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HOME > Classical Novels > A White King in East Africa > CHAPTER VI
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 I determine to extend my operations into more remote districts of the Kikuyu country—New friends—Native taste for tea—Plague of ants—Curious superstition with regard to milking cows—The Kalyera reject my friendly overtures—Trouble at headquarters—Tragic interview with a recalcitrant chief—Gain further prestige thereby—Further plans—Take my Kikuyu followers down to Mombasa—Their impressions in contact with civilization
On returning to my home among the Kikuyu I found that the country was fairly quiet, so I thought I would take the opportunity to explore a little farther into the interior, and, if possible, make friends among some of the other chiefs, thus enlarging the area from which I could draw supplies of food. My idea was to build trading stations at various points in the country, and, leaving a few men in charge at headquarters, to organize a fairly large expedition to explore other parts of the country and induce the natives to make friends and trade with me.
The first people I wished to come to terms with were the Kalyera, who had given me so much trouble on the road to Naivasha. I wished
to prevent my people being killed when taking the food down, and as these murders had been on the increase, I was afraid that they would eventually block the road. I determined to keep the route open at all costs, it being the only way into Naivasha. As I have already said, the Kikuyu country is very hilly and difficult for travelling, and to reach Kalyera we should have to cross several mountains and rivers.
Having prepared my expedition, we set off. All the country through which we passed was under cultivation, by which I mean that wherever a clearing had been made in the forest the land was either growing food or had been abandoned in fallow after being under cultivation for some time; the custom of the Kikuyu being to cultivate the land until it showed signs of becoming exhausted and then make a fresh clearing and repeat the process.
The first day passed without any trouble at all from the natives, who were all more or less friendly towards me in this part, and our first camp was pitched in the territory of a typical native chief, a rather stout and quite jolly sort of fellow, who owned a large number of cattle, sheep, and goats, and who seemed a good deal more like a Masai than a Kikuyu. I had not seen him before, but he had sent some of his people to help me against the hostile tribes who had come down to attack us. He wanted me
to stay there altogether, but I told him that my headquarters were at Karuri’s, and then delighted his heart with a present of a blanket and fez, which pleased him immensely. His people called me Karanjai, meaning literally “Who eats beans,” because I preferred that vegetable to their sweet potatoes. In connection with this nickname of Karanjai several amusing incidents occurred before I found out what was actually meant by it. Names of this sort, which the natives are very clever in bestowing, once given, rapidly become known throughout the country, so that it was nothing unusual for me to be greeted as Karanjai on my first visit to some village in a part of the country quite new to me, and it was, therefore, not unnatural that I should think it was some form of greeting, and for a long time, when any native addressed me as Karanjai, I replied by repeating the word, thinking that I was thus complying with native etiquette. It was the more difficult for me to get at the real meaning as my own people would give me no satisfactory explanation, fearing that I should be annoyed if I found that they had given me a nickname. When I did finally discover what it meant, it was impossible to be annoyed, as there was nothing objectionable in the name itself, and I could not help admitting that it was peculiarly appropriate.
As time went on, and my power and influence
in the country extended, it was quite usual, when I visited a village, for several proud fathers to bring small sons to be introduced to me, explaining that they also had been named Karanjai in my honour.
They had never seen a white man before, and likened me to their god Ngai, as I was a great medicine man, and they believed that I could make rain. They also thought that I was unkillable, but, knowing their treacherous nature, I never allowed myself to be caught off my guard. The Kikuyu will come up to you smiling and kill you the next moment if he gets the chance. This happened in the case of a man who went out to buy food only about twenty miles from Fort Smith. The chief came up to him smiling, and while he shook hands with one hand drew his sword with the other, and the man barely escaped with his life, while all the men with him were killed. As before stated, they wear their swords on the right side, as the action of drawing the sword is less noticeable from that side, and their opponent has less warning of their intention.
This chief, Wunjaggi, had been notified of my coming by a messenger sent on ahead of the party, and sent out some of his warriors to welcome me, who plucked handfuls of grass and waved them as a sign of peace. The chief met me with a huge spear in his hand, which, as soon as he saw me, he stuck in the ground, and
we then shook hands in the native fashion, first spitting in our palms. I had discouraged this practice of hand-shaking among my own people, and taught them to make a military salute instead, as a precaution against treachery. He seemed very pleased to see me, and told me that he had heard a lot about the white man. As we entered the village his people began singing, and my followers joined in, and there was general jubilation.
