University of Botswana History Department
Electronic texts

David Livingstone;
Missionary Travels

Chapter 9

Contents page

Introduction etc. | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26 | Chapter 27 | Chapter 28 | Chapter 29 | Chapter 30 | Chapter 31 | Chapter 32 | Appendices etc.

History Home Page  |  Site Index  |  Electronic texts index

Chapter 9.

  Reception at Linyanti -- The court Herald -- Sekeletu obtains
  the Chieftainship from his Sister -- Mpepe's Plot -- Slave-trading Mambari
  -- Their sudden Flight -- Sekeletu narrowly escapes Assassination --
  Execution of Mpepe -- The Courts of Law -- Mode of trying Offenses --
  Sekeletu's Reason for not learning to read the Bible --
  The Disposition made of the Wives of a deceased Chief --
  Makololo Women -- They work but little -- Employ Serfs --
  Their Drink, Dress, and Ornaments -- Public Religious Services in the Kotla
  -- Unfavorable Associations of the place -- Native Doctors --
  Proposals to teach the Makololo to read -- Sekeletu's Present --
  Reason for accepting it -- Trading in Ivory -- Accidental Fire --
  Presents for Sekeletu -- Two Breeds of native Cattle --
  Ornamenting the Cattle -- The Women and the Looking-glass --
  Mode of preparing the Skins of Oxen for Mantles and for Shields --
  Throwing the Spear.

The whole population of Linyanti, numbering between six and seven
thousand souls, turned out en masse to see the wagons in motion.
They had never witnessed the phenomenon before, we having
on the former occasion departed by night.  Sekeletu, now in power,
received us in what is considered royal style, setting before us
a great number of pots of boyaloa, the beer of the country.
These were brought by women, and each bearer takes a good draught of the beer
when she sets it down, by way of "tasting", to show that there is no poison.

The court herald, an old man who occupied the post also in Sebituane's time,
stood up, and after some antics, such as leaping, and shouting
at the top of his voice, roared out some adulatory sentences,
as, "Don't I see the white man?  Don't I see the comrade of Sebituane?
Don't I see the father of Sekeletu?" -- "We want sleep." --
"Give your son sleep, my lord," etc., etc.  The perquisites of this man
are the heads of all the cattle slaughtered by the chief, and he even takes
a share of the tribute before it is distributed and taken out of the kotla.
He is expected to utter all the proclamations, call assemblies,
keep the kotla clean, and the fire burning every evening,
and when a person is executed in public he drags away the body.

I found Sekeletu a young man of eighteen years of age, of that
dark yellow or coffee-and-milk color, of which the Makololo are so proud,
because it distinguishes them considerably from the black tribes
on the rivers.  He is about five feet seven in height,
and neither so good looking nor of so much ability as his father was,
but is equally friendly to the English.  Sebituane installed
his daughter Mamochisane into the chieftainship long before his death,
but, with all his acuteness, the idea of her having a husband
who should not be her lord did not seem to enter his mind.  He wished
to make her his successor, probably in imitation of some of the negro tribes
with whom he had come into contact; but, being of the Bechuana race,
he could not look upon the husband except as the woman's lord;
so he told her all the men were hers -- she might take any one,
but ought to keep none.  In fact, he thought she might do with the men
what he could do with the women; but these men had other wives;
and, according to a saying in the country, "the tongues of women
can not be governed," they made her miserable by their remarks.
One man whom she chose was even called her wife, and her son
the child of Mamochisane's wife; but the arrangement was so distasteful
to Mamochisane herself that, as soon as Sebituane died, she said
she never would consent to govern the Makololo so long as she had
a brother living.  Sekeletu, being afraid of another member of the family,
Mpepe, who had pretensions to the chieftainship, urged his sister strongly
to remain as she had always been, and allow him to support her authority
by leading the Makololo when they went forth to war.  Three days were spent
in public discussion on the point.  Mpepe insinuated that Sekeletu
was not the lawful son of Sebituane, on account of his mother
having been the wife of another chief before her marriage with Sebituane;
Mamochisane, however, upheld Sekeletu's claims, and at last
stood up in the assembly and addressed him with a womanly gush of tears:
"I have been a chief only because my father wished it.  I always
would have preferred to be married and have a family like other women.
You, Sekeletu, must be chief, and build up your father's house."
This was a death-blow to the hopes of Mpepe.

