In the Heart of Africa

Contents:
Author: Samuel White Baker

Chapter XVII

Disease in the camp—Forward under difficulties—Our cup of misery overflows—A rain-maker in a dilemma—Fever again—Ibrahim’s quandary—Firing the prairie.

Sickness now rapidly spread among my animals. Five donkeys died within a few days, and the rest looked poor. Two of my camels died suddenly, having eaten the poison-bush. Within a few days of this disaster my good old hunter and companion of all my former sports in the Base country, Tetel, died. These terrible blows to my expedition were most satisfactory to the Latookas, who ate the donkeys and other animals the moment they died. It was a race between the natives and the vultures as to who should be first to profit by my losses.

Not only were the animals sick, but my wife was laid up with a violent attack of gastric fever, and I was also suffering from daily attacks of ague. The smallpox broke out among the Turks. Several people died, and, to make matters worse, they insisted upon inoculating themselves and all their slaves; thus the whole camp was reeking with this horrible disease.

Fortunately my camp was separate and to windward. I strictly forbade my men to inoculate themselves, and no case of the disease occurred among my people; but it spread throughout the country. Small-pox is a scourge among the tribes of Central Africa, and it occasionally sweeps through the country and decimates the population.

I had a long examination of Wani, the guide and interpreter, respecting the country of Magungo. Loggo, the Bari interpreter, always described Magungo as being on a large river, and I concluded that it must be the Asua; but upon cross-examination I found he used the word "Bahr" (in Arabic signifying river or sea) instead of "Birbe (lake). This important error being discovered gave a new feature to the geography of this part. According to his description, Magungo was situated on a lake so large that no one knew its limits. Its breadth was such that, if one journeyed two days east and the same distance west, there was no land visible on either quarter, while to the south its direction was utterly unknown. Large vessels arrived at Magungo from distant arid unknown parts, bringing cowrie-shells and beads in exchange for ivory. Upon these vessels white men had been seen. All the cowrie-shells used in Latooka and the neighboring countries were supplied by these vessels, but none had arrived for the last two years.

I concluded the lake was no other than the N’yanza, which, if the position of Mangungo were correct, extended much farther north than Speke had supposed. I determined to take the first opportunity to push for Magungo. The white men spoken of by Wani probably referred to Arabs, who, being simply brown, were called white men by the blacks. I was called a VERY WHITE MAN as a distinction; but I have frequently been obliged to take off my shirt to exhibit the difference of color between myself and men, as my face had become brown.

The Turks had set June 23d as the time for their departure from Latooka. On the day preceding my wife was dangerously ill with bilious fever, and was unable to stand, and I endeavored to persuade the trader’s party to postpone their departure for a few days. They would not hear of such a proposal; they had so irritated the Latookas that they feared an attack, and their captain or vakeel, Ibrahim, had ordered them immediately to vacate the country. This was a most awkward position for me. The traders had incurred the hostility of the country, and I should bear the brunt of it should I remain behind alone. Without their presence I should be unable to procure porters, as the natives would not accompany my feeble party, especially as I could offer them no other payment than beads or copper. The rain had commenced within the last few days at Latooka, and on the route toward Obbo we should encounter continual storms. We were to march by a long and circuitous route to avoid the rocky passes that would be dangerous in the present spirit of the country, especially as the traders possessed large herds that must accompany the party. They allowed five days’ march for the distance to Obbo by the intended route. This was not an alluring programme for the week’s entertainment, with my wife almost in a dying state! However, I set to work and fitted an angarep with arched hoops from end to end, so as to form a frame like the cap of a wagon. This I covered with two waterproof Abyssinian tanned hides securely strapped, and lashing two long poles parallel to the sides of the angarep, I formed an excellent palanquin. In this she was assisted, and we started on June 23d.

On our arrival at Obbo both my wife and I were excessively ill with bilious fever, and neither could assist the other. The old chief of Obbo, Katchiba, hearing that we were dying, came to charm us with some magic spell. He found us lying helpless, and immediately procured a small branch of a tree, and filling his month with water he squirted it over the leaves and about the floor of the hut. He then waved the branch around my wife’s head, also around mine, and completed the ceremony by sticking it in the thatch above the doorway. He told us we should now get better, and, perfectly satisfied, took his leave.

The hut was swarming with rats and white ants, the former racing over our bodies during the night and burrowing through the floor, filling our only room with mounds like molehills. As fast as we stopped the holes, others were made with determined perseverance. Having a supply of arsenic, I gave them an entertainment, the effect being disagreeable to all parties, as the rats died in their holes and created a horrible effluvium, while fresh hosts took the place of the departed. Now and then a snake would be seen gliding within the thatch, having taken shelter front the pouring rain.

