« PreviousContinue »
Whenever he approached the encampments of the 'ivory traders' he heard the clanking of chains, as the slaves were being driven into their places of concealment. At Gondokoro Mr. Baker's first serious difficulty occurred. His escort and porters mutinied, but were brought back to their duty by a well-timed display of Mr. Baker's personal prowess, and in all his subsequent differences with his followers he never had occasion to use a more effective instrument of coercion than his fist. Indeed the ringleader of the émeute, after his 'punishment,' protested that no one would be so true as himself, and that, in any conflict with the natives, every arrow should pass through his body before it reached that of his respected commander.
On February 16th, 1863, firing was suddenly heard in the distance. Speke and Grant were approaching Gondokoro, and their followers were discharging their muskets by way of rejoicing.
'When I first met them,' says Mr. Baker, 'they were walking along the bank of the river towards my boats. At a distance of about a hundred yards I recognised my old friend Speke, and with a heart beating with joy I took off my cap and gave a welcome hurrah! as I ran towards him. For the moment he did not recognise me; ten years' growth of beard and moustache had worked a change; and as I was totally unexpected, my sudden appearance in the centre of Africa appeared to him incredible. I hardly required an introduction to his companion, as we felt already acquainted, and after the transports of this happy meeting we walked together to my diahbiah; my men surrounding us with smoke and noise by keeping up an unremitting fire of musketry the whole way. We were shortly seated on deck under the awning, and such rough fare as could be hastily prepared was set before these two ragged, careworn specimens of African travel, whom I looked upon with feelings of pride as my own countrymen. As a good ship arrives in harbour, battered and torn by a long and stormy voyage, yet sound in her frame and seaworthy to the last, so both these gallant travellers arrived in Gondokoro. Speke appeared the more worn of the two; he was excessively lean, but in reality he was in good tough condition; he had walked the whole way from Zanzibar, never having once ridden during that wearying march. Grant was in honourable rags; his bare knees projecting through the remnants of trowsers that were an exhibition of rough industry in tailor's work. He was looking tired and feverish, but both men had a fire in the eye that showed the spirit that had led them through.'
Mr. Baker heard from Captain Speke of the existence of a lake, which he termed the Little Luta Nzigè, but of which the native name proved to be the M'wootan N'zige,' into which the river which Speke had partially traced from the Victoria
Nyanza was said to fall, a statement which he had been unable to verify. This information at once determined Mr. Baker to endeavour to reach the lake, which he conceived must have a very important relation to the Nile, if it did not ultimately prove to be its actual source.
The difficulties of African travel consist less in the hostility of the native tribes than in the dishonesty, treachery, and cowardice of the porters and the armed escort. The head of an exploring party has constantly to contend with disobedience, and to suppress incipient mutiny. After a few days' march from Gondokoro the expedition was reduced to a mere remnant, and Mr. Baker became dependent upon a band of slave dealers, who called themselves Turkish traders, for the means of prosecuting his travels. By presents and cajolery he won over the chief of this party of brigands, and, although an unwilling witness to many acts of atrocious wickedness, he marched with them through countries which with his reduced escort he could not have ventured to enter.
The people of the Latooka country, to the south of Gondokoro, where Mr. Baker was under the necessity of remaining several months, present a favourable contrast to the other tribes of the White Nile. They are a fine, frank, and intelligent race, very different from the crafty savages that he had previously met with. This superiority is attributed to their affinity with the Gallas, one of the highest types of the native African. Cattle constitute the chief wealth of the country, and so rich are the Latookas in oxen that from ten to twelve thousand are constantly housed in the principal villages.
The only covering of the natives is a head-dress, the body being completely nude, but upon this single article of clothing the most elaborate care is employed.
'It is common,' Mr. Baker says, 'to observe among these wild savages the consummate vanity displayed in their head-dresses. Every tribe has a distinct and unchanging fashion for dressing the hair; and so elaborate is the coiffure that hair-dressing is reduced to a science. European ladies would be startled at the fact, that to perfect the coiffure of a man requires a period of from eight to ten years! However tedious the operation, the result is extraordinary. The Latookas wear most exquisite helmets, all of which are formed of their own hair; and are of course, fixtures. At first sight it appears incredible, but a minute examination shows the wonderful perseverance of years in producing what must be highly inconvenient. The thick crisp wool is woven with fine twine, formed from the bark of a tree, until it presents a thick net-work of felt. As the hair grows through this matted substance it is subjected to the same process, until, in the course of years, a compact substance is formed like a
strong felt, about an inch and a half thick, that has been trained into the shape of a helmet. A strong rim, of about two inches deep, is formed by sewing it together with thread; and the front part of the helmet is protected by a piece of polished copper; while a piece of the same metal, shaped like the half of a bishop's mitre and about a foot in length, forms the crest. The framework of the helmet being at length completed, it must be perfected by an arrangement of beads, should the owner of the head be sufficiently rich to indulge in the coveted distinction. The beads most in fashion are the red and the blue porcelain, about the size of small peas. These are sewn on the surface of the felt, and so beautifully arranged in sections of blue and red that the entire helmet appears to be formed of beads; and the handsome crest of polished copper, surmounted by ostrich plumes, gives a most dignified and martial appearance to this elaborate headdress. No helmet is supposed to be complete without a row of cowrieshells stitched around the rim so as to form a solid edge.'
The women of Latooka are exceedingly plain, but seldom under four feet seven inches in height, with enormous limbs. They wear false hair like horses' tails, made of fine twine smeared with grease, and red ochre to give it the fashionable colour. The passion for beads, the jewelry of Africa, is also strong. It was most amusing, Mr. Baker says, to witness the Chief's delight at a string of fifty little berrets' (opal beads of the size of marbles), and which had been introduced into the country for the first time, and were accordingly highly prized. They were inspected with undisguised delight, but the Chief requested another string of them for his wife.
