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The Discover of the Source of the Nile By John Hanning Speke - Chapter 9


The Discover of the Source of the Nile

By John Hanning Speke

Chapter IX

History of the Wahuma

 

 


 

The Abyssinians and Gallas--Theory of Conquest of Inferior by Superior Races--The Wahuma and the Kingdom of Kittara--Legendary History of the Kingdom of Uganda--Its Constitution, and the Ceremonials of the Court.

 

The reader has now had my experience of several of the minor states, and has presently to be introduced to Uganda, the most powerful state in the ancient but now divided great kingdom of Kittara. I shall have to record a residence of considerable duration at the court there; and, before entering on it, I propose to state my theory of the ethnology of that part of Africa inhabited by the people collectively styled Wahuma--otherwise Gallas or Abyssinians. My theory is founded on the traditions of the several nations, as checked by my own observations of what I saw when passing through them. It appears impossible to believe, judging from the physical appearance of the Wahuma, that they can be of any other race than the semi-Shem-Hamitic of Ethiopia. The traditions of the imperial government of Abyssinia go as far back as the scriptural age of King David, from whom the late reigning king of Abyssinia, Sahela Selassie, traced his descent.

 

Most people appear to regard the Abyssinians as a different race from the Gallas, but, I believe, without foundation. Both alike are Christians of the greatest antiquity. It is true that, whilst the aboriginal Abyssinians in Abyssinia proper are more commonly agriculturists, the Gallas are chiefly a pastoral people; but I conceive that the two may have had the same relations with each other which I found the Wahuma kings and Wahuma herdsmen holding with the agricultural Wazinza in Uzinza, the Wanyambo in Karague, the Waganda in Uganda, and the Wanyoro in Unyoro.

 

In these countries the government is in the hands of foreigners, who had invaded and taken possession of them, leaving the agricultural aborigines to till the ground, whilst the junior members of the usurping clans herded cattle--just as in Abyssinia, or wherever the Abyssinians or Gallas have shown themselves. There a pastoral clan from the Asiatic side took the government of Abyssinia from its people and have ruled over them ever since, changing, by intermarriage with the Africans, the texture of their hair and colour to a certain extent, but still maintaining a high stamp of Asiatic feature, of which a market characteristic is a bridged instead of bridgeless nose.

 

It may be presumed that there once existed a foreign but compact government in Abyssinia, which, becoming great and powerful, sent out armies on all sides of it, especially to the south, south-east, and west, slave-hunting and devastating wherever they went, and in process of time becoming too great for one ruler to control. Junior members of the royal family then, pushing their fortunes, dismembered themselves from the parent stock, created separate governments, and, for reasons which cannot be traced, changed their names. In this manner we may suppose that the Gallas separated from the Abyssinians, and located themselves to the south of their native land.

 

Other Abyssinians, or possibly Gallas--it matters not which they were or what we call them--likewise detaching themselves, fought in the Somali country, subjugated that land, were defeated to a certain extent by the Arabs from the opposite continent, and tried their hands south as far as the Jub river, where they also left many of their numbers behind. Again they attacked Omwita (the present Mombas), were repulsed, were lost sight of in the interior of the continent, and, crossing the Nile close to its source, discovered the rich pasture-lands of Unyoro, and founded the great kingdom of Kittara, where they lost their religion, forgot their language, extracted their lower incisors like the natives, changed their national name to Wahuma, and no longer remembered the names of Hubshi or Galla--though even the present reigning kings retain a singular traditional account of their having once been half white and half black, with hair on the white side straight, and on the black side frizzly. It was a curious indication of the prevailing idea still entertained by them of their foreign extraction, that it was surmised in Unyoro that the approach of us white men into their country from both sides at once, augured an intention on our part to take back the country from them. Believing, as they do, that Africa formerly belonged to Europeans, from whom it was taken by negroes with whom they had allied themselves, the Wahuma make themselves a small residue of the original European stock driven from the land-- an idea which seems natural enough when we consider that the Wahuma are, in numbers, quite insignificant compared with the natives.

 

Again, the princes of Unyoro are called Wawitu, and point to the north when asked where their country Uwitu is situated, doubtfully saying, when questioned about its distance, "How can we tell circumstances which took place in our forefathers' times? we only think it is somewhere near your country." Although, however, this very interesting people, the Wahuma, delight in supposing themselves to be of European origin, they are forced to confess, on closer examination, that although they came in the first instance from the doubtful north, they came latterly from the east, as part of a powerful Wahuma tribe, beyond Kidi, who excel in arms, and are so fierce no Kidi people, terrible in war as these too are described to be, can stand against them. This points, if our maps are true, to the Gallas--for all pastorals in these people's minds are Wahuma; and if we could only reconcile ourselves to the belief that the Wawitu derived their name from Omwita, the last place they attacked on the east coast of Africa, then all would be clear: for it must be noticed the Wakama, or kings, when asked to what race they owe their origin, invariably reply, in the first place, from princes--giving, for instance, the titles Wawitu in Unyoro, and Wahinda in Karague-- which is most likely caused by their never having been asked such a close question before, whilst the idiom of the language generally induces them to call themselves after the name applied to their country.

