Malagarasi

Name ID 2454

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
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
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
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
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
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
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