CHAPTER XIV. AT HOME IN KISOONA.
IT appeared that Kisoona was to be headquarters until I should have an opportunity of quitting the country for Shooa. Therefore I constructed a comfortable little hut surrounded by a courtyard strongly fenced, in which I arranged a Rakooba, or open shed, in which to sit during the hottest hours of the day.
My cow that I had received from Kamrasi gave plenty of milk, and every second day we were enabled to make a small cheese about the size of a six-pound cannon-shot. The abundance of milk made a rapid change in our appearance; and Kisoona, although a place of complete "ennui," was a delightful change after the privations of the last four months. Every week the king sent me an ox and a quantity of flour for myself and people, and the whole party grew fat. We used the milk native fashion, never drinking it until curdled; - taken in this form it will agree with the most delicate stomach, but if used fresh in large quantities it induces biliousness. The young girls of thirteen and fourteen that are the wives of the king are not appreciated unless extremely fat - they are subjected to a regular system of fattening in order to increase their charms; thus at an early age they are compelled to drink daily about a gallon of curded milk, the swallowing of which is frequently enforced by the whip; the result is extreme obesity. In hot climates milk will curdle in two or three hours if placed in a vessel that has previously contained sour milk. When curdled it should be well beaten together until it assumes the appearance of cream; in this state, if seasoned with a little salt, it is most nourishing and easy of digestion. The Arabs invariably use it in this manner, and improve it by the addition of red pepper. The natives of Unyoro will not eat red pepper, as they believe that men and women become barren by its use.
Although the fever had so completely taken possession of me that I was subject to an attack almost daily, the milk fattened me extremely, and kept up my strength, which otherwise must have failed. The change from starvation to good food produced a marvellous effect. Curious as it may appear, although we were in a land of plantains, the ripe fruit was in the greatest scarcity. The natives invariably eat them unripe, the green fruit when boiled being a fair substitute for potatoes - the ripe plantains were used for brewing plantain cider, but they were never eaten. The method of cider-making was simple. The fruit was buried in a deep hole and covered with straw and earth; - at the expiration of about eight days the green plantains thus interred had become ripe; - they were then peeled and pulped within a large wooden trough resembling a canoe; this was filled with water, and the pulp being well mashed and stirred, it was left to ferment for two days, after which time it was fit to drink.
Throughout the country of Unyoro, plantains in various forms were the staple article of food, upon which the inhabitants placed more dependence than upon all other crops. The green plantains were not only used as potatoes, but when peeled they were cut in thin slices and dried in the sun until crisp; in this state they were stored in the granaries, and when required for use they were boiled into a pulp and made into a most palatable soup or stew. Flour of plantains was remarkably good; this was made by grinding the fruit when dried as described; it was then, as usual with all other articles in that country, most beautifully packed in long narrow parcels, either formed of plantain bark or of the white interior of rushes worked into mats. This bark served as brown paper, but had the advantage of being waterproof. The fibre of the plantain formed both thread and cord, thus the principal requirements of the natives were supplied by this most useful tree. The natives were exceedingly clever in working braid from the plantain fibre, which was of so fine a texture that it had the appearance of a hair chain; nor could the difference be detected without a close examination. Small bags netted with the same twine were most delicate, and in all that was produced in Unyoro there was a remarkably good taste displayed in the manufacture.
The beads most valued were the white opal, the red porcelain, and the minute varieties generally used for working on screens in England; these small beads [These were given to me by Speke at Gondokoro] of various colours were much esteemed, and were worked into pretty ornaments, about the shape of a walnut, to be worn suspended from the neck. I had a small quantity of the latter variety that I presented to Kamrasi, who prized them as we should value precious stones.
Not only were the natives clever generally in their ideas, but they were exceedingly cunning in their bargains. Every morning, shortly after sunrise, men might be heard crying their wares throughout the camp - such as, "Tobacco, tobacco; two packets going for either beads or simbis!" (cowrie-shells). "Milk to sell for beads or salt!" "Salt to exchange for lance-heads!" "Coffee, coffee, going cheap for red beads!" "Butter for five jenettos (red beads) [These were given to me by Speke at Gondokoro] a lump!"