The chief gave me a present of sheep for myself and my men, and when we had selected a site and pitched our tent some njohi[10] was sent in, which I gave orders to be taken to my own tent and gave out to the men myself, as I knew that when they got too much they were not responsible for their actions, and would be sure to cause trouble. During the day quite a lot of people came to see me, as they had never seen a white man before, so I had a strong guard posted round the camp, only allowing a few natives to come in at a time, and all had to disarm before entering the camp. Of course, everything I had of European make was quite new to them, even to the tent; but they seemed most particularly interested in the knives and forks, while the enamelled cups and saucers and plates also excited their curiosity. Everything I did seemed to them making magic. If I happened
to be reading a paper, they thought I was doing so for some occult purpose, and when I smiled at a funny paragraph they watched me curiously, and all began to laugh too, although they had not the faintest idea what I was amused at.
10. A native drink.
I invited the chief to drink tea with me, out of a cup and saucer, and at first he took a lot of persuading, but after tasting the tea he liked it so much that I had reason to regret having introduced the practice, as both he and the various other chiefs I met got so fond of it that they would demand it whenever they saw me. They were also very fond of salt, which they would eat by the handful. This fondness for salt may seem to those who are accustomed to use it without stint, and even waste large quantities carelessly, rather peculiar; but it must be borne in mind that in many parts of the world besides the Kikuyu country salt is a very rare article and a heavily-taxed luxury, every grain of which must be carefully economised. The Kikuyu obtained the requisite salt for their animals from certain salt-pans, or, as they are called in some parts of the world, salt-licks, which were places where the earth was sufficiently mixed with saline particles to give it a fairly strong, brackish taste. This earth is dug up by the natives and mixed with water till it is of the consistency of liquid mud; it is then placed
in the cattle-troughs, and it is a strange sight to see the animals devouring this muddy mess with every appearance of enjoyment. For their own use they used to burn large quantities of green papyrus reed, mixing the ashes with their food instead of salt. This plant, although it grows in the fresh-water lakes and streams, contains a fair proportion of saline matter, so that the ashes form a substitute—though, to my taste, a very inefficient one—for salt.
As the country here was about seven thousand feet above sea-level it became very cold at night, and I had always a big fire lighted at sundown, and before turning in saw that a good guard was set.
During our first night among my new friends we had a most unpleasant experience, in the shape of a visitation from an army of brown ants, which came right through the camp. These brutes—they are about half an inch long, and so may be rightly called brutes—have very powerful jaws, like the claws of a lobster, and bite most fearfully. They covered everything in their path, and, getting into the blankets, drove me out of my tent, and caused every one to dance about in the most comical fashion in their efforts to get rid of the pests. So tenacious were they that one could hardly pull them off, and the whole camp was in an uproar during the hours that the army took to pass, and there was little more
sleep that night for any one. I do not know to what particular variety of the ant tribe these brutes belonged, but I should think that they must bear a strong resemblance to the kind known as “the bull-dog ant,” which is, among certain African tribes, looked upon as a valuable assistant to the native surgeon, who uses it instead of the silk thread and surgical needle of civilization for sewing up wounds. The manner in which they are used for this purpose is as follows: The edges of the wound are drawn together, and held in that position with the fingers of the left hand, while with the right a bull-dog ant is picked up and held so that the jaws grip one on each side of the wound; the body of the ant is then twisted off, while the head still remains, tenaciously holding on to the flesh. From this habit of holding on they have acquired the name of bull-dog. The Kikuyu did not make any such use of these ants, though their method of sewing up wounds was scarcely less primitive. In their case the edges of the wound were drawn together and a long thorn run through both. A fine thread, made of fibre from the bark of certain trees, is then wound over both ends of the thorn, in the same way that sailors wind the spare ends of ropes round the cleats. The thorn is left in place till the wound heals, and then drawn out in the same way that a surgeon removes the stitches after more civilized operations.
