Journey to the Source of the Nile

Journey to the Source of the Nile

Ondaatje, Christopher

1998

Reviews

http://www.ondaatje.com/review_roberts.htm

"In Burton's Footsteps"

Christopher Ondaatje's last book, Sindh Revisited, concerned a journey through what is now largely Pakistan in the footsteps of Richard Francis Burton, the eminent Victorian explorer, linguist, naturalist, Orientalist, historian, pioneer ethnologist, prodigious womanizer and controversial man of letters. But, ultimately, it was really more a work of popular historical biography -a highly entertaining introduction to the like and work of Burton, for whom both Ondaatje and I evidently share something approaching an unhealthy obsession.

Burtophilia is essentially a macho thing. One judges the calibre of one's manliness by setting it deed for deed against the daunting standard of Burton's own accomplishments, in all their profusion and Renaissance scope. Three men today would have trouble reproducing Burton's lifetime of accomplishments among them. I confess to a feeling of mild relief when Sindh Revisited appeared to prove beyond all doubt that Ondaatje could ride on the coattails, perhaps, but not walk in the footsteps. He admired Burton, but he did not really understand the man -and he'd never have the time to try. He was a dilettante.

I was wrong about this, however. Journey to the Source of the Nile, may look to most readers like a lavish mélange of texts -history, narrative, memoir, quotation- and photographs that frequently exemplify the rarely attained goal of being both useful to the mind and hauntingly beautiful to the eye. But to me Ondaatje's book looks more like a double serving of humble pie.

At the risk of excommunication -or worse- I will now reveal what is probably the most closely guarded of all Burtophile secrets: namely, that the real goal of a repro Burton journey is not to walk in the man's vast footsteps but to create an entirely new journey in the spirit of the original. And that is precisely what Ondaatje has done.

And it is done with grace and subtlety, for the book slowly builds, eventually transcending itself and becoming a work of scientific importance in it's own right. Much as T. S. Eliot advised aspiring literary authors to do in his important essay, Tradition and the Individual Talent. Ondaatje creates something new by being thoroughly familiar with the old, with the works of those men and women upon whose shoulders he must stand, much as a sound building rises only from good foundations.

Hence Journey opens with a concise history of European exploration in Africa, at the heart of which was the search for the mysterious source of the world's longest -and history's most important- river. Nothing today, not even NASA's voyages into local outer space compares with the collective enthusiasm generated by those intrepid souls who boldly went where no white man (or woman) had gone before. John Hanning Speke; James Augustus Grant; Henry Morton Stanley; David Livingstone; Samuel White Baker and Florence Baker; and of course Burton. These were the idols of my childhood, and their stories still burn more brightly, more enthrallingly in my mind, than the robot's journal of any Mars probe ever will. It is far quicker and easier to reach Mars then it was to arrive on the shores of Lake Tanganyika a century and a half ago.

The stories live on, I now realize, because at their core they are about people. Livingstone's disappearance was only eclipsed as news by the journalist Stanley's search for him. When the two finally met in 1871 -"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"- Livingstone had spent five fruitless years attempting to settle a controversy created by the conflicting claims of Burton and Speke regarding their joint expedition in 1856. After Livingstone's death and the dramatic return of his body to Westminster Abbey for a state funeral, it was Stanley who, building on information handed to Speke by Baker, was finally able to organize the expedition that circumnavigated Lake Victoria and explored the region of the Ruwenzori Mountains, settling and issue (in Speke's favour) that had occupied press and public for 20 years.

Yet, as Ondaatje knows instinctively, without Burton there would have been no Speke, just as without Livingstone you have no Stanley. The bonds formed during such expeditions, though, are closer than any other kind of relationship; Burton and Speke became feuding brothers; Stanley became Livingstone's son. It is not possible to read any primary source about these men without running into the inherent bias of its author. As a consequence -because Burton was also one of the great prose stylists of his day- one tends to see Speke as a two-faced, weak and somewhat wimpy. It is generous of Ondaatje to set the record straight. Burton would have wanted it that way.

Where I found the prose of the Sindh book overly effusive yet also somewhat characterless, one of the delights of the current work is its spare, urgent, ad hoc style. It is reminiscent of Burton's own tough-minded crudite yet sensitive writing. The horrors, wonders, and incomparable natural beauty of Africa requite severe rationing of adjectives and judicious selection of subject matter if the reader is not to drown in felicities. Wordsworth's Prelude would be a mere haiku compared with what he might have written had he been young and resilient enough to join Burton and Speke. He would certainly have been incapable of the evocative yet concise prose Ondaatje produces when, say, writing about an area of Zanzibar: "It is the Arab houses that give Stone Town it's distinct appeal. Every house has a magnificent door, often teak studded with brass. Elaborate carvings on the lintels and frames include quotations from the Koran which are believed to bestow a blessing on the home. There are hundreds of different doors, carved with symbols of lotus flowers for procreation, fish for fertility, dates and frankincense for abundance, and reinforced with chains for the safety and security of those within."

Analyze this and you will see how much reading, knowledge, sheer inquisitiveness and study foes into producing such deceptively straightforward words. Yet, like Burton again -and unlike, say, Speke- Ondaatje does have the literary reach to allow emotion's blood to seep into clear mental waters at times when the heart truly does know more than the head. There are even times when he intuitively understands that his own feelings are best expressed through the words of his companions or the works of those who made the same journey in a different age.

It is no secret that Ondaatje is very rich -and made every cent himself- but anyone who imagines that this, these days, means you can take the air conditioned limousine from a Livingstone Hilton to a Ritz-Burton Safari Resort has obviously never been to East Africa.

After Zanzibar there is hardly accommodation anywhere that doesn't make a tent seem more luxurious; there's also a reason the only vehicle you see is a Land Rover, and why a long wheelbase Land Rover has more reverse gears than other vehicles have forward gears, and why its standard equipment includes a detachable windshield, a spare drive shaft, four spare wheels, auxiliary gas tanks and a motor winch on the front fender. The Nile Source AutoRoute is still in the very preliminary planning stages, and a good road is one where the mud or dust surface is still visible 10 yards ahead. The only major changes Burton or the others would notice today along most of their old routes is that the locals are better armed and the tribal wars more violent, which makes travelling for more dangerous.

Ondaatje is acutely conscious of the advantages he has over his predecessors, but these can be summed up as "speed." Ultra-light equipment and the indispensable Land Rover mean that you no longer have to hire 200 bearers and you don't have to walk, or not that much. Where Burton spent six months in Zanzibar, Ondaatje requires only a few days to get his expedition on the road -or rather on the water. Where Burton had pen and ink or pencil to painstakingly illustrate his observations, Ondaatje has his camera. Where Burton needed chronometers, sextants, bath thermometers and a virtual library of cartographic manuals to determine -and wrongly at that- such quintessentials as altitude, longitude and latitude. Ondaatje is spared the toil of justifying the expense of his expedition to its backers by returning with valuable data.

However, these significant freedoms also allow him to ponder issues which the Victorians were blissfully unaware even existed. The sections dealing with geology and the relatively recent formation of the Nile are fascinating. But the multi-disciplinary conclusions Ondaatje arrives at relation to the river's source and the dawn of Homosapiens are nothing less than startling, original and quite brilliant. They are, finally, what raises Journey far above mere travelogues, making it and the expedition it recounts every bit the modern equivalent of what those Victorian giants achieved.

Ondaatje also has a humility from which Burton could have learned. His interest in and empathy with the various people and peoples he meets along the 10,000 kilometres covered by this quest are far warmer than our hero's whose analytical objectivity in recording anthropological data was only counterbalanced by the uncanny range of his knowledge and linguistic skills. Ondaatje, however, gets far closer to the shared humanity strangers often find with each other. And of course he is freed from the imperial curse that frequently taints the legacies of even the greatest figures from the colonial era, taking care to point out, whenever appropriate, that what may have been a "discovery" to Europeans had always been common knowledge to Africans. To drive home the point, but with humour, the author even cites that poignant tale about the First Nations chieftains who travel to Rome and announce to assembled media that they have "discovered" the city.

But Africa's dark vastness and mystery seem to defeat even its own inhabitants. It overwhelms any human attempt to define or tame it, and overshadows all the works of man with the thunder and sunshine, the plains and mountains, the jeweled flora and fauna, the sheer grandeur and magnitude of natures ceaseless toil. Ondaatje's final triumph in this magnificent book is in the admission of such defeat in the face of such an adversary, and in then giving the last wise and poetic words to Joshua, the native who was hired as helper but ended as soul mate:

"You know, Christo, we are all children of God. The rains come, the rivers start, the lakes form, and bigger rivers flow. Like the Nile. Like the lakes. Like the clouds. And the world goes on. You know the true source of the Nile, Christo? Up there. In the heavens. God knows. That is the true source."

In restoring the harsh magic of Africa, in dispelling the TV generations notion that they've been there, done that -when in fact they've been nowhere and done nothing- Christopher Ondaatje has done a great service to the future of a continent that needs the help of all humanity now more than any land has ever done in the past. It takes a big heart and a well-stocked mind to confess one's smallness and inadequacy under the raging heavens and in the briefness of human life. In doing so, Ondaatje has produced his masterpiece, and I am forced to admit that Richard Burton's 10-league boots probably fit him like gloves after all.

