merker_ch_5.gif (13451 bytes) shieldfinal.gif (6374 bytes)


IT was no easy matter for me to assume a calm exterior on entering the forest, and facing my Wa–taveta and Wa–swahili friends, from whom I had parted less than a month before, full of such joyous anticipations. But I had to make the best of it, and appear unconcerned, though filled with the gall of disappointment.

If I had allowed myself to reason out my position, and state the matter frankly, I would have been compelled to admit that my case was desperate, and that with the caravan I had, and guides such as Sadi and Muhinna, there was little hope of my ever getting beyond the threshold of the Masai country, or, if once past, of ever getting back. I had, however, not yet lost confidence in my lucky star, and I battled [101] with the dark hosts of doubt and uncertainties which threatened to close around and paralyze all action. One thing I saw clearly, that it would never do to sit down and mope over MY misfortunes. Prompt action was required. got and a few more men; Muhinna, More goods must be who, I was convinced, had acted traitorously, must be taken to the coast, and, if a substitute could be got, left there. At first I thought of sending Martin to do this work, as I was afraid of the consequences of leaving my now demoralized men in his charge; but on second thoughts, I concluded that I should be able to do the work quicker and more satisfactorily, while I was convinced that inaction at the present low ebb of my affairs would kill me.

The trials of my situation were considerably aggravated by the action of my men. They became insolent and mutinous, and demanded to be led to the coast when they heard that I was going there. They threatened to desert, and altogether acted in a most outrageous manner. I remained firm, however, and would not give way one iota. The guns were once more taken possession of, and locked up, and by prompt punishments I brought them to their senses in a manner they little expected.

Two days sufficed to put my affairs in order, and, selecting four porters, two askari, and four head–men, Muhinna, Makatubu, Brahim, and Bedu�, I started on May 15th. Two marches brought us to the Matat� stream, a distance by the road of little short of seventy miles. The third took us to Ndara, where I revisited Mr. Wray in his mountain sinecure, looking healthy, and evidently not becoming thin over his missionary labours.

Leaving Ndara, we performed a pedestrian feat which probably has never been equalled in the annals of African travelling. We had been informed that there was plenty of water on the road, and that we should certainly find the precious element between Maungu! and Taro. Acting on this assurance, we started at daybreak, with only a little drop of water in my bottle. We reached Maungu shortly after 10 a.m., and rested for half an hour to eat a bit of fowl. We here finished off our water, and did not think it necessary to waste time ascending the mountain for a new supply. We had not, however, got well clear of Maungu, before we saw abundant signs that the country was much drier than when we passed before. In fact the entire region was literally burnt up, and hardly a blade of green grass was to be seen. [102] Filled with apprehension, and regretting our thoughtlessness in trusting to native reports, we hurried on. with a quickened step. By midday we began to feel thirsty, from the effects of the sweltering heat, and the consequent excessive perspiration, but doggedly we pushed on with steady but rapid tread. As the afternoon wore on, we had to resort to bullets and stones in our mouths as a slight temporary relief to our tortures. The men–the best of the entire caravan–began to lag sadly behind, and to complain of weak limbs, as well as of thirst, from the, to them, unusual pace we were going at. Nobody, however, stopped for his neighbour, and he might have been left to die for any assistance he would have got from his companions. We were still in hopes that a little drop of liquid mud might be found in a puddle which we had seen on our previous passage. It would be necessary, however, to reach it before darkness set in, or we should probably miss it. As none of the men had loads, I felt no compunction in putting my best foot foremost, and I stepped out at a pace that soon left every man behind me with the exception of Bedu�, who, though the laziest man I had, could, when it pleased himself, make a splendid spurt. Even my rarely beat Brahim fairly caved in, and soon no one was to be seen, and no sound to be heard but the mechanical, crisp rasping of my heavy boots in the loose dry sand. My feet were at the boiling–point with the intense heat, the weight of the boots, and the incessant friction.

About sunset we neared the hole where we expected water, and we almost broke into a trot, so thoroughly parched were we, and so eager to know whether there was water or not. A few more steps–a brightening of our faces, as we saw a pleasing ring of delicate green grass, which seemed to betoken water, and then our hopes utterly collapsed, as we stood in the deluding circle and stared blankly at the empty hole. "Goodness! there is not a drop!" "Allah! Hapanna maji!" broke simultaneously from our lips, as I sank down on the ground to rest, while Bedu� dug into the soil with his hands, to see if there was no water beneath–a labour performed in vain. I ordered him then to fire his gun, to make the stragglers believe we had found water, so as to hurry them up.

In about half an hour, just as darkness set in, they trooped in, thinking their troubles were over. I was ashamed of my ruse, on seeing the intense disappointment of my men, who seemed to feel thirst more than I did; for, though they [103] drink as a rule very little water, yet they break down with surprising rapidity if that little is not forthcoming: and with regard to that, as well as to most other trials of endurance, I have come to the conclusion, from a considerable experience, that any hardy Englishman can beat any ordinary coast negro in the long–run. The latter seems to begin at his best, the former seems always to improve. I have never yet met a negro who could walk with me, either for a short, quick spurt, or a long, steady trial of endurance.

The expression of dismay having subsided, we took counsel with each other as to what we should do. We unanimously decided that as the rest of the road was fairly open, though somewhat thorny, it would be better to go right on, as it would be killing work to wait till next day, and tramp on in the terrific beat without a drop of water.