The small-pox was raging throughout the country, and the natives were dying like flies in winter. The country was extremely unhealthy, owing to the constant rain and the rank herbage, which prevented a free circulation of air, and the extreme damp induced fevers. The temperature was 65 degrees Fahr. at night and 72 degrees during the day; dense clouds obscured the sun for many days, and the air was reeking with moisture. In the evening it was always necessary to keep a blazing fire within the hut, as the floor and walls were wet and chilly.

The wet herbage disagreed with my baggage animals.

Innumerable flies appeared, including the tsetse, and in a few weeks the donkeys had no hair left, either on their ears or legs. They drooped and died one by one. It was in vain that I erected sheds and lighted fires; nothing would protect them from the flies. The moment the fires were lit the animals would rush wildly into the smoke, from which nothing would drive them; and in the clouds of imaginary protection they would remain all day, refusing food. On the 16th of July my last horse, Mouse, died. He had a very long tail, for which I obtained A COW IN EXCHANGE. Nothing was prized so highly as horses’ tails, the hairs being used for stringing beads and also for making tufts as ornaments, to be suspended from the elbows. It was highly fashionable in Obbo for the men to wear such tufts formed of the bushy ends of cows’ tails. It was also "the thing" to wear six or eight polished rings of iron, fastened so tightly round the throat as almost to choke the wearer, and somewhat resembling dog-collars.

For months we dragged on a miserable existence at Obbo, wrecked by fever. The quinine was exhausted; thus the disease worried me almost to death, returning at intervals of a few days. Fortunately my wife did not suffer so much as I did. I had nevertheless prepared for the journey south, and as travelling on foot would have been impossible in our weak state, I had purchased and trained three oxen in lieu of horses. They were named "Beef," "Steaks," and "Suet." "Beef" was a magnificent animal, but having been bitten by the flies he so lost his condition that I changed his name to "Bones." We were ready to start, and the natives reported that early in January the Asua would be fordable. I had arranged with Ibrahim that he should supply me with porters for payment in copper bracelets, and that he should accompany me with one hundred men to Kamrasi’s country (Unyoro) on condition that he would restrain his people from all misdemeanors, and that they should be entirely subservient to me.

It was the month of December, and during the nine, months that I had been in correspondence with his party I had succeeded in acquiring an extraordinary influence. Although my camp was nearly three quarters of a mile from their zareeba, I had been besieged daily for many months for everything that was wanted. My camp was a kind of general store that appeared to be inexhaustible. I gave all that I had with a good grace, and thereby gained the good-will of the robbers, especially as my large medicine chest contained a supply of drugs that rendered me in their eyes a physician of the first importance. I had been very successful with my patients, and the medicines that I generally used being those which produced a very decided effect, both the Turks and natives considered them with perfect faith. There was seldom any difficulty in prognosticating the effect of tartar emetic, and this became the favorite drug that was almost daily applied for, a dose of three grains enchanting the patient, who always advertised my fame by saying "He told me I should be sick, and, by Allah! there was no mistake about it." Accordingly there was a great run upon the tartar emetic.

Many people in Debono’s camp had died, including several of my deserters who had joined them. News was brought that in three separate fights with the natives my deserters had been killed on every occasion, and my men and those of Ibrahim unhesitatingly declared it was the "hand of God." None of Ibrahim’s men had died since we left Latooka. One man, who had been badly wounded by a lance thrust through his abdomen, I had successfully treated; and the trading party, who would at one time gladly have exterminated me, now exclaimed, "What shall we do when the Sowar (traveller) leaves the country?" Mrs. Baker had been exceedingly kind to the women and children of both the traders and natives, and together we had created so favorable an impression that we were always referred to as umpires in every dispute. My own men, although indolent, were so completely disciplined that they would not have dared to disobey an order, and they looked back upon their former mutinous conduct with surprise at their own audacity, and declared that they feared to return to Khartoum, as they were sure that I would not forgive them.

One day, hearing a great noise of voices and blowing of horns in the direction of Katchiba’s residence, I sent to inquire the cause. The old chief himself appeared very angry and excited. He said that his people were very bad, that they had been making a great noise and finding fault with him because he had not supplied them with a few showers, as they wanted to sow their crop of tullaboon. There had been no rain for about a fortnight.