 

So much for ethnological conjecture. Let us now deal with the Wahuma since they crossed the Nile and founded the kingdom of Kittara, a large tract of land bounded by the Victoria N'yanza and Kitangule Kagera or River on the south, the Nile on the east, the Little Luta-Nzige Lake (15) on the north, and the kingdoms of Utubi and Nkole on the west.

 

The general name Kittara is gradually becoming extinct, and is seldom applied to any but the western portions; whilst the north- eastern, in which the capital is situated, is called Unyoro, and the other, Uddu apart from Uganda, as we shall presently see.

 

Nobody has been able to inform us how many generations old the Wahuma government of Unyoro is. The last three kings are Chiawambi, N'yawongo, and the present king Kamrasi. In very early times dissensions amongst the royal family, probably contending for the crown, such as we presume must have occurred in Abyssinia, separated the parent stock, and drove the weaker to find refuge in Nkole, where a second and independent government of Wahuma was established. Since then, twenty generations ago, it is said the Wahuma government of Karague was established in the same manner. The conspirator Rohinda fled from Kittara to Karague with a large party of Wahuma; sought the protection of Nono, who, a Myambo, was king over the Wanyambo of that country; ingratiated himself and his followers with the Wanyambo; and, finally, designing a crown for himself, gave a feast, treacherously killed King Nono in his cups, and set himself on the throne, the first mkama or king who ruled in Karague. Rohinda was succeeded by Ntare, then Rohinda II., then Ntare II., which order only changed with the eleventh reign, when Rusatira ascended the throne, and was succeeded by Mehinga, then Kalimera, then Ntare VII., then Rohinda VI., then Dagara, and now Rumanika. During this time the Wahuma were well south of the equator, and still destined to spread. Brothers again contended for the crown of their father, and the weaker took refuge in Uzinza, where the fourth Wahuma government was created, and so remained under one king until the last generation, when King Ruma died, and his two sons, Rohinda, the eldest, and Suwarora, contended for the crown, but divided the country between them, Rohinda taking the eastern half, and Suwarora the western, at the instigation of the late King Dagara of Karague.

 

This is the most southerly kingdom of the Wahuma, though not the farthest spread of its people, for we find the Watusi, who are emigrants from Karague of the same stock, overlooking the Tanganyika Lake from the hills of Uhha, and tending their cattle all over Unyamuezi under the protection of the native negro chiefs; and we also hear that the Wapoka of Fipa, south of the Rukwa Lake are the same. How or when their name became changed from Wahuma to Watusi no one is able to explain; but, again deducing the past from the present, we cannot help suspecting that, in the same way as this change has taken place, the name Galla may have been changed from Hubshi, and Wahuma from Gallas. But though in these southern regions the name of the clan has been changed, the princes still retain the title of Wahinda as in Karague, instead of Wawitu as in Unyoro, and are considered of such noble breed that many of the pure negro chiefs delight in saying, I am a Mhinda, or prince, to the confusion of travellers, which confusion is increased by the Wahuma habits of conforming to the regulations of the different countries they adopt. For instance, the Wahuma of Uganda and Karague, though so close to Unyoro, do not extract their lower incisors; and though the Wanyoro only use the spear in war, the Wahuma in Karague are the most expert archers in Africa. We are thus left only the one very distinguishing mark, the physical appearance of this remarkable race, partaking even more of the phlegmatic nature of the Shemitic father than the nervous boisterous temperament of the Hamitic mother, as a certain clue to their Shem-Hamitic origin.

 

It remains to speak of the separation of Uddu from Unyoro, the present kingdom of Uganda--which, to say the least of it, is extremely interesting, inasmuch as the government there is as different from the other surrounding countries as those of Europe are compared to Asia.

 

In the earliest times the Wahuma of Unyoro regarded all their lands bordering on the Victoria Lake as their garden, owing to its exceeding fertility, and imposed the epithet of Wiru, or slaves, upon its people, because they had to supply the imperial government with food and clothing. Coffee was conveyed to the capital by the Wiru, also mbugu (bark-cloaks), from an inexhaustible fig-tree; in short, the lands of the Wiru were famous for their rich productions.

