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 Back again in the Kikuyu country—Kalyera raid—Effect of a mule on the native nerve—Does it eat men?—Prepare for a new expedition—Dress my men in khaki, and march under the union Jack—A hostile medicine man—Around Mount Kenia—Native drinks—Treacherous native attack on my camp—Lucky capture of the hostile chief saves the camp—Pursuit after stolen cattle—Another attack on my camp—Change of attitude of natives on account of rain—Peace again—Bury my ivory—The forest slopes of Mount Kenia—Wagombi’s—A powerful chief—Precautions—Establish myself and erect a fort
The return journey was accomplished with considerable difficulty. On arriving at my old camp at Menzini, where the path branched off to the Kalyera country, an attack was made on the men herding the cattle, with the result that several were killed and some of the cattle driven off. I was lying down in my tent when the news was brought to me, so turning out at once, I gave orders for a mule—which I had bought at Nairobi and given into the charge of one of my men, with orders to be always ready to saddle up at a moment’s notice—to be brought, and mounting quickly, I set
off in pursuit of the cattle. The attack had been made while they were being taken down to drink at the river, and their tracks were plainly visible, though the cattle were nowhere in sight. Galloping forward, I caught sight of them just as they were about to enter the bamboo forest, with about a hundred Kalyera driving them on. As I fired my revolver, and came galloping towards them on the mule—which was a kind of animal that they had never seen before—they bolted in a fright. My men had been following me up in the rear, and we drove the cattle back to the camp, deeming it unwise to attempt to follow the Kalyera up through the bamboo forest. After this we reached headquarters at Karuri’s without further incident.
When Karuri heard that we were coming he sent men out to meet us, and our return was the signal for great rejoicings. My mule came in for a special share of attention, and all sorts of funny questions were asked about it, such as whether it ate people—the general impression being that it was some sort of a lion—indeed, all the natives came in to see it, and a report was spread about the country that I went riding about on a big lion. I had brought Karuri a kettle, and a cup and saucer for making tea, of which he was very fond, and he was delighted with them, and, of course, I had also brought presents for the other chiefs.
During the next week or so I spent the time preparing for my trip north. All the natives were now anxious to go with me, but I decided to pick only about one hundred of the best men, and as I had by this time about thirty rifles, I dressed the men to whom they were entrusted in khaki suits, which I had bought on my last visit to Nairobi, and of which the wearers were very proud. I had also brought a union Jack back with me, which I took at the head of my caravan on all my later expeditions. The Kikuyu warriors carried their usual weapons, and the trade goods were divided among one hundred porters, whom I loaded lightly so that we could move quickly if the occasion required.
The men looked very smart in their new khaki uniforms, and with the fifty or so Kikuyu warriors, armed with swords, spears, and shields, and the long line of porters and camp-followers, it was quite an imposing expedition which set out from Karuri’s village one morning. The warriors, armed with native weapons, acted as an advance guard, with myself next, riding the mule; immediately behind were ten soldiers, as my special bodyguard, and following these were the porters, with more soldiers distributed among them. A little farther to the rear were the camp-followers, followed by the cattle, then ten more soldiers, and behind all, a rearguard of fifty Kikuyu warriors.
With orders to keep close together the safari marched out in single file, the union Jack flying at the head, while Karuri, with the rest of the natives who remained behind, gave us a great send off, though the old witch doctor shook his head as if he still had misgivings as to the success of the enterprise.
