CHAPTER XIX. RESTORATION OF THE LIBERATED SLAVES.
The work had now fairly commenced, and Kabba Rega and his chiefs were assured of a grand reform. Already the slave-hunters had been punished: the vakeel, Suleiman, was secured in the stocks, and the slaves that had been kidnapped had been restored to their homes in Unyoro. I now determined to insist upon the restoration of all the Unyoro slaves that had been carried away from this country, and were captives in the zareebas of Fatiko, Fabbo, Faloro, and Farragenia. From the descriptions of Kabba Rega and his chiefs, I considered that these prisoners amounted to about a thousand persons - women and children.
Umbogo, the interpreter, declared that Abou Saood's companies would attack the government troops, should I insist upon the liberation of the slaves. He had lived with these slave-hunters, and he had frequently heard them declare, that, "should the Pacha ever arrive in this country, and insist upon the suppression of slavery, they would shoot him rather than lose their slaves." I treated this idea as an absurdity.
At the same time that Kabba Rega and his people were eager for the restoration of the numerous women and children that had been stolen from Unyoro, they were themselves great slave-dealers.
M'tese, the powerful King of Uganda, on the southern frontier of Unyoro, was in the habit of purchasing ivory in that country for the merchants of Zanzibar.
These purchases were made by an exchange of slaves, brass-coil bracelets, and long cotton shirts; which were either of British or Indian manufacture, that had arrived via Zanzibar.
M'tese, with his usual sagacity, did not permit the merchants of that country to enter Uganda in force, but he received from them both slaves and merchandise, which he sent into the surrounding countries for the purchase of ivory. He thus monopolized the trade, and kept the price at a minimum.
In Unyoro there was an established value for a healthy young girl. Such a person was equal to a single elephant's tusk of the first class, or to a new shirt. Thus a girl could be purchased for a shirt, and she might be subsequently exchanged for a large elephant's tusk.
In the country of Uganda, where the natives are exceedingly clever as tailors and furriers, needles are in great demand. A handsome girl may be purchased for thirteen English needles! Thus for slave-traders there existed an excellent opening for a profitable business. A girl might be bought for thirteen needles in Uganda, to be exchanged in Unyoro for an elephant's tusk that would be worth twenty or thirty pounds in England.
Abou Saood's brigands had been far too lawless even for this innocent traffic, and in default of the merchandise necessary for such profitable exchanges, they had found it more convenient to kidnap young girls, which saved much trouble in bargaining for needles and shirts.
In every African tribe that I have visited, I found slavery a natural institution of the country. I had at length discovered that it was bad policy to commence a dissertation against the slave trade generally; this attacked local interests, therefore it was more diplomatic to speak against the capture of women and children that belonged to my hearers, but to avoid a discussion upon the moral aspect of the slave trade.
The negro idea of the eighth commandment is: "Thou shalt not steal - from ME;" but he takes a liberal view of the subject when the property belongs to another.
I had been rather startled in the year of my arrival at Gondokoro, when, during the voyage, I landed and conversed with some sheiks of the Shir tribe. One of these headmen was loud in his complaints against the slave-hunters and against the slave trade in particular, from which his tribe had suffered. Many of the women and children had been carried off by a neighbouring tribe, called the Berri, on the east of the Nile. The sheik therefore proposed that I should join him with my troops and capture all the women and children that belonged to his enemies. This was natural enough, and was a simple example of the revenge that is common to uneducated human nature. The sheik and I got on famously, and I found a good listener, to whom I preached a touching sermon upon the horrors of the slave trade, which I was resolved to suppress.
The good man was evidently moved at the allusion to the forcible separation of children from their parents.
"Have you a son?" he asked.
"My sons are, unfortunately, dead," I replied.
"Indeed!" he exclaimed. "I have a son - an only son. He is a nice boy - a very good boy; about so high (showing his length upon the handle of his spear). I should like you to see my boy - he is very thin now; but if he should remain with you he would soon get fat. He's a really nice boy, and always hungry. You'll be so fond of him; he'll eat from morning till night; and still he'll be hungry. You'll like him amazingly; he'll give you no trouble if you only give him plenty to eat. He'll lie down and go to sleep, and he'll wake up hungry again. He's a good boy, indeed; and he's my only son. I'll sell him to you for a molote! (native iron spade)."
The result of my sermon on the slave trade, addressed to this affectionate father, was quite appalling. I was offered his only son in exchange for a spade! and this young nigger knave of spades was warranted to remain always hungry.
I simply give this anecdote as it occurred without asserting that such conduct is the rule. At the same time, there can be no doubt that among the White Nile tribes any number of male children might be purchased from their parents - especially in seasons of scarcity.