Emil Holub was a Czech from Bohemia. He was a ‘doctor, a zoologist, a botanist, a hunter, a taxidermist, an artist and cartographer, an avid collector of specimens and, above all, a keen observer’.
He visited the Zambezi River in 1875 when he was 28 years old with the intention of travelling by makora upstream. He was following the footsteps of David Livingstone.
The king of the Lozi people was Sipopo. He had taken over the position after the Kololo people had been thrown out of the country in 1864. The Kololo had ruled Loziland for about 26 years.
From their headquarters at Bulawayo, the Matabele, the Kololo’s arch enemy, had been in charge for about 30 years, raiding all the neighbouring tribes, destroying everything. Most of the people from around Bulawayo had fled north, crossing the Zambezi River.
Emil Holub reached Pandamatenga, the trading station of George Westbeech, then travelled through the tsetse fly belt to the Zambezi at Kazungula which was the ferry crossing point to the Lozi kingdom. At the time, the village on the northern side known as Impalera. We now use the name Impalila for the name of the island at the junction of the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers.
The ‘watch-tower’ at this point on the Zambezi was manned by the Subiya people, a tribe which was under the rule of the Lozi. There were watch-towers all along the Zambezi River where the Matabele might cross into Loziland.
Of the Subiya’s, Emil Holub writes:
They were fine-looking men, with their hair tied up at the top of their heads in little tufts, and adorned with ornaments of great variety, bunches of the hair of gazelles or other small animals, pieces of coral, and strings of beads. They also wore bracelets, mostly of leather, occasionally ivory.
In order to cross the river, the chief has to give him permission and this can take several days or longer. While waiting to be allowed to cross the river, he walks along the southern bank:
In the course of a walk down the riverside next morning I came to some deserted farms of the Masupias, who had fled to the opposite shore after the destruction of the Manansa kingdom, and in several places along the valley I saw the graves of some Masupia chiefs. These graves were mere oval mounds, covered with antelope-skulls and elephant tusks, so arranged that the points protruded and bent downwards.
All Bantu tribes believed that even though a chief had died, his spirit remained on earth. He would be buried with his personal possessions. In times of strife, the graves would be visited, prayers being offered to the ancestors.
Eventually, after some days, Emil Holub was allowed to cross the river. There, he met the chief of the Lozi, Sepopo:
I stood face to face with his majesty. He was a man of about thirty-five, dressed in European style, with an English hat upon his head decorated with a fine ostrich feather.
Sepopo was accompanied by his entourage:
The most notable part of the procession was the royal band; on either side of the king were the myrimba-players bringing out the most excruciating sounds with a pair of short drumsticks from a keyboard of calabashes suspended from their shoulders by a strap; these were preceded by men with huge tubular drums, upon which they played with their fingers, accompanying the strains with their voices.
After eating together, Sepopo brings out his libeko:
The libeko used by the Bantu tribes in the place of our pocket-handkerchief is a miniature shovel made of very different sizes, being from half an inch to an inch wide, but varying from two inches to ten inches in length. It is usually attached to a small strap or chain of grass or beads, and its effect is not only to widen the nostrils, but to disfigure the countenance generally.
A few days later:
I found Sepopo sitting with about thirty men squatting around him in perfect silence; my eye, as I entered, at once lighted upon one of these men who was bent down in a peculiarly demure attitude. It struck me immediately that he was not a Marutse native, and on looking again I saw that he was a half-caste. …
On my asking who they were, the man servilely raised his hat, and in a fawning voice informed me that he and the companion at his side were Portuguese traders and good Christians. I further ascertained that they belong to the so-called Mambari, of whom I had heard all kinds of unpleasant stories.
The Mambari were an offshoot of the Ovimbunda people of Angola. They worked as intermediaries for the Portuguese in the collection of slaves and elephant tusks.
Emil Holub was invited by Sepopo to watch a dance:
The dance to which the king invited me was called the kishi-dance. Its main object seems to be to inflame the animal passion, and it is danced by two men, one of whom is supposed to represent a woman. The performers step forward from a group of young people, who are all singing most vigorously, and clapping their hands in time to the great tubular drums that are being sounded. … The masks are a specialite in Mabunda handicraft, are modelled by boys from clay and cow-dung, and painted with chalk and red ochre. They are considerably larger than the head, completely covering the neck.
We still have the Makishi dancers and actors performing at special events. In Livingstone we see them occasionally walking through the suburbs scaring the children!
