The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 20: Depart from Foueira. Interview with King Rionga.

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View on the Road

Doctor Bronson decided that there was no occasion for a hasty departure from Foueira, but at the same time he allowed no delay in getting everything in readiness. Abdul was busy from morning until night, arranging the packages, organizing the gangs of porters, preparing the provisions, and doing a hundred other things that were necessary. He was greatly assisted by Frank and Fred, who acted under the general direction of Doctor Bronson.

King Rionga came to visit Foueira the day after the Doctor's arrival, so that our friends had a chance to see the monarch with whom Baker Pacha became united in the bonds of African brotherhood. He was accompanied by a dozen or more of his high officials, and a miscellaneous following of attendants. The king wore a robe of native cloth, made from the bark of a tree, and beautifully embroidered, while his attendants were arrayed in the same material, but without any adornment. Each of them carried a spear, that of the king being a foot longer than the spears of his officers, and its head was made of gold instead of common iron. The king expressed his pleasure at meeting the "English," and invited them to call at his residence on their way to the south.

On the sixth day, everything was ready, and just a week after their arrival at Foueira Doctor Bronson and Fred, accompanied by Frank, whose stay had been longer than theirs, mounted their horses and set out for the place where they expected to see King Rionga. He had left his island, and was at a village about five hours' march from Foueira, on the road to Mrooli. The village was in a bend of the river a short distance below the end of the island where the king lived at the time of Baker's visit.
The King's Residence

The caravan of porters had been sent off early in the morning, with instructions to go into camp in the neighborhood of Rionga's village, but not too near it, for fear of quarrels with the king's people. Abdul selected the spot for the camp, with the assistance of one of Rionga's officers, so that there was a good understanding between them. The king ordered half a dozen huts constructed for the use of Doctor Bronson and the youths within a hundred yards of the royal residence, and sent a messenger out on the road to conduct the party to their temporary abode.

Our friends made their toilets, and sent word to the king that they would call on him whenever it was his pleasure to give them a reception. The messenger returned with the announcement that Rionga was ready to receive them, and they at once proceeded to his "palace."

In the ordinary meaning of the word it was not much of a palace. It was a building of a single story in height, with a veranda in front, where the king enjoyed the air in the afternoon; and the roof was covered with a mass of turf and thatch, to exclude the heat. Abdul said it was not the regular residence of Rionga, and therefore was less extensive than they might have expected. Perhaps it was because the interior was not well furnished that his majesty did not invite them to enter, but motioned them to be seated on the veranda. Frank took mental note of the surroundings, and remarked that the king had a fondness for cows, as he had a cattle yard close by, and a couple of feeding and drinking troughs for his favorite cows were in the space in front of the veranda.

It was not the regular hour for receptions, and it had been intimated to the king that Doctor Bronson and his young friends were not in the service of the Egyptian government, and did not wish the ceremony to have an official character. Only two of the king's officers were present; but, from certain whisperings and bustling inside the building, it was evident that several persons were within hearing. Frank caught a glimpse of a female face peering through the door, and Fred thought he had a similar view a few moments later.
Kabba Rega's Attack and Defeat

Coffee was brought in little cups, in the same manner as in Egypt, and some ripe bananas and other fruits were served. The interview did not last long, as it was late in the afternoon. When our friends rose to depart the king asked them to come again on the following morning, when he would receive them, in the presence of his officers and family.

When they returned to camp they found an ample supply of fruit, milk, and other things, which had been sent by the king's orders, together with several jars of "merissa," a fermented drink made from the juice of the banana. The fruits formed a very acceptable addition to the stock of provisions, and there was a great abundance of them, so that everybody about the camp had all he chose to eat.

Abdul said that the fermented drink made from bananas was to be found among most of the tribes in Central Africa, especially with those who lived in villages and were not essentially pastoral in their habits. During the expedition of Baker in the country of Kabba Rega that king sent several jars of merissa one evening as a present for the soldiers. They drank freely of it, and in a little while it was reported that all the men had been poisoned.

