CHAPTER XVIII. Greeting from Kamrasi's people - Suffering for the sins of others - Alone among savages - The free-masonry of Unyoro - Pottery and civilization.

After an exceedingly fatiguing march we reached the Somerset River, or Victoria White Nile, January 22d. I went to the river to see if the other side was inhabited. There were two villages on an island, and the natives came across in a canoe, bringing the BROTHER OF RIONGA. The guide, as I had feared during the journey, had deceived us, and following the secret instructions of the slave woman Bacheeta, had brought us directly to Rionga's country.

The natives at first had taken us for Mahomet Wat-el-Mek's people; but, finding their mistake, they would give us no information. We could obtain no supplies from them; but they returned to the island and shouted out that we might go to Kamrasi if we wished, but we should receive no assistance from them.

After a most enjoyable march through the exciting scenery of the glorious river crashing over innumerable falls, and in many places ornamented with rocky islands, upon which were villages and plantain groves, we at length approached the Karuma Falls, close to the village of Atada above the ferry. The heights were crowded with natives, and a canoe was sent across to within parleying distance of our side, as the roar of the rapids prevented our voices from being heard except at a short distance. Bacheeta now explained that "SPEKE'S BROTHER had arrived from his country to pay Kamrasi a visit, and had brought him valuable presents."

"Why has he brought so many men with him?" inquired the people from the canoe.

"There are so many presents for the M'Kamma (king) that he has many men to carry them," shouted Bacheeta.

"Let us look at him!" cried the headman in the boat. Having prepared for the introduction by changing my clothes in a grove of plantains for my dressing- room, and altering my costume to a tweed suit, something similar to that worn by Speke, I climbed up a high and almost perpendicular rock that formed a natural pinnacle on the face of the cliff, and waving my cap to the crowd on the opposite side, I looked almost as imposing as Nelson in Trafalgar Square.

I instructed Bacheeta, who climbed up the giddy height after me, to shout to the people that an English lady, my wife, had also arrived, and that we wished immediately to be presented to the king and his family, as we had come to thank him for his kind treatment of Speke and Grant, who had arrived safe in their own country. Upon this being explained and repeated several times the canoe approached the shore.

I ordered all our people to retire and to conceal themselves among the plantains, that the natives might not be startled by so imposing a force, while Mrs. Baker and I advanced alone to meet Kamrasi's people, who were men of some importance. Upon landing through the high reeds, they immediately recognized the similarity of my beard and general complexion to those of Speke, and their welcome was at once displayed by the most extravagant dancing and gesticulating with lances and shields, as though intending to attack, rushing at me with the points of their lances thrust close to my face, and shouting and singing in great excitement.

I made each of them a present of a bead necklace, and explained to them my wish that there should be no delay in my presentation to Kamrasi, as Speke had complained that he had been kept waiting fifteen days before the king had condescended to see him; that if this occurred no Englishman would ever visit him, as such a reception would be considered an insult. The headman replied that he felt sure I was not an impostor; but that very shortly after the departure of Speke and Grant in the previous year a number of people had arrived in their name, introducing themselves as their greatest friends. They had been ferried across the river, and well received by Kamrasi's orders, and had been presented with ivory, slaves, and leopard-skins, as tokens of friendship; but they had departed, and suddenly returned with Rionga's people, and attacked the village in which they had been so well received; and upon the country being assembled to resist them, about three hundred of Kamrasi's men had been killed in the fight. The king had therefore given orders that upon pain of death no stranger should cross the river.

He continued, "that when he saw our people marching along the bank of the river they imagined us to be the same party that had attacked them formerly, and they were prepared to resist us, and had sent on a messenger to Kamrasi, who was three days' march from Karuma, at his capital, M'rooli; until they received a reply it would be impossible to allow us to enter the country. He promised to despatch another messenger immediately to inform the king who we were, but that we must certainly wait until his return. I explained that we had nothing to eat, and that it would be very inconvenient to remain in such a spot; that I considered the suspicion displayed was exceedingly unfair, as they must see that my wife and I were white people like Speke and Grant, whereas those who had deceived them were of a totally different race, all being either black or brown.

I told him that it did not much matter; that I had very beautiful presents intended for Kamrasi, but that another great king would be only too glad to accept them, without throwing obstacles in my way. I should accordingly return with my presents.