As it will enable the reader to understand the social and political relations
of these people, I will add a few more particulars respecting Mpepe.
Sebituane, having no son to take the leadership of the "Mopato"
of the age of his daughter, chose him, as the nearest male relative,
to occupy that post; and presuming from Mpepe's connection with his family
that he would attend to his interests and relieve him from care,
he handed his cattle over to his custody.  Mpepe removed to the chief town,
"Naliele", and took such effectual charge of all the cattle
that Sebituane saw he could only set matters on their former footing
by the severe measure of Mpepe's execution.  Being unwilling to do this,
and fearing the enchantments which, by means of a number of Barotse doctors,
Mpepe now used in a hut built for the purpose, and longing
for peaceful retirement after thirty years' fighting, he heard with pleasure
of our arrival at the lake, and came down as far as Sesheke to meet us.
He had an idea, picked up from some of the numerous strangers who visited him,
that white men had a "pot (a cannon) in their towns which would burn up
any attacking party;" and he thought if he could only get this
he would be able to "sleep" the remainder of his days in peace.
This he hoped to obtain from the white men.  Hence the cry of the herald,
"Give us sleep."  It is remarkable how anxious for peace
those who have been fighting all their lives appear to be.

When Sekeletu was installed in the chieftainship, he felt his position
rather insecure, for it was believed that the incantations of Mpepe
had an intimate connection with Sebituane's death.  Indeed, the latter
had said to his son, "That hut of incantation will prove fatal
to either you or me."

When the Mambari, in 1850, took home a favorable report of this new market
to the west, a number of half-caste Portuguese slave-traders were induced
to come in 1853; and one, who resembled closely a real Portuguese,
came to Linyanti while I was there.  This man had no merchandise,
and pretended to have come in order to inquire "what sort of goods
were necessary for the market."  He seemed much disconcerted by
my presence there.  Sekeletu presented him with an elephant's tusk and an ox;
and when he had departed about fifty miles to the westward,
he carried off an entire village of the Bakalahari belonging to the Makololo.
He had a number of armed slaves with him; and as all the villagers
-- men, women, and children -- were removed, and the fact was unknown
until a considerable time afterward, it is not certain whether his object
was obtained by violence or by fair promises.  In either case,
slavery must have been the portion of these poor people.  He was carried
in a hammock, slung between two poles, which appearing to be a bag,
the Makololo named him "Father of the Bag".

Mpepe favored these slave-traders, and they, as is usual with them,
founded all their hopes of influence on his successful rebellion.
My arrival on the scene was felt to be so much weight in the scale
against their interests.  A large party of Mambari had come to Linyanti
when I was floundering on the prairies south of the Chobe.
As the news of my being in the neighborhood reached them
their countenances fell; and when some Makololo, who had assisted us
to cross the river, returned with hats which I had given them,
the Mambari betook themselves to precipitate flight.  It is usual for visitors
to ask formal permission before attempting to leave a chief,
but the sight of the hats made the Mambari pack up at once.
The Makololo inquired the cause of the hurry, and were told that,
if I found them there, I should take all their slaves and goods from them;
and, though assured by Sekeletu that I was not a robber,
but a man of peace, they fled by night, while I was still sixty miles off.
They went to the north, where, under the protection of Mpepe, they had erected
a stockade of considerable size.  There, several half-caste slave-traders,
under the leadership of a native Portuguese, carried on their traffic,
without reference to the chief into whose country they had unceremoniously
introduced themselves; while Mpepe, feeding them with the cattle of Sekeletu,
formed a plan of raising himself, by means of their fire-arms, to be
the head of the Makololo.  The usual course which the slave-traders adopt
is to take a part in the political affairs of each tribe,
and, siding with the strongest, get well paid by captures made
from the weaker party.  Long secret conferences were held
by the slave-traders and Mpepe, and it was deemed advisable for him
to strike the first blow; so he provided himself with a small battle-axe,
with the intention of cutting Sekeletu down the first time they met.

