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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 V. The Bishop's Journal, continued.

September 10th.--My plan is to start to-day for Fort Salisbury to see the Administrator, Dr. Jameson, about land for the Church settlements. William Wilson goes with me to plant out two catechists with chiefs to the north. I shall be able to take a horse for this journey. After starting, the Mashona who had been put in charge of the food thought it heavy to carry, so he and two friends ate it all. Not knowing this, I stayed behind to see the nurses and Mr. Fiennes. The value of such a Christian gentleman as he is, under the circumstances in which we are all living, seems to increase daily. The officer in command, Captain Bruce, is also most kind to us; and to know that all the higher-class men of the country are with one in-the work certainly removes half the weight of difficulties and annoyances.

I caught up my men at sunset, to find them very discontented at having no food. I had to send five miles to the nearest village to buy some, but none arrived.

September 11th.--The men were mostly sulky at not having their proper food, though I gave them some of the little I had. We managed to get them to walk [74/75] on about twenty-two miles. Perhaps I ought to be thankful my men only grumble when they are hungry, instead of deserting, as one constantly hear of their doing. On our way we met three Europeans from Fort Salisbury, and had a talk. One of them pleased me very much by saying he thought missionary work among the Mashona would be most useful; his reasons were their extraordinary immorality, and their thieving habits. The latter charge I do not think a true one.

September 12th.--We walked on the few miles to Maconi's town, as my first visit had been too unsatisfactory to be contented with, surrounded as he had been by his men, all noisy and wild. I had left our catechist Frank four miles off, but I was anxious to get things on a better footing than this.

We began with a moral tussle. I sent the ordinary message of salutation up to him, to which he replied courteously that I must go up and see him, the real meaning being that he would not come out to see me. As I had been once to see him, I felt it would be taking a wrong position to go again; and it is very curious what a bad effect upon the native mind and upon their attitude towards their teachers this has. So I sent him word that I was going on soon, but that I wished to see him there, and had my present for him. Soon he appeared with his men, quite sober and ready to talk quietly. For a long time we went round the question of his receiving our [75/76] missionaries in true native fashion, till at last he said that he would show me the place where the teachers I had hoped at the most that he would give a kind, of permission for his people to be taught, but this definite position is most valuable. His country is one of the largest in the diocese, and he is a representative of one of the three ancient lines of chiefs that the whole country recognises.

I and two of the Indunas then walked to Frank's hut, and the place was formally pointed out as our place. It is close to a large native town, hardly less in size than the one where Maconi lives. I was very pleased with what Frank had done; he was in his own hut teaching four or five Mashona boys. Frank is a pure Zulu, and the only survivor of an expedition that went up to the Zambesi and Lake Nyassa; the fever then got into his system, and he has suffered badly from it for years, and especially lately here. Instead of the low dirty Mashona huts, he has built his in the Zulu fashion--large, clean, and comfortable; indeed, the second one is remarkably good for native work. When I asked him whom it was for, he hesitated a good deal from shyness before asking me in the nicest way to take it as mine.

September 13th, Sunday.--We had an early service, and then a long talk with Frank. He wants one of his own people--a Zulu--to live with him, and see to him when he is down with fever. I made all the arrangements I could for him, and left barter calico, and a large blanket for himself. He deserves [76/77] all we can do for him, and is of great value to our Church here. He must have acted very sensibly, for though Maconi had at that time refused our teachers, I find he has been sending his two Indunas to see Frank. This is all a great point gained, and now here is another large district open to Christianity if only England will give us means to take full possession.

We had an early service, and another at 11 a.m., and walked on in the afternoon till after dark. Walking is often more restful, peaceful, and Sunday-like than going through the parody of a day of rest that one gets among heathen natives, when, from the eating, shouting, and laughing, there is small opportunity of talking to them.

September 14th.--We made a good journey to Mosueré's town, where we stopped for an hour and breakfasted, though the horrible crowding round and noise of the natives that go on all the time do not allow of much rest. We then went on and stopped for the night at a very small village in Maguendi's country.

September 15th.--I visited Gera's village. On the path all the population turned out to see my horse, and the chief went on with us some way, prancing along in front, and carrying my rifle at his own request. Their civility is no doubt increased by their knowledge of Bernard, our catechist farther on. When we reached his station at Maguendi's, I heard excellent reports of him from the two troopers at the [77/78] post station. He has built his hut, but has been staying with them. The chief has sent his brother-in-law and an Induna has sent his son to live with Bernard and be taught by him. The chief is said to be very fond him, and all is going on well.

Wilson leaves me here to take two catechists to visit five chiefs to the north and leave them to settle there, for it is important to have two together when they are so far away from any of us. I gave them their rainy season clothes and boots and a supply of barter calico for their food.