 

 

Now Wiru in the northern dialect changes to Waddu in the southern; hence Uddu, the land of the slaves, which remained in one connected line from the Nile to the Kitangule Kagera until eight generations back, when, according to tradition, a sportsman from Unyoro, by name Uganda, came with a pack of dogs, a woman, a spear, and a shield, hunting on the left bank of Katonga valley, not far from the lake. He was but a poor man, though so successful in hunting that vast numbers of the Wiru flocked to him for flesh, and became so fond of him as to invite him to be their king, saying, "Of what avail to us is our present king, living so far away that when we sent him a cow as a tributary offering, that cow on the journey gave a calf, and the calf became a cow and gave another calf, and so on, and yet the present has not reached its destination?"

 

At first Uganda hesitated, on the plea that they had a king already, but on being farther pressed consented; when the people hearing his name said, "Well, let it be so; and for the future let this country between the Nile and Katonga be called Uganda, and let your name be Kimera, the first king of Uganda."

 

The same night Kimera stood upon a stone with a spear in his hand, and a woman and dog sitting by his side; and to this day people assert that his footprints and the mark left by his spear-end, as well as the seats of the woman and dog, are visible. The report of these circumstances soon reached the great king of Unyoro, who, in his magnificence, merely said, "The poor creature must be starving; allow him to feed there if he likes." The kings who have succeeded Kimera are: 1. Mahanda; 2. Katereza; 3. Chabago; 4. Simakokiro; 5. Kamanya; 6. Sunna; 7. Mtesa, not yet crowned.

 

These kings have all carried on the same system of government as that commenced by Kimera, and proved themselves a perfect terror to Unyoro, as we shall see in the sequel. Kimera, suddenly risen to eminence, grew proud and headstrong--formed a strong clan around him, whom he appointed to be his Wakunga, or officers--rewarded well, punished severely, and soon became magnificent. Nothing short of the grandest palace, a throne to sit upon, the largest harem, the smartest officers, the best dressed people, even a menagerie for pleasure--in fact, only the best of everything--would content him. Fleets of boats, not canoes, were built for war, and armies formed, that the glory of the king might never decrease. In short, the system of government, according to barbarous ideas was perfect. Highways were cut from one extremity of the country to the other, and all rivers bridged. No house could be built without its necessary appendages for cleanliness; no person, however poor, could expose his person; and to disobey these laws was death.

 

After the death of Kimera, the prosperity of Uganda never decreased, but rather improved. The clan of officers formed by him were as proud of their emancipation from slavery, as the king they had created was of his dominion over them. They buried Kimera with state honours, giving charge of the body to the late king's most favourite consort, whose duty it was to dry the corpse by placing it on a board resting on the mouth of an earthen open pot heated by fire from below. When this drying process was completed, at the expiration of three months, the lower jaw was cut out and neatly worked over with beads; the umbilical cord, which had been preserved from birth, was also worked with beads. These were kept apart, but the body was consigned to a tomb, and guarded ever after by this officer and a certain number of the king's next most favourite women, all of whom planted gardens for their maintenance, and were restricted from seeing the succeeding king.

 

By his large establishment of wives, Kimera left a number of princes or Warangira, and as many princesses. From the Warangira the Wakunga now chose as their king the one whom they thought best suited for the government of the country--not of too high rank by the mother's side, lest their selection in his pride should kill them all, but one of low birth. The rest were placed with wives in a suite of huts, under charge of a keeper, to prevent any chance of intrigues and dissensions. They were to enjoy life until the prince-elect should arrive at the age of discretion and be crowned, when all but two of the princes would be burnt to death, the two being reserved in case of accident as long as the king wanted brother companions, when one would be banished to Unyoro, and the other pensioned with suitable possessions in Uganda. The mother of the king by this measure became queen-dowager, or N'yamasore. She halved with her son all the wives of the deceased king not stationed at his grave, taking second choice; kept up a palace only little inferior to her son's with large estates, guided the prince-elect in the government of the country, and remained until the end of his minority the virtual ruler of the land; at any rate, no radical political changes could take place without her sanction. The princesses became the wives of the king; no one else could marry them.

