A Long Journey through a Strange Land
WHO is this little girl sitting on the sand bank in the broad valley where a few months ago a swift river ran?
Let us see what she is doing, and then perhaps you will know who she is.
She has brought a bundle of tall reeds from the bank and laid them beside her; and now notice how, with her flat palm, she smooths a broad place on the sand and begins to drive in the reeds like posts, close together and in a circle. Isn't it going to be a little garden with a fence all around it? Watch a minute longer; she is plastering her wall with damp clay, and while that dries she has carefully measured off a bundle of broad, stiff leaves, tied them firmly together at one end, and with her strong fingers pulled them wide apart at the other, so that they look like an open umbrella.
Do you know what that is for? It is a roof, to be sure. And now she puts it carefully on top of the circular wall, and then she has a pretty little round house with a pointed roof; and you notice she left a doorway in the first place.
"Why, it is Manenko!" says Dossie.
Yes, it is Manenko, the little dark girl who lived in the sunshine. She is building a playhouse for herself, and you might build one like it next summer, I think, if you should try.
You knew her by the kind of house, didn't you? And you would have remembered her in a minute more, when I had told you that her little brother Shobo is sitting beside her, trying to make a tiny spear with a sharp barbed end, out of one of her best reeds.
A great trouble has come to Manenko's country since you first knew her. You remember the broad river where the hippopotamus used to sleep under the water, and where the men used to come down in a canoe loaded with elephants' tusks. That beautiful, cool, swift-flowing river has dried up, and our little Manenko is at this moment building her playhouse in the very place where the waves used to dance along over the sandy bottom.
But why is this a great trouble? I will answer this question by asking you another. Who can live without water to drink? And the simple round houses have no water pipes, and the one well of the village is already almost dry. The women are holding up their hands to the sky, and crying, "Poola, poola!" (rain, rain!) but the sky is blue and clear, and not the smallest fleecy cloud answers their call; and the men have gone to the next village to ask the old medicine man to come and make rain for them, which you and I know very well he will not be able to do. So this is really a serious trouble, isn't it?
Sekomi has been thoughtful for many days. He has watched the sky, he has looked sadly at the dry bed of the river; and now a morning has come when there seems no longer any hope, and he says:
"Where shall we drink water
But Maunka, the good mother, is more cheerful. "Let us go to the mountain country," she says. "Do you not see that the river once ran down to us from the mountains? There we shall find springs and wells, build a new house, and live as happily as we have here."
I am sure, dear children, that you will think this good advice, for you all know that the rivers come from the mountain springs.
And so this whole family prepared to go on a long journey through a strange land.
Perhaps some of you know what it is to move. We moved once when I was a little girl, and there were great wagons to carry the furniture, and men to load and unload them. It was a long and wearisome business, I assure you.
Now we will see how Manenko's family move. There are no horses and wagons to carry anything, but they march on foot, single file, and carry all the baggage themselves. First the father with his spear and shield, bow and arrows, slung over his shoulders. Then Zungo, the oldest son; he, too, carries bow and spear, and also a load of sleeping-mats tied together with rope made of palm fibre. Then follows the mother. I hope some good children are carrying all her bundles for her. But no; see, she has the heaviest load of all. On her head is the water jar, over her shoulders all the family clothing and cooking utensils, and in her hands the baskets and the short hoes for hoeing corn. And more than all, in the loose folds of her waist-cloth little Shobo must ride when he is tired, something as Agoonack's little brother Sipsu rode in his mother's jumper-hood.
Why didn't Manenko carry some of these things for her mother? Only look at the little girl, and you will be able to answer the question. She, too, has a little water jar on her head (and I think she carries it more safely than any one of you could do), and a basket of hard cakes, baked in the ashes of the morning's fire, in her hand. A smaller basket of honey is slung over her shoulder, and all that is load enough for a little girl.
If you ask why Sekomi and Zungo do not carry more, I can only answer that I am afraid they are not very thoughtful about such things. However, nobody complains, least of all the cheerful mother, who takes up her burdens without a word; and they turn their faces towards the hill country.
The first day's march is not so very hard if it were not for that thicket of wait-a-bit thorn bushes past which the path led them.
Did you ever hear of the wait-a-bit thorn?