Well," I replied, "you are the rain-maker; why don’t you give your people rain?" "Give my people rain!" said Katchiba. "I give them rain if they don’t give me goats? You don’t know my people. If I am fool enough to give them rain before they give me the goats, they would let me starve! No, no! let them wait. If they don’t bring me supplies of corn, goats, fowls, yams, merissa, and all that I require, not one drop of rain shall ever fall again in Obbo! Impudent brutes are my people! Do yon know, they have positively threatened to kill me unless I bring the rain?

They shan’t have a drop. I will wither the crops and bring a plague upon their flocks. I’ll teach these rascals to insult me!"

With all this bluster, I saw that old Katchiba was in a great dilemma, and that he would give anything for a shower, but that lie did not know how to get out of the scrape. It was a common freak of the tribes to sacrifice the rain-maker should he be unsuccessful. He suddenly altered his tone, and asked, "Have you any rain in your country?" I replied that we had, every now and then. "How do you bring it? Are you a rain-maker?" I told him that no one believed in rainmakers in our country, but that we understood how to bottle lightning (meaning electricity). "I don’t keep mine in bottles, but I have a houseful of thunder and lightning," he most coolly replied; "but if you can bottle lightning, you must understand rain-making. What do you think of the weather to-day?" I immediately saw the drift of the cunning old Katchiba; he wanted professional advice. I replied that he must know all about it, as he was a regular rainmaker. "Of course I do," he answered, "but I want to know what YOU think of it." "Well," I said, "I don’t think we shall have any steady rain, but I think we may have a heavy shower in about four days." I said this as I had observed fleecy clouds gathering daily in the afternoon. "Just my opinion!" said Katchiba, delighted. "In four or perhaps in five days I intend to give then one shower— just one shower. Yes, I’ll just step down to them now and tell the rascals that if they will bring me some goats by this evening and some corn to-morrow morning I will give them in four or five days just one shower." To give effect to his declaration he gave several toots upon his magic whistle. "Do you use whistles in your country?" inquired Katchiba. I only replied by giving so shrill and deafening a whistle on my fingers that Katchiba stopped his ears, and relapsing into a smile of admiration he took a glance at the sky from the doorway to see if any sudden effect had been produced. "Whistle again," he said, and once more I performed like the whistle of a locomotive. "That will do; we shall have it," said the cunning old rain-maker, and proud of having so knowingly obtained "counsel’s opinion" on his case, he toddled off to his impatient subjects.

In a few days a sudden storm of rain and violent thunder added to Katchiba’s renown, and after the shower horns were blowing and nogaras were beating in honor of their chief. Entre nous, my whistle was considered infallible.

A bad attack of fever laid me up until the 31st of December. On the first day of January, 1864, I was hardly able to stand, and was nearly worn out at the very time that I required my strength, as we were to start south in a few days. Although my quinine had been long since exhausted, I had reserved ten grains to enable me to start in case the fever should attack me at the time of departure. I now swallowed my last dose.

It was difficult to procure porters; therefore I left all my effects at my camp in charge of two of my men, and I determined to travel light, without the tent, and to take little beyond ammunition and cooking utensils. Ibrahim left fortyfive men in his zareeba, and on the 5th of January we started.

In four days’ march we reached the Asua River, and on January 13th arrived at Shooa, in latitude 3 degrees 4’.

Two days after our arrival at Shooa all of our Obbo porters absconded. They had heard that we were bound for Kamrasi’s country, and having received exaggerated accounts of his power from the Shooa people, they had determined upon retreat; thus we were at once unable to proceed, unless we could procure porters from Shooa. This was exceedingly difficult, as Kamrasi was well known here, and was not loved. His country was known as "Quanda," and I at once recognized the corruption of Speke’s "Uganda." The slave woman "Bacheeta," who had formerly given me in Obbo so much information concerning Kamrasi’s country, was to be our interpreter; but we also had the luck to discover a lad who had formerly been employed by Mahommed in Faloro, who also spoke the language of Quanda, and had learned a little Arabic.

I now discovered that the slave woman Bacheeta had formerly been in the service of a chief named Sali, who had been killed by Kamrasi. Sali was a friend of Rionga (Kamrasi’s greatest enemy), and I had been warned by Speke not to set foot upon Rionga’s territory, or all travelling in Unyoro would be cut off. I plainly saw that Bacheeta was in favor of Rionga, as a friend of the murdered Sali, by whom she had had two children, and that she would most likely tamper with the guide, and that we should be led to Rionga instead of to Kamrasi. There were "wheels within wheels."

