Wild Rice, Salt, and Navigation on Lake Tanganyika: 19th Century and Now

The first settlers and explorers in Burundi were from Germany.  Their initial port on Lake Tanganyika was established at Kajaga – which is close to where we live and where the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika is now located on the northern shores of the lake.

Germans at Kajaga.  The tongue of land behind the boat is part of the Rusizi Wetlands.  Source: Les Barundi, by Hans Meyer

Germans at Kajaga. The tongue of land behind the boat is part of the Rusizi Wetlands. Source: Les Barundi, by Hans Meyer

North end of the Lakeç 1-Bujumbura, 2-Hotel du Lac Tanganyika, 3-Modern Kajaga village, 4-Rusizi river and wetlands

North end of the Lake: 1-Bujumbura, 2-Hotel du Lac Tanganyika, where the German port in the above picture was located, 3-Modern Kajaga village, 4-Rusizi river and wetlands

However, during the dry season, high winds in the afternoons commonly drive quite large waves into the shore, as shown below, making for dangerous navigation.  Consequently, the Germans moved the port over to the area of Bujumbura (#1 in the areal photo above) that was more protected.

A particularly windy day, in front of Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika.  1998

A particularly windy day, in front of Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika. 1998

High winds and waves  are common in the afternoons, making boating difficult and often dangerous.  This photo was taken in front of the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika.

High winds and waves are common during the dry season in the afternoons, making boating difficult and often dangerous. This photo was taken in front of the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika.

A photo taken in the 1930s, above Bujumbura, showing the north shore of the lake.  Source: Pierre Gallez.

A photo taken in the 1930s from the hills above Bujumbura, showing the north shore of the lake with the hills of the Congo in the background.  The expansive and flat Imbo Plain between the hills of the Congo and Burundi is an extension of the Great Rift Valley.  Source: Pierre Gallez.
Station Usumbura, where both White Fathers and Germans located as a base.  Source: Madam B.

Station Usumbura, where both White Fathers and Germans (re)located. Source: Madam B. (‘White Fathers’ refers to the color of their tunics, not the fact that they are ‘white.’

While not a good location for a port, the north shore of the lake toward the Rusizi River and wetlands (#4 in the above picture) is an excellent source of salt and salty grasses and shrubs:

The country adjacent to the floodplain is covered by Thenieda-Bulbine grassland, but throughout this there are small ponds which provide water-holes for domestic cattle. They are flooded to depths of over 1 m in the rainy season but are transformed into quagmires during the dry season:

Water pools are visible during the wet season, when rice is planted as the most important  cash crop.  Source:  notrustingaway-blogspot.

Water pools are visible during the wet season, this is where rice is planted, which is the most important cash crop of the area.  To the left of the lake is Kajaga village, and the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika is just beside the village, on the lakeshore.   Source: notrustingaway-blogspot.

[The wetlands and surrounding plains] support Oryza barthii, with Asteracantha longifolia and Burnatia enneandra on the fringes, and sometimes central patches of Nymphaea lotus and Utricularia thonningii... These are heavily grazed by local cattle in the dry season.This is the most halophilic association on the valley floor, under which the soil water contains salts to a total concentration of 8%o. Elsewhere, in large shallow depressions in the Themeda-Bulbine savanna, where the gradient is virtually zero, water collects semi-permanently.

Source: RAMSAR-Burundi Wetlands.

Note to self: I’m particularly pleased to learn that Oryza barthii (a type of wild African rice) has been identified in the area.  Neither at the National Agricultural Research Organization (ISABU) nor in the literature have I located references to wild rice in Burundi.  However, it is mentioned by Livingstone – and, I believe, Burton, as growing in the area, called only ‘wild rice’.  So, off on another ‘chase’!

Prior to modern times salt from these areas was extracted from the soils by local inhabitants for sale upcountry, as well as to lakeshore villages and salt merchants to the south.

Production and sales of salt in the Gatumba - Kajaga area.  Source: Hans Meyer, Les Barundi.

Production and sales of salt in the Gatumba – Kajaga area. Source: Hans Meyer, Les Barundi.

