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.
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.
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:
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’!
[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.
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.
Salt was a scarce product in much of Subsaharan Africa – a topic discussed in the following blog entries:
- How to Make Salt from Grasses or Goat Dung in northern Uganda, 1860′s
- Longing and Dreaming about Salt in the 19th Century
- The Market town of Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, and a Recipe for Garden Egg Stew
- Making Salt and gathering food supplies for a boat trip up Lake Albert N’Yanza
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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
Information from RAMSAR on the Rusizi River and Wetlands, and adjoining Imbo Plain:
- Gombe Stream National Park (idreamofafricablog.wordpress.com)
- Sundays by Lake Tanganyika (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- The Dry Season in Burundi – Time to Celebrate! III of III (Urban Elite Marriages) (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Friday Funnies: Monkey-Business (dianabuja.wordpress.com)