On coming to this conclusion, we started at once to our feet, and proclaiming a sauve qui peut, every one strode forward according to his abilities. We thought not of lions in the path, nor heeded the hideous cries of hyenas,–for to these wilds did they resort during the day, going long distances during the night in search of meat and water. Through the deep darkness we pressed on silently, feeling our way by means of the rut worn by the feet of yearly caravans, rather than by anything we could see. Overhanging branches struck our faces, and thorns scratched the outstretched hands held out to protect them, but stoically we suppressed all expressions of pain, only warning those behind to be on the look–out.

About midnight the gathering clouds which now overcast the sky began to drizzle out a dripping rain, which mightily refreshed us, and shortly after, a great sighing and moaning from the distance told us that a storm of some kind might be expected. Gradually it advanced, the drizzle gave place to big drops, which raised a noisy pattering on the trees, and we hailed with delight a drenching torrent of rain. Putting my handkerchief over my head, it was speedily soaked, and then I sucked it with intense enjoyment. Greatly relieved inwardly, though uncomfortable in other respects, we floundered on, ever imagining that we must be near Taro, only to find our hopes disappointed.

At 3 a.m., to our great joy, however, we found we were descending a ridge, which I knew must be near Taro. With husky voice I shouted out the fact, only to get a sepulchral response from Songoro, "my boy," who was now my only [104] follower. Bedu� had fallen behind; Brahim had been nowhere all day, much to his mortification; and Songoro had unexpectedly come to the front. My feet, now fearfully tender, soon further convinced me that we were near water, as, on stopping on to the firm bare rock of the ungurunga I could hardly endure the excruciating pain. I felt as if I was walking on thorns, so acute were the sensations. A little farther on I stumbled into a joint, nearly breaking my log, and giving myself a painful shock. Recovering myself, I staggered forward a short distance, and literally flopped down in a pool of water; there I drank till I reached the bursting–point, and then seeing the futility of trying to get any better shelter in the dense darkness, or of raising a fire in the drenching rain, I threw myself down on the bare rocks, heedless alike of the elements and the imminent risks from wild beasts, and was only roused from a deep sleep by one or two of the men falling over me, as they groped their way to the water.

In the morning I awoke, feeling, to my astonishment nothing the worse for my exposure, or for the enormous draughts of water I had drank. These I resumed at once, and then was further refreshed by finding a nice rocky pool, where I stripped, and washed myself all over; Brahim and Bedu� had reached the water during the night. With great difficulty they contrived to raise a fire, at which I managed to dry my clothes piecemeal, as I sat and munched some boiled Indian corn with much satisfaction. The other men, who had stuck on the road when the rain came on, now appeared one by one or in pairs, and soon we were all convened, looking rather seedy after our twenty–two hours’ march, during which we could not have covered less than the–I may say unique distance of at least seventy miles. In a straight line, the distance from Ndara to Taro is forty–five geographical miles, which makes fifty–three English miles; and those who know the marvellously serpentine course of an African pathway will see how clearly within the mark I am in speaking of a seventy miles’ march.

After some food and rest we resumed our tramp at 11 a.m., –in a very gingerly manner, however, from the extreme tenderness of our scalded feet. Late in the evening we halted at an ungurunga, where we spent another night in the rain, worse off than Rebmann under his historical umbrella. On the following day we went on with wet clothes through a drenching rain without any food. In our now fagged condition, [105] the slippery, muddy pathways made it more difficult to go on. The whole country presented a remarkable contrast to its appearance when we passed two months before. Then everything was burnt up, and in the sere and yellow leaf. Now the country near the coast was literally soaked. A fresh clothing of delicate green grass covered the ground. Trees were bursting with new life and shooting forth new leaves and sprouts. Numerous flowers to diversify the landscape and plantations, promised rich yields of the native cereals and vegetables. The Ngomb� nullah, which had been dry when we passed previously, was now a rushing stream scarcely fordable.

At 12 a.m. we halted to cook some Indian corncobs, and then resumed our march till, passing Kwal�, we beard the distant roaring of the ocean breaking on the coral reefs, and shortly after 4 p.m., we entered the Rabai mission station, to be greeted with expressions of alarm and astonishment. We had thus in six marches cleared a distance of 138 English miles in a straight line, &c.; adding one to every two (an exceedingly low estimate) as an allowance for detours and windings, the actual walking would be 202, or nearly 34 miles a day. My men were all well–nigh exhausted. In myself the chief effect was tender and skinned feet, from. marching so incessantly in a broiling heat or with wet boots.

My first business on reaching Mombasa was to despatch a note to Zanzibar by Brahim, who– for this purpose had to walk on to Pangani, a feat he performed in five days.

I shall not inflict upon the reader a tedious recital of all the events which marked my weary stay at Mombasa; how I failed in my attempt to get another man fit to replace Muhinna (who meanwhile was ignorant that I suspected him); of the almost complete failure to enlist new men, some to go to Taveta, some to the Masai; of the irritating behaviour of those I did enlist almost driving me mad, though making me profoundly thankful that I had not attempted to raise my original caravan at the coast. My temper was not improved by a plague of boils, which gave me no case, whatever position I might assume. The one green oasis in this sickening, work was the generous hospitality of Messrs. Lane and Taylor, who not only treated me as a favoured guest, but also did everything in their power to assist me.

