Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part II

Sites where Stanley and Livingstone stopped are underlined in red; geographical regions are circled in blue. Only place names mentioned in this section of his journal are highlighted. Source:

Continuing up Lake Tanganyika on the East side, Stanley and Livingstone continue with their adventures to discover whether the all-important Rusizi river flows IN or OUT of the lake – important for reasons detailed in the first blog of this series:  See:

Discovering the Rusizi River – Did It flow IN or OUT?!, Pt. I

None of the place names in his description that are prefixed by ‘Cape’ or ‘point appear on the map.  For unexplained reasons, Stanley omitted to put them in – perhaps due to space on the map, or perhaps – because they are ‘points’ that can be identified in relation to named villages and islands.

In the above map, as in Pt. I of this series, I have outlined only the villages and islands named (in red) while the regional names that he mentions are circled (in blue), and the Rusizi River is in blue:  Only the places named in this section are noted on the map. Apologies for the lack of clarity of the map, I do not have access to good graphics apps here in Burundi…

On the fourth day we arrived at Nyabigma*, a sandy island in Urundi [Burundi].  We had passed the boundary line between Ujiji and Urundi half-an-hour before arriving at Nyabigma.  The Mshala River is considered by both nations to be the proper divisional line; though there are parties of Warundi who have emigrated beyond the frontier into Ujiji; for instance, the Mutware and villagers of populous Kagunga, distant an hour north from Zassi.  There are also several small parties of Wajiji, who have taken advantage of the fine lands in the deltas of the Kasokwe, Namusinga, and Luaba Rivers, the two first of which enter the Tanganika in this bay, near the head of which Nyabigma is situated.

* Nyabigma Island is the only halting place not located by Stanley on the map.  I’ve inserted a probable location

From Nyabigma, a pretty good view of the deep curve in the great mountain range which stretches from Cape Kazinga and terminates at Cape Kasofu, may be obtained–a distance of twenty or twenty-five miles.  It is a most imposing scene, this great humpy, ridgy, and irregular line of mountains.  Deep ravines and chasms afford outlets to the numerous streams and rivers which take their rise in the background; the pale fleecy ether almost always shrouds its summit.  From its base extends a broad alluvial plain, rich beyond description, teeming with palms and plantains, and umbrageous trees.

Area of Gombe Park, now deforested.

Villages are seen in clusters everywhere.  Into this alluvial plain run the Luaba, or Ruaba River, on the north side of Cape Kitunda, and the Kasokwe, Namusinga, and Mshala Rivers, on the south side of the cape.  All the deltas of rivers emptying into the Tanganika are hedged in on all sides with a thick growth of matete, a gigantic species of grass, and papyrus.  In some deltas, as that of Luaba and Kasokwe, morasses have been formed, in which the matete and papyrus jungle is impenetrable.  In the depths of them are quiet and deep pools, frequented by various aquatic birds, such as geese, ducks, snipes, widgeons, kingfishers and ibis, cranes and storks, and pelicans.  To reach their haunts is, however, a work of great difficulty to the sportsman in quest of game; a work often attended with great danger, from the treacherous nature of these morasses, as well as from the dreadful attacks of fever which, in these regions, invariably follow wet feet and wet clothes*.

* Although quinine was by know known as an effective treatment for malaris, the origin of the malady and its attendant fever was not yet known, and fevers were thus often ascribed to wet feet and wet clothes, as well as to ‘noxious’ swamps.

At Nyabigma we prepared, by distributing ten rounds of ammunition to each of our men, for a tussle with the Warundi [Burundians] of two stages ahead, should they invite it by a too forward exhibition of their prejudice to strangers.

At dawn of the fifth day we quitted the haven of Nyabigma Island, and in less than an hour had arrived off Cape Kitunda.  This cape is a low platform of conglomerate sandstone, extending for about eight miles from the base of the great mountain curve which gives birth to the Luaba and its sister streams.  Crossing the deep bay, at the head of which is the delta of the Luaba, we came to Cape Kasofu.  Villages are numerous in this vicinity.  From hence we obtained a view of a series of points or capes, Kigongo, Katunga, and Buguluka, all of which we passed before coming to a halt at the pretty position of Mukungu.

