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

Chapter 34: Incidents of the Journey to the Coast. Conclusion.

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A Pond by the Wayside

The journey from Unyamyembe to Bagamoya formerly consumed five or six months, but is now usually accomplished in eight or ten weeks. Our friends recorded in their notebooks forty-nine marching days and twenty-one days of delay, making exactly ten weeks in all. Delays are inevitable in African travel, and they arise from various causes. Porters fall sick or desert; provisions are not always obtainable; donkeys stray from camp, and require a considerable expenditure of time for hunting them up; the leaders of the caravan are often detained by fever; rivers and swamps overflow in wet seasons, and there is a scarcity of water at other times; and the petty chiefs along the route interpose many obstacles to one's rapid progress. On the whole, Doctor Bronson considered his party fortunate to be delayed no more than three weeks on this part of their route, and their Arab friend said there was rarely an expedition which went through as quickly as they had done.

The payment of mhongo as tribute for passing through the country is an established custom of this great route of trade, and many are the disputes that arise from it. Of course, the caravans want to give the least possible amount, while the chiefs demand exorbitant figures for the privilege. In some districts the tariff is regulated and understood, while in others there is no settled rate, and the two contending parties make the best bargain they can. Frank and Fred were greatly intrigued at the disputes over the mhongo question until they lost their novelty. One of these disputes lasted a couple of days, and at one time there was a good prospect of a fight for the right of passage. The chief demanded two hundred cloths and fifty strings of beads as his tribute, and he refused permission for the party to proceed until the whole amount was paid. He sent his warriors to cut down trees and blockade the road; and as the country was admirably suited to an ambuscade our friends were decidedly at a disadvantage.

The bargaining went on with a great deal of vehemence, the chief declaring he would not lower his terms a single point, and a little while later offering to take something less. He finally let them go on in consideration of forty cloths and five strings of beads. Just as they were starting he sent several baskets of sweet potatoes, as an expression of goodwill, and received an old hatchet in return. Fred suggested that with this implement he might set up as an African George Washington—not for his inability to tell a lie, but for his zeal in cutting down trees.

One night, in the country of Ugogo, there was an alarm in the camp, and word was brought to Doctor Bronson that one of their goats had been seized by a leopard. The natives were afraid to pursue the beast, but they fired guns and made a great noise, which caused the intruder to drop his prey a short distance from where he caught it.

Confident that the brute would return, a trap was set for him in the shape of a spring gun carefully placed over the dead goat. About an hour before daylight the gun was discharged, but nobody went near the spot until morning.
Capturing a Leopard

The ball from the gun had broken the leopard's foreleg and passed through his shoulder, so that he had been unable to get far from the spot; but as the natives approached him he sprang up, with a loud roar, and fixed the claws of the sound foreleg in the shoulder of the nearest man. The latter was so taken by surprise that he did not use his spear, but his companions came to his rescue and dispatched the assailant. The wounded man was adjudged to be the rightful owner of the skin of the leopard. He was consoled for his injury by Frank, who paid a good price for the trophy. The man continued with the expedition, but his wounds were not healed for nearly a month. When he was pronounced well again he came to Frank and expressed his readiness to capture another leopard for the same price!

The boys endorsed fully the account which Cameron gives of the rapacity of the chiefs of Ugogo, and their exorbitant demands for tribute; but, owing to their being in company with the Arab merchant, they escaped more easily than did the English explorer. They made sketches of some of the followers of the chiefs, and their attention was particularly drawn to the habit which these natives have, of piercing their ears.

"Many of them," wrote Frank in his notebook, "distend the lobes of the ears so that they serve as pockets for carrying snuffboxes, pieces of ivory, and other property; and where they are not used for practical purposes they are decorated with enormous rings of brass wire or other metallic substances. Sometimes the enlargement is so great that the ears reach to the shoulders, and frequently they become torn through accident or long use. If possible, a fresh hole is made in the ear; but if this cannot be done the ornaments are suspended by means of strings passed over the head."

