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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter VIII - The Coast Again


“Do something - do it soon - with all thy might;
An angel's wing would droop if long at rest,
And God Himself, inactive, were no longer blest.”
C. WILCOX.

AGAIN he came on bad water, which, although filtered and boiled, brought him to such a low condition that he quite expected to die at Mvumi. Writing home afterwards, he says: “Thinking the end was at hand, and commending my soul to the Redeemer, I called for my writing-case, and having mixed an ink powder, I was commencing to write my last letter on earth. But just then my cook entered the straw hut in which I was lying with a large matama meal poultice, which gave me so much relief, that I fell asleep, and afterwards repeated doses of ipecacuanha and laudanum restored me so far that I was able to be carried to the next village, where I halted two or three days, as the water was good, and eggs and milk in abundance; but best of all was the arrival of the home September letters, which helped so much to set me on my legs that I could ride to Mpwapwa, where, chatting with the brethren stationed there, and a few days' rest and good food, were blessed by God to make me nearly well. But I was intent on reaching the coast as soon as possible. The rains were expected soon, and I had little hope of complete recovery till I should have sea air for a time on board the C.M.S.S. Highland Lassie.

“Before sunrise on the 20th of November. I was off from Mpwapwa with my ten men and donkey, but the latter soon refused to proceed, as it either suffered from, or shammed sickness, so I sent it back in an hour, and resolved to march to Bagamoyo on foot We made what speed we could over the ups and downs of the Usagara Mountains. The highest point I crossed was 5000 feet high, and the descent from there to the valley of the Wami is most arduous. The whole distance is two hundred and twenty miles and I accomplished the march in eleven days, being the shortest period on record.”

"When Stanley came down with Livingstone's Journal, to make himself famous, he took at least twenty-five days, although he made all the speed he could, only he marched in the wet season and I in the dry; but in the dry one suffers many delays from searching for water, and only those who have been in the long deserts up country know what it is to march with an empty water-bottle.”

Like other travellers, Mackay found that those tribes are the most degraded where the women occupy the position of slaves; those where the women have assumed something like their proper position are further advanced and less savage. He says: “At first one looks on people in a state of nearly 'nude' with considerable suspicion, but up country one is not a little shocked to find the nearly converted into altogether. In Ugogo the boys all run about just as they were born, and the full-grown men pride themselves frequently on wearing a similar attire. The women are still too modest to altogether follow their example, but a little piece of skin is all they need for full dress when they come out to see the white man. You would have laughed to see me squirting water in their faces in Ugogo, to drive them out of my tent when I was washing, or occasionally taking a big, oily, yellow-ochery savage by the shoulders, and pushing him off with what little strength I had.”

“While writing on board our mission steamer in the Bay of Zanzibar, I am listening to the pleasant sound of one of Mozart's marches, played by the band of a British man-of-war, stationed here for the suppression of the slave-trade. Here it is warm, like German midsummer, and the lightning is playing among the clouds over to the west. The German music carries me back to the land from which it came, and all the happy ties which bind me to the great Fatherland. The British man-of-war makes me think of 'bonnie Scotland' and the days o' 'auld lang syne;' of peaceful England, which does her best even out here to put an end to cruelty and oppression between man and man. The Mohammedan gun makes me sigh over the determination of deluded men to worship God in a way that is no worship at all. The little vessel in which I am conveys the impression that the true way of life is at last represented here too, but is yet only one tiny seed in the great soil which Satan has owned so long, but which we hope to reclaim to our Master's possession.”

Finding his health restored, he set to work about Christmas to fit up another caravan for the relief of his brethren on the Nyanza, intending to go to Uganda with it in order to join the party he had accompanied in the autumn as far as western Ugogo. Porters were far more difficult to be had than when the previous caravans started, so he took a tour of three hundred miles northwards and back along the coast to collect men. He passed through more than twenty towns and villages, and liked the people very much, but, sad to say, he found a mass of evidence to prove that the nefarious traffic in slaves was as bad as ever.

He was frequently on board Arab dhows, and he says: “In no case have I seen any examination of a dhow in which I have been, although they were always full of people. The Sultan professes his powerlessness to check the slave traders either by sea or land. The English boats' crews rely on native interpreters, who are bribed by slave traders to decoy boats in wrong directions while the dhows escape another way. Every artifice is used to deceive the English officers. At Kokotini I found seven slave dhows in a creek, while the London's boats were passing outside in the open. Daily, dhows sail from the mainland, with multitudes of women and children who are passed off as wives or domestic slaves of Arab and Suahili passengers, while large caravans pass constantly through the coast towns along the shore. The “Walis,” or Sultan's agents, do not interfere, although applied to by me. Indeed, it is their interest to encourage the trade, as they receive percentage on caravans.”

