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

Chapter 33: Unyamyembe. Marching Toward the Coast.

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A Deserter Brought Back

Having finished our journey down the Livingstone to the shores of the Atlantic, in company with Stanley, we will return to our young friends in Unyamwezi.

Three days sufficed to arrange the plans for their future movements. On the morning of the fourth day the servants packed the tents and baggage, and the party was ready to move in the direction of Unyamyembe and Zanzibar. Previous to starting they made a farewell visit to Mirambo, to whom they gave additional presents. The king was not to be outdone in generosity, and ordered his officers to see that they had all the provisions that would be needed for the journey to Unyamyembe.

Just as they were about to make their farewells to Mirambo, Abdul came to the Doctor's side and whispered a few words in his ear.

The quick eye of the king saw that something was wrong, and he asked what was the matter.

Doctor Bronson replied that some twenty or more of the pagazi refused to move unless they were paid in advance, and they demanded double wages for the journey before starting.

Evidently the king was accustomed to this sort of thing, as he beckoned to one of his officers and spoke briefly to him, in a low tone. The officer left the audience hall immediately, and Mirambo assumed an attitude of waiting for something to turn up.
A Native Guard

In a quarter of an hour or so there was a commotion outside, and the officer returned to the royal presence. The whole party followed him into the open air, and found the rebellious porters, their hands bound together with strong cords, and a guard of spearmen standing by to see that none of them escaped.

Mirambo's manner was decisive, and our friends had no reason to complain of the sluggishness of African justice.

He told the pagazi they would be sold as slaves unless they went peacefully with the strangers without any pay in advance. Of course, they promised obedience on the instant, and in less than three minutes the whole matter was arranged. Mirambo added that they might consider themselves very fortunate if they received any pay at all after such rebellious conduct.

Abdul marched the men back to camp, accompanied by the guard of Mirambo's men. At the request of the Doctor, a guard was detailed to accompany them on the road, to keep the porters from straying. More presents were given to the king for his administration of justice, and it was agreed that the guard should be paid in cloth and beads on their arrival at Unyamyembe. The soldiers were delighted at the prospect of occupation for which they would be paid, as it was not the custom of the king to waste his property by giving them anything for their services. One of them told Mohammed that they only received their food and clothing. As they wore next to nothing, and helped themselves to bananas and other fruits wherever they could find them, there was reason to believe that the army of Mirambo was not an expensive one.

During the day one of the porters deserted with his load. The guard went in search of him, and he was soon brought into camp and led to the Doctor's tent for punishment. Doctor Bronson dismissed him without payment. He did not need the man any longer, owing to the reduction of their supplies by the last batch of presents to Mirambo. The fellow was overjoyed at the mildness of his sentence, as he had expected to lose his head for his disobedience.
Said Bin Amir's House

A march of five days took the party to Tabora, a town of the province or district of Unyamyembe, and frequently called by the latter instead of the former name. It is about three hundred and sixty miles from the coast in a direct line, and the distance to Zanzibar is reckoned, in round figures, at five hundred miles. The district was occupied by Arabs from Zanzibar about forty years ago. They came there to trade, and, by arrangement with one of the native rulers, they established villages, planted fields, and became permanent residents. Unyamyembe is a province of Unyamwezi, and has become a meeting place of the merchants for all the central region of Africa. The Arabs have regular and frequent communication with Zanzibar by means of their caravans, and the lines of commercial travel diverge from Unyamyembe in all directions. In the busy season of the year they may be counted by dozens or scores, while at other times their number will be very small.

Frank and Fred began to think they were returning to civilization when they saw the commodious houses of the Arabs in Tabora, and the apparent comfort in which these merchants lived. They had sent forward a messenger to announce their coming, according to the custom of the country, and when a short distance from the town they met Said bin Amir, one of the resident merchants, who had come out to meet them.

The merchant was clad in the flowing robes which proclaimed him a disciple of Mohammed. He invited our friends to his house, and said he would accompany them to call on the governor as soon as that dignitary was ready to receive them.

The house was a single story in height and covered a considerable area. Frank and Fred were reminded of some of the houses they visited in Egypt, and especially of the one where they were lodged at Khartoum. In fact, it was the finest dwelling they had seen since leaving the capital of the Sudan provinces, with the possible exception of the palace of King M'tesa. It was built round a courtyard, and there was a veranda in front, where they sat in the shade and sipped the delicious coffee which their host ordered as soon as they were seated.

