Sunday, September 19, 2010



  • Sunday, September 19, 2010
  • Samuel Albert
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    Translated and edited by Ian Linden

    1 January 1891. The king issues a general warning that the Mangoni are in the vicinity, so it is dangerous to work in the gardens. Prima and Pedro, who were put up to it by Dominique, come and say "Happy New Year, father." May the coming year enable us to instruct them fully in our holy religion. At 8 p.m. we hear three rifle shots outside the mission and run out to see what is happening. A leopard had been killed. Chungwarungwaru and Chikusi are supposed to be in the neighbor-hood. We wonder if this time it is really war.

    3 January 1891. As far as the "war" is concerned, it is the usual story. Matavere has sent us three chickens and asked for a little sugar in exchange-dispatched. A nice roast of lamb comes from the king for us. He has some very good ideas.

    4 January 1891. A man was eaten by a crocodile yesterday. Some Mangoni, led by CheGuasa arrived here this morning. They are Mponda's old allies of former days, and seem to be just traveling through the district.

    Note: Parts I, II, and III of the Mponda mission diary have appeared in the three previous issues of the International Journal of African Historical Studies, VII, 2, 3, and 4(1974). Gwaza was the chief nduna of Chifisi. He was the leader of Chifisi's Njokozera war division, and was later murdered at the instigation of Chifisi's son Kachindamoto in 1894. He appears to have been captured by the Maseko Ngoni about 1840 around the southeast corner of the lake, and so may originally have been Nyanja.

    6 January1891. General alarms in the afternoon. War.

    7 January1891. We receive a visit from CheGuasa during the morning. He is a tall fine-looking man with white hair and a pronounced Bourbon nose.2 Extremely thin and back bent with age. We are accorded a small present and some deferential words. Sometimes it is a good thing to have these terrible Ronga Ronga3 as friends.

    8 January1891. We hear that when the English passed through they bartered a fat white cat for some potatoes. The everywhere. For the last few days we have been getting children to hold our lines during the night--with very good results. We had twelve hooks in the water,and they yielded six or seven kilos of fish (one of the fish was 2.5 kilos). Yesterday the same, two fish weighing 2.5 kilos each. We only got one that size last night. We have been using the square dipping net that was made to the father superior's specifications; it is unfortunately very difficultto handle because of the reeds on both banks. Line fishing only began here when hooks became available.We charge less than the A.L.C., and have sold three thousand. Little fish trapslike an elongated policeman's helmet made out of bamboo are also used.4 Mponda uses an enormous net, likoko, fifteen by one and a half meters.

    The price of fish varies from day to day. One day you may pay five or six coudees of cloth for five or six fish; the next you can get thirty to forty for the same price if there has been a big catch. They often look for a friend with a long arm when you come to measure out the cloth. The coudee (elbow length) is the unit of length here. The demicoudee is from the elbow to the beginning of the hand. Kwamba is four coudees,and kirundo eight coudees; ligala sixteen coudees. No matter what their design, handkerchiefs and scarves are measured out this way.

    For volumetric measure a big flat basket called lupetais used; it contains exactly fifteen liters and is the basic unit whether you are buying nuts or rice. The price of cloth varies.Mericaniand cotton are the same price, but kaniki and handkerchiefs must be haggled over. At the end of the season, everything goes up in price. Bartervalues are as follows normally:-

    One goat or sheep one ligala of mericani
    One chicken one coudeeof cloth
    An egg
    A bundle of firewood Three pigeons
    Two lupeta of bananas A roll of tobacco
    one fishhook or needle one coudee of cotton ditto
    three to four coudees of cloth one coudee of cloth

    9 January 1891. Mponda's men have captured two women from Chindamba's village. Five rifle shots this afternoon one after the other; it sounds as if reprisals are being taken. Mponda scans the horizon anx-iously. He is all the more worried as part of his harem have taken refuge in the house he built on the left bank, opposite the mission. Very heavy rain last night; the gardens were badly in need of it.

    10 January 1891. We have learned some details of yesterday's shoot-ing. Five women and a child from Chindamba's were taken during the morning, and the men from his village immediately went after them. They met a large caravan from CheMasala, one of the minor chiefs under Mponda. They exchanged fire and captured some men, together with a load of powder and cloth. The caravan came in yesterday and fired off some blanks to let Mponda know that they were coming. This continual war of attrition means that no one can go far from the town to cultivate the fields on the left bank without risk of capture by Makandanji's men. Five of Magiona's men were lost this way a little while ago. Magiona went to see Makandanji personally and was well received with pombe, but the chief categorically refused to hand the men over. Some more Mangoni under CheNdenga arrived today.

    14 January 1891. We have been catching a lot of fish in the stream of late as they go up to spawn. Mr. Johnson came down in his steamer this afternoon. He told us that he was going down as far as Lake Malombe, where he hoped to collect some mail. So we hope soon to have the answer to all our problems. We heard that Mr. Johnson has asked Mponda to cast anchor-or to be precise, to build a house at CheSamlio's. The king is considering it. CheSamlio's is a village on the lakeshore, named as always after its chief, who recognizes Mponda's suzerainty. As the steamer was crossing the lake, they met two boat loads of well-armed men. Johnson discovered later that these were Makanjila's men en route to fight Mpemba5. He could hear the sounds of battle coming from the shore.

    'Mpemba's original name was Nenula, but his murder of the Maravi Karonga, Sosola, around 1870 earned him the title of patron, or Mpemba. According to the Dutch Re-formed missionaries, he was a physically enormous man. Makanjila wanted a foothold on the eastern shore of the lake.

    15 January 1891. The steamer came up again and stopped opposite the mission during the morning. Mr. Johnson sent us a note to say that he had not met up with any of our mail, and accompanied it with some rice and beautiful gourds. He seems to be pressing the king for some answer to his yesterday's request. We sent him some vegetables from our garden by way of thanks; they were taken on board and we are sure they gave this wonderful minister great pleasure. Then Mponda arrived. "You must write me a letter to the whites asking for some sugar. I have plenty of tea but no sugar, and you have little sugar yourselves," he said. Mponda also wanted to know all about Victoria, her son and so on, as we wrote the note. We gave the letter to the muenhe and it was taken on board. We received a charming reply and two packets of sugar, one for us and one for the king. It's hard to believe that a man like Mr. Johnson, so good-hearted and high-minded, is not in the very best of good faith.6 We still do not know the answer Mponda gave to his request.

    War has been declared tomorrow. Our monarch has discovered that Chindamba plans to send men to capture the women as they harvest maize in the fields on the opposite bank of the river. The men were to slip out at night from the town and surprise the marauders. We will see if the rumors have any foundation tomorrow. During the evening a big drunken brawl among the women. The king's, Ngala's, and some of the elders' wives began fighting with sticks, with people egging them on. The devil may laugh; it is his doing.

    16 January 1891. Mr. Johnson goes up the river again, and again no mail. Mr. Moir sent us a letter, though, telling us about the A.L.C. boat that goes up and down the lower Shire having been stopped again by the Portuguese. No news, no mass wine, and no immediate hope of any change in our present position. We have a half bottle of white wine left. The door that leads into the royal stockade has been locked with chains and cadenas. Mponda has been discussing going to Lisbon, no less, to settle the dispute he has with his neighbors.

