Colin Harding 1900

This page is a continuation of Colin Harding’s stint as British Resident in Northwestern Rhodesia. He travels to the Zambezi River, meeting the Tonga people and then into Ilaland along the Kafue River.

The Batoka natives are different in habit and custom in several ways to the Barotse. They are less used to cattle, have little knowledge or inclination for husbandry, but invariably migrate to Bulawayo for work, returning to their homes in the course of a year, attired in every conceivable grotesque garment, with a vocabulary full of pernicious adjectives which have been diligently repeated and used by the white ” bosses ” under whom they have worked. The male population are of fine physique, and in their ordinary costume of calico, or clad in the skin of a wild cat or hyena, produce an artistic effect. The women are extremely moral even for natives, providing we accept polygamy as no breach of morality; and whilst the Barotse are known to emulate the Roman matron in taking abortives manufactured by themselves, the Batoka ladies seem to rival each other in the competition for the production of small Batokas.

Southern Rhodesia had been occupied by white settlers from 1890. Many had gone there to mine for gold and the mines needed labour.

At Monze:

Monza is the chief of the district, and an induna under the Barotse oligarchy; he paid me a visit immediately after my arrival. He came clad in a heterogeneous costume of discarded police uniform, wearing boots which must in their tightness have inflicted tortures equalled only by the boot of historical reputation. With him, also attired in incongruous habiliments, came other indunas of smaller repute and personality. Some brought meal, others fowls, whilst a more thoughtful Batoka came carrying a huge pot of kaffir beer, their native beverage; these offerings were all placed in a row at our feet opposite the donor, and the usual hand-clapping, the Batoka salute, being concluded, Monza was introduced to myself and the King’s indunas who were accompanying the expedition.

He travelled east to the Zambezi River opposite Sebungwe – not far from Kariba Gorge.

The natives on the river are different in many ways even to their neighbours, the Batokas, and possess absolutely nothing in common, either in language, habits or customs, with the Barotse tribe that inhabit the river above Sesheke and Kazungula. These Batonga tribes are reputed to have originally existed on the Kafue and trekked across country, some settling with the Batokas, whilst other more venturesome spirits selected the banks of the Zambesi as their future home. From the north bank some have crossed and built huts and cultivated gardens on the south, but as far as I can see the Batonga on the south bank are aliens, and should be returned to the northern bank, instead of sending back those who have really returned to their original homes north of the Zambesi.

Years ago the Batonga were the happy hunting- ground of all enterprising slave-raiders. First, the Barotse, as their rightful prerogative, would raid them from the east ; then the Matabele, as the stronger tribe, would make sundry excursions and alarms from the south and return to Lobengula with a well-chosen and selected batch of young girls, who would be utilised by his many wives for domestic duties, or divided amongst his followers for more immoral purposes.

The river scenery is exquisite. At the time of my writing, some twenty miles east of the Kariba gorge, either bank is lined with small patches of thriving mealies running down to the water’s edge at various intervals. Each little kraal has its garden, where the women, armed with the native hoes, perform their daily duty, either in weeding or hoeing, whilst at night, and accompanied by their spouses, they rest in a kind of a pigeon-loft or sentry-box, built on four long poles, and ascended by the most rickety of ladders, keeping guard over their gardens against the depredations of serenading hippos, who, in the witching hours of midnight, land for meals.

These patches of gardens are extended as the river declines, their crops quickly vegetate and arrive at maturity before the river overflows its banks at the appointed season, replenishing and manuring the gardens for the succeeding crop.