A message came that the governor was ready to see them, and they went at once to his residence, escorted by Said bin Amir and one of his friends, who had dropped in to have a look at the travelers. The governor welcomed them with the same hospitality they had already experienced from his loyal subject, and after a short conversation concerning their plans, and with an offer of assistance in case of need, he escorted them to the house which was to be their residence during their stay.
Getting Ready for the Road

It was a commodious dwelling, admirably adapted for lodging the entire party, with its retinue of servants and other attendants, and with a large yard, where donkeys could be tied and the porters kept from straying on the eve of departure. Frank and Fred were delighted to learn that they were on historic ground, or rather under an historic roof, as the house where they were quartered was the same which had been occupied by Livingstone, Stanley, and Cameron during their stay in Unyamyembe. The walls were of sun-dried bricks, such as are called adobe in Mexico. The roof was flat, and covered with mud, so that it formed an admirable lounging place at the close of the day.

As soon as he had installed them in their temporary home the governor said they mast dine with him in the afternoon, and meet the principal merchants of the place. Doctor Bronson hesitated for the moment, as he thought they would be busy during the entire day with paying off the porters and guard, who were to go back from this point, and settling other details of their journey. The governor said there need be no hurry, as the men would be quite willing to wait until the next day for their settlement; and besides, some of them would be likely to stray off during the night, and thus remove the necessity for paying them. This was an Arab way of regarding the matter which greatly amused the Doctor, and was heartily enjoyed by Frank and Fred.

The dinner was an excellent one, and consisted of curried chicken, roast mutton, wheat cakes, and stewed plantains, together with plenty of milk, butter, and fruits. Of course, they had coffee in true Arab style. The Arab merchants were not at table with them, but dropped in at the end of the meal and partook of the coffee and pipes.

The next morning the pagazi and guard were paid off and discharged, and the governor sent word that he expected they would leave town immediately. Before noon they were all out of the way, and the governor came to accompany the three strangers in ceremonious calls upon the principal merchants whom they had met the evening before at his house. The calls occupied the entire afternoon; and as it was necessary to eat and drink at every house they entered, our friends returned from their visit without any appetite for dinner. Frank said he felt much like a turkey that has been "crammed" for fattening, and Fred thought he could forego eating for at least a couple of days. They had done their best to show their appreciation of the kindness of their hosts, but thought it would not be conducive to their health to come often to Unyamyembe.
Halting Place Under a Sycamore

They returned the compliment of the governor by asking him to dinner on the day after the round of calls. The boys arranged the bill of fare, with the aid of Abdul, and treated his excellency to several rare dishes. Whether he liked the plum pudding, canned oysters, and other imported luxuries, or only ate them out of politeness, they were unable to discover; at all events, he appeared to do so, and they could ask no more.

The ceremonies of introduction being over, they at once set about their preparations for the journey to the coast. They were aided materially in their work by the governor and the principal merchants. The smaller traders threw various obstacles in their way, by inducing the pagazi to desert after they had been employed and received their retaining fee, and the matter finally became so serious that the Doctor made complaint to the governor, who ordered a stoppage of the interference.

Fortunately for their plans several caravans had recently arrived from the coast, and there was a good supply of porters seeking engagements to return. One of the merchants was about sending a caravan to Zanzibar with a quantity of ivory. He proposed to unite with the Doctor's party in engaging pagazi, and thus prevent the competition that would inevitably arise if they were both in the market at the same time. Doctor Bronson accepted the proposal, and in two or three days the merchant announced that he had all the men needed for both expeditions.

The price of porters varies according to the supply, the demand being sometimes very high, and at others decidedly low. An important feature of the contract was, that the men were to be paid on their arrival at the coast, and not at starting. Consequently, it would not be necessary to carry the goods needed for their payment, as the merchant was well known to the porters, and they readily accepted his guarantee of responsibility.