    17 January 1891. Mponda has told us that three of his close relatives, two wives and a boy, died of poisoning during the night--it was some concoction from the crocodile; he claims that his third wife killed them out of jealousy. Meanwhile, he is preparing to go on a trip to visit his friends the Mangoni. The ass is loaded with six kilos of powder and about a thousand musket balls. Apart from munitions, the king is to be accompanied by three of his pages and a big armed escort. Everyone wears their best clothes for the occasion.

    They had already left when Mpinganjila intercepted the king to in-form him what a grave inconvenience his abscence would cause. If the king was away for several days and no news came, the people would believe him dead and run off. So he must come back to forestall this eventuality .... And he did indeed return and instead just sent gifts to the two Mangoni chiefs, CheNdenga and CheGuasa. It seems to be really more of a tribute to these Mangoni than a gift-just to keep them on the side of the chiefs and Mponda. They used to pay tribute to Chikusi, but his alliance with Chungwarungwaru brought this to an end.

    18 January 1891. Some of the men from the town who went into Chindamba's territory have failed to return-a few more slaves on the market. Some others were caught on the left bank and attacked. One died and three were wounded in the fight.

    19 January 1891. The war drum struck up about midnight. An attack from Chikusi's Mangoni, alone this time. The king fired his gun to warn people who live outside the town to take refuge as quickly as possible.

    20 January 1891. The king brought us a leopard skin this morning and asked for a kwamba of madras in return. When he discovered we had run out of handkerchiefs a long time ago, he let us keep the skin until some more arrived. The English flag has been flying again for the last few days. Mr. Johnson went by in his steamer to fetch mail, and made another attempt to get Mponda's permission for CheSamlio's. News about the Mpemba-Makanjila war. Mpemba's village was sacked and several prisoners were taken, although the chief himself escaped with his life. Among the prisoners was a black belonging to a white Calvinist minister of the Dutch Reformed faith. Half of the mission was at Mpemba's and there were even rumors that the white had perished; these turned out to be unfounded- he was simply caught in the village during the hostilities and unable to make contact with the outside world.7

    We started taking it in turns to say mass today. If there is any real pri-vation for a missionary it is this. A terrible squall at noon which almost flattens our stockade. Rain by the bucketsful.

    Mr. Johnson went up again today and for the fourth time requested permission for CheSamlio's. It must be that no mail has come for us, or we would have received it by now. Mponda's men are back from Quilimane. Understandably enough, they have been refused more powder.

    21 January 1891. 10:30 a.m. Panic. War drums. A woman stabbed four times by a Mangoni while she was working in the fields; men killed where they hid among the maize and in the trees. The woman died of her stab wounds after she was carried into town. The killer was captured and put to death. His shield was brought to the chief at noon.

    A madman has declared that ngyama, horse beans,8 must be sowed along the top of the stockade. There is much respect for the insane, owing to the belief that they have a special relationship with masoca, the spirits. When a madman has revealed something important, his mouth is filled with water and a lighted straw brand put in front of his face. His instinctive reacting of spitting out the water, which quenches the flame, is taken as a sign that the spirits are appeased. It seems that the spirits had also requested some offering to be made; the king performs a ritual with the war medicines and makes an offering of meat to the spirits in the afternoon. Any gun fired in the town during the rest of the day renders the war medicines useless.

    22 January 1891. The men spent the night guarding the stockade. The king came to the mission at dawn to ask for guns, which we lend him. The women and children who slept in their huts during the night have sought refuge in the royal stockade. We went to see what was happen-ing after breakfast. All along the outer stockade the men were on watch, laughing and joking like soldiers in a trench. We found the king under a big tree, where he had taken up his position close by the Muyao banner that was flying on the inner stockade. Mponda was ra-diant, dressed in new clothes with a clean white turban and a powder horn with four or five cartridges stuffed into his belt. At his side were seven barrels of powder and a stack of musket balls piled up on a mat. From everyone's demeanor it was plain that here was a people with war in their blood. We got to the edge of the gardens just as the msano was going at with the sorcerer to make some war medicines. On every ter-mite mound sentries were mounted. Yells from all sides that we must go back because the enemy was advancing from the south. We didn't believe a word of it, but they insisted so strongly we returned to our stockade.

    We continued our walk later, just counting guns. In a tour around less than one-third of the stockade we count over three hundred guns ready to open fire (N.B., this presupposes a total of one thousand guns-together with men only armed with bows, this amounts to twelve hundred households. Assuming an average of two children per family, this gives a total population of five thousand souls).

    We go to the furthest limit and most exposed corner of the town, which is only protected by a very deep ditch and euphorbia bushes; we are told that from this vantage point the enemy was visible in the distance. And sure enough, three to four hundred meters away we can see the Mangoni advancing. Through field glasses we can make out the individual warriors with their massive headdresses. They advance slowly, very many of them, like an antheap on the move. They have encircled the west of the town and are moving in a southerly direction. Chungwarungwaru and his men are with them. We go back into the town at 9 a.m. and wait there under the protection of the holy angels.

    Every now and then the young people call on us to bring us news.The enemy are moving in, slowly and inexorably, destroying the fields of sorghum as they go. Finally a fusillade from the southwest corner of the town. It is 10:30 a.m. Five minutes later the "lou-lous" of the women; the enemy has fled at the first volley, carrying off their wounded and leaving four dead behind them. Four bloody heads are soon brought into the village. What cowardice for the redoubtable Mangoni!9

    Our men give chase, and soon another head is brought in. Of the five, one is distinctly a Muyao--we can tell from the tatoos. Of those caught some distance away, only the virilespartes are brought back, a shameful trophy. Meanwhile, a powerful young man who formerly belonged to Chungwarungwaru and who made an abortive attempt to join the enemy's ranks during the raid was cut down. One ball went into his left tibia and another shredded his left arm, missing the bone. He is brought into the mission to be treated by the father superior.

    23 January 1891. On their way home the Mangoni camped near the village of Mpirikulongwe10, a vassal of Mponda. Some of the inhabitants are arriving at the capital seeking refuge.

    24 January 1891. Some visitors from Makanjila's bring reports that he suffered heavy casualties during his attack on Mpemba's. On hearing the sounds of battle, the inhabitants of a neighboring village ran up and caught Makanjila's men in crossfire.

    26 January 1891. A lot of work has been done on the stockades, espe-cially the king's, since the attack on the 22nd. We went to have a look at the battleground and the Mangoni's line of march. The sorghum had been uprooted and the stems slashed in many places. They have suffered a considerable loss. The imprints of bare feet were still visible along the line of retreat. The front part of the foot showed well while the back was barely visible-a sign of men running fast.