As an offset to Frank's observation Abdul described the fashion that prevails among the women of Ubudjwa, a country which was not visited by our friends, as it lies beyond Lake Tanganyika. They pierce the upper lip and insert a piece of stone or wood; after wearing it a few days a larger piece is inserted, and the process is continued until the lip protrudes a couple of inches, and sometimes more. It gives a unfamiliar appearance to the face, renders articulation very indistinct, and is very inconvenient in eating and drinking. Why they do so nobody could tell, except that it is the fashion. They also tattoo their faces, but the alteration caused by it is almost imperceptible when compared with the other adornments.

"Fashion is as imperious in Africa as in any other country," Fred remarked, when Abdul had finished his description of the people who pierce their lips. "No matter how inconvenient a custom may be, it must be followed when fashion gives the command. People of all continents and countries are alike in this respect. In the matter of hair dressing, if in nothing else, we have a good illustration of what fashion does with its followers. Every country tries to arrange its hair unlike any other, and the most of them succeed. Then, too—"
Crossing a River on a Fish Weir

Fred's lecture was cut short by a commotion among the porters, and the announcement that a snake had crossed their path. In a little while the road was pronounced safe, and the procession moved on. The snake was probably quite as much alarmed as the men, and lost no time in concealing himself. Owing to the superstitions of the porters it was necessary to make a present to his snakeship. Accordingly a quantity of rice was poured on the ground, at the spot where he was last seen, before the march was resumed. As the serpent had no use for this sort of food it is probable that he did not pay it the least attention, or display any gratitude to the givers.

One of their halts was made on the bank of a river famous for the abundance of fish in its waters. A liberal supply was bought for the porters, and during the entire day of the stoppage everybody regaled himself on finny food until he wished no more. The river was too deep to be forded, and the crossing was made partly by boats, and partly by means of an enormous weir, erected for the purpose of trapping fish. The weir extended about two-thirds the way across, and the rest of the bridge consisted of a single long and slender pole, resting on the forked stump of a tree.

The weir was made by setting long poles in the river, and weaving twigs between them in a sort of basket work. It was rather risky business walking on the top of the weir, or on the pole that formed the rest of the bridge, as a pedestrian might easily lose his balance and topple into the river. The porters had no trouble in maintaining their equilibrium, as they are accustomed all their lives to walk or run in narrow paths, and carry burdens more or less heavy on their heads or shoulders. Only one of them fell into the water, and it fortunately happened that his load was of a nature that was not injured by wetting. The instruments and other valuable things were ferried over, and the donkeys were forced to swim from bank to bank. When it came the turn of Frank and Fred to cross they each carried a balancing pole, after the manner of the circus performer. Doctor Bronson said the boat was good enough for him, as he was not inclined to emulate the acrobat and run the chance of being soaked in the stream.

Frank suggested that it would be a good thing to have a troupe of trained monkeys to transport burdens across a stream of this sort. The imitative character of the monkey was well known, and perhaps he could be induced to copy the example of people, and accompany the porters, with a burden suited to his size and strength.
Camp on the Edge of the Makata Swamp

Doctor Bronson replied that all efforts to teach habits of industry to the monkey had failed, and he feared the proposal of his nephew would never amount to anything. Apropos of the youth's scheme he told the following anecdote:

"I heard once, in New Orleans," said he, "a story of how a planter endeavored to have his cotton gathered by monkeys.

"He had a large crop of cotton coming to maturity, and there was a scarcity of laborers. While studying what to do he thought of the peculiarities of the monkey and his habits of imitation. Hearing of the arrival of a ship from South America with a large cage full of monkeys, he proceeded to buy the entire lot. There were twenty-five healthy monkeys in the cage, and he immediately shipped them to his plantation.

"He made a nice calculation that, from his superior agility and dexterity, one monkey ought to pick as much cotton as three people. With a person to set the example the monkeys would follow the rows in the field, pick the cotton from the bush, and put it in the bag or basket, just as the person did. One person could manage ten monkeys and show them how to pick the cotton, and his twenty-five monkeys would be equal to seventy-five men. Besides, the labor of the people would count just the same as usual, since they would have nothing to do but pick the cotton and let the monkeys see how it was done.

"The monkeys arrived a couple of weeks before the picking season began, and for all that time the people around the plantation did nothing but play with their new friends. When the work began the planter found he was sadly out in his calculations.

