Chapter VII. Boma. - Our Outfit for the Interior
We now reach Boma, the furthest Portuguese factory, about thirty, usually reckoned thirty-eight, nautical miles from Porta da Lenha, and a total of 52.50 from French Point.
The upper depot of the Congo lies upon the north bank, accidente ground, poor, stony, and sandy soil, with rounded, grass-clad hills, The southern is less broken; there are long slopes and waves of land which trend in graceful lines, charmingly diversified, to the uplands, where the old capital, Sao Salvador, is situated; and upon the undulating blue ridges, distance behind distance, appear markings by Nature's hand, which the stranger's eye can hardly distinguish from villa or village. The view explains how the old expedition felt "every day more in love with this beautiful country," The sea-like river wants nothing but cattle on its banks to justify the description -
"Appunto una scena pastorale, a cui fanno
Quinci il mar, quinci i colli, e d' ogn' intorno
I fior, le piante, e l' ombre, e l' onde, e 'l cielo.
In the centre of the broad stream, whose southern arm is not visible, are three islets. The western most, backed by a long, grassy, palm-tasselled bank, is called Zunga chya Bundika. This Chombae Island of the charts is a rocky cone, dark with umbrella- shaped trees. Its north-eastern neighbour, Simule Kete, the Molyneux Island of Mr. Maxwell, the Hekay of Tuckey, and the Kekay of the chart, contrasts sharply with the yellow stubbles and the flat lines of Zunga chya Ngandi. Here, since Tuckey's time, the trees have made way for grass and stones; the only remnants are clumps in the south-eastern, which is not only the highest point, but also the windy and watery direction. On the Congo course the foul weather is mostly from the "sirocco," where the African interior is a mass of swamps. At the mouth tornadoes come down the line of stream from the north-east, and I heard traditions of the sea-tornado, which blows in shore instead of offshore as usual. About the close of the last century one or other of these islands was proposed as a depot and settlement, which a few simple works would convert into a small Gibraltar. The easternmost Buka, the Booka Embomma of the charts and maps, will presently be described. In this direction the Zaire assumes the semblance of a mountain lake, whilst down stream the broad bosom of the Nshibul branch forms almost a sea-horizon, with dots showing where tall, scattered palms spring from the watery surface. We cannot but admire the nightly effects of the wintry bush-fires. During the day livid volumed smoke forms cumuli that conceal their enemy, the sun, and discharge a rain of blacks ten times the size of Londoners. In the darkened air we see storms of fire fiercely whirling over the undulating ranges, here sweeping on like torrents, there delaying, whilst the sheets meet at the apex, and a giant beard of flame ( ) flouts the moon. The land must be splendidly grassed after the rains.
The Boma factories are like those of Porto da Lenha, but humbler in size, and more resembling the wicker-work native houses. The river, which up stream will show a flood mark of twelve feet, here seldom rises above five, and further down three and four; consequently piles are not required, and the swiftness of the current keeps off the jacare. Formerly there were fourteen establishments, which licit trade in palm oil and ground-nuts, instead of men, women, and children, have reduced to ten. The air is sensibly drier and healthier than at the lower settlement, and apparently there is nothing against the place but deadly ennui and monotony.
We landed at once, and presented our letters to Sr. Antonio Vicente Pereira, who at once made us at home: he had seen Goa as well as Macao, so we found several subjects in common. The factory enjoyed every comfort: the poultry yard throve, far better than at Porto da Lenha; we saw fowls and pigeons, "Manilla" ducks and ducklings, and a fine peacock from Portugal, which seemed to enjoy the change. The fish is not so good as that caught further down, and the natives have a habit of narcotizing it: the Silurus electricus is exceptionally plentiful. The farmyard contained tame deer, and a house-dog fierce as a tethered mastiff; goats were brought whenever wanted, and the black-faced, thin-tailed sheep gave excellent mutton. Beef was impossible; the Portuguese, like the natives, care little for milk, and of the herd, which strangers had attempted to domesticate, remained only a bull and a cow in very poor condition - the deaths were attributed to poisonous grass, but I vehemently suspect Tsetse. A daily "quitanda," or market, held under the huge calabashes on a hill behind the house, supplied what was wanted.