The Discover of the Source of the Nile
By John Hanning Speke
Preparations for the Reception at the Court of Mtesa, King of Uganda--The Ceremonial--African Diplomacy and Dignity--Feats with the Rifle--Cruelty, and Wastefulness of Life--The Pages--The Queen- Dowager of Uganda--Her Court Reception--I negotiate for a Palace-- Conversations with the King and Queen--The Queen's grand Entertainment--Royal Dissipation.
To-day the king sent his pages to announce his intention of holding a levee in my honour. I prepared for my first presentation at court, attired in my best, though in it I cut a poor figure in comparison with the display of the dressy Waganda. They wore neat bark cloaks resembling the best yellow corduroy cloth, crimp and well set, as if stiffened with starch, and over that, as upper-cloaks, a patchwork of small antelope skins, which I observed were sewn together as well as any English glovers could have pieced them; whilst their head-dresses, generally, were abrus turbans, set off with highly-polished boar-tusks, stick-charms, seeds, beads, or shells; and on their necks, arms, and ankles they wore other charms of wood, or small horns stuffed with magic powder, and fastened on by strings generally covered with snake-skin. N'yamgundu and Maula demanded, as their official privilege, a first peep; and this being refused, they tried to persuade me that the articles comprising the present required to be covered with chintz, for it was considered indecorous to offer anything to his majesty in a naked state. This little interruption over, the articles enumerated below (18) were conveyed to the palace in solemn procession thus:--With N'yamgundu, Maula, the pages, and myself on the flanks, the Union-Jack carried by the kirangozi guide led the way, followed by twelve men as a guard of honour, dressed in red flannel cloaks, and carrying their arms sloped, with fixed bayonets; whilst in their rear were the rest of my men, each carrying some article as a present.
On the march towards the palace, the admiring courtiers, wonder-struck at such an unusual display, exclaimed, in raptures of astonishment, some with both hands at their mouths, and others clasping their heads with their hands, "Irungi! irungi!" which may be translated "Beautiful! beautiful!" I thought myself everything was going on as well as could be wished; but before entering the royal enclosures, I found, to my disagreeable surprise, that the men with Suwarora's hongo or offering, which consisted of more than a hundred coils of wire, were ordered to lead the procession, and take precedence of me. There was something specially aggravating in this precedence; for it will be remembered that these very brass wires which they saw, I had myself intended for Mtesa, that they were taken from me by Suwarora as far back as Usui, and it would never do, without remonstrance, to have them boastfully paraded before my eyes in this fashion. My protests, however, had no effect upon the escorting Wakungu. Resolving to make them catch it, I walked along as if ruminating in anger up the broad high road into a cleared square, which divides Mtesa's domain on the south from his Kamraviona's, or commander-in-chief, on the north, and then turned into the court. The palace or entrance quite surprised me by its extraordinary dimensions, and the neatness with which it was kept. The whole brow and sides of the hill on which we stood were covered with gigantic grass huts, thatched as neatly as so many heads dressed by a London barber, and fenced all round with the tall yellow reeds of the common Uganda tiger-grass; whilst within the enclosure, the lines of huts were joined together, or partitioned off into courts, with walls of the same grass. It is here most of Mtesa's three or four hundred women are kept, the rest being quartered chiefly with his mother, known by the title of N'yamasore, or queen-dowager. They stood in little groups at the doors, looking at us, and evidently passing their own remarks, and enjoying their own jokes, on the triumphal procession. At each gate as we passed, officers on duty opened and shut it for us, jingling the big bells which are hung upon them, as they sometimes are at shop-doors, to prevent silent, stealthy entrance.
The first court passed, I was even more surprised to find the unusual ceremonies that awaited me. There courtiers of high dignity stepped forward to greet me, dressed in the most scrupulously neat fashions. Men, women, bulls, dogs, and goats, were led about by strings; cocks and hens were carried in men's arms; and little pages, with rope-turbans, rushed about, conveying messages, as if their lives depended on their swiftness, every one holding his skin-cloak tightly round him lest his naked legs might by accident be shown.
This, then, was the ante-reception court; and I might have taken possession of the hut, in which musicians were playing and singing on large nine-stringed harps, like the Nubian tambira, accompanied by harmonicons. By the chief officers in waiting, however, who thought fit to treat us like Arab merchants, I was requested to sit on the ground outside in the sun with my servants. Now, I had made up my mind never to sit upon the ground as the natives and Arabs are obliged to do, nor to make my obeisance in any other manner than is customary in England, though the Arabs had told me that from fear they had always complied with the manners of the court. I felt that if I did not stand up for my social position at once, I should be treated with contempt during the remainder of my visit, and thus lose the vantage-ground I had assumed of appearing rather as a prince than a trader, for the purpose of better gaining the confidence of the king. To avert over-hastiness, however--for my servants began to be alarmed as I demurred against doing as I was bid--I allowed five minutes to the court to give me a proper reception, saying, if it were not conceded I would then walk away.
Nothing, however, was done. My own men, knowing me, feared for me, as they did not know what a "savage" king would do in case I carried out my threat; whilst the Waganda, lost in amazement at what seemed little less than blasphemy, stood still as posts. The affair ended by my walking straight away home, giving Bombay orders to leave the present on the ground, and to follow me.
Although the king is said to be unapproachable, excepting when he chooses to attend court--a ceremony which rarely happens-- intelligence of my hot wrath and hasty departure reached him in an instant. He first, it seems, thought of leaving his toilet-room to follow me, but, finding I was walking fast, and had gone far, changed his mind, and sent Wakungu running after me. Poor creatures! they caught me up, fell upon their knees, and implored I would return at once, for the king had not tasted food, and would not until he saw me. I felt grieved at their touching appeals; but, as I did not understand all they said, I simply replied by patting my heart and shaking my head, walking if anything all the faster.
On my arrival at my hut, Bombay and others came in, wet through with perspiration, saying the king had heard of all my grievances. Suwarora's hongo was turned out of court, and, if I desired it, I might bring my own chair with me, for he was very anxious to show me great respect--although such a seat was exclusively the attribute of the king, no one else in Uganda daring to sit on an artificial seat.
