With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas

Hard Times

On September 19th Stanley, Jephson, Parke, and Stairs, with all the men still in working condition, again set out, leaving fifty-six invalids in Ugarrowwa's charge. Heavy work lay ahead; food became scarcer and scarcer; and in the course of the next few marches rapid after rapid and cataract after cataract made navigation almost impossible. Foragers were sent out, but they met with little success; and even on the rare occasions when plantains or bananas were found, the people were so hungry that they consumed at a single meal an amount of food which, with greater care and forethought, might have kept them going for several days.

The 30th of September was a red-letter day, for that morning Stanley discovered a native trap containing some fine fish, and Stairs lighted on an antelope caught in a pitfall. Later in the day a party of Manyuema, who announced themselves as the followers of Kilonga-Longa, an Arab trader, who had a station five days' journey up the river, made their appearance. As the intervening country had been laid waste, and was entirely uninhabited, they advised Stanley to lay in a stock of provisions before proceeding farther. Good as the advice was, to carry it out proved impossible, since the neighbourhood of the camp was so poverty-stricken that the only thing procurable was a small supply of plantains. These were served out to the men, and on October 3rd the journey was continued, though at every mile navigation became more difficult.

Two days later a point was reached where, for canoes at least, the stream became absolutely impracticable. It was here joined by a tributary called the Ihuru, which flowed impetuously through a rocky gorge; while above the junction the Ituri descended a series of cataracts. That day no further advance was made. Though it was only a little more than a fortnight since the expedition left Ugarrowwa's station, work and privation had wrought terrible havoc. Several men had died, and of the two hundred and sixty-three who remained, fifty-two were utterly incapacitated by weakness and serious ulcers in the feet. Captain Nelson had also fallen a prey to this annoying complaint, and during the last few days he had become almost unable to walk. With so many cripples progress was necessarily very slow, and in a wilderness where food was unprocurable slow progress meant starvation for the whole party. This was apparent to Nelson, and he proposed that some of the Zanzibari headmen, who were really capable, intelligent fellows, should be sent ahead to Kilonga-Longa's station to obtain food for their famishing companions. The plan was so obviously good that the men were at once dispatched; and then, in the belief that to hasten forward with the bulk of the column would be to the advantage of all, Stanley decided to leave the cripples, and to push on as fast as possible with the rest of the men.

For nine days the poor fellows struggled forward, growing weaker and feebler at every step they took. Not a village, not even a hut, was to be seen on the river banks. The few provisions which they had brought with them were exhausted, and game was as scarce as human inhabitants. Once a small village was seen on an island; but when a party of foragers landed in the hope of obtaining supplies, all they could get was a small quantity of Indian corn and beans—barely enough to go round. Sometimes wild fruits were discovered; and on these, with forest beans—a somewhat peculiar vegetable which had to be carefully skinned and scraped before it was eaten—caterpillars, and grubs, the men managed to keep alive.

At last things looked so desperate that Stanley suggested sinking the boat, native fashion, in the stream, to be fetched on some future occasion; but to this Uledi, the coxswain, would not consent. If Stanley, he said, with the caravan, would push forward to Kilonga-Longa's settlement, he and his crew would remain with the boat, and, when they could not row, haul or pole her forward as best they could. In two or three days, if by that time he had not reached the settlement, he promised that he would send forward some men to overtake the column. To this unselfish plan every one agreed, and, relieved of the boat, the advance party was able to make somewhat better progress, until early in the morning of October 17th a jovial voice was heard singing in an unknown language. It was unlikely that natives would indulge in such noisy merriment, and it therefore seemed clear that at last Ipoto, the long-wished-for settlement, must have been reached. A rifle shot fired as a signal was answered by the discharge of several muskets, and the men pushed forward with renewed hope down the side of a valley, on the farther slope of which they saw crowds of people issuing from a prosperous-looking village.