It tells its whole story in its name, for the
thorns are like little fish hooks, and, if once
they catch you, you must needs wait a bit
before you can get away. I am glad they
don't grow in this country.
Just before sunset they find a pool of
muddy water, and on its borders great
heavy footmarks where the elephants have
been down to drink. This will be a good
camping place if they keep out of the
elephants' path, for the water jars are empty,
and here is a new supply to fill them for
He is looking about for a wild fig tree. Finding one, he cuts a smooth twig, sharpens it into a point, and, after wetting the point, rolls it in the sand until some of the sharp, shining bits stick to the wet end. Now it is all ready for rubbing or twirling in the hollow of that piece of wood that he has carried all day slung to his bundle of mats. How hard he works, holding the pointed stick straight in the hole, and twirling it hard between his two hands, while his mother waits beside him to catch the first spark in a wisp of dried grass! There, it is smoking, and now the grass is smouldering, and in a minute there will be a merry blaze under the earthen chattie where the porridge is to be cooked.
But before the porridge is well boiled a long train of men and animals comes crashing through the low bushes, and, while the frightened family hides behind a rock, Sekomi comes doubtfully forward to see who the intruders are.
Two tall creatures with long necks, great humps on their backs, and loaded with bales and bundles of goods; four little sturdy animals, not wholly unlike zebras excepting in color; and, besides the six men with woolly hair and dark faces like Sekomi's own, two tall, grave-faced, straight-haired men whom you would have known at once for Arabs, because you have heard about such people who lived in the desert with Gemila. But the greatest wonder of all is the man who rides upon one of the smaller animals—a white man! Sekomi has heard that such men come sometimes to the seacoast, but he never before saw one; and so, while he wonders much at the camels and the donkeys, strange beasts to him, he wonders still more at a simple man who is in every outward way as different from himself as possible. He has a white skin instead of a dark one, straight hair instead of wool, blue eyes instead of black, and he wears instead of the simple apron and mantle of antelope skin, strange garments, so well known to us as coat and pantaloons. But the words that he speaks are the most wonderful; and yet Sekomi knows by their sound that they are kind, although he cannot understand their meaning until one of the black interpreters hurries forward to help about the talking.
Do you know what an interpreter is? See what he does, and then you will know. He listens to the white man's talk, and then he changes it into Sekomi's language, and so makes them understand each other. Do you want to hear what the white man says to Sekomi?
"We have the same kind heavenly Father. Let us be friends and like brothers."
But Sekomi is afraid. He can hardly believe it, and he answers:
"It cannot be so; however much we wash ourselves, we do not become white. It cannot be that I have the same Father as Bazungu" (white man).
Then the Bazungu speaks again in his kindly voice and says: "It is not the skin that makes us brothers; it is the heart."
And now Sekomi dares to come forward and touch the hand that is held out to him in kindness, and clap his own as an act of politeness. "And, since we are brothers, my wife will give you porridge."
The Bazungu is tired and hungry, and the porridge is hot and delicious, but before eating it he gives Sekomi a piece of bright-colored cloth from one of his bales, and he also calls Manenko and puts a string of red and blue beads round her neck. The child says timidly, "Motota, motota" (thanks), and claps her hands as her mother has taught her, for it would be very bad manners not to clap your hands if any one gave you a present.
The white man wants help, for one of his
camels is sick and tired and cannot carry
so great a load; and
Do you wonder why he isn't paid in money? He knows nothing about money. In his country cloth and ivory and beads are used instead, and a yard of calico is as good as a dollar.
So the bargain is made, and the wages agreed upon, and then the camp fires are lighted to frighten away the lions, and all lie down to sleep.
You would be surprised to see this fire. We all know what a bright wood fire is, but what should you think of a fire of ebony, that fine black wood of which the piano keys are made, and perhaps a stick of mahogany or lignum-vitae added to it? That is all the wood they can find to burn, and although the white man knows that it is fine enough to be made into beautiful tables, or desks, or pianos, the black people think it of no value except for their fires.
In the side of the hill half a mile away is a broad belt of black rock. It is coal, just such coal as we burn in our grate, but when the Bazungu shows it to his men and tells them that it will make a hot fire, they smile, and say, "Kodi" (really?), for they don't believe it.
