University of Botswana History Department
Electronic texts

David Livingstone;
Missionary Travels

Chapter 8

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 8.

  Effects of Missionary Efforts -- Belief in the Deity --
  Ideas of the Bakwains on Religion -- Departure from their Country --
  Salt-pans -- Sour Curd -- Nchokotsa -- Bitter Waters --
  Thirst suffered by the wild Animals -- Wanton Cruelty in Hunting --
  Ntwetwe -- Mowana-trees -- Their extraordinary Vitality --
  The Mopane-tree -- The Morala -- The Bushmen -- Their Superstitions --
  Elephant-hunting -- Superiority of civilized over barbarous Sportsmen --
  The Chief Kaisa -- His Fear of Responsibility -- Beauty of the Country
  at Unku -- The Mohonono Bush -- Severe Labor in cutting our Way --
  Party seized with Fever -- Escape of our Cattle --
  Bakwain Mode of recapturing them -- Vagaries of sick Servants --
  Discovery of grape-bearing Vines -- An Ant-eater --
  Difficulty of passing through the Forest -- Sickness of my Companion --
  The Bushmen -- Their Mode of destroying Lions -- Poisons --
  The solitary Hill -- A picturesque Valley -- Beauty of the Country --
  Arrive at the Sanshureh River -- The flooded Prairies --
  A pontooning Expedition -- A night Bivouac -- The Chobe --
  Arrive at the Village of Moremi -- Surprise of the Makololo
  at our sudden Appearance -- Cross the Chobe on our way to Linyanti.

The Bakalahari, who live at Motlatsa wells, have always been
very friendly to us, and listen attentively to instruction conveyed to them
in their own tongue.  It is, however, difficult to give an idea to a European
of the little effect teaching produces, because no one can realize
the degradation to which their minds have been sunk
by centuries of barbarism and hard struggling for the necessaries of life:
like most others, they listen with respect and attention,
but, when we kneel down and address an unseen Being, the position and the act
often appear to them so ridiculous that they can not refrain
from bursting into uncontrollable laughter.  After a few services
they get over this tendency.  I was once present when a missionary
attempted to sing among a wild heathen tribe of Bechuanas, who had no music
in their composition; the effect on the risible faculties of the audience
was such that the tears actually ran down their cheeks.
Nearly all their thoughts are directed to the supply of their bodily wants,
and this has been the case with the race for ages.  If asked, then,
what effect the preaching of the Gospel has at the commencement
on such individuals, I am unable to tell, except that some
have confessed long afterward that they then first began to pray in secret.
Of the effects of a long-continued course of instruction
there can be no reasonable doubt, as mere nominal belief has never been
considered sufficient proof of conversion by any body of missionaries;
and, after the change which has been brought about by this agency,
we have good reason to hope well for the future -- those I have myself
witnessed behaving in the manner described, when kindly treated in sickness
often utter imploring words to Jesus, and I believe sometimes really do
pray to him in their afflictions.  As that great Redeemer of the guilty
seeks to save all he can, we may hope that they find mercy through His blood,
though little able to appreciate the sacrifice He made.
The indirect and scarcely appreciable blessings of Christian missionaries
going about doing good are thus probably not so despicable
as some might imagine; there is no necessity for beginning to tell
even the most degraded of these people of the existence of a God
or of a future state, the facts being universally admitted.
Every thing that can not be accounted for by common causes
is ascribed to the Deity, as creation, sudden death, etc.
"How curiously God made these things!" is a common expression;
as is also, "He was not killed by disease, he was killed by God."
And, when speaking of the departed -- though there is naught
in the physical appearance of the dead to justify the expression --
they say, "He has gone to the gods," the phrase being identical with
"abiit ad plures".

On questioning intelligent men among the Bakwains as to their
former knowledge of good and evil, of God and the future state,
they have scouted the idea of any of them ever having been
without a tolerably clear conception on all these subjects.
Respecting their sense of right and wrong, they profess that
nothing we indicate as sin ever appeared to them as otherwise,
except the statement that it was wrong to have more wives than one;
and they declare that they spoke in the same way of the direct influence
exercised by God in giving rain in answer to prayers of the rain-makers,
and in granting deliverances in times of danger, as they do now,
before they ever heard of white men.  The want, however,
of any form of public worship, or of idols, or of formal prayers or sacrifice,
make both Caffres and Bechuanas appear as among the most godless
races of mortals known any where.  But, though they all possess
a distinct knowledge of a deity and of a future state,
they show so little reverence, and feel so little connection with either,
that it is not surprising that some have supposed them
entirely ignorant on the subject.  At Lotlakani we met an old Bushman
who at first seemed to have no conception of morality whatever;
when his heart was warmed by our presents of meat, he sat by the fire
relating his early adventures:  among these was killing five other Bushmen.
"Two," said he, counting on his fingers, "were females, one a male,
and the other two calves."  "What a villain you are, to boast of killing
women and children of your own nation! what will God say when you appear
before him?"  "He will say," replied he, "that I was a very clever fellow."
This man now appeared to me as without any conscience,
and, of course, responsibility; but, on trying to enlighten him
by further conversation, I discovered that, though he was employing
the word that is used among the Bakwains when speaking of the Deity,
he had only the idea of a chief, and was all the while referring to Sekomi,
while his victims were a party of rebel Bushmen against whom he had been sent.
If I had known the name of God in the Bushman tongue the mistake
could scarcely have occurred.  It must, however, be recollected,
while reflecting on the degradation of the natives of South Africa,
that the farther north, the more distinct do the native ideas
on religious subjects become, and I have not had any intercourse
with either Caffres or Bushmen in their own tongues.