My point was gained, so I cooled myself with coffee and a pipe, and returned rejoicing in my victory, especially over Suwarora. After returning to the second tier of huts from which I had retired, everybody appeared to be in a hurried, confused state of excitement, not knowing what to make out of so unprecedented an exhibition of temper. In the most polite manner, the officers in waiting begged me to be seated on my iron stool, which I had brought with me, whilst others hurried in to announce my arrival. But for a few minutes only I was kept in suspense, when a band of music, the musicians wearing on their backs long-haired goat-skins, passed me, dancing as they went along, like bears in a fair, and playing on reed instruments worked over with pretty beads in various patters, from which depended leopard-cat skins--the time being regulated by the beating of long hand-drums.
The mighty king was now reported to be sitting on his throne in the statehut of the third tier. I advanced, hat in hand, with my guard of honour following, formed in "open ranks," who in their turn were followed by the bearers carrying the present. I did not walk straight up to him as if to shake hands, but went outside the ranks of a three-sided square of squatting Wakungu, all inhabited in skins, mostly cow-skins; some few of whom had, in addition, leopard-cat skins girt round the waist, the sign of royal blood. Here I was desired to halt and sit in the glaring sun; so I donned my hat, mounted my umbrella, a phenomenon which set them all a-wondering and laughing, ordered the guard to close ranks, and sat gazing at the novel spectacle! A more theatrical sight I never saw. The king, a good-looking, well-figured, tall young man of twenty-five, was sitting on a red blanket spread upon a square platform of royal grass, encased in tiger-grass reeds, scrupulously well dressed in a new mbugu. The hair of his head was cut short, excepting on the top, where it was combed up into a high ridge, running from stem to stern like a cockscomb. On his neck was a very neat ornament--a large ring, of beautifully-worked small beads, forming elegant patterns by their various colours. On one arm was another bead ornament, prettily devised; and on the other a wooden charm, tied by a string covered with snakeskin. On every finger and every toe, he had alternate brass and copper rings; and above the ankles, halfway up to the calf, a stocking of very pretty beads. Everything was light, neat, and elegant in its way; not a fault could be found with the taste of his "getting up." For a handkerchief he held a well-folded piece of bark, and a piece of gold-embroidered silk, which he constantly employed to hide his large mouth when laughing, or to wipe it after a drink of plantain-wine, of which he took constant and copious draughts from neat little gourd-cups, administered by his ladies-in-waiting, who were at once his sisters and wives. A white dog, spear, shield, and woman--the Uganda cognisance--were by his side, as also a knot of staff officers, with whom he kept up a brisk conversation on one side; and on the other was a band of Wichezi, or lady-sorcerers, such as I have already described.
I was now asked to draw nearer within the hollow square of squatters, where leopard-skins were strewed upon the ground, and a large copper kettledrum, surmounted with brass bells on arching wires, along with two other smaller drums covered with cowrie-shells, and beads of colour worked into patterns, were placed. I now longed to open conversation, but knew not the language, and no one near me dared speak, or even lift his head from fear of being accused of eyeing the women; so the king and myself sat staring at one another for full an hour--I mute, but he pointing and remarking with those around him on the novelty of my guard and general appearance, and even requiring to see my hat lifted, the umbrella shut and opened, and the guards face about and show off their red cloaks--for such wonders had never been seen in Uganda.
Then, finding the day waning, he sent Maula on an embassy to ask me if I had seen him; and on receiving my reply, "Yes, for full one hour," I was glad to find him rise, spear in hand, lead his dog, and walk unceremoniously away through the enclosure into the fourth tier of huts; for this being a pure levee day, no business was transacted. The king's gait in retiring was intended to be very majestic, but did not succeed in conveying to me that impression. It was the traditional walk of his race, founded on the step of the lion; but the outward sweep of the legs, intended to represent the stride of the noble beast, appeared to me only to realise a very ludicrous kind of waddle, which made me ask Bombay if anything serious was the matter with the royal person.
I had now to wait for some time, almost as an act of humanity; for I was told the state secret, that the king had retired to break his fast and eat for the first time since hearing of my arrival; but the repast was no sooner over than he prepared for the second act, to show off his splendour, and I was invited in, with all my men, to the exclusion of all his own officers save my two guides. Entering as before, I found him standing on a red blanket, leaning against the right portal of the hut, talking and laughing, handkerchief in hand, to a hundred or more of his admiring wives, who, all squatting on the ground outside, in two groups, were dressed in mew mbugus. My men dared not advance upright, nor look upon the women, but, stooping, with lowered heads and averted eyes, came cringing after me. Unconscious myself, I gave loud and impatient orders to my guard, rebuking them for moving like frightened geese, and, with hat in hand, stood gazing on the fair sex till directed to sit and cap.
Mtesa then inquired what messages were brought from Rumanika; to which Maula, delighted with the favour of speaking to royalty, replied by saying, Rumanika had gained intelligence of Englishmen coming up the Nile to Gani and Kidi. The king acknowledged the truthfulness of their story, saying he had heard the same himself; and both Wakungu, as is the custom in Uganda, thanked their lord in a very enthusiastic manner, kneeling on the ground--for no one can stand in the presence of his majesty--in an attitude of prayer, and throwing out their hands as they repeated the words N'yanzig, N'yanzig, ai N'yanzig Mkahma wangi, etc., etc., for a considerable time; when, thinking they had done enough of this, and heated with the exertion, they threw themselves flat upon their stomachs, and, floundering about like fish on land, repeated the same words over again and again, and rose doing the same, with their faces covered with earth; for majesty in Uganda is never satisfied till subjects have grovelled before it like the most abject worms. This conversation over, after gazing at me, and chatting with his women for a considerable time, the second scene ended. The third scene was more easily arranged, for the day was fast declining. He simply moved his train of women to another hut, where, after seating himself upon his throne, with his women around him, he invited me to approach the nearest limits of propriety, and to sit as before. Again he asked me if I had seen him--evidently desirous of indulging in his regal pride; so I made the most of the opportunity thus afforded me of opening a conversation by telling him of those grand reports I had formerly heard about him, which induced me to come all his way to see him, and the trouble it had cost me to reach the object of my desire; at the same time taking a gold ring from off my finger, and presenting it to him, I said, "This is a small token of friendship; if you will inspect it, it is made after the fashion of a dog-collar, and, being the king of metals, gold, is in every respect appropriate to your illustrious race."