    29 January 1891. A woman with her ten- and nineteen-year-old sons are brought in to us after being slashed by Matavere. The woman had a gash half way across her left ear. One of the children had a cut across the head, and the left side of his forehead was gaping open. Mponda ar-rives to inform us that the Mangoni murdered three English people on their way home. Their sorcerers are supposed to have attributed the Mangoni's defeat to the presence of whites at Mponda's. The chief tells us the Mangoni war cries: manga-down on your stomach, and mkin-jo- up and attack. We send news of the recent events to the people on board the Domira, which arrives during the evening. There is very little mail-just one letter from Father Mercui, who has been suffering from haematuria. No supplies and above all no mass wine.

    30 January 1891. The Domira agents think that the news we heard from Mponda was untrue.11 A minister on board on his way to Likoma Island is going to investigate the matter; he wanted to see our little chapel. We have an earthquake at 5:30 p.m. that lasts five or six seconds running along a line southwest to northeast. The people here know what meteros are and talk about them. Some captives on board the Domira are brought ashore in chains. It makes a very bad impression on the people in town.

    1 February 1891. The father superior is in the middle of a bad bout of fever with a lot of shivering.

    4 February 1891. War drums during the night. There is talk of three Mangoni armies converging on Mponda's sultanate from three different sides. Fifty men are sent by the king during the morning to rein-force the stockade where it runs along the northeast to southwest limits of our enclosure. The father superior is slowly getting over his fever.

    6-9 February 1891. Each in his turn, Father Heurtebise and Brother Antoine go down with fever. We think this may be due to the heat and excessive evaporation which followed the heavy January rains12.

    10 February 1891. The king brought us two tins of sardines in oil. A young man returned to find a violent argument going on between his mother and father, seized a gun, and shot his father. The king has had a slave stick put on both him and his mother.

    11 February 1891. The young children are playing war games with a vengeance. The principal weapon is a reed stem full of little stones. It is a dangerous game and can cause serious injury. In the last two days we have worked out the Muyao alphabet and the values of the different letters. We have taken twenty-four different characters and made the k an extra radical letter.

    12 February1891. The body of the man killed by his son has been dis-interred and eaten. We patched up a broken arm today.

    13 February 1891. Close on twenty slaves were dispatched today, including two little children between six and eight years old. Even they had slave sticks around their necks. The buyers were from Kantarica as usual. When will we be delivered from this scourge?

    17 February 1891. The Domira goes by with about two hundred Negroes on board. More work is being done on the royal stockade.

    21 February 1891. There was plenty of maize about the village a few days ago, but it has all been consumed now and there is a food shortage. Many women are coming to the mission to buy a handful o

    24 February 1891. The Mangoni mercenaries have been summoned for a big battle next month. Objective- Chindamba's village, the chieftain opposite us. Cause for the renewal of hostilities-old animosities, the need for more women to do the cultivation, and the demands of the slave trade. Result-one or two more villages on the banks of the Nyasa about to be demolished.

    28 February1891. Arrival of many Mangoni. We have heard the figure two hundred mentioned. They have brought two elephants' teeth as a present for the king. The average daily attendance in class in February has been thirty-one. The remarkable thing is that there is almost never an Anyanja child.13 This seems to confirm what we have heard of the differences between the Muyao and Anyanja. The father superior is trying to make a translation of the KiSwahili catechism with the help of our two brightest students. We had bow-and-arrow competitions on Sunday for handkerchiefs. The children can say the Our Father in Chiao now. No wine, so no masses.

    1 March 1891. The Mangoni are definitely here for a battle. But Mponda's plans have changed. He now wants to wait for the sorghum crop to be harvested and the grass burned before he attacks.

    2 March 1891. As for Chindamba, he is also hesitating. He says that his friend Makanjila is in a better position to wage war, being on the same bank as Mponda and not having to risk being pushed back into the Nyasa like Chindamba's men. We receive frequent visits from the Mangoni at the mission.

    3 March 1891. Mr. Johnson came down in his steamer today. The father superior made some kites and flew them, much to the admira-tion and general curiosity of our dear blacks.

    5 March 1891. The father superior is ill with fever again. We have heard that the master of a poor sick slave child has thrown her to the hyenas. Changali14, who lives outside the main stockade and has a terri-ble reputation for killing people by sorcery, has been ordered to undergo the poison ordeal. We have discovered that people wounded in bat-tle are obliged to stay outside the main stockade until they are fully recovered. We certified a young man fit who has been suffering from three musketball wounds, and gave him permission to return to the village after shaving his head. Rumor has it that the Domira has sunk. For some time now our children have been hunting very skillfully for turtle doves. We give them a coudee of cotton for sixteen birds.

    6 March 1891. Today is the day of CheChangali's ordeal. He is a foreigner who only began living at Mponda's at the beginning of the war. Nonetheless, he is one of the most powerful men in the village and has an entire quarters to himself. He has several enemies. As far as we are concerned-and we have had dealings with him-he is completely innocent of the crimes of which he has been accused. But whatever the truth of the matter, he must pass before the judgment seat. The tribunal is to be held fifteen minutes from the town. Matavere and his elders are assembled there with a large crowd. CheChangali is con-demned to drink the mwabvi but refuses, substituting one of his slaves for himself-this is a new angle on slavery. The slave takes the poison,and now we have only to await the results.

    7 March 1891. Acclamations, singing from the women, and gunfire during the night. Not a hope of a peaceful night's sleep with the fusillade going on. Why? The slave vomited the poison. CheChangali is innocent and has begun the process of rehabilitation. We go to have a look in the morning. Several hundred women were dancing around the accused's hut, head, shoulders, and breasts covered with ashes as a sign of repentance for having made a false accusation. It would be hard to exaggerate the confidence the blacks have in the poison ordeal.

    It seems CheChangali has written to Chungwarungwaru saying that "we are drinking pombe from your father's skull and using his arm bones to stir it." It is of course untrue, but enough to get Chungwarungwaru to put pen to paper. "Mponda, hand over CheChangali to me and the war will be over." The latter takes great care that this will never happen, and with good reason. This morning Mponda gave the slave who drank the poison a piece of cloth. A man from Matavere's who took the ordeal on behalf of someone else collapsed and died this evening. The accused is therefore guilty and will have to pay a heavy fine. Finally, there is another man from a neighboring village who had the good fortune to vomit the poison-a clear-cut case of innocence.

    The king, even with his well-stocked harem, is still not tasting complete bliss. Four of his wives, accused of adultery, have been obliged to take the ordeal. One of them, who was about to give birth to a child, died of it. Mponda went into deep mourning over the corpse.

    8 March 1891. We receive a visit from muenhe Matavere. He wants us to set a definite date for visiting his village. We suggest Thursday next. Mponda arrives a few minutes later with his clock. "Take this clock to your house and try to make it work." CheChangali is now claiming compensation from his accuser, Matavere, who was here to settle the affair. He has to part with two slaves, a man and a woman. Mr. Johnson's steamer came through during the night, leaving us a demi-john of white wine and some letters. A letter from Monsignor
    Livinhac15 informs us of Father Mercui's recall and our impending departure for Tanganyika.