The ordinary porters received the equivalent of ten dollars each in cloth at Zanzibar prices, and were to be paid off at Bagamoya, the port from which the traders cross to Zanzibar. The ivory porters received two dollars extra, in consideration of the peculiar shape of their burdens and the difficulty of handling them. The largest tusks were slung between two men, as they were too heavy for a single porter; and these double porters have a traditional right of refusing to march more than ten miles a day.
A House in Unyamyembe

In addition to their wages the porters are to be fed on the road, and the master of the caravan must be prepared to purchase the necessary provisions. For this purpose he carries a supply of cloth and beads, and a great deal of bargaining is required in making purchases. Where the country is peaceable, a trusty man is sent ahead of the caravan to make arrangements; but if the natives are hostile, this cannot be done, as the messenger would be liable to be waylaid and killed. The road between Unyamyembe and Zanzibar is now so well known, and so frequently travelled, that the route is divided into marches, and the natives derive quite an income from supplying the wants of the caravans. The expense of feeding a caravan is set down at about five dollars for each porter, and perhaps twice as much for the askari, or Arab soldiers, who are almost invariably taken along as an escort. Goats and bullocks supply the meat for feeding the porters, and the vegetable part of their bill of fare includes sweet potatoes, manioc, rice, bananas, meal from wheat and corn, and anything else that the region through which they pass happens to offer. Occasionally fish are caught from the rivers, and game is shot in the forest, but they cannot be relied upon as a regular supply.

And now what do you suppose happened to Frank and Fred?

Without having intended doing so beforehand, they became ivory merchants. It happened in this way:

They found, on making an inventory of their goods, that they had considerably more than was needed for paying the expenses of their journey to the coast. Of course, they desired to sell the surplus, and found the Arab merchants ready to buy. Money was not available, and they were obliged to take the currency of the country, which was ivory.
Grinding Meal for Supper

The party became the owner of thirty tusks of ivory, and the property was consigned to the special care of Frank. The young man took especial pride in looking after this valuable series of burdens, and announced his determination to keep it constantly under his eye during the long journey. Abdul damped his ardor a little by telling him that the etiquette of African travel would forbid his doing so, and advising the employment of a trusty man to accompany the porters, and see that the ivory was properly piled at Frank's tent door at night.

Frank adopted the suggestion, and immediately engaged Mohammed for the post of Superintendent of Ivory Transport. He promised an extra payment of wages to Mohammed, in case no harm came to any of the tusks on the journey, and told him to make a similar offer to the porters. Every night the tusks were piled at his tent door and carefully counted, and every morning he saw them safely on the shoulders of their bearers. The result was that not a porter deserted or gave his load to anyone else, and when they reached Bagamoya, Frank distributed in person the promised rewards.

The united caravan of Doctor Bronson's party and the merchant, Ahmed ibn Suleyman, numbered a little over three hundred porters, besides an escort of twenty askari, armed with muskets. Numbers in an African caravan are both an advantage and the reverse. A large caravan is less liable to attack than a small one; but, on the other hand, it is much more difficult to feed while on the road. Many of the places where water is obtainable consist of small springs, and a large caravan is too much for their capacity.

Our friends were sixteen days in Unyamyembe, and thoroughly enjoyed their stay. The governor and merchants were unremitting in their attentions, and kept them constantly supplied with milk, honey, butter, and other necessaries of daily life, for which it would have been an affront to offer payment. They consoled themselves with the reflection that they had disbursed a considerable amount of money, or its equivalent, in their preparations for departure, and that most of it would find its way, directly or indirectly, into the pockets of the Arabs.
Storehouse for Grain

Farewell calls were made on the sixteenth day, and on the morning of the seventeenth there was great excitement around the house where they had been so comfortably lodged. A long file of porters stood ready for their burdens; servants were busy with the work of packing; Abdul and Mohammed were flying here and there, the latter reminding Fred of the American simile of a dog bitten by a hornet; and Frank was standing guard over his cherished ivory. It was late in the forenoon before the last burden was shouldered, and the donkeys were led up for their riders to mount and be off.

The first day's march is generally a short one, and the present proved no exception to the rule. The camp was made about five miles away, close to a small village in the midst of several rice fields. A great deal of rice is grown in Unyamyembe, and it is a staple article of food with the people. Twenty loads were bought for the use of the caravan while passing through the Kigwa forest, which adjoins Unyamyembe, and does not produce rice.