Corporal Smith has been of the greatest value to us here, and one wishes that white men in such a country as this realised more how they help or hinder Christ's work. In the afternoon I dedicated Bernard's hut, and spoke for a long time with him about his work.

September 16th.--Our guide was splendid today; he went along at a great pace, and altogether the men must have walked thirty miles. I Haw the chief, Luseke, who had spontaneously asked for a teacher and been visited by Bernard, and I promised to send him one as soon as possible.

In the afternoon I sent Bernard off to the north to see the chief who owns this part of the country, and consequently in the evening, when we reached Mashonganiika, I had to carry on a conversation with him alone as best I could. However, he was most amiable. The only incident to-day was a large bog, into which I and my horse dropped.

[79] September 17th.--We reached Fort Salisbury, and Dr. Jameson, now Administrator, came to see me. We discussed the land question, which is quite as important to me as to Ireland, and arrived at a most satisfactory agreement. So far as the Chartered Company is concerned, our Church is to have a right to 3,000 acres of land wherever we place a Mission. When the country develops, as it must do in the ordinary course, this land will become very valuable as an endowment, and should make assistance from England unnecessary. But to reach this financial ideal for a foreign Mission we must be placed in a position to accept this offer now by having a block sum of money to enable us to occupy good land, and to cultivate and stock it as a foundation for the future. But from another point of view I look on this promise of land as most important. Should the white settlers increase largely in numbers, another native land question must rise up here as it has done in every part of South Africa. The Mashona might be in danger of being pressed out of the more valuable agricultural parts of the country, and those Mission lands could then be used as a kind of native reserve, and prevent the necessity of their leaving their towns.

It is to be hoped that Europeans will never be allowed to settle on the ground of the natives. Besides the grave injustice of taking the land which the Mashona need, a serious complication of the [79/80] labour difficulty would follow, as the natives would probably leave the country.

The whole question of the land is a difficult one, I consider that the land which the natives of this country actually inhabit belongs to them. How they came into possession of it we do not know; we found them in possession. We have no more right to take any land which they actually inhabit, and by unknown length of tenure own, than we should have to dispossess white men holding property in England on the same tenure. But they only occupy a very small part of the country, and it is a question how far land which they have never occupied belongs to them. Though each chief would claim territory to some boundary, even when consecutive miles of it are uninhabited, yet I think that he would see no objection to other people settling there. Though it is no argument if there had been anything unjust in the occupation of the country, yet there can be no doubt that the presence of the Chartered Company is a great benefit to the Mashona, as an end has been put to Matabele raids wherever they have come. Where they have not been, to the south of Manicaland, I have been asked that the country may be put under the protection of the Great Queen, as this would keep away the Gaza raids. Apart from the Matabele question, I believe that the natives prefer white men living in their country, so long as they are just and do not take their occupied land, for the white man gives work, [80/81] and provides what otherwise the natives would not have. Apart from this, the movement of the white man northward in Africa seems, rightly or wrongly, inevitable. It is only a question as to which white men shall move up; and we, who accept things as they are, are thankful that a Company, having such a class of officers and such regulations as this has, is the power which has moved up. The Company makes for good. When it shows signs of demoralisation or relaxes its righteous rules, it will be time for the friends of the natives to speak.

September 18th.--I rode out with Mr. Selous to his farm, and arranged with his farmer to choose our Mission land for Fort Salisbury. The ground was better than I expected. Bernard came back, saying that Chiquaqua wished our missionaries for his country.

I had some time with Canon Balfour, who has just returned from a good walk to the north. He travels very well, and gets on admirably with natives I had thought he wished for a change, but now he is intent on staying on for a time longer. He has great courage. The Church which he has built here is the only one in the country. Major Forbes takes the service when Canon Balfour is away.

September 20th.--Holy Communion at 7.30 a.m.; Church Parade for the police at 10; Service for the townspeople at 11 a.m.; and evening Service at 7 o'clock. We decided on the necessity for another church, however rough, about half a mile away from [81/82] the camp, where the bulk of the people live; and Colonel Pennefather, always an influence for good, promised me £20 for our work. Some time ago, one of our most gallant English soldiers, at a meeting for Mashonaland in Capetown, alluded to-the relative good which English wars and English Missions had done in Africa. My own experience-would answer that the value which English officers, directly and indirectly, have been to our Missions has been incalculable. The hospital here is as empty now as that at Umtali.

September 21st.--We made a good day's journey along the dusty, wearying road to Fort Charter and the south, up which all the waggons have come for the last eighteen months. The most interesting variation is in thicker or thinner dust, and in the kind of dead oxen lying along the side, I am going as far as Fort Charter to try and meet Mr. Sewell, a clergyman who was coming up to join the Mission with the waggon by the Bechuanaland route.