 

Both mother and son had their Ktikiros or commander-in-chief, also titled Kamraviona, as well as other officers of high rank. Amongst them in due order of gradation are the Ilmas, a woman who had the good fortune to have cut the umbilical cord at the king's birth; the Sawaganzi, queen's sister and king's barber; Kaggao, Polino, Sakibobo, Kitunzi, and others, governors of provinces; Jumab, admiral of the fleet; Kasugu, guardian of the king's sister; Mkuenda, factor; Kunsa and Usungu, first and second class executioners; Mgemma, commissioner in charge of tombs; Seruti, brewer; Mfumbiro, cook; numerous pages to run messages and look after the women, and minor Wakungu in hundreds. One Mkungu is always over the palace, in command of the Wanagalali, or guards which are changed monthly; another is ever in attendance as seizer of refractory persons. There are also in the palace almost constantly the Wanangalavi, or drummers; Nsase, pea-gourd rattlers; Milele, flute-players; Mukonderi, clarionet-players; also players on wooden harmonicons and lap-harps, to which the players sing accompaniments; and, lastly, men who whistle on their fingers--for music is half the amusement of these courts. Everybody in Uganda is expected to keep spears, shields and dogs, the Uganda arms and cognisance; whilst the Wakungu are entitled to drums. There is also a Neptune Mgussa, or spirit, who lives in the depths of the N'yanza, communicates through the medium of his temporal Mkungu, and guides to a certain extent the naval destiny of the king.

 

It is the duty of all officers, generally speaking, to attend at court as constantly as possible; should they fail, they forfeit their lands, wives, and all belongings. These will be seized and given to others more worthy of them; as it is presumed that either insolence or disaffection can be the only motive which would induce any person to absent himself for any length of time from the pleasure of seeing his sovereign. Tidiness in dress is imperatively necessary, and for any neglect of this rule the head may be the forfeit. The punishment for such offences, however, may be commuted by fines of cattle, goats, fowls, or brass wire. All acts of the king are counted benefits, for which he must be thanked; and so every deed done to his subjects is a gift received by them, though it should assume the shape of flogging or fine; for are not these, which make better men of them, as necessary as anything? The thanks are rendered by gravelling on the ground, floundering about and whining after the manner of happy dogs, after which they rise up suddenly, take up sticks--spears are not allowed to be carried in court--make as if charging the king, jabbering as fast as tongues can rattle, and so they swear fidelity for all their lives.

 

This is the greater salutation; the lesser one is performed kneeling in an attitude of prayer, continually throwing open the hands, and repeating sundry words. Among them the word "n'yanzig" is the most frequent and conspicuous; and hence these gesticulations receive the general designation n'yanzig--a term which will be frequently met with, and which I have found it necessary to use like an English verb. In consequence of these salutations, there is more ceremony in court than business, though the king, ever having an eye to his treasury, continually finds some trifling fault, condemns the head of the culprit, takes his liquidation-present, if he has anything to pay, and thus keeps up his revenue.

 

No one dare stand before the king whilst he is either standing still or sitting, but must approach him with downcast eyes and bended knees, and kneel or sit when arrived. To touch the king's throne or clothes, even by accident, or to look upon his women is certain death. When sitting in court holding a levee, the king invariably has in attendance several women, Wabandwa, evil-eye averters or sorcerers. They talk in feigned voices raised to a shrillness almost amounting to a scream. They wear dried lizards on their heads, small goat-skin aprons trimmed with little bells, diminutive shields and spears set off with cock-hackles--their functions in attendance being to administer cups of marwa (plantain wine). To complete the picture of the court, one must imagine a crowd of pages to run royal messages; they dare not walk for such deficiency in zeal to their master might cost their life. A further feature of the court consists in the national symbols already referred to-- a dog, two spears, and shield.

 

With the company squatting in large half-circle or three sides of a square many deep before him, in the hollow of which are drummers and other musicians, the king, sitting on his throne in high dignity, issues his orders for the day much to the following effect:-- "Cattle, women, and children are short in Uganda; an army must be formed of one to two thousand strong, to plunder Unyoro. The Wasoga have been insulting his subjects, and must be reduced to subjection: for this emergency another army must be formed, of equal strength, to act by land in conjunction with the fleet. The Wahaiya have paid no tribute to his greatness lately and must be taxed." For all these matters the commander-in-chief tells off the divisional officers, who are approved by the king, and the matter is ended in court. The divisional officers then find subordinate officers, who find men, and the army proceeds with its march. Should any fail with their mission, reinforcements are sent, and the runaways, called women, are drilled with a red-hot iron until they are men no longer, and die for their cowardice., All heroism, however, ensures promotion. The king receives his army of officers with great ceremony, listens to their exploits, and gives as rewards, women, cattle, and command over men--the greatest elements of wealth in Uganda--with a liberal hand.

