merker_ch_11.gif (13450 bytes) shieldfinal.gif (6374 bytes)


THE people (Wa–kwafi) of Njemps presented an interesting study to the observer as throwing light upon the origin of the various small tribes which people Africa. Unquestionably Masai in race, and only separated from that tribe through the loss of their cattle and the consequent necessity of breaking their cherished convictions by cultivating the soil, they had developed new ideas, manners and customs ill a comparatively short period.

They did not by ally means supply all argument ill favour of the vegetarians; for in personal appearance they had distinctly degenerated and could not for a moment compete with their aristocratic carnivorous brethren of Lykipia. This was especially noticeable among the women, who ]lad lost their slender, genteel shape and acquired the ill–proportioned, unwieldy contour of the negress. Perhaps an exception might be made ill favour of the young women, many of whom were well–formed and characterized by most pleasing and interesting manners.

The colony consisted of two villages–Njemps of Guaso Tigirish, close to our camp, and Njemps of Guaso na –Nyuki. The houses were of the haycock order, with floors beneath the level of the ground, very small and badly built They were surrounded by a double fence of thorns, which, however, are a greater source of danger than of protection, as ill this dry climate they become like tinder, and consequently can be set on fire easily. If this were done at several points simultaneously, the inhabitants could easily be burned to death.

Ill a hazy sort of way they tried to keep up the distinction [264] between the married and the unmarried people, very little work being expected of the latter, and the sweetheart system being preserved. They all, however, occupy the same village, and of course the young men cannot afford to live on meat, though they always come in for the lion’s share when any of it is going. When parties go off on war–raids, they also contrive to cat a bullock by –way of getting up their courage.

They lead upon the whole a very miserable life, ever threatened with destruction by the Masai. who have swept off several villages and all their cattle. The soil being the very richest loam, brought down from the mountains and spread over a comparatively level plain to the south of the lake, it is capable of producing anything; only the extreme dryness of the air and the very small annual rainfall, confined to a couple of months, keeps it sterile and barren. To ameliorate this unhappy condition of things the Wa–kwafi have developed a wonderfully ingenious system of irrigation by artificial canals of (for them) great magnitude. They construct dams across the deep channel of the Guaso Tigirish and thus raise the level of the water to that of the plain, and then, by an intricate network of channels, they spread the precious fluid over a large area, and raise their millet and melons. These products form almost their sole food, eked out by what they are able to kill in the chase and by fish from the river, though when meat is scarce they are not disdainful even of rats. Of these there were simply myriads. They swarmed everywhere, and nothing was too sacred for them. Need it be wondered if "oft in the stilly night" were heard imprecations loud and deep upon the wretched pests when I have been wakened up by my nose. being bitten or the sanctity of my toe invaded. My books were devoured, and even the bullets in my cartridges were not too indigestible. Everything, indeed,’ had to be kept under iron or hung up under sheds, as represented on page 313.

As in the case of the Wa–taveta, the Wa–njemps are singularly honest and reliable, so much so that valuable goods and equally valuable food are left in their charge with the utmost confidence, and I have heard of no case of this being violated. To me, one of the most remarkable features in the character of the young women and girls was their absolute unconsciousness of fear in my presence, and the complete confidence they seemed to have in me. They indeed took [265] possession of my premises with the most agreeable abandon, lolled about the floor like young puppies, examining every thing with the curiosity of monkeys. They scrupled not to sit down on my knee, and with feminine blandishments which I could not resist, compelled me to go through my fashionable and highly original entertainment of drawing my own teeth. This was a never–failing source of astonishment, and was received each time with flattering remarks of appreciation. Martin, desirous of reaping cheap fame and attracting the attention of tile damsels got beautifully caught on one occasion. He had been trying to impress upon them that lie could do all that sort of thing as well as I, and to clench his assertion declared that if one of them cut off his finger he could put it on again. He was holding out his finger, and before he knew what was up one girl had made a vicious cut at it, and nearly severed it. Martin did not try that little game again. Next in interest to the tooth–drawing was the examination of themselves in the It was some [266] days before they seemed to grasp the uses of the mirror, but their feminine instincts soon told them, and they would frequently get it to see that their ornaments were properly arranged. A few photographs of some of their charming white sisters which I happened to have with me were a great source of delight. They actually supposed them to be living beings, and if told that they were asleep, they were quite satisfied.

In the midst of these unsophisticated people, and pleasing incidents which I delight to recall, several days rapidly passed. My experiences were further varied by some shooting trips, in one of which I was so fortunate as to secure two beisa antelopes (Oryx beisa), the first I had seen. I also saw for the first time the lesser kudu. The waterbuck were in great numbers about the lake to which I paid a visit.

Before my arrival at Baringo my friend Jumba Kimameta had proceeded to the country of Engobot, about 120 miles N.N.W., but had left several old men with large quantities of food, donkeys, &c., pending his return south. He had also left a goodnatured old fool to go with me, but as he knew no more than myself of the country I now wanted to traverse I could not see the use of him.

And now the final stage, the most uncertain of the whole journey, had to be attempted with the agreeable knowledge that the last three caravans which had preceded me had each lost more than one hundred men by violence. One, of these disasters had occurred only the previous year, and yet I now proposed to go into the same country with only one hundred men all told. As in the case of my Lykipia trip, the traders swore it was impossible, and that I would never get back alive. My own men, however, had come to know me by this time, and there was not a remonstrance from one of them. Sadi, though greatly against it, rose considerably in my opinion by stating that he was ready to follow me. Not so Muhinna. He, knowing now the futility of tears and entreaties, took a new line, and feigned extreme illness, groaned mightily as if with racking pain, and if he came to the door did so only with the aid of a stick, his body bent over it, sighing deeply, and in general looking the very picture of woe. I knew it was all a sham, but so thoroughly did I detest him from the bottom of my son], and so much was I afraid that in the event of my taking him he would play me some ruinous trick, that I pretended to [267]

[268] believe him, and was glad to leave him behind–though, with the exception of his brother Mansimba, who was too much of an idiot to be of much use, lie was the only man in tile caravan who had been to Kavirondo, and knew it well.

The date of my departure being fixed, everything that was not absolutely wanted was secretly buried, as much to safeguard it against fire as from any fear of its being stolen. All the weak and sickly wore weeded out and left as a sort of guard under one of Stanley’s "Immortals."