We visited a village on our way, and I learnt two curious Mashona customs: one, that when twin babies are born both are drowned; and another, that during harvest they keep a sixth day of rest. On this day the chief sends a man up a hill to say, 'It is Mwali's day,' i.e. God's day, and no one works. This is one of the few traces of any religion that I have found among them; but the more one knows of natives the more one finds how consistently they keep on concealing from strangers what they really think.

[83] September 22nd.--I met the Wesleyan deputation coming up for their first attempt in Mashonaland. They gave me tea, and I explained to them how many of the chiefs had already accepted our missionaries.

The next day we reached Fort Charter, the carriers having walked the distance of nearly seventy miles in two days and a half most admirably; and as they have been scantily fed it does them all the more credit. Bernard confided in me that 'the men were very fond of me,' so I suppose they do not mind hard work and little food.

September 24th.--We left Fort Charter soon after five this morning, as I can hear no news of Mr. Sewell. Sleeping that night at Umtigeza's and making arrangements for sending a missionary there, we went on another day and a half to an interesting chief, Gambisa. He replied to my question about a house for a teacher, 'Who should build it if I did not?' and to another question, I am only a little child, how can I answer you?' He said later that he was afraid other teachers might be sent instead of ours, and that he would receive none who were not brought by me or Bernard. I do not know what suggested this to him.

There is a tree here which they call their 'praying tree.' It is chosen by their medicine man, and then surrounded by a fence.

The sun was very hot, and by a grave misfortune after leaving the village we found a dead antelope. The men, of course, wished for the meat, and hence [83/84] confusion for the rest of the day. The guide stayed behind with the antelope: we took different roads: we could not camp near a stream, as the men who came on with me had no food: and finally we had to go on in the dark. Happily we met two men who showed us a short cut over a hill to a village, so that I got under my blankets about eleven o'clock in a filthy corner under some rocks near Makwarimba's town. I felt that when the people began to fight and wrangle all round with my men about the payment for bringing some wood for the fires my temper was at its lowest ebb. Eighteen hours of work is too long when travelling is as tiring as this is.

September 27th.--We left our dirty camp, and reached another village that is an almost perfect type of the Mashona country. There is a brook here at our feet, and beyond it the beautifully green grass rises in a gentle slope for a quarter of a mile to the base of the great rock-like hill. The sides are almost perpendicular, covered with trees and broken boulders, and the path winds up in and out among them. Right on the top, standing clearly out against the sky-line, are the conical-roofed huts, the brown of the thatch and clay contrasting forcibly, as every shade does in this clear air, with the blue beyond and the green or crimson of the trees below. It belongs to the chief Makouromouri.

September 28th.--We had an interesting day, as we reached my former friends at Sipiro's, who concealed us from the Gaza tribute collectors in 1888. [84/85] He was very pleased to see me again, and became most friendly, saying, 'You and Selous are the only two people known in this country; I have given him one of my sons, and I will give you another.' I explained that I could not take the boy to live with me till I returned from England; but I was very pleased, as not only shall we have the boy to teach, and chiefs' sons represent the highest calibre in the tribe, but it is one of the greatest marks of trust that the chief could have given us.

Sipiro was much interested to know how I was going to England, and how ships could be made to go on the water. He said it was a small thing to build a hut for the catechist, and that of course he [85/86] would do it; but would I not choose the piece of ground? The mention of a future life generally makes natives laugh, but Sipiro and his people were very sensible when I spoke about it to them. They are the remains of the great Barotse race, who used to hold the paramount power over the whole of this country till their cruelty drove the sub-chiefs to revolt, and they were driven out. Sipiro is undoubtedly one of the native gentlemen one meets with at times.

To the west of this are some of the largest ironworks in the country. The Mashona differ from all other races in Southern Africa in the cleverness of their manual labour, and I believe they could be taught almost anything. They are born miners, and get the iron out of the ground with tools made by themselves. There is one place Mr. Selous has called Iron Mine Hill, and paths lead from it in all directions. When the Mashona have got the iron out they smelt it in very primitive but very effective little furnaces. Those I saw were from two to three feet high, and placed in a row of five or six together under one long shed; the bellows behind each furnace were made of goat skins, and worked up and down by men sitting on the ground. They use charcoal for fuel, and put lumps of fat on the iron ore itself. When smelted the iron is taken to the smith of the village--in one case I know he was the chief--and with no tools except stones of different sizes he beats and shapes it into assegais, hoes, the iron notes of their [86/87] musical instruments, or the bangles for their women. The assegais have a high reputation, and may be equal to the second quality of English steel. One could imagine Tubal Cain at work with just such appliances as these.

After leaving Sipiro, the next day we came across some Mashona putting up their nets for a large game drive, who ran away when they first saw us. They had chosen a very narrow valley, and right across its narrowest part they had stretched their nets, beautifully made of bark, and about five feet high. The drive itself I could not wait to see.