Next morning we struck camp and resumed our journey, the chief accompanying me to the boundary of his territory. On the way he told me that he had had a lot of trouble with the neighbouring tribes, particularly the people I was going to visit, the Kalyera, with whom he was in a state of continual warfare. He parted from me with a serious warning to be very careful, as the people I should next meet were very treacherous.
We had started about 6 p.m., and about five hours’ march brought us to the village of the next chief, named Caranja, whose looks I did not like from the first, as he had a most truculent and treacherous appearance, so that, although he shook hands with me readily when we met, I did not trust him, and ordered my men to keep a particularly strict guard, and forbade them to go into any of the villages. We camped outside, and nothing of note happened, except that the chief was most interested in my gun, and asked me to fire a few shots at a tree to show him how it worked—a request with which I complied.
Starting at daybreak the next morning, the chief himself accompanied me as guide for some distance, and when beyond his jurisdiction I was surprised to find that the people had all deserted the villages along our road. I imagine that what had happened was that the chief had sent
messengers on ahead to say that I was coming to fight them and raid their country; or, possibly, the reason was that I had now got to the edge of the Kalyera country, and they thought that I had come to inquire into their behaviour in killing my people and to demand compensation. Although we shouted to them as we went along that we had not come to fight them and waved bundles of grass to show that our intentions were peaceful, none of them would come near us, and we did not interfere with them.
All the country round was thickly populated and under cultivation, like the districts we had already passed through. The chief who had been guiding us had returned to his own village, and we were making very slow progress through an unknown country when two natives came in sight, whom we found had been sent by another chief to guide us to his place. They said it was not very far away, but the native has very little idea of distance, and I thought we were never going to arrive at his village. I knew from experience that a native will lead you on for two or three days with the assurance that you are close to your destination. Our guides kept telling us that it was just over the next hill, and when we had got over that it was always just over the next. I was beginning to get tired, and thought about camping for the night, when the guides pointed out a village in the distance, which
I could just make out with my glasses, so we continued our journey, and arrived close to the village about dusk. There was a lot of shouting and hallooing, but we did not go in and camped close together outside. Practically every man was on guard that night, as we knew nothing about the people, and could not be sure that they would be friendly, but though we heard a lot of shouting during the night nothing happened, and in the morning the chief came to see me. As soon as I saw him I liked the look of him. He seemed a young man, though it is very difficult to tell the age of natives—they never know it themselves—but I took him to be about thirty. He seemed to be quite different from any Kikuyu I had ever seen, his features being more of a European type, and he had not the thick lips of the ordinary native, whilst his skin was more of a copper colour than black. He also seemed a good deal more intelligent than the others I had met, and his people were not in the least afraid, as most of the others had been.
The chief’s name was Jugana-wa-Makura, and he had with him a friend, a neighbouring chief, named Bartier, and we were soon very friendly together. Makura brought his old mother to see me—a Masai woman, who wore a dress of skins, plentifully hung with iron-wire ornaments. The old lady was very friendly, shaking hands with me, and telling me that she had heard a
lot about the white man, and that it had been her greatest wish to see one before she died. They gave me a lot of presents of sheep, and also food for my men, and though I did not allow myself to be taken off my guard by these professions, I found that they were absolutely genuine.
Both of these loyal chiefs, unfortunately, paid for their friendship to the white man with their lives. Some two years after this I came into the country with an expedition sent by the Government to punish the Kalyera for some outrages, and called on Jugana-wa-Makura and Bartier for the assistance of some of their warriors, which was readily given. After our expedition left the country the Kalyera ambushed both these chiefs and murdered them for having assisted the Government expedition. As is usually the custom in such cases, the criminals escaped scot-free, no steps ever being taken by the Government to find out and punish the murderers.
I had had great difficulty in obtaining milk from the previous Kikuyu we had met, as, being very superstitious, they thought that if I drank the milk the cow from which it came would die. I found that this superstitious objection to giving away the milk of their cows prevailed throughout the Kikuyu country. The people themselves use very little, if any, milk for food
purposes, preferring to allow the calves to have it, and seldom or never milking the cows themselves, so that butter was unknown in my time among them, though they may now have been taught to go in for dairy-farming to some extent. They were at that time, however, perfectly convinced that to allow a stranger to drink any of their milk was a sure way of bringing disaster on the cow.