A few days previous a rather sad accident happened. One of the coastmen had got a huge thorn run into his foot–joint, which had utterly incapacitated him, as he would not allow me to cut it out. This had lasted nearly six weeks, and he had in consequence become very low in spirits. His hut in the camp happened to be pretty close to the thorn–fence, and apparently a hyena had discovered that there was a disabled man about. Acting on this idea it had crushed through the boma in some way, seized the helpless man, and dragged him out and right into the heart of the fence before his screams brought out the porters, who by firing their guns drove off the ferocious brute. Next morning the poor fellow died from the combined effects of his illness and the fright. I mention this incident as being the only case which came directly under my notice of a hyena seizing a living man. It would seem as if it must have known that he was helpless.

Before setting forth once more I found it necessary to "do in Rome as the Romans do" to the extent of assisting in the preliminary ceremonies of making the caravan medicines and finding out a proper day for the start. Muinyi Kombo–Jumba’s man–took charge of these interesting matters. First a magic bullet had to be cast. This had to be made in an oblong form enclosing, a verse of the Koran. At I p.m. precisely I had to fire it off facing due south. Its destination was warranted to be the hearts of all who meant me harm. Of this murderous fact I now make confession, though I have been pleased to imagine that I must have had very few enemies, as I have heard of no bloody deaths among them. All hour later a specially prepared piece of steel wrapped in red cloth was put in a fire by Martin, who had to express wishes for a safe and successful journey. The fire having been well lit, I had to extinguish it with water, expressing at the same time the amiable desire that [269] all who meant us harm might be quenched even as the flame. My men, being of a more irreverent nature than the coast people, laughed heartily at the whole farce. This. finished our part in these curious ceremonies. A sacrifice, however, had to be made of a goat, which being devoured to the satisfaction of the coast greybeards it was discovered that Friday–their Sunday–at 11 a.m. was the day and hour decreed by the Higher Powers, and that we had to take a bullock with us.

On Friday, the 16th of November, we were all plunged into the agreeable stir and excitement of a renewed start. At 11 a.m. we crossed the Guaso Tigirish, passed to the village on the neighbouring river, and then struck W.N.W. towards Kamasia. Reaching the edge of a low, flat terrace of the range, we camped on the Guaso Tigirish, near the point where it escapes from the terrace–cutting its way by a deep, narrow gorge through crypto–crystalline lavas of recent origin.

In the afternoon I went out fishing, and in a short time caught three and a half dozen beautiful fish. Leaving camp next morning, we ascended the terrace. Crossing the top by an excruciating pathway over angular boulders and forbidding thorns, we found a second terrace, which, being traversed, we descended into the bed of the Guaso Kamny�, a small stream from the mountains to The Lake, though only reaching it in the wet season. Following up the Kamny�, we entered a picturesque glen which led us through a third terrace of lava rocks and carried us apparently in the very heart of the Kamasia Range.

Our arrival was speedily announced from hill to hill by the calls of the natives, who, living in isolated houses perched on the sides of the mountains, have no other means of communicating news but that of shouting. It was truly marvellous with what apparent ease they seemed to be able to project their voices immense distances. I have seen a man speaking across a deep valley to another who could barely be distinguished, and yet not raising his voice more than if he was speaking to one a few yards off. The reply of the other could be heard with remarkable distinctness. This curious mode of communication I had previously observed among the mountains of Ukinga, north of Nyassa. In response to this summons, men and women came trooping ill on all sides; the former for their hongo, the latter to sell small quantities of food. [270]

These people have much the general aspect of the Masai, to whom they are distantly related, judging from their language and a few minor details. They carried the spear distinctive of the Suk country. It is seven feet long, with head small, and is used either for throwing or stabbing. They also carried the bow and arrow. The dress of the men consisted of a very small bit of kid–skin hung on the breast like a baby’s bib, while the women wore two dressed skins, one round the loins, and the other round the shoulders. They cultivate chiefly the grain known as uuliz� (eleusine) and a little millet. The former requires new ground yearly. Their mode of raising a crop is by cutting down a tract of dense bush, leaving the sticks and branches to dry, and then burning them in situ so as to form manure with the ashes. This entails an enormous labour. The existence of the Wa–kamasia depends entirely upon their small streams. These, like the grass with the Masai, receive their profoundest veneration, and a native rarely crosses a rivulet with. out spitting on some grass, and throwing it into the stream.

On the following morning we left our camp at Mkuyu–ni (place of sycamore–trees), and by a very precipitous pathway, further impeded by wretched bushes, we reached the top of the mountain–pass, and found ourselves looking down on a magnificent landscape. Immediately at our feet lay the glen which we had just left with the outer dark–green bush–clad hills ebbing away into the variegated green of the lava terraces, and ending in the sere and yellow colours of the Njemps plain. Beyond to the north–west shimmered Baringo, with its charming islets backed by the weird outline of the Suk and Lykipia mountains, seen through a dense haze. The view looking south–west embraced the head of the glen, and exhibited a wonderfully picturesque display of peaks and rugged masses of sharp, serrated ridges with scarred sides like colossal files, the whole covered with a tint of richest verdure, and the faintest suggestion of an ethereal, silvery sheen.

After recovering our breath and photographing the head of the glen, we once more resumed our way, descending into a deep gorge, which here divides the mountain into two ridges. Reaching the western ridge, we were filled with a feeling of awe at the impressive spectacle of Elgeyo rising as a stupendous precipice of frowning rocks to a height of over 8000 feet from the valley of the Weiwei, which lay between us and this grand sight. [271]

During the whole of this charming though trying march we were kept in excitement by the seemingly supernatural shouts that echoed and re–echoed from apparently the most impossible places. We had to halt more than three times to arrange the hongo before we were allowed to pass. The road was "shut" by placing some green twigs across the pathway, and to pass over that sacred symbol before permission was accorded was sufficient to drive the people into fits of uncontrollable excitement. We camped on the western face of the range, and next day we reached the base of the mountain by a more gentle gradient and a less stony path than had characterized the eastern side.

It remains but to be said that Kamasia is a distinct range of mountains, rising from 8000 to 9000 feet in the higher peaks, and forming a branch or offshoot from the Mail escarpment, which is here continued north under the name of Elgeyo. It is extremely steep and abrupt on the eastern aspect, shading away more gently on the western. It is covered with denses bush, though in the higher parts the bush becomes forest. Notwithstanding its comparative barrenness, it keeps alive a [272] pretty large population, who, however, are ever in danger of utter starvation from periods of drought. They have considerable herds of sheep and goats, and a few head of cattle.

