This is the last post about the exploration of the Rusizi River on Lake Tanganyika, by Stanley and Livingstone. Though surprisingly, there were ‘armchair explorers’ back in England who doubted the river did flow into – and not out of – the lake.
Our work was now done; there was nothing more to detain us at Mugihewa. Ruhinga had been exceedingly kind, and given us one ox after another to butcher and eat. Mukamba had done the same. Their women had supplied us with an abundance of milk and butter, and we had now bounteous supplies of both.
The Doctor had taken a series of observations for latitude and longitude; and Mugihewa was made out to be in 3 degrees 19 minutes S. latitude.
On the 7th December, early in the morning, we left Mugihewa, and rowing past the southern extremity of the Katangara Islands, we approached the highlands of Uashi near the boundary line between Mukamba’s country and Uvira. The boundary line is supposed to be a wide ravine, in the depths of which is a grove of tall, beautiful, and straight-stemmed trees, out of which the natives make their canoes.
Passing Kanyamabengu River, which issues into the lake close to the market-ground of Kirabula, the extreme point of Burton and Speke’s explorations of the Tanganika, we steered south along the western shore of the lake for half an hour longer to Kavimba, where we halted to cook breakfast.
The village where lived Mruta, the King of Uvira, was in sight of our encampment, and as we observed parties of men ascending and descending the mountains much more often than we thought augured good to ourselves, we determined to continue on our course south. Besides, there was a party of disconsolate-looking Wajiji here, who had been plundered only a few days before our arrival, for attempting, as the Wavira believed, to evade the honga payment. Such facts as these, and our knowledge of the general state of insecurity in the country, resulting from the many wars in which the districts of the Tanganika were engaged, determined us not to halt at Kavimba.
We embarked quickly in our boat before the Wavira had collected themselves, and headed south against a strong gale, which came driving down on us from the south-west. After a hard pull of about two hours in the teeth of the storm, which was rapidly rising, we pointed the head of the boat into a little quiet cove, almost hidden in tall reeds, and disembarked for the night.
Cognizant of the dangers which surrounded us, knowing, that savage and implacable man was the worst enemy we had to fear, we employed our utmost energies in the construction of a stout fence of thorn bushes, and then sat down to supper after our work was done, and turned in to sleep; but not before we had posted watchmen to guard our canoe, lest the daring thieves of Uvira might abstract it, in which case we should have been in a pretty plight, and in most unenviable distress.
At daybreak, leaving Kukumba Point after our humble breakfast of coffee, cheese, and dourra cakes was despatched, we steered south once more. Our fires had attracted the notice of the sharp-eyed and suspicious fishermen of Kukumba; but our precautions and the vigilant watch we had set before retiring, had proved an effectual safeguard against the Kivira thieves.
The western shores of the lake as we proceeded were loftier, and more bold than the wooded heights of Urundi and bearded knolls of Ujiji. A back ridge—the vanguard of the mountains which rise beyond—disclosed itself between the serrated tops of the front line of mountains, which rose to a height of from 2,500 to 3,000 feet above the lake. Within the folds of the front line of mountains rise isolated hills of considerable magnitude, precipitous and abrupt, but scenically very picturesque. The greater part of these hills have the rounded and smooth top, or are tabularly summited. The ridge enfolding these hills shoots out, at intervals, promontorial projections of gradual sloping outlines, which on the map I have designated capes, or points. When rounding these points, up went our compasses for the taking of bearings, and observing the directions of all prominent objects of interest.
Often these capes are formed by the alluvial plains, through which we may be sure a river will be found flowing. These pretty alluvial plains, enfolded on the south, the west, and the north by a grand mountain arc, present most luxurious and enchanting scenery. The vegetation seems to be of spontaneous growth. Groups of the Elaeis Guineansis palm embowering some dun-brown village; an array of majestic, superb growth of mvule trees; a broad extent covered with vivid green sorghum stalks; parachute-like tops of mimosa; a line of white sand, on which native canoes are drawn far above the reach of the plangent, uneasy surf; fishermen idly reclining in the shade of a tree;—these are the scenes which reveal themselves to us as we voyage in our canoe on the Tanganika.
When wearied with the romance of wild tropic scenes such as these, we have but to lift our eyes to the great mountain tops looming darkly and grandly on our right; to watch the light pencilling of the cirrus, brushing their summits, as it is drifted toward the north by the rising wind: to watch the changing forms which the clouds assume, from the fleecy horizontal bars of the cirrus, to the denser, gloomier cumulus, prognosticator of storm and rain, which soon settles into a portentous group—Alps above Alps, one above another—and we know the storm which was brewing is at hand, and that it is time to seek shelter.