He said, in return, "If friendship is your desire, what would you say if I showed you a road by which you might reach your home in one month?" Now everything had to be told to Bombay, then to Nasib, my Kiganda interpreter, and then to either Maula or N'yamgundu, before it was delivered to the king, for it was considered indecorous to transmit any message to his majesty excepting through the medium of one of his officers. Hence I could not get an answer put in; for as all Waganda are rapid and impetuous in their conversation, the king, probably forgetting he had put a question, hastily changed the conversation and said, "What guns have you got? Let me see the one you shoot with." I wished still to answer the first question first, as I knew he referred to the direct line to Zanzibar across the Masai, and was anxious, without delay, to open the subject of Petherick and Grant; but no one dared to deliver my statement. Much disappointed, I then said, "I had brought the best shooting-gun in the world--Whitworth's rifle--which I begged he would accept, with a few other trifles; and, with his permission, I would lay them upon a carpet at his feet, as is the custom of my country when visiting sultans." He assented, sent all his women away, and had an mbugu spread for the purpose, on which Bombay, obeying my order, first spread a red blanket, and then opened each article one after the other, when Nasib, according to the usage already mentioned, smoothed them down with his dirty hands, or rubbed them against his sooty face, and handed them to the king to show there was no poison or witchcraft in them. Mtesa appeared quite confused with the various wonders as he handled them, made silly remarks, and pondered over them like a perfect child, until it was quite dark. Torches were then lit, and guns, pistols, powder, boxes, tools, beads--the whole collection, in short--were tossed together topsy-turvy, bundled into mbugus, and carried away by the pages. Mtesa now said, "It is late, and time to break up; what provisions would you wish to have?" I said, "A little of everything, but no one thing constantly." "And would you like to see me to-morrow?" "Yes, every day." "Then you can't to-morrow, for I have business; but the next day come if you like. You can now go away, and here are six pots of plantain-wine for you; my men will search for food to-morrow."
21st.--In the morning, whilst it rained, some pages drove in twenty cows and ten goats, with a polite metaphorical message from their king, to the effect that I had pleased him much, and he hoped I would accept these few "chickens" until he could send more, --when both Maula and N'yamgundu, charmed with their success in having brought a welcome guest to Uganda, never ceased showering eulogiums on me for my fortune in having gained the countenance of their king. The rain falling was considered at court a good omen, and everybody declared the king mad with delight. Wishing to have a talk with him about Petherick and Grant, I at once started off the Wakungu to thank him for the present, and to beg pardon for my apparent rudeness of yesterday, at the same time requesting I might have an early interview with his majesty, as I had much of importance to communicate; but the solemn court formalities which these African kings affect as much as Oriental emperors, precluded my message from reaching the king. I heard, however, that he had spent the day receiving Suwarora's hongo of wire, and that the officer who brought them was made to sit in an empty court, whilst the king sat behind a screen, never deigning to show his majestic person. I was told, too, that he opened conversation by demanding to know how it happened that Suwarora became possessed of the wires, for they were made by the white men to be given to himself, and Suwarora must therefore have robbed me of them; and it was by such practices he, Mtesa, never could see any visitors. The officer's reply was, Suwarora would not show the white men any respect, because they were wizards would did not sleep in houses at night, but flew up to the tops of hills, and practised sorcery of every abominable kind. The king to this retorted, in a truly African fashion, "That's a lie; I can see no harm in this white man; and if he had been a bad man, Rumanika would not have sent him on to me." At night, when in bed, the king sent his pages to say, if I desired his friendship I would lend him one musket to make up six with what I had given him, for he intended visiting his relations the following morning. I sent three, feeling that nothing would be lost by being "open-handed."
22d.--To-day the king went the round of his relations, showing the beautiful things given him by the white man--a clear proof that he was much favoured by the "spirits," for neither his father nor any of his forefathers had been so recognised and distinguished by any "sign" as a rightful inheritor to the Uganda throne: an anti-Christian interpretation of omens, as rife in these dark regions now as it was in the time of King Nebuchadnezzar. At midnight the three muskets were returned, and I was so pleased with the young king's promptitude and honesty, I begged he would accept them.
23d.--At noon Mtesa sent his pages to invite me to his palace. I went, with my guard of honour and my stool, but found I had to sit waiting in an ante-hut three hours with his commander-in-chief and other high officers before he was ready to see me. During this time Wasoga minstrels, playing on tambira, and accompanied by boys playing on a harmonicon, kept us amused; and a small page, with a large bundle of grass, came to me and said, "The king hopes you won't be offended if required to sit on it before him; for no person in Uganda, however high in office, is ever allowed to sit upon anything raised above the ground, nor can anybody but himself sit upon such grass as this; it is all that his throne is made of. The first day he only allowed you to sit on your stool to appease your wrath."
On consenting to do in "Rome as the Romans do," when my position was so handsomely acknowledged, I was called in, and found the court sitting much as it was on the first day's interview, only that the number of squatting Wakungu was much diminished; and the king, instead of wearing his ten brass and copper rings, had my gold one on his third finger. This day, however, was cut out for business, as, in addition to the assemblage of officers, there were women, cows, goats, fowls, confiscations, baskets of fish, baskets of small antelopes, porcupines, and curious rats caught by his gamekeepers, bundles of mbugu, etc., etc., made by his linen-drapers, coloured earths and sticks by his magician, all ready for presentation; but, as rain fell, the court broke up, and I had nothing for it but to walk about under my umbrella, indulging in angry reflections against the haughty king for not inviting me into his hut.
When the rain had ceased, and we were again called in, he was found sitting in state as before, but this time with the head of a black bull placed before him, one horn of which, knocked off, was placed alongside, whilst four living cows walked about the court.
I was now requested to shoot the four cows as quickly as possible; but having no bullets for my gun, I borrowed the revolving pistol I had given him, and shot all four in a second of time; but as the last one, only wounded, turned sharply upon me, I gave him the fifth and settled him. Great applause followed this wonderful feat, and the cows were given to my men. The king now loaded one of the carbines I had given him with his own hands, and giving it full-cock to a page, told him to go out and shoot a man in the outer court; which was no sooner accomplished than the little urchin returned to announce his success, with a look of glee such as one would see in the face of a boy who had robbed a bird's nest, caught a trout, or done any other boyish trick. The king said to him, "And did you do it well?" "Oh, yes, capitally." He spoke the truth, no doubt, for he dared not have trifled with the king; but the affair created hardly any interest. I never heard, and there appeared no curiosity to know, what individual human being the urchin had deprived of life.