Salt was a scarce product in much of Subsaharan Africa – a topic discussed in the following blog entries:

The market importance of salt during the 19th century is mentioned by Henry Morton Stanley, who explored the lake together with David Livingstone:

Sayd bin Majid had stated that his canoe would carry twenty-five men, and 3,500 lbs. of ivory.  Acting upon this information, we embarked twenty-five men, several of whom had stored away bags of salt for the purposes of trade with the natives; but upon pushing off from the shore near Ujiji, we discovered the boat was too heavily laden, and was down to the gunwale.  Returning in-shore, we disembarked six men, and unloaded the bags of salt, which left us with sixteen rowers, Selim, Ferajji the cook, and the two Wajiji guides.

Source: Henry M. Stanley, How I Found Livingstone.  Travels, Adventures and Discoveries in Central Africa including four months residence with Dr. Livingstone.

An MP3 recording of this chapter can be found here:  Chapter XIII, Our cruise on the Lake Tanganyika – Exploration of the north-end of the lake – The Rusizi is discovered to enter into the Lake – Return to Ujiji. 

The name of the town of Gatumba, located just to the west of the Rusizi Wetlands and River, derives from a Kirundi word meaning salt or salty.  Not only are the soils of the wetland and surrounding area impregnated with salt, but some of the grasses and shrubs thrive in these salt-rich soils.  Hence, the area was not only an important site for making salt, but also for wildlife and livestock grazing and browsing in this area.  Our goat stock browse here, and so have little need fo supplementary salt.

Rusizi river and wetlands, located just to the left of the above areal picture.-  The little town of Gatumba is located just to the left of the river.  I took this and the above areal photo from a WFP plane.

Rusizi river and wetlands.- The little town of Gatumba is located the left of the river. I took this and the above areal photo from a small World Food Program (WFP) plane.

[The Rusizi Wetlands and surrounding Imbo Plateau] is considered an “ornithological paradise” for its stopover and nesting places for migratory water birds, with over 120 breeding bird species and 90 migratory species identified.

Parc National de la Rusizi.  Source: Ramsar.

Parc National de la Rusizi. Source: Ramsar.

It supports 193 plant species, 90 fish species, and over 12 reptile species including the Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus. It is a source of food and nesting ground for fishes and hosts several indigenous species.

Burundi Parc National de la Rusizi-  Sourc: Ramsar.

Burundi Parc National de la Rusizi- Sourc: Ramsar.

Six species of large mammals have been identified, including the IUCN Red-Listed Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius and several small mammals including the Sitatunga Tragelaphus spekii – increasingly rare in Africa.

Its hydrological functions include sediment trapping and general hydrological balance.

Parc National de la Rusizi.  Source: Ramsar.

Parc National de la Rusizi. Source: Ramsar.

The main human activities include fishing, livestock, rice, sugar cane and cotton farming, and collection of non-timber forest products.

The site is threatened by erosion, over-exploitation of natural resources, and the use of fertilizers and pesticides for agriculture. Ramsar site no. 1180.

Source: RAMSAR-Summary Description of the Rusizi Wetlands

Our small buck One of our buck herds coming in from the Imbo Plain,

Our small buck herd coming in from the Imbo Plain, in the Kajaga area (see above photo).

Parc National de la Rusizi

About diana buja

A recent group photo at a training course for veterinarians and vet technicians here in Burundi. I discuss in French with some Kirundi and have also a Kirundi translator to help with technical aspects ... Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-Central, Burton and Speke, Burundi, David Livingstone, European colonizers, European explorers, Explorers & exploration, Gatumba, Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika2, Imbo Plain, Indigenous crops & medicinal plants, Lake Tanganyika, Living here, Rusizi River ^ Wetlands, Sourcd of the Nile, Stanley and Livingstone and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Wild Rice, Salt, and Navigation on Lake Tanganyika: 19th Century and Now

  1. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Diana, this post is so interesting and the photo’s superb. I was especially interesting about the salt because I was on an excavation in the l980’s which was a Roman salt works in Worcestershire England. There is a post on my blog titled ” Evidence of the Past ” I think you might be interested. However not quite as important as salt in your country. The lake by where you live looks lovely.
    Thanks for sharing your work with us.

    Like

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