Passing Muikamba, we saw several groves of the tall mvule tree. As far as Bemba the Wabembe occupy the mountain summits, while the Wavira cultivate the alluvial plains along the base and lower slopes of the mountain. At Bemba we halted to take in pieces of pipe-clay, in accordance with the superstition of the Wajiji, who thought us certain of safe passage and good fortune if we complied with the ancient custom.
Passing Ngovi, we came to a deep bend, which curved off to Cape Kabogi at the distance of ten miles. About two-thirds of the way we arrived at a group of islets, three in number, all very steep and rocky; the largest about 300 feet in length at the base, and about 200 feet in breadth. Here we made preparations to halt for the night. The inhabitants of the island were a gorgeously-feathered old cock, which was kept as a propitiatory offering to the spirit of the island, a sickly yellow-looking thrush, a hammer-headed stork, and two fish-hawks, who, finding we had taken possession of what had been religiously reserved for them, took flight to the most western island, where from their perches they continued to eye us most solemnly. As these islands were with difficulty pronounced by us as Kavunvweh, the Doctor, seeing that they were the only objects we were likely to discover, named them the “‘New York Herald’ Islets;” and, in confirmation of the new designation given them, shook hands with me upon it. Careful dead-reckoning settled them to be in lat. 3 degrees 41 minutes S.
The summit of the largest island was well adapted to take bearings, and we improved the opportunity, as most extensive views of the broad and lengthy lake and surrounding lines of imposing mountains were attainable. The Ramata Hills were clearly visible, and bore N.N.E. from it; Katanga Cape, S.E. by S.; Sentakeyi, E.S.E.; Magala, E. by N.; south-western point of Muzimu bore S., northern point of Muzimu island, S.S.E.
At dawn on the 9th December we prepared to resume our voyage. Once or twice in the night we had been visited by fishermen, but our anxious watchfulness prevented any marauding. It seemed to me, however, that the people of the opposite shore, who were our visitors, were eagerly watching an opportunity to pounce upon our canoe, or take us bodily for a prey; and our men were considerably affected by these thoughts, if we may judge from the hearty good-will with which they rowed away from our late encampment.
Arriving at Cape Kabogi, we came to the territory of the Wasansi. We knew we were abreast of a different tribe by the greeting “Moholo,” which a group of fishermen gave us; as that of the Wavira was “Wake,” like that of Urundi, Usige, and Uhha.
We soon sighted Cape Luvumba—a sloping projection of a mountain ridge which shot far into the lake. As a storm was brewing, we steered for a snug little cove that appeared before a village; and, drawing our canoe from the water, began to set the tent, and make other preparations for passing the night.
As the natives appeared quiet and civil enough, we saw no reason to suspect that they entertained any hostility to Arabs and Wangwana. Accordingly we had our breakfast cooked, and as usual laid down for an afternoon nap. I soon fell asleep, and was dreaming away in my tent, in happy oblivion of the strife and contention that had risen since I had gone to sleep, when I heard a voice hailing me with, “Master, master! get up, quick. Here is a fight going to begin!” I sprang up, and snatching my revolver belt from the gun-stand, walked outside. Surely, there appeared to be considerable animus between the several factions; between a noisy, vindictive-looking set of natives of the one part, and our people of the other part. Seven or eight of our people had taken refuge behind the canoe, and had their loaded guns half pointing at the passionate mob, which was momentarily increasing in numbers, but I could not see the Doctor anywhere.
“Where is the Doctor?” I asked.
“He has gone over that hill, sir, with his compass,” said Selim.
“Anybody with him?”
“Susi and Chumah.”
“You, Bombay, send two men off to warn the Doctor, and tell him to hurry up here.”
But just at this period the Doctor and his two men appeared on the brow of the hill, looking down in a most complacent manner upon the serio-comic scene that the little basin wherein we were encamped presented. For, indeed, despite the serious aspect of it, there was much that was comical blended with it—in a naked young man who—perfectly drunk, barely able to stand on his feet—was beating the ground with his only loin-cloth, screaming and storming away like a madman; declaring by this, and by that, in his own choice language, that no Mgwana or Arab should halt one moment on the sacred soil of Usansi. His father, the Sultan, was as inebriated as himself, though not quite so violent in his behaviour. In the meantime the Doctor arrived upon the scene, and Selim had slipped my Winchester rifle, with the magazine full of cartridges, into my hand. The Doctor calmly asked what was the matter, and was answered by the Wajiji guides that the people wished us to leave, as they were on hostile terms with the Arabs, because the eldest son of the Sultan of Muzimu, the large island nearly opposite, had been beaten to death by a Baluch, named Khamis, at Ujiji, because the young fellow had dared look into his harem, and ever since peace had been broken between the Wasansi and Arabs.
