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

Chapter 28: Farewell to M'tesa. Voyage Down Lake Victoria.

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Village and Villagers

Our friends crossed to the other bank of the river and made a short excursion into the Busoga country. They visited several of the native villages, but saw nothing remarkable in any of them. Abdul said it would not be altogether safe to go far from the bank of the Nile, as the natives had a reputation for wariness; and though they were at peace with M'tesa they had no great love for him, and might not hesitate to make trouble for his guests.

A little before nightfall they returned to the falls, and crossed the river again to the other shore. The camp had been formed on the southern side of the point, where the boats were brought to land in descending from the lake. As a matter of precaution the boats were partly drawn on shore, so that they could not be carried away by stealth during the night. The boys slept within sound of the falls, and they both agreed in the morning that the rippling of the waters was the most agreeable music they had heard for many a day.

Just about daybreak they were roused by Ali, who crept softly to their side and said there were suspicious movements among the natives on the opposite bank, and the Doctor had given orders for them to be awakened. They were up in an instant and seized their rifles, prepared to enter into a fierce battle and repel an attack of the natives of Central Africa.

The alarm proved to be of brief duration. It turned out that the natives had no hostile intentions—at least, they disclaimed anything of the kind—but the movements on the bank were caused by their driving their stock down to be watered. To prove the truth of their declaration, a large herd of cows and oxen soon made its appearance and crowded into the water, as if suffering from thirst.

The cattle having drank their fill the herd was driven back, and soon disappeared altogether. Abdul said it was all very well for the natives to declare that their intentions were pacific, but he observed they all carried spears, and many of them were equipped with shields and battle lances, as though they expected to do something more than take care of domestic cattle. Probably the fact that the party from Rubaga was on the alert, and had their boats drawn up in a secure place, prevented an attack. The people of Busoga have had sufficient acquaintance with the weapons of the European to know they could not cross the river in face of the rifles of Doctor Bronson and his party without suffering severely in the minutes required for the transit.
An Unpleasant Encounter

The forenoon was passed in camp. A little past the meridian the baggage that had been unloaded was again placed in the boats, and the flotilla headed for Uvima Island, which had been selected as the place for passing the night. Several canoes were out on the Busoga side of the river, but they kept at a respectful distance, though two of them followed the party an hour or more as they held their course along the channel. The same precautions were observed as on the previous night, and if the natives had any idea of making an attack and capturing a lot of valuable property they were sadly disappointed. At all events, they showed discretion in holding aloof. They would have met a warm reception, but the warmth would have been of a character they did not desire.

Just before starting to continue the journey one of the Doctor's boats paddled away to the eastward a few hundred yards, to let the Busoga people know they were not afraid of them. Evidently the others had the same idea, as two of their boats paddled out from the shore, the men shouting in accents the reverse of friendly. The boats met in the middle of the channel, and for a few moments oars and spears were brandished, and there was good promise of a fight. The Doctor told Abdul to shout with all his might to call back the boat and prevent any bloodshed. For a little while it looked as though he would be unable to do so, and it became necessary to fire a few shots in the air. This had the desired effect, the one party taking it as a signal of recall, and the other as an intimation that hostilities would provoke a free use of the dreaded rifles.

The boat came back, and after a sound lecturing from the Doctor, and promises "not to do so again," its captain was ordered to take his place in line for the return to Rubaga.

There was no incident of consequence on the return to Usavara. The flotilla was arranged in a manner varying somewhat from that of the outward journey. As they were going toward home there was no fear that anybody would stray from his position, and consequently Ali and Abdul were placed in the leading boat, while our three friends were in the one that brought up the rear. They were thus able to talk over their plans for the future, and utilize the time of the voyage far better than if they had been in different boats.

Of course, the boys were eager to know what plan the Doctor had formed for their route from Rubaga, and as soon as they were fairly under way he proceeded to gratify their curiosity on the subject.