On the 5th of June I was surprised to hear the rattling of an anchor chain, and running out to Taylor’s verandah, I [106] had the rare satisfaction of seeing my old friend H.B.M. Steam Tug No. 11, otherwise known as the Suez. Colonel Miles, on receiving my letters, had at once attended to all my requests, and in the course of a day had got everything together, and as no dhow could go north at that season of the year, he got Captain Luxmore to lend the tug. There were also kindly remembrances from Mrs. Miles, who made up a special box of good things and a bundle of newspapers. The most pleasant thing of all, however, was letters from both, expressing strong belief in my ultimate success, and encouraging me to another attempt. I was sorely in need of some such stimulant, and they had all the effect they were without doubt intended to have. I was more surprised at receiving the Sultan’s salaams, a present of three boxes of gunpowder, and a letter from him to Dugumbi of Taveta, which I may here transcribe in English:

"From H.H. Sayyid Bargash, bin Said.
"To Ditgumbi, the slave of Saleh bin Salem.

(After compliments.) "Our friend Mr. Thomson is travelling in the interior, and will probably pass through your district. I desire you to be ready in his service, and treat him with perfect respect. Allow no one to interfere with him, and take care that he receives no injury, for he is our respected friend. Salaams, &c."

I now hurried on my preparations more rapidly, finished off my correspondence, and might have started in a couple of days, but for the annoying behaviour of almost every man. They struck for more wages, or they deserted or they got drunk for days together. Muhinna, I am certain, helped to make matters worse, and did all he could, without running the risk of being directly found out, to retard or make my start impossible. I was getting rapidly reduced to a condition in which I was afraid I would blow some culprit’s brains out. Some I captured and shut up in a house. Others who had deserted, were brought to their senses in the fort. The houses of those who could not be found I took possession of, and, after bundling out their families, put them up for sale. These high–handed proceedings had a most salutary effect, and in the end, after manifold trouble, I found myself for the second time at Rabai, on the 19th of June, ready for a start, with the following remarkable collection of men. There were 25 Mombasa men, 8 mission boys from Frere Town, 12 ditto from Rabai, 8 Zanzibar (original lot), 7 Waduruma, 7 Wa–teita, and I M–nyika, These carried 21 loads [107] of seneng� (thick iron wire), 10 loads of cloth, 5 of beads, 3 of gunpowder, 2 of stores, the rest miscellaneous.

I shall not ask my readers to follow me in detail on our way back to Ndara. Our experiences were similar to those. characteristic of the first march; only we were much more heavily laden. Before reaching Gorah, two Wa–duruma deserted. Past Taro, three Mombasa men cleared off, favoured by a night–march. Before reaching Maungu, head–men and all were carrying loads, while I rushed off ahead by myself to the mountain, and returned loaded with water to relieve the most distressed. I then carried in a load of goods on my own shoulder. As it was, some lay out all night without water.

On reaching Ndara, I for the third time revisited Mr. Wray, [108] and found him looking as stout and fat, though not quite so jolly, as any typical English farmer. I soon learned that he felt himself anything but safe and comfortable among his primitive flock the Wa–teita, and was allowing his thoughts to run riot on the most disastrous possibilities. He had a revolver always handy, and had laid in an extra supply of guns. He talked about closing up some holes in his house where arrows might be shot in, and of prospecting the road in case it should become necessary to retreat. The elders of the place had discovered his weak points, and were making the most absurd demands. On my arrival, they had just gathered in solemn conclave to lay down a tariff of prices at which he must buy whatever they pleased to bring him. What did he want there when he would not buy their ivory or slaves! "We see you do nothing!" was their constant remark. All this very much exercised Mr. Wray’s spirit, though fortunately it did not disturb his appetite, and he was glad to see me appear at this crisis.

Next day matters came to a climax. They gathered once more to blockade the house and renew their demands. I ordered them out of the way. They then moved along the pathway a bit, and sat down, not allowing the mission boys to go and draw water. So far I had not thought it necessary to interfere in the ridiculously comical affair but now, seeing my dinner threatened, I thought it was time to show Mr. Wray how these things should be taken in hand in Africa. Seizing a. stick, and putting on my most awe–inspiring expression, I promptly "went for" the hoary–headed old sinners. On my approaching and opening fire upon them, they shrank in terror before the uplifted stick and the bloodthirsty threats. I told them if they wanted to fight I was ready to meet them, as I thirsted for their blood. I then seized the ringleader and gave him a good shaking, applying my foot to his beam end to hasten his departure. I yelled out to them that if I saw one of them come near the house again, I would shoot him like a hyena! They all fled with dismay, while Wray betrayed his admiration of the proceedings. He has, I believe, proved a most apt pupil, having become the very incarnation of the church militant on Ndara, and consequently acquired the respect of the inhabitants.

The hyenas in Ndara are described as excessivly voracious, and frequently drag children out of the houses and kill people at night. Mr. Wray showed me a lynx which had been caught on the mountain. [109]

On returning to my men, I found I had to tackle the mission boys from Rabai. They demanded either an increase of their wages or their loads reduced, declaring that if I did not yield, they would desert. I laughed at them, and told them they might try the latter course; only, if they escaped my bullets, they might expect to spend a few months in the fort. They succumbed at once when they saw that my method of dealing with malcontents was somewhat different from the mild rule of the missionaries who spoil them utterly by their mistaken methods of kindness, and treat them too much as equals.

At Gnambua (Maina’s) I was surprised at the respectful reception I received, so different from the robbery and trouble which marked my previous visit. I soon learned the reason. One of the men who stole the two guns from the camp, died a day or two after, and this was ascribed to some dark magic of mine, which so frightened the other thief that he had actually carried the gun to Taveta and given it up, a proceeding which then very much puzzled me. I was now looked upon as a M–chawi or powerful professor of black magic, and respected accordingly.