The Wakungu were not dismissed, and I asked to draw near, when the king showed me a book I had given to Rumanika, and begged for the inspiring medicine which he had before applied for through the mystic stick. The day was now gone, so torches were lit, and we were ordered to go, though as yet I had not been able to speak one word I wished to impart about Petherick and Grant; for my interpreters were so afraid of the king they dared not open their mouths until they were spoken to. The king was now rising to go, when, in great fear and anxiety that the day would be lost, I said, in Kisuahili, "I wish you would send a letter by post to Grant, and also send a boat up the Kitangule, as far as Rumanika's palace, for him, for he is totally unable to walk." I thus attracted his notice, though he did not understand one word I uttered. The result was, that he waited for the interpretation, and replied that a post would be no use, for no one would be responsible for the safe delivery of the message; he would send N'yamgundu to fetch him, but he thought Rumanika would not consent to his sending boats up the Kitangule as far as the Little Windermere; and then, turning round with true Mganda impetuosity, he walked away without taking a word from me in exchange.
24th.--Early this morning the pages came to say Mtesa desired I would send him three of my Wanguaga to shoot cows before him. This was just what I wanted. It had struck me that personal conferences with me so roused the excitable king, that there was no bringing plain matters of business home to him; so, detaching seven men with Bombay, I told him, before shooting, to be sure and elicit the matter I wanted--which was, to excite the king's cupidity by telling him I had a boat full of stores with two white men at Gani, whom I wished to call to me if he would furnish some guides to accompany my men; and further, as Grant could not walk, I wished boats sent for him, at least as far as the ferry on the Kitangule, to which place Rumanika, at any rate, would slip him down in canoes. At once, on arriving, Mtesa admitted the men, and ordered them to shoot at some cows; but Bombay, obeying my orders to first have his talk out, said, No--before he could shoot he must obey master and deliver his message; which no sooner was told than the king, in a hurry, excited by the prospects of sport, impatiently said, "Very good; I will send men either by water or overland through Kidi, (19) just as your master likes; only some of his men had better go with mine: but now shoot cows, shoot cows; for I want to see how the Waguana shoot." They shot seven, and all were given to them when they were dismissed. In the evening the pages came to ask me if I would like to shoot kites in the palace with their king; but I declined shooting anything less than elephants, rhinoceros, or buffaloes; and even for these I would not go out unless the king went with me; --a dodge I conceived would tend more than any other to bring us together, and so break through those ceremonial restraints of the court, which at present were stopping all pans of progression.
25th.--The king invited me to shoot with him--really buffaloes-- close to the palace; but as the pages had been sent off in a hurry, without being fully instructed, I declined, on the plea that I had always been gulled and kept waiting or treated with incivility, for hours before I obtained an interview; and as I did not wish to have any more ruptures in the palace, I proposed Bombay should go to make proper arrangements for my reception on the morrow--as anyhow, at present I felt indisposed. The pages dreaded their master's wrath, departed for a while, and then sent another lad to tell me he was sorry to hear I felt unwell, but he hoped I would come if only for a minute, bringing my medicines with me, for he himself felt pain. That this second message was a forged one I had no doubt, for the boys had not been long enough gone; still, I packed up my medicines and went, leaving the onus, should any accident happen, upon the mischievous story-bearers.
As I anticipated, on arrival at the palace I found the king was not ready to receive me, and the pages desired me to sit with the officers in waiting until he might appear. I found it necessary to fly at once into a rage, called the pages a set of deceiving young blackguards, turned upon my heel, and walked straight back through the courts, intending to leave the palace. Everybody was alarmed; information of my retreat at once reached the king, and he sent his Wakungu to prevent my egress. These officers passed me, as I was walking hurriedly along under my umbrella, in the last court, and shut the entrance-gate in front of me. This was too much, so I stamped, and, pointing my finger, swore in every language I knew, that if they did not open the gate again, as they had shut it at once, and that, too, before my face, I would never leave the spot I stood upon alive. Terror-stricken, the Wakungu fell on their knees before me, doing as they were bid; and, to please them, I returned at once, and went up to the king, who, now sitting on his throne, asked the officers how they had managed to entice me back; to which they all replied in a breath, n'yanzigging heartily, "Oh, we were so afraid--he was so terrible! but he turned at once as soon as we opened the gate." "How? what gate? tell us all about it." And when the whole story was fully narrated, the matter was thought a good joke. After pausing a little, I asked the king what ailed him, for I was sorry to hear he had been sick; but instead of replying, he shook his head, as much as to say, I had put a very uncouth question to his majesty--and ordered some men to shoot cows.
Instead of admiring this childish pastime, which in Uganda is considered royal sport, I rather looked disdainful, until, apparently disappointed at my indifference, he asked what the box I had brought contained. On being told it was the medicine he desired, he asked me to draw near, and sent his courtiers away. When only the interpreters and one confidential officer were left, besides myself, he wished to know if I could apply the medicine without its touching the afflicted part. To give him confidence in my surgical skill, I moved my finger, and asked him if he knew what gave it action; and on his replying in the negative, I have him an anatomical lecture, which so pleased him, he at once consented to be operated on, and I applied a blister accordingly. The whole operation was rather ridiculous; for the blister, after being applied, had to be rubbed in turn on the hands and faces of both Bombay and Nasib, to show there was no evil spirit in the "doctor." Now, thought I to myself, is the right time for business; for I had the king all to myself, then considered a most fortunate occurrence in Uganda, where every man courts the favour of a word with his king, and adores him as a deity, and he in turn makes himself as distance as he can, to give greater effect to his exalted position. The matter, however, was merely deferred: for I no sooner told him my plans for communicating quickly with Petherick and Grant, than, after saying he desired their coming even more than myself, he promised to arrange everything on the morrow.
26th.--In the morning, as agreed, I called on the king, and found the blister had drawn nicely; so I let off the water, which Bombay called the malady, and so delighted the king amazingly. A basket of fruit, like Indian loquots, was then ordered in, and we ate them together, holding a discussion about Grant and Petherick, which ended by the king promising to send an officer by water to Kitangule, and another with two of my men, via Usoga and Kidi, to Gani; but as it was necessary my men should go in disguise, I asked the king to send me four mbugu and two spears; when, with the liberality of a great king, he sent me twenty sheets of the former, four spears, and a load of sun-dried fish strung on a stick in shape of a shield.