Before daylight next morning the camp was roused, a hurried breakfast was eaten, and a little past six the column was in motion. Frank described the caravan in his journal, and it is quite possible that he refreshed his memory by a sly glance at Burton's account of his journey to Central Africa:

"The line of march is taken by the kirangozi, or guide, and any man who attempts to precede him is liable to a fine. He carries a small flag, to indicate that the caravan belongs to an Arab merchant, and his dress is a strange combination of odds and ends of things. For the odds, he has a headdress made of a monkey's skin and a bunch of feathers; and for the ends, he has the tail of a jackal, or some other animal, fastened by means of a belt around his waist, and appearing as though it grew from his own backbone. Two or three small gourds or packets, enclosing magic powders for protection on the road, are also hung at his belt; and he has a strip of broadcloth, which he sometimes suspends from his neck, while at others he rolls it carefully into a bundle, to keep it from the rain.
An African Ferry

"The kirangozi is followed by a favored pagazi, who carries a light load, and beats a small kettle drum, shaped very much like an hour-glass. Immediately behind him are the ivory porters, with their burdens, wrapped around with leaves and bamboos, partly for protection of the material, but more especially for convenience in handling. Then come the bearers of cloth and beads, and then the other porters, laden with rhinoceros horns, skins of animals, bags of salt, rice, and other provisions, together with brass wire, boxes, bags, beds, tents, and private stores of the merchant and ourselves. Then come the men of the escort, and then the women and children that invariably accompany the caravan, but are not allowed to march in the same group as the porters. The men in charge of the porters are scattered along the line, and the rear is closed by the masters of the caravan, mounted on their donkeys, and immediately preceded by the donkeys, laden with burdens.

"The drivers of these animals have a good deal of trouble to keep their beasts from straying, and at every halt there is a liberal display of kicking propensities on the part of the four-footed travelers.

"Our column stretches a good half-mile along the road, and, from points where the whole of it is visible, from a little distance it looks like an enormous serpent dragging itself slowly over the ground. After a march of two or three hours there is a halt, and the guide endeavors to find a place near a pool of water or under the shade of trees. He plants his flag in the ground and blows a long blast upon a horn. The signal is understood, and a sort of cheer goes along the entire line. The porters stack their loads, and lie down on the ground for a quarter of an hour or so, and some of them take the opportunity to devour a few mouthfuls of food. In a little while the horn sounds again, and the march is resumed. We usually embrace the opportunity to complete the breakfast for which we had only a slight appetite at the early start.

"The march continues until noon, or a little later, and then we stop to make our camp, and get ready to pass the night as comfortably as we can. Sometimes we have a long halt at midday, and march in the afternoon. Our movements depend considerably upon the character of the country where we are traveling, and the distance from one watering place to another. Where we halt early the men generally build their own huts, when they can find the materials; but if the march is late they pass the night in a village, or in the krall, or public lodging yard. They consider it a hardship to sleep in the open air, and will not do so if they can avoid it.
Crossing a Plain

"We have all the varieties of country you can imagine, and perhaps two or three more. We have level plains and rough hills, dense forests and wide stretches of open ground, thickets of thorn bushes and patches of the softest grass, rough rocks and smooth sand, rivers of varying size and dry channels, where not a drop of water can be seen, and broad areas which are beautiful plains in the dry season and trackless bogs in the period of heavy rains. Happily for us, the country is so well travelled that its peculiarities are known and the worst places can be avoided. What we should suffer if we were engaged in an exploration, and had no guide to show us the way, I shudder to contemplate.

"The roads are mere paths, as though made by oxen or goats, and the engineering in many places is inferior to what we might expect from those animals. In open country there are frequently four or five lines parallel to each other for some distance, while in dense forests or thickets the roads take the form of tunnels under the trees, which are very inconvenient for the mounted traveler. He finds himself constantly 'bobbing' to save his head from the thorns, and very frequently fails to do so. The paths are generally plain enough during the dry season, but in the period of rains they are obliterated by the water, and the intelligence of the guide is the traveler's sole reliance. Among fields and villages the paths are enclosed by hedges, and not unfrequently by tall fences of logs, which are intended to prevent thefts on the part of the passing caravans."

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

Chapter 33: Unyamyembe. Marching Toward the Coast.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

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


Hospitality: The act or service of welcoming, receiving, hosting, or entertaining guests.
Adobe: An unburnt brick dried in the sun.
Bullock: A young bull or an ox.
Manioc: The tropical plant Manihot esculenta, from which cassava and tapioca are prepared.


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:

  • People enjoying the beach in Zanzibar
  • Cows walking the shoreline in Zanzibar

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the following on the map of Africa:

  • The country of Tanzania

Study the map of coastal Tanzania and find or answer the following:

  • Find the oceanside cities of Zanzibar and Dar es-Salaam.
  • Which ocean does Tanzania border?
  • What are the names of the two rivers which flow into the ocean?

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

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