces for the cabin door, where all broke out into a loud He! he! he! he! he! he! showing how keenly they enjoyed the joke. They next went forward with as much delight, and scampered over the men. Every night they went fore and aft, rousing with impartial feet every sleeper, and laughing to scorn the aimless blows, growls, and deadly rushes of outraged humanity. We observed elsewhere a species of large mouse, nearly allied to Euryotis unisulcatus (F. Cuvier), escaping up a rough and not very upright wall, with six young ones firmly attached to the perineum. They were old enough to be well covered with hair, and some were not detached by a blow which disabled the dam. We could not decide whether any involuntary muscles were brought into play in helping the young to adhere. Their weight seemed to require a sort of cataleptic state of the muscles of the jaw, to enable them to hold on.
Scorpions, centipedes, and poisonous spiders also were not unfrequently brought into the ship with the wood, and occasionally found their way into our beds; but in every instance we were fortunate enough to discover and destroy them before they did any harm. Naval officers on this coast report that, when scorpions and centipedes remain a few weeks after being taken on board in a similar manner, their poison loses nearly all its virulence; but this we did not verify. Snakes sometimes came in with the wood, but oftener floated down the river to us, climbing on board with ease by the chain-cable, and some poisonous ones were caught in the cabin. A green snake lived with us several weeks, concealing himself behind the casing of the deckhouse in the daytime. To be aroused in the dark by five feet of cold green snake gliding over one’s face is rather unpleasant, however rapid the movement may be. Myriads of two varieties of cockroaches infested the vessel; they not only ate round the roots of our nails, but even devoured and defiled our food, flannels, and boots. Vain were all our efforts to extirpate these destructive pests; if you kill one, say the sailors, a hundred come down to his funeral! In the work of Commodore Owen it is stated that cockroaches, pounded into a paste, form a powerful carminative; this has not been confirmed, but when monkeys are fed on them they are sure to become lean.
On coming to Senna, we found that the Zulus had arrived in force for their annual tribute. These men are under good discipline, and never steal from the people. The tax is claimed on the ground of conquest, the Zulus having formerly completely overcome the Senna people, and chased them on to the islands in the Zambesi. Fifty-four of the Portuguese were slain on the occasion, and, notwithstanding the mud fort, the village has never recovered its former power. Fever was now very prevalent, and most of the Portuguese were down with it.
For a good view of the adjacent scenery, the hill, Baramuana, behind the village, was ascended. A caution was given about the probability of an attack of fever from a plant that grows near the summit. Dr. Kirk discovered it to be the Paedevia foetida, which, when smelt, actually does give headache and fever. It has a nasty fetor, as its name indicates. This is one instance in which fever and a foul smell coincide. In a number of instances offensive effluvia and fever seems to have no connection. Owing to the abundant rains, the crops in the Senna district were plentiful; this was fortunate, after the partial failure of the past two years. It was the 25th of April, 1860, before we reached Tette; here also the crops were luxuriant, and the people said that they had not had such abundance since 1856, the year when Dr. Livingstone came down the river. It is astonishing to any one who has seen the works for irrigation in other countries, as at the Cape and in Egypt, that no attempt has ever been made to lead out the water either of the Zambesi or any of its tributaries; no machinery has ever been used to raise it even from the stream, but droughts and starvations are endured, as if they were inevitable dispensations of Providence, incapable of being mitigated.
Feeling in honour bound to return with those who had been the faithful companions of Dr. Livingstone, in 1856, and to whose guardianship and services was due the accomplishment of a journey which all the Portuguese at Tette had previously pronounced impossible, the requisite steps were taken to convey them to their homes.
We laid the ship alongside of the island Kanyimbe, opposite Tette; and, before starting for the country of the Makololo, obtained a small plot of land, to form a garden for the two English sailors who were to remain in charge during our absence. We furnished them with a supply of seeds, and they set to work with such zeal, that they certainly merited success. Their first attempt at African horticulture met with failure from a most unexpected source; every seed was dug up and the inside of it eaten by mice. “Yes,” said an old native, next morning, on seeing the husks, “that is what happens this month; for it is the mouse month, and the seed should have been sown last mouth, when I sowed mine.” The sailors, however, sowed more next day; and, being determined to outwit the mice, they this time covered the beds over with grass. The onions, with other seeds of plants cultivated by the Portuguese, are usually planted in the beginning of April, in order to have the advantage of the cold season; the wheat a little later, for the same reason. If sown at the beginning of the rainy season in November, it runs, as before remarked, entirely to straw; but as the rains are nearly over in May, advantage is taken of low-lying patches, which have been flooded by the river. A hole is made in the mud with a hoe, a few seeds dropped in, and the earth shoved back with the foot. If not favoured with certain misty showers, which, lower down the river, are simply fogs, water is borne from the river to the roots of the wheat in earthern pots; and in about four months the crop is ready for the sickle. The wheat of Tette is exported, as the best grown in the country; but a hollow spot at Maruru, close by Mazaro, yielded very good crops, though just at the level of the sea, as a few inches rise of tide shows.
