Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries, by David Livingstone

Chapter VII.

The Victoria Falls of the Zambesi — Marvellous grandeur of the Cataracts — The Makololo’s town — The Chief Sekeletu.

During the time we remained at Motunta a splendid meteor was observed to lighten the whole heavens. The observer’s back was turned to it, but on looking round the streak of light was seen to remain on its path some seconds. This streak is usually explained to be only the continuance of the impression made by the shining body on the retina. This cannot be, as in this case the meteor was not actually seen and yet the streak was clearly perceived. The rays of planets and stars also require another explanation than that usually given.

Fruit-trees and gigantic wild fig-trees, and circles of stones on which corn safes were placed, with worn grindstones, point out where the villages once stood. The only reason now assigned for this fine country remaining desolate is the fear of fresh visitations by the Matebele. The country now slopes gradually to the west into the Makololo Valley. Two days’ march from the Batoka village nearest the highlands, we met with some hunters who were burning the dry grass, in order to attract the game by the fresh vegetation which speedily springs up afterwards. The grass, as already remarked, is excellent for cattle. One species, with leaves having finely serrated edges, and of a reddish-brown colour, we noticed our men eating: it tastes exactly like liquorice-root, and is named kezu-kezu. The tsetse, known to the Batoka by the name “ndoka,” does not exist here, though buffaloes and elephants abound.

A small trap in the path, baited with a mouse, to catch spotted cats (F. Genetta), is usually the first indication that we are drawing near to a village; but when we get within the sounds of pounding corn, cockcrowing, or the merry shouts of children at play, we know that the huts are but a few yards off, though the trees conceal them from view. We reached, on the 4th of August, Moachemba, the first of the Batoka villages which now owe allegiance to Sekeletu, and could see distinctly with the naked eye, in the great valley spread out before us, the columns of vapour rising from the Victoria Falls, though upwards of 20 miles distant. We were informed that, the rains having failed this year, the corn crops had been lost, and great scarcity and much hunger prevailed from Sesheke to Linyanti. Some of the reports which the men had heard from the Batoka of the hills concerning their families, were here confirmed. Takelang’s wife had been killed by Mashotlane, the headman at the Falls, on a charge, as usual, of witchcraft. Inchikola’s two wives, believing him to be dead, had married again; and Masakasa was intensely disgusted to hear that two years ago his friends, upon a report of his death, threw his shield over the Falls, slaughtered all his oxen, and held a species of wild Irish wake, in honour of his memory: he said he meant to disown them, and to say, when they come to salute him, “I am dead. I am not here. I belong to another world, and should stink if I came among you.”

All the sad news we had previously heard, of the disastrous results which followed the attempt of a party of missionaries, under the Rev. H. Helmore, to plant the gospel at Linyanti, were here fully confirmed. Several of the missionaries and their native attendants, from Kuruman, had succumbed to the fever, and the survivors had retired some weeks before our arrival. We remained the whole of the 7th beside the village of the old Batoka chief, Moshobotwane, the stoutest man we have seen in Africa. The cause of our delay here was a severe attack of fever in Charles Livingstone. He took a dose of our fever pills; was better on the 8th, and marched three hours; then on the 9th marched eight miles to the Great Falls, and spent the rest of the day in the fatiguing exercise of sight-seeing. We were in the very same valley as Linyanti, and this was the same fever which treated, or rather maltreated, with only a little Dover’s powder, proved so fatal to poor Helmore; the symptoms, too, were identical with those afterwards described by non-medical persons as those of poison.

We gave Moshobotwane a present, and a pretty plain exposition of what we thought of his bloody forays among his Batoka brethren. A scolding does most good to the recipient, when put alongside some obliging act. He certainly did not take it ill, as was evident from what he gave us in return; which consisted of a liberal supply of meal, milk, and an ox. He has a large herd of cattle, and a tract of fine pasture-land on the beautiful stream Lekone. A home-feeling comes over one, even in the interior of Africa, at seeing once more cattle grazing peacefully in the meadows. The tsetse inhabits the trees which bound the pasture-land on the west; so, should the herdsman forget his duty, the cattle straying might be entirely lost. The women of this village were more numerous than the men, the result of the chief’s marauding. The Batoko wife of Sima came up from the Falls, to welcome her husband back, bringing a present of the best fruits of the country. Her husband was the only one of the party who had brought a wife from Tette, namely, the girl whom he obtained from Chisaka for his feats of dancing. According to our ideas, his first wife could hardly have been pleased at seeing the second and younger one; but she took her away home with her, while the husband remained with us. In going down to the Fall village we met several of the real Makololo. They are lighter in colour than the other tribes, being of a rich warm brown; and they speak in a slow deliberate manner, distinctly pronouncing every word. On reaching the village opposite Kalai, we had an interview with the Makololo headman, Mashotlane: he came to the shed in which we were seated, a little boy carrying his low three-legged stool before him: on this he sat down with becoming dignity, looked round him for a few seconds, then at us, and, saluting us with “Rumela” (good morning, or hail), he gave us some boiled hippopotamus meat, took a piece himself, and then handed the rest to his attendants, who soon ate it up. He defended his forays on the ground that, when he went to collect tribute, the Batoka attacked him, and killed some of his attendants. The excuses made for their little wars are often the very same as those made by Caesar in his “Commentaries.” Few admit, like old Moshobotwane, that they fought because they had the power, and a fair prospect of conquering. We found here Pitsane, who had accompanied the Doctor to St. Paul de Loanda. He had been sent by Sekeletu to purchase three horses from a trading party of Griquas from Kuruman, who charged nine large tusks apiece for very wretched animals.

