Project Canterbury

Journals of the Mashonaland Mission 1888 to 1892

By G. W. H. Knight-Bruce
Bishop for Mashonaland

No place: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1892

Chapter IV. The Bishop's Journal, continued.

The work was now going on fairly well, and as a reliable man could be left in charge, the Bishop decided to start at once to visit the chiefs to the west and south; so the little party, consisting of the Bishop, two natives, and carriers, left Umtali and reached Chikangas village.

August 21st.--As I was starting early to go and see the chieftainess, living as usual on a hill, I met her coming to meet me. She is a daughter of our great chief, IJmtasa, and is very quiet and gentle. I spoke to her about our teaching, and my wish to put up a teacher's hut in her village; but to this she replied that the white men beat her people. I then explained that there were two kinds of white men. She said she understood that. If she does, it is a rare thing, as the ordinary native certainly does not; but then neither do we, as a rule, recognise the same fact with regard to them. We speak of native character as though individuality and class did not exist among them as among Europeans. I asked if she would not like to hear some of our Christian teaching; she looked at me for a minute, and then said gently, 'If you do not start soon, you [52/53] will not reach the next village before dark.' We had some more conversation, and she gave me a guide to take me on to the next chief, Inya-foumbi. He was about fourteen miles away, and vby the noise as we came near the village we gathered that a 'beer-drinking' was going on. The drink is made from Kafir corn, and can be made very strong, though cool and not unpleasant in taste. The concoction may be different, but the results are much the same as they would be at home, A 'beer-drinking' is a serious ceremony; it is announced for a certain day, when all the natives near crowd into the village, and the great pots of beer are brought out by the women. The wretched scene goes on all day and night; the men, and in some places the women, drink to stupefaction, then sleep, then wake to drink again, till sometimes horrible results ensue. When one is told of the superiority of the heathen to the Christian native, and of the advantages of leaving missionary work alone, such scenes as this come into one's mind, and one thinks of the numberless faithful converts who concerning these things 'have put off the old man.'

August 22nd.--It rained in the night, and was a miserable morning. I saw the chief last night, but he came again this morning to say he would willingly have a teacher in his village himself, but he must know first what the head chief, Chikodora, thought of it. We parted on very good terms, packed up our few possessions, and walked on about [53/54] five miles to the Odzi river. It is a large, rapid river, about seventy yards wide at the ford where we crossed it, but fairly shallow, and we walked through more easily than we expected.

About mid-day we reached Mazikana's village, five miles farther on, and found him an old and very polite man, immediately giving us a fowl and meal. I gave him a present, a rug, and we began the usual conversation that always ends in the same way, namely, that if the head chief wishes it he will receive a teacher. I went on with very pleasant impressions of the old gentleman, and we began a really beautiful walk through rocks, valleys, and gorges until about sunset we reached Chinoouta's village. He, too, was most polite, and we talked about our Mission. Afterwards he sent down the largest pot of native beer that I have seen and I allowed my men to have it, as they are having very hard work now and very little to eat, and to-day have walked nearly eighteen miles.

August 23rd, Sunday.--We started by the first light of a damp cold morning, as I feel anxious to reach the head chief, Maranki, as quickly as possible. All the promises of his under-chiefs to accept teachers are conditional on his consent. On our way we stopped at Muteti's village, another sub-chief, and there was some delay while he was being fetched to see me, but we had then a very satisfactory interview. He brought a present of meal and I gave him one of calico. After the Mission had been thoroughly [54/55] explained to him he seemed glad to go back to his fires, while we started again.