Leaving Motlatsa on the 8th of February, 1853, we passed down the Mokoko,
which, in the memory of persons now living, was a flowing stream.
We ourselves once saw a heavy thunder-shower make it assume its
ancient appearance of running to the north.  Between Lotlakani and Nchokotsa
we passed the small well named Orapa; and another called Thutsa
lay a little to our right -- its water is salt and purgative;
the salt-pan Chuantsa, having a cake of salt one inch and a half in thickness,
is about ten miles to the northeast of Orapa.  This deposit
contains a bitter salt in addition, probably the nitrate of lime;
the natives, in order to render it palatable and wholesome, mix the salt
with the juice of a gummy plant, then place it in the sand and bake it
by making a fire over it; the lime then becomes insoluble and tasteless.

The Bamangwato keep large flocks of sheep and goats at various spots
on this side of the Desert.  They thrive wonderfully well
wherever salt and bushes are to be found.  The milk of goats
does not coagulate with facility, like that of cows,
on account of its richness; but the natives have discovered
that the infusion of the fruit of a solanaceous plant, Toluane,
quickly produces the effect.  The Bechuanas put their milk into sacks
made of untanned hide, with the hair taken off.  Hung in the sun,
it soon coagulates; the whey is then drawn off by a plug at the bottom,
and fresh milk added, until the sack is full of a thick, sour curd, which,
when one becomes used to it, is delicious.  The rich mix this in the porridge
into which they convert their meal, and, as it is thus rendered
nutritious and strength-giving, an expression of scorn is sometimes heard
respecting the poor or weak, to the effect that "they are water-porridge men."
It occupies the place of our roast beef.

At Nchokotsa, the rainy season having this year been delayed
beyond the usual time, we found during the day the thermometer stand
at 96 Deg. in the coolest possible shade.  This height at Kolobeng
always portended rain at hand.  At Kuruman, when it rises above 84 Deg.,
the same phenomenon may be considered near; while farther north it rises
above 100 Deg. before the cooling influence of the evaporation from rain
may be expected.  Here the bulb of the thermometer, placed two inches
beneath the soil, stood at 128 Deg.  All around Nchokotsa
the country looked parched, and the glare from the white efflorescence
which covers the extensive pans on all sides was most distressing to the eyes.
The water of Nchokotsa was bitter, and presented indications
not to be mistaken of having passed through animal systems before.
All these waters contain nitrates, which stimulate the kidneys and increase
the thirst.  The fresh additions of water required in cooking meat,
each imparting its own portion of salt, make one grumble at the cook
for putting too much seasoning in, while in fact he has put in none at all,
except that contained in the water.  Of bitter, bad, disgusting waters
I have drunk not a few nauseous draughts; you may try alum, vitriol, boiling,
etc., etc., to convince yourself that you are not more stupid than travelers
you will meet at home, but the ammonia and other salts are there still;
and the only remedy is to get away as quickly as possible to the north.

We dug out several wells; and as we had on each occasion to wait
till the water flowed in again, and then allow our cattle
to feed a day or two and slake their thirst thoroughly,
as far as that could be done, before starting, our progress was but slow.
At Koobe there was such a mass of mud in the pond, worked up
by the wallowing rhinoceros to the consistency of mortar,
that only by great labor could we get a space cleared at one side
for the water to ooze through and collect in for the oxen.
Should the rhinoceros come back, a single roll in the great mass
we had thrown on one side would have rendered all our labor vain.
It was therefore necessary for us to guard the spot at night.
On these great flats all around we saw in the white sultry glare
herds of zebras, gnus, and occasionally buffaloes, standing for days,
looking wistfully toward the wells for a share of the nasty water.
It is mere wanton cruelty to take advantage of the necessities of these
poor animals, and shoot them down one after another, without intending
to make the smallest use of either the flesh, skins, or horns.
In shooting by night, animals are more frequently wounded than killed;
the flowing life-stream increases the thirst, so that in desperation they
come slowly up to drink in spite of the danger, "I must drink, though I die."
The ostrich, even when not wounded, can not, with all his wariness,
resist the excessive desire to slake his burning thirst.
It is Bushman-like practice to take advantage of its piteous necessities,
for most of the feathers they obtain are procured in this way;
but they eat the flesh, and are so far justifiable.

I could not order my men to do what I would not do myself,
but, though I tried to justify myself on the plea of necessity,
I could not adopt this mode of hunting.  If your object is to secure
the best specimens for a museum, it may be allowable, and even
deserving of commendation, as evincing a desire to kill only those
really wanted; but if, as has been practiced by some Griquas and others
who came into the country after Mr. Cumming, and fired away indiscriminately,
great numbers of animals are wounded and allowed to perish miserably,
or are killed on the spot and left to be preyed on by vultures and hyenas,
and all for the sole purpose of making a "bag", then I take it to be evident
that such sportsmen are pretty far gone in the hunting form of insanity.

