Alfred Gibbons 1898

Alfred Gibbons was usually known as Major A St Hill Gibbons.  He was paid by the British South Africa Company to map the area around the Lozi kingdom and to find out the extent of Lozi influence. At the time the boundary between the Portuguese and British spheres had not been agreed upon.  The boundary was provisionally approved to be the Zambezi River, but Cecil Rhodes wanted to dispute this border by extending the British land to include all of the Lozi empire.  In this he was partly successful in that the border was moved to the Kwando River but then it became two straight lines – did they get bored with the continued arguments?

Alfred Gibbons, Captain Quicke and Captain Hamilton arrived at Chinde, the Zambezi mouth on the Indian Ocean in Mozambique in July 1898. They were equipped and supplied for a journey which they expected to take 18 months into the interior of Africa, tracing the Zambezi River.  Having reached the Upper Zambezi and Loziland, they were to explore the region around Lewanika’s empire.

There is not much to report on the first section of the journey upriver but he does name the people who lived along there as Tonga – on both sides of the river. 

The Batonga is a widespread tribe whose country extends as far west as 26ºE, where it forms part of the Marotse kingdom.  For the past seventy years the western section of the tribe has been known as Matoka by their Marotse conquerors, and usually as Batoka by white men, … The eastern Batonga are a wilder-looking people than those in the west.  The curiosity our presence evinced and the total absence of cloth amongst them told how little they had come in contact with white men – in fact, they dwell beyond the districts hitherto penetrated by traders from either east, west or south.  In spite of their unsophisticated appearance, they were invariable friendly and hospitable – we seldom passed a chief’s kraal without receiving a present of a sheep or a goat. 

This statement, of course, cannot be true as the Portuguese and Chikunda had been trading along the Zambezi River for about 50 years, trading in slaves and elephant tusks.  I think it must have been the aluminum boat powered by steam which had aroused the curiosity of the Tonga people.  The Chikunda had plied the river in canoes. 

Alfred Gibbons does mention another tribe which he meets along the Lower Zambezi, but does not give any details:

The country was more densely populated than hitherto, and the people were disposed to be friendly.  The sub-tribe to which they belonged was known as Nangilila, which apparently has nothing in common with that to which the natives inhabiting the Kariba Gorge belong. 

This is the only time I have read about Nangilila.

Again, passing along the Zambezi River:

The ladies, as usually, were more noisy and demonstrative than the men.  Most of these were ornamented with beads to an extent I have not witnessed before. 

They reach Wankie’s which, whereas previously had been on the northern side of the river, had now moved to the southern.  Wankie’s had been the Zambezi crossing point for many years. Continuing upstream the river goes through the gorges, the river banks being steep and the river full of rapids and cataracts.

At Wankie’s Alfred Gibbons and his team end their river journey and take to the land. Here is an old photograph I found of Wankie’s.

As a bit of background, the Matabele empire had been all-powerful up until 1893 and, although the British South Africa Company had been given a Charter by the British Government 4 years earlier in 1889 to run the country, neither the Company nor the Matabele had wanted outright war.  A fragile peace was maintained but eventually things came to a head and the war was waged.  The Matabele were defeated at huge cost.  Three years later in 1896, the Matabele, now joined by other tribes, did rise up again and another prolonged war waged between them and the British South Africa Company. This too ended in defeat for the Matabele but again with the loss of many lives. 

So, by 1898, when Alfred Gibbons arrived along the Zambezi river at Wankie’s, the Matabele had been subdued for 2 years and he found the village had moved back onto the southern bank. Originally, Chief Wankie had lived near present-day Bambusi in Hwange National Park but he and his people had fled from the Matabele impis.

Another interesting point is that there were not many men in the village.  Most had gone off to work in the gold mines around Bulawayo.  When Alfred Gibbons asked to buy food he was asked for money, not barter goods.  The prices too were extortionate. 

Finally, overland and all reaching Sesheke, they divide themselves up into exploratory missions. Alfred Gibbons goes into present-day Namibia and Botswana.  He meets the Chief Mamili who had 25 wives!  In 1855 the Kololo chief, Sebitwane, had met David Livingstone at Linyanti – the border between present-day Botswana and Namibia so this area had, for a long time, been part of the Lozi empire. But Alfred Gibbons remarks that the area had been ‘allocated’ to Germany.