While we stayed here to collect food for the march to Taveta, I resolved to hasten on myself to Taveta, for the purpose of sending back a detachment of men to carry water and relieve the recruits, as there would be no water as far as Lanjora.

Taking with me Brahim, and Songoro as my sole attendants, I started at noon on my hazardous journey across the desert. About sunset we reached our former camping–place of Mbuyuni, where we rested for half an hour, discussing a grilled fowl and drinking some water from our calabashes. Resuming our march, we tramped on in a fine starlit night, We were occasionally startled by galloping zebras, or by antelopes bounding out of our way, and more than once the distant, awe–inspiring roars of lions made us feel rather queer. However, on we stumbled, and tripped along what had once been a footpath, though succeeding rains had transformed it into an irregular drain that was infinitely painful to traverse, causing our feet to knock against our ankles, or our ankles to be almost twisted out of joint, and bringing us several times down on our knees. At last, however, about 2 a.m., we reached Lanjora, but in the deep darkness that now prevailed, we lost the footpath, and could not find water. We therefore resolved to halt till morning, though in far from a pleasant position. There were nothing but thorns about, [110] and the attempt to find out a little firewood only resulted in painful scratches and the discovery of a few small pieces. These, to our great relief, we after some difficulty contrived to light,–for we were beginning to feel extremely uneasy as a lion was roaring in our immediate neighbourhood. At last the flame flared up, only to reveal nervous apprehension in each face. On looking at each other, the same thought seemed to go through our minds, and we laughed somewhat idiotically and painfully.

The lion still continued to roar at intervals, and it was evidently moving in a circle round us. This kept us awake for a time, for as our fire was of the smallest, and would soon burn out, we dared not go to sleep. At last our fire began, to glimmer fitfully, and we felt we must try to find more firewood. The proceeding was one we all shrank from in that dark wilderness. Some, however, had to be got, and so we agreed all to sally out together. Brahim. and Songoro groped about among the bushes, and I stood over them with gun held ready, peering into the intense darkness, while "Toby," a small terrier half–breed, a present from Mr. Taylor, clung to my heels apparently in mortal terror. On securing a few sticks we returned in great trepidation, feeling somewhat electrically charged. It was now arranged that one should watch while the others tried to obtain a snooze. Songoro took the first watch, and in our worn–out state we were soon sound asleep.

But people do not sleep in such situations as they do in a comfortable bed at home, and well for us it was that we had one ear open. A curious, terrified whine suddenly made us all jump to our feet, and with a common impulse stir up the fire till a shower of sparks sprang into the air. Our guns, never from our hands even in sleeping, were held ready, as, turning our backs to the fire, we peered with suppressed breath, body held down and face forward, into the darkness. Not a creature was to be seen; but a faint rustling from the grass beyond, told us that we had had a dangerous visitor, without a doubt the lion. Looking round, we found that the whine had proceeded from Toby, who was shaking in every limb, and still emitting a terror–laden noise. He had certainly saved some one of us from a horrid death, as Songoro had succumbed to his weariness and fallen asleep, leaving the fire to die almost out. Brahim now took his turn, and soon we were again asleep, heedless of everything; but happily we remained undisturbed till a [111] twilight–like light passing into a deep crimson glow told us morn had come.

Three hours more, and we re–entered for the third time the Tavetan forest’s shady depths, awaking the thundering echoes by our guns. We were speedily surrounded by the porters and the Swahili traders, who ran about like madmen, firing off their guns, shaking and kissing my hand amid vociferously expressed salutations. I soon had all anxiety laid aside, as on every hand I was told that all was well Presently I met Martin, looking pale and thin, and too much overpowered by his feelings to do anything but press my hand, as he conducted me towards our quarters. To my astonishment and admiration, I was led into the centre of a pretty rustic village, where once had stood the rankest jungle. In the midst of the circle stood a fine baraza or palaver house in the fashion of the Arabs, and beside it a well–built dwelling. From a tall pole waved the English flag, flaunting its colours proudly in mid–air. I could hardly believe my eyes when told [112] that this magical transformation was Martin’s work, and that these were our quarters. I was now conducted inside our cosy grass–built house, and while refreshing the outer and inner man, I listened with intense interest to Martin’s tale of trial and trouble.

And now that we have once more got settled down in comfortable quarters, let us enjoy the luxury of "easy–chair geographers," and in imagination take a comprehensive view of the main geographical features of the Coast Region, and Kilimanjaro; for without such a survey we should feel that there was a want of back–bone to our narrative; in other words, our tale would be scientifically without a moral.

