Chapter XII. Palace, Uganda - Continued
At last her majesty stumps out, squats behind my red blanket, which is converted into a permanent screen, and says hastily, or rather testily, "Can't Bana perceive the angry state of the weather? - clouds flying about, and the wind blowing half a gale? Whenever that is the case, I cannot venture out." Taking her lie without an answer, I said, I had now been fifty days or so doing nothing in Uganda - not one single visitor of my own rank ever came near me, and I could not associated with people far below her condition and mine - in fact, all I had to amuse me at home now was watching a hen lay her eggs upon my spare bed. Her majesty became genial, as she had been before, and promised to provide me with suitable society. I then told her I had desired my officers several times to ask the king how marriages were conducted in this country, as they appeared so different from ours, but they always said they dared not put such a question to him, and now I hoped she would explain it to me. To tell her I could not get anything from the king, I knew would be the surest way of eliciting what I wanted from her, because of the jealousy between the two courts; and in this instance it was fully proved, for she brightened up at once, and, when I got her to understand something of what I meant by a marriage ceremony, in high good humour entered on a long explanation, to the following effect: -
There are no such things as marriages in Uganda; there are no ceremonies attached to it. If any Mkungu possessed of a pretty daughter committed an offence, he might give her to the king as a peace-offering; if any neighbouring king had a pretty daughter, and the king of Uganda wanted her, she might be demanded as a fitting tribute. The Wakungu in Uganda are supplied with women by the king, according to their merits, from seizures in battle abroad, or seizures from refractory officers at home. The women are not regarded as property according to the Wanyamuezi practice, though many exchange their daughters; and some women, for misdemeanours, are sold into slavery; whilst others are flogged, or are degraded to do all the menial services of the house.
The Wakungu then changed the subject by asking, if I married a black woman, would there be any offspring, and what would be their colour? The company now became jovial, when the queen improved it by making a significant gesture, and with roars of laughter asking me if I would like to be her son-in-law, for she had some beautiful daughters, either of the Wahuma, or Waganda breed. Rather staggered at first by this awful proposal, I consulted Bombay what I should do with one if I got her. He, looking more to number one than my convenience, said, "By all means accept the offer, for if YOU don't like her, WE should, and it would be a good means of getting her out of this land of death, for all black people love Zanzibar." The rest need not be told; as a matter of course I had to appear very much gratified, and as the bowl went round, all became uproarious. I must wait a day or two, however, that a proper selection might be made; and when the marriage came off, I was to chain the fair one two or three days, until she became used to me, else, from mere fright, she might run away.
To keep up the spirits of the queen, though her frequent potions of pombe had wellnigh done enough, I admired her neck-ring, composed of copper wire, with a running inlaid twist of iron, and asked her why she wore such a wreath of vine-leaves, as I had often seen on some of the Wakungu. On this she produced a number of rings similar to the one she wore, and taking off her own, placed it round my neck. Then, pointing to her wreath, she said, "This is the badge of a kidnapper's office - whoever wears it, catches little children." I inferred that its possession, as an insignia of royalty, conferred on the bearer the power of seizure, as the great seal in this country confers power on public officers.
The queen's dinner was now announced; and, desiring me to remain where I was for a short time, she went to it. She sent me several dishes (plantain-leaves), with well-cooked beef and mutton, and a variety of vegetables, from her table, as well as a number of round moist napkins, made in the shape of wafers, from the freshly-drawn plantain fibres, to wash the hands and face with. There was no doubt now about her culinary accomplishments. I told her so when she returned, and that I enjoyed her parties all the more because they ended with a dinner. "More pombe, more pombe," cried the queen, full of mirth and glee, helping everybody round in turn, and shouting and laughing at their Kiganda witticisms - making, though I knew not a word said, an amusing scene to behold - till the sun sank; and her majesty remarking it, turned to her court and said, "If I get up, will Bana also rise, and not accuse me of deserting him?" With this speech a general rising took place, and, watching the queen's retiring, I stood with my hat in hand, whilst all the Wakungu fell upon their knees, and then all separated.
28th. - I went to the palace, and found, as usual, a large levee waiting the king's pleasure to appear; amongst whom were the Kamraviona, Masimbi, and the king's sister Miengo. I fired my gun, and admitted at once, but none of the others could follow me save Miengo. The king, sitting on the chair with his women by his side, ordered twelve cloths, the presents of former Arab visitors, to be brought before him; and all of these I was desired to turn into European garments, like my own coats, trousers, and waistcoats. It was no use saying I had no tailors - the thing must be done somehow; for he admired my costume exceedingly, and wished to imitate it now he had cloth enough for ever to dispense with the mbugu.