In the evening, when all was still, one of our men, Takelang, fired his musket, and cried out, “I am weeping for my wife: my court is desolate: I have no home;” and then uttered a loud wail of anguish.

We proceeded next morning, 9th August, 1860, to see the Victoria Falls. Mosi-oa-tunya is the Makololo name and means smoke sounding; Seongo or Chongwe, meaning the Rainbow, or the place of the Rainbow, was the more ancient term they bore. We embarked in canoes, belonging to Tuba Mokoro, “smasher of canoes,” an ominous name; but he alone, it seems, knew the medicine which insures one against shipwreck in the rapids above the Falls. For some miles the river was smooth and tranquil, and we glided pleasantly over water clear as crystal, and past lovely islands densely covered with a tropical vegetation. Noticeable among the many trees were the lofty Hyphaene and Borassus palms; the graceful wild date-palm, with its fruit in golden clusters, and the umbrageous mokononga, of cypress form, with its dark-green leaves and scarlet fruit. Many flowers peeped out near the water’s edge, some entirely new to us, and others, as the convolvulus, old acquaintances.

But our attention was quickly called from the charming islands to the dangerous rapids, down which Tuba might unintentionally shoot us. To confess the truth, the very ugly aspect of these roaring rapids could scarcely fail to cause some uneasiness in the minds of new-comers. It is only when the river is very low, as it was now, that any one durst venture to the island to which we were bound. If one went during the period of flood, and fortunately hit the island, he would be obliged to remain there till the water subsided again, if he lived so long. Both hippopotami and elephants have been known to be swept over the Falls, and of course smashed to pulp.

Before entering the race of waters, we were requested not to speak, as our talking might diminish the virtue of the medicine; and no one with such boiling eddying rapids before his eyes, would think of disobeying the orders of a “canoe-smasher.” It soon became evident that there was sound sense in this request of Tuba’s, although the reason assigned was not unlike that of the canoe-man from Sesheke, who begged one of our party not to whistle, because whistling made the wind come. It was the duty of the man at the bow to look out ahead for the proper course, and when he saw a rock or snag, to call out to the steersman. Tuba doubtless thought that talking on board might divert the attention of his steersman, at a time when the neglect of an order, or a slight mistake, would be sure to spill us all into the chafing river. There were places where the utmost exertions of both men had to be put forth in order to force the canoe to the only safe part of the rapid, and to prevent it from sweeping down broadside on, where in a twinkling we should have found ourselves floundering among the plotuses and cormorants, which were engaged in diving for their breakfast of small fish. At times it seemed as if nothing could save us from dashing in our headlong race against the rocks which, now that the river was low, jutted out of the water; but just at the very nick of time, Tuba passed the word to the steersman, and then with ready pole turned the canoe a little aside, and we glided swiftly past the threatened danger. Never was canoe more admirably managed: once only did the medicine seem to have lost something of its efficacy. We were driving swiftly down, a black rock over which the white foam flew, lay directly in our path, the pole was planted against it as readily as ever, but it slipped, just as Tuba put forth his strength to turn the bow off. We struck hard, and were half-full of water in a moment; Tuba recovered himself as speedily, shoved off the bow, and shot the canoe into a still shallow place, to bale out the water. Here we were given to understand that it was not the medicine which was at fault; that had lost none of its virtue; the accident was owing entirely to Tuba having started without his breakfast. Need it be said we never let Tuba go without that meal again?

We landed at the head of Garden Island, which is situated near the middle of the river and on the lip of the Falls. On reaching that lip, and peering over the giddy height, the wondrous and unique character of the magnificent cascade at once burst upon us.

It is rather a hopeless task to endeavour to convey an idea of it in words, since, as was remarked on the spot, an accomplished painter, even by a number of views, could but impart a faint impression of the glorious scene. The probable mode of its formation may perhaps help to the conception of its peculiar shape. Niagara has been formed by a wearing back of the rock over which the river falls; and during a long course of ages, it has gradually receded, and left a broad, deep, and pretty straight trough in front. It goes on wearing back daily, and may yet discharge the lakes from which its river — the St. Lawrence — flows. But the Victoria Falls have been formed by a crack right across the river, in the hard, black, basaltic rock which there formed the bed of the Zambesi. The lips of the crack are still quite sharp, save about three feet of the edge over which the river rolls. The walls go sheer down from the lips without any projecting crag, or symptoms of stratification or dislocation. When the mighty rift occurred, no change of level took place in the two parts of the bed of the river thus rent asunder, consequently, in coming down the river to Garden Island, the water suddenly disappears, and we see the opposite side of the cleft, with grass and trees growing where once the river ran, on the same level as that part of its bed on which we sail. The first crack is, in length, a few yards more than the breadth of the Zambesi, which by measurement we found to be a little over 1860 yards, but this number we resolved to retain as indicating the year in which the Fall was for the first time carefully examined. The main stream here runs nearly north and south, and the cleft across it is nearly east and west. The depth of the rift was measured by lowering a line, to the end of which a few bullets and a foot of white cotton cloth were tied. One of us lay with his head over a projecting crag, and watched the descending calico, till, after his companions had paid out 310 feet, the weight rested on a sloping projection, probably 50 feet from the water below, the actual bottom being still further down. The white cloth now appeared the size of a crown-piece. On measuring the width of this deep cleft by sextant, it was found at Garden Island, its narrowest part, to be eighty yards, and at its broadest somewhat more. Into this chasm, of twice the depth of Niagara-fall, the river, a full mile wide, rolls with a deafening roar; and this is Mosi-oa-tunya, or the Victoria Falls.