Nothing could exceed the friendly kindness with which the Arabs welcomed their weary, footsore visitors. Kilonga-Longa himself was not at the station, but the headmen, Ismaili, Khamisi, and Sangaramini, had full authority in his absence. They allotted quarters to the pioneers, supplied them with provisions, and promised to send a relief party of eighty men to Nelson's camp. Everything seemed to be well, but on the third day a change came. Instead of the liberal supplies of food in which for the two previous days the men had revelled, a bare pittance of two ears of Indian corn per man was doled out; and even when Stanley promised to pay three times the current price for corn as soon as his rear column should arrive, nothing more could be obtained. Unfortunately, most of his best beads and cloth had been lost or stolen on the way, and the Arabs, seeing the comparatively valueless nature of his visible possessions, probably disbelieved in the existence of the alleged rear column with its rich and varied stores. However this might be, they refused to sell anything on credit; and the Zanzibaris, finding themselves famishing in the midst of plenty, began to trade away their rifles and ammunition, and even the very clothes on their backs. Yet the headmen, when questioned, denied all knowledge of the missing rifles. So, as the loss was too serious a menace to the success, indeed to the very existence of the expedition, to be passed over, the men were mustered, and those without arms were sentenced to be flogged.

A sense of fair play then induced another man to come forward and state that one of the condemned men was innocent, inasmuch as his rifle was at that moment in the possession of the speaker. He had seized it, he said, from one of the cooks named Juma, who was presumably the thief. On this Juma fled into hiding, but was subsequently captured, and being convicted of the theft of another rifle, was summarily hanged as an example to the rest. Rifles and ammunition, however, continued to disappear; and when Stanley remonstrated with Kilonga-Longa's Manyuema followers for receiving them, knowing them to be stolen, five were restored, and the sellers pointed out.

At that moment Uledi with his boat's crew appeared on the scene, with the good news that the boat was safe at the landing-place. Stanley then told him his tale of difficulties, and again Uledi came to the rescue, declaring that he could deal with the Manyuema, and bring them to a more friendly temper. This he succeeded in doing so effectually that not only did they apologize for their unkind behaviour, but made practical reparation in the shape of presents of corn.

Still the promised relief expedition had not been sent, and it was not until October 26th that Kilonga-Longa's headmen were induced to detail men to accompany Mr. Jephson and a party of Zanzibaris to Nelson's camp. When at last they started they made rapid progress, and in four days reached their destination—just in time not to be too late. Of the fifty-two men who had been left with Nelson only five still remained; and these, with Nelson himself, were rapidly approaching the last stages of famine. They had subsisted on herbs and fungi, eked out with a little wild fruit and a very few bananas brought in by a man named Umari, who, when Jephson reached the camp, was absent foraging with twenty-one men: the other twenty-five were dead, or had deserted. Nelson, though terribly weak, was in better health than when the expedition had left him; and after a good meal or two he was able to begin the march to Ipoto, leaving Umari to follow on his return to the camp.

Stanley meanwhile had made blood brotherhood with Ismaili, and had arranged with him to board and lodge Nelson and the other ick, together with Surgeon Parke, who was to take charge of them until the rear column should arrive. He also engaged the services of guides to conduct the advance column to Ibwiri; and then, on October 28th, having provided to the best of his ability for the wellbeing of all, set out on the next stage of the march.

On November 10th, after a difficult journey along a route rendered at times almost impassable by huge piles of fallen timber, the district of Ibwiri was reached. Here there were five prosperous villages, rich in corn, plantains, bananas, potatoes, beans, sugar-cane, and melons. The natives, too, were friendly, and it was speedily arranged that the western portion of the clearing should be handed over to the expedition for as long as Stanley chose to halt. Jephson and his party had not yet overtaken the column; so, as the men all needed rest and refreshment, it was decided to camp for a while. This decision gave the greatest satisfaction to the half-starved Zanzibaris, who now, almost for the first time for months, were able thoroughly to satisfy their hunger.

Jephson appeared on November 16th, bringing an account of affairs at Ipoto which was anything but encouraging. Notwithstanding the fact that Ismaili had made brotherhood with Stanley, no sooner had the latter departed than the Manyuema headman began systematically to ill treat and half famish the convalescents who had been left in his charge. The only thing to be said in his favour was that he had omitted to exact any particular concessions, and recognizing this, Stanley abstained from expressing his real opinions to the Manyuema guides who had accompanied him. All he could do was to send a letter to Nelson, and when the guides departed on the day following Jephson's arrival he parted from them in a friendly way.

His connection with them had been a doubtful benefit throughout, though his opportune arrival at their village had doubtless saved the lives of many of his men. But their numerous raids had earned the ill-will of every native who had heard the name of Manyuema, and it now appeared that this dislike was extended to every one who had ever been connected with them. In every district and at every village the people were ready to take up arms against the expedition; and though the Ibwiri had at first been friendly, they were now prepared to commence hostilities.