Baker went immediately to the huts of his soldiers, and found that those who had drank of the merissa were writhing with pain, and had all the symptoms of having taken a violent poison. There were at least thirty of them who were suffering; some were already insensible, and others scarcely able to breathe. Fortunately, Baker had a large supply of medicines on hand, and by prompt administration of them he saved the lives of every one of his followers.
Thatched Hut in Rionga's Village

The next day the object of the king in poisoning the soldiers was apparent. His troops attacked the Egyptian camp, expecting that the greater part of his enemies would be dead, or at least unable to fight. It did not require a long time for them to find out their mistake, as the soldiers rallied, and not only drove back the assailants, but burned the town and the house where the king lived. They did not succeed in capturing the monarch, as he soon discovered how the affair was going and made good his escape.

The next morning our friends went to repeat their call on the king, who received them in an open space in front of his house, as the dwelling was altogether too small for the entire party of his attendants and royal household. They found him standing in a group of about twenty of his officers, all armed with spears, according to the custom of the country, and in much the same dress as they wore at Foueira. The king's wives and children were present, but somewhat in the background. They showed great curiosity to have a look at the strangers, but did not venture beyond the bounds that had been set for them. There was much craning of necks, and many expressions of "Wah! wah!" which is said to indicate great interest or surprise, like the "Oh!" of civilized lands.

The boys wished to "astonish the natives" by bringing out the galvanic battery and treating some of the attendants of the court to a shock; but the Doctor said there was hardly sufficient time to do so; and besides, the instrument would not be entirely new to them. Colonel Long gives an account of the use of a magnetic battery at Rionga's court, to the great astonishment of the people, who believed the little instrument endowed with magical powers. He says that he knocked several of the natives down with the violence of the shocks, and the performance was received with shouts of wonder and superstitious awe.
The Country Back from the River

The Doctor had the forethought to bring along one of the musical boxes, which he set in operation, to the delight of everybody, and especially of the women and boys who gathered around. The effect of the music was irresistible, and before a dozen notes had been sounded half the audience were capering around with wild delight. When the performance was over the box was given to Rionga, and Abdul explained how it should be wound and set in operation. The king was greatly pleased with the present, and the dignity of the court was relaxed to allow his officers to crowd around and look at it. Doctor Bronson said it was probable that within a week the instrument would be ruined beyond repair, as Rionga would be likely to endeavor to find out how it was made, and the result could hardly fail to be as injurious as the attempt of a child to ascertain the source of the sound in a squeaking doll.

The interview with the king lasted a couple of hours, and then Doctor Bronson and his young companions made their farewells and started to leave. Just as they were doing so Ali came to the Doctor's side and whispered a few words, to the effect that some of the porters refused to move on, as they wished to remain another day at Rionga's village.

It seemed that the king had sent a supply of merissa to the camp sufficient for the entire force of porters. Instead of being grateful for the donation they wanted more, and so had refused to start. They knew that as long as they remained there the king would be likely to provide the same quantity of merissa daily, out of respect for their masters, and of course, the latter would be compelled to make indirect payment with presents.

The Doctor had no idea of allowing his porters to control his movements in this fashion; and believing the shortest way was the best, he asked Rionga to tell the men to go on, and that they would not receive any more merissa.
Crossing a River in Bunyoro

The desired order was given at once, and the porters obeyed. The incident delayed the departure of our friends for another half-hour, as it was necessary to make some presents in return for the favor shown by the king. A few beads and hatchets were sufficient, and then the music box was again wound up and set going, to the renewed delight of the listeners.

When it was reported that the caravan was under way and the camp entirely deserted, the ceremony of leave taking was once more performed. Doctor Bronson intended to return on foot to his huts, where the horses were waiting, but the king asked that the animals should be led up and mounted in his presence. Horses are rarely seen in this part of the country. The king was familiar with them from having been often to Foueira, but he desired to treat his wives to the strange spectacle of Englishmen on horseback.