Paul Williams Roberts

The Globe and Mail

Book ID 422

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 041

Map

Extract ID: 5784

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 045

Map

Extract ID: 5785

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 109
Extract Date: 14 Feb 1858

The rough nurse of rugged men: Zungomero to Ujiji and Kigoma

Chapter 4

When we left Zungomero, we left what Burton called the First Region of his trip and entered the Second, or mountain, Region. Ahead of us, between Zungomero and Lake Tanganyika, lay four more of his regions. Traversing the Second Region would take us from Zungomero over the Rubeho Mountains to the edge of a country Burton called Ugogo, which is near present-day Dodoma. The trek through the Rubeho Mountains was a difficult one for Burton because of the rugged terrain. For us it was also difficult, but mainly because we could not be sure what route Burton's expedition had taken to reach the mountain pass.

Beyond Dodoma, the explorers passed through the Third Region and part of the Fourth Region to reach Kazeh (present-day Tabora), where they rested for five weeks. From Tabora they proceeded to the Malagarasi River, which marked the beginning of Burton's Fifth Region; and from there they plodded laboriously on, reaching Lake Tanganyika at Ujiji on February 14, 1858, seven and a half months after leaving Bagamoyo. When I glanced at Burton's careful list, I counted ninety stations between Zungomero and Lake Tanganyika.

Our own expedition telescoped Burton and Speke's seven and a half months of travel into eight days. We left Bagamoyo on October 25, and arrived at Lake Tanganyika on November 1. Swift though our progress was, however, when we set out from Zungomero I had hoped to cover the distance much more quickly than we actually did. The trip to Lake Tanganyika turned out to be a difficult slog as we detoured and backtracked ceaselessly, trying to identify some of the more elusive portions of Burton's trail.

The rough nurse of rugged men: Zungomero to Ujiji and Kigoma

Extract ID: 5734

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 109a
Extract Date: 1857

The women are well dressed as the men

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

The women are well dressed as the men — a circumstance rare in East Africa.... [T]hey never veil their faces, and they show no shame in the presence of strangers. The child is carried in a cloth at the back.

Extract ID: 5735

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 110
Extract Date: 1996

Leaving Zungomero

On leaving Zungomero, our winding, although generally westerly, route took us south, to the Mikumi National Park. For this part of the trip we did not follow Burton's more northerly route. He skirted the south slopes of the Uluguru Mountains; we detoured much farther south, eventually rejoining his route at the town ofKilosa. By the time he entered the Second Region, Burton had been travelling much longer than we had and the daily routine of his march was well established, although he had a great deal of trouble with careless, rebellious, and larcenous porters. Our routine, on the other hand, was very quick and efficient. We worked hard, got on well together, and had fun.

I had made it clear at the start of the trip that I did not want too many modern conveniences to distance me from the expe-riences a nineteenth-century traveller would have had. I felt instinctively that, if I spent the nights surrounded by four solid walls, with proper beds and hot and cold running water, and ate meals prepared in restaurant kitchens, I would miss the essence of what I was seeking to understand: the sights, scents, sounds — even the tastes — of the explorers' life on the trail. So, except in urban places, such as Zanzibar, Bagamoyo, and Kigoma, we slept in tents, making our camp every night, eating our improvised meals around the campfire, and packing it all up again every morning.

I had a small tent to myself. Joshua had one that he usually shared with his son Ali, although Ali had a small tent of his own which he sometimes used. Thad Peterson shared his tent with Pollangyo. So almost always there were five of us in three tents, arranged around a campfire. The first time I saw the three set up, I remembered the descriptions I had read of Burton and Speke's three tents in Somaliland in 1855 and of the dangerous attack they underwent there. Wherever we had come to at the end of the day, usually just before sunset, we pitched our tents before it got dark and before the mosquitoes came out.

Especially while we were following Burton's map on the first part of our journey, we were so exhausted with our travelling and looking for places and arguing and trying to decide where we were that we needed a good strong drink of pombe, locally brewed beer, as soon as a campsite was decided. We would pitch the tents and have a shower outside. Our portable shower was a plastic bag full of water hung over the bough of a tree. It could be either cool or hot, depending on whether the bag was left in the sun for about half an hour. From the bottom of the bag protruded a long, thin, plastic tube ending in a nozzle that could be extracted or inserted. The extraction released the water through a shower head. Very simple. I wondered why I had not seen this anywhere else.

After we had worked together to pitch the tents, we all got wood for the fire. Ali usually did the cooking as we sat around and talked about what we had done that day and what we planned on doing the next day. I would quiz the others about their observations and write for at least an hour, recording the day's events. I also used this time to get myself ready for the next day's travels, reading about Burton's journey, what he had written, and what others had written about the towns that he travelled through. Beyond Mikumi, the first place name that seemed similar to any on Burton's itinerary was Miyombo, just south of Kilosa. After Kilosa, Burton's route took him south of Dodoma, a name not found on his itinerary. Between Kilosa and Dodoma are the Rubeho Mountains — which I found both on Burton's maps and on my modern maps. In a sense, what we were trying to do was to hack our way through the wilderness mentally before we did it physically, trying to imagine what Burton would have done as an explorer in the same place, dealing with his own camp and his band of bearers.

Each day we went as far as we could, then looked for a place to camp, usually off the road, in some kind of clearing. Each of these places turned out to be extraordinary in its own way. Occasionally we camped in some filthy little dwelling we found along the way, but usually we were in our tents at the edge of the jungle or by a river. It was pleasant and relaxing. We were always exhausted, and so we tended to go to sleep by about nine, and got up early in the morning to get going as soon as possible.

We did not carry much food, but bought it along the way. Burton and Speke did something similar, only they shot animals for food when they could.

When we were at sea level, it was as hot as hell at night. During the day we were tormented by mosquitoes and pestered by bees. And then there were ticks. I got a tick bite on my stomach. I tried to pull the tick off while I was having a shower. You have to get the head out by twisting counter-clockwise or else you are supposed to burn it off. I did neither, and the thing festered. I had to put up with it for the remainder of the journey.

There were other minor irritations — rashes and things — but mercifully nothing like the ravages of smallpox, which Burton witnessed at first hand near Mzizi Mdogo, "Little Tamarind," shortly after leaving Zungomero:

Extract ID: 5736

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 111
Extract Date: 1857

Sad sights

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

On the way we were saddened by the sight of the clean picked skeletons, and here and there the swollen corpses, of porters who had perished in this place of starvation. A single large body, which had lost fifty of its number by small-pox, had passed us bu tyesterday on the road, and the sight of their deceased comrades recalled to our minds terrible spectacles; men staggering on blinded by disease, and mothers carrying on their backs infants as loathsome objects as themselves. The wretches would not leave the path, every step in their state of failing strength was precious; he who once fell would never rise again; no village would admit death into its precincts, no relation nor friend would return for them, and they would lie till their agony was ended by the raven and vulture, the fisi [hyena] and the fox…. Under these circumstances, as might be expected, several of our party caught the infection; they lagged behind, and probably threw themselves into some jungle, for the path when revisited showed no signs of them.

Extract ID: 5737

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 112
Extract Date: 9 Aug 1857

Red-billed hornbil

Burton was a keen observer of flora and fauna. For instance,

"We left Mzizi Mdogo on the 9th August, much cheered by the well-omened appearance of a bird with a red bill, white breast, and long tail-feathers."

This description fits the red-billed hornbill: Burton may have been the first European to see this bird, and, if so, perhaps it should be called Burton's red-billed hornbill. Speke has a weaver-bird named after him; and Grant a gazelle. We saw red-billed hornbills all along the route that Burton and Speke travelled on their way from Bagamoyo to Lake Tanganyika.

Burton also made some interesting observations about the Tsetse Fly. His love for it was no greater than ours:

Extract ID: 5738

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 112a
Extract Date: 1857

Tsetse Fly

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

In this foul jungle our men also suffered severely from the tzetze [fly] .... On the line followed by the expedition, the tzetze was found extending from Usagara westwards as far as the central lakes; its usual habitat is the jungle-strip which incloses each patch of cultivated ground, and in the latter it is rarely seen. It has more persistency of purpose even than the Egyptian fly, and when beaten off it will return half dozen times to the charge; it can not be killed except by a smart blow, and its long, sharp proboscis draws blood even through a canvas hammock.... In the vicinity of Kilwa it was heard of under the name of "kipanga," the "little sword." It is difficult to conceive the purpose for which this plague was placed in a land so eminently fitted for breeding cattle and for agriculture.... Possibly at some future day, when the country becomes valuable, the tzetze may be exterminated by the introduction of some insectivorous bird, which will be the greatest benefactor that Central Africa ever knew.

Extract ID: 5739

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 113
Extract Date: 1996

Tsetse Fly

Needless to say, Burton's hope has not yet been realized. Nor were tsetse flies the only insects to menace him and Speke in the Second Region:

Extract ID: 5740

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 113a
Extract Date: 24 Aug 1857

Siyafu Ants

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

Late in the morning of the 24th of August,… we followed the path that leads from Mbumi along the right bank of the Mukondokwa River to its ford…. The path was slippery with mud, and man and beast were rendered wild by the cruel stings of a small red ant and a huge black pismire. The former crossed the road in dense masses like the close columns of any army. They are large-headed, showing probably that they are defenders of the republic, and that they perform the duties of soldiers in their excursions. Though they can not spring, they show great quickness in fasteningthemselves to the foot or ankle as it brushes over them. The pismire, known to the people as the "chungu-fundo," or "siyafu" from the Arabic "siyaf" is a horse-ant, about an inch 12.5 centimetres] in length, whose bulldog-like head and powerful mandibles enables it to destroy rats and mice, lizards and snakes. It loves damp places upon the banks of rivers and stagnant waters; it burrows but never raises hills, and it appears scattered for miles over the paths.

