Emil Holub 1885

Toka (Tonga).  Ila.  Totela.  Lozi.

Emil Holub returned to Prague after his first trip to the Zambezi River in 1875.  He had taken with him many items from the trip which he had hoped to use in a new museum devoted to Africana.  This never happened and his collection was spread around many museums.  He wrote articles for magazines, gave lectures and wrote his first book about his travels. 

On his return to Africa he came with 6 other aspiring African travellers, 3 of whom died very early on before even reaching the Zambezi River.  He had married Rosa Hof, 18 years his junior, who also joined the party.

At the time, Loziland was in turmoil.  Sepopo had been killed in 1876, the kingship being taken over by Mwanawina II.  Mwanawina II’s reign only lasted for two years when he too was ousted in a coup by Lubosi (Lewanika) in 1878.  In 1884, Lubosi was ousted and replaced by Akafuna Tatila.  Finally, in 1885 Lubosi regained his throne but began many revenge attacks on anyone suspected of supporting Akafuna Tatila. 

The whole empire under Lozi control was unpredictable and in a state of turmoil as Lubosi consolidated his position as king.  All the people who lived under Lozi rule had become fearful and often unfriendly.    The Lozi empire, at this time included much of the land from their capital at Lealui up to the Kafue River.  It is no surprise, therefore, that Emil Holub’s last trip into our region was often fraught with danger and ended in failure.

Because of the unsettled state of the nation, Emil Holub was forced to hire porters from one village to the next as few people were willing to accompany him for the whole journey.  He needed 90 porters at the start to carry all the items for barter – mostly cloth and beads.  Payment for porters was usually a ‘sitsiba’, which is 2 metres of cloth.  This was enough, usually, for 2-3 day journey from one village to the next. 

The crossing point of the Zambezi River is now called Kazungula (previously Emil Holub had called it Impalera).  The party with their Subiya porters crossed the river there and took a path parallel to the Zambezi River until they came to the Sinde River and the chief of the area – Matakala.  According to the notes, Matakala is present-day Musokotwane.  The village was only a short distance from the Victoria Falls and the spray from them could be seen along the ridges around Matakala’s village. 

After a march of several hours we arrived at noon on 13 June in Mo-Rukumi, Matakala’s residence.  … Matakala’s area might have a total of 3,800 to 4,000 inhabitants and it stretches down to Victoria Falls.  He is subject to the Marutse king yet has the title ‘king’.  In his empire are only two Marutse subchiefs, so to speak, as representatives of Luanika.  They live in the immediate vicinity of Victoria Falls; one of them is the political official, the second one the so-called watchman of the boats. 

Marutse are the Lozi and Luanika is Lewanika.  The ‘watchman of the boats’ was responsible for controlling any crossing of the river.  Matabele impis could arrive at any time to come and raid into Lozi-controlled land.

Emil Holub had problems paying his porters who, although had agreed the price of one ‘sitsiba’, now demanded two sitsibas.  After long discussions and threatening behaviour, the matter was settled, although Matakala was not happy.  He felt that he should be given as a present one of Emil Holub’s guns.  Emil Holub did not have a gun to spare and, anyway, had promised Lewanika that he would not give away any gun to the tributary tribes. 

The following day while Emil Holub was talking with Matakala there was a visitor:

The person who arrived was a young, rather stout black of medium height wearing a top hat.  He was Mokuri, the subchief from Victoria Falls and Matakala;s nephew.   … Even though it was early in the morning he was rather high – as often happened with him – from drinking too much butschuala, and so he was in a gay mood. 

Mokuri was helpful in the negotiations between Matakala and Emil Holub when he informed Matakala that Emil Holub was a doctor.  Matakala coughed badly from time to time and Emil Holub was able to give him some medicine to ease the discomfort.  From that time, words between Emil Holub and Matakala improved and finally the travellers were able to hire more porters for their onward journey. 

They went on towards Siyakasipa’s village, tributary to Musokotwane.  Here Emil Holub describes the Toka people, their mode of dress, their habits and their construction of homes and canoes. 

Particularly rich is the hair decoration of the southern Matoka even though of rather original and for us somewhat unaesthetical form.  The hair is never cleaned; instead, however, all kinds of things are rubbed into it and it is decorated with lots of trinkets.  The usual ornaments are beetles; very tender horns of antelopes; blown-up gall bladders of various animals; claws of carnivorous animals and birds; tortoise scales or whole shells of young tortoises; scales of armarylles; small tails of hares; little bones of various animals (mostly metacarpels); little bags of leguaan skin; teeth; little wooden pegs and pins with or without burnt-in ornaments; red seeds of leguminous plants arranged in little balls and glued by means of wax to strychnia fruit shells; colourful feathers of roller-birds, long-tailed shrikes, parrots and several types of white heron; furthermore, empty cartridge cases, glass beads, little brass plates, etc.  All these decorative and beautifying objects are tied to their hair by means of grass threads.  … One should not, however, forget to mention that the Matoka of all peoples of Africa have the most useful decoration of their heads, ie, the giant weevil which they implant alive in their thick hair in order to keep it clean. 

The tobacco pipe plays a very important role in the life of the Matoka.  … They have a surprising skill in making highly artistic tobacco pipes.   The bowls of the pipes are made of burnt clay and have carved animal heads such as wild pigs, gnus, buffaloes, roan antelopes, water antelopes, oxen, goats, lions, etc.  … The pipe is lit by coal.  To handle the coal the tribes use little fire tongs made by the Matotele.  … While they are smoking all quarrel and strife is suspended and when they invite strangers and unknown visitors to smoke with them this is a sign of friendliness. 

