James Chapman was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He left school and Cape Town at the age of 13 to work in Durban. He had various jobs but eventually became a hunter and trader. He loved to travel and collected specimens of plants, learned Setswana, and wrote down vocabularies of any other people he met. He spent most of his time in present-day Botswana and Namibia, but, at the age of 32, he visited the Victoria Falls. On this journey he travelled with Thomas Baines, the famous artist, with whom he got on well. Their plan had been to go to the Victoria Falls and later build a boat at Wankie’s on which they would sail down the Zambezi River to Tete. They spent some months at Wankie’s but became ill with malaria and abandoned the project.
James Chapman is a well-known historical figure in Botswana with Chapman’s Boabab near Gweta named after him.
Thomas Baines was born in England in 1820. He had an artistic bent and followed this passion throughout his life. Thomas Baines had joined David Livingstone’s journey up the Zambezi to the Shire River in 1860. He and David Livingstone had not got on well, I think mainly because, as team leader, David Livingstone was not a ‘leader of men’ and found it difficult to work with people of his own origins.
Thomas Baines was 42 when he joined James Chapman on the journey to the Victoria Falls. He did write a journal of their trip but it does not go into the same detail as James Chapman’s. So I am ignoring most of his scribblings in favour of James Chapman’s. I will, though, add one of his drawings of the Victoria Falls. Below is an interaction, as written by James Chapman, between himself and Thomas Baines when viewing the Victoria Falls:
We approached the wet and slippery brink in a perpetual shower of rain, and, holding on to one another, looked down into the awful chasm beneath us. One look for me is enough, but my nerves were sorely tried by Baines, who, finding everywhere new beauties for his pencil, must needs drag me along the very edge, he gazing with delight, I with terror, down into the lowest depths of the chasm. We continued along the grassy bank, preceded by numerous lovely little rainbows spanning round us, a forest to our right, the chasm on our left, until at length, not wishing to see any more at present, but gradually to accustom myself to the stupefying effects of the uproar and tumult at work in this “cauldron”, I fairly fled from my companion.
They were totally different people but had respect for each other’s talents. Now, from James Chapman’s book, Travels in the Interior of South Africa:
They are at Linyanti:
(Sea-cow is the hippopotamus, the Basutos are the Makololo ‘proper’, as this was their place of origin, Shesheke River has to be the Zambezi River, and Batawka are the Tonga/Toka)
The Barotse, who seem to comprise the majority of the Makololo natives, are an active, tall and athletic people, broad-chested, and owing to their usual occupations, boating, &c., are very muscular and powerful in the arms. They are very expert in killing the sea-cow and elephant, which they delight in attacking when in the water, and generally take the opportunity when they are fording a river or come to drink. Thus every day elephants are killed by these people, and ivory and flesh conveyed to town in their boats. The Basutos are generally decorated with a white ostrich feather on their head, their bodies greased with butter, with scarcely any covering, except when they happen to be the possessors of European clothing, of which they are very fond. Their shields are generally borne by a slave behind them, and they are seldom seen carrying more than a single battle-axe. They have rather an imposing carriage, and walk with a free and easy, confident air, which yet cannot be called swaggering. …
From the banks of the Chobe the Makololo country extends probably northward for 300 miles or more up the Shesheke river, which runs all the way down nearly from the centre of Africa. On the west it is bounded by the Bavieko nation, under Lebebe; north-east by the Bashukulumpe (a people wearing their hair plaited like a sugar-loaf on their heads, and no clothing whatever on their bodies); east by the Batawka, and south by Sekomi’s Bamanwato. …
I am not sure about Bavieko. I must find out, but they have to be in Namibia/Botswana.
Of the religion of the Makololo it would not, perhaps, become me to judge on so short an acquaintance; but during my stay I gathered that they implicitly believe that when they die their souls enter other bodies and live again. Their belief in the immortality of the soul was further corroborated by a circumstance which then occurred. A young man being taken ill, the doctors held a council, at which it was affirmed that the young man’s father, who is long since dead, was haunting him, being hungry. Thereon a fat ox being doomed to slaughter, a portion of it was thrown over the hedge of the kraal in which the father was buried, to appease his ghost, the doctors sitting down to feast on the remainder of the sacrifice thus offered to the dead. …
The slaves of the Makololo seem to be as industrious as their masters are idle. They work in iron and copper; of the former they smelt in abundance, of a very superior quality, and manufacture it into implements, which, considering their rude materials, would astonish any European. Hoes, spears, lances, battle-axes, bows and arrows are abundant and cheap, of excellent workmanship, and are even chased and ornamented. They work in wood also, making stools, vases, &c., out of solid pieces of wood, on which they carve and decorate very tastefully. Their earthen beer-pots are also superior to those of all the other tribes; and they make nice baskets and mat-works of every description, in which they show a degree of skill, taste and ingenuity far above any of the other tribes that I know, which skill extends even to the culinary art. Their canoes are large, well-shaped, and often ornamented, made out of a solid log with small adzes only an inch broad. Some of these are rowed by sixteen men, paddling at the rate of ten knots an hour.
He then mentions the town of Linanti which was home to about 15,000 people.
He also mentions that the Kololo had only recently become aware of the value of elephant tusks. Sekeletu had previously been cheated by some Bechuanas and, since that time had placed a very high price on elephant tusks and had given instructions to all his outlying territories that all the elephant tusks belonged to him.