Presently we had one of the many diversions provided by this mode of travel. One of the donkeys ran away with his load into the rather thick bush which our path was going through. This is very amusing to watch when food is plentiful, but when almost one's whole supply for a fortnight is disappearing the joke seems a sad one. However, after a long delay and much running About of the men, we got him back, and went on to Mapa's village--the last one before we reach the head chief, Maranki. I had my own talk and explanation with Mapa as to the Mission there, but then began the usual delay and waste of time, they wishing me at first to remain there while Maranki was told of my arrival, and then to go round a great hill to a certain Induna who would announce me. [Each of the great chiefs is supposed to have an Induna, or headman, whose special business it is to announce strangers.] I insisted on going straight, when they said there was no road and no water; however, we found both, and encamped in peace about mid-day under his town. We had walked between thirteen and fourteen miles, and were glad of a quiet afternoon. Maranki upset my plan for a long talk to-day with him and his people by sending to say he would come to see me early to-morrow. A little time to oneself is very welcome, as one gets none on a journey of this kind when one is head of [55/56] the party. Getting the men up, seeing the donkeys-are fed and their packs properly put on, getting away from the village, arranging for food, fitting in the travelling habits of the Mashona with those of the donkeys, finding guides, seeing chiefs, answering the foolish objections they make to showing one the road, trying to get a direct answer to any question, and generally overcoming hour after hour the native faculty for wasting time in its exquisite perfection: these, besides the day's walk, tend to exhaustion towards the evening.

One great comfort is that my men do not leave me, and we get on; so I cannot be too thankful, and thank Him continually who prospers our going, and any little drawbacks and annoyances ought not to be remembered.

August 24th,--After sunrise Maranki came down to our little camp with a large following, all delightfully wild, with bows and arrows and a few old guns. Having come a long way to see him, and wishing keenly to have all his country open to our Mission, I was rather nervous as to our interview. I went a short way to meet him, and brought him back to my camp; he and his headmen sat round in a semicircle, and we had a very long conversation, Maranki is a very nice-looking man, diffident and gentle. It was touching to see how he felt the necessity of having to yield to the authority of the white man in the future; but he did it so graciously that one felt every benefit that could be brought [56/57] by Christianity to him and his people was only their due. His only objection to a teacher was the usual one: 'that his people were too old to learn'; but afterwards he seemed to wish to have one. To-give him plenty of time to talk it over with his men, I offered to walk back with him up to his town, which is on a high steep hill. It was a hot day and a long climb, but we were able to talk as we went along. Quite soon, without his being pressed (which I do not find a good plan), he said that when a teacher came he would look after him. It seems a simple sentence, but it meant that our teachers would be accepted by him and by all the inferior chiefs in his country. He is quite one of the nicest men I have had to deal with; his people are Mabotcha, and from a missionary point of view seem most hopeful. They make really beautiful blankets out of bark, and the chief had quite the best-made [native knife that I have seen. The town itself has all the picturesqueness and dirt of the hill villages, perched high up among rocks. The women saluted me in the same way as some others seventy-miles away to the north-west did three years ago: one prolonged loud note is uttered, while the hands are moved quickly in front of the mouth to cause vibration.

We left with a guide to the next village, on our way to a chief whom I had not heard of before. On the road we saw a headman, who listened to two sentences of what I told him and then walked away, [57/58] as if any conversation about a God wss too foolish to listen to. Altogether, we walked about ten miles, and reached a village belonging to a chieftainess, M'pomwa, where we stayed for the night, but as she was sick and away I could only leave a message for her.

August 25th.--As we went on walking to-day it did not require an aneroid to tell us we were getting on low ground. The night had been very hot, and the condition of the country became the same as in the Zambesi valley: here is the agate ground, the mopani and the baobab trees taking the place of the others on the high ground, the same birds, the scorching sun and thirst, with water only at intervals. Before breakfast we went about fourteen miles along the watershed of the Sabi and Odzi rivers; saw one chief oh the way, and stopped at Darokasoa's village, 'who is chieftainess, and daughter of Tsago, to whom we are going. Her husband came to see us, brought a present, and said that he would receive a teacher and feed him well,' This is all very satisfactory; but we are getting very low, and shall soon be out of the possibility of a European living, and the air is close and muggy even here. The insects are most curious: one is quite indistinguishable to the naked eye from a piece of stick until it moves, and the four little legs are stuck into the thin round body exactly as in a child's wooden horse.

We went on about five miles to Tsago's village. The chief came to look at us and then went away, [58/59] but presently sent down some native beer, we shouting up at the huts on the hill that we wanted to buy food.