My men shot a black rhinoceros in this way, and I felt glad to get away
from the only place in which I ever had any share in night-hunting.
We passed over the immense pan Ntwetwe, on which the latitude could be taken
as at sea.  Great tracts of this part of the country are of calcareous tufa,
with only a thin coating of soil; numbers of "baobab" and "mopane" trees
abound all over this hard, smooth surface.  About two miles beyond
the northern bank of the pan we unyoked under a fine specimen of the baobab,
here called, in the language of Bechuanas, Mowana; it consisted of
six branches united into one trunk.  At three feet from the ground
it was eighty-five feet in circumference.

These mowana-trees are the most wonderful examples of vitality in the country;
it was therefore with surprise that we came upon a dead one at Tlomtla,
a few miles beyond this spot.  It is the same as those
which Adamson and others believed, from specimens seen in Western Africa,
to have been alive before the flood.  Arguing with a peculiar
mental idiosyncracy resembling color-blindness, common among
the French of the time, these savans came to the conclusion that
"therefore there never was any flood at all."  I would back a true mowana
against a dozen floods, provided you do not boil it in hot sea-water;
but I can not believe that any of those now alive had a chance
of being subjected to the experiment of even the Noachian deluge.
The natives make a strong cord from the fibres contained in the pounded bark.
The whole of the trunk, as high as they can reach, is consequently often
quite denuded of its covering, which in the case of almost any other tree
would cause its death, but this has no effect on the mowana except to make it
throw out a new bark, which is done in the way of granulation.
This stripping of the bark is repeated frequently, so that it is common
to see the lower five or six feet an inch or two less in diameter
than the parts above; even portions of the bark which have broken
in the process of being taken off, but remain separated from the parts below,
though still connected with the tree above, continue to grow,
and resemble closely marks made in the necks of the cattle
of the island of Mull and of Caffre oxen, where a piece of skin is detached
and allowed to hang down.  No external injury, not even a fire,
can destroy this tree from without; nor can any injury be done from within,
as it is quite common to find it hollow; and I have seen one
in which twenty or thirty men could lie down and sleep as in a hut.
Nor does cutting down exterminate it, for I saw instances in Angola
in which it continued to grow in length after it was lying on the ground.
Those trees called exogenous grow by means of successive layers
on the outside.  The inside may be dead, or even removed altogether,
without affecting the life of the tree.  This is the case
with most of the trees of our climate.  The other class is called endogenous,
and increases by layers applied to the inside; and when the hollow there
is full, the growth is stopped -- the tree must die.  Any injury
is felt most severely by the first class on the bark; by the second
on the inside; while the inside of the exogenous may be removed,
and the outside of the endogenous may be cut, without stopping the growth
in the least.  The mowana possesses the powers of both.  The reason is that
each of the laminae possesses its own independent vitality;
in fact, the baobab is rather a gigantic bulb run up to seed than a tree.
Each of eighty-four concentric rings had, in the case mentioned,
grown an inch after the tree had been blown over.  The roots,
which may often be observed extending along the surface of the ground
forty or fifty yards from the trunk, also retain their vitality
after the tree is laid low; and the Portuguese now know that the best way
to treat them is to let them alone, for they occupy much more room
when cut down than when growing.

The wood is so spongy and soft that an axe can be struck in so far
with a good blow that there is great difficulty in pulling it out again.
In the dead mowana mentioned the concentric rings were well seen.  The average
for a foot at three different places was eighty-one and a half of these rings.
Each of the laminae can be seen to be composed of two, three, or four
layers of ligneous tubes; but supposing each ring the growth of one year,
and the semidiameter of a mowana of one hundred feet in circumference
about seventeen feet, if the central point were in the centre of the tree,
then its age would lack some centuries of being as old
as the Christian era (1400).  Though it possesses amazing vitality,
it is difficult to believe that this great baby-looking bulb or tree
is as old as the Pyramids.

The mopane-tree (`bauhinia') is remarkable for the little shade
its leaves afford.  They fold together and stand nearly perpendicular
during the heat of the day, so that only the shadow of their edges
comes to the ground.  On these leaves the small larvae of a winged insect
appear covered over with a sweet, gummy substance.  The people collect this
in great quantities, and use it as food;* and the lopane --
large caterpillars three inches long, which feed on the leaves,
and are seen strung together -- share the same fate.

* I am favored with Mr. Westwood's remarks on this insect as follows:

                              "Taylor Institution, Oxford, July 9, 1857.

  "The insect (and its secretion) on the leaves of the bauhinia,
  and which is eaten by the Africans, proves to be a species of Psylla,
  a genus of small, very active Homoptera, of which we have
  one very common species in the box; but our species, Psylla buxi,
  emits its secretion in the shape of very long, white, cotton-like filaments.
  But there is a species in New Holland, found on the leaves
  of the Eucalyptus, which emits a secretion very similar
  to that of Dr. Livingstone's species.  This Australian secretion
  (and its insect originator) is known by the name of wo-me-la,
  and, like Dr. Livingstone's, it is scraped off the leaves
  and eaten by the aborigines as a saccharine dainty.  The insects found
  beneath the secretion, brought home by Dr. Livingstone,
  are in the pupa state, being flattened, with large scales
  at the sides of the body, inclosing the future wings of the insect.
  The body is pale yellowish-colored, with dark-brown spots.
  It will be impossible to describe the species technically until we receive
  the perfect insect.  The secretion itself is flat and circular,
  apparently deposited in concentric rings, gradually increasing in size
  till the patches are about a quarter or a third of an inch in diameter.