Looking from Garden Island, down to the bottom of the abyss, nearly half a mile of water, which has fallen over that portion of the Falls to our right, or west of our point of view, is seen collected in a narrow channel twenty or thirty yards wide, and flowing at exactly right angles to its previous course, to our left; while the other half, or that which fell over the eastern portion of the Falls, is seen in the left of the narrow channel below, coming towards our right. Both waters unite midway, in a fearful boiling whirlpool, and find an outlet by a crack situated at right angles to the fissure of the Falls. This outlet is about 1170 yards from the western end of the chasm, and some 600 from its eastern end; the whirlpool is at its commencement. The Zambesi, now apparently not more than twenty or thirty yards wide, rushes and surges south, through the narrow escape-channel for 130 yards; then enters a second chasm somewhat deeper, and nearly parallel with the first. Abandoning the bottom of the eastern half of this second chasm to the growth of large trees, it turns sharply off to the west, and forms a promontory, with the escape-channel at its point, of 1170 yards long, and 416 yards broad at the base. After reaching this base, the river runs abruptly round the head of another promontory, and flows away to the east, in a third chasm; then glides round a third promontory, much narrower than the rest, and away back to the west, in a fourth chasm; and we could see in the distance that it appeared to round still another promontory, and bend once more in another chasm towards the east. In this gigantic, zigzag, yet narrow trough, the rocks are all so sharply cut and angular, that the idea at once arises that the hard basaltic trap must have been riven into its present shape by a force acting from beneath, and that this probably took place when the ancient inland seas were let off by similar fissures nearer the ocean.

The land beyond, or on the south of the Falls, retains, as already remarked, the same level as before the rent was made. It is as if the trough below Niagara were bent right and left, several times before it reached the railway bridge. The land in the supposed bends being of the same height as that above the Fall, would give standing-places, or points of view, of the same nature as that from the railway-bridge, but the nearest would be only eighty yards, instead of two miles (the distance to the bridge) from the face of the cascade. The tops of the promontories are in general flat, smooth, and studded with trees. The first, with its base on the east, is at one place so narrow, that it would be dangerous to walk to its extremity. On the second, however, we found a broad rhinoceros path and a hut; but, unless the builder were a hermit, with a pet rhinoceros, we cannot conceive what beast or man ever went there for. On reaching the apex of this second eastern promontory we saw the great river, of a deep sea-green colour, now sorely compressed, gliding away, at least 400 feet below us.

Garden Island, when the river is low, commands the best view of the Great Fall chasm, as also of the promontory opposite, with its grove of large evergreen trees, and brilliant rainbows of three-quarters of a circle, two, three, and sometimes even four in number, resting on the face of the vast perpendicular rock, down which tiny streams are always running to be swept again back by the upward rushing vapour. But as, at Niagara, one has to go over to the Canadian shore to see the chief wonder — the Great Horse-shoe Fall — so here we have to cross over to Moselekatse’s side to the promontory of evergreens, for the best view of the principal Falls of Mosi-oa-tunya. Beginning, therefore, at the base of this promontory, and facing the Cataract, at the west end of the chasm, there is, first, a fall of thirty-six yards in breadth, and of course, as they all are, upwards of 310 feet in depth. Then Boaruka, a small island, intervenes, and next comes a great fall, with a breadth of 573 yards; a projecting rock separates this from a second grand fall of 325 yards broad; in all, upwards of 900 yards of perennial Falls. Further east stands Garden Island; then, as the river was at its lowest, came a good deal of the bare rock of its bed, with a score of narrow falls, which, at the time of flood, constitute one enormous cascade of nearly another half-mile. Near the east end of the chasm are two larger falls, but they are nothing at low water compared to those between the islands.

The whole body of water rolls clear over, quite unbroken; but, after a descent of ten or more feet, the entire mass suddenly becomes like a huge sheet of driven snow. Pieces of water leap off it in the form of comets with tails streaming behind, till the whole snowy sheet becomes myriads of rushing, leaping, aqueous comets. This peculiarity was not observed by Charles Livingstone at Niagara, and here it happens, possibly from the dryness of the atmosphere, or whatever the cause may be which makes every drop of Zambesi water appear to possess a sort of individuality. It runs off the ends of the paddles, and glides in beads along the smooth surface, like drops of quicksilver on a table. Here we see them in a conglomeration, each with a train of pure white vapour, racing down till lost in clouds of spray. A stone dropped in became less and less to the eye, and at last disappeared in the dense mist below.

Charles Livingstone had seen Niagara, and gave Mosi-oa-tunya the palm, though now at the end of a drought, and the river at its very lowest. Many feel a disappointment on first seeing the great American Falls, but Mosi-oa-tunya is so strange, it must ever cause wonder. In the amount of water, Niagara probably excels, though not during the months when the Zambesi is in flood. The vast body of water, separating in the comet-like forms described, necessarily encloses in its descent a large volume of air, which, forced into the cleft, to an unknown depth, rebounds, and rushes up loaded with vapour to form the three or even six columns, as if of steam, visible at the Batoka village Moachemba, twenty-one miles distant. On attaining a height of 200, or at most 300 feet from the level of the river above the cascade, this vapour becomes condensed into a perpetual shower of fine rain. Much of the spray, rising to the west of Garden Island, falls on the grove of evergreen trees opposite; and from their leaves, heavy drops are for ever falling, to form sundry little rills, which, in running down the steep face of rock, are blown off and turned back, or licked off their perpendicular bed, up into the column from which they have just descended.