August 26th,--The chief came very early, behaving very quietly and intelligently, and we exchanged presents. His people laughed when I spoke to them about God and a future life, which they seem to think very amusing, though on the whole the interview was satisfactory, as the chief said he was glad to see me and would be glad to have teachers.

He gave a guide, and we loaded up and started, plunging into a sea of mountains. When next we changed guides the chief himself came as one, which was an advantage in many ways. Having been accepted by Maranki, the paramount chief, I am now passed on with every courtesy. [The tribal organisation is very peculiar and strong, the chief having an indefinable power, which does not seem to be great on the surface, but yet must be recognised by those working in the country if they wish to be received by the whole tribe.]

The path from the hills led us lower and lower, till we got into a thick haze that hid everything at a distance. There were numbers of trees unknown to the Mashona uplands, and among them the yellow fever tree, believed only to grow in malarial districts. We went through a mass of hills, as much on the flat as possible, and almost due south on our way to Gundyanga's country. The gardens cultivated here by the people are immense; they work the ground [59/60] in a most systematic way, and from their knowledge of the climate and soil to be dealt with probably produce more than Europeans would do without long practice.

By continually thanking them for every civility the natives begin to use to me in return the only expression of thanks they have, 'I praise you,' but their way of thanking by action is to scrape the ground with their feet alternately and very quickly. Clapping the hands is the action further north. It is extraordinary how far nicer they are when they have not had to do with a low kind of Europeans. If only these countries could be colonised by a high-minded set of Englishmen, what an unspeakable difference it would make in the education and in the whole future existence of the natives!

We stopped to-day at Mazombe's, and slept near water. There were clumps of fan palms all round.

August 27th.--It was raining when we started, almost before sunrise, and walked on to Chiadzua's village, where we found a clump of natives sitting round a fire. At first no one would show me which was the chief, but after a time the man himself got up, saying he did not think he ought to hide from the white man, and saluted me. He was delightful, very good-looking, and intelligent. He brought us a big pot of 'leting' for the men, which is really admirable food for them now when they are walking hard and do not have breakfast till after the first [60/61] walk of ten miles or so. [Leting is a form of mild native beer, made from Kafir corn, and very nourishing.]

The chief seemed very pleased to hear of the teachers coming, and both the country and the people were far more interesting than in the north. They make the best baskets here that I have seen: the workmanship is really beautiful. They also use poisoned arrows and fire-sticks. [Fire-sticks are two dry pieces of wood from one particular tree; they are rubbed together till sparks are obtained.] The women all came down to see us pass.

The region of tall palm trees has begun, and the baobab trees are immense; one I tried to measure, pacing it round as close to the trunk as possible, and making it 70 feet. [The baobab tree bears a melon-shaped fruit containing cream of tartar; its trunk is immense in girth, but very short. Near villages pegs are found stuck into the wood by which the natives climb up to reach the fruit, which they believe in very much, both as medicine and food.]

Chiadzua gave us two guides--they prefer going in pairs on account of the lions--and we walked on to the Sabi river. It was a broad sandy stream where we reached it, and some natives were distilling salt. They have a kind of funnel-shaped basket, which they fill with the earth they find impregnated with salt, and they then apparently pour water on till the [61/62] soil is washed through the basket-work and the salt crystals remain.

While we had our food one of the guides told us how the Batonga people skin their dogs, and fill the skin with moistened meal, which is tightly tied up and left to ferment until the whole skin is strained, when they look on it as a dainty dish ready to be cut in slices and eaten.

About mid-day we crossed the Odzi river close to where it joins the Sabi, and with the help of some squatting natives we found Gundyanga's village. The entrance is hidden and protected by a kind of labyrinth of bush and trees, through which the narrow path winds in and out. Not a person was to be seen when we went in; they had all run away. Presently the chief appeared, and said he was very poor, and that Gungunyan had raided on him and killed his people. He was very polite, and stayed at our camp for two or three hours, and I had a long talk with him about our Mission. He gave me a goat, and I gave him a blanket. He is the paramount chief of the Gumbu people, and very intelligent people they seem to be. All this part of the country, too, is very beautiful, nearly flat, and one immense jungle. I was choosing the graveyard of the village for our sleeping-place, when they told me what it was. This is the only instance of a native graveyard that I have seen in Africa. At one place they bury their chief by putting him in a hut, which they fill up with pieces of meat; the whole hut [62/63] is left alone for some months, when all that is left inside is taken to a cave, and the idea is maintained that the chief never dies.