27th.--At last something was done. One Uganda officer and one Kidi guide were sent to my hut by the king, as agreed upon yesterday, when I detached Mabruki and Bilal from my men, gave them letters and maps addressed to Petherick; and giving the officers a load of Mtende to pay their hotel bills on the way, I gave them, at the same time, strict orders to keep by the Nile; then, having dismissed them, I called on the king to make arrangements for Grant, and to complain that my residence in Uganda was anything but cheerful, as my hut was a mile from the palace, in an unhealthy place, where he kept his Arab visitors. It did not become my dignity to live in houses appropriated to persons in the rank of servants, which I considered the ivory merchants to be; and as I had come only to see him and the high officers of Uganda, not seeking for ivory or slaves, I begged he would change my place of residence to the west end, when I also trusted his officers would not be ashamed to visit me, as appeared to be the case at present. Silence being the provoking resort of the king, when he did not know exactly what to say, he made no answer to my appeal, but instead, he began a discourse on geography, and then desired me to call upon his mother, N'yamasore, at her palace Masorisori, vulgarly called Soli Soli, for she also required medicine; and, moreover, I was cautioned that for the future the Uganda court etiquette required I should attend on the king two days in succession, and every third day on his mother the queen-dowager, as such were their respective rights.
Till now, owing to the strict laws of the country, I had not been able to call upon anybody but the king himself. I had not been able to send presents or bribes to any one, nor had any one, except the cockaded pages, by the king's order, visited me; neither was anybody permitted to sell me provisions, so that my men had to feed themselves by taking anything they chose from certain gardens pointed out by the king's officers, or by seizing pombe or plantains which they might find Waganda carrying towards the palace. This non-interventive order was part of the royal policy, in order that the king might have the full fleecing of his visitors.
To call upon the queen-mother respectfully, as it was the opening visit, I too, besides the medicine-chest, a present of eight brass and copper wire, thirty blue-egg beads, one bundle of diminutive beads, and sixteen cubits of chintz, a small guard, and my throne of royal grass. The palace to be visited lay half a mile beyond the king's, but the highroad to it was forbidden me, as it is considered uncourteous to pass the king's gate without going in. So after winding through back-gardens, the slums of Bandowaroga, I struck upon the highroad close to her majesty's, where everything looked like the royal palace on a miniature scale. A large cleared space divided the queen's residence from her Kamraviona's. The outer enclosures and courts were fenced with tiger-grass; and the huts, though neither so numerous nor so large, were constructed after the same fashion as the king's. Guards also kept the doors, on which large bells were hung to give alarm, and officers in waiting watched the throne-rooms. All the huts were full of women, save those kept as waiting-rooms; where drums and harmonicons were played for amusement. On first entering, I was required to sit in a waiting-hut till my arrival was announced; but that did not take long, as the queen was prepared to receive me; and being of a more affable disposition than her son, she held rather a levee of amusement than a stiff court of show. I entered the throne-hut as the gate of that court was thrown open, with my hat off, but umbrella held over my head, and walked straight towards her till ordered to sit upon my bundle of grass.
Her majesty--fat, fair, and forty-five--was sitting, plainly garbed in mbugu, upon a carpet spread upon the ground within a curtain of mbugu, her elbow resting on a pillow of the same bark material; the only ornaments on her person being an abrus necklace, and a piece of mbugu tied round her head, whilst a folding looking-glass, much the worse for wear, stood open by her side. An iron rod like a spit, with a cup on the top, charged with magic powder, and other magic wands, were placed before the entrance; and within the room, four Mabandwa sorceresses or devil-drivers, fantastically dressed, as before described, and a mass of other women, formed the company. For a short while we sat at a distance, exchanging inquiring glances at one another, when the women were dismissed, and a band of music, with a court full of Wakungu, was ordered in to change the scene. I also got orders to draw near and sit fronting her within the hut. Pombe, the best in Uganda, was then drunk by the queen, and handed to me and to all the high officers about her, when she smoked her pipe, and bade me smoke mine. The musicians, dressed in long-haired Usoga goat-skins, were now ordered to strike up, which they did, with their bodies swaying or dancing like bears in a fair. Different drums were then beat, and I was asked if I could distinguish their different tones.
The queen, full of mirth, now suddenly rose, leaving me sitting, whilst she went to another hut, changed her mbugu for a deole, and came back again for us to admire her, which was no sooner done to her heart's content, than a second time, by her order, the court was cleared, and, when only three or four confidential Wakungu were left, she took up a small faggot of well-trimmed sticks, and, selecting three, told me she had three complains. "This stick," she says, "represents my stomach, which gives me much uneasiness; this second stick my liver, which causes shooting pains all over my body; and this third one my heart, for I get constant dreams at night about Sunna, my late husband, and they are not pleasant." The dreams and sleeplessness I told her was a common widow's complaint, and could only be cured by her majesty making up her mind to marry a second time; but before I could advise for the bodily complaints, it would be necessary for me to see her tongue, feel her pulse, and perhaps, also, her sides. Hearing this, the Wakungu said, "Oh, that can never be allowed without the sanction of the king"; but the queen, rising in her seat, expressed her scorn at the idea to taking advice from a mere stripling, and submitted herself for examination.
I then took out two pills, the powder of which was tasted by the Wakungu to prove that there was no devilry in "the doctor," and gave orders for them to be eaten at night, restricting her pombe and food until I saw her again. My game was now advancing, for I found through her I should get the key to an influence that might bear on the king, and was much pleased to hear her express herself delighted with me for everything I had done except stopping her grog, which, naturally enough in this great pombe-drinking country, she said would be a very trying abstinence.
The doctoring over, her majesty expressed herself ready to inspect the honorarium I had brought for her, and the articles were no sooner presented by Bombay and Nasib, with the usual formalities of stroking to insure their purity, than she, boiling with pleasure, showed them all to her officers, who declared, with a voice of most exquisite triumph, that she was indeed the most favoured of queens. Then, in excellent good taste, after saying that nobody had ever given her such treasures, she gave me, in return, a beautifully- worked pombe sucking-pipe, which was acknowledged by every one to be the greatest honour she could pay me.