The morning sun gilds these columns of watery smoke with all the glowing colours of double or treble rainbows. The evening sun, from a hot yellow sky, imparts a sulphureous hue, and gives one the impression that the yawning gulf might resemble the mouth of the bottomless pit. No bird sits and sings on the branches of the grove of perpetual showers, or ever builds its nest there. We saw hornbills and flocks of little black weavers flying across from the mainland to the islands, and from the islands to the points of the promontories and back again, but they uniformly shunned the region of perpetual rain, occupied by the evergreen grove. The sunshine, elsewhere in this land so overpowering, never penetrates the deep gloom of that shade. In the presence of the strange Mosi-oa-tunya, we can sympathize with those who, when the world was young, peopled earth, air, and river, with beings not of mortal form. Sacred to what deity would be this awful chasm and that dark grove, over which hovers an ever-abiding “pillar of cloud”?

The ancient Batoka chieftains used Kazeruka, now Garden Island, and Boaruka, the island further west, also on the lip of the Falls, as sacred spots for worshipping the Deity. It is no wonder that under the cloudy columns, and near the brilliant rainbows, with the ceaseless roar of the cataract, with the perpetual flow, as if pouring forth from the hand of the Almighty, their souls should be filled with reverential awe. It inspired wonder in the native mind throughout the interior. Among the first questions asked by Sebituane of Mr. Oswell and Dr. Livingstone, in 1851, was, “Have you any smoke soundings in your country,” and “what causes the smoke to rise for ever so high out of water?” In that year its fame was heard 200 miles off, and it was approached within two days; but it was seen by no European till 1855, when Dr. Livingstone visited it on his way to the East Coast. Being then accompanied as far as this Fall by Sekeletu and 200 followers, his stay was necessarily short; and the two days there were employed in observations for fixing the geographical position of the place, and turning the showers, that at times sweep from the columns of vapour across the island, to account, in teaching the Makololo arboriculture, and making that garden from which the natives named the island; so that he did not visit the opposite sides of the cleft, nor see the wonderful course of the river beyond the Falls. The hippopotami had destroyed the trees which were then planted; and, though a strong stockaded hedge was made again, and living orange-trees, cashew-nuts, and coffee seeds put in afresh, we fear that the perseverance of the hippopotami will overcome the obstacle of the hedge. It would require a resident missionary to rear European fruit-trees. The period at which the peach and apricot come into blossom is about the end of the dry season, and artificial irrigation is necessary. The Batoka, the only arboriculturists in the country, rear native fruit-trees alone — the mosibe, the motsikiri, the boma, and others. When a tribe takes an interest in trees, it becomes more attached to the spot on which they are planted, and they prove one of the civilizing influences.

Where one Englishman goes, others are sure to follow. Mr. Baldwin, a gentleman from Natal, succeeded in reaching the Falls guided by his pocket-compass alone. On meeting the second subject of Her Majesty, who had ever beheld the greatest of African wonders, we found him a sort of prisoner at large. He had called on Mashotlane to ferry him over to the north side of the river, and, when nearly over, he took a bath, by jumping in and swimming ashore. “If,” said Mashotlane, “he had been devoured by one of the crocodiles which abound there, the English would have blamed us for his death. He nearly inflicted a great injury upon us, therefore, we said, he must pay a fine.” As Mr. Baldwin had nothing with him wherewith to pay, they were taking care of him till he should receive beads from his wagon, two days distant.

Mashotlane’s education had been received in the camp of Sebituane, where but little regard was paid to human life. He was not yet in his prime, and his fine open countenance presented to us no indication of the evil influences which unhappily, from infancy, had been at work on his mind. The native eye was more penetrating than ours; for the expression of our men was, “He has drunk the blood of men — you may see it in his eyes.” He made no further difficulty about Mr. Baldwin; but the week after we left he inflicted a severe wound on the head of one of his wives with his rhinoceros-horn club. She, being of a good family, left him, and we subsequently met her and another of his wives proceeding up the country.

The ground is strewn with agates for a number of miles above the Falls; but the fires, which burn off the grass yearly, have injured most of those on the surface. Our men were delighted to hear that they do as well as flints for muskets; and this with the new ideas of the value of gold (dalama) and malachite, that they had acquired at Tette, made them conceive that we were not altogether silly in picking up and looking at stones.

Marching up the river, we crossed the Lekone at its confluence, about eight miles above the island Kalai, and went on to a village opposite the Island Chundu. Nambowe, the headman, is one of the Matebele or Zulus, who have had to flee from the anger of Moselekatse, to take refuge with the Makololo.

We spent Sunday, the 12th, at the village of Molele, a tall old Batoka, who was proud of having formerly been a great favourite with Sebituane. In coming hither we passed through patches of forest abounding in all sorts of game. The elephants’ tusks, placed over graves, are now allowed to decay, and the skulls, which the former Batoka stuck on poles to ornament their villages, not being renewed, now crumble into dust. Here the famine, of which we had heard, became apparent, Molele’s people being employed in digging up the tsitla root out of the marshes, and cutting out the soft core of the young palm-trees, for food.

The village, situated on the side of a wooded ridge, commands an extensive view of a great expanse of meadow and marsh lying along the bank of the river. On these holmes herds of buffaloes and waterbucks daily graze in security, as they have in the reedy marshes a refuge into which they can run on the approach of danger. The pretty little tianyane or ourebi is abundant further on, and herds of blue weldebeests or brindled gnus (Katoblepas Gorgon) amused us by their fantastic capers. They present a much more ferocious aspect than the lion himself, but are quite timid. We never could, by waving a red handkerchief, according to the prescription, induce them to venture near to us. It may therefore be that the red colour excites their fury only when wounded or hotly pursued. Herds of lechee or lechwe now enliven the meadows; and they and their younger brother, the graceful poku, smaller, and of a rounder contour, race together towards the grassy fens. We venture to call the poku after the late Major Vardon, a noble-hearted African traveller; but fully anticipate that some aspiring Nimrod will prefer that his own name should go down to posterity on the back of this buck.