At the same time I ordered a handsome Persian carpet, about fifteen feet square, to be displayed as one of the presents intended for the king. The gorgeous colors, as the carpet was unfolded, produced a general exclamation. Before the effect of astonishment wore off I had a basket unpacked, and displayed upon a cloth a heap of superb necklaces, that we had prepared while at Obbo, of the choicest beads, many as large as marbles, and glittering with every color of the rainbow. The garden of jewels of Aladdin's wonderful lamp could not have produced more enticing fruit. Beads were extremely rare in Kamrasi's land; the few that existed had arrived from Zanzibar, and all that I exhibited were entirely new varieties. I explained that I had many other presents, but that it was not necessary to unpack them, as we were about to return with them to visit another king, who lived some days' journey distant. "Don't go; don't go away," said the headman and his companions. "Kamrasi will -" Here an unmistakable pantomimic action explained their meaning better than words; throwing their heads well back, they sawed across their throats with their forefingers, making horrible grimaces, indicative of the cutting of throats. I could not resist laughing at the terror that my threat of returning with the presents had created. They explained that Kamrasi would not only kill them, but would destroy the entire village of Atada should we return without visiting him; but that he would perhaps punish them in precisely the same manner should they ferry us across without special orders. "Please yourselves," I replied; "if my party is not ferried across by the time the sun reaches that spot on the heavens (pointing to the position it would occupy at about 3 P.M.) I shall return." In a state of great excitement they promised to hold a conference on the other side, and to see what arrangements could be made. They returned to Atada, leaving the whole party, including Ibrahim, exceedingly disconcerted, having nothing to eat, an impassable river before us, and five days' march of uninhabited wilderness in our rear.

The whole day passed in shouting and gesticulating our peaceful intentions to the crowd assembled on the heights on the opposite side of the river; but the boat did not return until long after the time appointed. Even then the natives would only approach sufficiently near to be heard, but nothing would induce them to land. They explained that there was a division of opinion among the people on the other side: some were in favor of receiving us, but the greater number were of opinion that we intended hostilities; therefore we must wait until orders could be sent from the king.

To assure the people of our peaceful intentions, I begged them to take Mrs. Baker and myself alone, and to leave the armed party on this side of the river until a reply should be received from Kamrasi. At this suggestion the boat immediately returned to the other side.

The day passed away, and as the sun set we perceived the canoe again paddling across the river. This time it approached directly, and the same people landed that had received the necklaces in the morning. They said that they had held a conference with the headman, and that they had agreed to receive my wife and myself, but no other person. I replied that my servants must accompany us, as we were quite as great personages as Kamrasi, and could not possibly travel without attendants. To this they demurred; therefore I dropped the subject, and proposed to load the canoe with all the presents intended for Kamrasi. There was no objection to this, and I ordered Richarn, Saat, and Ibrahim to get into the canoe to stow away the luggage as it should be handed to them, but on no account to leave the boat. I had already prepared everything in readiness, and a bundle of rifles tied up in a large blanket and 500 rounds of ball cartridge were unconsciously received on board as PRESENTS. I had instructed Ibrahim to accompany us as my servant, as he was better than most of the men in the event of a row; and I had given orders that, in case of a preconcerted signal being given, the whole force should swim the river, supporting themselves and guns upon bundles of papyrus rush. The men thought us perfectly mad, and declared that we should be murdered immediately when on the other side; however, they prepared for crossing the river in case of treachery.

At the last moment, when the boat was about to leave the shore, two of the best men jumped in with their guns. However, the natives positively refused to start; therefore, to avoid suspicion, I ordered them to retire, but I left word that on the morrow I would send the canoe across with supplies, and that one or two men should endeavor to accompany the boat to our side on every trip.

It was quite dark when we started. The canoe was formed of a large hollow tree, capable of holding twenty people, and the natives paddled us across the rapid current just below the falls. A large fire was blazing upon the opposite shore, on a level with the river, to guide us to the landing-place. Gliding through a narrow passage in the reeds, we touched the shore and landed upon a slippery rock, close to the fire, amid a crowd of people, who immediately struck up a deafening welcome with horns and flageolets, and marched us up the steep face of the rocky cliff through a dark grove of bananas. Torches led the way, followed by a long file of spearmen; then came the noisy band and ourselves, I towing my wife up the precipitous path, while my few attendants followed behind with a number of natives who had volunteered to carry the luggage.