My object being first of all to examine the country for a healthy locality,
before attempting to make a path to either the East or West Coast,
I proposed to Sekeletu the plan of ascending the great river
which we had discovered in 1851.  He volunteered to accompany me,
and, when we got about sixty miles away, on the road to Sesheke,
we encountered Mpepe.  The Makololo, though possessing abundance of cattle,
had never attempted to ride oxen until I advised it in 1851.  The Bechuanas
generally were in the same condition, until Europeans came among them
and imparted the idea of riding.  All their journeys previously
were performed on foot.  Sekeletu and his companions were mounted on oxen,
though, having neither saddle nor bridle, they were perpetually falling off.
Mpepe, armed with his little axe, came along a path parallel to,
but a quarter of a mile distant from, that of our party,
and, when he saw Sekeletu, he ran with all his might toward us;
but Sekeletu, being on his guard, galloped off to an adjacent village.
He then withdrew somewhere till all our party came up.  Mpepe had given
his own party to understand that he would cut down Sekeletu, either on
their first meeting, or at the breaking up of their first conference.
The former intention having been thus frustrated, he then determined
to effect his purpose after their first interview.  I happened to sit down
between the two in the hut where they met.  Being tired with riding all day
in the sun, I soon asked Sekeletu where I should sleep, and he replied,
"Come, I will show you."  As we rose together, I unconsciously covered
Sekeletu's body with mine, and saved him from the blow of the assassin.
I knew nothing of the plot, but remarked that all Mpepe's men
kept hold of their arms, even after we had sat down -- a thing quite unusual
in the presence of a chief; and when Sekeletu showed me the hut in which
I was to spend the night, he said to me, "That man wishes to kill me."
I afterward learned that some of Mpepe's attendants had divulged the secret;
and, bearing in mind his father's instructions, Sekeletu put Mpepe to death
that night.  It was managed so quietly, that, although I was sleeping
within a few yards of the scene, I knew nothing of it till the next day.
Nokuane went to the fire, at which Mpepe sat, with a handful of snuff,
as if he were about to sit down and regale himself therewith.
Mpepe said to him, "Nsepisa" (cause me to take a pinch);
and, as he held out his hand, Nokuane caught hold of it,
while another man seized the other hand, and, leading him out a mile,
speared him.  This is the common mode of executing criminals.
They are not allowed to speak; though on one occasion a man, feeling his wrist
held too tightly, said, "Hold me gently, can't you? you will soon be led out
in the same way yourselves."  Mpepe's men fled to the Barotse,
and, it being unadvisable for us to go thither during the commotion
which followed on Mpepe's death, we returned to Linyanti.

The foregoing may be considered as a characteristic specimen
of their mode of dealing with grave political offenses.  In common cases
there is a greater show of deliberation.  The complainant asks the man
against whom he means to lodge his complaint to come with him to the chief.
This is never refused.  When both are in the kotla, the complainant
stands up and states the whole case before the chief and the people
usually assembled there.  He stands a few seconds after he has done this,
to recollect if he has forgotten any thing.  The witnesses to whom
he has referred then rise up and tell all they themselves have seen or heard,
but not any thing that they have heard from others.  The defendant,
after allowing some minutes to elapse so that he may not interrupt
any of the opposite party, slowly rises, folds his cloak around him,
and, in the most quiet, deliberate way he can assume --
yawning, blowing his nose, etc. -- begins to explain the affair,
denying the charge, or admitting it, as the case may be.
Sometimes, when galled by his remarks, the complainant utters
a sentence of dissent; the accused turns quietly to him, and says,
"Be silent:  I sat still while you were speaking; can't you do the same?
Do you want to have it all to yourself?"  And as the audience acquiesce
in this bantering, and enforce silence, he goes on till he has finished
all he wishes to say in his defense.  If he has any witnesses
to the truth of the facts of his defense, they give their evidence.
No oath is administered; but occasionally, when a statement is questioned,
a man will say, "By my father," or "By the chief, it is so."
Their truthfulness among each other is quite remarkable;
but their system of government is such that Europeans are not in a position
to realize it readily.  A poor man will say, in his defense
against a rich one, "I am astonished to hear a man so great as he
make a false accusation;" as if the offense of falsehood
were felt to be one against the society which the individual referred to
had the greatest interest in upholding.