Midway between Tabacheu and the Great Falls the streams begin to flow westward. On the other side they begin to flow east. Large round masses of granite, somewhat like old castles, tower aloft about the Kalomo. The country is an elevated plateau, and our men knew and named the different plains as we passed them by.

On the 13th we met a party from Sekeletu, who was now at Sesheke. Our approach had been reported, and they had been sent to ask the Doctor what the price of a horse ought to be; and what he said, that they were to give and no more. In reply they were told that by their having given nine large tusks for one horse before the Doctor came, the Griquas would naturally imagine that the price was already settled. It was exceedingly amusing to witness the exact imitation they gave of the swagger of a certain white with whom they had been dealing, and who had, as they had perceived, evidently wished to assume an air of indifference. Holding up the head and scratching the beard it was hinted might indicate not indifference, but vermin. It is well that we do not always know what they say about us. The remarks are often not quite complimentary, and resemble closely what certain white travellers say about the blacks.

We made our camp in the afternoon abreast of the large island called Mparira, opposite the mouth of the Chobe. Francolins, quails, and guinea-fowls, as well as larger game, were abundant. The Makololo headman, Mokompa, brought us a liberal present; and in the usual way, which is considered politeness, regretted he had no milk, as his cows were all dry. We got some honey here from the very small stingless bee, called, by the Batoka, moandi, and by others, the kokomatsane. This honey is slightly acid, and has an aromatic flavour. The bees are easily known from their habit of buzzing about the eyes, and tickling the skin by sucking it as common flies do. The hive has a tube of wax like a quill, for its entrance, and is usually in the hollows of trees.

Mokompa feared that the tribe was breaking up, and lamented the condition into which they had fallen in consequence of Sekeletu’s leprosy; he did not know what was to become of them. He sent two canoes to take us up to Sesheke; his best canoe had taken ivory up to the chief, to purchase goods of some native traders from Benguela. Above the Falls the paddlers always stand in the canoes, using long paddles, ten feet in length, and changing from side to side without losing the stroke.

Mochokotsa, a messenger from Sekeletu, met us on the 17th, with another request for the Doctor to take ivory and purchase a horse. He again declined to interfere. None were to come up to Sekeletu but the Doctor; and all the men who had had smallpox at Tette, three years ago, were to go back to Moshobotwane, and he would sprinkle medicine over them, to drive away the infection, and prevent it spreading in the tribe. Mochokotsa was told to say to Sekeletu that the disease was known of old to white men, and we even knew the medicine to prevent it; and, were there any danger now, we should be the first to warn him of it. Why did not he go himself to have Moshobotwane sprinkle medicine to drive away his leprosy. We were not afraid of his disease, nor of the fever that had killed the teachers and many Makololo at Linyanti. As this attempt at quarantine was evidently the suggestion of native doctors to increase their own importance, we added that we had no food, and would hunt next day for game, and the day after; and, should we be still ordered purification by their medicine, we should then return to our own country.

The message was not all of our dictation, our companions interlarded it with their own indignant protests, and said some strong things in the Tette dialect about these “doctor things” keeping them back from seeing their father; when to their surprise Mochokotsa told them he knew every word they were saying, as he was of the tribe Bazizulu, and defied them to deceive him by any dialect, either of the Mashona on the east, or of the Mambari on the west. Mochokotsa then repeated our message twice, to be sure that he had it every word, and went back again. These chiefs’ messengers have most retentive memories; they carry messages of considerable length great distances, and deliver them almost word for word. Two or three usually go together, and when on the way the message is rehearsed every night, in order that the exact words may be kept to. One of the native objections to learning to write is, that these men answer the purpose of transmitting intelligence to a distance as well as a letter would; and, if a person wishes to communicate with any one in the town, the best way to do so is either to go to or send for him. And as for corresponding with friends very far off, that is all very well for white people, but the blacks have no friends to whom to write. The only effective argument for the learning to read is, that it is their duty to know the revelation from their Father in Heaven, as it stands in the Book.

Our messenger returned on the evening of the following day with “You speak truly,” says Sekeletu, “the disease is old, come on at once, do not sleep in the path; for I am greatly desirous (tlologelecoe) to see the Doctor.”

After Mochokotsa left us, we met some of Mokompa’s men bringing back the ivory, as horses were preferred to the West–Coast goods. They were the bearers of instructions to Mokompa, and as these instructions illustrate the government of people who have learned scarcely anything from Europeans, they are inserted, though otherwise of no importance. Mashotlane had not behaved so civilly to Mr. Baldwin as Sekeletu had ordered him to do to all Englishmen. He had been very uncivil to the messengers sent by Moselekatse with letters from Mr. Moffat, treated them as spies, and would not land to take the bag until they moved off. On our speaking to him about this, he justified his conduct on the plea that he was set at the Falls for the very purpose of watching these, their natural enemies; and how was he to know that they had been sent by Mr. Moffat? Our men thereupon reported at head-quarters that Mashotlane had cursed the Doctor. The instructions to Mokompa, from Sekeletu, were to “go and tell Mashotlane that he had offended greatly. He had not cursed Monare (Dr. Livingstone) but Sebituane, as Monare was now in the place of Sebituane, and he reverenced him as he had done his father. Any fine taken from Mr. Baldwin was to be returned at once, as he was not a Boer but an Englishman. Sekeletu was very angry, and Mokompa must not conceal the message.”