Very early in the morning Manenko hears her mother rise quietly and take her grinding stone, and begin to grind some corn into flour. "Mother, why grind in the dark?" asks the child.
"I grind meal to buy a cloth from the stranger, and make you a little dress," answers the mother; and sure enough, when the Bazungu comes out of his tent at sunrise Maunka stands waiting with her basket of fresh meal, and he gladly buys it and gives the cloth. So the poor dress torn by the wait-a-bit is replaced.
They are soon ready for the march. Sekomi now carries a great bale of cloth, and Zungo, too, has been employed to attend to the white man's fires when they camp at night. For this work he is to have a strange kind of pay, stranger even than the cloth; it is the heads and necks of all the animals that the white man may shoot on the way. If he should shoot a rhinoceros, I think there would be meat enough in his head to last the whole family several days, but a little antelope's head would be only enough for one dinner. At any rate, it is a great help to them all to have this work and this pay from the friendly stranger, and they are ready to serve him in every way that they can.
As they come near a village, they hear the people shouting, "Malonda, malonda!" (Things for sale; do you want to sell any thing?) and they find themselves just in time to go to a market, which is being held in the middle of the town.
Let us see what they have to sell. Here is the blacksmith who has a forge on the top of yonder ant-hill. He has been making short-handled iron hoes and will sell them for cloth or for honey, and honey is very cheap—a whole gallon for one yard of cloth.
See these two nice girls with clean hands and faces, and neat baskets full of something to eat. It looks very good, but I am afraid you won't buy any when I tell you that it is roasted white ants. But I don't know why we shouldn't find it as agreeable as a kungo cake that the women who live by the lake have for sale, for a kungo cake is a round, flat cake, an inch thick and as large as a breakfast plate, made entirely of boiled midges that are caught by the basketful as they hover over the lake.
We will not buy either, but will give that little naked girl a blue bead in payment for a cup of fresh water, and then sit down in the shade of a wild fig tree to watch the others. Zungo has sold a spearhead, and has in return some large, green, bitter melons. They are too bitter to be eaten raw, but will be very juicy and sweet when baked in the ashes. Sekomi has spent all his cloth for an ornament of ivory shaped like a new moon, and he marches about the town with it hanging round his neck, with one horn over each shoulder.
There is one kind of food here that perhaps we shall like. It is a sort of soup made out of the blossoms of a pretty blue flowering pea. The people call it "chilobé," and when they learn that the white man never saw it before they exclaim: "What a wretched country you must live in, if you do not even have chilobé!" But you and I know that they haven't the least idea how many other good things we have instead.
On one side of the market place stand some men curiously marked on their backs, shoulders, and arms. They are covered with patterns pricked into their skins—tattooed we should call it. There are crosses and half-moons, and various other figures; and all the men of one family have the same sort of mark, so that you can tell, the minute you see one of them, whether he is a moon-man or a cross-man. They have brought salt to sell, for they live in a place where the very earth tastes salt, and if you take some of it and wash it carefully, you can wash out little crystals of clear white salt.
The Bazungu has bought a pot of fresh butter, and when he eats his supper that evening the black people look on with surprise to see him eat butter raw, spread on his bread; and Maunka offers to melt it for him, that he may dip his bread into it. That is the way she would eat it.
And now I must tell you something about the new country into which they are coming. Already they have met little rivers coming down from the mountains, and the plains are covered with tall grass, tall enough for tall men to play hide-and-seek in; and the buffalo and rhinoceros are roaming there, thinking themselves safely hidden from hunters.
There is need of meat in the camp, and Bazungu plans a great hunt. The men take their bows and spears, but the white man has a "gun with six mouths, and the balls travel far and hit hard." I suppose we should call it a six-barrel revolver.
They leave the camp early one morning, and as they will not return for two days the men carry their "fumbas," or sleeping bags of palm leaves, and the little mosamela, or carved wooden pillow, hung over their shoulders.
First they shoot a zebra, which they think gives "the king of good meat." But the buffalo and rhinoceros are not so easy to approach, for each is guarded by a watchful little bird sitting on its back and looking out for danger. No sooner do the faithful little sentinels catch a glimpse of spear or bow than the buffalo bird calls out. "Cha, cha, cha!" and the rhinoceros bird, "Tye, tye, tye!" as much as to say to their clumsy friends, in their own pretty language, "Scamper, scamper, quick, quick!" and away gallop the great creatures, and it is no easy matter to overtake them.