If the case is one of no importance, the chief decides it at once;
if frivolous, he may give the complainant a scolding,
and put a stop to the case in the middle of the complaint,
or he may allow it to go on without paying any attention to it whatever.
Family quarrels are often treated in this way, and then a man may be seen
stating his case with great fluency, and not a soul listening to him.
But if it is a case between influential men, or brought on by under-chiefs,
then the greatest decorum prevails.  If the chief does not see his way clearly
to a decision, he remains silent; the elders then rise one by one
and give their opinions, often in the way of advice rather than as decisions;
and when the chief finds the general sentiment agreeing in one view,
he delivers his judgment accordingly.  He alone speaks sitting;
all others stand.

No one refuses to acquiesce in the decision of the chief,
as he has the power of life and death in his hands, and can enforce the law
to that extent if he chooses; but grumbling is allowed,
and, when marked favoritism is shown to any relative of the chief,
the people generally are not so astonished at the partiality
as we would be in England.

This system was found as well developed among the Makololo
as among the Bakwains, or even better, and is no foreign importation.
When at Cassange, my men had a slight quarrel among themselves,
and came to me, as to their chief, for judgment.  This had occurred
several times before, so without a thought I went out of
the Portuguese merchant's house in which I was a guest,
sat down, and heard the complaint and defense in the usual way.
When I had given my decision in the common admonitory form,
they went off apparently satisfied.  Several Portuguese,
who had been viewing the proceedings with great interest,
complimented me on the success of my teaching them how to act in litigation;
but I could not take any credit to myself for the system which I had found
ready-made to my hands.

Soon after our arrival at Linyanti, Sekeletu took me aside,
and pressed me to mention those things I liked best and hoped to get from him.
Any thing, either in or out of his town, should be freely given
if I would only mention it.  I explained to him that my object
was to elevate him and his people to be Christians; but he replied
he did not wish to learn to read the Book, for he was afraid
"it might change his heart, and make him content with only one wife,
like Sechele."  It was of little use to urge that the change of heart implied
a contentment with one wife equal to his present complacency in polygamy.
Such a preference after the change of mind could not now be understood by him
any more than the real, unmistakable pleasure of religious services can
by those who have not experienced what is known by the term the "new heart".
I assured him that nothing was expected but by his own voluntary decision.
"No, no; he wanted always to have five wives at least."
I liked the frankness of Sekeletu, for nothing is so wearying to the spirit
as talking to those who agree with every thing advanced.

Sekeletu, according to the system of the Bechuanas,
became possessor of his father's wives, and adopted two of them;
the children by these women are, however, in these cases, termed brothers.
When an elder brother dies, the same thing occurs in respect of his wives;
the brother next in age takes them, as among the Jews,
and the children that may be born of those women he calls brothers also.
He thus raises up seed to his departed relative.  An uncle of Sekeletu,
being a younger brother of Sebituane, got that chieftain's head-wife or queen:
there is always one who enjoys this title.  Her hut is called the great house,
and her children inherit the chieftainship.  If she dies,
a new wife is selected for the same position, and enjoys the same privileges,
though she may happen to be a much younger woman than the rest.

The majority of the wives of Sebituane were given to influential under-chiefs;
and, in reference to their early casting off the widow's weeds,
a song was sung, the tenor of which was that the men alone felt the loss
of their father Sebituane, the women were so soon supplied with new husbands
that their hearts had not time to become sore with grief.