A number of days were spent in busy preparation for our journey; the cloth, beads, and brass wire, for the trip were sewn up in old canvas, and each package had the bearer’s name printed on it. The Makololo, who had worked for the Expedition, were paid for their services, and every one who had come down with the Doctor from the interior received a present of cloth and ornaments, in order to protect them from the greater cold of their own country, and to show that they had not come in vain. Though called Makololo by courtesy, as they were proud of the name, Kanyata, the principal headman, was the only real Makololo of the party; and he, in virtue of his birth, had succeeded to the chief place on the death of Sekwebu. The others belonged to the conquered tribes of the Batoka, Bashubia, Ba–Selea, and Barotse. Some of these men had only added to their own vices those of the Tette slaves; others, by toiling during the first two years in navigating canoes, and hunting elephants, had often managed to save a little, to take back to their own country, but had to part with it all for food to support the rest in times of hunger, and, latterly, had fallen into the improvident habits of slaves, and spent their surplus earnings in beer and agua ardiente.
Everything being ready on the 15th of May, we started at 2 p.m. from the village where the Makololo had dwelt. A number of the men did not leave with the goodwill which their talk for months before had led us to anticipate; but some proceeded upon being told that they were not compelled to go unless they liked, though others altogether declined moving. Many had taken up with slave-women, whom they assisted in hoeing, and in consuming the produce of their gardens. Some fourteen children had been born to them; and in consequence of now having no chief to order them, or to claim their services, they thought that they were about as well off as they had been in their own country. They knew and regretted that they could call neither wives nor children their own; the slave-owners claimed the whole; but their natural affections had been so enchained, that they clave to the domestic ties. By a law of Portugal the baptized children of slave women are all free; by the custom of the Zambesi that law is void. When it is referred to, the officers laugh and say, “These Lisbon-born laws are very stringent, but somehow, possibly from the heat of the climate, here they lose all their force.” Only one woman joined our party — the wife of a Batoka man: she had been given to him, in consideration of his skilful dancing, by the chief, Chisaka. A merchant sent three of his men along with us, with a present for Sekeletu, and Major Sicard also lent us three more to assist us on our return, and two Portuguese gentleman kindly gave us the loan of a couple of donkeys. We slept four miles above Tette, and hearing that the Banyai, who levy heavy fines on the Portuguese traders, lived chiefly on the right bank, we crossed over to the left, as we could not fully trust our men. If the Banyai had come in a threatening manner, our followers might, perhaps, from having homes behind them, have even put down their bundles and run. Indeed, two of them at this point made up their minds to go no further, and turned back to Tette. Another, Monga, a Batoka, was much perplexed, and could not make out what course to pursue, as he had, three years previously, wounded Kanyata, the headman, with a spear. This is a capital offence among the Makololo, and he was afraid of being put to death for it on his return. He tried, in vain, to console himself with the facts that he had neither father, mother, sisters, nor brothers to mourn for him, and that he could die but once. He was good, and would go up to the stars to Yesu, and therefore did not care for death. In spite, however, of these reflections, he was much cast down, until Kanyata assured him that he would never mention his misdeed to the chief; indeed, he had never even mentioned it to the Doctor, which he would assuredly have done had it lain heavy on his heart. We were right glad of Monga’s company, for he was a merry good-tempered fellow, and his lithe manly figure had always been in the front in danger; and, from being left-handed, had been easily recognized in the fight with elephants.