                                   Jno. O. Westwood."

In passing along we see every where the power of vegetation in breaking up
the outer crust of tufa.  A mopane-tree, growing in a small chink,
as it increases in size rends and lifts up large fragments of the rock
all around it, subjecting them to the disintegrating influence
of the atmosphere.  The wood is hard, and of a fine red color,
and is named iron-wood by the Portuguese.  The inhabitants,
observing that the mopane is more frequently struck by lightning
than other trees, caution travelers never to seek its shade
when a thunder-storm is near -- "Lightning hates it;" while another tree,
the "Morala", which has three spines opposite each other on the branches,
and has never been known to be touched by lightning, is esteemed,
even as far as Angola, a protection against the electric fluid.
Branches of it may be seen placed on the houses of the Portuguese
for the same purpose.  The natives, moreover, believe that a man
is thoroughly protected from an enraged elephant if he can get
into the shade of this tree.  There may not be much in this,
but there is frequently some foundation of truth in their observations.

At Rapesh we came among our old friends the Bushmen, under Horoye.
This man, Horoye, a good specimen of that tribe, and his son Mokantsa
and others, were at least six feet high, and of a darker color
than the Bushmen of the south.  They have always plenty of food and water;
and as they frequent the Zouga as often as the game in company with which
they live, their life is very different from that of the inhabitants
of the thirsty plains of the Kalahari.  The animal they refrain from eating
is the goat, which fact, taken in connection with the superstitious dread
which exists in every tribe toward a particular animal, is significant of
their feelings to the only animals they could have domesticated
in their desert home.  They are a merry laughing set,
and do not tell lies wantonly.  They have in their superstitious rites
more appearance of worship than the Bechuanas; and at a Bushman's grave
we once came to on the Zouga, the observances showed distinctly
that they regarded the dead as still in another state of being;
for they addressed him, and requested him not to be offended
even though they wished still to remain a little while longer in this world.

Those among whom we now were kill many elephants, and when the moon is full
choose that time for the chase, on account of its coolness.
Hunting this animal is the best test of courage this country affords.
The Bushmen choose the moment succeeding a charge, when the elephant
is out of breath, to run in and give him a stab with their long-bladed spears.
In this case the uncivilized have the advantage over us,
but I believe that with half their training Englishmen would beat the Bushmen.
Our present form of civilization does not necessarily produce effeminacy,
though it unquestionably increases the beauty, courage,
and physical powers of the race.  When at Kolobeng I took notes
of the different numbers of elephants killed in the course of the season
by the various parties which went past our dwelling, in order to form
an idea of the probable annual destruction of this noble animal.
There were parties of Griquas, Bechuanas, Boers, and Englishmen.
All were eager to distinguish themselves, and success depended mainly
on the courage which leads the huntsman to go close to the animal,
and not waste the force of his shot on the air.  It was noticeable
that the average for the natives was under one per man, for the Griquas
one per man, for the Boers two, and for the English officers twenty each.
This was the more remarkable, as the Griquas, Boers, and Bechuanas
employed both dogs and natives to assist them, while the English hunters
generally had no assistance from either.  They approached
to within thirty yards of the animal, while the others stood
at a distance of a hundred yards, or even more, and of course
spent all the force of their bullets on the air.  One elephant
was found by Mr. Oswell with quite a crowd of bullets in his side,
all evidently fired in this style, and they had not gone near the vital parts.

It would thus appear that our more barbarous neighbors do not possess
half the courage of the civilized sportsman.  And it is probable
that in this respect, as well as in physical development, we are superior
to our ancestors.  The coats of mail and greaves of the Knights of Malta,
and the armor from the Tower exhibited at the Eglinton tournament,
may be considered decisive as to the greater size attained
by modern civilized men.

At Maila we spent a Sunday with Kaisa, the head man of a village of Mashona,
who had fled from the iron sway of Mosilikatse, whose country lies
east of this.  I wished him to take charge of a packet of letters for England,
to be forwarded when, as is the custom of the Bamangwato,
the Bechuanas come hither in search of skins and food among the Bushmen;
but he could not be made to comprehend that there was no danger
in the consignment.  He feared the responsibility and guilt if any thing
should happen to them; so I had to bid adieu to all hope of letting my family
hear of my welfare till I should reach the west coast.

At Unku we came into a tract of country which had been visited
by refreshing showers long before, and every spot was covered with grass
run up to seed, and the flowers of the forest were in full bloom.
Instead of the dreary prospect around Koobe and Nchokotsa,
we had here a delightful scene, all the ponds full of water, and the birds
twittering joyfully.  As the game can now obtain water every where,
they become very shy, and can not be found in their accustomed haunts.