The women complain because the proportions between the sexes
are so changed now that they are not valued as they deserve.
The majority of the real Makololo have been cut off by fever.
Those who remain are a mere fragment of the people who came to the north
with Sebituane.  Migrating from a very healthy climate in the south,
they were more subject to the febrile diseases of the valley
in which we found them than the black tribes they conquered.
In comparison with the Barotse, Batoka, and Banyeti, the Makololo have
a sickly hue.  They are of a light brownish-yellow color,
while the tribes referred to are very dark, with a slight tinge of olive.
The whole of the colored tribes consider that beauty and fairness
are associated, and women long for children of light color so much,
that they sometimes chew the bark of a certain tree in hopes of producing
that effect.  To my eye the dark color is much more agreeable
than the tawny hue of the half-caste, which that of the Makololo ladies
closely resembles.  The women generally escaped the fever, but they are
less fruitful than formerly, and, to their complaint of being undervalued
on account of the disproportion of the sexes, they now add their regrets
at the want of children, of whom they are all excessively fond.

The Makololo women work but little.  Indeed, the families of that nation
are spread over the country, one or two only in each village, as the lords
of the land.  They all have lordship over great numbers of subjected tribes,
who pass by the general name Makalaka, and who are forced to render
certain services, and to aid in tilling the soil; but each has his own land
under cultivation, and otherwise lives nearly independent.
They are proud to be called Makololo, but the other term is often used
in reproach, as betokening inferiority.  This species of servitude
may be termed serfdom, as it has to be rendered in consequence of subjection
by force of arms, but it is necessarily very mild.  It is so easy
for any one who is unkindly treated to make his escape to other tribes,
that the Makololo are compelled to treat them, to a great extent,
rather as children than slaves.  Some masters, who fail from defect
of temper or disposition to secure the affections of the conquered people,
frequently find themselves left without a single servant, in consequence of
the absence and impossibility of enforcing a fugitive-slave law,
and the readiness with which those who are themselves subjected
assist the fugitives across the rivers in canoes.  The Makololo ladies
are liberal in their presents of milk and other food, and seldom require
to labor, except in the way of beautifying their own huts and court-yards.
They drink large quantities of boyaloa or o-alo, the buza of the Arabs,
which, being made of the grain called holcus sorghum or "durasaifi",
in a minute state of subdivision, is very nutritious,
and gives that plumpness of form which is considered beautiful.
They dislike being seen at their potations by persons of the opposite sex.
They cut their woolly hair quite short, and delight in having the whole person
shining with butter.  Their dress is a kilt reaching to the knees;
its material is ox-hide, made as soft as cloth.  It is not ungraceful.
A soft skin mantle is thrown across the shoulders when the lady is unemployed,
but when engaged in any sort of labor she throws this aside, and works
in the kilt alone.  The ornaments most coveted are large brass anklets
as thick as the little finger, and armlets of both brass and ivory,
the latter often an inch broad.  The rings are so heavy that the ankles
are often blistered by the weight pressing down; but it is the fashion,
and is borne as magnanimously as tight lacing and tight shoes among ourselves.
Strings of beads are hung around the neck, and the fashionable colors
being light green and pink, a trader could get almost any thing he chose
for beads of these colors.

At our public religious services in the kotla, the Makololo women always
behaved with decorum from the first, except at the conclusion of the prayer.
When all knelt down, many of those who had children, in following
the example of the rest, bent over their little ones; the children,
in terror of being crushed to death, set up a simultaneous yell,
which so tickled the whole assembly there was often a subdued titter,
to be turned into a hearty laugh as soon as they heard Amen.
This was not so difficult to overcome in them as similar peccadilloes were
in the case of the women farther south.  Long after we had settled at Mabotsa,
when preaching on the most solemn subjects, a woman might be observed
to look round, and, seeing a neighbor seated on her dress,
give her a hunch with the elbow to make her move off; the other would
return it with interest, and perhaps the remark, "Take the nasty thing away,
will you?"  Then three or four would begin to hustle the first offenders,
and the men to swear at them all, by way of enforcing silence.

Great numbers of little trifling things like these occur, and would not be
worth the mention but that one can not form a correct idea of missionary work
except by examination of the minutiae.  At the risk of appearing frivolous
to some, I shall continue to descend to mere trifles.

