Chapter XV. Return to the Congo Mouth.
In the evening there was a palaver.
I need hardly say that my guide, after being paid to show me Nsundi, never had the slightest intention to go beyond the Yellala. Irritated by sleeping in the open air, and by the total want of hospitality amongst the bushmen, he and his moleques had sat apart all day, the picture of stubborn discontent, and
"Not a man in the place
But had discontent written large in his face."
I proposed to send back a party for rum, powder, and cloth to the extent of L150, or half the demand, and my factotum, Selim, behaved like a trump. Gidi Mavunga, quite beyond self-control, sprang up, and declared that, if the Mundele would not follow him, that obstinate person might remain behind. The normal official deprecation, as usual, made him the more headstrong; he rushed off and disappeared in the bush, followed by a part of his slaves, the others crying aloud to him, "Wenda!" - get out! Seeing that the three linguisters did not move, he presently returned, and after a furious address in Fiote began a Portuguese tirade for my benefit. This white man had come to their country, and, instead of buying captives, was bent upon enslaving their Mfumos; but that "Branco" should suffer for his attempt; no "Mukanda" or book (that is, letter) should go down stream; all his goods belonged of right to his guide, and thus he would learn to sit upon the heads of the noblesse, with much of the same kind.
There are times when the traveller either rises above or sinks to the level of, or rather below, his party. I had been sitting abstractedly, like the great quietist, Buddha, when the looks of the assembly suggested an "address." This was at once delivered in Portuguese, with a loud and angry voice. Gidi Mavunga, who had been paid for Nsundi, not for the Yellala, had spoken like a "small boy" (i.e., a chattel). I had no wish to sit upon other men's heads, but no man should sit on mine. Englishmen did not want slaves, nor would they allow others to want them, but they would not be made slaves themselves. My goods were my own, and King Nessala, not to speak of Mambuco Prata - the name told - had made themselves responsible for me. Lastly, if the Senhor Gidi Mafung wanted to quarrel, the contents of a Colt's six-shooter were at his disposal.
Such a tone would have made a European furious; it had a contrary effect upon the African. Gidi Mavunga advanced from his mat, and taking my hand placed it upon his head, declaring me his "Mwenemputo." The linguisters then entered the circle, chanted sundry speeches, made little dances, then bent their knuckles to earth, much in the position of boys preparing to jump over their own joined hands, dusted themselves, and clapped palms. Very opportunely arrived a present from the king of fowls, dried fish and plantains, which restored joy to the camp. "Mwenemputo," I must explain, primarily meaning "the King of Portugal," is applied in East Central Africa to a negro king and chiefs ("The Lands of the Cazembe," p. 17). In Loango also it is the name of a high native official, and, when used as in the text, it is equivalent to Mfumo, chief or head of family.
At night Gidi Mavunga came to our quarters and began to talk sense. Knowing that my time was limited, he enlarged upon the badness of the road and the too evident end of the travelling season, when the great rains would altogether prevent fast travel. Banza Ninga, the next stage, was distant two or three marches, and neither shelter nor provisions were to be found on the way. Here a canoe would carry us for a day (12 miles) to the Sangala Rapids: then would come the third portage of two days (22 miles) to Nsundi. My outfit at Banza Nokki was wholly insufficient; the riverine races were no longer tractable as in the days of his father, when white men first visited the land. My best plan was to return to Boma at once, organize a party, and march upon Congo Grande (S. Salvador); there I should find whites, Portuguese, Englishmen and their "Kru-men" the term generally applied on the southern coast to all native employes of foreign traders. If determined upon bring "converted into black man" I might join some trading party into the interior. As regards the cloth and beads advanced by me for the journey to Nsundi, a fair proportion would be returned at Banza Nokki. And so saying the old fox managed to look as if he meant what he said.
All this, taken with many a grain, was reasonable. The edge of my curiosity had been taken off by the Yellala, and nothing new could be expected from the smaller formations up stream. Time forbade me to linger at Banza Nkulu. The exorbitant demand had evidently been made by express desire of Gidi Mavunga, and only a fortnight's delay could have reduced it to normal dimensions. Yet with leisure success was evident. All the difficulties of the Nsundi road would have vanished when faced. The wild people showed no feeling against foreigners, and the Nkulu linguisters during their last visit begged me to return as soon as possible and "no tell lie." I could only promise that their claims should be laid before the public. Accordingly a report of this trip was at once sent in to Her Majesty's Foreign Office, and a paper was read before the British Association of September, 1864.