Emil Holub calls the people Matoka.  David Livingstone had also named them as Batoka.  Although Tonga, the people had had contact with the outside and their language and customs had changed more than those on the plateau north. 

While staying with Matakala, Emil Holub comments on the metal tools which they use and the fact that they are made by the Totela and Ngete (?)

The tools the Matoka make such as awls, knives, nose cleaners etc. are rather poorly made even though they are good enough for their purposes.  In the old settlements of these tribes on the southern bank of the central Zambezi I found smelting hearths for iron ore.  Decades ago they must have worked as smelters themselves and may have satisfied their own needs.  Now this is no longer done.  The best metal workers in the Marutse empire are the Matotele and the Mangete who are sister tribes of the Marutse.  They also make for the Matoka the previously mentioned hoes, the spears, the pole-axes, and other iron tools, the quality and form of which is remarkable. 

About drums:

It is covered on one end with a drumskin with a hole in the middle.  A stick reaches into the cavity of the drum and is fixed with a cross stick below and above the hole.  One ties a piece of moistened baobab bark fibre around one’s hand and rubs the stick up and down rapidly.  This makes a deep droning double tone.  It is called Namarva or Wupu-Wupu (because of the sound).

He also mentions the building of canoes and tells us that the people here are not allowed to build large canoes to carry more than a few people because of the Lozi law which prohibits their construction.  The Lozi are concerned about large canoes being used to carry Matabele over the river. 

They continue on their northward journey through Toka villages.  All these villages had had contact with the outside world.  They had seen white men before.  They too had had contact with the Kololo.  When the Kololo had first crossed the Zambezi into our region, they had settled near Kalomo for some years around 1840.

All along their journey they had trouble with the porters and the chiefs in negotiating payment.  When David Livingstone had passed through Tongaland about 15 years previously, he had met only welcome.  This shows the difference in attitude of the people after they had been raided both by the Kololo, followed by the Lozi and also be some Matabele. 

It was only when Emil Holub’s caravan reached Mapanza that the people were curious about the white people who came to their village.  They also had had little contact with any outside influences and their language was original Tonga.    

From Mapanza they continue north into Ilaland.  The Ila are known, at the time, as the Mashukulumbwe.  This was a name given to them by the Kololo because of the way they tied their hair.  The Kololo had often raided the people of Ilaland.  The Kololo, though had been ousted from the dominant role in the west; the empire had now changed hands back to the original Luyi tribe which became known as the Lozi.

It has not been long since the Lozi too had invaded Ilaland and stolen many cattle.  Rumours had spread throughout Ilaland that Emil Holub’s party were spies for Lewanika, the chief of the Lozi.

Emil Holub had been warned repeatedly not to travel through Ilaland.  At the very start of his journey at Pandamatenga, George Westbeech has said ‘Don’t go there.’  All through Toka and Tonga lands the chiefs had implored him not to go that way but to head towards the Zambezi River and cross at the confluence of the Kafue and Zambezi River.  Emil Holub did not listen to anyone.  He took his party into Ilaland, on the Kafue Flats.

When Emil Holub’s caravan was walking through the grassland in Kafue Flats:

All of a sudden I saw some pointed black objects moving back and forth in front of us and glittering in the high grass.  I called two of my Matoka porters to ask them what might be.  I learned that this was a Maschukulumbe hair-style and one of the longest ones which well-to-do young men usually wear. 

They reached an Ila village:

The free space in front of it was filled with naked blacks.  Each of them was balancing an almost one metre high hair-style which sat perpendicularly on the backs of their heads.  … This was the actual residence of the most southern Maschukulumbe chief Kakumamba.  This subtribe of the Maschukulibe which we had reached first was called Bamala. 

Later, Emil Holub watches a hairdresser as he weaves the hair of one of the men:

The fancy hairstyle in the making had already reached one third of the required height of 1 m.  The hairdresser had in his right hand a strong 20 cm needle similar to our upholsterer’s needle.  In it was a long, well-twisted thread of bark fibre.  He wound the fibres around short strands of hair which had been twisted together previously.  These were then attached to the existing top ring of the hairpiece. … The thread is smeared with hair polish, … thus it looks like genuine hair on first sight. 

The hairstyle had been developed because of their need to know where each other was in the tall grass.  The women all had shaved heads, their hair being used to extend that of their husband’s. 

The Ila often had a cow skin thrown over their shoulder.  They used this to keep warm when the weather was cold, otherwise they had no use of clothes.  The Ila were known for their large herds of cattle; they did not have goats or sheep.  The growing of crops was women’s work, the men only herded their cattle or hunted. 

The Maschumulumbe village was situated on a free space in the middle of a grass thicket.  It was enclosed by poles and the huts were standing rather closely together and formed a circle with a diameter of about 200 m.  The space between every hut was closed by poles so that it was only through one single entry that one could reach the centre of the village. 

Emil Holub’s party were now surrounded by the Ila people.  The Ila were used as porters and as ferrymen across the Kafue River.  As the party travelled north of the Kafue River the news was spreading throughout the region that these people were spies of Lewanika and that they were the enemy.   After several days march, having reached Nzovu, the party was surrounded.  The Ila had banded together.  They attacked the caravan stealing all the goods and killing many.  Emil Holub and his wife managed to escape and return to Pandamatenga, but that story is not part of this narrative.