"Instead of one person managing ten monkeys it took at least ten people to manage one monkey, and even under this supervision the monkey would not pick a pound of cotton in a day. The whole enterprise failed completely, and the monkeys—such of them as could be caught and re-caged—were sold to a traveling menagerie, at a great discount from first cost."
View of Zanzibar from the Sea

One of the terrors of the road between Unyamyembe and Zanzibar is the Makata Swamp—a plain some forty miles wide, with the Makata River running through it. When dry there is no particular difficulty in crossing it, but in the season of rains it is a disagreeable expanse of mud, in which animals and men suffer greatly.

Our party reached the edge of the swamp, and went into camp there for a couple of days, to give the men a good rest, preparatory to a long march. It rained on the day of their arrival; but the days in camp were pleasant, and the heat of the sun caused the water to disappear from the most of the hollows where it had accumulated.

When they again moved forward the ground was in fairly good condition, though there were many elephant and rhinoceros tracks in the soft earth, some of them two or three feet deep. The donkeys and men occasionally slipped into these holes, and considerable time was lost in unloading the donkeys, to get them out of their troubles. They reached the river about dark, and the guide wanted to camp before crossing; but Doctor Bronson insisted upon getting everything on the other side at once, for fear it might rain during the night and swell the river to an inconvenient degree.

There was a rough bridge over the river, which was practicable for men, but impassable for the donkeys. The little fellows were unloaded and compelled to swim the stream, much against their will, while their burdens were carried over the bridge by the porters. Everything was taken over safely, but it was long after dark before the crossing was accomplished.

The result showed the wisdom of the Doctor's judgment, as it rained during the night, and the river rose so that the low banks on each side were flooded. But the day was fair; the heat again dried up the accumulated water, and the rest of the swamp was easily traversed.

From the Makata Swamp to Bagamoya there were no farther obstacles to their progress. The boys were all eagerness to look once more on the Indian Ocean. Early one afternoon Frank flung his cap in the air and gave a wild hurrah as the broad water came into sight, and his cheer was echoed by his cousin. They shouted and shouted again, until the wondering porters near them had good reason to believe the youths had suddenly lost their senses.
From Bagamota to Zanzibar

Finally, they dropped from their donkey saddles at Bagamoya, and, without waiting for their servants to secure the animals, the two young Americans rushed to the beach, and were soon enjoying the luxury of a bath in the salt water. The long journey through Africa was at an end!

Several days were required for settling the affairs of the expedition, paying the pagazi, balancing accounts with Ahmed ibn Suleyman, their merchant companion; selling the donkeys, whose services were no longer needed; and disposing of their tents and other camp equipage which had served its purpose. What could not be sold was given away, and their faithful servants came in for a liberal share in the distribution. Frank was especially elated, on counting his tusks of ivory, to find that everything was all right, and he more than kept his promise to Mohammed and the porters. Fred grew sentimental over his donkey, and at their last interview the young gentleman was inclined to embrace the long-eared animal, but was restrained by the reflection that he might make a "donkey" of himself by so doing. However, he patted the brute affectionately, and expressed the hope that he would always have good masters and plenty of straw to eat.

A couple of dhows, or Arab sailing boats, were engaged for the voyage to Zanzibar—one by Doctor Bronson for himself and the youths, and the other by Ahmed ibn Suleyman. Early one morning the dhows set sail in company, and a run of eight hours carried them to Zanzibar.

Three days later the mail steamer for England (by way of Aden and Suez) left the harbor of Zanzibar, with our friends comfortably installed as passengers. In due time they reached home in safety, and received from relatives and friends the affectionate greetings they so well deserved.

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

Chapter 34: Incidents of the Journey to the Coast. Conclusion.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

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


Snuffbox: A small box or container to hold finely ground or loose tobacco.
Ford: To cross a stream using a ford, a location where a stream is shallow and the bottom has good footing, making it possible to cross from one side to the other with no bridge, by walking, riding, or driving through the water.
Weir: A fence placed across a river to catch fish.
Suez Canal: A canal linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.


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

  • Tanzanian women learning
  • The coastal city of Dar es Salaam
  • A Tanzanian village
  • Tanzanian wildlife

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

  • Find the Suez Canal, linking Suez and Port Said, through which the boys' mail steamer passed on the way from Tanzania to England.
  • Which two seas does the Suez Canal link?
  • In which country is the Suez Canal located?
  • What is the name of the peninsula adjacent to the Suez Canal?

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

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