The costume of the female Batonga consists of a skirt called a ” bwaya” made from the bark of the musanta tree, cut to resemble in some respects the ordinary dress-coat with long tails, and extremely little material where any ordinary observer would expect to find it; in fact, just sufficient to excite rather than allay curiosity. Their heads are anointed with a composition made of “musela,” a kind of stone, finely-powdered and mixed with fat derived from their numerous sheep.  Their food consists mostly of mealies, which here, unlike any other parts of the country, grow to profusion all the year round on the river bank, whilst as delicacies they periodically revel in the bean from the shady “maseka.” The kraals of the larger indunas are well stocked with goats and fat-tailed sheep, the former being kept for their milk, which is reserved for the younger members of the family, and should an exceptional occasion arise, such as a marriage or death — both states are apparently treated as calamities — a sheep is led bleating to the slaughter. In the case of a death the corpse is buried close to the deceased’s late residence, and interred in a reclining position, and not in a sitting posture, as is usually the case with the Barotse natives; the grave is covered with stones and a basket of Kaffir corn or mealies placed on the top for future consumption.  …

Living in small kraals they have no respect for their indunas and the induna has no control over his scattered flock, and unless he is happy in the possession of a dutiful son, or some other relation, he has no one to carry out his wishes, and no one to execute his household work.

Continue to Kasongo’s village, I think, Ila

I arrived in camp after my long and tiring journey to find Setembo and a friend scooping out, with the aid of short sticks, a hole which had formerly been the retreat of an antbear. The corpse lying near was indifferently tied up in a crouching posture by the aid of the skin of a waterbuck, the face, which was entirely covered, resting between the knees. In the midst of his labours, Setembo, in a paroxysm of uncontrollable grief, was weeping over the fate of his late brother. No unnecessary labour was spent over the grave, and in a most unceremonious manner the remains were literally pushed into this confined and inadequate space, stones and dirt were collected and effectually filled up the aperture.

Setembo, solitary and alone, adjourned to the shade of a ”mobumbo tree,” there to mourn for his friend and brother. Born of the same mother in a far-off Batoka village, they had fed from the same pot; they had played at the same “chesolo” (a native game) ; armed with the native bows, they had together engaged in the same hunt, followed the same oft-deluding honeybird, had tended the same goats, tired over the same journey and joyed over the same homecoming, but now all was finished. Sevumbo’s spirit had returned to his mother, and how should he meet her face without his charge, who would return alone to his kraal? These were the thoughts that filled the native mind to overflowing, and made his uncultured but sensitive heart burst with undefined grief.

The Batoka natives in no way share the same opinion as Plato regarding the habitation of departed spirits. The Batoka idea is that after death the spirit at once hies back to the mother of the deceased, and I presume that the idea of its return to the female rather than to the male parent is because, due to the laxity of the native morals, some considerable trouble would be experienced in selecting the father of the child.

Setembo was fully convinced that by this time, due to dreams or some other uncanny agency, his mother is aware of the death of her child. On the return of Setembo to his kraal, one and all would mourn for two days; friends would collect from neighbouring kraals and remain at the home of the departed for that time, whilst the mother’s term of mourning would be further extended for five days. During the time of mourning a considerable amount of Kaffir beer is consumed by the mourners, not for the sake of festivity, but simply to help them bear their grief. In the case of a chief’s death, the mourning is most prodigious, cattle, sheep and goats, and, until recently, the slaves, or a sample of them, would be despatched, to attend to the wants of their master in his new role. Another induna usually assumes the name of the late chief, and in that case the spirit would return to the man who has been selected to take the name and induna’s responsibility. Then their mourning would be turned to joy, for the spirit has returned, and with the deceased’s name, descends upon the newly-elected potentate. The usual resting-place for the remains of a son or daughter would be opposite, or close to the door of his or her mother’s hut.

They travel from Monze back to Lealui, through Ilaland.  The Ila are then named Mashukulumbwe, the Lozi name for these people, because of the way they tie their hair.  This hairstyle had been developed by the Ila people as a way to find each other in the long grass of the Kafue Flats. 