Owing to milking not being a general practice, the cows would never give their milk unless the calf was near by, so that if the calf died it was their practice to stuff the skin and place it by the cow when they went to get any milk.
This chief, however, brought me plenty of milk, and was altogether most friendly disposed, so we camped there for several days, the natives coming in every day to see me, and organizing a big dance for my special benefit. They had heard of my people being killed while going into Naivasha, and told me that the Kalyera were a bad lot and not long before had murdered some Government soldiers who had been sent out to buy food for the people constructing the Uganda Railway.
Being now close to the Kalyera country, I tried to get into touch with some of the chiefs, but they would not come to see me, only sending a lot of insulting messages in reply to my requests for interviews, and saying that if they saw any
of my people straying about they would kill them. They did not attack me, however, but I had to abandon my mission to them for the present.
The two friendly chiefs brought me in a lot of food, for which I traded with them, and also several tusks of ivory, which I also acquired. Unfortunately, my own people could not carry all that I had bought down to headquarters, and the chief’s people refused to go down with me, saying that they would be killed on the way back, the other tribes being hostile to them; so that the food had to be stored until such time as I could arrange to have it transferred to Karuri’s.
My followers having made friends with the people with whom we had been staying, we were all very sorry to leave; but it was imperative that we should return at once, as a rumour had reached me that my people at headquarters were in trouble, and they had sent a message for me to come back as quickly as possible. We had hardly got started on the return journey when it was rumoured among the natives that I had gone on this expedition especially to see the Kalyera people, and that I was returning because I was afraid to meet them. Emboldened by this, the tribe living to the north had attacked my headquarters, killed a lot of the people, and raided the country, burning the villages, and carrying off a lot of cattle, sheep, and goats,
as well as some of the women. On hearing this news I hurried back as fast as possible, as I thought it quite likely that they would burn my place. I got back in time to prevent any further fighting, and set myself to calm the fears of my people, who were lamenting the loss of their cattle, and praying me to get back their women. I found that the whole country was up in arms, and set to work to find out what was the cause of all the trouble.
It seemed that my own people had been partly the aggressors, and the old quarrelling had been started again; so I sent out messengers to ask the other chiefs in the neighbourhood to come in to see me. It is the custom always to send two messengers together, as no native will travel alone, and I waited some time, but as neither of the men returned, I supposed that they had both been murdered. So I moved out and pitched my camp at one of my trading stations on the boundary of the country, where I had built a house, which I found had not been interfered with. I hoped, by staying there a few days, to get into communication with the natives, with the object of getting the old men of the district to come in for a shauri. In this I was successful, and we talked over the whole matter of the raid. They said that they had no wish to fight, but the young warriors had got out of hand, carrying things their own way. The result of the palaver was that the women and
all the stolen cattle were returned, with the exception of a few sheep and oxen that had been eaten, and knowing that my own people had been the aggressors in the first instance, I did not see that I could take any stronger action in the matter.
However, this peaceful settlement did not please them, and, coupled with my failure with the Kalyera, caused a change of feeling towards me; the people became insolent, and I had to be more than ever on my guard. Things were getting pretty bad, and it so happened that, just at this time, I had to call in a rather powerful headman, who had been causing a good deal of disturbance in the country, to see me; so I sent a messenger to his village to summon him to my camp. He refused to come, and sent back an insolent message, which was heard by all the people round about, and caused a jeering laugh at my expense. This headman was known as a great warrior, who was said to have slept out in the bush at night to kill lions with a spear, and was supposed to have killed several in that way.
I sent further messages to him, but he absolutely refused to come, and began to send threatening replies. He had a following of about one hundred fighting men, and it became a standing joke in the country that he had defied the white man, so that I felt that unless I did something I should lose my
influence in the country; I was also getting ashamed to face my own people, who were continually asking if I was not going to bring him in by force. A few days later the matter was brought to a head by a body of about five hundred fighting men turning up at my camp to ask me what I proposed to do in the matter. Seeing that they were thoroughly roused, I said that I would go and bring him in myself. They all wanted to go with me, but I said that I would go alone, and to show that I was not afraid of him, I would not even take a gun, but only a stick or knobkerrie: I took the precaution, however, to have my revolver in my belt out of sight.