"We will leave the boats at Usavara," said he, "and go at once to Rubaga to thank the king for his kindness, and ask him to put us under farther obligations. Have you ever heard a definition of 'gratitude' that is not to be found in any authorized dictionary?"

"I think I have," answered Frank. "It says, 'Gratitude is a lively anticipation of favors to come.'"

"That is exactly our case," replied Doctor Bronson. "M'tesa has been so kind to lend us his boats for visiting the falls, that I intend asking permission to retain them for a voyage down the lake."

"After all," said Fred, "it won't cost him anything to do so, as we pay all the expenses of the voyage. Besides, he knows he will receive additional presents if he grants your request, and instead of being out of pocket he will gain by the transaction."

"I have considered all that," was the response to the youth's remark, "and see no difficulty, except that he may fear trouble with some of the rulers beyond his territory. They might regard the arrival of a fleet of M'tesa's boats as an act of war, and consequently both he and ourselves might get into trouble. However, we can lay the matter before him, and he will probably give us an answer the next morning."

"What will we do if he refuses?" Fred asked.

"In that case," replied the Doctor, "we will continue our journey southward by land. It will be longer and more difficult than if we went by water, but it will not interfere seriously with our plans if he declines my request.

"I intend going from here to Ujiji, on Lake Tanganyika," the Doctor continued; "and if you look at the map you can see that it will save considerable land travel, if we can follow the lake to its southern extremity, in the country of Tanzania."
Antelopes Among the Marshes Near Usavara

Saying this, he opened the map and pointed out the route followed by Stanley, and also that of Speke and other travelers. The boys studied it attentively for several minutes, and in the mean while the Doctor was busy with several memoranda in his notebook.

We will leave their plans for the present and wait for their development after the visit to M'tesa.

The boats arrived safely at Usavara, and the Doctor, accompanied by Frank, started at once for Rubaga to see the king. Fred was left in charge of the property of the expedition, and it was understood that a messenger would be dispatched immediately in case anything went wrong. Doctor Bronson was to notify Fred in the same way as soon as the king made his decision, and it was hoped that the detention, in any event, would not be more than a week at farthest.

There was bad news about the horses. One had died during the absence of the party, and the others were suffering from the effects of the climate, and so feeble that they gave no promise of future usefulness. The Doctor decided to leave them, and his decision was eminently sensible, in view of the difficulties of moving them. The donkeys were healthy, and manifested their condition by kicking spitefully whenever anybody came within range of their heels.

The Doctor sent a messenger to the king announcing his arrival, and was immediately summoned to an audience with his majesty. It was late in the afternoon when the audience was held, and it lasted nearly an hour. The king desired to know all that his visitors had seen and done during their absence, and the Doctor gave him a full account of everything that had happened. When he came to the incident of the encounter of the boats the king was especially pleased to know that hostilities had been avoided under circumstances that gave such fine promise of a fight. He said it was all owing to the firmness of Doctor Bronson in recalling the boat at the critical moment, but he should have expected nothing more.

This was a good time to make the request for the use of the boats to go to the southern end of the lake. The Doctor was not slow to see his opportunity, and at once propounded the question.

As had been expected, M'tesa was not prepared to give an answer, but he promised to do so on the following morning. Then he rose from his seat, and the audience was over.

The next morning there was a great assemblage in front of the palace, and an unusual tooting of horns and pounding of drums. It was evident that the reception at court would be of no ordinary character. In due time a messenger came to announce that the king was ready for the visit of his American friends, and they went at once to court.

As they entered the audience hall they saw a group of men whose dress showed that they were not people of Uganda. Abdul whispered that they were from the south; but there was no time for farther explanation, as the business of the visit was opened at once by the king.

"You want boats to go to the end of the Nyanza?" said his majesty.

The Doctor answered that such was his wish.

"How many boats do you want?" was the next royal interrogatory.

The Doctor thought that two or three boats, in addition to the ten which carried him to Ripon Falls, would be quite sufficient.