1ST MARCH.  The thermometer in the shade generally stood at 98 Degrees
from 1 to 3 P.M., but it sank as low as 65 Deg. by night, so that the heat
was by no means exhausting.  At the surface of the ground, in the sun,
the thermometer marked 125 Deg., and three inches below it 138 Deg.
The hand can not be held on the ground, and even the horny soles
of the feet of the natives must be protected by sandals of hide;
yet the ants were busy working on it.  The water in the ponds
was as high as 100 Deg.; but as water does not conduct heat readily downward,
deliciously cool water may be obtained by any one walking into the middle
and lifting up the water from the bottom to the surface with his hands.

Proceeding to the north, from Kama-kama, we entered into dense Mohonono bush,
which required the constant application of the axe by three of our party
for two days.  This bush has fine silvery leaves, and the bark
has a sweet taste.  The elephant, with his usual delicacy of taste,
feeds much on it.  On emerging into the plains beyond,
we found a number of Bushmen, who afterward proved very serviceable.
The rains had been copious, but now great numbers of pools were drying up.
Lotus-plants abounded in them, and a low, sweet-scented plant
covered their banks.  Breezes came occasionally to us
from these drying-up pools, but the pleasant odor they carried
caused sneezing in both myself and people; and on the 10th of March
(when in lat. 19d 16' 11" S., long. 24d 24' E.) we were brought to a stand
by four of the party being seized with fever.  I had seen this disease before,
but did not at once recognize it as the African fever;
I imagined it was only a bilious attack, arising from full feeding on flesh,
for, the large game having been very abundant, we always had a good supply;
but instead of the first sufferers recovering soon, every man of our party
was in a few days laid low, except a Bakwain and myself.
He managed the oxen, while I attended to the wants of the patients,
and went out occasionally with the Bushmen to get a zebra or buffalo,
so as to induce them to remain with us.

Here for the first time I had leisure to follow the instructions
of my kind teacher, Mr. Maclear, and calculated several longitudes
from lunar distances.  The hearty manner in which that eminent astronomer
and frank, friendly man had promised to aid me in calculating and verifying
my work, conduced more than any thing else to inspire me with perseverance
in making astronomical observations throughout the journey.

The grass here was so tall that the oxen became uneasy, and one night
the sight of a hyaena made them rush away into the forest to the east of us.
On rising on the morning of the 19th, I found that my Bakwain lad
had run away with them.  This I have often seen with persons of this tribe,
even when the cattle are startled by a lion.  Away go the young men
in company with them, and dash through bush and brake for miles,
till they think the panic is a little subsided; they then commence
whistling to the cattle in the manner they do when milking the cows:
having calmed them, they remain as a guard till the morning.
The men generally return with their shins well peeled by the thorns.
Each comrade of the Mopato would expect his fellow to act thus,
without looking for any other reward than the brief praise of the chief.
Our lad, Kibopechoe, had gone after the oxen, but had lost them in the rush
through the flat, trackless forest.  He remained on their trail
all the next day and all the next night.  On Sunday morning,
as I was setting off in search of him, I found him near the wagon.
He had found the oxen late in the afternoon of Saturday, and had been obliged
to stand by them all night.  It was wonderful how he managed
without a compass, and in such a country, to find his way home at all,
bringing about forty oxen with him.

The Bechuanas will keep on the sick-list as long as they feel any weakness;
so I at last began to be anxious that they should make a little exertion
to get forward on our way.  One of them, however, happening to move
a hundred yards from the wagon, fell down, and, being unobserved,
remained the whole night in the pouring rain totally insensible;
another was subjected to frequent swooning; but, making beds in the wagons
for these our worst cases, with the help of the Bakwain and the Bushmen,
we moved slowly on.  We had to nurse the sick like children;
and, like children recovering from illness, the better they became
the more impudent they grew.  This was seen in the peremptory orders
they would give with their now piping voices.  Nothing that we did
pleased them; and the laughter with which I received their ebullitions,
though it was only the real expression of gladness at their recovery,
and amusement at the ridiculous part they acted, only increased their chagrin.
The want of power in the man who guided the two front oxen,
or, as he was called, the "leader", caused us to be entangled with trees,
both standing and fallen, and the labor of cutting them down was even
more severe than ordinary; but, notwithstanding an immense amount of toil,
my health continued good.

We wished to avoid the tsetse of our former path, so kept a course
on the magnetic meridian from Lurilopepe.  The necessity of making a new path
much increased our toil.  We were, however, rewarded in lat. 18 Degrees
with a sight we had not enjoyed the year before, namely,
large patches of grape-bearing vines.  There they stood before my eyes;
but the sight was so entirely unexpected that I stood some time
gazing at the clusters of grapes with which they were loaded,
with no more thought of plucking than if I had been beholding them in a dream.
The Bushmen know and eat them; but they are not well flavored
on account of the great astringency of the seeds, which are in shape and size
like split peas.  The elephants are fond of the fruit, plant, and root alike.
I here found an insect which preys on ants; it is about
an inch and a quarter long, as thick as a crow-quill, and covered
with black hair.  It puts its head into a little hole in the ground,
and quivers its tail rapidly; the ants come near to see it,
and it snaps up each as he comes within the range of the forceps on its tail.
As its head is beneath the ground, it becomes a question
how it can guide its tail to the ants.  It is probably
a new species of ant-lion (`Myrmeleon formicaleo'), great numbers of which,
both in the larvae and complete state, are met with.
The ground under every tree is dotted over with their ingenious pitfalls,
and the perfect insect, the form of which most persons are familiar with
in the dragon-fly, may be seen using its tail in the same active manner
as this insect did.  Two may be often seen joined in their flight,
the one holding on by the tail-forceps to the neck of the other.
On first observing this imperfect insect, I imagined the forceps
were on its head; but when the insect moved, their true position was seen.