Not satisfied with this, she made me select, though against my desire, a number of sambo, called here gundu, rings of giraffe hair wound round with thin iron or copper wire, and worn as anklets; and crowned with all sundry pots of pombe, a cow, and a bundle of dried fish, of the description given in the woodcut, called by my men Samaki Kambari. This business over, she begged me to show her my picture-books, and was so amused with them that she ordered her sorceresses and all the other women in again to inspect them with her. Then began a warm and complimentary conversation, which ended by an inspection of my rings and al the contents of my pockets, as well as of my watch, which she called Lubari--a term equivalent to a place of worship, the object of worship itself, or the iron horn or magic pan. Still she said I had not yet satisfied her; I must return again two days hence, for she like me much-- excessively--she could not say how much; but now the day was gone, I might go. With this queer kind of adieu she rose and walked away, leaving me with my servants to carry the royal present home.
28th.--My whole thoughts were now occupied in devising some scheme to obtain a hut in the palace, not only the better to maintain my dignity, and so gain superior influence in the court, but also that I might have a better insight into the manners and customs of these strange people. I was not sorry to find the king attempting to draw me to court, daily to sit in attendance on him as his officers were obliged to do all day long, in order that he might always have a full court or escort whenever by chance he might emerge from his palace, for it gave me an opening for asserting my proper position.
Instead, therefore, of going at the call of his pages this morning I sent Bombay with some men to say that although I was desirous of seeing him daily, I could not so expose myself to the sun. In all other countries I received, as my right, a palace to live in when I called on the king of my country, and unless he gave one now I should feel slighted; moreover, I should like a hut in the same enclosure as himself, when I could sit and converse with him constantly, and teach him the use of the things I had given him. By Bombay's account, the king was much struck with the force of my humble request, and replied that he should like to have Bana, meaning myself, ever by his side, but his huts were all full of women, and therefore it could not be managed; if, however, Bana would but have patience for a while, a hut should be built for him in the environs, which would be a mark of distinction he had never paid to any visitor before. Then changing the subject by inspecting my men, he fell so much in love with their little red "fez" caps, that he sent off his pages to beg me for a specimen, and, on finding them sent by the boys, he remarked, with warm approbation, how generous I was in supplying his wishes, and then, turning to Bombay, wished to know what sort of return-presents would please me best. Bombay, already primed, instantly said, "Oh, Bana, being a great man in his own country, and not thirsting for gain in ivory or slaves, would only accept such things as a spear, shield, or drum, which he could take to his own country as a specimen of the manufactures of Uganda, and a pleasing recollection of his visit to the king."
"Ah," says Mtesa, "if that is all he wants, then indeed will I satisfy him, for I will give him the two spears with which I took all this country, and, when engaged in so doing, pierced three men with one stab.
"But, for the present, is it true what I have heard, that Bana would like to go out with me shooting?" "Oh yes, he is a most wonderful sportsman--shoots elephants and buffaloes, and birds on the wing. He would like to go out on a shooting excursion and teach you the way."
Then turning the subject, in the highest good-humour the king made centurions of N'yamgundu and Maula, my two Wakungu, for their good service, he said, in bringing him such a valuable guest. This delighted them so much that as soon as they could they came back to my camp, threw themselves at my feet, and n'yanzigging incessantly, narrated their fortunes, and begged, as a great man, I would lend them some cows to present to the king as an acknowledgement for the favour he had shown them. The cows, I then told them, had come from the king, and could not go back again, for it was not the habit of white men to part with their presents; but as I felt their promotion redounded on myself, and was certainly the highest compliment their king could have paid me, I would give them each a wire to make their salaam good.
This was enough; both officers got drunk, and, beating their drums, serenaded the camp until the evening set in, when, to my utter surprise, an elderly Mganda woman was brought into camp with the commander-in-chief's metaphorical compliments, hoping I would accept her "to carry my water"; with this trifling addition, that in case I did not think her pretty enough, he hoped I would not hesitate to select which I liked from ten others, of "all colours," Wahuma included, who, for that purpose, were then waiting in his palace.
Unprepared for this social addition in my camp, I must now confess I felt in a fix, knowing full well that nothing so offends as rejecting an offer at once, so I kept her for the time being, intending in the morning to send her back with a string of blue beads on her neck; but during the night she relieved me of my anxieties by running away, which Bombay said was no wonder, for she had obviously been seized as part of some confiscated estate, and without doubt knew where to find some of her friends.
To-day, for the first time since I have been here, I received a quantity of plantains. This was in consequence of my complaining that the king's orders to my men to feed themselves at others' expense was virtually making them a pack of thieves.
1st.--I received a letter from Grant, dated 10th February, reporting Baraka's departure for Unyoro on the 30th January, escorted by Kamrasi's men on their return, and a large party of Rumanika's bearing presents as a letter from their king; whilst Grant himself hoped to leave Karague before the end of the month. I then sent Bombay to see the queen, to ask after her health, beg for a hut in the palace enclosures, and say I should have gone myself, only I feared her gate might be shut, and I cannot go backwards and forwards so far in the sun without a horse or an elephant to ride upon. She begged I would come next morning. A wonderful report came that the king put two tops of powder into his Whitworth rifle to shoot a cow, and the bullet not only passed through the cow, but through the court fence, then through the centre of a woman, and, after passing the outer fence, flew whizzing along no one knew where.
2d.--Calling on the queen early, she admitted me at once, scolding me severely for not having come or sent my men to see her after she had taken the pills. She said they did her no good, and prevailed on me to give her another prescription. Then sending her servant for a bag full of drinking-gourds, she made me select six of the best, and begged for my watch. That, of course, I could not part with; but I took the opportunity of telling her I did not like my residence; it was not only far away from everybody, but it was unworthy of my dignity. I came to Uganda to see the king and queen, because the Arabs said they were always treated with great respect; but now I could perceive those Arabs did not know what true respect means. Being poor men, they thought much of a cow or goat given gratis, and were content to live in any hovels. Such, I must inform her, was not my case. I could neither sit in the sun nor live in a poor man's hut. When I rose to leave for breakfast, she requested me to stop, but I declined, and walked away. I saw, however, there was something wrong; for Maula, always ordered to be in attendance when anybody visits, was retained by her order to answer why I would not stay with her longer. If I wanted food or pombe, there was plenty of it in her palace, and her cooks were the cleverest in the world; she hoped I would return to see her in the morning.