Extract ID: 5741

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 113c
Extract Date: 1857

Wanyamwezi porters

Given the hardships they had to endure, it is not surprising that during the next few weeks Burton's Baluchi escorts mutinied for more food and threatened to desert with their slaves. Burton and Speke had to consider the possibility of burying most of their baggage and carrying on with the expedition, trusting only to their Wanyamwezi porters to bring them to the lake. However, the storm blew over, Burton says, and they were able to continue. On the way, they caught sight of something that also caught my eye —strange beehives that looked like cannons sticking out of the trees, but were actually constructed of logs or rounds of bark from other trees.

Extract ID: 5742

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: John Hanning Speke
Page Number: 114

Sparrows for sale

Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile

When I returned in the evening, small boys brought me sparrows for sale.

Extract ID: 5743

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 114a
Extract Date: 1996

The road from Mikumi to Kilosa

We left the Mikumi Lodge at 8:00 a.m. Our route cut through a valley, past an enormous herd of elephants. Near the lodge entrance, a herd of buffalo grazed on a parched brown hill.

I was still trying very hard to follow the exact route of the explorers. From the coast to Dodoma was about one-third of the distance to Lake Tanganyika, and for this first third of our trip it was a struggle to follow Burton's route and to match modern settlements to his place names. What happened, I think, was that the villages grew, or moved, or a town name came to be applied to an area. Also, before the influx of Europeans, the language of this area had no written form and Burton could have misheard names. There were times when I wished I had not decided to try to trace Burton's exact route. But then I would not have made the journey I wanted to make. Burton was a careful and complete diarist. He was exact about where he had gone and why. We found that, west of Dodoma, we could match our route to Burton's much more precisely.

Along the road from Mikumi to Kilosa we saw Sterculia trees. Tall and straight, with pale yellow bark, it is a dramatic deciduous tree with a dense rounded crown. We noticed it all over the countryside. As well, enormously tall, deciduous kapok trees lined the road. They had light-coloured bark and pods hanging from their branches, dark brown outside, like cocoa pods, that split open to reveal the fluffy white substance inside.

The road was bad, not paved, but we kept on, heading directly north. One town we passed through was called Ulaya, meaning "Europe," so called because the first person to camp in this place was a European. We also crossed a road leading to the town of Rumuma, another Burton place name. This region is home to the Sagara tribe.

Extract ID: 5744

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 118
Extract Date: 1996

Ugali

At Kilosa — quite a big town — there was a definite Arab influence. In this area, Burton reports seeing a ruined village — possibly Kilosa — from which Arab slavers had kidnapped most of the inhabitants and laid waste to their homes. The experience deeply disturbed Burton: "A pitiable scene here presented itself. The huts were torn and half-burnt, and the ground was strewed with nets and drums, pestels, mortars, cots and fragments of rude furniture…. Two of the wretched villagers were seen lurking in the jungle, not daring to revisit the wreck of their homes."

When we realized that there was no road from Kilosa through the Rubeho Mountains to Dodoma, we backtracked to Miyombo to pick up the Miyombo-Dodoma road. I was now convinced that Burton and Speke had to have taken this route. A twisting, red-earth track took us westward into the Rubeho foothills, through occasional banana plantations in the valleys, sisal, tall elephant grass, and dry scrub. It was a hot trip on a rough road, undulating and full of potholes. Occasional villages with thatch-roofed mud houses broke the monotony of the journey.

At noon, after a quick lunch of rice pancakes, and local "cheddar" cheese, tomatoes, and samosa (a triangular patty with a meat or vegetable filling), we continued through torturous, rock-strewn terrain. I was deeply thankful we had four-wheel drive. The going was very slow. We made sure we were always within sight of a river tributary — something all the early explorers seemed to do. As the afternoon wore on, we made our way over the foothills and down to Rumuma, grateful to guzzle some pomoni, locally brewed from cornflour. After some questioning we learned that the river running through Rumuma is a tributary of the Mkondoa. We moved on, through an avenue of cassia trees (whose bark is harvested for a rough kind of cinnamon), next to a Catholic mission, then headed north. Here on the leeward side of the foothills and mountains the climate is dry and perfect for the Baobab trees we saw everywhere. By 5:00 p.m., still some distance from the Dodoma road, we decided to give up for the day and camp on a bluff overlooking the plains.

We set up camp under a Baobab tree, first unloading the Land Rovers, unpacking the cooking utensils, making the fire, and constructing a lean-to under which we put the provisions and a rudimentary table in case of rain. So we had the three tents around a sort of bivouac in the middle. We tried to lay the supper out with a little bit of style. We got our plates from Ali, and squatted down on a stone or a log to eat. Ali always worked his magic. We only got sick once, when he bought some ghastly-looking meat from the side of the road. That experience reminded me of a complaint Burton had about the kind of food he bought at the side of the road: "the milk falls like water off the finger, the honey is in the red stage of fermentation, of the eggs there are few without the rude beginnings of a chicken, and the ghee [clarified butter], from long keeping, is sweet above and bitter below."

By the time we sat down to supper each night, we were usually ravenous. The evening meal was the substantial one. We would have a small breakfast, a small lunch, and keep our energy up between meals by snacking on ugali, a mash made out of millet — like a solid piece of soft dough or porridge. It is very filling, eaten instead of bread. You can have it hot or cold, and I invented lots of things with it. I ate ugali for breakfast with scrambled eggs, with tinned sardines or salmon for lunch, with chicken stew or wildebeest curry for dinner. Sometimes I would slice off a piece of cold ugali and put it on a plate and pour some golden syrup on it — and that was ugali for pudding as well. We always had ugali. No one ever went hungry, because, if worse came to worst, you could have some ugali and gravy, or ugali and meat, or ugali and fish, or ugali and jam. Burton's remark applied as strongly to us as to the peoples he met: "Their food is mostly ugali, the thick porridge of boiled millet or maize flour, which represents the 'staff of life' in East Africa."

At this campsite, a cool wind blew all night. Nothing else disturbed the silence except the occasional call of a nightjar. The next morning we woke to see the full moon setting as the sun rose. The dawn was windy and cool; it had been a pleasant sleep and we were ready to get on with the crossing of the Rubeho Mountains. In this area, Burton's experiences were quite like ours, as he had camped in the Rubeho foothills near where we camped.

Unlike us, however, he seemed compelled to make an impression on the natives in the area: "We left Márengá Mk'hali at 1 p.m. on the 3rd of September, and in order to impressionize a large and well-armed band of the country people that had gathered to stare at, to criticize, and to deride us, we indulged in a little harmless sword-play, with a vast show of ferocity and readiness for fight."

Extract ID: 5745

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 121
Extract Date: 1996

Rubeho foothills

We left camp at 8:45 a.m. By then the sun was well up. We heard on the radio that there was fighting in Zaire near the border of Rwanda and Burundi, near Lake Kivu and the large town of Bukavu a little north of where we were heading. We drew in Burton's route on the modern Tanzanian map, and decided not to follow it exactly, but to go north to Dodoma (the land of Ugogo) and then west.

As we moved into the Rubeho foothills we noticed more baobabs. When he encountered it, Burton described the Baobab, or calabash-tree, of the interior: "The mbuyu — the Baobab, Adansonia digitata, monkey-bread, or calabash,... is of more markedly bulbous form than on the coast, where the trunk is columnar; its heavy extremities, depressed by the wind, give it the shape of a lumpy umbrella shading the other wild growths."

When summarizing village life in East Africa he mentioned the scarcity and poor quality of the pottery he had seen before describing what was used instead:

Extract ID: 5746

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 121a
Extract Date: 1857

Calabash-tree

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

In a country where pottery is scarce and dear, the buyu or Cucurbita lagenaria [which is the same plant as the European bottle gourd or calabash gourd] supplies every utensil except those used for cooking; its many and various adaptations render it a valuable production. The people train it to grow in the most fantastic shapes, and ornament it by tatooing with dark paint, and by patterns worked in brass tacks and wires; where it splits it is artistically sewn together. The larger kinds serve as well-buckets, water-pots, travelling-canteens, churns, and the sounding boards of musical instruments: a hookah, or water-pipe, is made by distorting the neck, and the smaller varieties are converted into snuff-boxes, medicine-cases, and unguent-pots. The fruit of the calabash-tree is also called buyu: split and dried, it is used as ladles, but it is too small to answer all the purposes of the gourd.

Extract ID: 5747

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 122
Extract Date: 1996

Rubeho Mountains

Gourds are still used by all tribes to hold water, milk, honey, and other liquids.

We met members of the Wagogo tribe (proof that we had reached Ugogo), and saw the typical settlements of flat-topped, thatched houses. We bumped our way a long distance down into the valley, then followed a meagre track through the mountains.

Along the way, we noticed a plant with a milkweed-like pod that is valued by the Hadza tribe. The plant contains an intensely poisonous, sticky substance which the Hadza use to coat the points of their arrows and spears. It easily kills pigs, deer, wild boar, antelopes — and human beings. Thad recognized the plant and stopped to gather some. I was careful not to touch any part of it.

Burton referred to all his camps when crossing the Rubeho Mountains as "Rubeho." He spent five nights in the hills before he dropped into the plains, which he called "Ugogi." As he prepared to attack the pass, Burton could hardly bear to face the difficulties of the ascent. The sicknesses of many different types that assailed them throughout the trip had already begun to take their toll: "The great labor still remained. Trembling with ague, with swimming heads, ears deafened by weakness, and limbs that would hardly support us, we contemplated with a dogged despair the apparently perpendic¬ular path ... up which we and our starving drooping asses were about to toil."