The forest, through which we were slowly toiling, daily became more dense,
and we were kept almost constantly at work with the axe;
there was much more leafiness in the trees here than farther south.
The leaves are chiefly of the pinnate and bi-pinnate forms,
and are exceedingly beautiful when seen against the sky;
a great variety of the papilionaceous family grow in this part of the country.

Fleming had until this time always assisted to drive his own wagon,
but about the end of March he knocked up, as well as his people.
As I could not drive two wagons, I shared with him the remaining water,
half a caskful, and went on, with the intention of coming back for him
as soon as we should reach the next pool.  Heavy rain now commenced;
I was employed the whole day in cutting down trees,
and every stroke of the axe brought down a thick shower on my back,
which in the hard work was very refreshing, as the water found its way
down into my shoes.  In the evening we met some Bushmen, who volunteered
to show us a pool; and having unyoked, I walked some miles in search of it.
As it became dark they showed their politeness -- a quality which
is by no means confined entirely to the civilized -- by walking in front,
breaking the branches which hung across the path, and pointing out
the fallen trees.  On returning to the wagon, we found that being left alone
had brought out some of Fleming's energy, for he had managed to come up.

As the water in this pond dried up, we were soon obliged to move again.
One of the Bushmen took out his dice, and, after throwing them, said that God
told him to go home.  He threw again in order to show me the command,
but the opposite result followed; so he remained and was useful,
for we lost the oxen again by a lion driving them off
to a very great distance.  The lions here are not often heard.
They seem to have a wholesome dread of the Bushmen, who, when they observe
evidence of a lion's having made a full meal, follow up his spoor so quietly
that his slumbers are not disturbed.  One discharges a poisoned arrow
from a distance of only a few feet, while his companion simultaneously
throws his skin cloak on the beast's head.  The sudden surprise
makes the lion lose his presence of mind, and he bounds away
in the greatest confusion and terror.  Our friends here showed me the poison
which they use on these occasions.  It is the entrails of a caterpillar
called N'gwa, half an inch long.  They squeeze out these,
and place them all around the bottom of the barb, and allow the poison
to dry in the sun.  They are very careful in cleaning their nails
after working with it, as a small portion introduced into a scratch
acts like morbid matter in dissection wounds.  The agony is so great
that the person cuts himself, calls for his mother's breast
as if he were returned in idea to his childhood again,
or flies from human habitations a raging maniac.  The effects on the lion
are equally terrible.  He is heard moaning in distress, and becomes furious,
biting the trees and ground in rage.

As the Bushmen have the reputation of curing the wounds of this poison,
I asked how this was effected.  They said that they administer
the caterpillar itself in combination with fat; they also rub fat into
the wound, saying that "the N'gwa wants fat, and, when it does not find it
in the body, kills the man:  we give it what it wants, and it is content:"
a reason which will commend itself to the enlightened among ourselves.

The poison more generally employed is the milky juice
of the tree Euphorbia (`E. arborescens').  This is particularly obnoxious
to the equine race.  When a quantity is mixed with the water of a pond
a whole herd of zebras will fall dead from the effects of the poison
before they have moved away two miles.  It does not, however,
kill oxen or men.  On them it acts as a drastic purgative only.
This substance is used all over the country, though in some places
the venom of serpents and a certain bulb, `Amaryllis toxicaria', are added,
in order to increase the virulence.

Father Pedro, a Jesuit, who lived at Zumbo, made a balsam,
containing a number of plants and CASTOR OIL, as a remedy
for poisoned arrow-wounds.  It is probable that he derived his knowledge
from the natives as I did, and that the reputed efficacy of the balsam
is owing to its fatty constituent.

In cases of the bites of serpents a small key ought to be pressed down firmly
on the wound, the orifice of the key being applied to the puncture,
until a cupping-glass can be got from one of the natives.
A watch-key pressed firmly on the point stung by a scorpion
extracts the poison, and a mixture of fat or oil and ipecacuanha
relieves the pain.

The Bushmen of these districts are generally fine, well-made men,
and are nearly independent of every one.  We observed them
to be fond of a root somewhat like a kidney potato, and the kernel of a nut,
which Fleming thought was a kind of betel; the tree is a fine,
large-spreading one, and the leaves palmate.  From the quantities of berries
and the abundance of game in these parts, the Bushmen can scarcely ever
be badly off for food.  As I could, without much difficulty,
keep them well supplied with meat, and wished them to remain,
I proposed that they should bring their wives to get a share,
but they remarked that the women could always take care of themselves.