3d.--Our cross purposes seemed to increase; for, while I could not get a satisfactory interview, the king sent for N'yamgundu to ascertain why I had given him good guns and many pretty things which he did not know the use of, and yet I would not visit him to explain their several uses. N'yamgundu told him I lived too far off, and wanted a palace. After this I walked off to see N'yamasore, taking my blankets, a pillow, and some cooking-pots to make a day of it, and try to win the affections of the queen with sixteen cubits bindera, three pints peke, and three pints mtende beads, which, as Waganda are all fond of figurative language, I called a trifle for her servants.
I was shown in at once, and found her majesty sitting on an Indian carpet, dressed in a red linen wrapper with a gold border, and a box, in shape of a lady's work-box, prettily coloured in divers patters with minute beads, by her side. Her councillors were in attendance; and in the yard a band of music, with many minor Wakungu squatting in a semicircle, completed her levee. Maula on my behalf opened conversation, in allusion to her yesterday's question, by saying I had applied to Mtesa for a palace, that I might be near enough both their majesties to pay them constant visits. She replied, in a good hearty manner, that indeed was a very proper request, which showed my good sense, and ought to have been complied with at once; but Mtesa was only a Kijana or stripling, and as she influenced all the government of the country, she would have it carried into effect. Compliments were now passed, my presents given and approved of; and the queen, thinking I must be hungry, for she wanted to eat herself, requested me to refresh myself in another hut. I complied, spread my bedding, and ordered in my breakfast; but as the hut was full of men, I suspended a Scotch plain, and quite eclipsed her mbugu curtain.
Reports of this magnificence at once flew to the queen, who sent to know how many more blankets I had in my possession, and whether, if she asked for one, she would get it. She also desired to see my spoons, fork, and pipe--an English meerschaum, mounted with silver; so, after breakfast, I returned to see her, showed her the spoons and forks, and smoked my pipe, but told her I had no blankets left but what formed my bed. She appeared very happy and very well, did not say another word about the blankets, but ordered a pipe for herself, and sat chatting, laughing, and smoking in concert with me.
I told her I had visited all the four quarters of the globe, and had seen all colours of people, but wondered where she got her pipe from, for it was much after the Rumish (Turkish) fashion, with a long stick. Greatly tickled at the flattery, she said, "We hear men like yourself come to Amara from the other side, and drive cattle away." "The Gallas, or Abyssinians, who are tall and fair, like Rumanika," I said, "might do so, for they live not far off on the other side of Amara, but we never fight for such paltry objects. If cows fall into our hands when fighting, we allow our soldiers to eat them, while we take the government of the country into our hands." She then said, "We hear you don't like the Unyamuezi route, we will open the Ukori one for you." "Thank your majesty," said I, in a figurative kind of speech to please Waganda ears; and turning the advantage of the project on her side, "You have indeed hit the right nail on the head. I do not like the Unyamuezi route, as you may imagine when I tell you I have lost so much property there by mere robbery of the people and their kings. The Waganda do not see me in a true light; but if they have patience for a year or two, until the Ukori road is open, and trade between our respective countries shall commence, they will then see the fruits of my advent; so much so, that every Mganda will say the first Uganda year dates from the arrival of the first Mzundu (white) visitor. As one coffee-seed sown brings forth fruit in plenty, so my coming here may be considered." All appreciated this speech, saying, "The white man, he even speaks beautifully! beautifully! beautifully! beautifully!" and, putting their hands to their mouths, they looked askance at me, nodding their admiring approval.
The queen and her ministers then plunged into pombe and became uproarious, laughing with all their might and main. Small bugu cups were not enough to keep up the excitement of the time, so a large wooden trough was placed before the queen and filled with liquor. If any was spilt, the Wakungu instantly fought over it, dabbing their noses on the ground, or grabbing it with their hands, that not one atom of the queen's favour might be lost; for everything must be adored that comes from royalty, whether by design or accident. The queen put her head to the trough and drank like a pig from it, and was followed by her ministers. The band, by order, then struck up a tune called the Milele, playing on a dozen reeds, ornamented with beads and cow-tips, and five drums, of various tones and sizes, keeping time. The musicians dancing with zest, were led by four bandmasters, also dancing, but with their backs turned to the company to show off their long, shaggy, goat-skin jackets, sometimes upright, at other times bending and on their heels, like the hornpipe-dancers or western countries.
It was a merry scene, but soon became tiresome; when Bombay, by way of flattery, and wishing to see what the queen's wardrobe embraced, told her, Any woman, however ugly, would assume a goodly appearance if prettily dressed; upon which her gracious majesty immediately rose, retired to her toilet-hut, and soon returned attired in a common check cloth, and abrus tiara, a bead necklace, and with a folding looking-glass, when she sat, as before, and was handed a blown-glass cup of pombe, with a cork floating on the liquor, and a napkin mbugu covering the top, by a naked virgin. For her kind condescension in assuming plain raiment, everybody, of course, n'yanzigged. Next she ordered her slave girls to bring a large number of sambo (anklets), and begged me to select the best, for she liked me much. In vain I tried to refuse them: she had given more than enough for a keepsake before, and I was not hungry for property; still I had to choose some, or I would give offence. She then gave me a basket of tobacco, and a nest of hen eggs for her "son's" breakfast. When this was over, the Mukonderi, another dancing-tune, with instruments something like clarionets, was ordered; but it had scarcely been struck up, before a drenching rain, with strong wind, set in and spoilt the music, though not the playing--for none dared stop without an order; and the queen, instead of taking pity, laughed most boisterously over the exercise of her savage power as the unfortunate musicians were nearly beaten down by the violence of the weather.
When the rain ceased, her majesty retired a second time to her toilet-hut, and changed her dress for a puce-coloured wrapper, when I, ashamed of having robbed her of so many sambo, asked her if she would allow me to present her with a little English "wool" to hang up instead of her mbugu curtain on cold days like this. Of course she could not decline, and a large double scarlet blanket was placed before her. "Oh, wonder of wonders!" exclaimed all the spectators, holding their mouths in both hands at a time--such a "pattern had never been seen here before. It stretched across the hut, was higher than the men could reach--indeed it was a perfect marvel; and the man must be a good one who brought such a treasure as this to Uddu. "And why not say Uganda?" I asked. "Because all this country is called Uddu. Uganda is personified by Mtesa; and no one can say he has seen Uganda until he has been presented to the king."