The air of the pass seemed to help Burton recover a little, although Speke's condition worsened and he needed to be carried as they proceeded: "By resting after every few yards, and by clinging to our supporters, we reached, after about six hours, the summit of the Pass Terrible, and there we sat down among the aromatic flowers and bright shrubs — the gift of mountain dews to recover strength and breath…. At length a hammock was rigged up for my companion."

Extract ID: 5748

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 123
Extract Date: 1996

Taking pictures

I stopped to take pictures of children and their schoolhouse. Surprisingly, a crowd gathered, including the village chief and the head of the school, whose permission I asked. However, just as I was about to take the photo, two politicians and two police officers who were passing in a jeep stopped and objected. Although I was the one taking the photograph, they began to threaten Pollangyo, who was with me. "You are selling our people for money," they told him, and accused him of holding up the poor of Africa to the ridicule of the rich by helping me to get my photographs. Pollangyo remained calm, however, and although one of my rolls of film was confiscated, we managed to get away. I gathered that we were lucky not to have been put in detention overnight.

Our next village was Mpwapwa, about two hundred kilometres from Mikumi on the red-earth road that stretched to the base of the distant hills.

There were village boutiques on either side of the road, selling vegetables, tomatoes, sugar cane, and yams. As we crossed the plains we saw women carrying brightly coloured plastic containers of water and bags of peanuts. The peanut, or "ground nut" as it is usually called in Africa, has a curious history. One of the chapters of that history is the story of the infamous British "Ground Nut Scheme" of the 1940s. This was a Ł25-million plan to cultivate 1.2 million hectares of peanuts in the Mpwapwa region and export them via a new port connected by a railway to the peanut fields — the port and railway to cost an additional Ł5 million. However, the scheme collapsed because the planners failed to take into account the realities of the soil and climate of the Mpwapwa region, and the difficulties of introducing mecha¬nized cultivation. Perhaps they would have been more successful if they had read Burton. He begins his description of Ukaranga, the country between the Malagarasi Ferry and Lake Tanganyika, by writing: "Ukaranga signified, etymologically, the 'Land of Groundnuts'."

Extract ID: 5749

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 124
Extract Date: 1996

The main road to Dodoma

Eventually, at Mbande, we hit the main road to Dodoma, still eighty kilometres away. The road was well paved, but we still managed to get red dust on everything. My khaki clothes were covered in filth, my shoes were caked with the stuff, and I got a lungful of it every time I breathed.

Burton and Speke's route took them a little to the south of Dodoma. Along the way we passed some huge outcroppings of rock that Burton described:

"a large crevasse in lofty rocks of pink and gray granite, streaked with white quartz, and pudding'd with greenstone and black horneblend…. Farther down the bed huge boulders … rose, perpendicularly as walls, to the height of … one hundred and twenty feet [thirty-seven metres]…."

Extract ID: 5750

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 125
Extract Date: 1996

The place where it sank

Dodoma began as a settlement of thatched huts of the Gogo, a tribe that Stanley called, "masters in foxy craft." The settlement grew with the arrival of the railway at the beginning of the twentieth century. The railway stations became the centres of the towns that lined the old caravan routes. That is where the markets and shops were established.

Dodoma dwindled considerably during the First World War, when thirty thousand people died of starvation in a famine caused by the misappropriation of food supplies by the Germans and the British. In the 1970s the Tanzanian government declared that Dodoma was to replace Dar es Salaam as the capital in the 1980s, but this still has not happened.

"Idodomya," Meaning "the place where it sank" and referring to an elephant that got stuck in the mud of a Gogo washing hole, is a phrase that gave the town its name on German maps. The name, like the elephant, stuck.

Extract ID: 5751

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 125a
Extract Date: 1996

Ujamaa

Dodoma's main modern importance came with the reform plans of Julius Nyerere, the father of Tanzanian independence. He used Dodoma as a pilot program for his concept of communal village life, which had three phases. First, Nyerere attempted to create self-reliant agricultural socialist villages whose residents held their property in common and worked together for the good of the village. Though remaining traditionally African in some respects, the villages were in large part modelled on Chinese communist villages. The African village unit was called the Ujamaa (Swahili for "family" or "brotherhood"). When this scheme resulted in the enrichment of some farmers at the expense of others, a second phase began under which the state assumed direct control and attempted to resettle most of the people living in rural areas into planned villages with modernized services. But this latter scheme proved to be too expensive and also failed. Finally, the African villagers were encouraged by economic incentives to amalgamate small farms into larger units whose success would be determined by the dedication and hard work of those who lived there. The whole rural population was regrouped into these larger units through a compulsory policy which came to be known as "villagization." This process resulted in the elimination of traditional tribal rule, with predictable resentment. Villagization was ruthlessly enforced, and in the long run might still prove to be beneficial.

Villagization may have been partly responsible for my difficulty in matching Burton's place names to those on modern maps. I was beginning to fully understand what Rennie Bere meant when he wrote in The Way to the Mountains of the Moon, "Throughout Africa, of course, place-names have the disconcerting habit of moving with an individual or an event." The impact of villagization on tribal practices and the effect of widespread political change would also have influenced place names.

Extract ID: 5752

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 125b
Extract Date: 1996

West of Dodoma

West of Dodoma, we took yet another rough, sandy road, this time headed towards Manyoni, a railway town and the centre of a tobacco-growing region, about 140 kilometres away. Wagogo herdsmen struggled to make a living in this desolate land, sometimes, according to Burton, resorting to extortion from the caravans: "In Ugogo," he wrote, "the merest pretext — the loosing a hot word, touching a woman, offending a boy, or taking in vain the name of the sultan — infallibly leads to being mulcted in cloth."

We stopped to camp at 5:00 p.m., and were asleep that night by 8:30.

We were up at 5:45 a.m. the next day, to the by now familiar sound of doves cooing and hornbills drumming. It was light early on the plains, and we roused ourselves as soon as the world started moving around us. In this early part of our journey, my mind was always on Burton and his struggling train of reluctant porters with all their complaints and mutinies. We were now entering Burton's Third Region, which he described as the flat table-land from the Wasagara Mountains to Tura in Unyamwezi, rising gently to the west.

We broke camp at 8:00 a.m. and set off westward towards Manyoni and Tabora. We passed numerous villages, and along the way were reminded that the Swahili word for "white man" is Mzungu, which comes from Mzungu kati, Meaning "wandering around in circles, going nowhere." I was beginning to understand why. Manyoni, when we reached it, appeared to be little more than a dusty strip of small hotels: Manyoni Inn, Royal Hotel and Inn, Caribuni Hotel, Central Line Hotel, Video Inn, Dara Inn. These "hotels" were really small restaurants or tea houses. We looked in the market for a hengo, a unique, long-handled knife used by the Wagogo. No luck.

Extract ID: 5753

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Henry M. Stanley
Page Number: 126

A tramway is one thing that is needed for Africa

Through the Dark Continent

A tramway is one thing that is needed for Africa. All other benefits that can be conferred by contact with civilisation will follow in the wake of the tramway, which will be an iron bond, never to be again broken, between Africa and the more favoured continents.

Extract ID: 5754

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 126a
Extract Date: 1857

Unmarried girls

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

Another peculiarity of the Wanyamwezi is the position of the Wahárá or unmarried girls. Until puberty they live in the father's house; after that period the spinsters of the village ... assemble together and build for themselves at a distance from their homes a hut where they can receive their friends without parental interference.

Extract ID: 5755

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 130
Extract Date: 1996

We chugged and bumped along

We chugged and bumped along the dirt road through dense, brown thorn thickets, first in a southerly direction, then west. The road followed a relatively straight path very near the railway line. After the central railway leaves Dodoma, it drops down past the Bahi Swamp, then climbs the escarp-ment of the rift valley. It continues along the caravan route and through what is known as the Itigi Thicket before the land opens out into Myika country. The track finally exits the tsetse-ridden woods and slides into Tabora station.

Itigi, forty-two kilometres from Manyoni, is where Thad Peterson's missionary parents had arrived by railway in 1952, en route to the Iambi area, where Thad was later born. There are still Christian missionaries all over Tanzania as well as in Uganda and Kenya.

Outside Itigi we continued running alongside the railway. Again there was dense thorn thicket on either side of the road and occasional herdsmen, but the population was much sparser along this straight road fifteen metres from the railway track, which cut through very flat land.

Between the first gradient of the Rubeho Pass and Tabora, Burton and Speke passed through thirty-three stations. Although hardly any of the place names that Burton mentioned appeared on our maps, many were recognized by the local inhabitants. When I first read Burton's The Lake Regions of Central Africa, I was struck by the whimsical literal translations he provided for place names. I was again reminded of this when we reached Kazi Kazi, a small railway station whose name means "work-work." I was never really sure whether this name implied colonial criticism of the natives or native criticism of the colonials.

Extract ID: 5756

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 130a
Extract Date: 1996

Looking for Lake Chaya

Fifty-five kilometres beyond Itigi, we turned off the dirt road to look for Lake Chaya, where I had calculated our route would again join Burton's. However, the lake was totally dry — just a dry, cracked mud pan. This was disappointing, as sight of a body of water in this semi-arid region would have been a welcome relief. We decided to console ourselves with lunch, but no sooner had we set up our picnic on the bonnets of the Land Rovers when a swarm of bees descended on us. No stings, but they crowded around the food, and particularly the water. I immediately covered myself with Muskol — which seemed to do the trick.

