Jessie Monteath Currie.

The Hill of goodbye; the story of a solitary white woman's life in Central Africa online

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THE HILL OF GOOD-BYE



BY THE SAME AUTHOR



With Pole and Paddle down the
Shire and Zambesi.



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» • • • •

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THE

HILL OF GOOD-BYE

THE STORY OF A SOLITARY WHITE
WOMAN'S LIFE IN CENTRAL AFRICA



BY

JESSIE MONTEATH CURRIE

Author of " With Pole and Paddle down the
Shire and Zambesi."

ILLUSTRATED BY THE AUTHOR



LONDON :
GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS, LTD.,
Broadway House, 68-74, Carter Lane, E.G.

1920







- , - • • • • »'

• • . . . •, .
.' . • • - . •






W^/z Loving Pride

I dedicate this book

To the Memory of my only Son

Adam Currie,

ist Scots Guards,

Who fought for Freedom till he fell in

Action in his fourth year at the Front.



CONTENTS



CHAP.

I. UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER

II. ACROSS THE GREAT TUCHILLA PLAIN

III. MY MOUNTAIN HOME

IV. THE DOCTOR'S PROPHECY
V. THE WASHING DAY

VI. AJAULA'S FIRST HANDKERCHIEF -

VII. THE BROKEN DRUM

VIII. WE EXPLORE THE MOUNTAIN

IX. THE VICTIM

X. THE LITTLE HORN THAT DANCED

XI. THE " KALAMUKA " RATS

XII. MKANDA'S THREAT

XIII. THE MIDNIGHT FLIGHT

XIV. A MIGHTY BREWING
XV. THE PUNISHMENT -

XVI. A WOMAN'S SYMPATHY -

XVII. SUNDAY, AND A SNAKE

XVIII. A WANDERING MINSTREL

XIX. MY GIRLS EXCEL -

XX. ajaula's NEW NAME -

XXI. THE LIKOMBA, AND OTHER FRIENDS -

XXII. THE DOCTOR'S DINNER, AND A PICNIC

XXIII. THE MAGIC HORN -

XXIV. namonde's trial

XXV. THE BUSH FIRES -

XXVI. THE FOREBODING

XXVII. THE CHIEF'S REVENGE



PAGE

I

14
30
40

47
56
67

77
88

96

107

115
124

138
144
149

155
163

176

191

196

205

213

219

226

232

238






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v . C • O » •






THE HILL OF GOOD-BYE



CHAPTER I



UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER

WHEN I sit alone, lost to things external,
I see sights that few can. Marvellous
rocky peaks, mysterious depths, and familiar
dark figures, whose eyes flash with passion or
mirth, pass before me. I hear sounds — soft
childish voices, weird beating of drums and woeful
yells, and the clear call of a bugle. It is the
" lipenga." The flag is lowered. The dark figures
cease their work. The sun slips behind the long
line of purple hills. The small creatures awake
in the grass — click, click, all night. It is quite
dark. Can I make it light to you ? Can I make
you see the sights that haunt me, and hear the
sounds that thrill me even now ? I would that
I could.

To begin with, there was the long, long journey
which must be rapidly gone over, dwelling only



•2-.\ UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER.

on those parts that help the picture or story, to
give ah idea of the great distance between Britain
and Mount Mlanje. "Mlanje" means the "Hill
of Good-bye." How little I thought of its meaning
then. Later I had cause to do so.

After a three weeks' voyage to Cape Town
and a fortnight's sailing up the East Coast of
Africa we reached Quilimane. From there we
travelled in a small steamer to Chinde, the mouth
of the Zambesi, where we lay at anchor all night
as it was too late to cross the bar. Next morning
on the 5th September, 1892, we landed.

Chinde is a sandy plain. Sand is in the breeze,
in the water, and in the food, in fact everywhere.
The dwarf palms alone seem to thrive near the
shore. As we had to wait for the river steamer
we stayed in Peluchi's hotel, a bamboo and mud
house with a thatched roof, consisting of an
eating-room with two bedrooms on one side, like
horse stalls, divided by a wooden partition only
half-way up to the roof.

There was a small party of us — Mr. H , a

teacher, who will appear later in this story, a
young lady who expected to meet her intended
on the river, and myself. I also hoped that my
husband, whom I had not seen for over a year,
would get down part of the way. We had been
married only a fortnight when he left.



UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER. 3

There was a great scarcity of water in this place.
We ladies had to content ourselves with a little
in a basin which we used alternately. It was
muddy, being gathered from a hole dug in the
sand.

How hot it was ! But for the air from the sea
we could hardly have existed. Yet we were told
that up the river it was much hotter, the tempera-
ture being 120 in the shade. By day we waded
through the sand, sinking up to the ankle at every
step. At night we sat in the eating room. The
door stood wide open. Bats flew above us under
the raftered roof while we wrote letters and
listened to the lap, lap of waves from the shore.
A week after our arrival word came that the
steamer the James Stevenson was stuck on a sand-
bank a short distance up the river. A number of
men started in a boat to help to push her off. Every-
body treated it as a good joke. We ladies were
much excited thinking that our escorts might be
aboard. But it was not till next day that she
arrived, when we learned that no one had come to
meet us as yet.

Three days after we rose at four in the morning
to start on our river journey. It was quite dark
but the air was dry for a wonder, as often a heavy
dew falls through the night. The dawn came as
soon as we had crossed the gangway.



4 UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER.

Now we were fairly into the Zambesi. The
river narrows and broadens by turns. We float
past rich fertile banks and wooded shores. Long
creepers, twining round the dense foliage, dangle
pear-shaped gourds at the edge of the water.
Many coloured butterflies flutter over the long
reeds that wave their yellow bushy heads when
a bird flies from them. Behind, great ant hills
rise like pyramids, peaked and brown. Banana
bushes appear and we can see tall dark figures
watching us curiously from the top of a steep bank.
Some clap their hands in salutation. Here now
are small groups of native huts, little homesteads
where many a story has lived and tragedy
happened.

Woods again with foliage of every colour glide
past us. Sandbanks stretch out in the water on
which stand many long-legged white birds with
blackish heads. A shot is heard. The startled
birds open their wings and fly over the landscape.
A crocodile, which has been basking in the sun-
shine, like a wet brown stone, turns over and
drops with a splash in the water, showing its
white belly uppermost.

Shot after shot ! A German, one of our fellow
travellers, is having some sport. Many crocodiles
meet with a similar fate.

Now we pass a native canoe, made from the



UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER. 5

hollowed trunk of a tree, paddled by nude natives
who look interestedly up at us. How strange
I feel sitting here on deck, everything around me
quivering with heat. I am glad of my Terai
hat and white umbrella, though a wet towel would
be more grateful.

Suddenly our progress is checked. We have
stuck on a sandbank. Twenty black boys wade to
the shore with a rope and try in vain to move the
ship. Then they carry the anchor a good distance
up the bank where they cast it into the river.
Then the twenty boys, all waving their hands in
the air, dance through the water again, and try to
pull the steamer towards the anchor. Ultimately
all the cargo is put into a barge ; but the sun
sinks and we have to content ourselves here for
the night, as we only travel by daylight.

At first these stoppages are a little alarming,
but they happen so often that we laugh at them,
though we regret the loss of time. Every day
brings a new interest. We pass the baobab tree
under which the wife of Dr. Livingston lies.
I take out my water-colours and make a rapid
sketch. The red roofs of Shupanga, surrounded
by many trees, make a bright bit of colour.

One afternoon we sight a canoe in which is a
white man. It proves to be the Doctor, the young
lady's intended. He gives me a letter from my



6 UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER.

husband, who writes he will meet me at Katunga's
village, a good distance up the river. Henceforth
I am all impatience to reach that place.

At Mpinde, a trading station, we change our
steamer for a smaller one — the Lady Nyassa. In
it we are much crowded. There is only one
cabin, which we ladies occupy. The men sleep
where they can. We have our meals on one
small deck which has no railing. At night the
flies are terrible. Thousands of white-winged
insects cloud the lamp at dinner, fall into our
food, and on the table. At last the light is put
out and we have more comfort.

Soon we enter the Morambala Marsh, a danger-
ous place for fever, but each night I have taken
a few grains of quinine so have no fear, besides
it is the dry season and more healthy. High
undulating hills rise on our right. Here the sports-
man has fever. I am sure his dreams will be full
of crocodiles. I give him my mattress though
to-night I must lie on the bare boards.