The range consisted geologically of a metamorphic rock composed of a white striated felspar, a little quartz, and black mica in minute scales. A fine grey clay is the result of the decomposition of this rock.

On the following day we crossed the narrow valley which lies between Kamasia and Elgeyo, through which flow the head–waters of the Weiwei, a stream which, after running north to the Suk Mountains, rounds the N.W. end of that range, and finds its way to Samburu.

At Elmet�i we had to stop a day to collect food for the desert march across the Angata Nyuki (Red Plain), of Guas’ Ngishu. We here found that, though Elgeyo was marvellously steep and made us wonder how on earth we should ever be able to ascend it, yet it was not an absolute precipice. The lower part presented an aspect very different from that of the upper, being a striking assemblage of sharp ridges running down its face like the flutings of a column, though of course more irregular and picturesque, while the upper part was a sheer rock precipice of the most unmistakable character. On moving up a small stream which tumbles down the mountain, I soon found a clue to these topographical features in the shape of enormous masses of porphyritic sanidine rock, exactly resembling that found on the south of Kilimanjaro. These masses were so big that I could hardly believe that they were not in their natural place. They clearly, however, had crashed headlong from the upper precipices, which indeed were neither more nor less than a lava cap to the underlying metamorphic rocks.

In spite of a heavy day’s climb, we only succeeded in getting about three–fourths up the mountain. When nearly at the base of the precipice, we camped to enjoy a lovely view,–a cascade tumbling little short of 1000 feet over the precipice, a charming ledge stretching from the sheltering wall, over whose bushy ridges peeped forth romantic huts and cultivated patches. A further clue to the origin of the lava precipice was obtained by finding that between the almost vertical beds of the metamorphic rocks and the lava lay a thick deposit of volcanic debris, whose easy erosion led to the undermining of the more compact lava and consequent toppling of the same down into the valley below, thus ever forming, new surfaces. [273]

Renewing our hard climb, we braced ourselves for the last spurt, though, as we looked up at the grim and frowning mass, it required a considerable amount of faith to imagine that it could ever be surmounted. However, a guide led the way, and gasping for breath, and grasping for life, we pushed up. As I was beginning to sbe afraid that we were to be beat, a small crack was descried in the apparently impregnable rocks, and by creeping and crawling we ascended foot by foot. As we neared the top, I was struck with astonishment to hear a sound like a great sighing as of a storm rushing through a forest, and to see the clouds immediately overhead whirling with great violence eastward, and yet where I was hardly a breath of air disturbed the repose of the leaflets. As we crept on, however, slight whiffs of wind told us what was above, and these gradually increased in force, till, putting our heads above the shelter of the precipice, we got an unmistakable slap in the face which heightened my colour considerably. There was, in fact, a perfect hurricane raging at the top, and we had to crawl on hands and knees some distance from the face of the precipice lest we should be hurled back.

[274]As at Dondol�, we were presently enveloped in the very rawest and most orthodox of Scotch mists, which soon soaked us to the skin. We found the top of Elgeyo capped by a dense forest of junipers, with an almost inpenetrable undergrowth of sturdy bush. Dense banks of fog seem to hang almost continuously over those high elevations.

Half an hour along a hunter’s track brought us to the edge of the forest, and before us lay the treeless expanse of the Red Plain of Guas’ Ngishu. My men, however, were too much paralyzed by the cold to move forward that day. We were therefore forced to camp and light great bonfires to revive them. We were fortunate in falling upon the camp of the last caravan which had passed into Kavirondo, and a few loads of grass were all that was needed to make it inhabitable.

The day clearing up somewhat, I went outside, and from an eminence was rewarded by a totally unexpected sight–a magnificent mountain some sixty miles to the W.N.W., comparable in size to Mount Kenia itself, without the upper snow–clad peak. This was Elgon or Masawa, famed for its caves, and which I had been led to believe to be an insignificant hill. To the north rose the imposing range of Chibcharagnani, which runs at right angles to Elgeyo, and almost extends to Elgon. Due west shaded gently away the treeless plain of Guas’ Ngishu, unbroken except by one slight eminence, till in the distant horizon rose the conical peak of Surongai, the boundary–wall of Kavirondo. We knew that somewhere beyond those hills lay the waters of the great lake of which I was in search.

As already mentioned, this magnificent grassy reach was formerly grazed over by the Wa–kwafi till, a few years previously, they had to a man been driven off by the Masai, and now the buffalo, eland, hartebeest, rhinoceros, and zebra feed undisturbed, except by a chance caravan or an Andorobbo hunter.

On the 24th of November I had just got down my tent and was on the point of departure, when a horrid driving drizzle set in with a high wind, which made a march impossible, and compelled us at a temperature of less than 50 to shiver over the fires in the shelter of the forest. If we had been caught in the open, not one half of the men would have survived, there being no shelter and no firewood.

Towards 10 a.m. matters improved, and we wasted no time in striking camp, as it would require our very best efforts to cross the worst part and reach a hollow where there was [275] shelter and a little firewood. As usual, I was considerably ahead with my advance–guard, stepping out at a great pace through tall grass which reached my knees, when we were greeted by a shout of "Kifaru! kifaru!"(rhinoceros); turning, round, our equanimity was considerably upset by the of a fine big fellow tearing down upon us within forty yards. My gallant men scattered like startled deer, and even Brahim, who carried my gun, was showing me his rear, when I yelled at Him. to give the weapon to me. Ere I secured the gun the rhinoceros was within ten yards. I instantly fired right in its face. This was not sufficient to bring it down, but it had the effect of making it swerve, and as it went puffing past me within three yards I gave it the second bullet in the neck. Down it dropped with the most astounding velocity, squealing with a ludicrous resemblance to a pig, My Andorobbo guide was so amazed at my performance, that for a moment he stood like one paralyzed, and then made as if to run away in absolute fright. I succeeded, however, in reassuring him. My men, not having had any meat for a very long time to take with their unpalatable millet, fought like hyenas over the rhinoceros. One man got badly slashed in the arm with a knife, and I had at last to restore order in a very summary fashion.

Some distance farther on I was interested in discovering an outcrop of quartzite, and near the spot I shot three hartebeest (Alcelaphus the first of the kind I had seen–the hartebeest found further south being a species first shot by Col. Coke, and now just described under his name. (See title–page.)