At Mukungu, where we stopped on the fifth day, we were asked for honga*, or tribute.  The cloth and beads upon which we subsisted during our lake voyage were mine, but the Doctor, being the elder of the two, more experienced, and the “big man” of the party, had the charge of satisfying all such demands.  Many and many a time had I gone through the tedious and soul-wearying task of settling the honga, and I was quite curious to see how the great traveller would perform the work.

* ‘Honga’ is the term used throughout East and Cental Africa for the tribute required to be paid to rulers of an area, by those passing through their territory.  Honga was an important source of state [tribe/lineage] revenue until colonial powers took over.

The Mateko (a man inferior to a Mutware) of Mukungu asked for two and a half doti.  This was the extent of the demand, which he made known to us a little after dark.  The Doctor asked if nothing had been brought to us.  He was answered, “No, it was too late to get anything now; but, if we paid the honga, the Mateko would be ready to give us something when we came back.”  Livingstone, upon hearing this, smiled, and the Mateko being then and there in front of him, he said to him.  “Well, if you can’t get us anything now, and intend to give something when we return, we had better keep the honga until then.”

The Mateko was rather taken aback at this, and demurred to any such proposition.  Seeing that he was dissatisfied, we urged him to bring one sheep–one little sheep– for our stomachs were nearly empty, having been waiting more than half a day for it.  The appeal was successful, for the old man hastened, and brought us a lamb and a three-gallon pot of sweet but strong zogga, or palm toddy, and in return the Doctor gave him two and a half doti of cloth.  The lamb was killed, and, our digestions being good, its flesh agreed with us; but, alas, for the effects of zogga, or palm toddy!

Susi*, the invaluable adjunct of Dr. Livingstone, and Bombay*, the headman of my caravan, were the two charged with watching the canoe; but, having imbibed too freely of this intoxicating toddy, they slept heavily, and in the morning the Doctor and I had to regret the loss of several valuable and indispensable things; among which may be mentioned the Doctor’s 900-fathom sounding-line, 500 rounds of pin, rim, and central-fire cartridges for my arms, and ninety musket bullets, also belonging to me.  Besides these, which were indispensable in hostile Warundi, a large bag of flour and the Doctor’s entire stock of white sugar were stolen.

* Susi and Bombay played key roles in the explorations of mid-century explorers and are frequently discussed in the journals of Livingstone, Speke, Stanley, and Burton.  [Bombay had been a major domino during the explorations of Speke to Lake Victoria and beyond].

Susi. From: Kingston-Great African Travellers

This was the third time that my reliance in Bombay’s trustworthiness resulted in a great loss to me, and for the ninety-ninth time I had to regret bitterly having placed such entire confidence in Speke’s loud commendation of him.  It was only the natural cowardice of ignorant thieves that prevented the savages from taking the boat and its entire contents, together with Bombay and Susi as slaves.

Sidi Mubarak Bombay, also known as Chuma. Wiki

I can well imagine the joyful surprise which must have been called forth at the sight and exquisite taste of the Doctor’s sugar, and the wonder with which they must have regarded the strange ammunition of the Wasungu.  It is to be sincerely hoped that they did not hurt themselves with the explosive bullets and rim cartridges through any ignorance of the nature of the deadly contents; in which ease the box and its contents would prove a very Pandora’s casket.

Much grieved at our loss, we set off on the sixth day at the usual hour on our watery journey.  We coasted close to the several low headlands formed by the rivers Kigwena, Kikuma, and Kisunwe; and when any bay promised to be interesting, steered the canoe according to its indentations.  While travelling on the water–each day brought forth similar scenes–on our right rose the mountains of Urundi, now and then disclosing the ravines through which the several rivers and streams issued into the great lake; at their base were the alluvial plains, where flourished the oil-palm and grateful plantain, while scores of villages were grouped under their shade.