Next day we arrive at Port Herald. From here
we will travel in small boats. There seems
nothing to hinder us from proceeding on our
journey. But alas ! an important box, belonging
to the young lady, is discovered to have been left
behind. She insists on waiting for it. Her
intended cannot refuse her.



UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER. 7

My heart sinks as daily I am feeling weaker
from the extreme heat, and I fear my husband
will be anxiously waiting for me at Katunga's
village, a not too healthy place. The few white
men, stationed here, urge us to go on, expatiating
on the dangers of the climate. They speak in
vain, not knowing that the box contains the
wedding finery.

We watch the rest of the passengers sail off in
their boats. For three days we stay here. It is
a wild place. A short time ago a lion killed
eight or nine of the native villagers. We are
afraid to venture far, but the men go hunting for
marabou. We keep near our boat where we sleep
at nights in a little hut at the stern.

On the fourth day, as no box is forthcoming,
we proceed on our journey. Ten nude natives
paddle each boat, or, when the water is shallow,
stand working their long poles. They sing a weird,
haunting song which seems to fit in with the
atmosphere, the strange sights, and the loneli-
ness of the situation. Now it is a chant supposed
to have been taught by the Jesuit missionaries.
Kow plaintively they repeat the line —

" Sine mama, sine baba "
(WitJwut mother, without father).

Sometimes the boat is stopped for the men to wade
ashore to search for food. We wonder often if



8 UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER.

they have left us for good, but no, they come
laden with sweet potatoes and rice.

By day we sit on our mattresses which are spread
out in the hut at the end of the boat ; the broad
door is open so we can watch the natives paddle,
but there is no coolness in the air. We get very
much cramped, and try to walk when we get to
the shore at night, but it is impossible to go far,
for long charred reeds cover the ground.

After seventeen days on the river we reach
Cheromo, where an agent of the African Lakes
Company examines our luggage. The Doctor
seems inclined to wait again for the young lady's
box, but the teacher kindly offers to remain till
it comes, so we get off next morning.

This part of the river is very beautiful. Behind
the long reeds graceful bamboos and tall palm
trees adorn the banks. Red and green birds
flit in and out their sand-holes. Other birds sing
in the thicket. Butterflies sport over the water
which is as smooth as glass. We are in the river
Shire now. Often our boat gets so near the bank
that reeds and bushes brush harshly against its
side and forwardly push their branches in at our
little window.

At every meal we picnic on shore. Then I make
an extra pot of tea, and take it into the boat, our
thirst is so terrible, and it is not safe to drink



UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER. 9

unboiled water. In the afternoons now I sit alone
in my floating hut, for the young lady keeps the
Doctor company. I am lying on my mattress with
arms stretched out to dry. Perspiration streams
down my face. Impatiently I push my head
through the little window in the hope that a faint
breeze may cool me. There is a splash. I stretch
my neck — another splash — and I see white spray
tossed in the air. Then two great heads of
hippopotami stare at me from the water.

But thank God, we are past them. I lie back
on my pillow and daub my face with my handker-
chief. When we go ashore that night I feel so
exhausted I can hardly crawl from the boat.
Our boatmen throw themselves on the ground in
all manner of positions, while one or two go in
search for food. It is now quite dark save for the
fire on which our meal is cooking. Frogs croak
incessantly in the marshes. Many fireflies flit
like stars through the air. One is caught and is
seen to have a small body with long brownish
wings. Underneath a mysterious blue light
flutters and glows brightly.

Soon we are in bed, the mosquito curtain secure
around us. We hear the boys chattering outside.
Sometimes there is a splash from a crocodile
near our boat, but we fall asleep with the croak,
croak from the frogs in our ears.



io UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER.

As we go further up the river more and more
sandbanks cause us delay. I have a foolish feeling
that this journey will never end. The boat
twines round and round a serpentine route, which
is narrow and bordered by dense foliage at each
side. But there is no shade. The sun, like a
persistent hawk, hovers above us, never for one
moment removing its eye.

On the bushes, cast snake skins, dry and
whitish, hang by the score. It seems an enchanted
river. For hours we sail without one break in
the dark green thickets that wall our course.

At last an opening, and hope once more !
Papia, the only boatman who wears a hat, throws
back his head and sings. He is such a curious
spectacle, with that old bashed straw hat, that
I covertly sketch him.