At Mamili we expected to find the chiefs and head men provided by Lewanika to escort us on our respective journeys; but it was for us to await the arrival of these casual gentry.  The chief, Mamili, a kindly, good-natured old man of medium height, and with grey hair and beard, greeted us most respectfully, and led the way to the quarters he had prepared for our accommodation.

A road about one hundred yards long by ten wide had been cut from the village to a circular clearing, in the centre of which a fence of grass in a wooden framework enclosed a circular courtyard, sixty feet in diameter.  Three-quarters of this enclosure was neatly strewn with dried grass, and at the end farthest from the entrance was an elongated hut thirty feet long and eight feet wide. 

I expressed my appreciation of the preparations made for our reception and comfort, and congratulated the old man on the neatness of the work.  All this was received by Mamili and his companions with the clapping of hands and bending of necks, which constitutes a chief’s salute among the Marotse.

However, our friend had not done yet, for shortly after he had taken his departure, a present of a young ox, about one hundred pounds of meal, and a melon were brought in, and with it came a message that fresh milk would be sent us night and morning. 

Alfred Gibbons tells us about Mamili:

My old friend was a pure-bred Marotse, and in the reign of Sekeletu, the Makololo chief, he had been a servant in the royal household.  When the Marotse dynasty once more acceded to power, Sepopa, the first king of the restored line, appointed him chief of Mamili, so that he must have held his present post for some thirty-five years. 

This was the normal way for Kololo/Lozi kings to rule neighbouring tribes.  Always, a man of the central organisation was appointed to head outlying districts.  They were given the symbol of authority – an ivory bracelet – and became part of the regime’s hierarchy. 

Alfred Gibbons is perplexed as to the naming of the river as Chobe, when he felt it should continue to be named Kwando.  Chief Mamili explains that there had once been a Makalahari chief nearby who was named Chobisa, and he thinks this is why the river was so named. 

As a note here, Nkasa Rupara National Park in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia used to be called Mamili National Park. 

From Mamili on the Chobe, they travel west towards the Okavango.  They then go up the Okavango River to the confluence with the Cuito.  Here they are in Makwengari territory.  (I can’t find anything out about Makwengari yet.)  The Makwengari are said to be dangerous but nothing happens to the caravan (which is over 100 strong).  They then enter Mbunda territory.  It is clear that the Mbundu feel they are within Loziland.  There he meets Chief Dibudi:

The hammock halted within a few feet of my tent, the people fell back, and from the hammock there appeared a black head, surmounted by an old top hat, which, in the owner’s anxiety to make his appearance impressive under cover of this handsome headpiece, had slipped partly forward and partly sideways over the right eye.  This was slowly followed by the rest of the presence of the great Dimbudi, who shortly stood before me clad in his very best, – a pair of very old evening dress trousers, much too long for the wearer, and looking something like a couple of concertinas in their lower extremities, a red serge coat much too small and short in the sleeves, and the old top hat, fixed with jaunty effect, and of course brushed against the grain. 

Continuing along the Cuito River they reach the confluence with the Lomba River and now they come to Lovale country. 

About the Mbunda and Lovale:

The two tribes who thus dwell in close contact do not intermarry or mix freely one with the other, though, generally speaking, they live on terms of peace; that is to say, as much as do the Mambunda among themselves.  Each tribe uses its own language, and both in type and general characteristics they have little in common.  The Mambunda are very black, of impassive demeanour, high in cheek bone, and as a rule have noses which tend to point downward.  Those of the Valavale have an upward tendency, and they themselves of a dark copper colour, and are blessed with a more cheerful countenance than their neighbours.  The hair of the Valovale is fashioned like a close-fitting mat and is coloured red, while the Mambunda wear theirs in greasy ringlets which hang down the neck in dirt and regularity.  

We are also told that the Mbunda live in conical grass huts which are usually surrounded by a stockade.  On the other hand, the Lovale live in square huts with no stockade.  The Lovale too have herds of cattle belonging to Lewanika which they care for, being able to make use of any excess milk.  This again is a way for the Lozi king to look after his livestock which are sent out to neighbouring tribes but must be returned when required.

The fact that the Lovale do not fear the slave traders is because their ‘cousins’ northwards are involved in the trade as intermediaries. 