I was aware that Burton had stopped somewhere here at a place he called Jiwe, which can mean "lake." We must have been on the north-eastern edge of the lake. Burton probably approached it from the south.

After lunch, and less than twenty kilometres farther on, we reached Karagasi. At the sight of date palms, I knew this was the old caravan route, and I felt sure we were on the actual Burton-Speke route to Tabora. From time to time I would see topographical features that matched Burton's descriptions. And there were familiar place names once in a while, such as Tura. Burton specifically named Tura as the last station of his Third Region and the first station of his Fourth Region, which he called the region of hilly tableland.

Extract ID: 5757

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 130b
Extract Date: 1857

Leucoethiops

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

The Wazaramo tribe is rich in albinos; three were seen by the Expedition in the course of a single day. They much resemble Europeans of the leucous complexion; the face is quite bald; the skin is rough, and easily wrinkles in long lines, marked by a deeper pink; the hair is short, sharp-curling, and coloured like a silk-worm's cocoon, and the lips are red. The eyes have grey pupils and rosy "whites:" they appear very sensitive to light, and are puckered up so as to distort the countenance. The features are unusually plain, and the stature appears to range below the aver¬age. The people who have no prejudice against them, call these leucoethiops Wazungu, "white men."

Extract ID: 5758

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 132
Extract Date: 1996

Tura

Only a short distance from Tura, we came across a red truck stranded on the road. Four youths stood menacingly on the other side. Breakdown? Ambush? Thad ordered Pollangyo to get the gun out. Although it turned out to be a genuine breakdown — a flat tire — our caution was not unjusti¬fied. Anything can happen on these side roads, as Burton found out near here when he was prevented from proceeding until he gave a bullock and a little cloth to a local chief:

A little farther on, we met three Sukuma maidens who had come a long way to get water. "Aren't you afraid of being eaten by the lions?" we asked. "No," they answered; "the lions are looking for animals, not people!" An interesting answer.

Thirty-five kilometres from Tura, late in the afternoon, we pulled off the road into a clearing. It was a beautiful spot for a camp. We were probably about two hours from Tabora, and the thought of being so close to one of the most important stops of the 1857 expedition made me feel very much part of the Burton-Speke journey. We noticed that the trees of the clearing had been "ringed" — that is, long, circular strips of their bark had been removed to make the "cannons" for the cylindrical honey hives we had seen before.

As we set up camp, we were again attacked by bees and flies. However, they seemed far less interested in stinging us than in gathering whatever moisture they could find. They clung to any wet surface — dishcloths, towels, anything. Then, as if on command, after sundown they all disappeared, leaving us in peace. Strangely there were no mosquitoes then either.

Pollangyo cooked up some ndizi-mshale. This was a favourite dish of his —bananas prepared as a stew and served up with some meat that Ali had cooked with tomatoes. This particular type of banana is much denser than potatoes and very filling. The word ndizi means "bananas," and the word mshale means "arrow." The fruit is thinner, straighter, and longer than the ordinary banana that is used for roasting.

Somewhere south-west of here Burton saw the "Mgongo T'hembo," or "Elephant's Back," which he said was "a long narrow ridge of chocolate-colored syenite, outcropping from the low forest lands around it." I speculated that these must be about fifty kilometres away and would be a spine-back ridge of mountains. We looked everywhere for the ridge but did not find it. Again, we were disappointed.

After dinner, Thad and I took a gun, a stick, a strong torch, and a panga (a heavy knife) into the bush to look for animals. In the pitch dark, we walked around the large clearing at the edge of the miombo. We saw a spring hare, which has a distinctive long black tail, limping across the clearing. We saw a nightjar, too, but nothing else. However, it was exciting being out on a game walk again. One never knows what one is going to run into. On a similar night walk in South Maasailand, Thad said that he had once walked into a pride of sixteen lions. This would certainly make your heart beat faster.

Extract ID: 5759

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 133
Extract Date: 1996

A pale golden sunrise

The next morning a pale golden sunrise lit the east, glinting through the feathery acacias across the clearing in front of our camp. The morning chorus began: doves, the chatter of innumerable quelea birds, and the buzzing and humming of the bees and tsetse flies.

We broke camp at 8:30 a.m. and set off, always keeping our eye out for the names Burton listed along his route: Tura, Kwale, Rubuga, Ukona, Kigwa, Hanga, and then Kazeh. Rubuga and Kigwa are on the modern Tanzanian map. On the way, we heard radio reports of an ebola outbreak in Zaire. This viral infection ruptures cell walls, beginning with those of the internal organs, and turns the victim's body into a sack of bloody pulp.

On and on we went, sometimes passing from red-soil regions into areas of rich, black earth — ideal for growing cotton. Burton specifically mentions the cultivation of cotton at Ukona: "cotton-plots, carefully hedged round against the cattle, afforded material for the loom, which now appeared in every village." Then we came upon a sandy track winding through miombo (woodlands). The railway was some distance north of us, but this was definitely the old caravan route the two explorers had taken to Kazeh. Every now and then we passed a borassus palm — the tallest fruit-bearing palm in the country — planted by the old Arab slave traders. They really are enormous trees, and are distinctive for the cluster of fan-like fronds at the top of a thin, straight bare trunk.

We got lost again, about sixty kilometres from our last camp, and asked a village elder where we were. He confirmed that this was the subdistrict of Kigwa somewhere near the Burton route. Eventually we got to the town of Kigwa proper, then proceeded to Kinamagi. We began to see more settlements and more cultivated land. The Nyamwezi tribe inhabits this area. According to Pollangyo, they are very musical people and love singing. Mango trees lined the route, their branches laden with green fruit. We crossed the railway again coming up from the south, and then, at long last, arrived at Tabora.

Extract ID: 5760

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 133a
Extract Date: 1996

Tabora from Bagamoyo

It had taken us five and a half days to reach Tabora from Bagamoyo. It took Burton and Speke nearly five months. We had driven 1,400 kilometres, though the distance from Bagamoyo to Tabora is about 680 kilometres in a straight line.

Burton, Speke, and Grant always referred to this town as Kazeh, though everyone else called it Tabora. Kazeh was founded by the Arabs about 1825 as a caravan depot. It eventually became the hub of the slave routes that spread north to Speke's "Great Lake" (Victoria), to Karagwe on its western shore, west to Lake Tanganyika, and south to the populous shoreline of Lake Malawi. Because Kazeh lay on the main route to the coast, it is not surprising that all the early explorers, including Livingstone and Stanley, journeyed through it.

Burton described the expedition's flamboyant entry into the town. As usual the explorers took steps to impress the local population with their dignity and importance:

Extract ID: 5761

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 136
Extract Date: 7 Nov 1857

We prepared to enter Kazeh

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

On the 7th of November, 1857 — the 134th day from the date of our leaving the coast — after marching at least 600 miles [960 kilometres], we prepared to enter Kazeh, the principal bandari of Eastern Unyamwezi, and the capital village of the Omani merchants. The Baloch were clothed in that one fine suit without which the Eastern man rarely travels: after a few displays the dress will be repacked, and finally disposed of for barter in slaves. About 8 a.m. … when the line of porters, becoming compact, began to wriggle, snake-like, its long length over the plain, with floatingflags, booming horns, muskets ringing like saluting-mortars, and an uproar of voice which nearly drowned the other noises, we made a truly splendid and majestic first appearance.

Extract ID: 5762

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 137
Extract Date: 1996

Three lakes

For the two explorers, Kazeh was a major milestone in their journey. They were ready for a rest. They stayed there for five weeks, dismissing much of their caravan and hiring fresh porters before they resumed their trek towards Lake Tanganyika.

Both Burton and Speke were now quite ill, and both suffered from trachoma, an affliction that seriously impairs vision by causing lumps to form on the inside of the eyelids. Burton at this point seemed to be in worse shape than Speke, which may partly explain why he spent most of his time in Kazeh with the Arab traders (who were also slavers). Burton says these Arabs treated him with "open-handed hospitality and hearty good-will."

Speke, on the other hand, spent much of his time in Kazeh gathering information. He writes: "Captain Burton got desperately ill, whilst I picked up all the information that I could gather from the Arabs, with Bombay as interpreter." Implicit in this statement is a growing conflict between the active Speke and the more contemplative Burton. Burton and Speke had been sent to find one great lake, the one shown on Rebmann and Erhardt's map, which they had been shown in the Royal Geographical Society in London and a copy of which they had with them. The Arabs now told them that there were in fact three lakes: Nyassa (now called Lake Malawi) to the south, the Ujiji lake (Lake Tanganyika) to the west, and the "Sea of Ukéréwé" (Lake Victoria) to the north. With Bombay as his interpreter, Speke learned from Snay bin Amir and others that "the Kitangulé and Katonga rivers ran out of the Ukéréwé Lake (Victoria N'yanza), and that another river, which is the Nile, but supposed by them to be the upper portions of the Jub river, ran into the N'yanza." They also originally told Speke that no river flowed out of the "Sea of Ujiji," but they recanted when Speke insisted they must be wrong: "I made them confess that all these rivers ran exactly contrary to the way they first stated…." Speke wrote that, at this time, "… I felt so curious to find out, and so sure in my own mind that the Victoria N'yanza would prove to be the source of the Nile, I proposed going to see it at once, instead of going on to Ujiji. The route, however, to the northward was said to be dangerous … and Captain Burton preferred going west."