Now and then we passed long narrow strips of pebbly or sandy beach, whereon markets were improvised for selling fish, and the staple products of the respective communities.  Then we passed broad swampy morasses, formed by the numerous streams which the mountains discharged, where the matete and papyrus flourished.  Now the mountains approached to the water, their sides descending abruptly to the water’s edge; then they receded into deep folds, at the base of which was sure to be seen an alluvial plain from one to eight miles broad.

In many areas of Lake Tanganyika the mountains come right down to the shore.

Almost constantly we observed canoes being punted vigorously close to the surf, in fearless defiance of a catastrophe, such as a capsize and gobbling-up by voracious crocodiles.  Sometimes we sighted a canoe a short distance ahead of us; whereupon our men, with song and chorus, would exert themselves to the utmost to overtake it.

Upon observing our efforts, the natives would bend themselves to their tasks, and paddling standing and stark naked, give us ample opportunities for studying at our leisure comparative anatomy. Or we saw a group of fishermen lazily reclining in _puris naturalibus_ on the beach, regarding with curious eye the canoes as they passed their neighbourhood; then we passed a flotilla of canoes, their owners sitting quietly in their huts, busily plying the rod and hook, or casting their nets, or a couple of men arranging their long drag nets close in shore for a haul; or children sporting fearlessly in the water, with their mothers looking on approvingly from under the shade of a tree, from which I infer that there are not many crocodiles in the lake, except in the neighbourhood of the large rivers.

Early 20th century oil painting of a fishing village along the lake.

After passing the low headland of Kisunwe, formed by the Kisunwe River, we came in view of Murembwe Cape, distant about four or five miles: the intervening ground being low land, a sandy and pebbly beach.  Close to the beach are scores of villages, while the crowded shore indicates the populousness of the place beyond.  About half way between Cape Kisunwe and Murembwe, is a cluster of villages called Bikari, which has a mutware* who is in the habit of taking honga.  As we were rendered unable to cope for any length of time with any mischievously inclined community, all villages having a bad reputation with the Wajiji were avoided by us. But even the Wajiji guides were sometimes mistaken, and led us more than once into dangerous places.

The guides evidently had no objections to halt at Bikari, as it was the second camp from Mukungu; because with them a halt in the cool shade of plaintains was infinitely preferable to sitting like carved pieces of wood in a cranky canoe.  But before they stated their objections and preferences, the Bikari people called to us in a loud voice to come ashore, threatening us with the vengeance of the great Wami if we did not halt.  As the voices were anything but siren-like, we obstinately refused to accede to the request.  Finding threats of no avail, they had recourse to stones, and, accordingly, flung them at us in a most hearty manner.  As one came within a foot of my arm, I suggested that a bullet be sent in return in close proximity to their feet; but Livingstone, though he said nothing, yet showed plainly enough that he did not quite approve of this.

As these demonstrations of hostility were anything but welcome, and as we saw signs of it almost every time we came opposite a village, we kept on our way until we came to Murembwe Point, which, being a delta of a river of the same name, was well protected by a breadth of thorny jungle, spiky cane, and a thick growth of reed and papyrus, from which the boldest Mrundi might well shrink, especially if he called to mind that beyond this inhospitable swamp were the guns of the strangers his like had so rudely challenged.  We drew our canoe ashore here, and, on a limited area of clean sand, Ferajji, our rough-and-ready cook, lit his fire, and manufactured for us a supply of most delicious Mocha coffee.

Despite the dangers which still beset us, we were quite happy, and seasoned our meal with a little moral philosophy, which lifted us unconsciously into infinitely superior beings to the pagans by whom we were surrounded–upon whom we now looked down, under the influence of Mocha coffee and moral philosophy, with calm contempt, not unmixed with a certain amount of compassion. The Doctor related some experiences he had had among people of similar disposition, but did not fail to ascribe them, with the wisdom of a man of ripe experiences, to the unwise conduct of the Arabs and half-castes; in this opinion I unreservedly concur.