On finding afterwards that Mashotlane’s conduct had been most outrageous to the Batoka, Sekeletu sent for him to come to Sesheke, in order that he might have him more under his own eye; but Mashotlane, fearing that this meant the punishment of death, sent a polite answer, alleging that he was ill and unable to travel. Sekeletu tried again to remove Mashotlane from the Falls, but without success. In theory the chief is absolute and quite despotic; in practice his authority is limited, and he cannot, without occasionally putting refractory headmen to death, force his subordinates to do his will.

Except the small rapids by Mparira island, near the mouth of the Chobe, the rest of the way to Sesheke by water is smooth. Herds of cattle of two or three varieties graze on the islands in the river: the Batoka possessed a very small breed of beautiful shape, and remarkably tame, and many may still be seen; a larger kind, many of which have horns pendent, and loose at the roots; and a still larger sort, with horns of extraordinary dimensions — apparently a burden for the beast to carry. This breed was found in abundance at Lake Ngami. We stopped at noon at one of the cattle-posts of Mokompa, and had a refreshing drink of milk. Men of his standing have usually several herds placed at different spots, and the owner visits each in turn, while his head-quarters are at his village. His son, a boy of ten, had charge of the establishment during his father’s absence. According to Makololo ideas, the cattle-post is the proper school in which sons should be brought up. Here they receive the right sort of education — the knowledge of pasture and how to manage cattle.

Strong easterly winds blow daily from noon till midnight, and continue till the October or November rains set in. Whirlwinds, raising huge pillars of smoke from burning grass and weeds, are common in the forenoon. We were nearly caught in an immense one. It crossed about twenty yards in front of us, the wind apparently rushing into it from all points of the compass. Whirling round and round in great eddies, it swept up hundreds of feet into the air a continuous dense dark cloud of the black pulverized soil, mixed with dried grass, off the plain. Herds of the new antelopes, lechwe, and poku, with the kokong, or gnus, and zebras stood gazing at us as we passed. The mirage lifted them at times halfway to the clouds, and twisted them and the clumps of palms into strange unearthly forms. The extensive and rich level plains by the banks, along the sides of which we paddled, would support a vast population, and might be easily irrigated from the Zambesi. If watered, they would yield crops all the year round, and never suffer loss by drought. The hippopotamus is killed here with long lance-like spears. We saw two men, in a light canoe, stealing noiselessly down on one of these animals thought to be asleep; but it was on the alert, and they had quickly to retreat. Comparatively few of these animals now remain between Sesheke and the Falls, and they are uncommonly wary, as it is certain death for one to be caught napping in the daytime.

On the 18th we entered Sesheke. The old town, now in ruins, stands on the left bank of the river. The people have built another on the same side, a quarter of a mile higher up, since their headman Moriantsiane was put to death for bewitching the chief with leprosy. Sekeletu was on the right bank, near a number of temporary huts. A man hailed us from the chiefs quarters, and requested us to rest under the old Kotla, or public meeting-place tree. A young Makololo, with the large thighs which Zulus and most of this tribe have, crossed over to receive orders from the chief, who had not shown himself to the people since he was affected with leprosy. On returning he ran for Mokele, the headman of the new town, who, after going over to Sekeletu, came back and conducted us to a small but good hut, and afterwards brought us a fine fat ox, as a present from the chief. “This is a time of hunger,” he said, “and we have no meat, but we expect some soon from the Barotse Valley.” We were entirely out of food when we reached Sesheke. Never was better meat than that of the ox Sekeletu sent, and infinitely above the flesh of all kinds of game is beef!

A constant stream of visitors rolled in on us the day after our arrival. Several of them, who had suffered affliction during the Doctor’s absence, seemed to be much affected on seeing him again. All were in low spirits. A severe drought had cut off the crops, and destroyed the pasture of Linyanti, and the people were scattered over the country in search of wild fruits, and the hospitality of those whose ground-nuts (Arachis hypogoea) had not failed. Sekeletu’s leprosy brought troops of evils in its train. Believing himself bewitched, he had suspected a number of his chief men, and had put some, with their families, to death; others had fled to distant tribes, and were living in exile. The chief had shut himself up, and allowed no one to come into his presence but his uncle Mamire. Ponwane, who had been as “head and eyes” to him, had just died; evidence, he thought, of the potent spells of those who hated all who loved the chief. The country was suffering grievously, and Sebituane’s grand empire was crumbling to pieces. A large body of young Barotse had revolted and fled to the north; killing a man by the way, in order to put a blood-feud between Masiko, the chief to whom they were going, and Sekeletu. The Batoka under Sinamane, and Muemba, were independent, and Mashotlane at the Falls was setting Sekeletu’s authority virtually at defiance. Sebituane’s wise policy in treating the conquered tribes on equal terms with his own Makololo, as all children of the chief, and equally eligible to the highest honours, had been abandoned by his son, who married none but Makololo women, and appointed to office none but Makololo men. He had become unpopular among the black tribes, conquered by the spear but more effectually won by the subsequent wise and just government of his father.