The numbers who attended at the summons of the herald, who acted as beadle,
were often from five to seven hundred.  The service consisted of reading
a small portion of the Bible and giving an explanatory address,
usually short enough to prevent weariness or want of attention.
So long as we continue to hold services in the kotla,
the associations of the place are unfavorable to solemnity;
hence it is always desirable to have a place of worship as soon as possible;
and it is of importance, too, to treat such place with reverence,
as an aid to secure that serious attention which religious subjects demand.
This will appear more evident when it is recollected that, in the very spot
where we had been engaged in acts of devotion, half an hour after
a dance would be got up; and these habits can not be at first opposed
without the appearance of assuming too much authority over them.
It is always unwise to hurt their feelings of independence.
Much greater influence will be gained by studying how you may induce them
to act aright, with the impression that they are doing it
of their own free will.  Our services having necessarily been
all in the open air, where it is most difficult to address
large bodies of people, prevented my recovering so entirely
from the effects of clergyman's sore throat as I expected,
when my uvula was excised at the Cape.

To give an idea of the routine followed for months together, on other days
as well as on Sundays, I may advert to my habit of treating the sick
for complaints which seemed to surmount the skill of their own doctors.
I refrained from going to any one unless his own doctor wished it,
or had given up the case.  This led to my having a selection
of the severer cases only, and prevented the doctors being offended
at my taking their practice out of their hands.  When attacked
by fever myself, and wishing to ascertain what their practices were,
I could safely intrust myself in their hands on account of their well-known
friendly feelings.

The plan of showing kindness to the natives in their bodily ailments
secures their friendship; this is not the case to the same degree
in old missions, where the people have learned to look upon relief
as a right -- a state of things which sometimes happens among ourselves
at home.  Medical aid is therefore most valuable in young missions,
though at all stages it is an extremely valuable adjunct to other operations.

I proposed to teach the Makololo to read, but, for the reasons mentioned,
Sekeletu at first declined; after some weeks, however,
Motibe, his father-in-law, and some others, determined to brave
the mysterious book.  To all who have not acquired it,
the knowledge of letters is quite unfathomable; there is naught like it
within the compass of their observation; and we have no comparison
with any thing except pictures, to aid them in comprehending
the idea of signs of words.  It seems to them supernatural
that we see in a book things taking place, or having occurred at a distance.
No amount of explanation conveys the idea unless they learn to read.
Machinery is equally inexplicable, and money nearly as much so
until they see it in actual use.  They are familiar with barter alone;
and in the centre of the country, where gold is totally unknown,
if a button and sovereign were left to their choice,
they would prefer the former on account of its having an eye.

In beginning to learn, Motibe seemed to himself in the position of the doctor,
who was obliged to drink his potion before the patient, to show that
it contained nothing detrimental; after he had mastered the alphabet,
and reported the thing so far safe, Sekeletu and his young companions
came forward to try for themselves.  He must have resolved
to watch the effects of the book against his views on polygamy,
and abstain whenever he perceived any tendency, in reading it,
toward enforcing him to put his wives away.  A number of men
learned the alphabet in a short time and were set to teach others,
but before much progress could be made I was on my way to Loanda.

As I had declined to name any thing as a present from Sekeletu,
except a canoe to take me up the river, he brought ten fine elephants' tusks
and laid them down beside my wagon.  He would take no denial,
though I told him I should prefer to see him trading with Fleming,
a man of color from the West Indies, who had come for the purpose.
I had, during the eleven years of my previous course, invariably abstained
from taking presents of ivory, from an idea that a religious instructor
degraded himself by accepting gifts from those whose spiritual welfare
he professed to seek.  My precedence of all traders in the line of discovery
put me often in the way of very handsome offers, but I always advised
the donors to sell their ivory to traders, who would be sure to follow,
and when at some future time they had become rich by barter,
they might remember me or my children.  When Lake Ngami was discovered
I might have refused permission to a trader who accompanied us;
but when he applied for leave to form part of our company,
knowing that Mr. Oswell would no more trade than myself,
and that the people of the lake would be disappointed
if they could not dispose of their ivory, I willingly granted a sanction,
without which his people would not at that time have ventured so far.
This was surely preferring the interest of another to my own.
The return I got for this was a notice in one of the Cape papers
that this "man was the true discoverer of the lake!"