We commenced, for a certain number of days, with short marches, walking gently until broken in to travel. This is of so much importance, that it occurs to us that more might be made out of soldiers if the first few days’ marches were easy, and gradually increased in length and quickness. The nights were cold, with heavy dews and occasional showers, and we had several cases of fever. Some of the men deserted every night, and we fully expected that all who had children would prefer to return to Tette, for little ones are well known to prove the strongest ties, even to slaves. It was useless informing them, that if they wanted to return they had only to come and tell us so; we should not be angry with them for preferring Tette to their own country. Contact with slaves had destroyed their sense of honour; they would not go in daylight, but decamped in the night, only in one instance, however, taking our goods, though, in two more, they carried off their comrades’ property. By the time we had got well into the Kebrabasa hills thirty men, nearly a third of the party, had turned back, and it became evident that, if many more left us, Sekeletu’s goods could not be carried up. At last, when the refuse had fallen away, no more desertions took place.
Stopping one afternoon at a Kebrabasa village, a man, who pretended to be able to change himself into a lion, came to salute us. Smelling the gunpowder from a gun which had been discharged, he went on one side to get out of the wind of the piece, trembling in a most artistic manner, but quite overacting his part. The Makololo explained to us that he was a Pondoro, or a man who can change his form at will, and added that he trembles when he smells gunpowder. “Do you not see how he is trembling now?” We told them to ask him to change himself at once into a lion, and we would give him a cloth for the performance. “Oh no,” replied they; “if we tell him so, he may change himself and come when we are asleep and kill us.” Having similar superstitions at home, they readily became as firm believers in the Pondoro as the natives of the village. We were told that he assumes the form of a lion and remains in the woods for days, and is sometimes absent for a whole month. His considerate wife had built him a hut or den, in which she places food and beer for her transformed lord, whose metamorphosis does not impair his human appetite. No one ever enters this hut except the Pondoro and his wife, and no stranger is allowed even to rest his gun against the baobab-tree beside it: the Mfumo, or petty chief, of another small village wished to fine our men for placing their muskets against an old tumble-down hut, it being that of the Pondoro. At times the Pondoro employs his acquired powers in hunting for the benefit of the village; and after an absence of a day or two, his wife smells the lion, takes a certain medicine, places it in the forest, and there quickly leaves it, lest the lion should kill even her. This medicine enables the Pondoro to change himself back into a man, return to the village, and say, “Go and get the game that I have killed for you.” Advantage is of course taken of what a lion has done, and they go and bring home the buffalo or antelope killed when he was a lion, or rather found when he was patiently pursuing his course of deception in the forest. We saw the Pondoro of another village dressed in a fantastic style, with numerous charms hung round him, and followed by a troop of boys who were honouring him with rounds of shrill cheering.
It is believed also that the souls of departed chiefs enter into lions, and render them sacred. On one occasion, when we had shot a buffalo in the path beyond the Kafue, a hungry lion, attracted probably by the smell of the meat, came close to our camp, and roused up all hands by his roaring. Tuba Mokoro, imbued with the popular belief that the beast was a chief in disguise, scolded him roundly during his brief intervals of silence. “You a chief, eh? You call yourself a chief, do you? What kind of chief are you to come sneaking about in the dark, trying to steal our buffalo meat! Are you not ashamed of yourself? A pretty chief truly; you are like the scavenger beetle, and think of yourself only. You have not the heart of a chief; why don’t you kill your own beef? You must have a stone in your chest, and no heart at all, indeed!” Tuba Mokoro producing no impression on the transformed chief, one of the men, the most sedate of the party, who seldom spoke, took up the matter, and tried the lion in another strain. In his slow quiet way he expostulated with him on the impropriety of such conduct to strangers, who had never injured him. “We were travelling peaceably through the country back to our own chief. We never killed people, nor stole anything. The buffalo meat was ours, not his, and it did not become a great chief like him to be prowling round in the dark, trying, like a hyena, to steal the meat of strangers. He might go and hunt for himself, as there was plenty of game in the forest.” The Pondoro, being deaf to reason, and only roaring the louder, the men became angry, and threatened to send a ball through him if he did not go away. They snatched up their guns to shoot him, but he prudently kept in the dark, outside the luminous circle made by our camp fires, and there they did not like to venture. A little strychnine was put into a piece of meat, and thrown to him, when he soon departed, and we heard no more of the majestic sneaker.
The Kebrabasa people were now plumper and in better condition than on our former visits; the harvest had been abundant; they had plenty to eat and drink, and they were enjoying life as much as ever they could. At Defwe’s village, near where the ship lay on her first ascent, we found two Mfumos or headmen, the son and son-inlaw of the former chief. A sister’s son has much more chance of succeeding to a chieftainship than the chief’s own offspring, it being unquestionable that the sister’s child has the family blood. The men are all marked across the nose and up the middle of the forehead with short horizontal bars or cicatrices; and a single brass earring of two or three inches diameter, like the ancient Egyptian, is worn by the men. Some wear the hair long like the ancient Assyrians and Egyptians, and a few have eyes with the downward and inward slant of the Chinese.