I started off with only about ten men, and when we got within a few hundred yards of the mutineer’s village, I told the men to stay behind, while I went on to talk to the headman. They had evidently got news of my coming, and were waiting for me, as I could see about fifty men, all fully armed, with the chief in front, drawn up to receive me, and I had no doubt that others were in ambush near by. The man was a fine big fellow, every inch a chief, and I knew that I could only hope to succeed by showing a bold front, bravery being about the only virtue a savage recognizes. As I advanced alone they appeared to be impressed, and a grunt of approbation passed round. The crisis had arrived, and
I knew that only sheer bluff could carry me through; so, before the chief could guess my intention, I sprang on him like a flash, and dealt him a blow with the knobkerrie which laid him senseless on the ground, at the same time shouting to his followers to throw down their weapons, as my men had them covered with their guns, and they would all be shot if they attempted to resist. Standing over the chief, with my hand on my revolver, I was ready to face the crowd, but, to my great surprise, they all threw down their weapons. It must be remembered that I was believed to possess mysterious powers, which probably accounts in some measure for their ready submission.
Having made the warriors put all their weapons in a heap, I ordered them to bring in some sheep and goats which they had stolen, and had the chief carried to my camp, while the sheep and goats were driven into my village, the whole of the warriors marching ahead of me till I reached my own people. After giving them a good feed, I gave them a good talking to, and dressed the wound on the chief’s head, binding it up with some sticking-plaster; while, to show that there was no ill-feeling, I invited his followers to spend the night in my camp, and return to their own village in the morning.
During the night I heard an awful row, and, rushing out to see what had happened, I found
that the two parties of natives had been sitting round the fire, drinking njoi, and having imbibed too freely, had started their quarrels all over again. The old men of the village were fighting with the chief I had brought in, who was defending himself with the flat of his sword. My appearance speedily put an end to the disturbance, and, taking the chief into my own quarters, I ordered my men not to allow any one to go near him. No further trouble occurred during the night, and the following morning the chief returned with his own people to their village. We parted the best of friends, and for the remainder of my stay in the country he was one of my best men.
Having re-established my influence, I was able to continue my trading, and collected large quantities of food, which I took down from time to time to Naivasha. The possession of cloth and other trade goods seemed gradually to have a civilizing effect on the natives, and they would listen attentively while I told them of our Queen and Government, the big cities of the white people, and the ships which crossed the seas. They were more ready to trade than formerly, and I found no difficulty in obtaining food, which they were only too ready to bring in, in order to procure the cloth and other trade goods with which I purchased it from them.
My chief enemies were the rain-makers and
witch doctors, who were jealous of my power, and disliked me because I did not show them proper respect. For anything that went wrong they blamed the white man. When the natives wanted rain, and grumbled because it did not come, these witch doctors said that I was the cause of the drought, and I found that they were gradually stirring up trouble all round me, and trying by every means in their power to get me killed. They knew that they were losing their influence and were not looked up to as they used to be owing to my presence, and they would have done anything to get me out of the country. Of course, they lived by trading on the superstitions of the natives. One of them in particular was believed to have great supernatural powers, and had a reputation for being able to disappear at night, when he was supposed to go to see their god, Ngai. Some support was given to this belief by an incident which was said to have happened one night. A number of the old men were drinking njoi in a hut, when a terrible storm came on. The witch doctor was one of the party. They were all sitting in a circle round the fire, when suddenly there was a tremendous flash of lightning, and the witch doctor, who was supposed to be still sitting among them, dropped through the roof into the middle of the circle. The cunning rascal had evidently crept out of the hut unnoticed by the others, and choosing the
moment of the lightning flash, had dropped through into the midst of them; while they, not having seen him leave the circle, were, of course, amazed to see him appear in this fashion through the roof, and quite believed his explanation that he had just come down from their god on the streak of lightning! In spite of the witch doctors, however, the natives were, on the whole, very friendly to me, wishing me to stay in the country.