The first day we camped at my old food station, where we had defeated the Masai raiders, at the top of the mountain, and resuming the march the next morning, we went through the Chinga country. The natives kept out of the way, though we could see groups of them standing on the hills watching us, and though we shouted to them that we were friends, they only replied with threats, saying that they did not want the white man in their country. All the villages were deserted, and we quite failed to get into touch with the people at all, until we saw some of the old men sitting on a hill-side, to whom I sent one of my men with a present of cloth. He went unarmed and waving a bunch of grass as a sign of peace, and they allowed him to approach them. After he had given each of them a present of cloth, two of the old men accompanied him back to my camp, and when the others saw that they were treated as friends they also came in. I amused them by showing them a looking-glass and several other things that they had never seen before, and explained to them that my object
in coming into the country was to buy food. I told them that my idea was to make peace among all the natives, as complaints were coming in to me every day of raids and murders. It was very difficult to understand from their stories whether the things complained of had happened fifty years before or only the previous day, so I advised them to let all those matters drop and start again with a clean slate from now, and I told them that I would do my best to settle any differences that arose in the future. At the same time, I impressed upon them that they must also help me towards this end, and not go raiding and killing each other, telling them that it was only savages that settle their quarrels in that way. To speak of them as not being savages flattered their vanity, and a remarkable thing I frequently noticed was that as soon as a native became friends with me, or with my followers, he immediately called all the rest of the natives savages. It was very laughable in some instances. I have had one of my own men come to tell me that some washenzi (savages) wanted to see me, and on going out to see who they were I would perhaps find that the so-called savages were the man’s own father and other relatives.
I saw that what I had said about being friendly had impressed them, and in the meantime my followers had got hold of them and were explaining
what my policy had done in their own country, so that they could see that I was to be trusted, and consequently made friends with me. After dusk they went home, and it was evident that they had given a good report of me, as the next day the two principal chiefs of the district, Bartier and Henga, came to see me, with about fifty followers. They were both young men and very intelligent for savages, dressed in skins, but wearing no special finery. I gave them a red blanket and a fez each—which was my usual present to chiefs—and they immediately put them on, wearing the blanket over one shoulder like a cloak, the ends being tied on the other shoulder, so that only one side of the body was covered. The effect, however, was rather picturesque, something like the old Roman toga. They were very pleased with their new garb, but it had the result of getting them into trouble at times with the other natives, who looked upon it as a badge of their friendship with the white man.
They stayed in the camp nearly all day, and were very friendly, explaining the features of the country we were going through, and warning me against the people of the district of Tato, and their chief Karkerrie, of whom they gave a very bad account. I asked them if any white men had been there before, and they said no, though they had heard of white men going
through the country a very long time ago, but not that part of it.
They brought me some food and told me that they had some ivory, and they brought me the measurements of several tusks, which they promised to bring in the next day; but although we waited, expecting the ivory, it did not come. They were all still very friendly, however, and so I suggested holding a Pigasangi, but as this was more of a national than a local affair, they said that it could not be done unless they first talked it over with their other people, so I told them that we might be able to arrange for the ceremony on my homeward journey, and also asked them to have the ivory ready so that I could buy it then.
That day we had a visit from the chief rainmaker of the Kikuyu country, a tall, fine-looking man, who lived some distance from there, but seemed to have a roving commission and to be able to travel through any part of the country without being molested, all the natives being afraid of him, as they believed that he could bring the rain or stop its coming at will. I very well remember his stalking in, because he was wearing a red blanket and fez which I had given him. On this occasion he arrived, like the villain of the play, just as things were going well, and at one swoop destroyed all my castles in the air by telling the people that it would
do them no good to make friends with the white man, as it would stop the rain and bring various other misfortunes upon them. I took no notice, but the natives evidently took him seriously and I had a lot of trouble with him later on.
Striking camp early the next morning, we trekked farther north towards Mount Kenia, where the big chief Wagombi lived. The country continued practically the same, thickly populated and well cultivated, while here and there we could see the sheep and cattle grazing quietly and the people working in their shambas (gardens). It was hard to believe that I was in the midst of savages, and that any minute they might be up and cutting one another’s throats and my own too; the scene was so peaceful that you could have almost imagined yourself amidst the quiet surroundings of an English landscape.
We had halted to give the men a rest, and I was having some lunch under the shade of a tree—my practice being to start the day with only a cup of coffee in the early morning, making my lunch about midday my first meal—when two or three natives were brought in, who told me that they had been sent by a big chief, who was also a very powerful witch doctor, named Muga-wa-diga,[11] who begged me to come and
camp in his village. Of course I was only too glad to meet another friendly chief, and asked them to take me to his village, where we arrived quite early in the afternoon.