From Murembwe Point, having finished our coffee and ended our discourse on ethics, we proceeded on our voyage, steering for Cape Sentakeyi, which, though it was eight or ten miles away, we hoped to make before dark.  The Wangwana pulled with right good will, but ten hours went by, and night was drawing near, and we were still far from Sentakeyi.  As it was a fine moonlight night, and we were fully alive to the dangerous position in which we might find ourselves, they consented to pull an hour or two more.

About 1 P.M., we pulled in shore for a deserted spot–a clean shelf of sand, about thirty feet long by ten deep, from which a clay bank rose about ten or twelve feet above, while on each side there were masses of disintegrated rock.  Here we thought, that by preserving some degree of silence, we might escape observation, and consequent annoyance, for a few hours, when, being rested, we might continue our journey.

Our kettle was boiling for tea, and the men had built a little fire for themselves, and had filled their black earthen pot with water for porridge, when our look-outs perceived dark forms creeping towards our bivouac.  Being hailed, they at once came forward, and saluted us with the native “Wake.”  Our guides explained that we were Wangwana, and intended to camp until morning, when, if they had anything to sell, we should be glad to trade with them.  They said they were rejoiced to hear this, and after they had exchanged a few words more–during which time we observed that they were taking mental notes of the camp–they went away.  Upon leaving, they promised to return in the morning with food, and make friends with us.

While drinking our tea, the look-outs warned us of the approach of a second party, which went through the same process of saluting and observing as the first had done.  These also went away, over-exuberant, as I thought, and were shortly succeeded by a third party, who came and went as the others had.  From all this we inferred that the news was spreading rapidly through the villages about, and we had noticed two canoes passing backwards and forwards with rather more haste than we deemed usual or necessary.  We had good cause to be suspicious; it is not customary for people (at least, between Ujiji and Zanzibar) to be about visiting and saluting after dark, under any pretence; it is not permitted to persons to prowl about camp after dark without being shot at; and this going backward and forward, this ostentatious exuberance of joy at the arrival of a small party of Wangwana, which in many parts of Urundi would be regarded as a very common event, was altogether very suspicious.

While the Doctor and I were arriving at the conclusion that these movements were preliminary to or significant of hostility, a fourth body, very boisterous and loud, came and visited us.  Our supper had been by this time despatched, and we thought it high time to act.  The fourth party having gone with extravagant manifestations of delight, the men were hurried into the canoe, and, when all were seated, and the look-outs embarked, we quietly pushed off, but not a moment too soon.

As the canoe was gliding from the darkened light that surrounded us, I called the Doctor’s attention to several dark forms; some of whom were crouching behind the rocks on our right, and others scrambling over them to obtain good or better positions; at the same time people were approaching from the left of our position, in the same suspicious way; and directly a voice hailed us from the top of the clay bank overhanging the sandy shelf where we had lately been resting.  “Neatly done,” cried the Doctor, as we were shooting through the water, leaving the discomfited would-be robbers behind us.  Here, again, my hand was stayed from planting a couple of good shots, as a warning to them in future from molesting strangers, by the more presence of the Doctor, who, as I thought, if it were actually necessary, would not hesitate to give the word.

After pulling six hours more, during which we had rounded Cape Sentakeyi, we stopped at the small fishing village of Mugeyo, where we were permitted to sleep unmolested.  At dawn we continued our journey, and about 8 A.M. arrived at the village of the friendly Mutware of Magala.  We had pulled for eighteen hours at a stretch, which, at the rate of two miles and a half per hour, would make forty-five miles.  Taking bearings from our camp at Cape Magala, one of the most prominent points in travelling north from Ujiji, we found that the large island of Muzimu, which had been in sight ever since rounding Cape Bangwe, near Ujiji Bunder, bore about south-south-west, and that the western shore had considerably approached to the eastern; the breadth of the lake being at this point about eight or ten miles.

