Frederick Selous 1877

Nambya. Tonga. Nyai. Chikunda. Goba. Soli.

Frederick Selous was a hunter who travelled widely in south-central Africa.  In 1877, at the age of 26, he crossed the Zambezi River in the hopes of reaching Katanga (home then of the Yeke people of Chief Msidi) where Frederick Arnot, the missionary, was stationed.  Frederick Arnot had written to Frederick Selous telling him of the large number of elephants around his station.  Frederick Selous thought the area would prove to be a good hunting destination.

At the time, although Frederick Selous had planned to visit Loziland, he was delayed because of civil war among the Lozi people.  In order to fill up his time, Frederick Selous took this trip.

Frederick Selous had, up until now, hunted by horseback. But, because of tsetse fly, this trip was to be on foot. He did bring with him some donkeys to carry supplies. Donkeys seemed much tougher, but half way through the trip, they were taken by lions during the night.

He crossed the Zambezi River at Wankie’s.  This was a common crossing point for many people.  Wankie was a chief from south of the river who had been forced to leave his home by Matabele raids.  His people were called Nambya.  It would seem that the Tonga people were welcoming to other tribes, allowing them to settle in ‘their’ land.

From Wankie’s Town Frederick Selous travelled along the river, reaching the tributary Chaiza (Cheza).  On an island nearby he found a Portuguese half-caste named Monteiro.  While there, Frederick Selous, met with 300 Tonga, with large feather headdresses and armed with assegais.  The Tonga people normally settled in family villages to farm but the effects of the raiding of Monteiro and his Chikunda warriors, had encouraged the Tonga families to join forces to fight the slave trader.  Monteiro, seeing the Tongas on the riverbank, sent for reinforcements.  More Chikunda arrived onto the island.  The Chikunda were armed with guns.  After negotiations, the Tonga left.  Even though the Tonga had lost many of their family members to the slave traders and had their homes and crops destroyed, they knew that they could not challenge the Chikunda. 

Walking further along the river, Frederick Selous saw another Portuguese camp on the southern side of the Zambezi.    Again another band of Tonga people met with Frederick Selous.  They had also had all their villages burnt and their women and children captured. 

On reaching the Lufua River, Frederick Selous comments that he found Banyai villages.  The villages had been abandoned; the people had fled.  The Banyai (Nyai) were a tribe of people normally found along the southern bank of the Zambezi River.  It is thought that they were Korekore and some of them were to be known as the Goba people who now live near Chirundu. 

When Frederick Selous came to Kariba Gorge, he took a detour around the ridge, returning to the Zambezi to Umtolanyange River.  After another day’s walk he reached the Lusito River, crossed over and arrived at Nhaucoe.  Nhaucoe was, at the time, abandoned but, in the past had been a trading centre for the Portuguese.  This has to be Ingombe Iledi. 

A short distance north of Nhaucoe, he came to an island in the Zambezi, which he called Cassoko, but we now know as Kaseko.  The island was the home of a Portuguese slave-trader called Joaquim de Mendonca.  He too was accompanied by Chikunda warriors armed with guns.  Frederick Selous stayed on the island with Mendonca who treated him very kindly.  While there, they canoed along the river to meet Kanyemba on his island at the confluence of the Kafue and Zambezi Rivers.  Kanyemba was a Chikunda, the son of a Goan man and a Chikunda woman, from a village further to the east.  (Goa is a place in India.  The Portuguese had trading depots in Goa and often brought over people from there to work on the land in Mozambique).  Kanyemba had become powerful, raised his own army which he used to engage in the slave trade.  Frederick Selous was to meet him again further north where Kanyemba was checking on his other trading posts. 

It is known that although Kanyemba normally trekked his slaves to the east coast, he also sent some to the west, through Angola, probably using Mambari traders as intermediaries. 

Travelling from Mendonca’s island, Frederick Selous, continued north, over the Kafue River to Cambari’s Town on the Lesser Chongwe River.  Frederick Selous calls Cambari a Banyai (Goba).  He describes Cambari as having his hair arranged in long tassels or strings which hang down on all sides, over his eyes, and behind down to his shoulders.

From Cambari’s Frederick Selous travelled northwest, away from the Zambezi and through the hills onto the plateau.  There he stops at Chorumane’s Town. He does not mention which tribe Chorumane belonged to, but I am assuming another Goba. 

Throughout his journey so far, he had been greeted and welcomed by all the people he had met.  The people had all suffered at the hands of the slave-traders and probably they were still in a state of shock.  However, realising that Frederick Selous was not a slave-trader, they had given him assistance which had been the general rule for all Bantu before the slave trade.  We also know that David Livingstone had travelled through Tongaland (1855 and 1857) and had left a good reputation. 

Things, though, were about to change. Having reached Manica villages (Soli), the headmen were very unhelpful and refused food or any assistance.  By this time Frederick Selous was sick, suffering from malaria.  It was December and the rain poured day after day, making everything wet.  The air buzzed with mosquitoes.  Frederick Selous struggled on, hoping to get through this unfriendly part of the land, but he failed.  He got as far as Sitanda’s Town near the Keemba River.  Frederick Selous was so sick he could hardly move. Kanyemba arrived with 200 Chikunda warriors.  Kanyemba too refused any assistance.  Frederick Selous knew he could not go further. 

He turned back, struggling for days, wondering whether he would ever find a friendly face again.  He did make it, but only just.