He walked along the most unhealthy part of the coast, sometimes near the sea, sometimes miles from it, one day ever pleasant grassy land, and many days through long swamps of the so-called deadly mangrove trees; wading for hours at a time up to the waist in mud and water, and occasionally being carried or having to swim over deep rivers, sleeping in the open air, in cow-byres, in hen-houses or anywhere, and living on mahogo or cassava roots, and anything else that could be got.

One day he had left the town of Wanga, and 'after wading for more than an hour through a swamp as bad as the Makata, up to the waist in water, and his feet far down in the mire below, he came to the edge of a swollen river running at nearly eight knots an hour. It was too deep to wade and too rapid to swim. But cross he must. So he sent one of his boys back to the town for a rope with which he intended lassoing a stump on the opposite bank, thus meaning to cross over by the rope. He then sat down on the muddy bank, and taking a copy of “Nature” out of his pocket he set to work to master Ernst Haeckel's theory of Pangenesis, or the undulatory theory of molecules in organic life. In such a death sort of place, to turn one's brains to investigate the ultimate principle of life seems rather incongruous!

Many of the towns are large and populous, but most of them are neglected by the Christian Churches. How long - how long?

Islam long ago found entrance, and did not fail to find many followers; but every Mohammedan is a missionary, while many Christians not only are indifferent to the claims of missions, but are ashamed to confess Christianity in the presence of heathens.

Early in March 1877 he received instructions from the Church Missionary Society to defer going on to the Nyanza until after the rainy season, but to “consider what were the best steps to take in trying to do something towards commencing the formation of a road, from Sadani to Mpwapwa.” In compliance, therefore, with these instructions he handed over the charge of the caravan he had equipped to another (Mr. Morton, an Englishman, formerly on the staff of the Universities' Mission at Zanzibar), and after seeing him fairly started on the 9th of March, Mackay commenced collecting men and tools for the work of road-making. An attack of fever laid him aside, however, for about six weeks, but the skill and unremitting attention of Dr. Robb, the Consular doctor, and the kind, hospitable treatment received in the house of Messrs. Smith and Brown, the British India Steam Navigation Co.'s agents, led by God's blessing to his recovery.

H. H. the Sultan of Zanzibar kindly gave him a fine horse to ride on, and by May-day the work of making the first road into the interior of the continent was fairly commenced, and he and his men encamped with plant and stock at Ndumi. Writing from there, he says: “This little village or shamba stands on a most desirable spot, on the top of a hill only five miles from the sea, but, as I have just finished measuring by my boiling-thermometer apparatus, is two hundred and fifty feet high. The place is so beautifully exposed to both the N.E. and S.W. monsoons that I mean to build a rough house here to live in, for a week or so at a time, when I am obliged to be in this neighbourhood, instead of living at Sadani, which is very unhealthy, lying in a mangrove swamp. I have got a brick mould, and shall make bricks of the red sandstone mud the natives use everywhere in East Africa to make their wattle houses with. Bricks are entirely unknown here, and when they see me burn them in a kiln I fancy many curious eyes win be upon me.”

“The prospect is delightful here on all sides. I sit at present like Abraham in his tent door. My servants, my flocks, and my herds are about me. Westward the land rolls away in densely wooded ridges. To the north, between the line of hills and the sea, are stretches of wood and lawn alternately - all fine soil, but none cultivated. After coming into camp to-day I took a stroll with my interpreter Susi - Livingstone's old servant, and one of those who returned to England with his remains. We could not help remarking to each other how lazy the people are, for not a mouthful of food is to be bought, and hundreds of square miles of fertile land lying all around uncultivated. A few Englishmen, with their houses on this high ground, and their property below, would within a year turn the landscape, far and near, into most productive ground. East is the village of Sadani, all the sea, and beyond one can see the island of Zanzibar, one of the most fruitful in the Indian Ocean. South are the connected plains of. the Wami river and Sadani. If Lot were alive I think he would have gone there, in preference to the plain of Sodam. But in the valley of the Wami he would have had some trouble, for at Bomani, where Lieut. Smith and I went last year, live the Wadoi, who are notorious cannibals.”

“On the Kingani river too it is not very safe for quiet people, for the valley is often attacked by the wild warriors - the Mafitsi, who, Dr. Kirk tells me, have laid waste the whole of the splendid country between Lake Nyassa and the sea. This has been a stockaded village, but the rampart has been allowed to fall into decay. The villages farther up are all strongly fortified, for wars never cease among the tribes of Useguha, and though guns are plentiful enough, the people find they sleep securest within a threefold wooden rampart in the heart of a dense thicket.”