We had a good view of the western highlands, which seemed to be of an average height, about 3,000 feet above the lake.  Luhanga Peak, rising a little to the north of west from Magala, might be about 500 feet higher; and Sumburizi, a little north of Luhanga, where lived Mruta, Sultan of Uvira, the country opposite to this part of Urundi, about 300 feet higher than the neighbouring heights.  Northward from Magala Cape the lake streamed away between two chains of mountains; both meeting in a point about thirty miles north of us.

The Warundi [Burundians]of Magala were very civil, and profound starers.  They flocked around the tent door, and most pertinaciously gazed on us, as if we were subjects of most intense interest, but liable to sudden and eternal departure.  The Mutware came to see us late in the afternoon, dressed with great pomp.  He turned out to be a boy whom I had noticed in the crowd of gazers for his good looks and fine teeth, which he showed, being addicted to laughing continually.  There was no mistaking him, though he was now decorated with many ivory ornaments, with necklaces, and with heavy brass bracelets and iron wire anklets.  Our admiration of him was reciprocated; and, in return for our two doti of cloth and a fundo of samsam, he gave a fine fat and broad-tailed sheep, and a pot of milk.  In our condition both were extremely acceptable.

At Magala we heard of a war raging between Mukamba, for whose country we were bound, and Warumashanya, a Sultan of an adjoining district; and we were advised that, unless we intended to assist one of these chiefs against the other, it would be better for us to return.  But, as we had started to solve the problem of the Rusizi River, such considerations had no weight with us.

On the eighth morning from leaving Ujiji we bade farewell to the hospitable people of Magala, and set off for Mukamba’s country, which was in view.  Soon after passing the boundary between Urundi proper, and what is known as Usige, a storm from the south-west arose; and the fearful yawing of our canoe into the wave trough warned us from proceeding further; so we turned her head for Kisuka village, about four miles north, where Mugere, in Usige, begins.

A contemporary village along the lake

At Kisuka a Mgwana living with Mukamba came to see us, and gave us details of the war between Mukamba and Warumashanya, from which it seemed that these two chiefs were continually at loggerheads.  It is a tame way of fighting, after all.  One chief makes a raid into the other’s country, and succeeds in making off with a herd of cattle, killing one or two men who have been surprised.  Weeks, or perhaps months elapse before the other retaliates, and effects a capture in a similar way, and then a balance is struck in which neither is the gainer.  Seldom do they attack each other with courage and hearty goodwill, the constitution of the African being decidedly against any such energetic warfare.

This Mgwana, further, upon being questioned, gave us information far more interesting, viz., about the Rusizi.  He told us positively, with the air of a man who knew all about it, and as if anybody who doubted him might well be set down as an egregious ass, that the Rusizi River flowed out of the lake, away to Suna’s (Mtesa’s) country*. “Where else could it flow to?” he asked.  The Doctor was inclined to believe it, or, perhaps he was more inclined to let it rest as stated until our own eyes should confirm it.  I was more inclined to doubt, as I told the Doctor; first, it was too good to be true; second, the fellow was too enthusiastic upon a subject that could not possibly interest him.

* Mtèsa was the ruler of the pre-colonial kingdom of Uganda, to the left of Lake Victoria.

His “Barikallahs” and “Inshallahs” were far too fervid; his answers too much in accordance with our wishes.  The Doctor laid great stress on the report of a Mgwana he met far south, who stated that the grandfather or father of Rumanika*, present King of Karagwah, had thought of excavating the bed of the Kitangule River, in order that his canoes might go to Ujiji to open a trade.  From this, I imagine, coinciding as it did with his often-expressed and present firm belief that the waters of the Tanganika had an outlet somewhere, the Doctor was partial to the report of the Mgwana; but as we proceed we shall see how all this will end.

* Ruler of the pre-colonial kingdom of Karagwah, located to the left of Lake Victoria.

Part III is Here: Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part III 

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. 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!
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2 Responses to Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part II

  1. Pingback: Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part III « Dianabuja's Blog

  2. Pingback: Discovering the Rusizi River – Did It flow IN or OUT?!, Pt. I « Dianabuja's Blog

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