"Well," answered the king, "we have decided. You shall have the boats; but you must know it is the first time this request was ever granted."

Frank thought it was probably the first time the request had ever been made, and therefore the king's assertion was not likely to be at variance with the truth.

"There is much danger in going the way you wish," continued M'tesa, "as the people on some of the islands are hostile, and may attack you. If I should lose my boats and men it would be very serious to me and to you."

There was no denying the correctness of this proposition, and the Doctor waited for the king to proceed.

"But I am friendly with the King of Unyamwezi, at the other end of the Nyanza, and these strange people you see here are a delegation from him. They arrived here four days ago, and are now ready to go back to their country. They came by the Nyanza, and their boats will accompany those that I shall send to carry you and your friends and property."

It naturally occurred to Doctor Bronson that there could not be any great danger in going by the lake route, if this delegation from Unyamwezi had just traversed it. But he kept his thoughts to himself, and continued to do so while the king enlarged upon the perils of the journey.

It was very evident that M'tesa was bent on driving a sharp bargain. During the absence of the party in the excursion to Ripon Falls he had a chance to think over the situation and make up his mind what he wanted. He had overcome his fear of the telephone, and from entertaining a superstitious dread of the "magic talker" he had developed a great desire for it.

In return for the use of his boats, he wanted the telephone instruments, and desired them arranged so as to connect his audience hall with his harem. Then he wanted a certain amount of cloth, brass wire, beads, and other African trinkets, but more than all else he wanted firearms and ammunition.
Boats for Lake Navigation

As he had already received a shotgun and a rifle, the latter with a supply of explosive bullets, Doctor Bronson thought his demand was a trifle exorbitant. However, a rifle was added to the list of presents, and also a case of ammunition, and the Doctor promised to send another rifle by the boats in case he was carried through to Unyamwezi without accident or delay.

The bargain was concluded by turning the king's attention to the magic talker and asking him where it should be set up. He designated a place close to his throne for one end, and his private apartment for the other; and then the audience ended with an agreement that porters should be ready to carry the baggage to Usavara the next day, when our friends would come for their final leave taking.

Frank and Abdul were occupied for a couple of hours in the afternoon, aided by several natives, in setting up the telephone wire and attaching the instruments to the wall. When it was all arranged the king came into the audience hall and talked for some time with his wives at the other end of the line. Frank cautioned him not to use it too often, lest the magic should get tired. His great fear was that the apparatus might be deranged by careless and ignorant handling before its novelty was gone, and especially before they were out of M'tesa's country.

The final audience was held at eight o'clock the next morning. There were expressions of goodwill on both sides, and the king shook hands with his departing guests in true European fashion. The porters were all ready at the Doctor's zeriba, and in less time than our friends had expected the loads were on the backs of the men and on the road to Usavara.

It was nearly dusk when they arrived at the lake, and found Fred waiting to receive them. The loads were piled in front of the huts and placed under guard for the night. Dinner was served in Fred's tent, and the orders were given for loading the boats at daylight. Everybody retired early, so as to be up in good season and get the flotilla under way before the sun reached the meridian. By eleven o'clock the last load was in place, the crews were on board, and the signal for departure was given. They received the same noisy "send off" as on the day they started for Ripon Falls, with the exception that there were more drums.

The men rowed hard, under the promise of an extra ration of fish if they would reach Sessé Island before sunset. Doctor Bronson desired to camp on Sessé for the night, and of course the earlier he could arrive there the better it would be for the whole party. The captains of the boats thought it would be a long journey, and proposed stopping at a smaller island ten miles north of Sessé; but the matter was quickly settled by Doctor Bronson's proposition of extra rations to the men and a present for each of the captains. The plan worked so well that it was continued during the journey, and was always successful.
An African Soko

Sessé is described by Stanley as an island about forty miles long by twenty in width. The principal canoe builders and the greater number of sailors of M'tesa's kingdom live at Sessé. They are good sailors, and capable of much endurance, but have many superstitions concerning the demons which are supposed to inhabit the lake that they worry whenever there is the least indication of a storm.