During the next few days reconnoitring parties were sent out, and on November 21st Stairs reported the discovery of a good path running to the eastward. This was encouraging news, and the men, most of whom had fully recovered their strength, became anxious to resume the journey. A few of them might have been all the better for a longer rest, but as no one was really incapable camp was broken up on the 24th, and after two days' marching the watershed between the Ihuru and Ituri rivers was reached. Beyond this lay the district of Indenduru, where every tree and plant was covered with dripping moss, and at every mile or so a stream had to be crossed. In this district a day's halt was made with the view of reconnoitring, and a suitable path having been discovered, the march was continued on the 29th. The next day a woman was captured, and induced to act as guide through a clearing rendered almost impracticable by the numerous fallen trees which crossed one another in every direction. Beyond this the ground sloped gently upward, and following a well-trodden pathway the pioneers speedily reached the top of the slope.

Here a glorious view stretched away before them. To the eastward, whither the travellers were bound, was beautiful, open country, well grassed and interspersed with stretches of woodland, rocky hills, and pleasant valleys. To the eastward, too, lay a mountain peak to which Stanley at once gave the name of Pisgah, because from its neighbourhood he had obtained the first glimpse of the fertile country. Several days, however, passed before the travellers were really clear of the forest; and it was not until December 4th that, soon after crossing a narrow stream, which an old woman, captured in the neighbourhood, called the Ituri, the men finally emerged from the forest. Before them lay mile after mile of beautiful, undulating grassland, and the next day they reached the fertile clistrict of Mbiri, where innumerable cone-shaped huts were scattered broadcast among banana groves. In this region good paths seemed to run in every direction, and rapid progress was made. The only drawback now was the unfriendliness of the natives, by whom that evening the camp was attacked. A few volleys, however, cleared off the assailants, and the rest of the night passed quietly. On the following day another river, also called by the natives Ituri, was crossed; and as a third stream was also known by this name, Stanley came to the conclusion that not only the main river but also its tributaries shared the appellation.

Beyond this last river, which, by way of distinguishing it, Stanley termed the East Ituri, lay a well-cultivated district, rich in every description of agricultural products. Passing through this the travellers reached a mountainous district called Mazamboni's Range. The country was delightful; but the inhabitants were less charming, for as the column passed down a pleasant, fruitful valley war-cries sounded from above, and the hill-tops were seen to be well sprinkled with warriors. They evidently intended to fight; but camping time was at hand, and an isolated flat-topped kopje, conveniently situated in the immediate neighbourhood, offered a secure resting-place for the night. It was a place which a few riflemen could easily defend against any number of men unprovided with firearms; so, while a few men were told off to act as sentries, the rest cut brushwood for a zeriba, fetched water, and piled the brushwood into an impassable fence.

The opposing force had nearly trebled its numbers, but though some of the bowmen advanced against the camp, two or three volleys from the summit caused them to retire to a safe distance. In the morning, however, hostile demonstrations were resumed, and war-cries echoing through the valley clearly showed the mind of the population. Stanley, however, had no wish to fight, and finding that one of his men understood the language, he directed him to try to bring the natives to a more peaceful frame of mind. A long parley resulted in a suspension of hostilities; and later in the day the chief, Mazamboni, sent word to say that he would like to see samples of the white man's goods. Some scarlet cloth and brass rods were given to the messengers, who then departed, after giving Stanley to understand that Mazamboni himself would visit the camp on the following day to make brotherhood with the white men.

Before morning the natives once more changed their minds. Instead of desiring peace they now again declared for war; and it was not until three companies of riflemen, commanded respectively by Stairs, Jephson, and Uledi, had scoured the neighbourhood and burned a number of villages that they were finally reduced to order. On the following day Mazam;ioni sent an envoy, who announced that, though the chief himself had wished for peace, his young men had insisted on making war on the strangers. But now many of them had been killed, and the others were willing to make peace. Stanley replied that he was quite ready to do so, and supposing, therefore, that hostilities were at an end, he gave orders for the advance. Early on the following morning the camp was broken up, and the expedition passed on its way through a series of ravines and valleys.

But again the natives were on the war-path, and they hovered round, annoying the column, until at last the explorers, goaded to desperation, turned upon them and burned every hut in the vicinity. After this they were allowed to proceed in peace, and the next day's march brought them to the edge of a tableland, whence they looked down on the blue waters of the Albert Nyanza.