 

As to the minor business transacted in court, culprits are brought in bound by officers, and reported. At once the sentence is given, perhaps awarding the most torturous, lingering death--probably without trial or investigation, and, for all the king knows, at the instigation of some one influenced by wicked spite. If the accused endeavour to plead his defence, his voice is at once drowned, and the miserable victim dragged off in the roughest manner possible by those officers who love their king, and delight in promptly carrying out his orders. Young virgins, the daughters of Wakungu, stark naked, and smeared with grease, but holding, for decency's sake, a small square of mbugu at the upper corners in both hands before them, are presented by their fathers in propitiation for some offence, and to fill the harem. Seizing-officers receive orders to hunt down Wakungu who have committed some indiscretions, and to confiscate their lands, wives, children, and property. An officer observed to salute informally is ordered for execution, when everybody near him rises in an instant, the drums beat, drowning his cries, and the victim of carelessness is dragged off, bound by cords, by a dozen men at once. Another man, perhaps, exposes an inch of naked leg whilst squatting, or has his mbugu tied contrary to regulations, and is condemned to the same fate.

 

Fines of cows, goats, and fowls are brought in and presented; they are smoothed down by the offender's hands, and then applied to his face, to show there is no evil spirit lurking in the gift; then thanks are proferred for the leniency of the king in letting the presenter off so cheaply, and the pardoned man retires, full of smiles, to the ranks of the squatters. Thousands of cattle, and strings of women and children, sometimes the result of a victorious plundering hunt, or else the accumulated seizures from refractory Wakungu, are brought in; for there is no more common or acceptable offering to appease the king's wrath towards any refractory or blundering officer than a present of a few young beauties, who may perhaps be afterwards given as the reward of good service to other officers.

 

Stick-charms, being pieces of wood of all shapes, supposed to have supernatural virtues, and coloured earths, endowed with similar qualities, are produced by the royal magicians. The master of the hunt exposes his spoils--such as antelopes, cats, porcupines, curious rats, etc., all caught in nets, and placed in baskets-- zebra, lion, and buffalo skins being added. The fishermen bring their spoils; also the gardeners. The cutlers show knives and forks made of iron inlaid with brass and copper; the furriers, most beautifully-sewn patchwork of antelopes' skins; the habit-maker, sheets of mbugu barkcloth; the blacksmith, spears; the maker of shields, his productions;--and so forth; but nothing is ever given without rubbing it down, then rubbing the face, and going through a long form of salutation for the gracious favour the king has shown in accepting it.

 

When tired of business, the king rises, spear in hand, and, leading his dog, walked off without word or comment leaving his company, like dogs, to take care of themselves.

 

Strict as the discipline of the exterior court is, that of the interior is not less severe. The pages all wear turbans of cord made from aloe fibres. Should a wife commit any trifling indiscretion, either by word or deed, she is condemned to execution on the spot, bound by the pages and dragged out. Notwithstanding the stringent laws for the preservation of decorum by all male attendants, stark-naked full-grown women are the valets.

 

On the first appearance of the new moon every month, the king shuts himself up, contemplating and arranging his magic horns--the horns of wild animals stuffed with charm-powder--for two or three days. These may be counted his Sundays or church festivals, which he dedicates to devotion. On other days he takes his women, some hundreds, to bathe or sport in ponds; or, when tired of that, takes long walks, his women running after him, when all the musicians fall in, take precedence of the party, followed by the Wakungu and pages, with the king in the centre of the procession, separating the male company from the fair sex. On these excursions no common man dare look upon the royal procession. Should anybody by chance happen to be seen, he is at once hunted down by the pages, robbed of everything he possessed, and may count himself very lucky if nothing worse happens. Pilgrimages are not uncommon, and sometimes the king spends a fortnight yachting; but whatever he does, or wherever he goes, the same ceremonies prevail--his musicians, Wakungu, pages, and the wives take part in all.

 

But the greatest of all ceremonies takes place at the time of the coronation. The prince-elect then first seeks favour from the kings of all the surrounding countries, demanding in his might and power one of each of their daughters in marriage, or else recognition in some other way, when the Ilmas makes a pilgrimage to the deceased king's tomb, to observe, by the growth an other signs of certain trees, and plants, what destiny awaits the king. According to the prognostics, they report that he will either have to live a life of peace, or after coronation take the field at the head of an army to fight either east, west, or both ways, when usually the first march is on Kittara, and the second on Usoga. The Mgussa's voice is also heard, but in what manner I do not know, as all communication on state matters is forbidden in Uganda. These preliminaries being arranged, the actual coronation takes place, when the king ceases to hold any farther communion with his mother. The brothers are burnt to death, and the king, we shall suppose, takes the field at the head of his army.

 

It is as the result of these expeditions that one-half Usogo and the remaining half of Uddu have been annexed to Uganda.

 

 

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