After consulting with the guides, the Doctor and I came to the conclusion that it were better that we should endeavour to pacify the Sultan by a present, rather than take offence at a drunken boy’s extravagant freak. In his insane fury he had attempted to slash at one of my men with a billhook he carried. This had been taken as a declaration of hostilities, and the soldiers were ready enough to engage in war; but there was no necessity to commence fighting with a drunken mob, who could have been cleared off the ground with our revolvers alone had we desired it.
The Doctor, baring his arm, said to them that he was not a Mgwana, or an Arab; but a white man; that Arabs and Wangwana had no such colour as we had. We were white men, different people altogether from those whom they were accustomed to see: that no black men had ever suffered injury from white men. This seemed to produce great effect, for after a little gentle persuasion the drunken youth, and his no less inebriate sire, were induced to sit down to talk quietly. In their conversation with us, they frequently referred to Mombo, the son of Kisesa, Sultan of Muzimu, who was brutally murdered. “Yes, brutally murdered!” they exclaimed several times, in their own tongue; illustrating, by a faithful pantomime, how the unfortunate youth had died.
Livingstone continued talking with them in a mild, paternal way, and their loud protestations against Arab cruelty were about to subside, when the old Sultan suddenly rose up and began to pace about in an excited manner, and in one of his perambulations deliberately slashed his leg with the sharp blade of his spear, and then exclaimed that the Wangwana had wounded him!
At this cry one half of the mob hastily took to flight, but one old woman, who carried a strong staff with a carved lizard’s body on its top, commenced to abuse the chief with all the power of her voluble tongue, charging him with a desire to have them all killed, and other women joined in with her in advising him to be quiet, and accept the present we were willing to give.
But it is evident that there was little needed to cause all men present in that little hollow to begin a most sanguinary strife. The gentle, patient bearing of the Doctor had more effect than anything else in making all forbear bloodshed, while there was left the least chance of an amicable settlement, and in the end it prevailed. The Sultan and his son were both sent on their way rejoicing.
While the Doctor conversed with them, and endeavoured to calm their fierce passions, I had the tent struck, and the canoes launched, and the baggage stowed, and when the negotiations had concluded amicably, I begged the Doctor to jump into the boat, as this apparent peace was simply a lull before a storm; besides, said I, there are two or three cowardly creatures in the boat, who, in case of another disturbance, would not scruple to leave both of us here.
From Cape Luvumba, about 4.30 P.M. we commenced pulling across; at 8 P.M. we were abreast of Cape Panza, the northern extremity of the island of Muzimu; at 6 A.M. we were southward of Bikari, and pulling for Mukungu, in Urundi, at which place we arrived at 10 A.M., having been seventeen hours and a half in crossing the lake, which, computing at two miles an hour, may be said to be thirty-five miles direct breadth, and a little more than forty-three miles from Cape Luvumba.
On the 11th of December, after seven hours’ pulling, we arrived at picturesque Zassi again; on the 12th, at the pretty cove of Niasanga; and at 11 A.M. we had rounded past Bangwe, and Ujiji was before us.
We entered the port very quietly, without the usual firing of guns, as we were short of powder and ball. As we landed, our soldiers and the Arab magnates came to the water’s edge to greet us.
Mabruki had a rich budget to relate to us, of what had occurred during our absence. This faithful man, left behind in charge of Livingstone’s house, had done most excellently. Kalulu had scalded himself, and had a frightful raw sore on his chest in consequence. Mabruki had locked up Marora in chains for wounding one of the asses. Bilali, the stuttering coward, a bully of women, had caused a tumult in the market-place, and had been sharply belaboured with the stick by Mabruki. And, above all most welcome, was a letter I received from the American Consul at Zanzibar, dated June 11th, containing telegrams from Paris as late as April 22nd of the same year! Poor Livingstone exclaimed, “And I have none. What a pleasant thing it is to have a real and good friend!”
Our voyage on the Tanganika had lasted twenty-eight days, during which time we had traversed over 300 miles of water.
And so ends the exploration of the Rusizi River, which although quite small, had gained in notoriety from geographers, explorers, and others in England who were concerned with developing a water corridore from Lake Tanganyika, up to Lake Victoria, and thence to the White Nile and finally to Sudan and Egypt.
- Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it flow IN or OUT?! Part VI (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it flow IN or OUT?! Part IV (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Discovering the Rusizi River, Did it Flow IN or OUT?! Part III (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Abesamihigo A /rusizi Group : Rwanda (kiva.org)