Extract ID: 5763

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 138
Extract Date: 1996

So they went west

So they went west, and Speke was not to have a chance to slake his curiosity until after they returned to Kazeh six months later. About the lake to the north, Burton would write,

"... by his [Snay bin Amir's] distances and directions we were enabled to lay down the southern limits and the general shape of the Nyanza or Northern Lake as correctly — and the maps forwarded from Kazeh to the Royal Geographical Society will establish in fact — as were subsequently determined, after actual exploration, by my companion."

Burton is being defensive here for on these maps he had, in fact, "adjusted" the distances, dimensions, and shape recorded by Speke. He wanted Lake Tanganyika to be the source of the Nile, but in the event was not able to either prove or disprove it. He accepted the fact of the three large lakes, but did not, like Speke, continue to quiz people for details about them. Information was there for the asking, and Speke was hungry for details and directions. On the trip to Lake Tanganyika, he came to think that what we now know is the eastern escarpment of the western rift valley was the eastern end of a great arc of mountains, the Mountains of the Moon of Ptolemy. Even so, or perhaps even more so, by the time they returned to Kazeh, Speke had become preoccupied with the idea that Lake Victoria might be the source of the Nile. Burton was equally convinced it was not.

Extract ID: 5764

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 138a
Extract Date: 1857

The arms are slender assegais

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

The arms are slender assegais with the shoulders of the blade rounded Some have large spears for thrusting, and men rarely leave the hut without their bows and arrows, the latter unpoisoned, but curiously and cruelly barbed. They make also the long double-edged knives called sime, and different complications of rungu or knob-kerries, some of them armed with an iron lance-head upon the wooden bulge. Dwarf battle-axes are also seen, but not so frequently as amongst the western races on the Tanganyika Lake. The shield in Unyamwezi resembles that of Usagara; it is however rarely used.

Extract ID: 5765

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 140
Extract Date: 1996

We did not stay long at Tabora

We did not stay long at Tabora. For me, the main significance of our arrival there was that Ujiji on the shore of Lake Tanganyika now really felt within our reach. I was anxious to get going.

We had a rushed lunch at the Tabora Hotel: Nile perch, chicken, and ugali — enough to satisfy our hunger. We left the hotel at 2:00 p.m. and headed for the market, near the railway station, to replenish supplies for the long journey to Ujiji.

About six kilometres after setting out, in nearby Kwihara, we visited a replica of the tembe (rectangular house) where Livingstone and Stanley stayed after their famous Ujiji meeting. It is a classic rectangular-shaped building with faded brick walls and floor of packed earth. The ailing Livingstone stayed here for five months, reading the Bible, catching up on his journal, and waiting for the supplies and porters that Stanley had promised to send him from Zanzibar. These eventually arrived in August 1872, and Livingstone left on his final journey.

Extract ID: 5766

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 140a
Extract Date: 1996

Our next destination was Malagarasi

Our next destination was Malagarasi and the river of the same name. Malagarasi was the final station in the Fourth Region of Burton's trek. Once he crossed the river, he was within ten stations of Ujiji and Lake Tanganyika. From Kwihara we took a narrow, rough road (just a footpath, really) through planted fields and poor settlements, then managed to pick up the main road again about six kilometres beyond Tabora. In Tumbi, a small village, we asked where we could buy some wanzuki — the local honey brew. We were too late, however, as it had all been sold. We did see one old lady preparing the next day's batch of pomoni, and she was happy to show us how she dried corn mash on mats.

We passed through the town of Ndono and, twenty kilometres beyond it, encountered another truck breakdown. We gave one of the passengers a ride to Urambo to get a spare wheel, and in return he promised to take us to buy some wanzuki. We filled up with more petrol (just in case), then went in search of our tipple.

Pandemonium! Crowds of women and men, well spliced on wanzuki, which was being served by the gallon. Everybody seemed to be having a lot of fun. We bought almost a gallon — several Pepsi-Cola bottles full were emptied into our gallon container — then headed westward on the main road to Malagarasi.

A little over 130 kilometres from Tabora we broke off from the main thor¬oughfare and pitched camp about a kilometre from the road. The flower of the terminalia tree has a very distinctive, rancid smell, which is supposed to attract flies. The odour is almost like that of bad butter or bad cheese. It was all around us. I decided just to get used to it. What else could I do?

While Ali cooked our dinner we drank the wanzuki. No wonder the local people were having such a good time. Thad and I poured ourselves two full beakers of the tan-coloured local drink — made with honey, yeast, and roots. It was an effervescent and very pleasant drink — thirst-quenching, if a bit too gaseous. It was slightly sweet — halfway between a beer and a wine. A bit like mead, perhaps. It had a definite kick, and I was quite light-headed after the third beaker.

We took showers, using our ingenious shower contraption. At 2:00 a.m. there was another kind of shower — rain. It lasted a short time, but long enough to wake us all. Pollangyo had a bad stomach, which he blamed on the meat that Ali had cooked.

Extract ID: 5767

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 141
Extract Date: 1996

Beautiful country, but a very bad road

At sunrise (just before 7:00 a.m.), I realized that it was twelve days since I had arrived in Africa. We had travelled more than 2,100 kilometres since leaving Arusha, and had spent two nights in Bagamoyo and two nights in Zanzibar before starting our cross-country journey west to Lake Tanganyika.

Leaving camp at 8:30 a.m., we passed Usinde (Burton might have been a little north of here.), Ushokola, and Kaliva, a railway town. We did not seem to be running into any of the place names Burton mentioned, and I wondered whether we were still on the old caravan route.

Kaliva was a fair-sized town, and quite an old settlement. It seemed strange that it was not mentioned by Burton. We stopped and asked an elder in the village about some of Burton's names and he recognized some of them. Wilyankuru (in Burton's Region Four) was north of Urambo, where we had bought the wanzuki. The elder also knew of Usinge, possibly Burton's "Masenge."

The next town was Kasisi. The fields around it were more heavily cultivated than in other areas, and the land was cleared for almost a kilometre on either side of the road. Two-storey tobacco-drying kilns called bani dotted the land¬scape. The villagers here recognized more names from the Burton itinerary: Sengatti (Burton's "Songati") and Sorora. An elder also recognized Usagozi and Uganza. All these names were on Burton's list of stations in the Fourth Region, so we took this as confirmation that we were where we thought we were, even though the elder told us that Usagozi was north of our route.

Soon we left this settled area and re-entered miombo. It was beautiful country, but a very bad road. At one point, we ran over a black-necked spitting cobra. At Uganza, all signs of former settlements had disappeared. We picked up a woodcutter of the Mha tribe, and he recognized more names from the Burton itinerary: Mukozimo, Usenye, Rukunda, Wanyika, Unyanguruwwe, Ugaga.

Extract ID: 5768

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 142
Extract Date: 1996

Entering Kigoma Region

Eventually, we returned to the direct route to the Malagarasi River, the final station of Burton's Fourth Region. We were now entering what is currently called the Kigoma Region, near Ujiji and the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. We broke off the road and into the flood plain of the Moyowasa — a tributary of the Malagarasi. Here, the lands were broad and flat and seemed to stretch endlessly to the horizon. In the distance we saw spur-winged geese and egrets sheltering under borrasus palms. We were actually on a peninsula with the Ugala River, another tributary of the Malagarasi, to the south of us. It was cooler on the flood plain.

The whole area used to be much more populated, but this all changed when Nyerere started his "villagization," moving people closer together to ensure better provision of water, schools, and health services. Now there are mango trees — a sure sign of settlement — but no more people. We had lunch and left the spot half an hour later.

Just after 3:00 p.m., we reached the Malagarasi River. We followed it for a while, driving off the road and across a wide plain, then down to the railway station, and, at 4:00 p.m., actually crossed the river. This was no easy task, and I wondered if it had ever before been crossed in jeeps or Land Rovers. We were lucky. The river was quite low and we were also fortunate to be shown the cattle ford, where the water was shallowest.

I had been secretly hoping to travel down the Malagarasi to Ujiji by raft or boat, but realized almost immediately that the river was much too low. We were told that there were fishermen with dugout canoes in the area, but they would go only short distances. There were crocodiles and hippos clearly visible in the river. It is well known that there are more deaths caused by hippos than by any other animal in Africa. Despite their placid appearance, they are extremely aggressive and attack boats and charge people on river banks. In the end we decided we would camp for the night and drive to Ujiji next day. In retrospect this was far more sensible than going by boat. What would we have done with our Land Rovers?

After crossing the Malagarasi we worked our way south a short distance along the river before making an early camp on a spot below a rocky hill over¬looking the river. Three hippos snorted menacingly in the river below us.

Extract ID: 5769

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 143
Extract Date: 1996

A thunderstorm

There was a thunderstorm at 4:00 a.m. Not just a little rain, but a heavy, noisy downpour. It did not last long, however, and I slept again until six o'clock. A tropical bou bou woke me, making its insistent, melodic call to its mate across the plain. These birds are famous for the beauty of their thrilling song and are mentioned in Persian poetry — something Burton no doubt knew about.

Early in February 1858, Burton and Speke reached the last station before Ugaga on the river: "[W]e resumed our march on the 2nd of February. The road, following an incline toward the valley of the [Malagarasi] river, in which bush and field alternated with shallow pools, black mud, and putrid grass, led to Unyanguruwwe, a miserable settlement, producing, however, millet in abundance, sweet potatoes, and the finest manioc."