After fording the rapid Luia, we left our former path on the banks of the Zambesi, and struck off in a N.W. direction behind one of the hill ranges, the eastern end of which is called Mongwa, the name of an acacia, having a peculiarly strong fetor, found on it. Our route wound up a valley along a small mountain-stream which was nearly dry, and then crossed the rocky spurs of some of the lofty hills. The country was all very dry at the time, and no water was found except in an occasional spring and a few wells dug in the beds of watercourses. The people were poor, and always anxious to convince travellers of the fact. The men, unlike those on the plains, spend a good deal of their time in hunting; this may be because they have but little ground on the hill-sides suitable for gardens, and but little certainty of reaping what may be sown in the valleys. No women came forward in the hamlet, east of Chiperiziwa, where we halted for the night. Two shots had been fired at guinea-fowl a little way off in the valley; the women fled into the woods, and the men came to know if war was meant, and a few of the old folks only returned after hearing that we were for peace. The headman, Kambira, apologized for not having a present ready, and afterwards brought us some meal, a roasted coney (Hyrax capensis), and a pot of beer; he wished to be thought poor. The beer had come to him from a distance; he had none of his own. Like the Manganja, these people salute by clapping their hands. When a man comes to a place where others are seated, before sitting down he claps his hands to each in succession, and they do the same to him. If he has anything to tell, both speaker and hearer clap their hands at the close of every paragraph, and then again vigorously at the end of the speech. The guide, whom the headman gave us, thus saluted each of his comrades before he started off with us. There is so little difference in the language, that all the tribes of this region are virtually of one family.
We proceeded still in the same direction, and passed only two small hamlets during the day. Except the noise our men made on the march, everything was still around us: few birds were seen. The appearance of a whydahbird showed that he had not yet parted with his fine long plumes. We passed immense quantities of ebony and lignum-vitae, and the tree from whose smooth and bitter bark granaries are made for corn. The country generally is clothed with a forest of ordinary-sized trees. We slept in the little village near Sindabwe, where our men contrived to purchase plenty of beer, and were uncommonly boisterous all the evening. We breakfasted next morning under green wild date-palms, beside the fine flowery stream, which runs through the charming valley of Zibah. We now had Mount Chiperiziwa between us, and part of the river near Morumbwa, having in fact come north about in order to avoid the difficulties of our former path. The last of the deserters, a reputed thief, took French leave of us here. He left the bundle of cloth he was carrying in the path a hundred yards in front of where we halted, but made off with the musket and most of the brass rings and beads of his comrade Shirimba, who had unsuspectingly intrusted them to his care.
Proceeding S.W. up this lovely valley, in about an hour’s time we reached Sandia’s village. The chief was said to be absent hunting, and they did not know when he would return. This is such a common answer to the inquiry after a headman, that one is inclined to think that it only means that they wish to know the stranger’s object before exposing their superior to danger. As some of our men were ill, a halt was made here.
As we were unable to march next morning, six of our young men, anxious to try their muskets, went off to hunt elephants. For several hours they saw nothing, and some of them, getting tired, proposed to go to a village and buy food. “No!” said Mantlanyane, “we came to hunt, so let us go on.” In a short time they fell in with a herd of cow elephants and calves. As soon as the first cow caught sight of the hunters on the rocks above her, she, with true motherly instinct, placed her young one between her fore-legs for protection. The men were for scattering, and firing into the herd indiscriminately. “That won’t do,” cried Mantlanyane, “let us all fire at this one.” The poor beast received a volley, and ran down into the plain, where another shot killed her; the young one escaped with the herd. The men were wild with excitement, and danced round the fallen queen of the forest, with loud shouts and exultant songs. They returned, bearing as trophies the tail and part of the trunk, and marched into camp as erect as soldiers, and evidently feeling that their stature had increased considerably since the morning.