    13 March 1891. The Domira, which called in about 7 a.m., brought newspapers, thirteen packets of butter, and several demijohns of wine. Unfortunately, the items we need the most, Chiao and ChiNyanja books, got left behind. They have killed a magnificent wild pig on the opposite bank. The visit to Matavere was brought forward a day, but the father superior and Brother Antoine still didn't find him at home. He was here settling a case; no muenhe, so no goats.

    17 March 1891. Father Heurtebise, who has been ill and without much appetite for nearly two weeks, has been obliged to take to his bed. Everything leads us to fear another attack of the bilious fever he has had twice before.

    18 March 1891. The father has had a bad night; happily, there is no haematuria, the urine is black rather than red.16) He had a high fever all day and began vomiting toward evening. Some strong salt purgative taken during the morning did nothing to arrest the pain. One hesitates to induce the type of vomiting that might easily get out of control. If only we could get proper medical advice on points like this.

    20 March 1891. The fever had not lifted by morning and the patient is suffering from bouts of vomiting. However, there is a slight improvement which continues into the afternoon. The fever is diminishing in intensity.

    22 March 1891. Another bad night. A keen thirst makes us fear another bout of fever on the way but in the morning, nothing. He is able to take a little milk, jam, and soup.

    23 March 1891. No real change, but his appetite is returning. We heard some rifle shots yesterday evening, a military expedition, or rather a band of brigands, returning after a successful sortie; about four-teen women captured and doubtless as many men killed. They fired off a few warning shots when they got back. The raid had taken place at or near some little village belonging to Chikusi, the Mangoni ally of Chungwarungwaru. It is hardly the way to foster peaceful relations with your neighbors. But Mponda's people are singularly unconcerned about that sort of thing. They are no longer even mildly frightened of the terrible Mangoni, and when they need slaves don't hesitate to raid Mangoni territory.

    This type of guerrilla warfare is known as kuswamba (to ambush peo-ple), and seems very much to our people's taste. There have already been several expeditions this year, and new bands of raiders have set off again today. Forays like this are a more or less permanent feature, and we have good grounds for believing that our Muyao are the prin-cipal suppliers to the disgusting slavers we have seen here so often. As long as they are not Christian, the realization will never dawn on them that to surprise women and children in their gardens, to pounce on defenseless little villages, and to loot and sack everything is the most abominable crime.

    24 March 1891. Our dear confreres convalescence looks as if it is going to be more protracted than we had imagined for an illness of such short duration.17However, we know very well that there is nothing ordinary about these bilious attacks and we are not too surprised.

    25March 1891. A fresh band of raiders has returned with more slaves. This time they brought back men, as there were no women around. They must have thought it more profitable to capture and sell them than merely kill them. These successes have encouraged CheChangali to send his own men out on a raid. It is probably the same story every year; when the sorghum is high these women-snatchers and child-stealers are able to hide easily and surprise their victims. We are no longer in the time of Mr. Steere,18 who in his Chiao grammar informs us that the Muyao are members of a tribe which uses bows and arrows, much despised by tribes with axes and spears like the Mangoni. Thanks to guns, which have now replaced bows and arrows, the roles seem to be reversed.19 It is the Muyao who are contemptuous of the Mangoni. The result, no less sad, is that the coastal slavers will buy Mangoni in-stead of Muyao slaves. The victims have changed places with their ex-ecutioners, but the slave trade will doubtless increase even more if the European powers do not succeed in putting a stop to it.

    29 March 1891. Haec dies fecit Domine exultement laetemur in ea.20 And to help us enter fully into these sentiments of holy joy to which we are invited by the Church, we have in addition to the normal happiness of serving God that of seeing our sick confrereback on his feet again. He is of course still weak, as can be imagined after such a terrible sickness. Finally, so that the body might share in the joy of the soul, the king has been generous enough to give us a magnificent lamb for Easter. He himself has started Muslim prayers and Swahili classes at his house. Alas, far too many people at Mponda's practice the detestable doctrine taught by the Koran, which makes them proud rather than chaste, honest, or humanitarian.

    I April 1891. CheChangali's men, who left on the 27th, returned to-day. Ten slaves and five men killed. CheChangali came himself, as proud as a peacock, to tell us the news. May God convert his soul. We have been forced to close the school every five minutes recently be-cause of illness. Dominique was very ill again today.

    2 April 1891. The king is sending an ivory caravan to Quilimane and a letter of recommendation so that he can get powder there. We re-minded him that Father Mercui had tried to obtain some as a gift but had failed, and told him that powder, guns, and alcohol were quite unobtainable on the coast. We added that since the Portuguese flag had been hauled down and the English were now masters of the land, it was hardly reasonable to expect the Portuguese to do him any favors. This last point Mponda understood perfectly. The Good Lord has given Dominique a little boy whom we have baptized Francois.

    4 April 1891. Bands of men are still leaving for raids around Chikusi's villages. They say Chikusi is very ill.21What seems to us so extraordi-nary is that these bands of pillagers who go in for destroying their enemies' huts, although few in number, manage to attack quite large villages. The people seem to be so terrified they barely make a move to defend themselves. On the other hand, the Mangoni only have very few rifles. Not all the expeditions are successful, either. CheMacacha is being mourned today, a leading figure at Mponda's, shot down in one such foray.

    7April 1891. The Domira has taken our letters and is due to return in a fortnight's time. A hyena is going round the village at night now and seems quite at home. One of our closest neighbors, a big dog fancier, is now left with only one; a month ago he had twelve. We have seen the animal's tracks inside our enclosure and the children say they heard it during the night, snuffling at the classroom door-they use the classroom as a dormitory.

    9 April 1891. Yesterday the people in town told us about a root called nyumbu, which Livingstone speaks of as a cure for even the most per-sistent vomiting.22 Today we decided to try and collect some of this famous Papilionaceae. We set off at 6 a.m. and before long caught up with people going to buy maize, which is also very abundant at the place where nyumbuis said to grow. We met a group loaded with provi-sions coming back from a big village. It was a small caravan of the king's men. One of them had a sort of cymbal, which is used in the following fashion: when they reach a village they spread out in all direc-tions, clashing the cymbal and proclaiming: "The king asks for provi-sions," and everyone was expected to bring a basket of maize to pre-sent gratis to the king.

    It took us one and a half hours' march to get across the fields belong-ing to people at the capital. There were crops stretching to our right-W.N.W. and into the distance on our left-the east. It is difficult to understand how Mponda's capital can be without supplies for six months at a time. They probably use up half the crop making pombe. We noticed that this year many plants were infected with rusts and mainspar, a similar condition.

    We finally skirted the mountain they had indicated after two hours' march. On arriving, we were told that our destination was at the edge of the rolling plain ahead, where there was a cluster of higher mountains. We pressed on through high grass and reeds, passing a number of blackened and charred stakes still sticking up out of the ground-the remains of huts. The Mangoni came and left not a single hut standing; everything burned. Those inhabitants who were able to escape took refuge in the mountains, where they now live. After crossing a second valley and a forest, we came to a little torrent23 running down to the foot of a mountain that runs north-south. It has three peaks separated by little valleys, and the whole mountainside is dotted with boulders behind which the huts are built. They are so well hidden that nothing is visible, even close by. Tired after four hours walking and feeling that we should get back to the mission before nightfall, we decided not to go on up to the village, merely sending up three of the children who had accompanied us to buy maize. Our presence was soon detected, and the inhabitants came down from behind their boulders to take a look at us. We took the occasion to ask a few questions. The forest, the mountain, and the entire plain, as well as the village, are called Mauni. The muenhe, who is said to be Mponda's vassal, is called CheCantande. The chief of a second village is called CheCusewa.