Before fording the Malagarasi, Burton and Speke camped for the night. Then they made arrangements to secure a ferry.

Extract ID: 5770

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 143a
Extract Date: 4 Feb 1858

The Lord of the Ferry

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

The Sultan Mzogera had sold his permission to cross the river. The mutware, or mutwale, the lord of the ferry, now required payment for his canoes....

The Lord of the Ferry delayed us at Ugaga, by removing the canoes, till he had extracted fourteen cloths and one coil bracelet.... On the 4th of February we crossed to Mpete.... [W]e came upon the "Ghaut," a muddy run or clearing in the thicket ofstiff grass which crossed the stream. There we found a scene of confusion. The Arabs ofKazeh had described the canoes as fine barges, capable of a ccommodating fifty or sixty passengers. I was not, however, surprised to find wretched "baumrinden" — tree-rind-canoes, two strips of "myombo" bark, from five to seven feet [1.5 to 2 metres] in length, sown together like a doubled wedge with fibres of the same material…. When high and dry upon the bank, they look not unlike castaway shoes ofan unusual size. We entered "gingerly."… The ferryman, standing amidships or in the fore, poled or paddled according to the depth of the stream.

Extract ID: 5771

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 144
Extract Date: 1996

Exploring the Malagarasi

On leaving his Fourth Region, Burton noted: "The fauna of Unyamwezi are similar to those described in Usagara and Ugogo. In the jungles quadrumana are numerous: lions and leopards, cynhyxnas and wildcats, haunt the forests; the elephant and the rhinoceros, the giraffe and the Cape buffalo, the zebra, the quagga, and the koodoo wander over the plains; and the hippopotamus and crocodile are found in every large pool."

Then, in a more lyrical vein, he added: "The Land of the Moon, which is the garden of Central Inter tropical Africa presents an aspect of peaceful rural beauty which soothes the eye like a medicine after the red glare of barren Ugogo.... There are few scenes more soft and soothing than a view of Unyamwezi in the balmy evenings of spring."

By crossing the Malagarasi River, Burton and Speke entered the Fifth Region of their journey. The tone of Burton's remarks grew harsher. They were now deep in the interior, in mosquito-infested territory described by Burton as "a howling wilderness, once populous and fertile, but now laid waste by the fierce Watuta."

Our own experience of the area was much more pleasant. After a breakfast of maize porridge, eggs, papaya, and pineapple, Thad, Pollangyo, and I set out to explore along the Malagarasi. We came across some old bark canoes similar to those used for Burton's crossing. We also found a small fishing camp. The fishing looked promising, but we did not have time to linger. Great swirls in the water signified the existence of large fish — or crocodiles. There were a whole variety of birds: fish eagle, black-chested snake eagle, egret, red-necked spur fowl, wattled plover, nub-billed duck. The banks were thickly overgrown right down to the water's edge, making travelling by Land Rover extremely difficult. We managed five or six kilometres, but were absolutely massacred by tsetse flies. No amount of Muskol would keep them away. At about 9:30 a.m. we returned to camp, where Joshua and Ali had finished packing the second Land Rover.

As we headed back along the Malagarasi River, looking for a road to Ujiji, we passed isolated villages of small, thatched mud huts. A Sukuma villager in one settlement advised us that Ugaga, which Burton had mentioned, was ahead of us.

In the outlying areas, the roads are certainly not made for automobiles, and few cars are seen. Some people were curious and came to inspect the Land Rovers, but for the most part people kept to themselves and got on with their own business. In the East it would have been very different. There, if you stopped your car or jeep, twenty or thirty people would immediately crowd around you — looking, touching, questioning. The villagers in Africa, by contrast, tend to concentrate on their own affairs. Whenever we wanted information, we had to search for someone to ask.

About an hour after crossing the river, we had to stop to fix a flat tire. It was a very rudimentary road wandering westward through woodland. There should have been game, but we did not see any, though we did notice roan or sable antelope droppings on the road. We went on through Ilunde, a village now almost completely deserted, and crossed railway tracks again, going on to Charkuru and the valley settlement of Uvinza, a much larger town than most we had passed. This is where the salt works are that Burton describes:

Extract ID: 5772

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 145
Extract Date: 1858

Salt flats

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

[T]he place in question is a settlement of Wavinza, containing from forty to fifty bee-hive huts, tenanted by salt-diggers. The principal pan is sunk in the vicinity of the river, the saline produce, after being boiled down in the huts, is piled up, and handmade into little cones. The pan affords tripartite revenue to three sultans, and it constitutes the principal wealth of the Wavinza: the salt here sold ... finds its way throughout the heart of Africa, supplying the lands adjoining both the Tanganyika and the Nyanza lakes.

Extract ID: 5773

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 145a
Extract Date: 1996

Our first sight of Lake Tanganyika

We crossed the Rusugi River in order to visit the salt flats. The operation seemed quite organized, as it must also have been in Burton's time. The flats are a huge area where the salt can be seen drying. We were there towards the end of the day and watched lines of women carrying the salt in baskets on their heads, the day's production, to a central building for further processing.

There were rock outcroppings all over the place — good leopard country. Burton mentions this, but only in discussing the children dressed in leopard skins. Nowadays, if any villager is caught with a leopard skin there is a very severe penalty involving a long jail term.

We took a sharp turn to the west on a relatively new road, but because it did not appear on the modern Tanzanian map we could not be sure where it went. However, the villagers assured us that this was indeed the road that led to Kigoma and Ujiji. After lunch, which we had under a tamarind tree, the road began to descend sharply. I knew we must be going down to the big lake, and my excitement grew.

Then our route took us alongside the railway line to Kigoma. At one point, where the land was very hilly, there was no road at all, and we considered shoving the two Land Rovers onto the railway tracks and driving to Kigoma that way. However, it was quite precipitous on either side and it would not give us much chance to get off the line out of the way of an oncoming train. So, instead, we just gunned the Land Rovers through the rough terrain. At Kalenga, two young boys tried to sell us a dead banded mongoose. I cannot imagine what they thought we would do with it. And then, at last, at 3:18 p.m., we reached Kidawe and caught our first sight of Lake Tanganyika.

It was overcast, and therefore I did not see the light shimmering on the waters of the big lake, as Burton had, but the experience was thrilling nonetheless.

Burton's description of his first sighting, on February 13, 1858, is almost ecstatic.

Extract ID: 5774

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 148
Extract Date: 1858

First view of Lake Tanganyika

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

Nothing in sooth, could be more picturesque than this first view of the Tanganyika Lake, as it lay in the lap of the mountains, basking in the gorgeous tropical sunshine…. Villages, cultivated lands, the frequent canoes of the fishermen on the waters, and on a nearer approach the murmurs of the waves breaking upon the shore, give a something of variety of movement, of life to the landscape…. Truly it was a revel for soul and sight. Forgetting toils, dangers, and the doubtfulness of return, I felt willing to endure double what I had endured; and all the party seemed to join with me in joy. My purblind companion found nothing to grumble at except the "mist and glare before his eyes."

Extract ID: 5776

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 148a
Extract Date: 1996

Into Kigoma

Burton's description of Speke's attitude here is also important. It is clear that the two men now had serious differences of opinion that would lead to later conflict. I could not help wondering whether Speke had already lost interest in Lake Tanganyika, knowing, from talking to people along the route, that it could not be the source of the Nile, as Burton still believed. Perhaps he was already on the alert for an opportunity to get away from Burton long enough to get up to Nyanza, the northern lake. His opportunity would come, but not before a gruelling assignment on Lake Tanganyika.

Descending from the hills, we drove into and right through the busy town of Kigoma, then six kilometres southeast to Ujiji. Ujiji is one of Africa's oldest market villages. It is a colourful, bustling, commercial centre. The majority of the population is from the Ha tribe, although Arab influence is seen in the architecture. Structures bear a strong resemblance to coastal homes, and this is especially evident in the carved wooden doors.

At Ujiji, Burton reflected on the economics of the slave trade, remarking that the town was "still the great slave-mart of these regions, the article being collected from all the adjoining tribes of Urundi, Uhha, Uvira, and Marungu.... [T]he trade realizes nearly 500 per cent, and will, therefore, with difficulty be put down."

Burton and Speke, the first Europeans to see Lake Tanganyika, arrived at Ujiji in February 1858, and immediately started exploring the waters of the lake. Twenty-three years later, in 1871, Livingstone also made his way to Ujiji, at that time the terminus for most caravans from the coast. It was here that the historic meeting between Stanley and Livingstone took place. Both the name of Livingstone Street and a 1927 plaque donated by the Royal Geographical Society commemorate the event. In Ujiji we headed straight to the Livingstone Memorial. It stands on the spot where Stanley met the famous explorer, but the beach and the lake front have receded considerably. After a look at the memorial, I went down to the beach: boys were swimming, girls bathing and washing, women tending their children, men selling wares, boats being built.

Extract ID: 5777

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 149
Extract Date: 1996

The Railway Hotel

Just before 6:00 p.m., we went back to Kigoma and checked into the Railway Hotel. This old relic looks over the lake and some landscaped gardens. The rooms were hot and austere: a fan, a rudimentary electrical system, bars on the window above my bed, a piece of dirty cloth pulled over the window, which I drew back to let in the breeze off Lake Tanganyika. I could hear waves lapping outside the window. In fact, I was so entranced by the sound that I stood on the bed to see the lake and feel the wind. My main interest, however, was the mosquito netting. I decided it did not seem too bad.