Strange rumours were afloat respecting the unseen Sekeletu; his fingers were said to have grown like eagle’s claws, and his face so frightfully distorted that no one could recognize him. Some had begun to hint that he might not really be the son of the great Sebituane, the founder of the nation, strong in battle, and wise in the affairs of state. “In the days of the Great Lion” (Sebituane), said his only sister, Moriantsiane’s widow, whose husband Sekeletu had killed, “we had chiefs and little chiefs and elders to carry on the government, and the great chief, Sebituane, knew them all, and everything they did, and the whole country was wisely ruled; but now Sekeletu knows nothing of what his underlings do, and they care not for him, and the Makololo power is fast passing away.” 3

The native doctors had given the case of Sekeletu up. They could not cure him, and pronounced the disease incurable. An old doctress from the Manyeti tribe had come to see what she could do for him, and on her skill he now hung his last hopes. She allowed no one to see him, except his mother and uncle, making entire seclusion from society an essential condition of the much longed-for cure. He sent, notwithstanding, for the Doctor; and on the following day we all three were permitted to see him. He was sitting in a covered wagon, which was enclosed by a high wall of close-set reeds; his face was only slightly disfigured by the thickening of the skin in parts, where the leprosy had passed over it; and the only peculiarity about his hands was the extreme length of his finger-nails, which, however, was nothing very much out of the way, as all the Makololo gentlemen wear them uncommonly long. He has the quiet, unassuming manners of his father, Sebituane, speaks distinctly, in a low pleasant voice, and appears to be a sensible man, except perhaps on the subject of his having been bewitched; and in this, when alluded to, he exhibits as firm a belief as if it were his monomania. “Moriantsiane, my aunt’s husband, tried the bewitching medicine first on his wife, and she is leprous, and so is her head-servant; then, seeing that it succeeded, he gave me a stronger dose in the cooked flesh of a goat, and I have had the disease ever since. They have lately killed Ponwane, and, as you see, are now killing me.” Ponwane had died of fever a short time previously. Sekeletu asked us for medicine and medical attendance, but we did not like to take the case out of the hands of the female physician already employed, it being bad policy to appear to undervalue any of the profession; and she, being anxious to go on with her remedies, said “she had not given him up yet, but would try for another month; if he was not cured by that time, then she would hand him over to the white doctors.” But we intended to leave the country before a month was up; so Mamire, with others, induced the old lady to suspend her treatment for a little. She remained, as the doctors stipulated, in the chief’s establishment, and on full pay.

Sekeletu was told plainly that the disease was unknown in our country, and was thought exceedingly obstinate of cure; that we did not believe in his being bewitched, and we were willing to do all we could to help him. This was a case for disinterested benevolence; no pay was expected, but considerable risk incurred; yet we could not decline it, as we had the trading in horses. Having, however, none of the medicines usually employed in skin diseases with us, we tried the local application of lunar caustic, and hydriodate of potash internally; and with such gratifying results, that Mamire wished the patient to be smeared all over with a solution of lunar caustic, which he believed to be of the same nature as the blistering fluid formerly applied to his own knee by Mr. Oswell. ITS power he considered irresistible, and he would fain have had anything like it tried on Sekeletu.

It was a time of great scarcity and hunger, but Sekeletu treated us hospitably, preparing tea for us at every visit we paid him. With the tea we had excellent American biscuit and preserved fruits, which had been brought to him all the way from Benguela. The fruits he most relished were those preserved in their own juices; plums, apples, pears, strawberries, and peaches, which we have seen only among Portuguese and Spaniards. It made us anxious to plant the fruit-tree seeds we had brought, and all were pleased with the idea of having these same fruits in their own country.

Mokele, the headman of Sesheke, and Sebituane’s sister, Manchunyane, were ordered to provide us with food, as Sekeletu’s wives, to whom this duty properly belonged, were at Linyanti. We found a black trader from the West Coast, and some Griqua traders from the South, both in search of ivory. Ivory is dear at Sesheke; but cheaper in the Batoka country, from Sinamane’s to the Kafue, than anywhere else. The trader from Benguela took orders for goods for his next year’s trip, and offered to bring tea, coffee, and sugar at cent. per cent. prices. As, in consequence of a hint formerly given, the Makololo had secured all the ivory in the Batoga country to the east, by purchasing it with hoes, the Benguela traders found it unprofitable to go thither for slaves. They assured us that without ivory the trade in slaves did not pay. In this way, and by the orders of Sekeletu, an extensive slave-mart was closed. These orders were never infringed except secretly. We discovered only two or three cases of their infraction.

Sekeletu was well pleased with the various articles we brought for him, and inquired if a ship could not bring his sugar-mill and the other goods we had been obliged to leave behind at Tette. On hearing that there was a possibility of a powerful steamer ascending as far as Sinamane’s, but never above the Grand Victoria Falls, he asked, with charming simplicity, if a cannon could not blow away the Falls, so as to allow the vessel to come up to Sesheke.

To save the tribe from breaking up, by the continual loss of real Makololo, it ought at once to remove to the healthy Batoka highlands, near the Kafue. Fully aware of this, Sekeletu remarked that all his people, save two, were convinced that, if they remained in the lowlands, a few years would suffice to cut off all the real Makololo; they came originally from the healthy South, near the confluence of the Likwa and Namagari, where fever is almost unknown, and its ravages had been as frightful among them here, as amongst Europeans on the Coast. Sebituane’s sister described its first appearance among the tribe, after their settling in the Barotse Valley on the Zambesi. Many of them were seized with a shivering sickness, as if from excessive cold; they had never seen the like before. They made great fires, and laid the shivering wretches down before them; but, pile on wood as they might, they could not raise heat enough to drive the cold out of the bodies of the sufferers, and they shivered on till they died. But, though all preferred the highlands, they were afraid to go there, lest the Matebele should come and rob them of their much-loved cattle. Sebituane, with all his veterans, could not withstand that enemy; and how could they be resisted, now that most of the brave warriors were dead? The young men would break, and run away the moment they saw the terrible Matebele, being as much afraid of them as the black conquered tribes are of the Makololo. “But if the Doctor and his wife,” said the chiefs and counsellors, “would come and live with us, we would remove to the highlands at once, as Moselekatse would not attack a place where the daughter of his friend, Moffat, was living.”