The second day out we arrived at a chief named Samosonta, a lying, grinning, naked, typical Mashukulumbwe. On arrival at his kraal I was informed that Samosonta was in the fields, and when I sent a messenger requesting him to come, his people assumed a threatening attitude, and poising their spears threatened to kill my embassy.  This was a most serious business, and unfortunately I had not a sufficient escort to back up my authority. In a very short space of time, scores of natives, each armed with three or four spears, augmented by a considerable quantity of bows and arrows, came pouring in from every side. Tozzo, who is more of a writer than a fighter, was, to put things plainly, in a terrible funk, whilst the police recruits, who by this time had fallen in, armed with sticks, would have been helpless if attacked. Lucas had two rifles and a scatter gun, whilst I had one of each; this was the entire force at our disposal, and like Jack Cade’s army, “most in order when out of order.” Lucas, full of young Devonshire blood, was pining for a fight. Tozzo, as I have before said, was of a more peaceful disposition, whilst I, though having no fear as regards the results, had no wish to cause a row, which whatever the result might be must perforce disturb the whole country and cause a rebellion, the extent of which no one could foretell. The tension was relieved by the appearance of the induna ; the native who had threatened the police messenger was produced, and after a considerable amount of talking, during which I pointed out that the policeman spoke with my mouth, that when they threatened to stab him they threatened to stab me, I finally ended by fining Samosonta two cattle. …

The unfriendly conduct I experienced at Samosonta’s kraal is but a sample of the Mashukulumbwe attitude towards my patrol generally ; and in each village through which I pass there are unmistakable signs of a careless, don’t-care sort of feeling ; an unpleasant contrast to the treatment which I received from the natives living in close proximity to the Kafue junction with the Zambesi. But, as I have before remarked, the Mashukulumbwe are entirely different from the Batu or river tribes, and I have no doubt that after they thoroughly realise that they have to submit to the fancies of their white rulers, and that besides hunting and sensuality there are other duties incumbent upon them, they will settle down and develop into an industrious and intelligent community. Their physique compares favourably with the Zulu; tall, graceful, lithe and active, as wild, untamed colts, with a keen hereditary hunting spirit, they would prove an excellent addition to the native troops in South Africa.

The principal indunas in this part are Umgaila and Mgalo. Jealous of power, each is daily struggling to oust the other, and by fair means or foul become the leading chief. A year or so ago the O. C. at Monze was interviewed by Umgaila and induced, not knowing the facts of the case, to lend his assistance to that persuasive chief, sending a few mounted men, who charged Mgalo’ s kraal, scattering the inhabitants right and left.  Too late the assailants perceived that their intrepid action was misspent, and an indignant enquiry and protest came from King Lewanika’s councillors, asking why we were lighting against his friends. A large indaba was held, our innocent mistake was explained, Mgalo was the recipient of our most humble apologies, and what suited him most, five chosen head of Umgaila’s cattle. Umgaila was by no means satisfied by the unexpected and unsatisfactory turn local politics had taken, and immediately after the withdrawal of our police, he at once commenced to show a most pronounced hostile action towards his neighbour. ” Can I stay quietly in my kraal and see Mgalo milking my cattle? ” This was the burden of Umgaila’s grievance; this was the burden of his martial lyric, as he started away at periodical times bent on raiding the cattle and stealing the women of his neighbour. For months this policy of hating his neighbour and loving his neighbour’s wives was pursued, till the King again being informed of his desertions sent some of his Barotse indunas, who for a time remained at Mgalo’s kraal, and established Umgaila in his old village, which lies in close proximity to Mgalo’s kraal, and told the latter chief that Umgaila was appointed by the King as principal induna of that district, and in future Mgalo must bow his adamantine will to the adolescent dictation of Umgaila. The embassies of the King remained sufficiently long to consume the greater portion of Mgalo’s kaffir beer, and then returned to their sedentary majesty, having enjoyed their trip and being filled with pride over the important diplomatic settlement which they had effected.

Umgaila must be present-day Mungaila, a chief from Namwala.