It must have struck the most casual reader of African travel, that the glimpses I have presented to him of the characteristics of the country traversed as far as Taveta, exhibit a region totally different from what we are accustomed to as sketched by the hands of Burton and Speke, Cameron and Stanley, or even such as I have myself depicted in the records of my first expedition. We read in all these narratives of a narrow strip of coast lowlands suddenly terminated westward by a splendid mountain range, or more properly plateau escarpment, which, springing abruptly from the plains, towers cloud–ward, and seems to raise a barrier against all approach to the interior. Whichever may be the route attempted, the main features are still the same. Pass by Saadani through U–zeguha, by Bagamoyo through U–kami and U–sagara, or through U–zaramo, U–khutu, and the Rufuta Mountains, or still farther south through U–zaramo, U–khutu, Mahenge to U–heh�, and you still meet with the low, gently rising coast strip and the picturesque and abrupt mountain barrier before the true interior can be reached. This more southerly region has also other characteristics. We might imagine in the manner of our old romances that some all–powerful evil genius held sway over the land, and kept some lovely damsel or great treasure deep hidden in the interior, surrounded by a land teeming with horrors and guarded by the foul monsters of disease, of darkness and savagery. That land is the pestilential coast region whereso many adventurous modem knight–errants have been doomed to die in their attempts to reveal to the world the fair spirit of Africa. Whichever way the traveller chooses, he finds foul swamps and marshes, swarming with horrid creeping, slimy things, and through these lie must wade by the hour together. He leaves the [113] swamp, to slip and flounder over black fetid mud from which rise unpleasant exhalations. Rain falls frequently in torrents, and numerous almost unfordable, streams obstruct his way. Rotting vegetation fills the air with poisonous gases, and the water he drinks is charged with the germs of disease. It would be well if he had to encounter only such physical difficulties, but, alas! such is not the case. The spirits of disease, like hell–hounds let loose, seize hold of him. They present no shape to the material eye, but from every swamp, marsh, and mud–stretch they rise invisible. They are drawn in by every breath, or drunk in each drop of water. Ague shakes him with its mighty hand till his teeth rattle together, dysentery strikes agonizing darts into his most vital parts, or fever clings to him like the shirt of Nessus, burning into his very heart. You may think that this picture is overdrawn, but such is not the case. I speak from dire experience, and I need but refer the reader to the works of almost every traveller to find my description substantiated. It is true, however, that it is not always thus; and doubtless a more thorough knowledge of the seasons and of the beet times to travel may have modified the experiences of some later explorers.

The thoughtful reader, acquainted with these familiar facts, will. have noticed that the country traversed as far as Taveta presents none of these features. We have met with no pestilential coast region, and though travelling in the height of the wet season, we have found no swamps or marshes. On the contrary, we suffer hardships for want of water, as we traverse upon the whole a singularly and region. Neither have we been called upon to ascend any plateau escarpment, or cross any mountain range. A gentle rise, not noticeable to the eye, has carried us over a smooth or slightly undulating country culminating at Taveta in a height of 2350 feet. We have crossed, it is true, a narrow, low–lying area close to the coast, and made a sudden ascent of some 700 feet to Rabai; but this is in no sense comparable to the features we have described further south. Geologically it has no connection; and geographically a short examination shows that the Rabai hills are a mere local excrescence, with no earthly resemblance to the continental feature of coast mountains succeeding to lowlands.

From Rabai of U–nyika we cross the slightly broken country of Duruma till the Ngomb� nullah is reached. Here the country breaks into a more varied landscape, and a [114] second slight step is made in elevation. Then before reaching, the Ziwa Ariangulo or Taro a steady, gentle ascent brings us at an elevation of 2000 feet to the ungurunga or rock basin of that place. After Taro we leave behind us the sandstone and slightly broken area which geologically represents the coast lowlands further south, and enter the metamorphic region, here not marked by a towering mountain barrier, and indeed showing no surface indication beyond the glaring red of the resulting soil, and the more barren and sterile aspect of the uncultivated waste. We have at this point reached an elevation of 2100 feet, and over the next eighty miles to Taveta the rise is so slight and so imperceptible that we require the aid of our instruments to tell us that we have ascended nearly 300 feet.

An unbroken plain, however, does not lie in dreary monotony before us. Far from it. The Teita mountains diversify and somewhat restrict the view, and form pleasing oases in what would otherwise be a dreary scene. They have, however, little connection with each other, and cannot be compared to the U–sagara mountains, as they rise in isolated masses from the plain and have no background of plateau to which they lead up. They are simply as I have already described them, an archipelago of islands rising from a muddy or a light green sea, according as you view them in the height of the dry or in the wet season. They are, however, picturesque in outline, with craggy masses protruding on their surfaces, precipices making certain parts inaccessible, peaks, and domes, and ridges of the gneiss and garnetiferous schists which compose their mass. The peaks of Bura reach a height of considerably over 7000 feet, Kasigao or Kadiaro 5355, and Ndara 6633 feet.

From Rabai to Taveta the traveller is not called upon to flounder through a single marsh or swamp. On the contrary, he would thank God to see such a feature to the east of Maungu or to the west of Bura. Over a distance of 120 geo. graphical miles in a straight line, he crosses but one stream, the Matat�, which in the wet season is little more than ten feet broad and four feet deep. It rises on the side of Bura, and flows south. Some say it goes to Wassin; others, that it joins the Umba river; while a third party hold that it disappears in the wilderness. Probably the last are correct Near its head–waters a second stream, the Voi, of somewhat larger dimensions, rises, and flowing east, past the north end of Ndara, reaches, though not always, the sea a little north of [115] Takaungu.. On the eastern side of Bura, in the district of Gnambua and Maina’s, rises another small stream, which, flowing westward, speedily becomes absorbed in the desert.

This state of things puts the traveller frequently to considerable straits for water, and causes him to depend largely upon the ungurungas or rock–basins such as are found at Taro and Gorah, or, still worse, upon small hollows after the rains, which assist the passage of the wilderness to Taveta. Yet it removes to a large extent the sources of the fevers and other diseases which have been so long the greatest barrier to African research. With a little precaution in his drinking, no traveller need fear to face up–country travel. He will find he has to make some very hard marches, but that is nothing to any man of robust health. On the other hand, he will find that the air is exhilarating and almost bracing compared with that of the damp, moisture–laden coast. Mosquitoes are almost unknown, and with cool nights he will be able to enjoy refreshing sleep.