We crossed a number of fine streams all flowing towards the Lake; and as the sun set we reached our camping–place, where we were happy in finding a sheltered nook and some small bits of firewood. From this place we could see the high forest region –of Nandi, which seems to be a curious counterpart of Kikuyu. It appeared in the south as a long dark ridge running apparently N.W. and S.E. The Wa–nandi are allied in language and customs to the Wa–kamasia and Wa–elgeyo, though much braver and more warlike. In their intractable character they resemble the Wa–kikuyu, and neither can trading–caravans enter peaceably their domains nor Masai warriors forcibly. To the north in the far distance could be descried the very high conical mountain Donyo Le Kakisera, which is described as being sometimes streaked with snow. [276]

Before reaching camp, I had been much struck by a curious circular wall of earth with openings here and there. It had a surprising resemblance to a Pictish encampment. On inquiry I learned that it had been a Masai kraal, the houses having been built of stone and mud, owing to the difficulty of obtaining the necessary wood to build the regulation huts. They must have been mere heaps of stone and earth, with holes in the centre, which ill the inclement weather could be covered with bullock’s hides, and the in. habitants must have sat in them like birds ill their nests only with a very great deal more discomfort. Now they appear only as a circle of earthworks. Next morning, as we neared the western hills, the country became more diversified and pleasing–rolling in gentle undulations and dotted over with a flowering shrub. Game existed in very great numbers, and I kept our larder well supplied by knocking over a wart–hog, which proved very good eating–though only the mission boys would touch it. Further on ail eland fell to lily gun, next a hartebeest, and finally, at camp, no less than three more of those antelopes. Buffalo we saw in very great numbers, but I did not disturb them.

Next day we entered a more hilly country, and had to cross a large river three times, much to our discomfort. Game, especially buffalo, was in amazing abundance, and we were in considerable danger of being scattered on three separate occasions by herds. I had to fire at them repeatedly, and I wounded several, but time was too precious to be wasted following g them up; all the more so as we were going entirely at haphazard, our guide having returned two days previously.

On camping I sent Makatubu and Mansimba to reconnoitre ahead, as it was desirable that we should know our whereabouts, and not be taken by surprise. Their report was not very decided, but led us to believe that we should reach the inhabited part of Kavirondo on the morrow.

Next day we ascended a range of hills which lay before us. When at the top we found a narrow valley and a second range of hills beyond. Going off with three men to reconnoitre, we descended into the valley. It was chiefly remarkable for the length of the grass, which made walking a serious labour, and for the number of small streams flowing north to the river Nzoia. I was greatly interested to discover growing in the valley a splendid Protea. On [277]

[278] reaching the top of the second range we were relieved and gratified to find Kavirondo lying at our feet, and soon we were pointing out to each other curling columns of smoke and square patches of variegated green, which told of inhabitants and cultivation. Returning on our path, we presently picked up the men. Then with much circumspection we crossed the hills and camped at their base, taking care to build a strong boma.

On the 28th of November, 1883, I entered the village of Kabaras, picturesquely situated on the face of a boulder–clad hill, and surrounded by smiling fields. It was with a considerable degree of trepidation that I encountered the Wa–kavirondo for the first time, after the bloodthirsty character I had heard ascribed to them. I was soon, however agreeably surprised to hear the familiar coast "Yambo?" (How do you do?) shouted from all sides, as people came rushing from the village on seeing my men appear from the jungle. When they caught sight of me there was, however, a considerable change in their manner. Symptoms of astonishment and terror were very evident. They hastily retreated inside the mud walls which surround their village, and feeling then somewhat more secure, they crowded on to the top and demanded explanations. Inside could be descried men rushing about from hut to hut in the midst of a tremendous uproar, and immediately afterwards they appeared with war–dress and spear, ready for the expected battle. Ordering my men to halt, and laying aside my rifle, I went forward with one of my boys and tried to explain who I was and with what peaceable aims and intentions I had come among them. A buzz of astonishment greeted my appearance, and presently an encouraging sign was visible in the appearance of women among the men, brought out evidently by the ungovernable curiosity of the sex. My protestations had the desired effect, and at last a few old men ventured forth, chiefly Andorobbo who live here. Mansimba was then recognized as an old friend, and in response to a shout of reassurance, men, women, and children flocked out to see the newest human prodigy.

It was now my turn to feel a measure of astonishment, awkwardness, and bashfulness, as I found myself surrounded by a bevy of undraped damsels, whose clothes and ornaments consisted of a string of beads. I had much to do to keep my countenance, and was at a loss where to look. Gradually, however, getting accustomed to the crowd, I gave up [279] stargazing, and before long it seemed the most natural thing in the world to dress–I mean to be without dress–in. that way, and I began to make wise reflections about the atrocities of an over–civilized community, and to appreciate for the first time the appropriateness of the saying about beauty being "when unadorned adorned the most." To proceed, however, I was soon on the best of terms with the natives We were conducted inside the village, and a place assigned to me to pitch my tent, while the men stowed themselves away under caves or in huts, in short, wherever they could find a convenient shelter. As for myself, I called for my [280] camp–stool, and getting a cup of tea, proceeded to accustom myself to the great unclad, as well as to familiarize the simple folks with my own remarkable person.

The notes I formed mentally while I sat observing and being observed were to this effect. The Wa–kavirondo are by no means attractive in their appearance, and contrast unfavourably with the Masai. Their heads are of a distinctly lower type, eyes dull and muddy, jaws somewhat prognathous, mouth unpleasantly large, and lips thick, projecting and everted–they are in fact true negroes. Their figures are better, though only among the unmarried young women could they be said to be in an sense pleasing to look at. any Among the married women the abdomen is aggressively protuberant, and roughly tattooed without any attempt at design. These also exhibit the rudiments of a dress, and some sense of decency. In the former they have drawn their inspiration from nature–a long tassel of cord worn behind, with a ludicrous resemblance to a tail, forming the, chief article of clothing, and a fringe of cord, four inches square, comprising all the rest. The men go absolutely naked, and are remarkable for their athletic build, and the unusual size of the body in comparison with the legs.. In this matter of proportion they are also distinctly inferior to the Masai. It is at once seen from their weapons that they are not a warlike people, their spears being of the very poorest, with small heads and handles commonly eight feet long, as if they had no desire to get into close quarters with their enemies. Their shields are of all shapes and sizes, though the characteristic Kavirondo form is enormous in dimensions and weight. It consists of an almost entire buffalo skin, four feet long and as much broad, bent so as to form an angle, thus surrounding the bearer completely except in the rear. When advancing to the attack nothing but his head is seen. So heavy and unweildy is this shield, that, except in actual battle, it has to be carried slung on the back, and in flight must be thrown away.