Though we have had our longest walk of all today, and two interviews with chiefs, yet we are not nearly as tired as usual, because there has been no sun.

August 28th.--The chief came again early to say he would certainly receive our teachers, take great care of them, and always have a hut ready for them till their own should be built. He said if the teachers came to his country then Gungunyan could not raid upon him any more.

This is another whole district open to us now, and when I asked for a guide to take us farther south, he and his chief counsellor came with us instead. They were very intelligent, and to save ravines for the donkeys they took us a roundabout way towards 'Mtema's, the next chief. We passed acre after acre of well-cultivated fields, chiefly along the banks of the Sabi and cut out Of the thick jungle. The trees would delight a botanist, and the birds delight me. Sometimes the path went for a mile or two through masses of beautiful shrubs, then came a clearing with huts, and a family in charge. The walking was very easy. When we stopped for our food the chief sat opposite to me, and, after washing his hands, had his own food brought to him--it was fish caught in the Sabi river, and meal. Altogether he behaved as a native gentleman would. We made a very short walk [63/64] afterwards to Zitiro's village. When we were camped the musicians came down to sing a song about the last white man--apparently the only one--who came through about thirty years ago, as far as I can make out. The headman, a son of Gundyanga, accepted our teachers, and said he would give them a place to live in.

Then I hoped for an hour's quiet, as we had stopped early, but the musician came quite close, and appeared as determined as any London organ-grinder to have a present, saying he would play all day and all night, and come with us to the next village. This terrible threat produced his present, and he went. [They play monotonous tunes with their fingers on instruments with two rows of iron notes. For their great evening entertainments in the villages the shouting and singing is accompanied by drums, which they beat for hours together, while the people dance, round and round. As the villages are usually on the top of a hill, the effect at night from below is very weird.]

August 29th.--Started early, before sunrise, and After thirteen or fourteen miles came to good water at the village of Mtema's son, where we breakfasted. The Induna from Gundyanga went back from here, with a final assertion that they were going to build a hut for our teacher, and that his people would like to be under the protection of the great English Queen.

August 30th, Sunday.--I had service with the catechists, and explained strongly to them from the [64/65] second lesson how careful they must be when living among the heathen, and what a great work was before them if they used the opportunity well.

While we were having service the chief 'Mtema came, bringing a goat as a present. After a long talk I asked him to go and discuss all I had told him with his village. When he came back he said that he and his people wished to have a teacher, and that they would lend him a hut until his own should be built, on a piece of ground to be pointed out to me. I thanked him, and told him to thank God for having teachers sent to him. Perhaps an idea that Gungunyan will be kept away holds a more prominent place in their acceptance of our Mission than any desire to learn Christianity.

In the afternoon three women: came down very anxious to see me, as no white man had been to the village before. When we met they made the kind of exclamation that would be made at the Zoological Gardens over quite a new animal. They saluted very nicely, and said that when the teacher came they would cook well for him and take care of him.

August 31st.--It was very dark when we started. A donkey got away and delayed us by rolling on his load on the village cinder-heap. We went N.E. by E. steadily for about twelve miles, and then reached water, breakfast, and a chief at Nedanhe's village. He met us, saluting in the pretty way that is sometimes found among these wilder tribes--coming forward with both hands spread out as though [65/66] offering himself to one. He accepted our teachers, and we went on, passing one beautiful stream of clear running water after another, and finally following one, the Moloti, up a lovely valley till we stopped for, the night, after a walk to-day of about twenty-five miles. The men were very happy as they had plenty of food.