The seventy miles which separate Umgaila’s from Fort Monze is composed of open flats teeming with buck of almost every description. Eland, roan, pookoo, lechwe, sable and smaller buck galore. Various horns in every stage of a decay hang from the leafless trees that, stunted by drought, struggle to retain their vitality in and around the various kraals. Horns are also invariably placed on the most prominent position of the Mashukulumbwe huts. A successful hunter is always distinguished by a small yellow fruit, called Mutuntula, stuck in the back of his hair, which denotes that recently he has killed a buck.  I saw a man with three of these tokens the other day, and on enquiry found that he had slaughtered three sable antelopes within the last moon. A warrior who has had a successful career will place a black pot on the roof of his hut for every man he has slain…  Beside the three or four spears that the Mashukulumbwe warrior carries, he is also armed with bow and arrows, the arrows being poisoned by inserting the poison in a small hole expressly made for the purpose in the arrowhead; besides this precaution it invariably goes through a process which makes it thaumaturgic and doubly dangerous. The spears are often partly severed near the end, thus insuring that whether or not they strike the intended billet, they will break on impact and so be useless for the enemy to hurl back at their former owners.

Thaumaturgic = enchanted, bewitched.

It was a picturesque sight— these fine, stalwart, unclothed savages, dotted about the camp, basking in the early morning sun. The principal indunas were partially covered by skins or old blankets, but the younger men were destitute of anything in the shape of covering and took no trouble to conceal their nakedness. Their head-dresses, some four feet long, are marvellously constructed, the hair is literally pulled back from the forehead, and the skull or skin so strained, that at the base of the knob there is a large ring of unnatural skin.  At night the head-dress is tied by the tips to the roof of their huts; under no circumstances would they part with their hair; it is put up in this position when they are at the age of puberty, and it remains till it naturally falls off. It is most artistic, and so dressed that their heads look exceptionally clean and smart. Each man has one or two hair-pins which he uses to probe his miniature pyramid in case of internal irritation.

The Mashukulumbwe women are of small stature, but pretty withal; they are free from vanity, and the glory of women here is apparently not the hair. They are clothed in skins, and seem in no way ashamed to mix in the ordinary vocations of life with their unclad companions.  Their morals compare favourably with the Batoka or Barotse natives, whilst serious cases of disease are few and far between. The system of Lobolo, or payment for their wives, is in vogue, and religiously obeyed only by the Mashukulumbwe; the lobolo is ten hoes, and not cattle, as usually is the case.

Colin Harding returns to Lealui and then embarks on a journey north because Lewanika had heard that a slave-trader was operating near Kasempa and causing much distress:

The country which we passed through en route to the Kabompo river gave abundant proofs that cotton could be cultivated with every chance of success. Neary every kraal had its local factory in a miniature and crude type, and the natives were wearing the cloth which they had made.  On the Mumbazie river we found a quantity of rubber, both ground and tree; we also discovered extensive old copper workings, and received as presents from some of the chiefs solid copper bars which had been manufactured at the kraals.

Though we left Lialui with a small caravan, composed solely of the necessary carriers, a few police, and Barotse indunas sent as usual by the King to guide and look after me, we had, before reaching Kasempa, a following of several hundred natives — husbands looking for their wives, mothers looking for their sons, and children looking for their parents — who had been stolen and sold for slaves. I was successful in restoring a number of these unfortunate people to the respective owners. Whilst at Kasempa I was fortunate enough to be able to punish a noted slave trader, storming his kraal at daylight and burning all his belongings.

From Kasempa, which is 250 miles north-west of Lialui, we journeyed to the source of Kabompo, a distance of about 200 miles, passing through a country nearly denuded of natives by slave raiders, but well watered, mineralized, and to all appearances healthy.

After this trip, Colin Harding hears of his brother’s illness at Fort Monze.  He travels there, only to find his brother dead from black-water fever.  Another man at Fort Monze also dies leaving Colin Harding with only three other men to administer the whole of North-western Rhodesia. 

Not long afterwards, Robert Coryndon returns to Northwestern Rhodesia to take up the role of British Resident, relieving Colin Harding of his duties thereby allowing him to concentrate on his original job of raising and training a Police Force. 

In 1902, Colin Harding accompanies Chief Lewanika to England for the coronation of Edward VII.