The Wa–kavirondo delight in getting themselves up in the most fantastic head–dresses. Antelopes’ horns, cocks’ tail–feathers, basket and leather work are all enlisted to produce the most awe–inspiring effects. Their huts are of the conventional beehive shape–roof sometimes sharply conical, at other times, as at Kabaras, rising very slightly. Inside they are either ideally clean and nice or disgustingly filthy. The former is the case with the huts of the poorer people, [281] who have no goats or cattle. Those have the floor beaten smooth and hard with clay, a fireplace especially built, and not a speck of refuse left lying about. The special feature of those huts is the wonderful array of pomb�–pots, ranging in size from a few inches to three feet in height. Being conical at the base, they have special clay sockets for their reception. In almost every hut there is a very curious beehouse. This is a hollowed log of wood fixed up inside, but with one end projecting through the wall to admit of the ingress and egress of the bees. Strangely enough, though the house is frequently filled with smoke, and the honey acquires a black colour and most disagreeable taste, it does not drive the busy insects away. By this arrangement the Wa–kavirondo are able to extract the comb whenever they desire.

The description of the other order of huts almost requires to be approached with a scented handkerchief to one’s nose. In these the most perfect good–fellowship exists between a couple of cows, three or four goats and sheep, a dog, sundry cocks and hens in the rafters, the lady of the house, her lord (when it pleases him to visit her) and a lot of children. [282] A fire burns in the centre, and there is no other exit for the smoke than the door, which is kept closed. The native charms of this abode of unsophisticated "niggers" is mightily enlivened by innumerable fleas, lice, &c. It will be easily understood how cosy and warm the hut will be on chilly nights, and the imagination will not be at a loss to picture a delightful group. Children nestling close to the cow, like young puppies to their mother; the mother leaning contentedly on a sheep or a goat; the cow breathing heavily as it complacently chews its cud, and meditates, now on the rich pasturage, anon on the amenities of its nightly dwelling; the dog wriggling about till it has ensconced itself among the children; while the sage cock from its perch looks down benignantly through the gloom upon the happy family snoring below, and, seeing that all is well, waits patiently through the watches of the night, ready to sing forth its rousing notes on the approach of dawn.

The Wa–kavirondo protect their villages by strong mud walls with an outer fosse, or dry ditch. The clayey character of the soil formed by the decomposition of the granites, lends itself very well to this purpose, from its tenacity and hardness when dry. The engraving of Kabaras and that of Massala show this feature.

We were now in the midst of abundance. The hardships and horrors of our late fare were forgotten, as we picked the bones of fat Kavirondo fowls, with accompaniments of groundnuts, sweet potatoes, and maize. How delicious these good things tasted, and with what a glorious appetite we applied ourselves to them, till sighs of satisfaction told us that the elasticity of even our digestive organs had a limit! We had partaken of our meal under the wondering gaze of the natives, and we now, in the cool of the evening, sat outside and examined them again as we sipped our coffee.

Observing some of the young women dancing a little distance off, we persuaded them, on the promise of beads, to conic and perform before us. We were greatly amused at the manner in which they enjoyed the "poetry of motion." With demure aspect, bashful, and doubtless blushing (if their colour would have shown it), with hands laid close to each other in front of the waist, they advanced to the clapping and singing of the crowd. Next they alternately threw forward each foot; then there was a jerk of the shoulders as if a dynamite pill had burst beneath the shoulder blade. This was repeated with growing rapidity, [283] culminating in a grand "break–down," and shoulders and arms seemed as if they would fly off, so marvellous was the celerity with which they moved the muscles of the upper part of the body. This performance we encored heartily, and as we threw largesse to the performers, there was soon a grand struggle for the honour and emoluments attaching to the entertainment of such liberal visitors. They were ready to any extent to contribute to our delectation by their

"Quips and cranks and wanton wiles;
Nods and becks and wreathed smiles."

As night fell we voted each other right good friends, and retired to our respective quarters.

Next morning a large bowl of milk was brought to me. As I was about to enjoy the refreshing draught I thought I smelt something queer. I pursed my brow, and sniffed again. Then I screwed up my face, let the bowl fall, placed my hands across my stomach, and rushed into my tent, from which afterwards might have been heard sounds not unknown on the Channel boats in roughish weather. Equilibrium restored, I called a council to inquire into the ingredients of that strange drink. It was discovered that the cow is made to add to the volume and flavour of her milk by another animal liquid, which, as far as I am aware, has never been used in England for adulteration. The said liquid is kept standing a few days to develop its "bouquet" and "body," before being added to the milk The result I will leave the reader to imagine. Another delightful discovery of the habits of the Wa–kavirondo was, that they milked their cows into vessels plastered inside with dung, Upon the whole, therefore, it will be seen that these unsophisticated people revel in somewhat highly flavoured refreshments.

We stopped a day at Kabaras, as it was imperative we should proceed gently if we wanted to go far. So in the intervals of photographing the village, and taking some astronomical observations, we set the young men and maidens a–dancing, and with lavish hand threw beads among them Our day’s stay allowed the news of our arrival to precede us, as well as the fact of our friendly character and open–handed generosity.

Next day we resumed our march for the chief town of Upper Kavirondo, namely We passed over a fertile, rolling country, watered by a perfect network of [284] rivulets, the existence of which I can only account for on the theory that they really come from the eastern highlands of Guas’ Ngishu, finding their way underground, to spring forth in the lower levels of Kavirondo. We found that on leaving the grassy plateau of Guas’ Ngishu, with its gentle, even slope westward, we had left behind the lava rocks, and entered a more broken area characterized geologically by porphyritic granites, which weathered rapidly into reddish clays, leaving innumerable enormous blocks of the less easily denuded parts. The district seemed to be strewn over with colossal boulders, just as in some parts of our own country, where glacial erratics dot the fields though not quite so numerously.

