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

Map 1

Continued from this blog.

…On the second morning of our arrival at Mugihewa we mustered ten strong paddlers, and set out to explore the head of the lake and the mouth of the Rusizi.  We found that the northern head of the lake was indented with seven broad bays*, each from one and a half to three miles broad; that long broad spits of sand, overgrown with matete, separated each bay from the other. 

Livingstone and Stanley entering the Rusizi

 * There are fewer bays today, as seen on the map, below.  Given the currents, waves, and sandy nature of the north shore of the lake it is likely that the configuration of the bays and the islands (spits of sand, actually) change over time.

 The first, starting from west to east, at the broadest part, to the extreme southern point of Mugihewa, was about three miles broad, and served as a line of demarcation between Mukamba‘s district of Ruwenga and Mugihewa of Ruhinga; it was also two miles deep. 

 The second bay was a mile from the southern extremity of Mugihewa to Ruhinga’s village [also called Mugahewa] at the head of the bay, and it was a mile across to another spit of sand which was terminated by a small island. 

 The third bay stretched for nearly a mile to a long spit, at the end of which was another island, one and a quarter mile in length, and was the western side of the fourth bay, at the head of which was the delta of the Rusizi

 This fourth bay, at its base, was about three miles in depth, and penetrated half a mile further inland than any other.  Soundings indicated six feet deep, and the same depth was kept to within a few hundred yards of the principal mouth of the Rusizi.  The current was very sluggish; not more than a mile an hour. 

 Though we constantly kept our binocular searching for the river, we could not see the main channel until within 200 yards of it, and then only by watching by what outlet the fishing; canoes came out.  The bay at this point had narrowed from two miles to about 200 yards in breadth.  Inviting a canoe to show us the way, a small flotilla of canoes preceded us, from the sheer curiosity of their owners. 

Although this picture is of Lake Bangweolo, it depicts the kinds of overgrowth at lake deltas that Stanley and Livingstone found in the Rusizi Delta

 We followed, and in a few minutes were ascending the stream, which was very rapid, though but about ten yards wide, and very shallow; not more than two feet deep.  We ascended about half a mile, the current being very strong, from six to eight miles an hour, and quite far enough to observe the nature of the stream at its embouchure.  We could see that it widened and spread out in a myriad of channels, rushing by isolated clumps of sedge and matete grass; and that it had the appearance of a swamp.  We had ascended the central, or main channel. 

Rusizi River flowing through the Imbo Plain, before empting into Lake Tanganyika. Source: Carlier

 The western channel was about eight yards broad.  We observed, after we had returned to the bay, that the easternmost channel was about six yards broad, and about ten feet deep, but very sluggish.  We had thus examined each of its three mouths, and settled all doubts as to the Rusizi being an effluent or influent.  It was not necessary to ascend higher, there being nothing about the river itself to repay exploration of it.

1. Bujumbura, 2.Hotel Club du Lac, 3. Village, 4.Rusizi Delta

  The question, “Was the Rusizi an effluent or an influent?” was answered for ever.  There was now no doubt any more on that point. In size it was not to be compared with the Malagarazi River, neither is it, or can it be, navigable for anything but the smallest canoes.

 The only thing remarkable about it is that it abounds in crocodiles, but not one hippopotamus was seen; which may be taken as another evidence of its shallowness. 


Today, both hippos and crocs can be seen in Rusizi

Crocs & Hippos

 The bays to the east of the Rusizi are of the same conformation as those on the west. Carefully judging from the width of the several bays from point to point, and of the several spits which separate them, the breadth of the lake may be said to be about twelve or fourteen miles. 

   Had we contented ourselves with simply looking at the conformation, and the meeting of the eastern and western ranges, we should have said that the lake ended in a point, as Captain Speke has sketched it on his map.  But its exploration dissolved that idea.

 Chamati Hill is the extreme northern termination of the western range, and seems, upon a superficial examination, to abut against the Ramata mountains of the eastern range, which are opposite Chamati; but a valley about a mile in breadth separates the two ranges, and through this valley the Rusizi flows towards the lake.*


*  After the patient investigation of the North end of the Lake, and satisfying ourselves by personal observation that the Rusizi ran into the Lake, the native rumor which Sir Samuel Baker brought home that the Tanganika and the Albert N’Yanza have a water connection still finds many believers!


 Though Chamati Hill terminates the western range, the eastern range continues for miles beyond, north-westerly.  After its issue from this broad gorge, the Rusizi runs seemingly in a broad and mighty stream, through a wide alluvial plain*, its own formation, in a hundred channels, until, approaching the lake, it flows into it by three channels only, as above described**.

 * This is now a vast agricultural plain.

** There are now two channels, and there are no longer ‘a hundred channels’ further upstream.

The Rusizi ambles through the Imbo Plain, north of Lake Tanganyika

I should not omit to state here, that though the Doctor and I have had to contend against the strong current of the Rusizi River, as it flowed swift and strong INTO the Tanganika, the Doctor still adheres to the conviction that, whatever part the Rusizi plays, there must be an outlet to the Tanganika somewhere, from the fact that all fresh-water lakes have outlets*,

 *Livingstone spent the remainder of his life in central Africa searching for (other) sources of the Nile, dying in this attempt in eastern/southern Africa in 1873.  These exploits are detailed in The Last Journals of David Livingstone, vol.1 1866-1868: vol2: 1869-1973, published in 1875.  His journals together with other personal effects – and his remains, which had been rendered fit for transport by drying – were carried back to Zanzibar and thence to England by Susi, Chuma and his other ‘faithfuls’, a treck of many months.

Chuma and Susi, who organized and led a safari with Livingstone's remains back to Zanzibar and from there to England.

 The Doctor is able to state his opinions and reasons far better than I can find for him; and,lest I misconstrue the subject, I shall leave it until he has an opportunity to explain them himself; which his great knowledge of Africa will enable him to do with advantage.

Part VI is here: Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it flow IN or OUT?! Part VI 

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!
This entry was posted in Africa-Central, European explorers, Explorers & exploration, Imbo Plain, Livestock, Rusizi River ^ Wetlands, Sourcd of the Nile, Stanley and Livingstone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part V

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

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