Speaking of the climate leads me to remark on the very abrupt line which limits the regions over which the interior rains and the coast rains fall. On my first journey to Taveta, no rain had fallen at the coast, and as far as Taro water was procured with much difficulty. At that place, however, and beyond it, we everywhere saw evidence of rain having fallen, though only in showers, to be speedily sucked up by the and soil, leaving little trace behind, except one or two puddles and a greater freshness of foliage. In March and July the rains were falling at Teita. On our way back in May we found the rains practically over in Teita, and the short–lived period of showers rapidly giving place to the sere and yellow leaf which marks the normal condition of the surrounding plain. On reaching Taro, however, and between it and the coast, we had a drenching daily. The country was soaked with the heavy fall, and everything was bursting with renewed life.

Now, why Taro should mark so distinctly the point of change, it would be difficult to say, for it has no prominent hills or other features which might account for the curious fact. Such, however, is the case. I leave others to suggest an explanation.

Let us now turn our attention to the "Mount Olympus of those parts." But at the very outset let me confess that I shrink from the task of attempting to convey any idea of this colossal mountain. I feel that the subject is beyond the power of my puny pen, and that here, after all, I am very [116] much on a level with the untutored Masai savage, who simply stands awe–struck before the sublime spectacle, and tells you it is the "Ngaj� Ngai," or house of God.

The term Kilima–Njaro has generally been understood to mean the Mountain (Kilima) of Greatness (Njaro). This probably is as good a derivation as any other, though not improbably it may really mean the "White" mountain, as I believe the term "Njaro" has in former times been used to denote whiteness, and though this application of the word is now obsolete on the coast, it is still heard among some of the interior tribes. Either translation is equally applicable, and we need raise no dispute on such a trivial question. By the Wa–chaga the mountain is not known under one name, the two masses which form it being respectively named Kibo and Kimawenzi. By the Masai, whose proper names are almost always descriptive of some essential feature, it is known as Donyo (mountain) Ebor (white), from the eternal snow which forms such a striking phenomenon on the dome or crater of Kibo.

Kilimanjaro, in its horizontal and vertical extension, may be described as a great, irregular, pear–shaped mass with its major axis in a line running north–west and south–cast, the tapering point running into the heart of the Masai country. On this line it is nearly sixty miles long. Its minor axis, running at right angles, reaches only to some thirty miles. As we have already had occasion to remark, the mountain is divided into the great central mass of Kibo, and the lower conical peak of Kimawenzi. Towards the north–west, it shades away into a long ridge which gradually tapers horizontally and vertically till it becomes merged in the Masai plain.

The southern aspect of this stupendous mountain (which Von der Decken by triangulation has ascertained to be little short of 19,000 feet at its highest point on Kibo) forms the country of Chaga, which may be described as a great platform, basement, or terrace, from which the dome and peak abruptly rise. This platform may be described as rising from 4000 to 6000 feet, over ten miles of rounded ridges, and characterized by deep glens at its broadest part. The features of this region, though in themselves rich and pleasing in the extreme, and presenting a smiling aspect with variegated plantations, yet somewhat detract from the imposing grandeur of the mountain, as the eye has to wander a distance of more than fifteen miles, before Kibo, at a height [117] of some 12,000 feet, springs precipitously heavenward. The features of the lower aspect are disappointingly even and monotonous. You look in vain for rugged rocks, or overhanging precipices, for striking angularities, or for inequalities in the shape of peaks or other excrescences. Rounded outlines everywhere meet the gaze. There is nothing savage. There are no striking effects of light and shade: a dull monotone rules both in form and colour. The scene is entirely suggestive of solidity and repose, of serene majesty asleep. The finest effects, indeed, are to be seen when great cumulus clouds tumble and roll across the face of the mountains, now closing in the scene, anon breaking up and whirled into fragments, throwing a checkered shade over the mountain slopes. Such is the aspect of the mountain across the greater part of Chaga. Towards the great western ridge, however, the scene is more striking, for here the clear sweep of the mountain may be seen unbroken from top to bottom, the Chaga platform having disappeared, or at least bulking but little in the view. The ridge itself, as it circles round Macham�, presents a view more in accordance with our idea of mountain scenery–a series of gloomy gorges, and black rocks carved out by the ceaseless erosive action of the Kikavo, the Weri–weri, and the Karanga. It is here also that Kibo presents its most imposing phase, as with great abruptness it springs from the Shira ridge, and hardly permits the accumulation of snow on its steep western face. It is from the north side, however (and here we must anticipate the course of our narrative), that the grandest view of the whole mountain can be obtained. Standing a short distance off on the great Njiri plain, we see the entire mountain horizontally and vertically, without moving the head. Rising from the almost level sandy plain at an altitude of about 3000 feet, it springs at an even angle to a sheer height of 15,000 feet, unbroken by a single irregularity or projecting buttress. No cones or hills diversify its surface. Neither gorge nor valley cuts deep into its sides. You see on your left the great cone of Kimawenzi with only one or two slight indentations sweeping round in a saddle–shaped depression, to spring up into a dome of the most perfect proportions, curving over as if projected by an architect’s hand, rather than that of nature, which abhors unbroken lines.