What most impressed me was the surprising number of villages, and the generally contented and well–to–do air of the inhabitants. It was almost like a triumphal progress, and we were quite in the mood to amuse ourselves by looking at it in that light, as we were rapidly approaching the goal of our hopes, Victoria Nyanza. Almost every foot of ground was under cultivation. Yet the people seem to have some idea of the value of a rotation of crops, for they allow land to lie fallow occasionally, such parts being used as pasture–ground for the cattle and flocks.

We passed along a perfect lane of people, all carrying baskets of food which they were dying to dispose of for beads. There were honey, milk, eggs, fowls, beans, &c., &c.

On the second day we reached the town of an important chief of this region, named Sakwa. We here found considerable numbers of the original Wa–kwafi of Guas’ Ngishu, who had been compelled to take refuge among the Wa–kavirondo, and now they were proving to be a poisonous power among their more peaceable and genial hosts. They lived like paupers, and were setting one chief to fight another, breaking up the harmony of the tribe, and plunging it into endless feuds. They are also initiating their hosts into the charms of levying black–mail, and, like ideal stage–villains, they are ever ready to instil bad council into the ears of the chiefs.

They tried the same insolent swagger er and arrogance with us, but I was not slow to let them understand that what I could endure among the Masai in their own country I would not tolerate from them. In fact, from a certain hitherto suppressed feeling of revenge, it gave me no small pleasure to cut up rough among these rascals, and to be explosive [285] when any one of them presumed too much on my forbearance My men also delighted to have it out with them, and turned the tables on them by scowling fearfully and threatening to do unutterable things.

Sakwa made himself very agreeable by rushing after his subjects when they became too troublesome and pressing, driving them off with blows, and not even disdaining to pick up stones and hurl them after the scampering crowd. On some of these occasions a number of the "mashers" of the town took advantage of the scramble to knock down several men of the neighbouring villages and steal their food.

On the 3rd of December I arrived at the town of Sundu (Kwa–Sundu). This place, under the father of the present chief, was one of great importance and size; but since his death it has gradually dwindled away, till the walls enclose more matamma fields and grass patches than huts. The inhabitants under an effeminate prince have no special advantages, and consequently prefer to live in smaller villages, to be nearer their fields. Kwa–Sundu occupies the summit of a ridge overlooking a splendid river, named the Nzoia, which, gathering its waters from the plateau, and from Elgon and Chibcharagnani, flows W.S.W. to the Lake.

The present chief is a mild and pleasant young man, and we were soon on the best of terms with each other. Though of a sluggish temperament, and possessing none of the mental activity of the Masai, he enjoyed enormously examining my photographs. He became so enthusiastic over the charms of one young lady, who was represented as posing aesthetically over a sunflower, that he gave me a large order for a bevy after that pattern at two tusks of ivory a head. I said I would see what I could do for him.

I was very much interested in discovering that Kavirondo does not at all occupy the place which has been assigned to it on our maps–that is to say, about the middle of the eastern shore of the Lake. In reality it lies on the north–east corner of the Lake, and extends from about thirty miles north of the equator to about as much south of it. What was still more important was the discovery that a part of Kavirondo really occupied a considerable area represented by water on the maps. According to the maps, Kwa–Sundu lay only some four or five miles north of the Lake, and yet from considerable eminence I could doscry nothing but a rolling [286] expanse of cultivated country, and no lake in sight. On inquiry I learned that the nearest way to the Lake was west, and that going g S.S.W. it could only be reached in four days. We shall thus make a very moderate estimate if we put the distance at forty miles–probably it is considerably more.

The Wa–kavirondo are apparently a homogeneous race, and have very much the same outward appearance, manners and customs. Yet on inquiry and examination I was enabled to bring the interesting fact to light that there were two totally distinct languages. The inhabitants of what we may call Lower Kavirondo, and the regions more immediately around the Lake shore, speak a language resembling in vocabulary and construction that spoken by the Nile tribes, while those of Upper Kavirondo speak a Bantu dialect so closely allied to the Ki–swahili that my men had no difficulty in making themselves understood. It is even more closely allied to the Ki–ganda. The natives of Lower Kavirondo further show their race affinities by their custom of wearing a stone ornament dangling from and through the lower lip.

It is quite unnecessary to enlarge upon the customs, religious beliefs, &c., of these people, as they present no marked variation from those already well known as characteristic of East African negroes generally. The connection of the natives of Upper Kavirondo with the latter is illustrated (and that very markedly) by their habit of throwing sticks, stones, and grass into heaps at particular places such as boundaries, with g the idea of propitiating some guardian spirit. This custom prevails all through the countries southward to Nyassa.

I had a very good opportunity afforded me of observing what takes place on the death of a child. One morning, near my tent, a small boy died. Throughout the day the father and mother kept up a continuous wail, now rising into howls, anon into screams. Friends and passers–by added their voices to the dirge and occasionally broke into a dance. In the afternoon a grave was dug immediately outside the door, and beneath the eaves of the hut. When this was ready, the dead child was brought out for the last look. Every one then broke into sobbing howls, as the father suddenly laid hold of it with convulsive energy and laid it in the grave, while the mother threw herself on the ground and rolled about in the ecstasy of her grief. The father, little less affected and wailing sadly, was suddenly aroused by indignant protests from some of the grey–beards. He had laid the corpse in the [287] wrong position! The father declared that he had done quite right, and a lull in the wailing took place as they yelled and screamed at each other excitedly over this point. At last the father was shouted down, and had to alter the position, whereupon the wails and howls were resumed. The point of dispute was whether the face of the child should be towards the house or away from it. This having been put right, a single tree–leaf was placed below the lower ear, and another over the upper, while a tuft of grass was placed in the child’s hand. This finished, a new howl was raised, which rose into a storm as the father and mother pushed the soil over the little naked body with frantic energy. A final howl being given and a dance performed, the party adjourned till the moon rose, and then with deep libations of pomb� (native beer) they danced and threw their shoulders (not their legs) about, to allay the grief of the parents and soothe the spirit of the buried child.

The first person who dies in a new house is buried inside it–the second outside.

About the Wa–kavirondo it remains but to be said that they eloquently illustrate the fact, which some people cannot understand, that morality has nothing g to do with clothes. They are the most moral of all the tribes of this region, and they are simply angels of purity beside the decently dressed Masai, among whom vice of the most open kind is rampant.