11. The name Muga-wa-diga means Muga, the son of Diga, the syllable wa being the equivalent of the Russian vitch or the Scandinavian sen, as shown in Peter Petrovitch or Peter Petersen. In the same way, this syllable is prefixed to the names of tribes, as in Wa-Kikuyu (the sons of the Kikuyu), Wakamba, though in the latter case it has now become an integral part of the name.
The chief was an old man, very active for his years, and far more intelligent than the majority of the natives I had met so far. His appearance marked him out as a typical witch doctor, and I had never before seen any chief dressed as he was. His costume was composed chiefly of the skins of wild cats, and he wore a hat made of the skin of the colobus monkey; round his ankles were the usual iron rattles, while two small boys who were with him carried calabashes containing various medicines. He had evidently started off in something of a hurry to meet me on the road, and came up to me without any hesitation, shaking hands in a dignified sort of way, as if the meeting with a white man was an everyday occurrence. After we had exchanged greetings, he conducted me to a suitable place to camp near the village, and also introduced me to his wives and children, which I thought rather extraordinary for a native meeting a white man for the first time. I could see that he was very anxious to make friends
with me, and he got his people to assist mine in building the camp, at the same time telling us to be very careful when leaving the village to collect wood or bring in water, as some of the natives were not to be trusted, and he felt himself responsible that no one should get killed while staying at his place.
Of course I was always on my guard, and ordered my men never to go far from the camp without taking some rifles with them, especially as I found that my friend the chief rain-maker had been there before me, spreading rumours of what would happen if they had any dealings with me. But Muga-wa-diga was evidently not on good terms with the rain-maker, being jealous of his power, and this accounted for his being so willing to be friendly towards me.
Finding it a good camp, and being able to obtain plenty of food, I decided to stay there for some days, and in the meantime to try to gather more information about the country and people farther on, while at the same time getting to know more of the people among whom we were camped.
The chief came to my camp nearly every day, and I got a lot of useful information from him. One day he brought his medicines with him, and explained all about them, which gave me a good insight into the art of working magic. Medicine, as we understand it, is not the kind
of medicine used by the witch doctor of East Africa, who relies more upon incantations than upon the potency of any drugs to doctor the complaints of those who seek his aid, the ailments he is expected to cure being more of a mental than a physical nature, as, when a native complains that some one has given him poisoned medicine, he really means that some one has put some spell on him to cause something to happen to him. Such is the superstitious nature of the savage that, if one has been told that he is to die at the end of three days, he will actually accept the statement as literally true, and it would have such an effect upon him that, unless the witch doctor could convince him that he had made some medicine powerful enough to counteract the influence of the spell cast over him, he would certainly die at the time stated.
The witch doctor also professed to be able to say what was going to happen to any one who sought the information from him, the mode of procedure in this case being to spread a leopard skin on the ground, and turn out upon it the contents of a calabash containing a lot of stones, lion-claws, arrow-heads, &c. These were counted out in sections—somewhat after the style of the game children play with plum-stones in England—and from the balance remaining after the full number of even sections had been completed he read the signs. An arrow-head perhaps foretold
that the inquirer would be killed with an arrow, a lion’s claw that he would be killed by a lion, and so on. They had also medicines for the treatment of physical ailments, and antidotes for poisons.
During my visit to Mombasa I had bought a medicine-chest, which I always carried with me, so I gave the chief a taste of the different tabloids, &c. I found that he was very fond of pepper and salt, and it was surprising to see him take a handful of pepper and eat it up without winking.
The natives were intensely interested in everything I possessed, and were greatly mystified by the trick of drawing the heat from the sun, by means of a lens from my field-glasses focused on their hands, and it was remarkable how some of the warriors would stand the pain without making a sign, letting the flesh burn without appearing to notice it.
When I approached the chief on the question of a Pigasangi, he promised to talk the matter over with his people, and suggested that we might also arrange for the ceremony of blood brotherhood.
Whilst staying here I sent a present to Karkerrie, the chief of Tato, and also one to Wagombi. We were a good day’s march, in different directions, from each of these chiefs, and I told my messengers to say that I
was coming into their country on a peaceful mission. Muga-wa-diga said that he would accompany me to Tato, where, he told me, there was a lot of ivory; so I decided to go to Tato first, and then go round to Wagombi’s country.