None of the men of our party had died, but two seemed unlikely to recover;
and Kibopechoe, my willing Mokwain, at last became troubled with boils,
and then got all the symptoms of fever.  As he lay down,
the others began to move about, and complained of weakness only.
Believing that frequent change of place was conducive to their recovery,
we moved along as much as we could, and came to the hill N'gwa
(lat. 18d 27' 20" S., long. 24d 13' 36" E.).  This being the only hill we had
seen since leaving Bamangwato, we felt inclined to take off our hats to it.
It is three or four hundred feet high, and covered with trees.
Its geographical position is pretty accurately laid down
from occultation and other observations.  I may mention that the valley
on its northern side, named Kandehy or Kandehai, is as picturesque a spot
as is to be seen in this part of Africa.  The open glade, surrounded by
forest trees of various hues, had a little stream meandering in the centre.
A herd of reddish-colored antelopes (pallahs) stood on one side,
near a large baobab, looking at us, and ready to run up the hill;
while gnus, tsessebes, and zebras gazed in astonishment at the intruders.
Some fed carelessly, and others put on the peculiar air of displeasure
which these animals sometimes assume before they resolve on flight.
A large white rhinoceros came along the bottom of the valley
with his slow sauntering gait without noticing us; he looked as if he meant
to indulge in a mud bath.  Several buffaloes, with their dark visages,
stood under the trees on the side opposite to the pallahs.  It being Sunday,
all was peace, and, from the circumstances in which our party was placed,
we could not but reflect on that second stage of our existence
which we hope will lead us into scenes of perfect beauty.
If pardoned in that free way the Bible promises, death will be
a glorious thing; but to be consigned to wait for the Judgment-day,
with nothing else to ponder on but sins we would rather forget,
is a cheerless prospect.

Our Bushmen wished to leave us, and, as there was no use in trying to thwart
these independent gentlemen, I paid them, and allowed them to go.
The payment, however, acted as a charm on some strangers
who happened to be present, and induced them to volunteer their aid.

The game hereabouts is very tame.  Koodoos and giraffes stood gazing at me
as a strange apparition when I went out with the Bushmen.
On one occasion a lion came at daybreak, and went round and round the oxen.
I could only get a glimpse of him occasionally from the wagon-box;
but, though barely thirty yards off, I could not get a shot.  He then began
to roar at the top of his voice; but the oxen continuing to stand still,
he was so disgusted that he went off, and continued to use his voice
for a long time in the distance.  I could not see that he had a mane;
if he had not, then even the maneless variety can use their tongues.
We heard others also roar; and, when they found they could not
frighten the oxen, they became equally angry.  This we could observe
in their tones.

As we went north the country became very lovely; many new trees appeared;
the grass was green, and often higher than the wagons; the vines
festooned the trees, among which appeared the real banian (`Ficus Indica'),
with its drop-shoots, and the wild date and palmyra, and several other trees
which were new to me; the hollows contained large patches of water.
Next came water-courses, now resembling small rivers,
twenty yards broad and four feet deep.  The further we went,
the broader and deeper these became; their bottoms contained
great numbers of deep holes, made by elephants wading in them;
in these the oxen floundered desperately, so that our wagon-pole broke,
compelling us to work up to the breast in water for three hours and a half;
yet I suffered no harm.

We at last came to the Sanshureh, which presented an impassable barrier,
so we drew up under a magnificent baobab-tree, (lat. 18d 4' 27" S.,
long. 24d 6' 20" E.), and resolved to explore the river for a ford.
The great quantity of water we had passed through was part of the annual
inundation of the Chobe; and this, which appeared a large, deep river,
filled in many parts with reeds, and having hippopotami in it,
is only one of the branches by which it sends its superabundant water
to the southeast.  From the hill N'gwa a ridge of higher land runs
to the northeast, and bounds its course in that direction.
We, being ignorant of this, were in the valley, and the only gap
in the whole country destitute of tsetse.  In company with the Bushmen
I explored all the banks of the Sanshureh to the west till we came into tsetse
on that side.  We waded a long way among the reeds in water breast deep,
but always found a broad, deep space free from vegetation and unfordable.
A peculiar kind of lichen, which grows on the surface of the soil,
becomes detached and floats on the water, giving out a very disagreeable odor,
like sulphureted hydrogen, in some of these stagnant waters.

We made so many attempts to get over the Sanshureh, both to the west and east
of the wagon, in the hope of reaching some of the Makololo on the Chobe,
that my Bushmen friends became quite tired of the work.  By means of presents
I got them to remain some days; but at last they slipped away by night,
and I was fain to take one of the strongest of my still weak companions
and cross the river in a pontoon, the gift of Captains Codrington and Webb.
We each carried some provisions and a blanket, and penetrated
about twenty miles to the westward, in the hope of striking the Chobe.
It was much nearer to us in a northerly direction, but this
we did not then know.  The plain, over which we splashed
the whole of the first day, was covered with water ankle deep,
and thick grass which reached above the knees.  In the evening
we came to an immense wall of reeds, six or eight feet high,
without any opening admitting of a passage.  When we tried to enter,
the water always became so deep that we were fain to desist.
We concluded that we had come to the banks of the river we were in search of,
so we directed our course to some trees which appeared in the south,
in order to get a bed and a view of the adjacent locality.
Having shot a leche, and made a glorious fire, we got a good cup of tea
and had a comfortable night.  While collecting wood that evening,
I found a bird's nest consisting of live leaves sewn together
with threads of the spider's web.  Nothing could exceed
the airiness of this pretty contrivance; the threads had been
pushed through small punctures and thickened to resemble a knot.
I unfortunately lost it.  This was the second nest I had seen
resembling that of the tailor-bird of India.