We are into a small bay. Dark hued women,
each with a baby tied on her back, are bathing
in the water. They dive, babies and all, and
emerge laughing merrily. How cool they look.
I would fain watch them a little longer, but our
boat sails past them.

Now I see, beyond a bank, a queer little grass
roofed hut erected on very high poles where a
native stays to watch his crops of Indian corn.
Here we land for lunch, and to stretch our limbs.
That over, we all get into one boat, for we will



UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER. n

shortly pass through Hippopotamus Bay. We
keep watch expectantly. At last fifteen or sixteen
huge heads appear above the water, tossing spray,
and of course our boat chooses to stick on a
sandbank.

The natives get out and try to dig a course with
their hands. After much effort we float again.
We pass the hippos sporting in their bay, their
great, bare, pink heads looking hideous and
shining with the water. They shake their ears
with extreme enjoyment. One yawns ; there is
a sound like thunder, and inside its mouth is a
red cavern.

We are relieved to be past them for our boat
shows evidence of previous attacks. More than
one patch of zinc has been nailed on its side.
Now I hope that we shall soon reach Katunga's
village which is our next port. But the natives
are lazy. They draw into a bank about four
o'clock in the afternoon, meaning to rest for the
night. After much persuasion and loud language
they sulkily resume their duty. We camp at
six beneath some tall palm trees. Against one
rests a large cup made of a gourd, having a wooden
handle over three yards long for reaching down
for water. This we use as the bank is very steep.

The sun, as if weary of watching its quarry,
sets. Darkness comes suddenly on us, but the



B



12 UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER.

camp fire sets up a cheery glow. The natives
crouch round it, watching the pots. There is a
grateful odour of tea and sweet potatoes. When
the meal is over the crew wrap themselves up in
their grass-cloth sacks and go to sleep. But,
fascinated by the strange scenes, we sit and watch,
listening to the stern croaking of the frogs. High
up on the hills bush fires burst out. They run
up and down till they meet each other when they
seem to change into writhing fiery serpents.

For several more days we sail. I am hardly
expecting to reach Katunga's now, or is it that
a stolid indifference has come over me ? The
river has broadened and narrowed. Cultivated
country appears. Yet we pass more hippos,
crocodiles are an hourly occurrence. We see plots
with banana bushes, tomatoes and Indian corn.

After fully three weeks on the river I am told
that we will certainly reach Katunga's village
before night. Is it possible after so much dis-
appointment and delay that I shall see my husband
at last ? Fate seems against it.

Our boat stops again, though this time the
water is quite deep. A canary, which the young
lady has brought all the way from Durban, has
escaped from its cage. Her fianc6 rushes madly
from the boat to search for it. To me it seems



UP THE ZAMBESI RIVER. 13

like looking for a needle in a hay-stack. But I
have long since resigned myself to fate. What
although my husband should have malaria waiting
so long for me, or that I die on the river, as so
many others have done ?

I throw myself on my mattress and say not
a word.

After long waiting in the insufferable heat the
Doctor actually appears with the canary. My
companions look at me with eyes of reproach as
I don't congratulate them. How bitter and
horrible I have grown. But that tired feeling
has come over me again. Sweet unconsciousness
comes in sleep.

I am awakened suddenly. " Mrs. C we are

at Katunga's. I am sure I see your husband
waiting for you on the bank," I hear the young
lady saying.

I start up. We are drawing in to a landing
stage. The others step out. There are mutual
greetings. But I am like a stone. I cannot move.

A man enters my boat. He is white and thin,
not like the man who left me on that sad morning.
But it is my husband. My heart thaws. I rise
to meet him. " You are a brick," he says as he
leads me from the boat.



CHAPTER II



ACROSS THE GREAT TUCHILLA PLAIN

ONE of the African Lakes Company, a man
with a terribly washed out appearance, led
us into a roughly built house where we had a
good tea. That over we sat in the verandah and
talked as those talk who have been long separated.
Next morning we got up at five. A large
number of natives were waiting outside to carry
us in our machillas. A machilla is simply a
hammock slung from a pole. It is rather queer
getting in for the first time. The men stand very
still, the pole resting on their shoulders, while
one swings oneself into it. I felt very comfortable,
with a cushion behind my head, and a pretty
awning of cloth above to protect me from the
burning sun. In my pocket was a lemon for
refreshment by the way. Our carriers were
strongly built men with glossy chocolate-coloured
skin. That they were happy we could not doubt.