While at Muga-wa-diga’s I made the acquaintance of a young chief named Katuni, or the Lion, who was by far the tallest Kikuyu I had ever seen—being considerably over six feet in height—and got quite friendly with him, and he brought me, among other things, a lot of honey. All the Kikuyu keep bees, and you can see the hives hanging on the trees, sometimes five or six on a tree, all over the country. The hive is made out of a log of wood, hollowed out and shaped like a barrel, and the ends are headed up just as a barrel would be. They are about five feet long by eighteen inches in diameter. The natives ferment the honey to make a drink tasting very much like sharp cider, which they call njohi, and on which they manage to get very drunk, as it is highly intoxicating. It is generally made in very large quantities when the honey is gathered, and the headman of the village sends out an invitation to all the old men of the district to come in and have a big drinking bout, which generally ends in a drunken orgie, when they all start quarrelling and fighting with each other. The drink is kept in big calabashes, and the headman first pours out a hornful, which he
spills on the ground, at the same time saying “Ngai,” meaning “To God”- -a ceremony reminding one of the ancient libations to the gods. This function over, the headman first drinks himself, to prove to his guests that there is no poison in the brew, and then the general drinking starts. A peculiar and somewhat unpleasant habit of theirs is to spit on their chests after drinking, but the reason for the practice no one could tell me.
I found a similar kind of drink to njohi among the Abyssinians, who call it tej, and the Kikuyu also have another drink, not quite so intoxicating as the njohi, and made from sugar-cane instead of honey.
By this time the messengers whom I had sent to Karkerrie with presents had returned, so we packed up and moved on towards Tato, Katuni deciding to accompany me, as well as Muga-wa-diga. The country continued thickly inhabited, and I noticed that the people seemed to own more stock than elsewhere. They did not take much notice of us, except on one occasion, when about half a dozen old men, who had been drinking njohi, greeted us, as we came round the shoulder of a hill, with a shower of arrows.
Arriving at last at Karkerrie’s village, we were met there by the chief himself and some of the elders of the tribe. The country had changed
somewhat as we neared Tato, being less mountainous, and not so thickly cultivated, but the people owned enormous herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. They seemed more like the Masai than the Kikuyu, and undoubtedly have a good deal of Masai blood in their veins. From the reports I had heard as to their being such a bad lot, I was quite prepared for them to try to prevent my entering their country, but, possibly because they had heard a lot about me, and also on account of my having the medicine man Muga-wa-diga and the chief Katuni with me, they received me in a friendly way; so, finding a good place near the chief’s village, I pitched my camp.
I had brought about fifteen head of cattle with me, and, of course, had a lot of trade goods, so I opened up negotiations with the chief for some ivory. The value of cattle varies right through Africa, depending on the number of sheep in the country. Among the Kikuyu a cow is reckoned to be worth twenty sheep, whilst among the Caramoja and Sambura tribes—whom I visited later—it goes up as high as sixty sheep. I exchanged the cattle at the rate of twenty sheep for each, and when the natives came in with the ivory, I would give, say, the value of twenty sheep for a tusk measuring two hands. Ten rings of iron wire, or so many hands of cloth, equalled a sheep; so that if I bought ivory to the value of
twenty sheep, I would give perhaps five sheep only and the rest in trade goods.
The iron wire used in these transactions was about the thickness of an ordinary telegraph wire, while the rings, ten of which were the value of a sheep, would be about nine inches in diameter, ten of them equivalent in value to about a shilling of our money. The standard value of a hand of ivory, in Karkerrie’s country, was thus ten sheep, or a hundred rings of iron wire, or sixty hands of cloth. In Wagombi’s country the prices were about half these, so that there a tusk weighing from twenty-five to thirty pounds could be bought for about a sovereign and, even allowing for the cost of transport, &c., at an average price of about nine shillings per pound there was a fairly good profit to be made on the deal. In the Wanderobo country, where most of the ivory was in the form of the heavier tusks of the bull elephant—that at Karkerrie’s and Wagombi’s being mostly from the females—I usually gave a bullock for a tusk weighing from eighty to ninety pounds.