The Makololo are by far the most intelligent and enterprising of the tribes we have met. None but brave and daring men remained long with Sebituane, his stern discipline soon eradicated cowardice from his army. Death was the inevitable doom of the coward. If the chief saw a man running away from the fight, he rushed after him with amazing speed, and cut him down; or waited till he returned to the town, and then summoned the deserter into his presence. “You did not wish to die on the field, you wished to die at home, did you? you shall have your wish!” and he was instantly led off and executed. The present race of young men are inferior in most respects to their fathers. The old Makololo had many manly virtues; they were truthful, and never stole, excepting in what they considered the honourable way of lifting cattle in fair fight. But this can hardly be said of their sons; who, having been brought up among the subjected tribes, have acquired some of the vices peculiar to a menial and degraded race. A few of the old Makololo cautioned us not to leave any of our property exposed, as the blacks were great thieves; and some of our own men advised us to be on our guard, as the Makololo also would steal. A very few trifling articles were stolen by a young Makololo; and he, on being spoken to on the subject, showed great ingenuity in excusing himself, by a plausible and untruthful story. The Makololo of old were hard workers, and did not consider labour as beneath them; but their sons never work, regarding it as fit only for the Mashona and Makalaka servants. Sebituane, seeing that the rival tribes had the advantage over his, in knowing how to manage canoes, had his warriors taught to navigate; and his own son, with his companions, paddled the chief’s canoe. All the dishes, baskets, stools, and canoes are made by the black tribes called Manyeti and Matlotlora. The houses are built by the women and servants. The Makololo women are vastly superior to any we have yet seen. They are of a light warm brown complexion, have pleasant countenances, and are remarkably quick of apprehension. They dress neatly, wearing a kilt and mantle, and have many ornaments. Sebituane’s sister, the head lady of Sesheke, wore eighteen solid brass rings, as thick as one’s finger, on each leg, and three of copper under each knee; nineteen brass rings on her left arm, and eight of brass and copper on her right, also a large ivory ring above each elbow. She had a pretty bead necklace, and a bead sash encircled her waist. The weight of the bright brass rings round her legs impeded her walking, and chafed her ankles; but, as it was the fashion, she did not mind the inconvenience, and guarded against the pain by putting soft rag round the lower rings.

Justice appears upon the whole to be pretty fairly administered among the Makololo. A headman took some beads and a blanket from one of his men who had been with us; the matter was brought before the chief, and he immediately ordered the goods to be restored, and decreed, moreover, that no headman should take the property of the men who had returned. In theory, all the goods brought back belonged to the chief; the men laid them at his feet, and made a formal offer of them all; he looked at the articles, and told the men to keep them. This is almost invariably the case. Tuba Mokoro, however, fearing lest Sekeletu might take a fancy to some of his best goods, exhibited only a few of his old and least valuable acquisitions. Masakasa had little to show; he had committed some breach of native law in one of the villages on the way, and paid a heavy fine rather than have the matter brought to the Doctor’s ears. Each carrier is entitled to a portion of the goods in his bundle, though purchased by the chief’s ivory, and they never hesitate to claim their rights; but no wages can be demanded from the chief, if he fails to respond to the first application.

Our men, accustomed to our ways, thought that the English system of paying a man for his labour was the only correct one, and some even said it would be better to live under a government where life and labour were more secure and valuable than here. While with us, they always conducted themselves with propriety during Divine service, and not only maintained decorum themselves, but insisted on other natives who might be present doing the same. When Moshobotwane, the Batoka chief, came on one occasion with a number of his men, they listened in silence to the reading of the Bible in the Makololo tongue; but, as soon as we all knelt down to pray, they commenced a vigorous clapping of hands, their mode of asking a favour. Our indignant Makololo soon silenced their noisy accompaniment, and looked with great contempt on this display of ignorance. Nearly all our men had learned to repeat the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed in their own language, and felt rather proud of being able to do so; and when they reached home, they liked to recite them to groups of admiring friends. Their ideas of right and wrong differ in no respect from our own, except in their professed inability to see how it can be improper for a man to have more than one wife. A year or two ago several of the wives of those who had been absent with us petitioned the chief for leave to marry again. They thought that it was of no use waiting any longer, their husbands must be dead; but Sekeletu refused permission; he himself had bet a number of oxen that the Doctor would return with their husbands, and he had promised the absent men that their wives should be kept for them. The impatient spouses had therefore to wait a little longer. Some of them, however, eloped with other men; the wife of Mantlanyane, for instance, ran off and left his little boy among strangers. Mantlanyane was very angry when he heard of it, not that he cared much about her deserting him, for he had two other wives at Tette, but he was indignant at her abandoning his boy.

3 In 1865, four years after these forebodings were penned, we received intelligence that they had all come to pass. Sekeletu died in the beginning of 1864 — a civil war broke out about the succession to the chieftainship; a large body of those opposed to the late chief’s uncle, Impololo, being regent, departed with their cattle to Lake Ngami; an insurrection by the black tribes followed; Impololo was slain, and the kingdom, of which, under an able sagacious mission, a vast deal might have been made, has suffered the usual fate of African conquests. That fate we deeply deplore; for, whatever other faults the Makololo might justly be charged with, they did not belong to the class who buy and sell each other, and the tribes who have succeeded them do.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57