One advantage of our constant change of guides is that as they feed round the same fire, and join at night in our prayers, they must learn something to tell their villages.:

September 1st.--We walked on by the side of the Moloti up to its source; we then crossed its watershed to the Imarque river, which runs into the Sabi, but exactly where we are I don't know.

I fired off my rifle to-day for the first time, and shot a very large sable antelope, male; it only delayed us half an hour, and the meat cheered up the men immensely. They have walked excellently, and certainly deserve all they can have.

We reached a village where our guide left us to go back, and the people wanted us to wait till some one came to take us on to the great chief about here, Mooucha. I could not wait: and presently we found some wandering men who offered to guide us, so we travelled slowly up and down hills, among rocks and stones, till we came to Giaza's village. We have risen about 1,050 feet during the last two days, finding great relief in being away from the low ground: here we are about 3,750 feet above sea-level, and surrounded by mountains far higher. This may [66/67] be a splendid site some day for a branch Mission centre.

September 2nd.--The chief's son came down for our interview, saying that his father was too old to travel. He and his men were very sensible, saying they thought they would find it difficult to learn, but would try. The objections vary a little in each place; however, we settled everything here more quickly than ever before. They are the Nyamaza people. I invited them to come to our fire, and gave them meat and meal; they help me a good deal with my map.

They certainly build far more sensibly than the Mashona; the huts are put on rising ground, but near water, and near their gardens; and as they do not crowd the huts in among the rocks, the village is far cleaner. They dread the raids of Gungunyan, as the Mashona dread those of Lobengula; but till the raid comes they lead a pleasanter life. I was struck by the way in which the women of these tribes mix in the public life, and they behave very nicely and intelligently. Unless they feel an 'introduction' has taken place between them and us by my being accepted at a village, they turn out of the road when we meet them, and do not look at us. The little black children usually run at the sight of me, and sometimes their screams show how repugnant is the white skin to their purely natural mind. They seem sharper than their white contemporaries, as one of the latter terrified would probably [67/68] stand and scream; here the little mite scuttles off to hide, or, if its mother is in sight, runs to her and jumps up on her back. They do not seem to run to her arms at all.

To-day we have been among mountains, with a bad guide. One chief we saw immediately gave me his garden, hoe, as it was the only present he could make me. I formally gave it back as a present from myself, saying I could not take away what was so necessary to him. He equally formally accepted it, scraping his feet on the ground and thanking. 'But,' he said, 'what will my father Parpedo say to my having given you no present?' He sent another guide on with us, and till sundown we clambered and stumbled over rocks and stones till we crossed a very high pass among the mountains, and came to the head of a beautiful valley, with the little river Munianiazi running down it. Here we camped for the night, and as our matches did not arrive with us the men made fire with the lire-sticks.

September 3rd.--Our path lay down the valley, the most fertile I have seen in Africa; the hills, even in the dry season, drain down into the central brook, and under the mountains is a broad belt of land that seems capable of growing anything. It is very thinly inhabited, as its chief, Parpedo, lives away up on a great height with a wide look-out, so as to have the earliest warning of a raid from Gungunyan.

We passed two villages, where I had talks with [68/69] the people, and climbed some steep rocky hills on our way to Farpedo, but I found the road was taking us so far into the mountains and away from Umtali that I had our camp made, and sent the guide to ask Parpedo to come to me. To save a day, I followed the guide, and found the chief, with whom I had the usual talk, and heard the usual objections, only very pleasantly put.

He was coughing badly, but when I offered him medicine he refused, saying he was not really ill: If I were really ill I should be afraid that I was going to die.' I spoke to him about death, and that when we died the Great God in heaven took us. He asked,' How could that be, because if he were taken to heaven he could never come back to earth?' Their reasoning is very childish and material, and then again pathetic, as when they say they are black men, and so how can they learn?

I always try to make them feel it is they who should be grateful for the teacher, and not we for their accepting him. Poor Parpedo wished to talk more of Gungunyan's raids than of anything else: and then there was plainly some one else, too, he was afraid of; and so he pauses what might be a happy life in almost the only ugly spot in his really beautiful country, without fuel and in keen mountain air. We parted... on excellent terms, and I walked back to our camp with a goat and a guide, and the chief's invitation to our Mission to come to his country--all very valuable pieces of property, but [69/70] like others partly fleeting, as the guide found our hillside too bleak and windy, and went back to his-village, saying he would catch cold.