It was now reported that in the last year, immediately after the departure of Speke and Grant from Gondokoro, Debono’s people had marched directly to Rionga, allied themselves to him, crossed the Nile with his people, and had attacked Kamrasi’s country, killing about three hundred of his men, and capturing many slaves. I now understood why they had deceived me at Gondokoro: they had obtained information of the country from Speke’s people, and had made use of it by immediately attacking Kamrasi in conjunction with Rionga.

This would be a pleasant introduction for me on entering Unyoro, as almost immediately after the departure of Speke and Grant, Kamrasi had been invaded by the very people into whose hands his messengers had delivered them, when they were guided from Unyoro to the Turks’ station at Faloro. He would naturally have considered that the Turks had been sent by Speke to attack him; thus the road appeared closed to all exploration, through the atrocities of Debono’s people.

Many of Ibrahim’s men, at hearing this intelligence, refused to proceed to Unyoro. Fortunately for me, Ibrahim had been extremely unlucky in procuring ivory. The year had almost passed away, and he had a mere nothing with which to return to Gondokoro. I impressed upon him how enraged Koorshid would be should he return with such a trifle. Already his own men declared that he was neglecting razzias because he was to receive a present from me if we reached Unyoro. This they would report to his master (Koorshid), and it would be believed should he fail in securing ivory. I guaranteed him 100 cantars (10,000 pounds) if he would push on at all hazards with me to Kamrasi and secure me porters from Shooa. Ibrahim behaved remarkably well. For some time past I had acquired a great influence over him, and he depended so thoroughly upon my opinion that he declared himself ready to do all that I suggested. Accordingly I desired him to call his men together, and to leave in Shooa all those who were disinclined to follow us.

At once I arranged for a start, lest some fresh idea should enter the eversuspicious brains of our followers and mar the expedition. It was difficult to procure porters, and I abandoned all that was not indispensable—our last few pounds of rice and coffee, and even the great sponging-bath, that emblem of civilization that had been clung to even when the tent had been left behind.

On the 18th of January, 1864, we left Shooa. The pure air of that country had invigorated us, and I was so improved in strength that I enjoyed the excitement of the launch into unknown lands. The Turks knew nothing of the route south, and I accordingly took the lead of the entire party. I had come to a distinct understanding with Ibrahim that Kamrasi’s country should belong to ME; not an act of felony would be permitted; all were to be under my government, and I would insure him at least 100 cantars of tusks.

Eight miles of agreeable march through the usual park-like country brought us to the village of Fatiko, situated upon a splendid plateau of rock upon elevated ground with beautiful granite cliffs, bordering a level table-land of fine grass that would have formed a race-course. The high rocks were covered with natives, perched upon the outline like a flock of ravens.

We halted to rest under some fine trees growing among large isolated blocks of granite and gneiss. In a short time the natives assembled around us. They were wonderfully friendly, and insisted upon a personal introduction to both myself and Mrs. Baker. We were thus compelled to hold a levee—not the passive and cold ceremony of Europe, but a most active undertaking, as each native that was introduced performed the salaam of his country by seizing both my hands and raising my arms three times to their full stretch above my head. After about one hundred Fatikos had been thus gratified by our submission to this infliction, and our arms had been subjected to at least three hundred stretches each, I gave the order to saddle the oxen immediately, and we escaped a further proof of Fatiko affection that was already preparing, as masses of natives were streaming down the rocks hurrying to be introduced. Notwithstanding the fatigue of the ceremony, I took a great fancy to these poor people. They had prepared a quantity of merissa and a sheep for our lunch, which they begged us to remain and enjoy before we started; but the pumping action of half a village not yet gratified by a presentation was too much, and mounting our oxen with aching shoulders we bade adieu to Fatiko.

On the following day our guide lost the road; a large herd of elephants had obscured it by trampling hundreds of paths in all directions. The wind was strong from the north, and I proposed to clear the country to the south by firing the prairies. There were numerous deep swamps in the bottoms between the undulations, and upon arrival at one of these green dells we fired the grass on the opposite side. In a few minutes it roared before us, and we enjoyed the grand sight of the boundless prairies blazing like infernal regions, and rapidly clearing a path south. Flocks of buzzards and the beautiful varieties of flycatchers thronged to the dense smoke to prey upon the innumerable insects that endeavored to escape from the approaching fire.

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Chicago: Samuel White Baker, "Chapter XVII," In the Heart of Africa in In the Heart of Africa Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LIKKD1K8R9516CD.

MLA: Baker, Samuel White. "Chapter XVII." In the Heart of Africa, in In the Heart of Africa, Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LIKKD1K8R9516CD.

Harvard: Baker, SW, 'Chapter XVII' in In the Heart of Africa. cited in , In the Heart of Africa. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LIKKD1K8R9516CD.