Things being once more in a fairly settled state, I thought I should like to make a trip north, towards Mount Kenia, to try to make friends with some of the chiefs living in those parts. Wagombi, the powerful chief who lived at the foot of Mount Kenia, had a most murderous reputation, and was reported to be very treacherous. Several Arab and Swahili expeditions were reported to have been completely wiped out by him, while the King of Tato, another neighbouring chieftain, a man named Karkerrie, had rendered his name redoubtable by similar murders. I gathered, however, that there was a lot of ivory in that part of the country, and being also anxious to open more food stations, I was not to be scared by the ugly rumours I had heard. Another reason why I wished to make this journey was that I was anxious to see the place where Gibbons’s safari had been cut up. So I gathered all the information
I could about the district, and talked the matter over with Karuri and his people. They were, without exception, altogether opposed to the undertaking, even the old men seeming to be afraid, and saying that we were bound to be all killed, whilst one of the witch doctors prophesied that I should be killed and never return, and even went through an elaborate ceremony to prove that it would happen. At his request I went into the bush and got three sticks, which I gave to him. Having first waved them round his head, chanting “Lu-lu-lu” all the time, he threw them on the ground, and then, picking up each stick separately, he shook it, first taking hold of one end then of the other. When he had finished this performance he said he could tell me what was going to happen, which, according to him, was that I should have a lot of trouble with the people of the district to which I was going, and therefore had better not go. If I did he assured me that I should certainly be killed and never return.
Of course my people heard what the witch doctor had to say, and in the face of his predictions did not want to go with me. I pointed out that so far nothing had happened to me during the time I had been in the country, nor had any harm befallen any of my personal servants; but my arguments were of no use, they declined to be persuaded, and begged me to
give up the idea, saying that they would bring me all the food I could want and that I need not search anywhere else for it. I told them that I wanted ivory, and they hunted up a few tusks which I did not know they had, and these I bought; but I was still resolved to go, so after much persuasion they said that they would go if I would get more rifles, as the people living round Mount Kenia were supposed to have a lot of rifles. They also told me that the trade goods I had were not suitable for that part, where they would prefer brass and iron wire to cloth and beads. I thought, therefore, that my best plan would be to take down my ivory and the food I had collected, and when I had disposed of them, to make a trip down to the coast myself for more trade goods. I also wished to ask the Government authorities to let me have some rifles, so I went down to Naivasha and delivered the food and ivory; then, finding that the railway was approaching nearly as far up-country as Nairobi, which would enable me to take my men down to the coast without much trouble, after transacting my business I entrained with my savage followers for Mombasa. They were much impressed with the evidences of civilization, particularly with the railway engine, which they thought was alive, remarking that it seemed in a fever and wanted a drink. Arriving at Mombasa, they were equally astonished at the
sea and the ships, never having seen either before.
I was able to buy all the trade goods I required, and having finished that part of my business, I paid a visit to the Sub-Commissioner to ask him to allow me to have some rifles for self-protection. He absolutely refused, repeating what he had said when I first came to East Africa, that white men were not wanted in the country. I pointed out to him that the Arab and Swahili traders possessed rifles, to which he replied that they had not obtained them with official sanction! Such was the class of administrator approved by Downing Street for the opening up of a new country!
Before leaving Mombasa, where I stayed only a short time, I took the Kikuyu on board a ship, which was a remarkable experience for these people, who had spent all their lives in the mountains and had never even seen the sea, let alone a ship, before. If there was one thing that puzzled my Kikuyu followers more than another in Mombasa, it was, perhaps, the fact that everything had to be paid for. In their own country, when any Swahili traders came to a village they were accustomed to give them a sheep for food, and never thought of asking payment, but here, among the Swahili themselves, they found that they could get nothing unless they were prepared to pay for it; above all, they were astonished
that any one should have to pay for lodgings, as it was the invariable custom among them to set apart, or more often build, a hut for the use of any stranger whom they welcomed to their villages. They were very soon tired of Mombasa, appearing to be homesick, so we returned to Nairobi, where we camped for a few days, and during my stay bought some cattle, which my people told me would be useful for trading with the natives near Mount Kenia.

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