These people are called the Gargw6 people: they make excellent matting out of split reeds.

September 4th.--We had to go twelve miles down a valley to get round an immense mountain. For four days we have been in a sea of mountains; there seems no break in any direction, and I can see continuous mountains to the south-west for some twenty miles at least.

We have been in some very beautiful valleys, and in several of the streams, especially in the higher part of the country, we found the blue water-lily.

Breakfast to-day was near an exquisitely lovely brook, clear water rippling over stones, and trees everywhere. After thirteen miles of sun this was a delightful place for our two hours' rest. We then walked on to Inyamana's town, and climbed up his big mountain to get some rather dirty water and to-find that he was away. Later in the evening his son came to see us, and we slept in a kind of ploughed field.

September 5th.--I decided to go back to Umtali direct, as the next great chiefs can be easily reached from there; we cannot be very far away now. We walked thirteen miles under a hot sun, and breakfasted near an exquisitely beautiful mountain stream, the Mopudzi. I had plenty of time to wash, as Charlie, the Capetown native who cooks for me, is consistently one [70/71] of the hinder detachment in our walks. He excused himself to-day by saying he had never seen a 'white man' walk as I did; perhaps if he knew how very nearly the 'white man' has had enough of it he might not respect him so much.

Three men have joined us, saying they want to work. We have one yard of calico left, so perhaps it is time we got back to our base. [There is no money in use among the natives; guides have to be paid and food bought with calico. The measurement is from one hand to another when both arms are stretched out to their farthest extent, and one of these would be good payment for a guide for the day. The calico is cheap unbleached cotton, worth about 2d. a yard at Capetown, but a great deal more after it as been carried into this country. Farther north the people prefer blue calico, as it is supposed to keep away devils.]

We have left the country of happy valleys' round Farpedo's; all through them the foliage of the 'machabel' trees was beautiful beyond words, the young leaves being of every shade of colour from golden yellow to deep crimson. We finished the day by a good second walk, about twenty-three miles altogether.

Sunday, September 6th.--We reached Moladjiqua's village after six miles; he is a brother of the head chief, and was stupid and utterly unlike the south-country chiefs we have been among. I could make no impression on him from a missionary point of [71/72] view. The people here are called Gindui. The women wear a porcelain tube about one and a half inches long, pushed through their upper lip; half stands out in front, the rest is accommodated in the mouth as best it may be, and the effect is odd.

The walk back to Umtali was the worst one I have had to do, and I thought once I should hardly get in. Perhaps the sun has a good deal to do with one's exhaustion, but then it is a continual factor in the work in this country, as I suppose it must be in all tropical lands. How well one learns to understand here the Bible view of the sun, and the beauty of the promise: 'The sun shall not burn thee by day'; and the coolness and rest of the shadow of a great rock in a weary land'; or again, the force of «As soon as the sun was up it was scorched'!

We got into Umtali after doing twenty-four miles up and down hill; at the last river the donkey carrying the sleeping-blankets fell down and lay in the water, and was only saved from drowning with great difficulty.

We seem altogether to have walked about 280 miles, and I feel it has been a most useful journey for our future work. Thanks be to God!

September 7th.--We hear that Dr. Glanville died on his road from here to Fort Salisbury--what from I cannot find out; he had two horses and apparently every convenience for the road when he left us. I am very sorry.

Wilkins had a long series of troubles to tell me; [72/73] some of the Mashona had left him soon after I started, and no intelligent workman could be found under exorbitant wages; the brighter news is that somehow or another 60,000 bricks have been made. The nurses have moved into their new hospital huts, and are far more comfortable; their one luxury is a small china tea-set that has actually been brought up from 'Mpanda's, and to be asked to share their afternoon tea reminds the camp and myself of the faraway English home. A man has brought up his wife and two children, who are ill with fever. I wish we could do more for them.

Project Canterbury