“The slave trade is still the cause of great alarm. How many slaves pass between this shamba and Sadani every day, no man can tell. A well-beaten track crosses the road from this to the coast, and I shudder every time I cross it to think how many poor victims are nightly driven along that path. I never thought that this should be my work or my whereabouts now, but it is the unexpected that always happens. Somebody must do this work, and why not I? But I do not expect to get very far on with it, for in two or three months I hope to have instructions from the Church Missionary Society to proceed direct to Uganda. Lieut. Smith has sent down orders for me to come up quickly with some artisans, and to take no caravan with me, that I may march fast. He is anxious to have a steamer made. They can build a boat of wood, but they are helpless in iron and steam. I am, therefore, sending a telegram to London for an engine-fitter and blacksmith.”

“I am well again, thank God, and camp-life has set my spirits up. My horse, my dog, my goat, my oxen and donkeys, with all my household of nearly seventy men and women, are enough to feed, and quite enough to look after at one time. It is now dark, and all as calm as possible, and my men are going to rest. I have given them their food, and they know I shall take a good hard day's work out of them on the morrow. The insects are at it again - midges, flies, and mosquitoes above, and ants and crawling things below. A cup does for an ink-bottle and a mixture of powder and water for ink; but 8 or 9 o'clock is bed-time with me on the march, so good-night!”

Axes, saws, hammers, picks and spades were handled right and left, and day by day the work advanced, sometimes by rapid strides, sometimes at a crawling pace. Through endless forest and jungle they cut their way: the banks of many rivers and nullahs were sloped down to render them fordable; heavy boulders - tons in weight - were laid aside; along the edge of steep hill slopes they scooped out a passage, filling up the chasms with trees and stones, and crossing mire and moss with a solid pavement of layers of logs. In the valley of the Mkondokwa, at one place where, after sloping down the banks of the old river bed, and cutting a broad way for several hundred yards through a most terrible jungle of India-rubber trees, densely intertwined with the creeping wild vine, they suddenly came upon a village perfectly concealed and protected. A mile from this is the strongly stockaded shamba known as Kwa Mputa Mkubwa, which is a general halting-place for caravans, as a quantity of corn is grown by the natives; hence food is cheap, and the Wanyamwezi spend several days on end, rejoicing in chewing sugar-cane, and boiling huge messes of mtama porridge, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. At other parts of the same valley the spurs of the mountain run right down to the river brink, frequently terminating in an abrupt precipice, with deep ruts and chasms, and travellers by this route had to scramble in many places along the precipitous slope where a footing could scarcely be had. Here the thick wood along the base of the spurs had to be cut down, and for miles they had literally to shelve a way with pick and spade along the steep brow of the mountain. Three weeks' hard work they spent on a short piece of road, which they walked over in less than three hours on their way back to the coast.

The last portion of the road is an uninhabited wilderness, about forty-seven miles long. It is subject to raids from highway robbers; hence travelling in small numbers is always more or less unsafe, and seldom attempted. Food is not to be had, but one great alleviation of the trials of the march to caravans is, that there is a plentiful supply of water at convenient intervals. In this desert is the Gombo Lake, which has no feeder on any side, and having no outlet either, its waters taste brackish. The lake is infested with crocodiles, which, however, have not yet devoured the shoals of large-headed fish, which Mackay's men caught in numbers. The east end of the lake terminates in a field of pampas, growing on firm sandy ground. The whole is a perfect network of hippo and rhinoceros trails. The reeds joining overhead leave dark passages or tunnels below, and in these the huge pachyderms make their abode. For a couple of hours, one day, Mackay crawled in a stooping posture through these coal-mine sort of levels, in his endeavour to find a road round the hill. He saw numerous footprints of buffalo and zebra, but set eyes on none of the animals themselves.

“At night he heard the lion roar
And the hyaena scream,
And the river-horse, as he crushed the reeds
Beside some hidden stream.”

Doubtless the leopard was present also, for he found its marks farther down. Large trees broken across, and others denuded of their bark, told that the elephant also frequents the place. Had he been inclined for sport, he could easily have bagged any number of guinea-fowl and other large birds.

About eight miles from Mpwapwa a fearful thorny jungle is entered, with numerous young baobab trees, and these continue without intermission till the cultivated fields are reached. Cutting a way through these sweetly-smelling thorns was a most arduous task, all being brown and leafless, and affording no shade from a scorching sun, under which they had to work for days on end, with not a drop of water near.

But it is “a long lane that has no turning,” and Mpwapwa was reached at last, on the 8th of August. Thus, in less than a year’s time from the date of the arrival of the vanguard of the Nyanza Mission party at Mpwapwa, not only had a station been planted there, but a fair line of communication made between it and the coast - a distance of two hundred and thirty miles.

Some may think that road-making was strange work for the Church Missionary Society to set their missionary to do, but their hope was to have the way improved and carried on, so as to bring the remotest regions of the vast interior within easy reach of the known world, and enable the emissaries of Christianity and civilisation to enter in, carrying their mighty forces with them to the salvation and enlightenment of Negro millions.

A good road means a regular mail service, and much else which renders the agency of the missionaries more powerful, their comfort greater, and their success more sure.


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