Next morning, by climbing the highest trees, we could see
a fine large sheet of water, but surrounded on all sides by the same
impenetrable belt of reeds.  This is the broad part of the River Chobe,
and is called Zabesa.  Two tree-covered islands seemed to be
much nearer to the water than the shore on which we were,
so we made an attempt to get to them first.  It was not the reeds alone
we had to pass through; a peculiar serrated grass, which at certain angles
cut the hands like a razor, was mingled with the reed,
and the climbing convolvulus, with stalks which felt as strong as whipcord,
bound the mass together.  We felt like pigmies in it, and often
the only way we could get on was by both of us leaning against a part
and bending it down till we could stand upon it.  The perspiration
streamed off our bodies, and as the sun rose high, there being
no ventilation among the reeds, the heat was stifling, and the water,
which was up to the knees, felt agreeably refreshing.  After some hours' toil
we reached one of the islands.  Here we met an old friend, the bramble-bush.
My strong moleskins were quite worn through at the knees,
and the leather trowsers of my companion were torn and his legs bleeding.
Tearing my handkerchief in two, I tied the pieces round my knees,
and then encountered another difficulty.  We were still forty or fifty yards
from the clear water, but now we were opposed by great masses of papyrus,
which are like palms in miniature, eight or ten feet high,
and an inch and a half in diameter.  These were laced together
by twining convolvulus, so strongly that the weight of both of us
could not make way into the clear water.  At last we fortunately found
a passage prepared by a hippopotamus.  Eager as soon as we reached the island
to look along the vista to clear water, I stepped in and found
it took me at once up to the neck.

Returning nearly worn out, we proceeded up the bank of the Chobe
till we came to the point of departure of the branch Sanshureh; we then went
in the opposite direction, or down the Chobe, though from the highest trees
we could see nothing but one vast expanse of reed, with here and there
a tree on the islands.  This was a hard day's work; and when we came
to a deserted Bayeiye hut on an ant-hill, not a bit of wood or any thing else
could be got for a fire except the grass and sticks of the dwelling itself.
I dreaded the "Tampans", so common in all old huts; but outside of it
we had thousands of mosquitoes, and cold dew began to be deposited,
so we were fain to crawl beneath its shelter.

We were close to the reeds, and could listen to the strange sounds
which are often heard there.  By day I had seen water-snakes
putting up their heads and swimming about.  There were great
numbers of otters (`Lutra inunguis', F. Cuvier), which have made
little spoors all over the plains in search of the fishes,
among the tall grass of these flooded prairies; curious birds, too,
jerked and wriggled among these reedy masses, and we heard
human-like voices and unearthly sounds, with splash, guggle, jupp,
as if rare fun were going on in their uncouth haunts.  At one time something
came near us, making a splashing like that of a canoe or hippopotamus;
thinking it to be the Makololo, we got up, listened, and shouted;
then discharged a gun several times; but the noise continued
without intermission for an hour.  After a damp, cold night we set to,
early in the morning, at our work of exploring again, but left the pontoon
in order to lighten our labor.  The ant-hills are here very high,
some thirty feet, and of a base so broad that trees grow on them;
while the lands, annually flooded, bear nothing but grass.
From one of these ant-hills we discovered an inlet to the Chobe;
and, having gone back for the pontoon, we launched ourselves on a deep river,
here from eighty to one hundred yards wide.  I gave my companion
strict injunctions to stick by the pontoon in case a hippopotamus
should look at us; nor was this caution unnecessary,
for one came up at our side and made a desperate plunge off.
We had passed over him.  The wave he made caused the pontoon to glide
quickly away from him.

We paddled on from midday till sunset.  There was nothing but a wall of reed
on each bank, and we saw every prospect of spending a supperless night
in our float; but just as the short twilight of these parts was commencing,
we perceived on the north bank the village of Moremi, one of the Makololo,
whose acquaintance I had made on our former visit, and who was now located
on the island Mahonta (lat. 17d 58' S., long. 24d 6' E.).
The villagers looked as we may suppose people do who see a ghost,
and in their figurative way of speaking said, "He has dropped among us
from the clouds, yet came riding on the back of a hippopotamus!
We Makololo thought no one could cross the Chobe without our knowledge,
but here he drops among us like a bird."

Next day we returned in canoes across the flooded lands, and found that,
in our absence, the men had allowed the cattle to wander
into a very small patch of wood to the west containing the tsetse;
this carelessness cost me ten fine large oxen.  After remaining a few days,
some of the head men of the Makololo came down from Linyanti,
with a large party of Barotse, to take us across the river.
This they did in fine style, swimming and diving among the oxen
more like alligators than men, and taking the wagons to pieces
and carrying them across on a number of canoes lashed together.
We were now among friends; so going about thirty miles to the north,
in order to avoid the still flooded lands on the north of the Chobe,
we turned westward toward Linyanti (lat. 18d 17' 20" S., long. 23d 50' 9" E.),
where we arrived on the 23d of May, 1853.  This is the capital town
of the Makololo, and only a short distance from our wagon-stand of 1851
(lat. 18d 20' S., long. 23d 50' E.).

Back to top

Next chapter (9)

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