There is one more instrument which I much regret to have met with in the Marutse country at all, but which must not be omitted from the enumeration. I allude to the war-drum. In the council-hall there were four of these ghastly-looking objects. The skin were painted all over with red, to represent blood, and they were filled with fragments of dry flesh and bones, these bones being principally the toes and fingers of the live children of distinguished parents, and supposed to be amulets to protect the rising town of Sesheke from fire and sword, and to guard the kingdom generally from assault and rapine.
Emil Holub returns to Pandamatenga and then takes a trip to Victoria Falls with George Westbeech and friends. During this trip he meets people of the ‘Manansa’ tribe:
As a general rule it may be said that the Manansas are of middle height and slightly built, but it is somewhat difficult for a traveller to distinguish them, as since the dismemberment of their country they have become very much crossed with the fugitive Matongas and Masupias, and with tribes north of the Zambezi. Their complexions dark brown, their heads are small, and they have mild-looking eyes and thick lips.
I noticed that the lower classes wore bracelets and ankle rings of gnu or giraffe-hide, and sometimes iron wire. Their earrings, always simple in form, were mostly made of better material. For clothing the men usually had nothing more than a bit of calico about the size of one’s hand and only rarely was a skin of some small animal fastened round their loins; the women wore a short petticoat of tanned leather.
I found them remarkably skillful in tracking game, their quiet, cautious method of proceeding often proving more effectual than greater dash and daring.
According to Emil Holub, the tribe had been based near the Nambya people’s original home at Bambusi. They would also seem to have ‘bushman’ ancestry too.
After Emil Holub’s trip to the Victoria Falls, he heads back to Sesheke. While there he gives us an account of people bringing tribute to Sepopo:
Returning from a walk I came across one of the caravans that arrive from the more distant parts of the kingdom, bringing in the periodical tribute for the king. It consisted of about thirty people, but very often a caravan of this kind will include considerably more, because whether the men come voluntarily, or under the compulsion of a chief, they are always obliged to bring their whole household with them. On making their entry into Sesheke the party was arranged mainly with regard to the stature of the people who composed it; a leader went in front, carrying nothing but his weapons and a great bell, which he continued ringing without intermission; following him were the men laden with the elephants’ tusks, the manza-roots, and the baskets of fruit that composed the tribute; then came the women in charge of the travelling-apparatus and provisions, the children all trudging on behind.
I think ‘manza’ is cassava.
Emil Holub meets the Sepopo’s executioner:
Throughout the kingdom no one was more feared or more hated than the executioner Mashoku. He was a Mabunda; but the peculiar aptitude he had shown for his office had induced the king to raise him to the rank of a chieftain. He was over six feet high, and of massive build; so ill-shaped, however, was his head, and so repulsive his cast of countenance, that I could never do otherwise than associate him in my mind with a hyæna.
Nothing could be more odious than the way in which Mashoku received his orders. Crawling up on all fours to the royal presence, he grinned with satisfaction at the instructions he received. He kept clapping his hands softly while he was attending; and having taken a sip from the goblet offered him by his royal master, he crawled back to his former place.
Sepopo goes on an elephant hunt:
It was about noon when the king and his flotilla started off. He was accompanied by his band, and at least two hundred canoes set out from Sesheke alone, apart from those that joined at other parts of the river.
Sepopo gives Emil Holub permission to travel up the river. He reaches Ngonye Falls but has malaria.
The Mabunda chief from Sioma came to see me, and in intervals between the attacks of fever I took the opportunity to ask him, as well as the guides and boatmen, all the questions I could about the land and population of the Marutse empire. Our conversation generally turned upon the Livangas, Libele, and Luyanas, the tribes between the Chobe and the Zambesi, and upon the independent Bamashi, on the lower Chobe, who are also called Luyanas, and are subject to three princes of their own, Kukonganena, Kukalelwa, and Molombe.
Livangas, Libele, Luyana, Bamashi? Luyana, I think, must be the original Aluyi people before the coming of the Kololo. Bamashi are the Mashi people who are still mentioned on the tribal map as living along the Kwando River.
Emil Holub left Sesheke for Pandamatenga and then back to South Africa.
At the end of his stay at Sesheke the signs were already there for civil war to break out in Loziland. Sepopo was very cruel and unpopular. His end came in 1876 when the people rose up against him. He was shot at Sesheke.