The steeds were brought up, and held by their grooms until their riders were ready to mount. Doctor Bronson sprang lightly into the saddle, and at almost the same instant Frank and Fred did likewise. The "Wah! wah!" sounded, and it was evident that the family of the king had witnessed something unusual. Frank's horse was unused to the presence of royalty, and began to dance, as though wishing to throw his young rider. The youth was not at all alarmed at the performance, and speedily brought the animal to terms, though not without some rearing and plunging that caused another stir among the beholders.

On leaving the village the road turned away from the river, and did not again approach it during the day. The country was undulating, with occasional level plains, covered with heavy grass, and with belts of forest similar to that which lines the banks of the river. In the hilly regions there was little timber, the richest forests lying in the lower portions, and especially on the borders of streams.

A few of the streams flowing from the mountains were sufficiently large to make their passage a matter of difficulty. There were no boats to be had at most of the crossings, and the only alternative was to wade or be carried across on the shoulders of the porters. Where the water was shallow our friends remained in their saddles and rode over at their ease; but in some places the bottom was treacherous, and the travelers did not think it wise to risk a fall. In these localities, the horses were led over.

They entered the country of Bunyoro, or rather were some miles within its limits, before they were aware of it. There had been rumors of hostilities on the part of the Bunyoro people before the party started up the river from Afuddo, but the last intelligence at Foueira showed that everything was quiet. Two or three villages were passed without halting. The natives manifested no unfriendliness; but, on the other hand, did not invite the strangers to stop and visit them.
Long Rain in Africa - Animals Seeking Safety

Near every village there was a yard, where the cattle were driven at night, the same as we have already seen among the Dinkas and other tribes along the Nile. They passed some of the herds of cattle grazing on the hill sides, and the boys observed that the herders in charge of the stock seemed of a different nationality than the rest of the natives. They asked Abdul what it meant; and he explained that the stockkeepers are of a peculiar caste, and descended from the Gallas, who long ago conquered the country.

"They are called Bohooma," said Abdul, "and none but these people are allowed to attend the herds. The privilege descends from father to son; and if the herds are captured by neighboring tribes and carried off, the herders go with them, and remain in the same employment as before. They never carry weapons of any kind, or take part in battle, and nothing but death can separate them from their herds."

As they proceeded south our friends found that the rains were more frequent, and waterproof garments were constantly needed. Doctor Bronson had made careful provision for this emergency, so that there was comparatively little suffering in consequence, save that the humidity of the climate induced fevers, which did not spare a single member of the party. The medical knowledge of the Doctor was of great use at this time, and as there was a plentiful supply of sulphate of quinine in the medicine chest, and each of the travelers had a pocket case constantly within reach, the suffering was reduced to a minimum.

The boys endorsed the statement of previous travelers that rain and humidity are the chronic condition of Central Africa. They found the clouds a relief rather than otherwise, as the rays of the sun are excessively warm, especially in the middle of the day, when they become almost insupportable. The high elevation at which they were traveling made the nights very cold. An abundance of thick clothing prevented their suffering from the chilly nights, but their porters and attendants had no such protection, and were wretchedly miserable all the time the sun was below the horizon.

    The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 20: Depart from Foueira. Interview with King Rionga.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Monarch: The ruler of an absolute monarchy or the head of state of a constitutional monarchy.
Turf: A layer of earth covered with grass, also called sod.
Merissa: A fermented liquor made from banana or durra (type of millet).
Galvanic Battery: A battery that produces electrical energy from an oxidation-reduction reaction.
Humidity: The amount of water vapor in the air.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: Bunyoro is currently a kingdom in Western Uganda. See below its flag.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Examine the map of Uganda.

  • Find the kingdom of Bunyoro
  • Which large lake is adjacent to Bunyoro?
  • Point to Lake Victoria

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the applicable mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.