On arrival at the top of the cliff, we were about 180 feet above the river; and after a walk of about a quarter of a mile, we were triumphantly led into the heart of the village, and halted in a small courtyard in front of the headman's residence.

Keedja waited to receive us by a blazing fire. Not having had anything to eat, we were uncommonly hungry, and to our great delight a basketful of ripe plantains was presented to us. These were the first that I had seen for many years. A gourd bottle of plantain wine was offered and immediately emptied; it resembled extremely poor cider. We were now surrounded by a mass of natives, no longer the naked savages to whom we had been accustomed, but well-dressed men, wearing robes of bark cloth, arranged in various fashions, generally like the Arab "tope" or the Roman toga. Several of the headmen now explained to us the atrocious treachery of Debono's men, who had been welcomed as friends of Speke and Grant, but who had repaid the hospitality by plundering and massacring their hosts. I assured them that no one would be more wroth than Speke when I should make him aware of the manner in which his name had been used, and that I should make a point of reporting the circumstance to the British Government. At the same time I advised them not to trust any but white people should others arrive in my name or in the names of Speke and Grant. I upheld their character as that of Englishmen, and I begged them to state if ever they had deceived them. They replied that "there could not be better men." I answered, "You MUST trust me, as I trust entirely in you, and have placed myself in your hands; but if you have ever had cause to mistrust a white man, kill me at once! - either kill me or trust in me; but let there be no suspicions."

They seemed much pleased with the conversation, and a man stepped forward and showed me a small string of blue beads that Speke bad given him for ferrying him across the river. This little souvenir of my old friend was most interesting. After a year's wandering and many difficulties, this was the first time that I had actually come upon his track. Many people told me that they had known Speke and Grant; the former bore the name of "Mollegge" (the bearded one), while Grant had been named "Masanga" (the elephant's tusk), owing to his height. The latter had been wounded at Lucknow during the Indian mutiny, and I spoke to the people of the loss of his finger. This crowned my success, as they knew without doubt that I had seen him. It was late, therefore I begged the crowd to depart, but to send a messenger the first thing in the morning to inform Kamrasi who we were, and to beg him to permit us to visit him without loss of time.

A bundle of straw was laid on the ground for Mrs. Baker and myself, and, in lieu of other beds, the ground was our resting-place. We were bitterly cold that night, as the guns were packed up in the large blanket, and, not wishing to expose them, we were contented with a Scotch plaid each. Ibrahim, Saat, and Richarn watched by turns.

On the following morning an immense crowd of natives thronged to see us. There was a very beautiful tree about a hundred yards from the village, capable of shading upward of a thousand men, and I proposed that we should sit beneath this protection and hold a conference. The headman of the village gave us a large hut with a grand doorway about seven feet high, of which my wife took possession, while I joined the crowd at the tree. There were about six hundred men seated respectfully on the ground around me, while I sat with my back to the huge knotty trunk, with Ibrahim and Richarn at a few paces distant.

The subject of conversation was merely a repetition of that of the preceding night, with the simple addition of some questions respecting the lake. Not a man would give the slightest information; the only reply, upon my forcing the question, was the pantomime already described, passing the forefinger across the throat, and exclaiming "Kamrasi!" The entire population was tongue-locked. I tried the children to no purpose: they were all dumb. White-headed old men I questioned, as to the distance of the lake from this point. They replied, "We are children; ask the old people who know the country." Never was freemasonry more secret than in the land of Unyoro. It was useless to persevere. I therefore changed the subject by saying that our people were starving on the other side, and that provisions must be sent immediately. In all savage countries the most trifling demand requires much talking. They said that provisions were scarce, and that until Kamrasi should give the order, they could give no supplies. Understanding most thoroughly the natural instincts of the natives, I told them that I must send the canoe across to fetch three oxen that I wished to slaughter. The bait took at once, and several men ran for the canoe, and we sent one of our black women across with a message to the people that three men, with their guns and ammunition, were to accompany the canoe and guide three oxen across by swimming them with ropes tied to their horns. These were the riding oxen of some of the men that it was necessary to slaughter, to exchange the flesh for flour and other supplies.