The conclusion I had come to was, that it is quite lawful,
though perhaps not expedient, for missionaries to trade; but barter
is the only means by which a missionary in the interior can pay his way,
as money has no value.  In all the journeys I had previously undertaken
for wider diffusion of the Gospel, the extra expenses were defrayed
from my salary of 100 Pounds per annum.  This sum is sufficient
to enable a missionary to live in the interior of South Africa,
supposing he has a garden capable of yielding corn and vegetables;
but should he not, and still consider that six or eight months
can not lawfully be spent simply in getting goods at a lower price
than they can be had from itinerant traders, the sum mentioned
is barely sufficient for the poorest fare and plainest apparel.
As we never felt ourselves justified in making journeys to the colony
for the sake of securing bargains, the most frugal living was necessary
to enable us to be a little charitable to others; but when to this were added
extra traveling expenses, the wants of an increasing family,
and liberal gifts to chiefs, it was difficult to make both ends meet.
The pleasure of missionary labor would be enhanced if one could devote
his life to the heathen, without drawing a salary from a society at all.
The luxury of doing good from one's own private resources,
without appearing to either natives or Europeans to be making a gain of it,
is far preferable, and an object worthy the ambition of the rich.
But few men of fortune, however, now devote themselves to Christian missions,
as of old.  Presents were always given to the chiefs whom we visited,
and nothing accepted in return; but when Sebituane (in 1851)
offered some ivory, I took it, and was able by its sale
to present his son with a number of really useful articles of a higher value
than I had ever been able to give before to any chief.  In doing this,
of course, I appeared to trade, but, feeling I had a right to do so,
I felt perfectly easy in my mind; and, as I still held the view
of the inexpediency of combining the two professions, I was glad
of the proposal of one of the most honorable merchants of Cape Town,
Mr. H. E. Rutherford, that he should risk a sum of money in Fleming's hands
for the purpose of attempting to develop a trade with the Makololo.
It was to this man I suggested Sekeletu should sell the tusks
which he had presented for my acceptance, but the chief refused
to take them back from me.  The goods which Fleming had brought were
ill adapted for the use of the natives, but he got a pretty good load of ivory
in exchange; and though it was his first attempt at trading,
and the distance traveled over made the expenses enormous,
he was not a loser by the trip.  Other traders followed, who demanded
90 lbs. of ivory for a musket.  The Makololo, knowing nothing of steelyards,
but supposing that they were meant to cheat them, declined to trade
except by exchanging one bull and one cow elephant's tusk for each gun.
This would average 70 lbs. of ivory, which sells at the Cape
for 5s. per pound, for a second-hand musket worth 10s.
I, being sixty miles distant, did not witness this attempt at barter,
but, anxious to enable my countrymen to drive a brisk trade,
told the Makololo to sell my ten tusks on their own account
for whatever they would bring.  Seventy tusks were for sale,
but, the parties not understanding each other's talk,
no trade was established; and when I passed the spot some time afterward,
I found that the whole of that ivory had been destroyed by an accidental fire,
which broke out in the village when all the people were absent.
Success in trade is as much dependent on knowledge of the language
as success in traveling.

I had brought with me as presents an improved breed of goats,
fowls, and a pair of cats.  A superior bull was bought, also as a gift
to Sekeletu, but I was compelled to leave it on account of its
having become foot-sore.  As the Makololo are very fond of improving
the breed of their domestic animals, they were much pleased with my selection.
I endeavored to bring the bull, in performance of a promise made to Sebituane
before he died.  Admiring a calf which we had with us, he proposed
to give me a cow for it, which in the native estimation was offering
three times its value.  I presented it to him at once, and promised
to bring him another and a better one.  Sekeletu was much gratified
by my attempt to keep my word given to his father.