At this point in the journey, the porters who are overseen by Lozis appointed by Lewanika to organise Alfred Gibbon’s entourage, down tools and refuse to travel further.  They know they are not far from home and want to go there.  Alfred Gibbon’s plan was to travel northwards to find the source of the Zambezi but he acquiesces to the wishes of the indunas and returns to Lealui.  Once there, Lewanika, after a trial at the Khotla wants to punish the Lozi indunas by flogging, but Alfred Gibbons advises a fine only to which Lewanika agrees.  They are fined one ox each. 

After some months with Lewanika, Alfred Gibbons starts exploring again … to find the source of the Zambezi.   He travels by canoe up the Zambezi River from Lealui:

From 14 0 48′ south latitude to 14 0 10′ the river banks are inhabited by the Mamboe, who are, I imagine, direct descendants of the original inhabitants of the plain. They are eminently a river people and handle their little canoes with great dexterity. The Mumboe, who, like the Murotse, paddles in a standing position, invariably has a fish spear in a position convenient for sudden action. He may be seen paddling leisurely along the reed-fringed banks, his sharp eyes fixed on the water in front of his little “dugout.” Then without any hastened movement, he lowers his right hand, seizes the spear, and hurls it with such precision that in most instances he brings it back to the boat with a fish transfixed. The day we entered this country my flotilla of three canoes was increased by four of these little Mamboe boats, each containing two men. They were ordered by Lewanika to accompany me as an attentive little compliment — a desire on his part to enhance my dignity in the eyes of the native population.

I am not sure about Mumboe/Mamboe.  The original inhabitants of Loziland were called Aluyi. 

Travelling north, Alfred Gibbons meets Lovale people.  He goes into their history quite a lot explaining that the ways of the tribe had changed significantly when the Lunda kingdom in the north crumbled.  They had always had connections with the Lozi kingdom in the south but when they found that their northern neighbours were no longer strong, they had taken advantage.  These Lovale had a female chief named Nakatoro and this too had caused problems because the Lozi chief did not deal with female chiefs and had appointed a man to live in their district and be responsible for the collection of tribute – his title was Kakengi and he was given the ivory bracelet to denote his position.    

In 1895 the Portuguese had arrived and constructed a fort at Kakengi’s village and plied him with alcohol, sufficient to keep him perpetually drunk.  Relations with the Lozi kingdom had soured in response. 

On reaching Kakengi’s, I went straight to the Portuguese fort — a rectangular earthwork, surrounded by a trench twelve feet deep and accessible by means of a drawbridge only.

Senhor Serafim d’Alvira, the commandant, greeted me with the same cordial hospitality we had received at the hands of his fellow-countrymen on the Lower Zambezi. …

This is not a great photograph but it does show the vastness of the construction.

At this time, the Portuguese were aware of the threat to Angolan land by the British and they had moved inland and erected forts to substantiate their claim to the land. 

Further upriver he meets Dr Walter Fisher, his wife and two daughters living at their mission among the Lovale people.  The then travels by foot to another mission, run by Mr Shindler and his wife, also living among the Lovale.  Near to this mission was another Portuguese fort. (Dr Walter Fisher eventually moved to Kalene Hill where his mission station still survives.)

Continuing his journey west into present-day Zambia he finds Lunda villages:

The Malunda inhabitants proved to be friendly. Since the fall of Muato Yamvo’s empire the greater part of this tribe had, as previously stated, broken up into small independent communities. Here, however, a large country extending from a few miles north of the Zambezi to the Kabompo, and from the borders of Lovale in the west to about 25º east longitude in the east, is held together under the rule of a single chief. Kanungesa, the present ruler, is one of Lewanika’s most loyal vassals. He was at Lialui doing homage to his sovereign at the time of my visit in January of the same year. Owing to want of cohesion, the districts more or less remote from the centre have proved a fruitful field for the slave trade, and if this iniquitous traffic is not shortly put down with a high hand, the population will run the risk of virtual extermination.

Kanungesa is our present-day Kanongesha, I assume. 

The villages of these people are always small but are strongly stockaded. Circular earthworks are thrown up around a score of huts, and these are surmounted by a substantial palisade, at the base of which bushes and creepers are sometimes planted in order to render their fastnesses still more impenetrable. The entrance is through a narrow opening, which is firmly bolted by wooden logs on the inside. Usually these gateways are so low as to be passable only on hands and knees. At Kanungesa’s the opening is the shape of a reversed V, only three feet six inches high at the apex.

The Lunda call the Zambezi River at this point Yambeshe.  The Lovale call it Liambeshi. 

