Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

58

ROUTE TO MINEENGA.

To describe this country and its inhabitants, I devote the present chapter.

The whole route was fine; never once did we lose sight of trees, wooded hills, or valleys, while water was everywhere abundant. The forest was what might be called “Donkey or Zebra forest”—bare-poled trees and no underwood. The hills, now close, now distant, were richly clothed and exceedingly graceful, reminding me of the Trosachs. Grey rocks looked out in fantastic shapes from amongst the trees. Huge blocks lay one over the other, or abruptly ended a range of hill. The valleys had been cleared by the axe, the wild grasses were most luxuriant, and palisaded villages were often met with. We had not to leave the path in order to pluck the Indian corn. Our way led from one valley to another, or threaded the green forest, which rang with the

of our followers. Generally the road was of fine sand, which, when lately washed by the rains, was loose and yellow. Once it crossed a quicksand, the only one I recollect seeing in Africa—very shaky and watery-along which a patch of rice grew. Two streams running west were forded ; the Gombe, twenty yards across, there only 44 feet deep—and with no current, merely a gentle flow of mud-coloured water; its banks well wooded and shelving: our men shouldered us across, but there were some rickety canoes made of bark lying on the left bank. The other we crossed at night in two channels running also west, but said to be dry one half of the year, although now it was breast-deep, with a current that nearly bore me down in my weak state. Attacks of fever came on about every tenth day, lasting eight and ten hours, with from two to five days of

songs

CAPE RIFLEMEN OBLIGED TO RETURN.

59

nausea and fevered brain. Speke, who had been so long in Africa, was not subject to them, but our men were constantly laid up. One died, and the poor Cape riflemen were such martyrs to fevers and sore eyes, that they confessed they could not stand the hardships of the journey, and were sent back to Kazeh, saying they were sorry they had come so far. We were told that smallpox was the most fatal disease in this part of the country, but we saw no cases.

The general elevation of the country is 3400 feet, rising gently up to the low ranges of hills everywhere around. It is more open than Unyanyembe. Mists rarely lie, except on the hill-tops after rain. The greatest fall measured was three-fourths of an inch in half an hour, after a storm, which burst overhead with fearful concussions of thunder at 3 P.M. of the 13th April. This may

be described as the grand finale to the rainy season. Every morning the dews lay heavily, and a S.E. wind blew, but the coolest breeze was when from S. by W. The daily temperature inside a hut was 78° to 80° at 1 P.M. During the day the sky was generally clear, with a fierce sun ; but the air in the mornings and evenings was deliciously cool, a fire at night being cheery and comfortable. No dust-storms troubled us, otherwise the open huts would have been uninhabitable. Drinking water was always sweet and refreshing At Mineenga a copious spring gushed out of the shell of a tree lying level with the earth in the centre of a rice-field. This was the well of the village; from its position it was considered a phenomenon, and was looked on with veneration, as it afforded cool water the whole year round—a rare blessing

60

FLORA OF MINEENGA.

The flora was new and interesting; but we were amazed at not seeing better crops, as grasses with pendent panicles grew luxuriantly ten feet high. The surface-soil, however, was very light-merely the washings of the hill-sides brought down in a stream of red clay grit. In this tract of country we came upon groups of palms, not met with since we left the coast : they were converted into many uses—fences, thatching, firewood, and uprights for building, &c. Toddy also was occasionally extracted. The fruit hung down in rich, large, tempting clusters, at the mercy of any hungry traveller. We observed several of these palms, with their leaf-stalks still remaining on the tree, to be the support and life of a species of ficus, growing like a parasite, luxuriantly healthy, its roots not near the ground, but forming a complete network round the stem of the palm. Tamarind-trees, so umbrageous and beautiful in outline, were numerous.

There was also the rumex, from ten to twelve feet high ; and the tree, a ficus, whose bark affords the Waganda their clothing, was here seen for the first time. The bark is taken off in stripes, according to the size they can get it, then damped and beaten by heavy wooden hammers till pliant, and afterwards sewn into a sheet the colour of chamois-leather, but much thicker; the outer bark is thrown away. Near the villages a few scrubby bushes of cotton were grown upon mounds made by white ants. Looms of the rudest construction converted the produce of these into a hard, very stout, heavy cloth, about four or five feet in size, with onefourth of it a black border, and worn by women only. Sessamum grew in ridges with the sorghum; its oil, and that extracted from the ground-nut, being used

[blocks in formation]

by the natives for smearing themselves from head to foot, giving their skins a handsome colour, like the gloss on polished marble. To vary the colour, some red clay is added. The sorghum is sometimes affected with a black blight, but the natives do not think this any deterioration; all goes into the mill. They live upon Indian corn, ulezee, and sorghum, made into flour by rubbing the grains between stones as a housepainter pounds colours. Their vegetables are sweet potato, and the leaves, flowers, and fruits of pumpkins; and they brought us daily ground-nuts, tobacco, and fowls for sale. On the 3d of April the rice-harvest was being gathered in; but we perceived no traces of irrigation as in Egypt. Abundant rains gave an ample crop

The reapers consisted of negro women and girls, who sang pleasantly, though the scene was marred by the sight of a gang of men-slaves, heavily ironed together by their necks, with some superintendents, gleaning. Those who had small knives cut the stalk four or five inches below the grain, and held it in their left hand till the hand was full, when it was placed in a huge tub of bark lying in the field. In this way a three-feet-high stubble was left standing, to be trodden down by cattle. The thrashing of the rice was novel. A quantity of ears was placed upon a cow's hide, slaves in irons were made to work it with their toes and feet, and winnow it in the wind; and after being thoroughly sun-dried upon a clear space

of cow-dunged ground, it was fit for the process of shelling in the large pestle and mortar. If a considerable amount was to be thrashed, a bludgeon answered the purpose of the negroes' feet. The stubble would afterwards be turned over with powerful long-handled hoes,

62

PRICE OF PROVISIONS.

beds of the soil made, and the suckers or offshoots of the sweet potato planted there by bands of twenty or thirty villagers, shouting and singing the whole time. If our Seedees had to clean rice in the wooden mortar, a dozen hands would set about the work of two. It could not be done without those who worked beating time with the pestle to their song, the lookers-on clapping hands and stamping with their feet. The work and song never ceased till the rice was pounded almost into dust-such joyous, reckless creatures are these simple Africans ! Yams are grown upon mounds of earth placed all over a field, the branches of the plant trained up a stick, or more commonly allowed to crawl over the ground. They do not attain a great growth. Grain is housed under the eaves of stack-shaped huts, or a clustered mass of Indian corn may be seen suspended from the bough of a tree, as exhibited in the illustration of “Unyamuezi harvest," in Captain Speke's Journal.

Provisions were all remarkably cheap upon this route. A fat cow was purchased for four fathoms of calico; another full-sized cow, and four small goats, were got for eight fathoms; a single sheep was dear at two fathoms; but three small goats were a bargain at the same price; a donkey was offered for fourteen, but he would have been dear at half the amount. For a fowl, one native demanded a charge of gunpowder, and would not sell it for anything else; another native led in a goat to camp, saying if we repaired his old flint-musket we should have the animal; he refused to bargain for anything else. For two quarts of impure honey, ten strings of common beads and a fathom of calico were asked, but not given. Milk was not

« ForrigeFortsett »