The snow–cap shows here to great advantage, forming a close–fitted, glittering helmet artistically laid on the massive head of Kibo, and at times looking not unlike the aureole, as [118] represented in many old pictures of saints, as it scintillates with dazzling effect under the tropical sun. The resemblance to an aureole is made all the more complete by the manner in which long tongues or lines of snow extend down the mountain side, filling up a series of seams or flutings, formed, doubtless, by the erosive action of the melting snow, which, going on incessantly, counterbalances the continuous fall. Here still more than on the south side is Kilimanjaro lacking in the picturesque. You are not startled or bewildered by a multiplicity of detail. The magnificent mass only suggests a divine repose and grandeur. It impresses you by its stupendous size. In contemplating it you experience much the same sensations as when you stand by the sea–side on a calm day, gazing into the boundless distance, filled by that dreamy, pleasing melancholy, rising into awe, with which many aspects of nature inspire its votaries. Nature, indeed, seems to consider this spectacle too sacred to be always seen, and keeps it, as a rule, enveloped in soft, grey mists and stratus clouds. Occasionally its god–like presence is revealed as it greets the dawning sun and bathes in the rich hues and crimson glow of the early rays, to be immediately after hidden by a weird, ghost–like haze, which suddenly springing up no larger than the hand, spreads with remarkable rapidity, till nothing but a blank expanse of grey meets the gaze. And yet the scene does not always close thus; for not uncommonly the upper part of Kibo is descried away up in mid–heaven, cut off apparently from all earthly connection, shining clear and bright with dazzling effulgence, suggesting a sight of the very heavens opened, a marvel of whiteness, and most fitting emblem of ethereal purity. This certainly is the most striking spectacle presented by Kilimanjaro. As seen projected against the upper sky like a mirage, it gives the spectator the notion of stupendous height, and as I have already said, all that he can whisper to himself is the awestruck words of the Masai warrior, "Ngaj� Ngai!" (The House of God.)

The most remarkable physical fact about the entire mountain, however, is that not a single stream descends its sides, except on the southern aspect. A score of streams may be counted in Chaga, many of them of very considerable size, but all rise on the southern side of the mountain, and joining in the plain below, form the Pangani river. It is true that the Lumi and the Tzavo rise on the eastern side, but then they appear in their full volume at the base of the mountain. [119] They without doubt come down from the upper regions, but by underground channels. On the west side there is but one small stream, the Ngar� N’Erobi, which also rises at the base. On the north there is not a single stream either descending or welling forth below, and the only signs of any such are a few small springs which rise in different parts of the Njiri desert, where they form small pools, or supply the more extensive swamps of Njiri itself. The explanation of this very striking phenomenon is beyond my ken. All I can say is that there seems to be no geographical reason to account for it, and we must simply suppose that some peculiarity of internal structure determines the direction of the drainage.

Before dismissing the geographical features of the mountain, it remains but to be added that the only inhabited part is the Chaga platform, which offers favourable conditions for agriculture in the projecting terrace, its rich soil, and the numerous streams which lend themselves profitably to irrigation (one of the features of the land). It is only, however, the centre and lower slopes of the terrace that are cultivated, as the climate is too cold and trying for the aborigines above 5000 feet. Though the terrace does not extend round to the east side of Kimawenzi, yet we find it occupied by the Wa–chaga of Rombo, Useri, and Kimangelia, who cultivate the lower slopes, and are very numerous. Chaga, it may be observed, is all broken up into a number of small states, which would hardly make a gentleman’s estate in this country. The inhabitants, however, fight like bull–dogs for hearth and home, and are incessantly at war with each other. There is absolutely no intercourse, and it is war to the knife whenever they meet. Mandara, the most noted of all the warrior chiefs, has long had imperial views, and has murdered and devastated hard to carry them into effect; but though he has, time after time, laid waste the neighbouring states, he has as yet reduced none to submission, though many to starvation, so tenaciously do they stick to their districts and mountain freedom.

The whole of the northern side of Kilimanjaro is a solitude, owing to its extremely precipitous nature, there being no projecting platforms, and no streams; and, indeed, even though it were otherwise the proximity of the Masai would of itself be sufficient to deter any one from settling there.

We can hardly dismiss the subject of Kilimanjaro without saying something about its origin. It requires a considerable stretch of the imagination to turn from the contemplation of eternal snows to the consideration of a state of things in [120] which fire was the dominant feature; yet that is what I ask you to do now. Can you realize the fact that the placid repose of that majestic mountain, heaven–piercing in its icy heights, was at one time non–existent, but that here was the scene of the most fearful and sublime manifestation of nature’s fervid forces–that where the snow now falls softly and noiselessly, weaving a dazzling crown of marvellous whiteness, the molten rock was once belched forth in glowing streams, or hurled amidst terrific thunders and clouds of steam heavenward, to fall in crashing ruins around the orifice? Can you imagine this colossal mountain shaken and rent to its very centre by its mighty birth–throes, waving and quivering in fearful pulsation, like the slender reed before the breeze I Yes, all this has taken place, and that recently in a geological sense; for there stands the crater, so perfect in shape that it might have been in action the previous year, while its sides practically remain as when the last shower of ashes strewed its surface. Such is Kibo at the present day.

