CHAPTER XX. ESTABLISH COMMERCE.
Three acres of land, thus carefully cultivated, made a very civilized appearance. The cucumber plants had grown wonderfully, and had already formed fruit. Not a leaf was withered or attacked by insects, and both the soil and climate of Masindi were perfection for agricultural experiments. The thermometer generally stood at 62 degrees F at six a.m., and at 78 degrees F at noon. The air was always fresh and invigorating, as the altitude above the sea-level was nearly 4,000 feet.
An industrious population would have made a paradise of this country, but the Unyoro people are the laziest that I have ever seen. The days were passed either in sleep, or by the assembly of large crowds of idlers, who stood at the entrance of the broad, gravelled approach, and simply watched our proceedings.
The only excitement was produced by the sudden rush of Kabba Rega's guards (bonosoora) with big sticks among the crowd, whom they belaboured and chased, generally possessed themselves of the best garments of those who were captured, with which they returned to their quarters, as lawful prizes.
This daring system of thieving was considered as great fun by all those members of the crowd who had escaped; and the unfortunates who had been reduced to nudity by the loss of their garments were jeered and ridiculed by the mob with true Unyoro want of charity.
These bonosoora were an extraordinary collection of scoundrels.
The readers of "The Albert N'yanza" may remember the "Satanic Escort," with which I was furnished by Kamrasi for my journey from M'rooli to the lake; these were bonosoora. I could never learn the exact number that formed Kabba Rega's celebrated regiment of blackguards, but I should imagine there were above 1,000 men who constantly surrounded him, and gained their living by pillaging others.
Any slave who ran away from his master might find an asylum if he volunteered to enlist in the bonosoora. Every man who had committed some crime, or who could not pay his debts, could find a refuge by devoting himself to the personal care of the young king, and enrolling within the ranks of the royal guards. The general character of these ruffians may be easily imagined. They lounged away their time, and simply relieved the monotony of their existence by robbing passers-by of anything that attracted their cupidity.
Umbogo belonged to this celebrated corps, and he informed me that hardly a night passed without some person being murdered by these people, who would always kill a man after dark, unless he yielded up his property without resistance. The great number of vultures that continually hovered over Masindi were proofs of Umbogo's story, as these birds generally denote the presence of carrion. My men had, on several occasions, found bodies lying in the high grass, neatly picked to the bone, which had only recently died.
There was much to be done before the brutal customs of Unyoro could be reformed: and I was by no means satisfied with the conduct exhibited by Kabba Rega. He had promised faithfully that he would send a large force to clear away the high grass by which our station was surrounded; this was never fulfilled, neither could I engage the natives to work for hire.
I had observed for some time past that his people were rapidly extending the town of Masindi, by erecting new buildings upon both our flanks, which, although only a few yards from our clearing, were half obscured by the high grass; thus it appeared that we were being gradually surrounded.
Since the departure of the post with my escort and the irregular levy, nothing was done by the natives, except the usual lounging by day, and drinking and howling, with drums and horns as an accompaniment, throughout the night.
Kabba Rega had always declared that the natives would work for me and obey every order when the slave-hunters should have been expelled from the country. Although the people who were lately a portion of the slave-hunter's company had now been enlisted in the service of government, not one man remained in Masindi, as I had sent them all away to Fatiko, at the particular request of Kabba Rega.
The real fact was, that so long as the slave-trader's people were in the country, both the king and his people knew that we were independent of native guides, as Suleiman's men knew all the paths, from their long experience of the country when engaged in the civil wars. It was considered that in the absence of the new levy of irregulars we should be perfectly helpless to move, as we were dependent upon Kabba Rega for guides.
From the general conduct of the people since the departure of my party with the post to Fatiko, I had a strong suspicion that some foul play was intended, and that, when the 300 native carriers should have taken the people across the Victoria Nile, they would desert them in the night, and return with the boats. I therefore wrote a letter addressed to the second vakeel, Eddrees, ordering him to return at once to Masindi with the entire party if he had any suspicion of treachery.
I concealed this note in a packet of blue cloth, together with a few little presents for Shooli and Gimoro, at Fatiko; but I had written on the brown paper cover of the parcel, instructions that Eddrees or Mohammed, the dragoman, should search the contents, as a letter was hidden within. I gave this packet to Umbogo, telling him that it was a present for Shooli, and begging him to despatch a messenger without delay to overtake the party before they should have crossed the Victoria Nile. The native messenger, to whom I gave a small gratuity, immediately started; thus I should be able to forewarn my people in the event of trouble.