Food at Kwa–Sundu was surprisingly cheap and apparently inexhaustible. Four men’s food in flour was got for one string of beads, eight men’s food of sweet potatoes for the same, a sheep for fifteen strings, and a goat for twenty strings. Such were some of the prices which ruled. Fish also from the Nzoia was added to our fare, so that we were in a veritable land of Goshen. I might further have had hippopotamus beef, as I shot several in the Nzoia, and it was a sight to see several hundred natives quarrelling over the meat.

While the Lake was yet unseen I could not enjoy life contentedly. I therefore only stayed two days at Kwa–Sundu before I started with fifty men to complete my work, leaving the rest behind with Makatubu. The country that had yet to be traversed was, however, the dangerous region –the people being less accustomed to traders. Mansimba showed his appreciation of the dangers ahead, by hiding away to avoid being taken with us. [288]

We crossed the Nzoia by a ford 100 yards broad, where the river rushes fiercely over a rocky bed three feet deep. Striking westward, we approached near a village, when we were suddenly startled by the war–cry. My guide immediately jumped on to an ant–mound and I followed him. Our appearance allayed the alarm in our immediate neighbourhood–but by that time the war–cry had been taken up by labourers in the field, and by other villages, and we could hear the signals spreading further and further. The whole country seemed suddenly to have given birth to multitudes of people, some hurrying towards the villages, others rushing out of them armed for war. Hundreds of the natives were soon gathered round us. These we were able at once to reassure, though, for several hours after, we met people tearing along as if for life or death towards the supposed enemy. From what I saw, I could understand how the traders had so frequently lost men, as within an hour several thousands of warriors could be collected from this populous region. We camped that night at a small village called Mwofu, and found our way forthwith to the hearts of the people by setting them to dance for beads.

The whole country was remarkable for its poverty in trees, a few small ones alone being seen in the villages, where they afford refreshing shade. There is in consequence a great dearth of wood, and it had to be bought for making fires. On this side of the Nzoia, however, the Euphorbia was not uncommon. We passed capital grazing–ground and found cattle numerous, though there were many villages that had been destroyed by the people of Elgumi to the north.

At the village where we stopped on the second day, we got an insight into the temper of the people. The Sultan of the place had presented us with a bullock, and I had given him a present of brass wire in return. We took care, however, not to kill the animal. In the morning the sons of the chief demanded another present, and would not allow us to take the bullock away. I immediately demanded the wire, and told them to keep their present. This brought the old chief out, and he entreated us to take it. Accordingly we pushed our way outside the village. The sons, however, were not so easily appeased. They raised a disturbance, and attempted, in the most excited and violent manner, to take forcible possession of the bullock. Other young men began to gather [289] about, and all looked as if they would enjoy a fight. I saw it was necessary to be firm and show them we were not to be easily frightened. At last, however, as I was getting hustled nastily, my bile was raised, and before the principal young agitator knew what he was about I had dexterously laid him on his back. It was a sight to see the picture of demoniacal and ungovernable rage which he presented as he sprang to his feet. He poised his spear, and pranced about like a madman, trying to get clear of his father, who kept in front of him, and prevented him from launching it at me. The moment was very critical. All my men held their guns ready. Brahim covered the young warrior with my Express rifle, while on the other hand hundreds of warriors grasped their spears as if only waiting a signal to precipitate themselves upon our small party. As for myself, I simply folded my arms and laughed derisively, a piece of acting I have always found to have a remarkable effect –upon the natives, who at once conclude that I have supernatural powers of offence awl defence. The old man succeeded at last in carrying off his son, very much to my relief–for in spite of [290]my heroic attitude I was anything but comfortable inwardly, and in reality I had made a very narrow escape. We were now masters of the field, and wore allowed to leave peaceably.

The extraordinary density of the population was to us it matter of great wonder. They streamed forth in thousand to see us, amid yells and shouts of the most deafening character. At first we wore inclined to lay the flattering unction to our soul that this was an ovation specially got up to celebrate the successful crowning of the work of the Expedition. But when they began to ])c insolent, and tried to block our way, the crowds did not seem quite so pleasant. I began to lose my ordinary coolness and to get excited, as with threatening., gestures they threw themselves in our path and tried to stop me getting forward. I vowed that I would march on, whether they liked it or not. Keeping down alike my fears and my wrath, therefore, I steadily pushed ahead, leading the way, while Martin brought up the rear. Two men of a neighbouring district who were accompanying me for protection, were set upon by some fiercely dressed warriors. Their goods were stolen, and they would infallibly have been murdered, had I not crushed myself into the heart of the melee, and rescued the poor fellows. At last we got past the worst, and we could breathe again.

Shortly after, we camped at a village named Seremba. I here found numerous smelting works, the ore being brought from regular mines, in a range of hills to the north. They smelted it in open furnaces of charcoal, heaped up against a low wall, at the bottom of which is a hole and drain leading from it to carry off the slagg. The blast is kept up by a double bellows, worked with astonishing dexterity by a man standing. A whole day is employed in smelting the ore., –and a mass from 15 lbs. to 20 lbs. is the result. The moment it is thought to be read , they turn out the hot mass and as speedily as possible cut pieces off with axes, dealing with great rapidity herculean strokes. The iron thus produced is first class, and the Wa–kavirondo, especially those of Samia, are remarkably clever blacksmiths. They make wire in imitation of the coast seneng�, only it is square instead of round. This takes a beautiful silvery polish, and is worn by the young swells round their necks, arms, and legs, after the fashion prevalent among the Masai women, only the coil is not continuous, but jointed on ring by ring. They make capital spears, hoes &c., which are in use all over Kavirondo. I was greatly [291] interested to find that in shaping their various weapons, implements, &c., they use a variety of hammers. For the heaviest work they use large stones ; for the medium, (such as hoes in their secondary stages) a thick arrow–shaped piece of iron, striking with the edge of the head. The square wire is manipulated by being struck with the end of an iron cylinder.