    The Mangoni only returned once after the villages resettled in the mountains. They attacked the promontory to the south, but didn't see the men from the rise opposite in the north, who came down to take the assailants from the rear, inflicting heavy losses. But despite their success the people from the villages are very timorous and rarely go down into the plain. Almost all their crops-and these are quite extensive-are to be found along the slopes and on a fourth peak behind the mountain. The tribes in this area are very different from Mponda's24. We left before 2 p.m. and returned to the mission tired but pleased with our journey; we learned a lot about the region. If it were not for the continual warfare, a very healthy station could be established in one of the mountain villages, where the people appear to be quite iso-lated. As for nyumbu, we were unable to find any-very annoying. But then any projects associated with the Mponda mission are rather point-less now. When we reached town we heard that a young child had killed his brother with a stone for taking some of his groundnuts.

    10 April 1891. Mr. Johnson's steamer came down without stopping yesterday evening. The A.L.C. agents have bought the king's ass for fifty pieces of silver. They will have to get it on board when they come up again next time. The month of Ramadan. Cries of joy, volleys of rifle fire, nothing lacking in these works of the devil.

    11 April 1891. The king has begun Ramadan on a saintly note; he was slashing at people during the night with his knife and wounded three of his wives. One of them was so badly hurt and lost so much blood we had to treat her in her hut. The devil's work. The women had taken the liberty of lending one of the king's guns to a man called Ismaili. And what suspicion an act of that kind can produce in the mind of a Muslim monarch! Recently Bwanali, one of the last Mponda's leading sons, brought his wife to the mission; in the course of a fight resulting from jealousy the bottom of her left cheek was torn right open by a vicious bite.

    12 April 1891. We have discovered that there are now twelve Muslim schools in the town. The evil is more widespread than we first imagined.

    15 April 1891. We've heard discussed for some time now a large village to the south of Mponda's. Today we directed our steps there. We followed what was quite a straight path for a Negro track and proceeded due south. We were out of the sorghum gardens after one and a quarter hours' march, and another hour took us beyond a forest to an immense plain in which there was not a single tree in sight. It extended to our right as far as a chain of mountains that ended in the W.N.W. with the Mauni hills, and to the S.S.E. with the isolated peak where Chungwarungwaru's village is to be found. Opposite us with the Nyasa River on our left was more deforested plain. It was formerly dotted with villages but now only one remained; the rest had been devastated by war. We even noticed that one mountain village had been sacked, that of CheChangali, who was obliged to watch his village go up in flames before he decided to move to Mponda's capital.

    After three hours' walk we at last reach a fork in a tributary of the Nyasa. At this point in the river there is a large island onto which the war has driven numbers of Negroes. They have made two villages, one called CheMcisa, quite small, and one belonging to CheMpinganjila, which is said to be very big. We crossed by canoe opposite CheMcisa to greet the chief, and then went on to visit CheMpinganjila at the other end of the island. But we had not counted on marshes, and were soon obliged to retrace our steps. Since we were unable to find a single shade tree for several hours, we headed toward the forest we had crossed on the outward journey.

    We manage with some difficulty to get hold of two fish to feed the children who accompanied us, and stop to eat on the ruins of CheNg-wala's village. Another stop at 2 p.m. in the shade of a magnificent crew pine on the ruins of another village. We actually sit down on the re-mains of the old chief's hut, but there were hardly any traces of it left. Around that pine had been huts of slaves, wives of the chief, and they must have sung, danced, and drunk pombe here only a few years ago. Now it is just bush. CheMwalero, who was the chief, fled to Chung-warungwaru after his village had been attacked, and stirred up his peo-ple to vengeance against Mponda. His own children were captured and sold into slavery. Only the villages of Sosola, Mpuaho, and Mpabi25 among Mponda's have been destroyed. Now we have been from one end of the plain to the other. Only one village. Only the banks of the lake and river are now inhabited, as are the two extremities of the chain of mountains that cradle the river's right bank.

    16 April 1891. The king is embroiled in a case with his village elders at the moment. On grounds of sorcery and multiple infanticide, he has divorced his predecessor's wives whom he inherited. Now he is claiming that he should be allowed to marry their daughters. The elders claim that such pretensions are absolutely contrary to the customs of the Muyao people. Nonetheless, the king will probably find some way round it. Who could subdue passions as unruly as these?

    17 April1891. We receive a visit from CheCasanga,a Muyao chieftain whose village is two days' journey away on the lakeshore.Of average height and completely drunk, CheCasangatells us of his battles with-out any attemptsat dignity.He seems an even more sanguinarycharac-ter than Mponda,whom he had come to see, and claimed to know one of us. "This fine face," he said to one of his entourage,"seems to be familiar to me." So the father asked, "Where have you seen me before." Back came the bold reply:"I rememberwell, it was in a battle fought near my land." How to disabuse a man so firmlyconvinced? It would have been a waste of time. We gave him a small gift and he left. Another chieftain whom the devil looks after tolerablywell. It is plain that only the grace of God can turn these stones into children of Abraham.

    18 April 1891. Drought for a month and a strong and continuous south wind have played havoc with the harvest. Everything is drying up in-stead of ripening. From the sky to the northeast and southwest it looks as if this is general, so it will be not only Mponda's people who find themselves without victuals.The neighboring villages will be unable to supply the capital this year. Unless plenty of rain comes soon there is going to be a famine. The spirits have been consulted as to the prospect of further rain.The reply, such as it is, cannot be written in French. Let us simply translate it as "There will not be a single drop more." [Kanya mvula means "to shit down rain," and is the usual term, ed.]

    20 April 1891. The king has built a house for his wives who live on the island. It is to the northwest on the land behind the mission.

    23 April 1891. The harvest has officially begun; everyone is ordered into the sorghum fields to offer the first fruits to the spirits.26The offer-ings are put into the tombs, and the spirits-or someone else-come to take them duringthe night. We now know the reason for CheCasanga's visit; our warriors are leaving tomorrow to make war on Chikusi's Mangoni, and instead of going directly there they are proceeding to CheCasanga's to collect more men. As well as Mponda'susual Mangoni mercenaries,they will also have some neighboring villages with them. Last year Ramadan was celebratedby waging a terrible war on Chung-warungwaru.This year it may be marked by the devastation of Chikusi's villages. Illuminare Domine.

    24 April 1891. The impending annihilation of the Mangoni is cele-brated with songs of joy during the night. The war drum began beating from very early in the morning. The king distributes powder and the warriors depart. Mponda is to escort them as far as Mauni, where they will camp for a few days.

