VII. ALONG THE EAST COAST
Mozambique in the days of her glory was, with Zanzibar, the great slave-market of East Africa, and the Portuguese and the Arabs who fattened on this traffic built themselves great houses there, and a fortress capable, in the event of a siege, of holding the garrison and all the inhabitants as well. To-day the slave-trade brings to those who follow it more of adventure than of financial profit, but the houses and the official palaces and the fortress still remain, and they are, in color, indescribably beautiful. Blue and pink and red and light yellow are spread over their high walls, and have been so washed and chastened by the rain and sun, that the whole city has taken on the faint, soft tints of a once brilliant water-color. The streets themselves are unpeopled, empty and strangely silent. Their silence is as impressive as their beauty. In the heat of the day, which is from sunrise to past sunset, you see no one, you hear no footfall, no voices, no rumble of wheels or stamp of horses' hoofs. The bare feet of the native, who is the only human being who dares to move abroad, makes no sound, and in Mozambique there are no carriages and no horses. Two bullock-carts, which collect scraps and refuse from the white staring streets, are the only carts in the city, and with the exception of a dozen 'rikshas are the only wheeled vehicles the inhabitants have seen.
I have never visited a city which so impressed one with the fact that, in appearance, it had remained just as it was four hundred years before. There is no decay, no ruins, no sign of disuse; it is, on the contrary, clean and brilliantly beautiful in color, with dancing blue waters all about it, and with enormous palms moving above the towering white walls and red tiled roofs, but it is a city of the dead. The open-work iron doors, with locks as large as letter-boxes, are closed, the wooden window-shutters are barred, and the wares in the shops are hidden from the sidewalk by heavy curtains. There is a park filled with curious trees and with flowers of gorgeous color, but the park is as deserted as a cemetery; along the principal streets stretch mosaic pavements formed of great blocks of white and black stone, they look like elongated checker-boards, but no one walks upon them, and though there are palaces painted blue, and government buildings in Pompeiian red, and churches in chaste gray and white, there are no sentries to guard the palaces, nor no black-robed priests enter or leave the churches. They are like the palaces of a theatre, set on an empty stage, and waiting for the actors. It will be a long time before the actors come to Mozambique. It is, and will remain, a city of the fifteenth century. It is now only a relic of a cruel and barbarous period, when the Portuguese governors, the "gentlemen adventurers," and the Arab slave-dealers, under its blue skies, and hidden within its barred and painted walls, led lives of magnificent debauchery, when the tusks of ivory were piled high along its water-front, and the dhows at anchor reeked with slaves, and when in the market-place, where the natives now sit bargaining over a bunch of bananas or a basket of dried fish, their forefathers were themselves bought and sold.
In the five hundred years in which he has claimed the shore line of East Africa from south of Lorenco Marquez to north of Mozambique, and many hundreds of miles inland, the Portuguese has been the dog in the manger among nations. In all that time he has done nothing to help the land or the people whom he pretends to protect, and he keeps those who would improve both from gaining any hold or influence over either. It is doubtful if his occupation of the East Coast can endure much longer. The English and the Germans now surround him on every side. Even handicapped as they are by the lack of the seaports which he enjoys, they have forced their way into the country which lies beyond his and which bounds his on every side. They have opened up this country with little railroads, with lonely lengths of telegraph wires, and with their launches and gunboats they have joined, by means of the Zambesi and Chinde Rivers, new territories to the great Indian Ocean. His strip of land, which bars them from the sea, is still unsettled and unsafe, its wealth undeveloped, its people untamed. He sits at his cafe at the coast and collects custom-dues and sells stamped paper. For fear of the native he dares not march five miles beyond his sea-port town, and the white men who venture inland for purposes of trade or to cultivate plantations do so at their own risk, he can promise them no protection.
The land back of Mozambique is divided into "holdings," and the rent of each holding is based upon the number of native huts it contains. The tax per hut is one pound a year, and these holdings are leased to any Portuguese who promises to pay the combined taxes of all the huts. He also engages to cut new roads, to keep those already made in repair, and to furnish a sufficient number of police to maintain order. The lessees of these holdings have given rise to many and terrible scandals. In the majority of cases, the lessee, once out of reach of all authority and of public opinion, and wielding the power of life and death, becomes a tyrant and task-master over his district, taxing the natives to five and ten times the amount which each is supposed to furnish, and treating them virtually as his bondsmen. Up along the Shire River, the lessees punish the blacks by hanging them from a tree by their ankles and beating their bare backs with rhinoceros hide, until, as it has been described to me by a reputable English resident, the blood runs in a stream over the negro's shoulders, and forms a pool beneath his eyes.