CHAPTER II. BAD RECEPTION AT GONDOKORO
All were thankful that the river voyage was concluded; the tedium of the White Nile will have been participated by the reader, upon whom I have inflicted the journal, as no other method of description could possibly convey an idea of the general desolation.
Having landed all my stores, and housed my corn in some granaries belonging to Koorshid Aga, I took a receipt from him for the quantity, and gave him an order to deliver one-half from my depot to Speke and Grant, should they arrive at Gondokoro during my absence in the interior. I was under an apprehension that they might arrive by some route without my knowledge, while I should be penetrating south.
There were a great number of men at Gondokoro belonging to the various traders, who looked upon me with the greatest suspicion; they could not believe that simple travelling was my object, and they were shortly convinced that I was intent upon espionage in their nefarious ivory business and slave-hunting.
In conversing with the traders, and assuring them that my object was entirely confined to a search for the Nile sources, and an inquiry for Speke and Grant, I heard a curious report that had been brought down by the natives from the interior, that at some great distance to the south there were two white men who had been for a long time prisoners of a sultan; and that these men had wonderful fireworks; that both had been very ill, and that one had died. It was in vain that I endeavoured to obtain some further clue to this exciting report. There was a rumour that some native had a piece of wood with marks upon it that had belonged to the white men; but upon inquiry I found that this account was only a report given by some distant tribe. Nevertheless, I attached great importance to the rumour, as there was no white man south of Gondokoro engaged in the ivory trade; therefore there was a strong probability that the report had some connexion with the existence of Speke and Grant. I had heard, when at Khartoum, that the most advanced trading station was about fifteen days' march from Gondokoro, and my plan of operations had always projected a direct advance to that station, where I had intended to leave all my heavy baggage in depot, and to proceed from thence as a "point de depart" to the south. I now understood that the party were expected to arrive at Gondokoro from that station with ivory in a few days, and I determined to wait for their arrival, and to return with them in company. Their ivory porters returning, might carry my baggage, and thus save the backs of my transport animals.
I accordingly amused myself at Gondokoro, exercising my horses in riding about the neighbourhood, and studying the place and people. The native dwellings are the perfection of cleanliness; the domicile of each family is surrounded by a hedge of the impenetrable euphorbia, and the interior of the enclosure generally consists of a yard neatly plastered with a cement of ashes, cow-dung, and sand. Upon this cleanly-swept surface are one or more huts surrounded by granaries of neat wicker-work, thatched, resting upon raised platforms. The huts have projecting roofs in order to afford a shade, and the entrance is usually about two feet high. When a member of the family dies he is buried in the yard; a few ox-horns and skulls are suspended on a pole above the spot, while the top of the pole is ornamented with a bunch of cock's feathers. Every man carries his weapons, pipe, and stool, the whole (except the stool) being held between his legs when standing. These natives of Gondokoro are the Bari: the men are well grown, the women are not prepossessing, but the negro-type of thick lips and flat nose is wanting; their features are good, and the woolly hair alone denotes the trace of negro blood. They are tattooed upon the stomach, sides, and back, so closely, that it has the appearance of a broad belt of fish-scales, especially when they are rubbed with red ochre, which is the prevailing fashion. This pigment is made of a peculiar clay, rich in oxide of iron, which, when burnt, is reduced to powder, and then formed into lumps like pieces of soap; both sexes anoint themselves with this ochre, formed into a paste by the admixture of grease, giving themselves the appearance of new red bricks. The only hair upon their persons is a small tuft upon the crown of the head, in which they stick one or more feathers. The women are generally free from hair, their heads being shaved. They wear a neat little lappet, about six inches long, of beads, or of small iron rings, worked like a coat of mail, in lieu of a fig-leaf, and the usual tail of fine shreds of leather or twine, spun from indigenous cotton, pendant behind. Both the lappet and tail are fastened on a belt which is worn round the loins, like those in the Shir tribe; thus the toilette is completed at once. It would be highly useful, could they only wag their tails to whisk off the flies which are torments in this country.