    25 April 1891. A large number of men went off to battle again this morning as if they were going to a banquet. There must be about a dozen villages represented. There is widespread enthusiasm for the campaign, and they expect to totally destroy the enemy; hardly an able-bodied man remains at Mponda's. What an excellent chance for Chungwarungwaru to avenge himself, if only he knew and wanted to take advantage of the situation. A large caravan of men en route from Quilimane arrived here from Mpemba's.

    26 April 1891. The king, who was not expected back from Mauni until tomorrow, has come back today. While he is away his subjects all behave in a distinctly odd fashion and it is the thought of this, we imagine, that brings him hurrying back.

    27 April 1891. They have been sprinkling some highly perfumed water around the village. It is some daona27 designed to secure the good will of the masoca. A musette was being played at the chief's during the evening-same purpose as the water. We bought a third child today, son of a woman sold into slavery, the father dead, Paulo.

    30 April 1891. More than eighty children in class during this month. Some are very regular attenders now, and some are beginning to write. We have slates and paper, so many children spend the whole day at the mission; there is better equipment than at the mwalimu's. We have heard that Chindamba has gone off to fight Kabuto with the help of the Makwangwara.28

    1 May 1891. The men who had gone to fight the Mangoni came back today. We were forewarned of their approach by the war drum and went out to watch the returning expedition. More than a hundred Negro households must have gone past us, mats, goats, chickens, pigeons. No need to ask if the attacks had been successful. We counted seventy slaves, two men and the rest women and children-and to be truthful, this was only a guess. What we saw was only a tiny fraction of a procession that lasted well into the afternoon. It would be no exag-geration to state that Mponda's men alone brought back 130 to 150 slaves from this foray. This figure ought to be multiplied by thirteen, the number of villages that participated in the attack.

    They struck on the 28th at dawn. Despite the enormous quantity of guns the men assure us the Mangoni possessed and their countless bar-rels of powder, the village, stretching five to six kilometers, was taken.29 The besieged villagers were put to flight or slaughtered and the slaves garrotted. Not a bead or needle was left in the huts after Mponda's men had been through. All the pombe they found-in profusion-was drunk, and what was left reduced to ashes.

    Toward noon a Mangoni in the prime of life has his throat slit. His heart is torn out and given to the sorcerer, who reduces it to ashes and mixes it with flour. The sorcerer makes a clear concoction like soup from this mixture which is drunk by all the warriors to protect them from musket balls and arrows in the next campaign. A mix-up in our trunks led us to suppose we possessed a statue of Our Lady of Africa. But the box contained only broken phials with ingredients for the pharmacy. We do our monthly spiritual exercises in front of a picture of Our Lady that we discovered.

    2 May 1891. We take in a WaNgwana who was thrown out of Matavere's village because of sores. We will house him in a hut we were using as a chicken house. We fear that Mponda will not allow him to stay with us for long; they have a horror of sores.

    3 May 1891. The Domira ought to have passed on the 20th, but it still has not appeared. We are without news and waiting for some resolution of our problems.

    5 May 1891. The Domira arrived during the night. A letter from Father Mercui passes on the order to vacate Mponda's. In it are instruc-tions about our departure and our destination. It's from the mother house30. Official letters were supposed to have already reached us by special delivery, but we received nothing. Since the company has been unable to give us cloth, rice, or any commodity suitable for trading, we are now in a very awkward predicament. Famine reigns at Mponda's, and we have used up all the cotton we keep to purchase food. God will provide. A letter from Mr. Moir, the company director, tells us of the existence of three mission stations along the Tanganyika road, at three and six days' march north of Nyasa.

    12 May 1891. The father superior baptized a little child today, calling it Joseph. Our stay at Mponda's has born fruit. We have given to God and his Church a child, and to heaven an angel.

    15 May 1891. The king has sent two lion skins to the mission. The animals were fighting out of jealousy in the plain and were found after a battle to the death.

    3 June 1891. Mponda seems to be sincerely sorry to see us leave.

    5 June 1891. The king has told us about an expedition led by the English against Matapwiri and Mataka. It is supposed to have already passed Matapwiri's31.

    9 June 1891. Return of the caravan that left Mponda's a few months ago. Our Muyao do not seem to be very happy with their visit to Quilimane. Firstly, they had been refused powder. The governor had said, "I will not permit you to buy powder unless you show me a letter of recommendation and a Portuguese flag." At court there is some fear that a Portuguese expedition which they met at Matapwiri's was on its way to settle accounts about the Portuguese flag. One thing is certain, Negro kings do not understand the obligations they are supposed to undertake when they accept the flags of other nations.32

    The elders told us in the evening that as far as Mponda was concerned he feared that if the English flag was refused, an alliance with Chungwarungwaru, or at least a supply of arms and ammunition to him, would result. They would have much preferred the Portuguese to the English; the recent Karonga war had frightened them a lot. But the presence of the Portuguese resident got in the way of the relations the king felt himself obliged to maintain with the A.L.C.33This was the reason the whites had experienced some difficulties with the sultan ... and so on. But the moment the resident left and the king saw that we also had relations with the A.L.C., his position became less awkward.

    12 June 1891. A mosque is under construction in the town.

    16 June 1891. Our departure is effected in good order. Unfortunately, it has been necessary to leave Dominique behind; he did not want to leave his wife, despite the father superior's advice that he ought to come and bring her with him. On board there are fourteen whites, three A.L.C. agents, four missionaries belonging to the Moravian Brethren, four belonging to the Free Church of Scotland, three Saxons, and three missionaries from Algiers. In addition there is the captain and an engineer. One of the agents is going to visit the Jumbe of Kota-kota in the hope of finding quartz there; the other two are on their way to Karonga. The Scots are all heading for Bandawe, their headquarters on the lake, while the Moravians are going right up to the north end of the lake; there was Kararamuka written on their trunks.

    The boat upped anchor at 8 a.m., and we reached Miambusi around 1 p.m., Cape Maclear rounded at 5 p.m., and we cast anchor at 6 p.m. The Scots discuss religion with us a great deal, but the Moravian Brethren behave most uncharitably.34 Our anchorage is off the old Scots Livingstonia station. Fine buildings, but most of them in ruins. Within the space of six or seven years, five ministers died here. The first lake steamer, the Ilala, belonged to them. There is only a small village now and good anchorage.

    17 June 1891. Leave at 7 a.m. and anchor at Ndindi's toward noon. One or two days' journey away is the Scots station of Vitta[?]. We move out of Livingstonia Bay and pass Mpemba's. Drop anchor again at Kasembe's, where it seems there is magombo to deal with.35 Spend the night off Riffu.

    18 June 1891. Leave at 6:15 a.m. and reach the Jumbe's toward 2 p.m. The Jumbe is without doubt a very important sultan cultivated by the English and cultivating them. He controls the lake from Mpemba's in the south as far as the north end. There is a mosque, which is frequented, and everything is thoroughly Muslim. We are given tea and biscuits when we call.

    19 June 1891. Business all day long. One hippopotamus tooth-one span of cotton one by twenty centimeters. There are five or six little thermalsprings at Kota-kotawhich are quite hot. A sugarmill is being constructed by the water's edge. Superb dhows.