A few details of the native system of measurement may be of interest. The hand, which is their standard of lineal measure, varies with the commodity to which it is applied, but in no case is it the same as our hand of four inches. In selling ivory the hand is the length of the forearm from the elbow, with the fist doubled. In
measuring ivory a liberal allowance is made for the hollow portion at the root of the tusk,[12] and also for the point, neither of which are reckoned in the length. In buying or selling cloth the hand is practically the same as our yard, being measured from the centre of the chin to the tip of the fingers, with the arm stretched out.
12. The elephant tusk is more or less hollow for a third of its length at the thick end, measured when extracted from the skull.
Things were progressing very favourably, and there was any amount of ivory to be had, and I was buying it at the rate of two or three tusks a day, and at eight to ten shillings a pound each tusk would be worth from £10 to £15. I was at first at a loss to account for so much ivory being in the country, as the natives there do not hunt the elephant, but I found that the Wanderobo tribe, who live on the outskirts of the country, are great hunters; in fact, they live entirely by hunting; and the elephants wounded by them, and getting away, seek cover in the forest, where many of them die of their wounds, the wounds being made by poisoned weapons. The Kikuyu, going into the forest to find wild honey, find the ivory, and as no trader had been to the country to buy it before, this accounted for the quantity to be had on my first visit. These facts may also account for the remarkable stories one comes
across sometimes of “elephant cemeteries.”[13] Certainly, in a long and varied experience of elephant-hunting in various parts of Africa I have never come across anything but the slaughter caused by the hand of man which could account for these so-called cemeteries, nor have any of the elephant-hunters I have met—and I know all the chief ones—been able to confirm the “cemetery” yarn.
13. A traveller some years since, having come across large quantities of elephants’ skulls and bones collected together in one place, started the theory that elephants came to particular spots to die. The probability is that such places are scenes of the destruction of a herd by slaughter. (See P. H. G. Powell-Cotton’s “In Unknown Africa,” 1904.)
One day Karkerrie and his elders came across to see me, being curious to know all about the white man and his various possessions. Among other things in my outfit, I had brought with me a musical clock, which, instead of striking the hour, played a tune, and this I had in my tent. After I had been talking to the chief for some time, the hour came round and the clock struck up a lively tune. They could not understand this, and thought there must be magic about it, so I told them that I could make it speak whenever I wished, and, unnoticed, moved the lever. When the hands came round to the hour, I said, “Now I will make it play a tune.” It so happened that rain had been expected, and as
the clock was playing a few drops came. Looking up into the sky, they saw the rain, and at once turned to me and asked if the clock could make rain, so I said, “Certainly, it makes rain all right.” They said that it must be a great thing if it could make rain, and seeing that these things seemed to amuse them, I showed them a few sleight-of-hand tricks—never dreaming that they took what I said seriously.
The next day Karkerrie turned up, and said that rain was absolutely necessary, and I must make some for them. I said that the best thing they could do was to bring in plenty of ivory, and go on trading, and the rain would come of itself, as it was not possible for anybody—white or black—to make it rain. They kept bothering me every day, however, to make it rain, and I kept putting them off with the excuse that the rain was coming all right. But, unfortunately, it did not come, and from believing that I could make rain they turned to thinking that I was keeping it away with the clock, and things began to look threatening. The natives would not bring in any more ivory, and I heard rumours that the warriors were coming to attack my camp. In the meantime, unknown to me, there was a plot on foot to murder me, in which, as I found out afterwards, one of my own men was mixed up. It afterwards appeared that he was a native of the very district in which we
now were, but had been taken away in some raid to where I had first met with him.
None of the natives came near me, but I knew by the singing, and shouting, and feasting, that something unusual was in the wind, and took the precaution of having every man on guard, and slept myself fully dressed, with my rifle handy, so as to be ready for any emergency. One pitch-dark night about eight or nine o’clock, a day or two after I had noticed the change of attitude on the part of the natives, the crisis came. There had been an ominous stillness around the camp for some time, when suddenly the air was rent by a wild uproar, and we heard the war-cry of the tribe spreading from village to village, mingled with the shrieking of women and children. Over all the din the hideous howl of the hyenas could be distinguished. These a............
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