Doctor Bronson was true to his promise, and bought a liberal supply of fish for distribution among the crews of the boats. They had a grand festival in the evening, and continued it so late that the Doctor feared they would be of little use on the next day. But the men proved all right in the morning and ready for fresh work, much to the relief of their employers.

Several broken oars were replaced at Sessé, and, as some of the crews were a man or two short of their complement, a dozen sailors were engaged for the voyage to the end of the lake. The Doctor embraced the opportunity, too, of purchasing an extra supply of bananas, which were promised to the men on condition of reaching Dumo an hour before sunset, which they did. Dumo is a small village on the mainland opposite the southern extremity of Sessé. It belongs to M'tesa's province of Uddu, and its inhabitants are chiefly engaged in fishing.

During the hour that remained Frank and Fred climbed a rocky hill just back of the village, having been impelled to do so by a paragraph in Stanley's book. To the east they had a fine survey of the lake, but could not make out the opposite shore, so that the view reminded them of the ocean. On the west they saw a range of hills and a rolling country, which Frank thought would make an excellent pasture for a large herd of cattle.

The people of Dumo were civil enough to the visitors, and readily sold whatever they desired to purchase. Early in the morning the population was increased by the arrival of a good many natives from the villages a short distance in the interior. They brought goats, chickens, eggs, bananas, tobacco, spearheads, baskets, and other things, to exchange for fish, either fresh or dried. It turned out, on inquiry, that it was a soko, or market day; and Frank and Fred considered themselves fortunate in happening on a market day in an African village.
Arms and Ornaments

Some of the dealers sat on the ground in front of the baskets containing their wares, while others walked about with their burdens on their heads or supported in their arms. There was a great deal of loud talk, but the utmost good nature prevailed; and every few moments a loud laugh was evoked by the witticisms of the natives in conversation, or by a practical joke played by some of the would-be venders or purchasers.

Beads were the principal currency, but they were not universal, and sometimes it happened that a seller would only accept a certain article that he wanted. Frank was reminded of a story told by Cameron while trying to hire a boat somewhere on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, and which is thus related by the explorer:

"The owner of the boat wished to be paid in ivory, of which I had none; but I found that Mohammed ibn Salib had ivory, and wanted cloth. Still, as I had no cloth, this did not assist me greatly until I heard that Mohammed ibn Garib had cloth, and wanted wire, which I, fortunately, possessed. So I gave Mohammed ibn Garib the requisite amount in wire, upon which he handed over cloth to Mohammed ibn Salib, who in his turn gave the owner of the boat the wished-for ivory, and the craft was turned over to me."

"In this little transaction," said Frank, "you can see the use of money. There was no circulating medium where Captain Cameron was trying to hire the boat, and consequently a great deal of time was lost in making the various negotiations."

"You will find," said the Doctor, "that the most of the people of Africa have some sort of circulating medium; we have already seen how the tusk of the elephant is a standard of value, and how shells, beads, cloth, and other African goods have a more or less fixed rate. There are few places on the continent where it is necessary to traffic in the manner described by Cameron, and the number is steadily diminishing."

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

Chapter 28: Farewell to M'tesa. Voyage Down Lake Victoria.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

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


Exorbitant: Exceeding proper limits; extravagant; excessive or unduly high.
Meridian: The highest point or zenith.
Ration: A standardized portion of something, such as food or water.
Witticism: A clever, insightful, or humorous remark or saying.


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 Flag

  • Examine the flag of Busoga.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Examine the map of Uganda.

  • Review the location of the modern kingdom of Busoga.
  • Which large lake is adjacent to Busoga?

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

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


  1. 'Picture of Busoga Flag by Jolle (CC BY 3.0).' Wikimedia Commons. n.p.