Accordingly,' Mr. Baker continues, a present for the lady was added to the already large pile of beads that lay heaped upon the carpet. After surveying his treasures with pride, he heaved a deep sigh, and turning to the interpreter he said, "What a row there will be in the family when my other wives see Bokké (his head wife) dressed up with this finery. Tell the 'Mattat' that unless he gives necklaces for each of my other wives, they will fight!" Accordingly I asked him the number of the ladies which made him anxious. He deliberately began to count upon his fingers, and having exhausted the digits of one hand, I compromised immediately, begging him not to go through the whole of his establishment, and presented him with about three pounds of various beads, to be divided among them. He appeared highly delighted, and declared his intention of sending all his wives to pay Mrs. Baker a visit.'
Mr. Baker's estimate of the African character is not so favourable as that of some other travellers; but in his savage home the negro is not, he says, on the whole, so bad as the white man would probably be under similar conditions. He is strongly acted upon by the evil passions of human nature, but there is not, he thinks,
the exaggerated vice that is found in most civilised communities, The low status of women may generally be taken as a conclusive proof that society has not advanced far beyond its rudiments, and their treatment may be considered as one of the best tests of progress in civilisation. In Africa they are invariably degraded almost to the level of the brute creation. In Latooka, although the people are in many respects in advance of the neighbouring tribes, the condition of women is lamentably low.
'Women are so far appreciated as they are valuable animals. They grind the corn, fetch the water, gather firewood, cement the floors, cook the food, and propagate the race; but they are mere servants, and as such are valuable. The price of a good-looking, strong young wife, who could carry a heavy jar of water, would be ten cows; thus a man, rich in cattle, would be rich in domestic bliss, as he could command a multiplicity of wives. However delightful may be a family of daughters in England, they nevertheless are costly treasures; but in Latooka, and throughout savage lands, they are exceedingly profitable. The simple rule of proportion will suggest that if one daughter is worth ten cows, ten daughters must be worth a hundred, therefore a large family is the source of wealth; the girls produce the cows, and the boys milk them. All being perfectly naked (I mean the girls and the boys), there is no expense, and the children act as herdsmen to the flocks as in the patriarchal times. A multiplicity of wives thus increases wealth by the increase of family. I am afraid this practical state of affairs will be a strong barrier to missionary enterprise.
'A savage holds to his cows, and his women, but especially to his cows. In a razzia fight he will seldom stand for the sake of his wives, but when he does fight it is to save his cattle.'
The 'traders' with whom it was Mr. Baker's fate to be associated, having by their excesses exasperated the natives of Latooka beyond endurance, at length raised the country against them, thus greatly endangering the safety of Mr. Baker and his party. At dead of night the boom of the great war-drum, or nogara, was suddenly heard, and the signal was answered from the neighbouring mountains and plains. The whole country was in arms. Collecting his scattered force into a small enclosure, Mr. Baker made preparations for defence; Mrs. Baker, in charge of the reserve ammunition, taking her part in the measures for meeting the expected attack, by laying out on a mat, in readiness for the approaching conflict, ball-cartridges, powder-flasks, wadding, and percussion caps. The Turkish drums beat to arms, their steady and continual roll responding a defiance to the great nogara. The natives finding the whole party well prepared and well posted, declined the engagement, justly thinking that fifty men armed with muskets Vol. 120.-No. 239.
and rifles would be safe against a host whose only weapons were arrows and lances.
The tedium of a protracted residence in the country of Latooka was alleviated by those field sports which Mr. Baker has always so keenly enjoyed, and as the Latookas refused to sell their cattle the party was chiefly indebted to his gun for its supply of animal food. Feathered game abounded, and he was often able to bag a dozen wild ducks and geese before breakfast. For more exciting sport, elephants were to be met with within a few miles of the capital. From one of these he narrowly escaped with his life: instead of hunting, having been himself hunted for a considerable distance by a huge elephant, which was constantly within twelve yards of his horse's tail, with trunk stretched out to seize it; but the elephant suddenly gave up the chase, in which, if he had persevered for another hundred yards, he would certainly have bagged' both Mr. Baker and his horse, which immediately afterwards sank down from exhaustion.
Quitting the Latooka country, Mr. Baker and his party proceeded to the country of Obbo, the natives of which he describes as being very different from the Latookas in language and appearance. They are not, like the Latookas, quite naked, unless when they paint their bodies in stripes of red and yellow for war; but their usual covering consists of the prepared skins of antelopes and goats slung over the shoulder, forming a not unpicturesque costume. Their head-dress is very neat, the woolly hair being matted and worked with thread into a form like a beaver's tail. Like the more martial head-dress of the Latookas, it requires many years to complete. The scenery of the Obbo country must be particularly attractive. Winding through mountain gorges clothed with forests, with bare granite peaks towering above to the height of 5000 feet, Mr. Baker and his party traversed valleys situate between hills from 1500 to 2000 feet high; on the tops of each of which were perched villages, their positions evidently having been chosen for security. The air was invigorating, and perfumed by countless wild flowers, while festoons of the wild grape hung suspended from every tree. The town of Obbo, 4° 2' N. lat., was forty miles south-west of Tarrangolè Mr. Baker's head-quarters in Latooka.
After descending from these highlands the country became uninteresting, the fertility of the soil being so great that the population was almost overpowered by the superabundant vegetation. Pines ten feet high, interwoven with creeping plants, formed a network that only elephants, rhinoceroses and buffaloes could break through, and there was no possibility of traversing