As I had them all in a good humour now, I complained I did not see enough of the Waganda--and as every one dressed so remarkably well, I could not discern the big men from the small; could she not issue some order by which they might call on me, as they did not dare do so without instruction, and then I, in turn, would call on them? Hearing this, she introduced me to her prime minister, chancellor of exchequer, women-keepers, hangmen, and cooks, as the first nobles in the land, that I might recognise them again if I met them on the road. All n'yanzigged for this great condescension, and said they were delighted with their guest; then producing a strip of common joho to compare it with my blanket, they asked if I could recognise it. Of course, said I, it is made in my country, of the same material, only of coarser quality, and everything of the same sort is made in Uzungu. Then, indeed, said the whole company, in one voice, we do like you, and your cloth too--but you most. I modestly bowed my head, and said their friendship was my chief desire.
This speech also created great hilarity; the queen and councillors all became uproarious. The queen began to sing, and the councillors to join in chorus; then all sang and all drank, and drank and sang, till, in their heated excitement, they turned the palace into a pandemonium; still there was not noise enough, so the band and drums were called again, and tomfool--for Uganda, like the old European monarchies, always keeps a jester--was made to sing in the gruff, hoarse, unnatural voice which he ever affects to maintain his character, and furnished with pombe when his throat was dry.
Now all of a sudden, as if a devil had taken possession of the company, the prime minister with all the courtiers jumped upon their legs, seized their sticks, for nobody can carry a spear when visiting, swore the queen had lost her heart to me, and running into the yard, returned, charging and jabbering at the queen; retreated and returned again, as if they were going to put an end to her for the guilt of loving me, but really to show their devotion and true love to her. The queen professed to take this ceremony with calm indifference, but her face showed that she enjoyed it. I was not getting very tired of sitting on my low stool, and begged for leave to depart, but N'yamasore would not hear of it; she loved me a great deal too much to let me go away at this time of day, and forthwith ordered in more pombe. The same roystering scene was repeated; cups were too small, so the trough was employed; and the queen graced it by drinking, pig-fashion, first, and then handing it round to the company.
Now, hoping to produce gravity and then to slip away, I asked if my medicines had given her any relief, that I might give her more to strengthen her. She said she could not answer that question just yet; for though the medicine had moved her copiously, as yet she had seen no snake depart from her. I told her I would give her some strengthening medicine in the morning: for the present, however, I would take my leave, as the day was far gone, and the distance home very great; but though I dragged my body away, my heart would still remain here, for I loved her much.
This announcement took all by surprise; they looked at me and then at her, and looked again and laughed, whilst I rose, waved my hat, and said, "Kua heri, Bibi" (good-bye, madam). On reaching home I found Maribu, a Mkungu, with a gang of men sent by Mtesa to fetch Grant from Kitangule by water. He would not take any of my men with him to fetch the kit from Karague, as Mtesa, he said, had given him orders to find all the means of transport; so I gave him a letter to Grant, and told him to look sharp, else Grant would have passed the Kitangule before he arrived there. "Never mind," says Maribu, "I shall walk to the mouth of the Katonga, boat it to Sese island, where Mtesa keeps all his large vessels, and I shall be at Kitangule in a very short time."
4th.--I sent Bombay off to administer quinine to the queen; but the king's pages, who watched him making for her gateway, hurried up to him, and turned him back by force. He pleaded earnestly that I would flog him if he disobeyed my orders, but they would take all the responsibility--the king had ordered it; and then they, forging a lie, bade him run back as fast as he could, saying I wanted to see the king, but could not till his return. In this way poor Bombay returned to me half-drowned in perspiration. Just then another page hurried in with orders to bring me to the palace at once, for I had not been there these four days; and while I was preparing to express the proper amount of indignation at this unceremonious message, the last impudent page began rolling like a pig upon my mbugued or carpeted floor, till I stormed and swore I would turn him out unless he chose to behave more respectfully before my majesty, for I was no peddling merchant, as he had been accustomed to see, and would not stand it; moreover, I would not leave my hut at the summons of the king or anybody else, until I chose to do so.
This expression of becoming wrath brought every one to a sense of his duty; and I then told them all I was excessively angry with Mtesa for turning back my messenger; nobody had ever dared do such a thing before, and I would never forgive the king until my medicines had been given to the queen. As for my going to the palace, it was out of the question, as I had been repeatedly before told the king, unless it pleased him to give me a fitting residence near himself. In order now that full weight should be given to my expressions, I sent Bombay with the quinine to the king, in company with the boys, to give an account of all that had happened; and further, to say I felt exceedingly distressed I could not go to see him constantly--that I was ashamed of my domicile--the sun was hot to walk in; and when I went to the palace, his officers in waiting always kept me waiting like a servant--a matter hurtful to my honour and dignity. It now rested with himself to remove these obstacles. Everybody concerned in this matter left for the palace but Maula, who said he must stop in camp to look after Bana. Bombay no sooner arrived in the palace, and saw the king upon his throne, than Mtesa asked him why he came? "By the instructions of Bana," was his reply--"for Bana cannot walk in the sun; no white man of the sultan's breed can do so."
Hearing this, the king rose in a huff, without deigning to reply, and busied himself in another court. Bombay, still sitting, waited for hours till quite tired, when he sent a boy in to say he had not delivered half my message; he had brought medicine for the queen, and as yet he had no reply for Bana. Either with haughty indifference, or else with injured pride at his not being able to command me at his pleasure, the king sent word, if medicine is brought for the queen, then let it be taken to her; and so Bombay walked off to the queen's palace. Arrived there, he sent in to say he had brought medicine, and waited without a reply till nightfall, when, tired of his charge, he gave the quinine into N'yamgundu's hands for delivery, and returned h home. Soon after, however, N'yamgundu also returned to say the queen would not take the dose to-day, but hoped I would administer it personally in the morning.
Whilst all this vexations business had been going on in court-- evidently dictated by extreme jealousy because I showed, as they all thought, a preference for the queen--Maula, more than tipsy, brought a Mkungu of some standing at court before me, contrary to all law-- for as yet no Mganda, save the king's pages, had ever dared enter even the precincts of my camp. With a scowling, determined, hang-dog-looking countenance, he walked impudently into my hut, and taking down the pombe-suckers the queen had given me, showed them with many queer gesticulations, intended to insinuate there was something between the queen and me. Among his jokes were, that I must never drink pombe excepting with these sticks; if I wanted any when I leave Uga
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