Presently in the middle of another group of Mashonas we found a white man, looking very miserable and half-dazed. When I spoke he asked if he were going right for 'Mpanda's. He was going in the opposite direction, and had been lost for five days in the bush after wandering away from the main road, and was starving when he saw the natives, who were very good and did all they could for him. I offered to take him on with us and feed him, but he said he was tired and would follow me. It is extraordinary how these people get on at all, for one can hardly imagine the madness of leaving the track in a horrible lion country, and without a rifle.

September 30th.--We started at 6 a.m., but soon .after my horse and the donkey were lying side by side, stuck fast in a morass, with only Mashona to help, so it took some time to get them out. These morasses, I find, are often under the finer and shorter grass. The [87/88] water appears to lie on the surface, but is so hidden by the thick green grass that man and beast are often in before it can be detected.

We pushed on till about four miles from Umtali, when a trooper met us, and I learnt that the site of the township had been moved to the spot where we then were. This is an unexpected blow, as it leaves all the buildings we have been working so hard at too far away from the new township to be of practical use for present needs. It means new expense and new trouble, and another briar on a not over-smooth road. Mr. Jagger, Bennett, and my old half-caste servant Edward were waiting at the Mission huts; they had been coming up with our waggon by the Bechuanaland road, but thinking they could push on more quickly had walked ahead. Mr. Sewell remained with the ox-waggon. I am very sorry not to see him before leaving, as I wished to arrange matters personally with him for the next six months.

The nurses are in their new huts, very blight and cheerful in spite of the many discomforts and privations they have to bear, and which no doubt they feel all the more as this is the healthy season of the year, when there is but little work for them to do. But it is most fortunate they came up when they did, as they have time to get things in order before the rainy season, and to travel then would have been impossible.

The next few days were busy ones. The Surveyor-General was at Umtali, and he settled our Mission [88/89] land, &c. with me. In addition to our farm, where we have been working, and where I hope to have native industrial training schools, the Chartered Company have allotted perhaps the best piece of ground in the new township to the Mission; the hospital and the nurses' huts are to be close under it, and the site for the school is to be rather out of the town, so as to have a playground, as we are making preparations for white children here. All this is only one among the many acts of kindness and courtesy done for us by the officers of the Chartered Company, who have indeed helped us in many ways. Apart from one's confidence in Dr. Jameson as the Administrator of the country, I shall never forget his personal kindness to myself.

October 4th.--We all received the Holy Communion together in my hut at 8 o'clock; afterwards I walked to the police camp and had service there, then to the nurses' for lunch and service, and then back here for evening service.

The next day William Wilson came back from having planted down the two native catechists to the north; he has seen the five chiefs whom they are to visit. His diary of the journey is a model one--it is only an account of work done and difficulties met. He does not even mention that he has severely injured himself in getting his donkeys over the rocks on his way.

Good news has come of Bernard, who is seeing to-the building of teachers' huts at two more chiefs' by [89/90] their own desire; and he is in high favour with Maguendi's people, as he has just satisfactorily settled a cattle dispute for them.

Before leaving I received letters from two officers of the Chartered Company, saying it was wonderful what rapid strides the Mission had made under adverse circumstances; and another, speaking of the position that the Mission has gained, of the large extent of country visited, of the number of important chiefs who are now its friends, adds: 'It seems to have been grasped by the native mind, and to be looked up to and respected by them as a power in the land.'

We then walked eastward to Mpanda's, near the sea, in eight and a half days, having travelled nearly 1,300 miles since I left it in May. It was terribly sad to see there hundreds of pounds' worth of stores, that ought to have been our supply for the year, lying useless, because of the impossibility of getting them up to Umtali. The unexpected failure for the present of the Pungwé route has, indeed, cost the diocese heavily. I sent back as many loads of provisions for the Mission workers at Umtali as I could find natives to carry up; every village round was searched for carriers, and all the gold that I could collect I sent to George Wilson, English sovereigns being the only current coin to pay carriers with.

I have been a good deal troubled by what is being said about supplying the natives with drink. It is so remunerative that we can hardly hope that [90/91] the attempt will not be made; but the Chartered Company have spoken decisively about it--no native is to be supplied with drink within their jurisdiction. Those who care for their dark-skinned fellow-men will uphold the Company in this their righteous regulation, and assist them to suppress any attempt .at breaking it. Terrible as are the horrors of the slave trade, the injury done to the natives by the importation of drink is ultimately the greater evil of the two.

After spending two Sundays at Beira, where we had services, I was taken off by H.M.S. Racoon, and landed at the comparatively civilised Delagoa Bay in time to hold service there on Sunday, November 22nd.


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