As it turned out, I spent a sleepless night. A few "ladies of the night" plied their trade in a remarkably noisy fashion on the promenade between my room and the lakefront. They did not seem to stop their bargaining until well after midnight. Besides, I had been too optimistic about the quality of the mosquito netting. It was full of holes and offered little protection. And then there was the wind. Its velocity increased at about 3:00 a.m., creating pounding waves very much like ocean surf. Although by 6:00 a.m. the wind had subsided and it was much quieter, everything was very different from the miombo where we had been camping. I preferred the bush.

Extract ID: 5778

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 150
Extract Date: 1996

day in Kigoma

We spent a necessary day in Kigoma, servicing the cars, doing laundry, getting supplies — and hearing stories about the refugees in south-western Tanzania who were pouring in from Rwanda and Burundi. Even in Kigoma there were refugees, a growing crowd of people who had made their way across Lake Tanganyika from Zaire, seeking escape from the political turmoil in that country.

Saturday is dog day in Kigoma. People bring their dogs to a pound where the animals are dipped in a strong disinfectant solution to get rid of the fleas and lice. It was a totally mad scene, humans making much more noise than the dogs.

When we drove down to the Kigoma harbour to negotiate for a boat to explore the eastern coastline north of Ujiji and Kigoma, we encountered a crisis in the making. Many boatloads of refugees had arrived the night before from strife-torn Zaire. It was a pitiful scene. The refugees had been ordered to stay on their boats and not to land; hundreds and hundreds — maybe even thousands — of people in longboats kept offshore by armed guards with machine-guns. The guards were there to prevent the refugees from setting foot in Tanzania until they had official refugee status.

There were dozens of villagers on the beach, talking, bartering, jostling, craning for a better view. I mingled with the crowds, hoping to take photographs, but was not very popular with either the villagers or the refugees. I did not blame them. Those who had come from Zaire were fleeing the conflict between the ruling dictator, President Mobutu, and the rebel leader, Laurent Kabila. The refugee situation was greatly worsened by conflict between warring factions ofTutsis and Hutus, which had resulted in the further flight of hundreds of thousands of Hutus from neighbouring Rwanda.

The refugees are the result, not the cause, of the strife — the result of political upheaval and of genocide, stemming in turn from colonial interference in Africa, from the transition to undemocratic forms of independence, and from tyranny and greed.

Refugees are big business in Africa. The Western world is being held to ransom by the various countries to which refugees flee. Tanzania, for example, will not always admit the refugees unless Western countries pay the government for costs and administration. When payment is assured, a certain number are allowed in and given refugee status. It is not a simple humane act. It is a business deal. Only when the money is actually paid do the white United Nations vans come into play to transport refugees, to set up the camps, to provide medical services, and so on. The host countries make enormous financial demands on the Western countries. Some of this money trickles down to the refugees. Most of it, however, usually goes to the people organizing food and shelter for them. The refugees were being held offshore not simply because of lack of space. It was financial blackmail.

After a time, I moved off and wandered around the bustling Kigoma market. It had everything for sale, from watches to vegetables: rubber goods, chemicals, outboard motors, automotive parts, sticks, brightly coloured plastic, cloth. Most of the merchants seemed to be of Arab origin, and of course I thought again of Burton and the Arab traders.

Thad and I noticed one Parakuyu Maasai woman selling "potions" at the side of the road and thought of Burton. Curiosity demanded that for 4,000 shillings, we buy some dawa ya kiume (medicine for maleness). This was a whitish powder mixed with two shades of brown powder and made from the bark of the ormerurai tree. This is its name in Maa, the Maasai language. In Swahili it is called the urale tree. The potion was supposed to be an aphrodisiac. Instructions: 11/2 heaped teaspoons in black tea. Add sugar if necessary. Take this mixture before eating, morning and evening, for four days. The good results were guaranteed to last for two months. We asked some questions about the tree and the different colours of powders. All the powder is taken from different parts of the same tree — some from the bark and some from the roots.

The Parakuyu Maasai woman then also gave us a long twig from the Acacia nilotica tree. In Maa it is called the ol-kiloriti tree. Instructions: Take half of the twig, and soak it in a cup of water for one hour. When the twig gets soft, chew on it. Do not swallow it. Get the juice out of the twig and spit out the pulp. After that, drink the rest of the juice. This must be taken together with the powder potion already prescribed. The ol-kiloriti twig is also used in meat-eating ceremonies by the Maasai. It is cooked with soup and helps a lot with the digestion of meat.

Back at the hotel before noon, we planned an early lunch before setting out on our expedition along the coastline. However, it looked gloomy, with heavy rain clouds over the lake. Burton called Ujiji the "place of storms," and a real one seemed to be brewing. We had been warned that severe storms with huge waves arise without notice on the lake and can make conditions very dangerous.

Extract ID: 5779

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 152
Extract Date: 1996

Lake Tanganyika

The east side of Lake Tanganyika around Kigoma is fairly flat, but as you journey a little farther north the shore slopes precipitously and the water is very deep. This is a narrow, rift-valley lake. The wind whipping across the water causes the dramatic waves. We waited until the danger of a storm had passed before beginning our exploration.

While we waited we found out more about the refugee situation. Bujumbura is in Burundi, at the north-east corner of Lake Tanganyika. The army there is controlled by the Tutsis, who are waging a bitter civil war with the majority Hutus. It was possible, therefore, that the refugees we had seen were Hutus from Burundi who had fled initially to Zaire and now were seeking a new haven in Tanzania. On the other hand, they may have been refugees from Zaire's own civil war, or a mixture of both. We never found out.

Zaire is just across the lake from Kigoma and Ujiji. One can see the hills on a clear day. We had heard that the flames of civil war in Zaire had been fanned by ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda (the country north of Burundi) as part of a plan to distract international attention from events in Burundi. This could not have been accurate, although it later became clear that Tutsi sympathies were very much with the Kabila forces and the anti-Mobutu movement. The refugees we saw later, south-west of Lake Victoria, were from both Rwanda and Burundi, and were mostly Hutus.

Extract ID: 5780

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 152a
Extract Date: 1996

Refugees

We waited patiently for well over an hour for the boat that was to take us up the east coast of Lake Tanganyika.

Because of the refugee situation, the boat's departure from Kigoma harbour was delayed by bureaucratic wrangling. However, it eventually reached us, and we cruised northward, stopping at seven different fishing villages: Kalalangabo, Kagongo, Kigale, Kananie, Mtanga, Ngelwe, and finally Kazinga.

Although Burton and Speke did stop at and visit fishing villages, the names in Burton's diary are different. There were boatloads of refugees waiting offshore at every village we saw. All were Hutus, and all had arrived from Zaire. It really was a pitiful sight. The police were everywhere, searching the refugees for guns and ammunition. If not confiscated by police, weapons are traded for money or provisions, usually to rebel Tanzanians. Arms are also sought by refugees planning to return to Burundi to seek revenge against the Tutsis. Once searched, the refugee boats were allowed to go to Kigoma. There they were checked again, and their occupants were registered as refugees, but only after the required guarantees from the international community. Refugees cannot settle in Tanzania anywhere but in the refugee camps. It was heartbreaking to see tired, sad-eyed, dejected families with small children huddled amid their possessions: mattresses, bundles of clothes, bicycles. Everything — people and goods — piled into the slender open boats.

Extract ID: 5781

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 152b
Extract Date: 1858

Polypharmacy

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

"Polypharmacy" is not the fault of the profession in East Africa, and the universal belief in possession tends greatly to simplify the methodus modendi. The usual cathartic is the bark of a tree called kalákalá, which is boiled in porridge. There is a great variety of emetics, some so violent that several Arabs who have been bold enough to swallow them, barely escaped with life.

Extract ID: 5782

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: 154
Extract Date: 1996

Ichthyophagists

Burton said of the people of this region,

"The lakists are an almost amphibious race, excellent divers, strong swimmers and fishermen, and vigorous Ichthyophagists [fish eaters] all."

The boat, a twelve-metre open-shell cargo boat called a mutumbu, was driven by an outboard motor and had a brightly coloured green and yellow hull. Across the bow on the inside were painted the words Mpaji ni mungu, "God gives all." The boat was manned by boatmen of the Waha tribe. In the fishing village of Mtanga, the crew demanded that we buy some kayoga, the traditional drink of the Waha. This is a local brew made from bananas, and it was, we quickly realized, much stronger than the others we had tried along the way. The Waha boatmen soon lost their reserve. They welcomed the kayoga and instantly began having a good time, entering and leaving the harbours with increasing confidence and many taunts, jibes, and jokes.

Our trip up the coast took four hours and went as far as the Burundi border. Because of the refugees, there was a disturbing quality to our explorations. There was an uneasiness to Burton and Speke's experiences at Lake Tanganyika, too. It was there that their unlikely partnership began to founder, dashing forever any hope that they would identify the source of the Nile together.

Extract ID: 5783

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile, 1998
Page Number: Cover
Extract Date: 1998

Christopher Ondaatje was born in Ceylon, educated in England.. ..

Christopher Ondaatje was born in Ceylon, educated in England, and emigrated to Canada in 1956. He has worked for several magazines and newspapers, and in 1967 founded Pagurian Press, which eventually became the enormously successful Pagurian Corporation. In 1988 he sold all his business interests and returned to the literary world. He is the author of six books including the best selling Burton biography 'Sindh Revisited'.

He was a member of Canada's 1964 Olympic bobsled team, and is a director of the World Wildlife Fund and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He lives in London, England

Extract ID: 2897
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