But there is always something to be had for dinner, when all else fails. You know the guinea hens with speckled backs, and their funny call, "Come back, come back!" We see a few of them here, but in Manenko's land they are very common—hundreds and thousands of them to be found everywhere, and our hunters can have roasted or boiled guinea hen, if nothing else; only, in that case, poor Zungo will fare badly, for the heads and necks are his, and very small indeed they are as payment for cutting the hard lignum-vitae and ebony for the firewood. The good Bazungu, however, is kind and thoughtful, and sometimes gives him a whole fowl for dinner.
On the second day they kill two great buffalo, and as they cannot carry all the meat at once to camp, a part has to be left among the bushes. When they go back for it they hear a low growling, and, approaching cautiously, see a great lion tearing the buffalo flesh and eating it as fast as he can. Oh, what a pity, after all their trouble in hunting! And Sekomi calls out boldly to the lion: "Why don't you kill your own beef? Are you a chief, and so mean as to steal what other people have killed?" For Sekomi believes that some chiefs have the power of turning themselves into lions, just as people do in fairy stories, and he thinks this lion is really a man and can understand what he says. But the lion does not heed him; he only growls and goes on with his meal, and the buffalo meat is lost.
The white man cannot wait many days for hunting, because he is on his way to visit a great lake of which he has heard, and to look for the source of a long river of which you will know more some day. So they are soon on the march again, and the days are growing warmer and warmer, for it is midsummer in that country. Midsummer, did I say? It is just the 25th of December, and do you know what day that is? "Christmas Day!" you all exclaim. Yes, it is Christmas Day; and the birds are singing, the corn is springing up, and the fields are full of gay flowers.
You all know the little humming birds that you see dipping into the flowers on a summer day. In Manenko's land there are not many humming birds, but tiny sun birds instead, no bigger than a great bumblebee, and fluttering on swift-fanning wings over the pomegranate flowers. The little weaver birds, too, have put off their winter clothes of sober brown, and are gayly dressed in scarlet and black velvet. And here is one little red-throated bird who has put on a long train for summer wear, and finds it as difficult to fly about with it as some ladies do to walk with theirs.
I wish you could see the goat-sucker bird that Zungo caught and brought into camp on Christmas Day. He might have followed it all day long, a month ago, and yet have come home empty-handed; but the vain little bird is now dressed with two very long feathers (as long as your arm) growing out of each wing, and trailing so heavily that, although at other times he flies too swiftly for any one to catch him, he is now slow and clumsy, and Zungo caught him without trouble.
In spite of the hunting there is great need of meat in the camp, and some of the men are sick and cannot travel any farther.
You may wonder why they can't buy meat, as we do, of the butcher, but, besides the fact that there is no butcher, there is another great objection—there is no meat. There are neither sheep nor oxen in this part of the country, for the enemy has driven them all away.
"What enemy," do you ask?
A little enemy not a thousandth part as large as an ox, black and yellow in color, and carrying a very sharp and dangerous weapon. His name is tsetse, and he is a terrible fly. He bites the oxen and the sheep, and they sicken and in a few days die. And so determined is this fierce little enemy that no sheep or oxen can live in the country after he appears. For some reason of his own, he doesn't bite goats, and when the white man brought camels and donkeys it was because he thought they, too, would be safe from the tsetse. But he was mistaken, for although he rubbed them with lion's fat to keep them safe, knowing well that the tsetse will not hurt the lion, yet they were bitten, and one by one they died. And now there are not men enough to carry the loads which the animals used to carry, and neither is there meat to eat; so he decides to send Zungo as a messenger to the great chief, Kabobo, who lives thirty miles away in a town where there is food in plenty.
He does not write a letter, for none of these people can read; but this is the message that he teaches to Zungo, and Zungo must say it over and over to himself as he travels along, that he may be sure not to forget it.
"Bazungu needs ten strong men, and goats and corn. He will pay cloth and beads, and he sends you this present to let you know his friendship."
The present was a red shirt and a string of clear white beads. It was carefully wrapped in palm leaves, and Zungo carried it on his head.