Sandia’s wife was duly informed of their success, as here a law decrees that half the elephant belongs to the chief on whose ground it has been killed. The Portuguese traders always submit to this tax, and, were it of native origin, it could hardly be considered unjust. A chief must have some source of revenue; and, as many chiefs can raise none except from ivory or slaves, this tax is more free from objections than any other that a black Chancellor of the Exchequer could devise. It seems, however, to have originated with the Portuguese themselves, and then to have spread among the adjacent tribes. The Governors look sharply after any elephant that may be slain on the Crown lands, and demand one of the tusks from their vassals. We did not find the law in operation in any tribe beyond the range of Portuguese traders, or further than the sphere of travel of those Arabs who imitated Portuguese customs in trade. At the Kafue in 1855 the chiefs bought the meat we killed, and demanded nothing as their due; and so it was up the Shire during our visits. The slaves of the Portuguese, who are sent by their masters to shoot elephants, probably connive at the extension of this law, for they strive to get the good will of the chiefs to whose country they come, by advising them to make a demand of half of each elephant killed, and for this advice they are well paid in beer. When we found that the Portuguese argued in favour of this law, we told the natives that they might exact tusks from THEM, but that the English, being different, preferred the pure native custom. It was this which made Sandia, as afterwards mentioned, hesitate; but we did not care to insist on exemption in our favour, where the prevalence of the custom might have been held to justify the exaction.
The cutting up of an elephant is quite a unique spectacle. The men stand remind the animal in dead silence, while the chief of the travelling party declares that, according to ancient law, the head and right hind-leg belong to him who killed the beast, that is, to him who inflicted the first wound; the left leg to bins who delivered the second, or first touched the animal after it fell. The meat around the eye to the English, or chief of the travellers, and different parts to the headmen of the different fires, or groups, of which the camp is composed; not forgetting to enjoin the preservation of the fat and bowels for a second distribution. This oration finished, the natives soon become excited, and scream wildly as they cut away at the carcass with a score of spears, whose long handles quiver in the air above their heads. Their excitement becomes momentarily more and more intense, and reaches the culminating point when, as denoted by a roar of gas, the huge mass is laid fairly open. Some jump inside, and roll about there in their eagerness to seize the precious fat, while others run off, screaming, with pieces of the bloody meat, throw it on the grass, and run back for more: all keep talking and shouting at the utmost pitch of their voices. Sometimes two or three, regardless of all laws, seize the same piece of meat, and have a brief fight of words over it. Occasionally an agonized yell bursts forth, and a native emerges out of the moving mass of dead elephant and wriggling humanity, with his hand badly cut by the spear of his excited friend and neighbour: this requires a rag and some soothing words to prevent bad blood. In an incredibly short time tons of meat are cut up, and placed in separate heaps around.
Sandia arrived soon after the beast was divided: he is an elderly man, and wears a wig made of “ife” fibre (sanseviera) dyed black, and of a fine glossy appearance. This plant is allied to the aloes, and its thick fleshy leaves, in shape somewhat like our sedges, when bruised yield much fine strong fibre, which is made into ropes, nets, and wigs. It takes dyes readily, and the fibre might form a good article of commerce. “Ife” wigs, as we afterwards saw, are not uncommon in this country, though perhaps not so common as hair wigs at home. Sandia’s mosamela, or small carved wooden pillow, exactly resembling the ancient Egyptian one, was hung from the back of his neck; this pillow and a sleeping mat are usually carried by natives when on hunting excursions.
We had the elephant’s fore-foot cooked for ourselves, in native fashion. A large hole was dug in the ground, in which a fire was made; and, when the inside was thoroughly heated, the entire foot was placed in it, and covered over with the hot ashes and soil; another fire was made above the whole, and kept burning all night. We had the foot thus cooked for breakfast next morning, and found it delicious. It is a whitish mass, slightly gelatinous, and sweet, like marrow. A long march, to prevent biliousness, is a wise precaution after a meal of elephant’s foot. Elephant’s trunk and tongue are also good, and, after long simmering, much resemble the hump of a buffalo and the tongue of an ox; but all the other meat is tough, and, from its peculiar flavour, only to be eaten by a hungry man. The quantities of meat our men devour is quite astounding. They boil as much as their pots will hold, and eat till it becomes physically impossible for them to stow away any more. An uproarious dance follows, accompanied with stentorian song; and as soon as they have shaken their first course down, and washed off the sweat and dust of the after performance, they go to work to roast more: a short snatch of sleep succeeds, and they are up and at it again; all night long it is boil and eat, roast and devour, with a few brief interludes of sleep. Like other carnivora, these men can endure hunger for a much longer period than the mere porridge-eating tribes. Our men can cook meat as well as any reasonable traveller could desire; and, boiled in earthen pots, like Indian chatties, it tastes much better than when cooked in iron ones.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57