Further on he reaches another Lunda village with Chief Mukalengi.   

Mukalengi, the chief of the village, called on me next morning, bringing with him quite a handsome present — three large baskets of manioc meal, some eggs, a young pig, and a calabash of honey beer. A few minutes later ten Mambare traders visited my camp. They told me they had come to purchase rubber. I asked them if they were buying slaves also. They protested that they were not, and Mukalengi endorsed their statement, saying he had known these particular people for many years.

I entertained the hospitable Mukalengi by showing him the wonders of my equipment — compass, chronometer, revolver, and rifles. He was much impressed, as were the Mambare, with the rapidity with which I pumped four Mauser bullets into a tree.

” This is the gun,” I remarked, ” which I use for Mambare when I catch them dealing in slaves.”

Again, he reaches another Lunda village:

We had hard work that day, as the streams crossed were very boggy. Two of these had to be corduroyed for a distance of forty or fifty yards on either bank, and to cross a third it was found necessary to fell trees and construct a bridge. By 4.30 we had progressed only nine miles, and as thunder threatened, we camped there and then, being only a short distance from a village called Kambaruru. In the evening eggs and honey were brought by the chief. In a minor way the most fortunate condition under which I travelled through this part of Africa was the facility with which these two luxuries — honey and eggs — could be procured. The Malunda cultivate honey more than any other tribe I have met. In addition to wild honey, they procure a very plentiful supply from bark hives, which they attach to the branches of trees. It is principally used for the manufacture of beer, by means of fermentation. This, if not over fermented, is a very refreshing and palatable beverage.

Having sited the source of the Zambezi, Alfred Gibbons goes east and crossed the West Lunga River. 

After another unsatisfactory day’s progress, we camped on a small tributary of the Lunga, and here Kambaruru’s guides left us and returned to their village; so the following day I took a straight course in the direction I wished to travel, — in this case due east, — as I always did when left to myself. This took us to the village of one Chinambo, whose people, unlike the Malunda passed hitherto, were armed with bows and poisoned arrows. Chinambo was the first Malunda chief I had met who was not subject to Lewanika. His paramount chief was a man named Musungwantandu, who dwelt in the north, and not Kanungesa. Thus, for the first time during the last three thousand miles of the journey, I had overstepped the boundary of Lewanika’s dominions. At first these people gave me a wide berth, but shortly got over their shyness. We had arrived at midday, and the tent was only just pitched when a heavy and lasting shower of rain fell. This compelled me to remain quiet, and the rest was not altogether unacceptable.

A few hundred yards from my camp was a large collection of temporary bivouacs, which I calculated must have given shelter to about three hundred souls. These, Chinambo informed me, had been put up and occupied for some days by a ” Portuguese ” expedition, with whom, he said, was a force of soldiers, who had depleted his village of everything. They had visited the sources of the Mukoleshe, the Lunga, and the Kabompo. This seemed to indicate that the expedition was engaged in frontier work, as the Congo-Zambezi water parting is the treaty limit of the Congo State. If this were really a Portuguese expedition, the puzzle to me was how it had passed from Portuguese West Africa without my obtaining earlier knowledge of its existence, and although Portugual’s claims have ever been extravagant in comparison with her power of giving them effect, this activity so far from the base made me marvel.

Although this has nothing to do with the local people, I have added it out of interest.  The Portuguese had always assumed that all the land between Mozambique and Angola was theirs by right.  Now that the British had shown an interest in the land, the Portuguese were trying as much as they could to lay claim to whatever territory they could. 

Below is a sketch map which I have tried to draw to show the routes taken by Alfred Gibbons and his two team mates, Captains Quicke and Hamilton. I have ended Alfred Gibbons’ route in the north as, from there he travels into Belguim territory and then north, ending in Egypt! His work for the British South Africa Company was completed and he took that journey ‘for fun’.

The map below would have been drawn after Alfred Gibbons return to Britain after his first trip in 1896. It shows part of the Lozi Empire during his journeys. The tribes mentioned are Marutse (Lozi), Makwenga (?), Matutala (Totela?), Masubia (Subiya), Matoka (Toka), Mankoya (Nkoya) and Mashilombwe (Ila). The map also ends in the west on the Zambezi River … the original border between Portuguese and British territory. Interestingly, Alfred Gibbons thinks that the Toka people are Tongas but are called Toka when they come under the Lozi Empire.