Let me try to trace the sequence of events which have produced Kilimanjaro. An examination tells us that in the serrated peak and rugged sides of Kimawenzi we see the original volcano, which, without doubt, existed long before there was a trace of its neighbour Kibo. Kimawenzi, after the imprisoned earth–forces found vent, rose in size and grandeur, added layer after layer to its height and circumference by a continual alternation of lava sheets and beds of agglomerate and tuff. It appears probable that it welled or belched out its contents without any of those terrific outbursts by which whole mountains are blown into the air or enormous areas submerged under a molten flood; for, curiously enough, we find no evidence that any of its lava flows ever extended beyond the base of the mountain, or ashes accumulated to any depth in the surrounding country. At the present day the metamorphic rocks are seen to crop out at its very base on the east and south–cast, and we have no reason to suppose that they ever were covered by lava rocks. As this–for a volcano–gentle accumulation went on, the hypogene agents would have more and more difficulty in forcing the lava up the now elongated vent or orifice, and a time would come when the weight of the column would, in the end, balance the strength of the forces below. We can now imagine the terrible struggle that would ensue as the pent–up gases laboured mightily to relieve the pressure. Doubtless for a time they would succeed occasionally in [121] clearing off the incubus and getting temporary outlet. At last even that would fail, and the volcano was doomed either to become extinct or find another vent. After some grand convulsions the latter was effected, and a new volcano began its existence to the west of Kimawenzi. In process of time it soon rivalled its neighbour in size, and finally towered above it, battering Kimawenzi’s hoary head–probably then snow–capped –with showers of stones, and even threatening to obliterate it under the volcanic ejections. Meanwhile Kimawenzi, now no longer under a reign of fire, with its volcanic life–work finished, began, like all things earthly, to crumble away before the slow–boring influence of apparently puny agents. Rain, snow, and frost worked on insidiously but steadily, and soon told their usual tale of denudation as they gradually loosened and washed away the loose ashes which formed the crater, undermined the more compact lavas, and hurled them to the bottom of the mountain; until finally the solid core which had originally choked the orifice, stood out a shattered, weather–beaten pinnacle, with only a slight indentation to mark the line of the original crater. The beautiful concave curve, so characteristic of large volcanoes, is still to be seen from the east, and speaks of the once handsome proportions of Kimawenzi.

The fate which befell Kimawenzi eventually came upon Kibo. A height was reached which baffled all the attempts of Vulcan to raise the lava to the surface, and, like the other, it became extinct. Evidently, however, the imprisoned forces had either spent their original strength, or they frittered away their terrible energies in the production of numerous parasitic or secondary cones, instead of uniting in another grand effort and producing a third great volcano.

These cones were spread in great numbers all along the southern side of Kibo and Kimawenzi, and set themselves to the task of strengthening or buttressing them up. An enormous mass of lavas and agglomerates was belched forth, resulting eventually in the formation of what I have called the Chaga terrace or platform, and the long ridge which penetrates far into the Masai country. These manifestations of volcanic energy were continued far into what, geologically speaking, are recent times, and the geologists may view the small cones in many instances as perfectly preserved as when they were at work.

The most interesting relic of the reign of fire is presented by the beautiful crater lake of Chala, which lies a short [122] distance to the east of the base of Kimawenzi, and only a few miles north of Taveta. It represents probably the latest manifestation of energy, a manifestation extending indeed into historical times, for the natives have a tradition that at one time a great Masai village stood on its site and was blown into the air, and. they tell you that at times you may still hear from its liquid depths the lowing of cattle and bleating of sheep, as well as other village sounds. The shape of the lake is that of an irregular polygon, about two miles in diameter, and little short of six miles in circumference. It occupies the centre of a small hill with very irregular rim, 400 feet above the eastern plain at its lowest point, and quite 800 at its highest, where it runs up into a peak. The outer slopes are formed by beds of lapilli and tuff which incline away all round at the same angle as the hill itself. Internally the lake is bounded by perfectly perpendicular cliffs without a break at any point, at least as far as I could discover, though the natives of Taveta say there is a place where the descent can be made; indeed, its discoverer, New, declares that he reached the water, and drank of it. I went all round it, and though I am not deficient in enterprise or nerve, I saw no place where I dared descend, not oven though I could have swung from creeper to creeper like a monkey.

The water evidently lies at the level of the outer plain, which would make the precipice walls little short of 400 feet at the lowest point, and nearly 800 at the highest, A more charming scene my eyes have never lighted upon than this rock–encircled pond, away at a dizzy depth in the bowels of the hill. Dense masses of vegetation cover in with tender and artistic hand the bald, bare rocks, and hang in festoons, or spread from bush to bush, sheltering numerous feathered denizens which wake the echoes with their pleasing notes, as they flutter noisily about their nests, or speed across the gloomy expanse. Kites watchfully circle around the pretty basin or sit expectantly on some withered tree. Beyond rises the basaltic peak of Kimawenzi from its socket of volcanic debris, which suggests a Brobdignagian fosse surrounding some gigantic castle. Radiating scaurs lead down the side, and add variety to the scene, while lower down on the southern side numerous small cones remind us of the later manifestations of volcanic energy. It remains but to be added that Chala has probably been originated by one of the very latest paroxysmal volcanic outbursts. The volcanic vapours imprisoned far down in the bowels of the earth, and [123] [124] unable to escape by the ordinary safety–valves in the neighbourhood, at last gathered such an overwhelming amount of force that they literally blasted a passage for themselves through the solid rock, hurling the fragments skyward, to fall around the orifice in crashing ruins and accumulate as a crater ring. There, however, the action ceased, probably from a want of any reserve force, or of the necessary conditions to generate that force; and hence, after a grand spurt, the volcano thus suddenly formed as speedily became extinct; and where once had stood peacefully the Masai village with its lowing cattle and barking dogs, there now lie the unknown depths of a fairy lake scarce ever ruffled by the breezes which sweep over the hill, but soothingly lapping the barren adamantine rocks, and sending up to superstitious listeners the spirit echoes of the destroyed village.

Such are the main geographical and geological features of Kilimanjaro as far as I can depict them; but I feel oppressed with the magnitude of the subject, and gladly leave it, only too well aware how inadequate are my best efforts to portray it to the reader.

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