At the Victoria Falls. James Chapman goes over the river to Umboopo’s village:
(Mashotlaan has to be a man put there by the Kololo to guard the crossing of the river. The Zambezi had various crossing points and, at each one, a man was posted to watch out for anyone coming over the river into their territory. They were particularly concerned about any Matabele impis crossing.)
Umboopo’s village is situated on a beautiful spot, amidst a perfect orchard of magnificent wild fruit trees. … Here, with his corn-fields around him, and his orchard at the back of his village, overlooking the Zambesi, lives Umboopo. He is not a chief, though looking much more like one than Mashotlaaan, but merely a private individual. …
Describing their houses:
There are generally two, three or found rooms in each house, forming a series of circular walls, one enclosing the other, the inner one of all being generally used as a storeroom for beer-pots, jars, tools, and other implements and utensils. They sleep in the one next to the verandah in winter, but in summer retreat into the inner one from the mosquitoes. The entrance is by a small round passage, which is closed at night by a door made of reeds sewn together. The inside walls of the houses are decorated with spears, shields, beads, and the ornaments of the ladies; and the circular walls have a hollow shelf all round, on which innumerable things are kept. They have no fire-place in the huts, but when occasion requires they bring a little fire, or charcoal, in a broken pot. They have clean mats, on which they sleep at night, or recline during the day.
They still deal in slaves; only the chief, Sekeletu, sells the ivory, but Mashotlaan told me that it they (the people) wished to buy anything, a rug, or a piece of cloth, &c., they could sell their little boys or girls, but not the ivory, as all that belonged to the chief. …
The real Makololo have a manner of tattooing themselves with needles, like sailors; but they all seem to have the same patterns drawn on the face. A straight blue line down the forehead, a semicircular mark diverging from it over the eyes, and another under them, and the face generally divided into sections. The Makalakas, their slaves, tattoo by puncturing cicatrices with a knife through the skin, marking out figures on the back, breast and belly …
They stay the night with Umboopo:
At night Umboopo, his wives, the strangers, and his slaves all met in the khotla. Pots of beer and strips of flesh were discussed round the fire. Inquiries were made of me, jokes cracked and I had an opportunity of hearing the genuine opinion of the Makololo respecting white men. They seemed to like us very much, regretting some defects, but, on the whole Umboopo came to the conclusion, which he communicated in a whisper to his wives, that we were Mutu fela, or human beings, having small hands and feet, very little mouths and noses, but the want of colour was a defect which spoiled us altogether.
They go back south for a while and then return to Wankie’s in October. Chief Wankie had come from the area around Bambusi (now in Hwange National Park). His people had fled from the Matabele.
I had a visit from Wankie, the chief here, having sent to invite him, in the afternoon, without any of that impertinence we were subjected to by Mashotlaan at the Falls, Wankie readily came over. … Then came a musician, whose tones we had already heard at a distance, dancing before Wankie, and bowing and playing before me by way of welcome. The music is performed on a primitive kind of piano inside a calabash – a sweet-toned instrument, worthy of being in the hands of a better musician, and being improved upon.
Wankie is tall, inclined to corpulency, and about fifty years of age. With an air of dignity becoming a chief, he is in appearance, address and behaviour the best specimen of a black gentleman that I have ever met with. …
When the Kololo had first crossed the Zambezi River, they had settled near Kalomo. They raided all around but also found headmen who were willing to come under the authority of Sebitwane, their first chief. Sekeletu was Sebitwane’s successor.
On the opposite bank is Wankie’s village, and just below it the more extensive one of his vassal Molomo-a-tolo (Koodoo’s mouth); but I rather fear he is more faithful to Sekeletu of the Makololo than to Wankie of the Bashapatani. Molomo-a-tolo has one or two canoes, with which Wankie has fled from Moselikatze’s attacks evidently into the Makololo territory, for Mashotlaan cannot be more than 50 miles west, and Sinamani, who pays tribute to Sekeletu, probably 50 miles north-east of this. Wankie, however, is here alone, with his wives and servants, his people living scattered in small villages of thirty to thirty-five huts, in the most inaccessible parts of the mountainous country south of the Zambezi.
Finally, this is the section from Thomas Baines’ book about the killing of the original chief Wankie:
The Banabea are Wankie’s people although James Chapman names them as Bashapatani. I think, today, we name them as Nambya. Juankie, I am assuming is Wankie, or as we now write Hwange. Moselikatze was the first chief of the Matabele.
I learnt from Dr Livingstone the probable reason of this, viz. that Moselikatse, having lately cut off a tribe of Banabea, under one Juankie, a petty chief to whom he was paramount, for having had intercourse with the Kakololo people, had caused Juankie to be slain. Afterwards, however, when in Moselitatse’s country, I learnt that Juankie and his tribe were massacred for no other reason than that he was a brave and formidable warrior, and withal so crafty that Moselikatze had never been able to get him into his power. Although acknowledging Moselikatze’s authority, he had frequently defied his power with impunity. The Matabele, however, believing that the body of a brave warrior, when eaten, acts as a powerful medicine, imparting courage and skill proportionate to that which he possessed when living, long sought an opportunity for entrapping him; and at length succeeding in their object, they conveyed him to Moselikatse’s Town, where he was killed and skinned, and his head, heart, and sundry other parts cooked, and distributed amongst the renowned warriors of the Matabele to be eaten.
As I stated, James Chapman and Thomas Baines spent most of their time in Botswana and Namibia. We can, though, be grateful to them for James Chapman’s insights into the people and for Thomas Baines amazing paintings of the Victoria Falls.