Next day we were not allowed to go on. Difficulties were raised. Why was I tearing along in this manner by force, with the same cry of "Nyanja, Nyanja" (the Lake)? What were we wanting there? Probably we would make uchawi (black medicine), and stop the Lake–whatever that might mean. We must be quarantined, and submit to a period of "observation" to see what sort of symptoms were likely to develop themselves. All this was horribly annoying, and I was afraid we should still be turned back at the very last moment. To let off my impatience I went to the Nzoia close at hand, and shot three hippos, which had the effect of putting the natives in good humour, and helped to smooth our way. I here photographed the river with a school of hippos in one of its bends. [291]

Next day, finding that we were in the good graces of most of the people (we had set them a–dancing on the previous day), and that it was only the chief and his satellites who opposed our going forward, in the hope of screwing more presents out of us, I resolved to proceed in spite of him. On getting ready for the road I found the gate taken possession of by a band of armed men, and no time had to be lost. Selecting a party, we made a sudden dash among the obstructors and hustled them away, while a second lot came behind us, tore the gate to pieces, and threw them into the fosse. They then kept the opening clear while we tried to get everything away. This was not quite so easy. Several men seized hold of loads, and clung to them with tooth and nail, and required some fearful tussling before they were dislodged. A few blows with sticks were given treacherously, but fortunately the resistance did not go any further. We at last proved to be the victors, and marched off triumphantly.

Half an hour sufficed to bring us to the top of a low range of hills, and there lay the end of our pilgrimage–a glistening bay of the great Lake surrounded by low shores and shut in to the south by several islands, the whole softly veiled and rendered weirdly indistinct by a dense haze. The view, with arid–looking cuphorbia–clad slopes shading gently down to the muddy beach, could not be called picturesque, though it was certainly pleasing. This scene was in striking contrast to all the views of African lakes it had yet been my privilege to see. In all previous cases I had looked down from heights of not less than 7000 feet into yawning abysses some thousands of feet below; but here I stood on an insignificant hill and saw it gradually subsiding to the level of the great sheet of water.

We had no patience, however, to stand and take in all the details of the scene, we were too eager to be on the actual shores. An hour’s feverish tramp, almost breaking into a run, served to bring us to the edge of Lake Victoria Nyanza, and soon we were joyously drinking deep draughts of its waters, while the men ran in knee–deep, firing their guns and splashing about like madmen, apparently more delighted at the sight of the Lake than I was–though doubtless the adage held good here, as in so many cases, that still waters run deep.

When my escort had thus effervesced to some– extent they gathered round, and the good fellows, knowing that my dearest wish had been attained, shook hands with me with [293] such genuine heartiness and good–will that they brought tears to my eyes. Having recovered tone, I–as it behoved me to do–made a speech to them on the heroic lines more commonly heard at a City banquet or Mutual Admiration Society than. in Central Africa. This duty performed, we proceeded to the village of the second chief of Samia–in which district of Kavirondo we now were–and there we camped.

Next day I rested from my labours with the delicious consciousness that a great feat had been accomplished and that I had home as the new beacon–star ahead to direct my wandering footsteps. Next day, finding ourselves among a very pleasant people, we laid aside our natural reserve, and, pocketing our high dignity, we set all the young people of the village to trip it. In the cool of the evening Martin and I illustrated the "poetry of motion" as practised in Malta and Scotland; that is to say, Martin tried to initiate the damsels into the mysterious charm of the waltz, while I showed them how to do the "fantastic" in the spirited movements of a Scotch dance. Need I say that Martin was simply nowhere, while they became enthusiastic over my performance. That night, as I sat musing and star–gazing, I concluded that the Wa–kavirondo were decidedly susceptible of civilizing influences!

My agreeable conclusions–derived from their appreciation of my dancing–received rather a shock during the night. I was outside my tent with Martin about midnight, taking some lunars to determine my longitude, when I observed a man running rapidly past, and, jumping up, I saw some other men joining Him. Thinking some small article of a porter’s had been stolen, I went to their quarters to inquire. I soon made a sadder discovery than I had anticipated. The cook’s hut had been broken into with consummate courage, and the entire contents of my canteen carried off. Not even a knife and fork was left to console me, and I bad the agreeable picture before me of eating from wooden platters and using chopsticks or my fingers. If I was to avoid this undesirable possibility, prompt action was required. I therefore shouted out our war–cry, "Bunduki ! bunduki!" (Guns ! Owns!) In a twinkling every man was on his feet, his sleeping–mat rolled up and conveyed to my tent. Leaving a guard there, I took all the rest and made for the gates, which I secured by placing a guard at each one. With the remainder bearing lighted brands I proceeded to the house [294] of the chief. The scene that now took place was indescribable, as the entire population rushed from their huts with the idea that the town was captured and that they would all be killed. The men shouted and the women screamed and yelled. They were utterly out of their senses, and rushed about like madmen from gate to gate, only to find on their approach stern–visaged men with guns levelled at them. There were at that moment from three to four hundred men in the village, but so utterly were they paralyzed by our prompt and audacious action that they knew not what to do. I found myself in the midst of a large crowd, and I knew what to do. Pointing to my men carrying brands, I announced my ultimatum: "Restore my stolen property, or I burn down the town!" I was the more remorseless in my demand as I had every reason to believe that almost the whole town was implicated in the affair "indeed on the previous day the chief, Massala himself, had been specially anxious to have some of the very articles now stolen. We obviously had them completely at our mercy, and they implored me not to proceed to extremities, promising that all would be returned. At this moment one man was captured with some plates, and to show we were not afraid of them we at once administered a substantial drubbing, and threatened to shoot him on the morrow when we had time. Seeing we meant business, and that a minute’s delay might issue in the place being set on fire, they gathered almost everything up and brought them to us just as the sun appeared in the horizon. Then the guards were withdrawn, and we could retire to chuckle over our triumph, though the incident had been a most perilous one.

This adventure curiously enough seemed distinctly to raise us in the good–will of the people, and in the afternoon we were such excellent friends that they stood without fear to be photographed–Njemps being the only other place where this took place. The young women here wore very well shaped, meriting as regards the figure the distinction of being called tall and handsome, though they are unusually narrow proportionately across the loins. At this place I was only forty–five miles from the Nile, and I would gladly have proceeded thither. But there were several considerations which deterred me. First, an attack fever had resulted from my night adventure; secondly, my stock of goods was getting inconveniently low; and, thirdly, I had reached the western boundaries of Kavirondo, and the people beyond were at war with the natives of the latter. As I had thus considerable uncertainty in front of me, I came to the conclusion that in this case discretion was the better part of valour. To gain a little by going further I might run an imminent risk of losing all. Here, then, I resolved to make my turning [296] point. My hopes and my footsteps henceforth must be homeward.


Send mail to [email protected] with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright � 1998
Maasai Pty. Ltd.
Last modified: November 21, 1998

Hosted by