Over and over again he repeated his message and did not forget a single word, and in four days his joyful shout was heard in the distance, and he and his ten men were soon welcomed with clapping of hands. Kabobo had sent corn and palm wine, and goats, and begged the great Bazungu to visit him very soon.
But Bazungu cannot visit any one at present, for the hot, damp weather has made him very ill. He lies in his hut, burning with fever; and poor little Manenko, too, lies on a mat beside her mother, with hot, fevered hands, and dry, quick breath. But, though he is so ill himself, the stranger, when he hears of the sick child, prepares for her a bitter little powder like the one he is taking himself. Of course, the little girl doesn't like the bitter taste of it, but the next day she is better and able to sit up, and soon she can go with her mother to say "Motota" to the kind Bazungu.
Don't forget this bitter medicine, for you will hear of it again before you finish this book.
In a few days they are all able to go to Kabobo's village, and there, for the first time in her life, Manenko sees a square house. There are two or three of them in the village, built by people who have travelled away to the seacoast, and there seen houses like them.
Around Kabobo's town are pleasant fields and gardens, and everything is growing finely, excepting one patch of corn, which the men say they planted in the mouse month and so lost half of it, for the mice ate the seeds.
One meadow is covered with pure little white lilies, and some medlar bushes hang thick with blossoms. Among the tall reeds you hear the brown ibis scream, "Ha, ha, ha!" and flocks of green pigeons are feeding on the fruits of the wild fig tree. Certainly it is a pleasant place, and after their long journey Sekomi's family think that here they will make their new home.
The women of the village look up pleasantly as they pass, and say: "Yambo?" (How are you?) And they answer, "Yambo sana" (Very well). Everybody seems kind, and glad to see the travellers.
So Maunka begins at once to build a new house. And then she finds fine clay, and shapes new water jars, smoothing them into their beautiful rounded forms with her hands, and marking them on the edge with pretty braided patterns like that which you see in the picture. And soon the new house is well provided; for twenty pots, for water, for honey, and for porridge hang from the ceiling.
But no sooner has Maunka built her house than another builder comes quietly in and goes to work to build hers in one corner of it. It is the paper spider, and Manenko sees her lay her forty or fifty eggs upon the wall, and then begin to make her pure white paper house to shelter them. She thinks the mother spider is not so different from any other mother, and, instead of driving her away, she watches while the careful builder prepares her little paper wall, half as big as the palm of Edith's hand, and then fastens it firmly over the eggs by a strip not wider than your finger-nail, pasted strongly all round the edges.
For three long weeks she sits, like a mother bird on her eggs, to keep them warm; after that she goes out for food in the day, but always comes back to cuddle them closely at night, and Manenko is never afraid for her, but watches every day to see when the little ones will come out of the eggs.
Sekomi has been busy planting corn, and also some seeds that the white man has given him, and they already feel at home.
Their good friend the Bazungu has tried to give them one present better even than the cloth, or the beads, or the garden seeds; he has tried to teach Zungo and Manenko to read. But, oh, what hard work it is! You have no idea of the difficulty; and at last one day poor Zungo says in despair: "O Bazungu! give me medicine; I shall drink it to make me understand." But you and I know that the only medicine that can make us learn is patience and perseverance; and even Zungo will learn in time if he has these.
You will all see by and by that even the little knowledge of reading and speaking English that he gained is a help to him, for a few months later another white man comes from the north to Kabobo's village, and when he finds that Zungo can read a little, and understands some words of English, he hires him as an interpreter, and promises to take him on a long journey, pay him well, and send him safely home again.
And now, before we leave them in their new home, I must tell you of one thing that happens to Manenko. She is getting to be a great girl, and it is time for her to begin to wear the pelele.
But what is the pelele?
It is an ivory ring, but not for the finger, or even for the ears. This poor child is going to have her upper lip bored, and this ring will be put into the hole, not to hang down, but to stand out straight and flat in a very inconvenient way; but everybody thought it was beautiful, and even if the little girl finds it painful she will not complain, but will consider it quite an honor. Her second teeth have come now, and they must be filed away to points, so that they look like a cat's little sharp teeth, and then she is thought to look very pretty indeed. The white man has made a picture of her, dressed in her best beads, and carrying a pretty new water jar on her head. He will take it home to his own dear daughter, that she may learn how her little dark sisters look in this far-away land.