    20 June1891. The Jumbe, with ten wives and some other women, embarks for Magomero-near to Livingstonia. We leave at 7 p.m. Lake rough with swarms of little midges. Bandawe at 4 p.m., poor anchorage. We are here until the 22nd. Eleven Scots here in all; there must be a council for so many to be meeting. The pastor of the mission is Mr. Deroz. His wife and little child, who was born here, are with him.

    21 June 1891. Sunday. Visit Mr. Deroz, who gives us some excellent advice both on house building and bilious fever. He thinks haematuria is caused by quinine, and makes us a present of some acid sulphate of quinine. Enormous brick buildings here and two big churches. Inhabitants Atonga, round-headed with triangular faces. By no means stay-at-homes, the men are capable of almost any task. The women, we are told, go about almost naked, with a most disfiguring stick pushed through their upper lip; extremely licentious it appears.

    22 June 1891. We leave at 10 a.m. and reach Sanja at 6:30 p.m. Excellent anchorage. One of the Scots has stayed on board. Inhabitants-Atumbuca, nicks in their forehead, quite extraordinary with their red cosmetics. The company buys some of its wood here.

    23 June 1891. Leave around 9 p.m. and reach Deep Bay at 4 p.m. The lake is narrow and dangerous here owing to reeds. Some slave boats pass us. A black company agent.

    24 June 1891. Leave at 6 a.m. and get into the awkward Karonga Bay by noon. The easiest part of the journey is over. We pitch our tent in the fortified company stockade.

    25 June 1891. We are going to have to stay here for about a fortnight before we can leave with one of the company agents who is going to Tanganyika.The company has a station on the lake at Katuta,and a little further on there is a mission belonging to the Free Church of Scotland. It seems that the Arungu are as wild as hyenas. The Mambwe in the south and the Statwa in the west are apparently better. We are being kept supplied with cloth by the Karonga agent, who is extremely kind and provides us with all the things we need.

    26 June 1891. We will eventually go on to a station three days' march from here belonging to the Scots Free Church. It seems the blacks from here will go no further, and new porters have to be recruited. We are told that the road is quite safe, which is presumably why there is a larged armed escort for the caravan!

    27 June 1891. Sale by auction of an A.L.C. agent's personal effects; he had just died in Tanganyika. After Father Heurtebise, it is the father superior's turn to go down with fever. Brother Antoine also feels feverish. The low Karonga plain is most insalubrious.

    29 June 1891. The Domira upped anchor today, taking our mail with it. The bulk of the Moravian ministers' luggage is leaving today for Kararamuca. The gentlemen are still here.

    30 June 1891. The Moravian gentlemen have taken a photograph of the station at Karonga (cannons, armed blacks, agents, and the White Fathers).

    [Parts I, II, and III of the Mponda mission diary have appeared in the three previous issues of the International Journal of African Historical Studies, volume VII, numbers 2, 3, and 4 (1974).]


    2.French Catholics were strongly royalist and supporters of the Bourbon monarchy. It was only Lavigerie's speech to the French navy in October 1891 that finally lost the White Fathers royalist support.

    3.The term Ronga-Ronga was normally used only for Nyamwezi slave traders. 

    4.These are still to be found among the reeds along the banks of the Shire.

    6.Throughout the missionary history of Malawi, the Universities' Mission to Central Africa and Roman Catholics more often than not formed a united front. Despite the fact that the Roman Catholics considered them Protestants, their High Anglicanism brought them far closer in theology and policy to the Catholics than to the Scots.

    7.The missionary was the Reverend A.C. Murray, the pioneer of the Dutch Reformed missions in Malawi, whose headquarters were at Mvera. A letter from Murray about the incident, written on 27 March 1891, is contained in F.O. 84/2115, Public Record Office, London.

    8.The madman seems to be a spirit medium. The horse beans he is asking to be planted are Voandezia subterranea, known as the Bambarra groundnut and usually written in ChiYao as njama.

    9.Exactly the sentiments of Francis Poole; see introduction, part I.

    10.Phirilongwe is a mountain rising to over five thousand feet, twenty-two miles to the southwest of Mponda's. The village probably lay at its foot, and would be on the track back to Lizulu, the Maseko capital, through thickly forested country.

    11.Not only was it untrue, but even during their so-called rising in 1896 the Maseko never so much as touched a single European.

    12.One again it is apparent that Lechaptois believes in miasmas.

    13.The Jesuits at Matapwiri's had the same experience, but had proof that the Nyanja were forbidden by the chief to attend the school. This was doubtless the reason at Mpon-da's also.

    14. After Mponda's defeat, the village of CheChangali moved close to its original position on the southwest tip of Lake Malombe.

    15. Monsignor Livinhac entered the White Fathers on 31 March 1873. From September 1889 to November 1892 and Lavigerie's death, he was vicar general of the society, Father Deguerry's successor. It was Monsignor Livinhac who was ultimately responsible for the Mponda missionaries. In 1892 he became the second superior general of the society.

    16.The symptom of blackwater fever.

    17.From Lechaptois's letters back to Maison Carrfe it is apparent that Father Heur-tebise's lack of equanimity in the face of almost continual fever and illness got on his nerves. This is the nearest he comes to a reproach in the diary.

    18.Edward Steere began his missionary career among the London poor, and first sailed for Africa in 1863. tle was consecrated bishop in Westminster Abbey in 1874, and was back again at Mataka's a year later. He was a brilliant linguist and a Swahili expert, but soon died on 27 August 1882. The White Fathers typically refuse to call him Bishop, al-though they get around to calling Johnson Reverend by 1891.

    19.It was only in 1898 that British-led troops encountered accurate sustained fire from the Ngoni when they attacked Msekandiwana on Domwe Mountain. Warfare for the Ngoni appears to have been highly ritualized, and the pattern of attack conservatively adhered to until too late. By 1895, British officers were carrying Metford rifles with a range far in excess of anything the Ngoni had, and the Ngoni wars were a fiasco, the large-scale slaughter of relatively helpless Africans.

    20.On this day we joyfully exult in the Lord. Easter Day.

    21. Four months later he was dead, succeeded by Gomani I. An interesting description of Chicusi is contained in F.L.M. Moir, After Livingstone: An Afiican Trade Romance (London, 1924), 56.

    22.In an entry for 30 July 1866, Livingstone mentions that the mandare root is called nyumbo in the area of the lake- Dichrostachyscinerea. See H. Waller, ed., The Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa. Volume/ (London, 1874).

    23.A tributary of the Nasenga River.

    24.They were Nyanja.

    25.All these are villages at the periphery of Mponda's territory. According to A.C.G. Hawes, Mbape was on the edge of the Phirilongwe forest. See Hawes to Roseberry, 3 June 1886, F.O. 541.50, Public Record Office, London.

    26.A custom common among the Ngoni and Ndebele, for whom it was an elaborate ceremony. Among the Barwe to the south of the Zambezi, the first fruits prayers were in-fluenced by the Portuguese Catholic priests, and had a reference to the great ancestress, Maria.