They have two breeds of cattle among them.  One, called the Batoka,
because captured from that tribe, is of diminutive size, but very beautiful,
and closely resembles the short-horns of our own country.  The little pair
presented by the King of Portugal to H.R.H. the prince consort,
is of this breed.  They are very tame, and remarkably playful;
they may be seen lying on their sides by the fires in the evening;
and, when the herd goes out, the herdsman often precedes them,
and has only to commence capering to set them all a gamboling.
The meat is superior to that of the large animal.  The other, or Barotse ox,
is much larger, and comes from the fertile Barotse Valley.
They stand high on their legs, often nearly six feet at the withers;
and they have large horns.  Those of one of a similar breed
that we brought from the lake measured from tip to tip eight and a half feet.

The Makololo are in the habit of shaving off a little
from one side of the horns of these animals when still growing,
in order to make them curve in that direction and assume fantastic shapes.
The stranger the curvature, the more handsome the ox is considered to be,
and the longer this ornament of the cattle-pen is spared to beautify the herd.
This is a very ancient custom in Africa, for the tributary tribes of Ethiopia
are seen, on some of the most ancient Egyptian monuments,
bringing contorted-horned cattle into Egypt.

All are remarkably fond of their cattle, and spend much time
in ornamenting and adorning them.  Some are branded all over with a hot knife,
so as to cause a permanent discoloration of the hair,
in lines like the bands on the hide of a zebra.  Pieces of skin
two or three inches long and broad are detached, and allowed to heal
in a dependent position around the head -- a strange style of ornament;
indeed, it is difficult to conceive in what their notion of beauty consists.
The women have somewhat the same ideas with ourselves of what
constitutes comeliness.  They came frequently and asked for the looking-glass;
and the remarks they made -- while I was engaged in reading,
and apparently not attending to them -- on first seeing themselves therein,
were amusingly ridiculous.  "Is that me?"  "What a big mouth I have!"
"My ears are as big as pumpkin-leaves."  "I have no chin at all."
Or, "I would have been pretty, but am spoiled by these high cheek-bones."
"See how my head shoots up in the middle!" laughing vociferously all the time
at their own jokes.  They readily perceive any defect in each other,
and give nicknames accordingly.  One man came alone to have
a quiet gaze at his own features once, when he thought I was asleep;
after twisting his mouth about in various directions, he remarked to himself,
"People say I am ugly, and how very ugly I am indeed!"

The Makololo use all the skins of their oxen for making either
mantles or shields.  For the former, the hide is stretched out
by means of pegs, and dried.  Ten or a dozen men then collect round it
with small adzes, which, when sharpened with an iron bodkin,
are capable of shaving off the substance of the skin on the fleshy side
until it is quite thin; when sufficiently thin, a quantity of brain
is smeared over it, and some thick milk.  Then an instrument
made of a number of iron spikes tied round a piece of wood,
so that the points only project beyond it, is applied to it
in a carding fashion, until the fibres of the bulk of it are quite loose.
Milk or butter is applied to it again, and it forms a garment
nearly as soft as cloth.

The shields are made of hides partially dried in the sun,
and then beaten with hammers until they are stiff and dry.
Two broad belts of a differently-colored skin are sewed
into them longitudinally, and sticks inserted to make them rigid
and not liable to bend easily.  The shield is a great protection
in their way of fighting with spears, but they also trust largely
to their agility in springing aside from the coming javelin.
The shield assists when so many spears are thrown that it is impossible
not to receive some of them.  Their spears are light javelins;
and, judging from what I have seen them do in elephant-hunting,
I believe, when they have room to make a run and discharge them
with the aid of the jerk of stopping, they can throw them between
forty and fifty yards.  They give them an upward direction in the discharge,
so that they come down on the object with accelerated force.
I saw a man who in battle had received one in the shin;
the excitement of the moment prevented his feeling any pain;
but, when the battle was over, the blade was found to have split the bone,
and become so impacted in the cleft that no force could extract it.
It was necessary to take an axe and press the split bone asunder
before the weapon could be taken out.

Back to top

Next chapter (10)

This work (David Livingstone, Missionary Travels) is out of copyright, but see the Project Gutenberg legal notice.