Hardly had the few boatmen departed than some one shouted suddenly, and the entire crowd sprang to their feet and rushed toward the hut where I had left Mrs. Baker. For the moment I thought that the hut was on fire, and I joined the crowd and arrived at the doorway, where I found a tremendous press to see some extraordinary sight. Every one was squeezing for the best place, and, driving them on one side, I found the wonder that had excited their curiosity. The hut being very dark, my wife had employed her solitude during my conference with the natives, in dressing her hair at the doorway, which, being very long and blonde, was suddenly noticed by some natives; a shout was given, the rush described had taken place, and the hut was literally mobbed by the crowd of savages eager to see the extraordinary novelty. The gorilla would not make a greater stir in London streets than we appeared to create at Atada.

The oxen shortly arrived; one was immediately killed, and the flesh divided into numerous small portions arranged upon the hide. Blonde hair and white people immediately lost their attractions, and the crowd turned their attention to beef. We gave them to understand that we required flour, beans, and sweet potatoes in exchange.

The market soon went briskly, and the canoe was laden with provisions and sent across to our hungry people on the other side the river.

The difference between the Unyoro people and the tribes we had hitherto seen was most striking. On the north side of the river the natives were either stark naked or wore a mere apology for clothing in the shape of a skin slung across their shoulders. The river appeared to be the limit of utter savagedom, and the people of Unyoro considered the indecency of nakedness precisely in the same light as Europeans.

Nearly all savages have some idea of earthenware; but the scale of advancement of a country between savagedom and civilization may generally be determined by the style of its pottery. The Chinese, who were as civilized as they are at the present day at a period when the English were barbarians, were ever celebrated for the manufacture of porcelain, and the difference between savage and civilized countries is always thus exemplified; the savage makes earthenware, but the civilized make porcelain; thus the gradations from the rudest earthenware will mark the improvement in the scale of civilization. The prime utensil of the African savage is a gourd, the shell of which is the bowl presented to him by nature as the first idea from which he is to model. Nature, adapting herself to the requirements of animals and man, appears in these savage countries to yield abundantly much that savage man can want. Gourds with exceedingly strong shells not only grow wild, which if divided in halves afford bowls, but great and quaint varieties form natural bottles of all sizes, from the tiny vial to the demijohn containing five gallons.

The most savage tribes content themselves with the productions of nature, confining their manufacture to a coarse and half-baked jar for carrying water; but the semi-savage, like those of Unyoro, afford an example of the first step toward manufacturing art, by their COPYING FROM NATURE. The utter savage makes use of nature - the gourd is his utensil; and the more advanced natives of Unyoro adopt it as the model for their pottery. They make a fine quality of jet-black earthenware, producing excellent tobacco-pipes most finely worked in imitation of the small egg-shaped gourd. Of the same earthenware they make extremely pretty bowls, and also bottles copied from the varieties of the bottle gourds; thus, in this humble art, we see the first effort of the human mind in manufactures, in taking nature for a model, precisely as the beautiful Corinthian capital originated in a design from a basket of flowers.

In two days reports were brought that Kamrasi had sent a large force, including several of Speke's deserters, to inspect me and see if I was really Speke's brother. I received them standing, and after thorough inspection I was pronounced to be "Speke's own brother," and all were satisfied. However, the business was not yet over; plenty of talk, and another delay of four days was declared necessary until the king should reply to the satisfactory message about to be sent. Losing all patience, I stormed, declaring Kamrasi to be mere dust, while a white man was a king in comparison. I ordered all my luggage to be conveyed immediately to the canoe, and declared that I would return immediately to my own country; that I did not wish to see any one so utterly devoid of manners as Kamrasi, and that no other white man would ever visit his kingdom.

The effect was magical! I rose hastily to depart. The chiefs implored, declaring that Kamrasi would kill them all if I retreated, to prevent which misfortune they secretly instructed the canoe to be removed. I was in a great rage, and about 400 natives, who were present, scattered in all quarters, thinking that there would be a serious quarrel. I told the chiefs that nothing should stop me, and that I would seize the canoe by force unless my whole party should be brought over from the opposite side that instant. This was agreed upon. One of Ibrahim's men exchanged and drank blood from the arm of Speke's deserter, who was Kamrasi's representative; and peace thus firmly established, several canoes were at once employed, and sixty of our men were brought across the river before sunset. The natives had nevertheless taken the precaution to send all their women away from the village.