    28The Makwangwara Ngoni were centered to the north at Songea and raided into the Shire Highlands until the 1890s. They were an offshoot of the Mbelwa Ngoni of northern Malawi, who had traveled around to the east coast of the lake from Ufipa.

    29 Although Hawes calls Chikusi's a town, the Yao description is probably an exaggeration, as is the statement about the number of guns.

    30 The mother house of the society was Maison Carree in Algiers. It is now in Rome.

    31.This is probably the Portuguese column on its way to build a fort at Milanji. Matapwiri had complained to Mozambique about the conduct of the Jesuits, and the troops had been sent partly as a protection for the missionaries and partly to occupy the border region. A Portuguese expedition is mentioned in the next entry.

    32. From Mponda's behavior during the year the White Fathers were at his town, it might be argued that he understood only too well.

    33.These relations were of course financial. The A.L.C. had agreed to pay Mponda an annual subsidy. But besides this, Mponda was clearly frightened of the A.L.C.'s attacking him as they had attacked Mlozi.

    34.For details of their missions see Marcia Wright, German Missions in Tanganyika, 1891-1914 (London, 1971).

    35.Kasembe was a Yao chief who lived south of Mpemba's.

    Readers should take note that the missionaries were reporting from one side of the war between Mpondas Yao and the Chikuse's Ngoni and relied on the Yao on details of these fights. We therefore should not take the whole diary as gospel truth. Below is a commentary on the diary :-


    Fr MazĂ©’s History Notes on the Origins of the Nyasa-Bangweolo Vicariates, covering the years 1860-1894

    ......According to the Mponda Diary, the months of  January and February 1891 were filled with wars and rumours of war. The missionaries heard every day of skirmishes and kidnapping of women and children on the outskirts of villages. They got wind of a military expedition of Makanjire (a friend of Mponda’s) against Cebemba (?). They witnessed with their own eyes an attack of the Angoni of Cikusi on Mponda’s fortified villagethe Angoni were advancing on the fortifications in close formation when the defenders suddenly opened fire with a thousand blunderbusses and rifles on their assailants at close range; all the Angoni could do was to break ranks and flee in disorder, for they had only hide shields to oppose to this murderous hail of pellets. This victory wiped away any fear the Yao of Mponda may have entertained in their hearts for the Angoni warriors of Cikusi. No wonder it was soon followed by several incursions of Mponda’s Yao on the territory occupied by the Angoni of Cikusi. The Yao never went far inland, they just pounced on the Angoni villages on their borders and every time returned with fifteen or twenty captives to be reduced to slavery. Those punitive expeditions continued for a whole month. The biggest expedition set out on April 25th.  All the valid men in Mponda took part in it and were joined by the soldiery of some twelve neighbouring villages: some four thousand rifles and blunderbusses in all. They were back on May 1st with 150 captives, mostly women and children.

    Faced with those repeated successes of the Yao, the author of the Diary points out that the situation has radically changed. Formally the Yao were numbered among the tribes whose main weapon was the bow, and which were reckoned inferior to the tribes wielding spears and shields like the Angoni. That was at least the classification Reverend Sterre (?) made popular in the preface to his Yao grammar. The Yao ranks are now bristling with firearms and hold the fierce Angoni in contempt. The Yao were formerly the victims of the salve raiders, they have now joined the ranks of the slavers. Slavery is the plague of Africa, it will only go from bad to worse if the European Powers do not put an end to slave raiding, slave trading, and slavery.
    This is a striking remark on the part of the author of the Diary: he speaks of the Yao as being the victims of slave trade. It is very usual for Catholic missionaries to feel a deep sympathy even for the most depraved tribes they meet in the course of their apostolate. Nevertheless, our missionaries at Mponda are completely off the mark when they look at the Yao as victims of the slave trade. Commerce in slave existed in Nyasaland long before the Angoni invasions. This is one more proof that the observations made by Europeans who are new in Africa are of doubtful value and must be taken with a grain of salt. They are all too often erroneous. We must be wary of those so-called experts who give the facts of life in any country tendentious explanations based on preconceived ideas.

    The White Fathers who spent a year and a half at Mponda wrote many denigrating remarks on the Angoni in their Diary. They trusted their Yao informants somewhat blindly, forgetting that the Yao were the sworn enemies of the Angoni, and therefore of doubtful reliability. Hence, in the Mission's Diary, the Angoni are described as savages, barbarians, cannibals, only intent upon plundering and slaughtering. Their reputation of being fearless and cunning warriors is groundless, for they have repeatedly shown they were cowards when they faced the Yao.

    It is true, the Angoni were, by nature and tradition, barbarians with a reputation of ferocity that was still spreading terror among all tribes throughout East Africa, from the Zambezi to the Nyanza. The Angoni were certainly proud of their reputation, the more so since it made it easier for them to overcome the tribes they found on their way. When it became known long in advance that a party of Angoni (or Mafiti or Mankusi or Watuta, which are other names for Angoni) was on the rampage or on the war path, the war drums were heard from the four cardinal points, warning the people to be on the lookout and not to wander far from their home, for death was ready to pounce on the imprudent. In fact, whenever a village was razed or plundered, whenever people had to flee for their life, the deed was always attributed to the Angoni, rightly or wrongly. However wild and ferocious the Angoni may have been, they were not cannibals. Once they had taken over a village, the local population could rely on them for protection against the Arab slave traders and their allies the local tribes of slave raiders.

    The Yao were among the slave providers, at least the Machinga section of the tribe, to which Mponda belonged. The Yao, whom the missionaries stranded at Mponda were tempted to feel sorry for, were pitiless slave raiders. The commerce in slave was a profitable occupation, and that was the reason why they had made an alliance with the Arabs, who traded in firearms, and embraced Islam. It is rather strange to realise that it took months for the missionaries to realise that Mponda was a fanatic Moslem, according to the entry on 12th April 1891, which reads: “We have just discovered that Mponda village boasts of at least ten Koranic schools:the evil of Islam is much deeper and more widespread than we thought!

    In fact those good missionaries had no idea of the importance of Islam at Mponda. They hardly suspected that it was the reason why they were, to all intents and purposes, kept in quarantine for eighteen months. All they were able to do was to attend a few hundred patients and to teach fifty kids at school. All forms of direct apostolate were strictly forbidden. At their first meeting with the Chief, Mponda told them he had the greatest contempt for their ministry as men of God, and he never changed his mind. They tried at times to bring up the question of religion, but they never got anywhere. Evidently, the official directive was ‘No religious discussion with the white men!’ The Diary, which abounds in lively, if insignificant incidents, does not mention one single sermon, one single catechism lesson, or simply a conversation with a local Nicodemus. They were absolutely forbidden to visit the people in their homes, and this is probably unique in the saga of the missions in Africa. There were at times unkind words and marks of utter contempt, but never any act of violence against the missionaries. The whole climate was one of general hostility and insurmountable distrust, and total and systematic isolation in one corner of the royal enclosure. The missionaries who had to go through this unnerving experience had lived in North Africa, and they knew by experience that apostolate in the Moslem world  was summed up in one phrase: to wait patiently. They were not unduly surprised by their total failure to achieve anything remotely tangible in eighteen months.


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