ACROSS THE GREAT TUCHIIXA PLAIN. 15

Every little while they would clap their hands,

as they trotted up the hill, and sing in chorus

their native songs. This one in particular seemed

a favourite : —

:< Mbungo, Hibungo, wajiweni kwa ? "
(The -wind, the wind, where hath it been seen ?)

They were inclined also to extempore songs.

I had a strong suspicion that they were singing
about me. I would hear repeatedly the word

II Donna," their name for a white woman, and
" Mlanje," the mountain to which we were
travelling. I could not help wondering if the
song were flattering, or the reverse. More
probably it was the latter for the native is very
quick to grasp anything that may seem to him
a peculiarity. Later I discovered that they
thought my waist a deformity, and that I wore
too much cloth.

The air ceases to be stifling as one ascends the
hill, but we did not appreciate the difference,
having left in the cool of the morning, and with
the sun growing hotter as the day advanced. The
road was very steep, often my feet were higher
than my head. Where there were precipices the
men would walk at the very edge, making me sick
to look down.

At the first stream we were to have lunch. How
I longed for it. Although I had already eaten



1 6 ACROSS THE GREAT TUCHILLA PLAIN.

the whole lemon my thirst seemed unquenchable.
Shortly before mid-day the welcome sound of
running water was heard, and we soon alighted
from our machillas.

A picnic in the jungle ! What could be more
exquisite ? To fill our kettle from a brook wan-
dering down mysterious valleys ; to sit under
some ancient tree, perhaps a remnant of the virgin
forest, should be a perfect delight. But a green
serpent is bathing in the water. Thousands of
black beetles, like a garment of jet, cover that
boulder which we thought such an inviting seat.
Over there, right to the top of that dying tree the
white ants have made their wondrous tunnels,
the bark being almost entirely hidden by the
red earth which they have dragged up.

However, the fire is lit, and the blue smoke
curls up. The tea is boiled in the kettle. The
African Lakes Agent has provided well for us.
There are two roasted fowls, scones and jam.
Everything is eaten ; the tea is drunk and my
thirst seems as bad as ever. It is best not to
linger too long here, lest a lion or some other wild
animal may be coming for a more substantial
meal.

After a sufficient rest we started on our way
again. Here and there the charred trunk of a
tree, a victim of the last bush fire, stretched out



ACROSS THE GREAT TUCHIIvLA PLAIN. 17

its naked branches. Not a sound was heard
save the patter of the men's feet and their pleasant
snatches of song. Not a creature crossed our
path, only the sun watched our going with un-
flinching eye, and beat on us unmercifully.

Late in the afternoon, when I had nearly fallen
asleep, I heard, to my astonishment, the sound
of wheels, a sound which I did not expect to
hear in that part of the country. Looking forward
I saw approaching a dogcart with two white men.

One alighted and introduced himself as Mr. F

from Mandala, the principal trading post of the
African Lakes Company. Having heard of our
coming they had very considerately determined
to convey us the length of Blantyre Mission, where
we would stay the night.

We too ladies got into the dogcart, and after
driving a long way, were met by the school
children and married girls. All came running
and clapping their hands. Soon we saw in the
distance the beautiful church, a dark red building
with a white dome. At Mandala we had tea and
in the evening drove to Blantyre, where we had a
hearty welcome. The manse seemed luxurious to
me, who had not been in a proper house since
leaving Quilimane. The verandah was the finest
I ever saw. It was broad and beautifully smooth,
with linoleum along the centre. Its latticed



18 ACROSS THE GREAT TUCHILLA PLAIN.

fence was hidden with a hedge of jessamine and
creeping plants.

" How hot it is," everybody was saying ; but
I felt it comparatively cool after the fearful heat
on the river. After our experiences on the
journey it seemed as if a wand had been raised
and had transformed the jungle into a mansion
and pleasure garden.

Yet not more than a stone's throw from here
I saw a native village with its people looking as
degraded as those on the Zambesi.

At Blantyre we parted from our two travelling
companions, who were going in another direction,
and proceeded on our journey. About four miles
from the Mission we came in sight of the Limbe,
a coffee planter's house, a long one-storied building
of wattle and daub with verandah, and a semi-
circle of well-kept ground in front with a bower
of bananas in the middle. Of course our carriers
had to clap their hands as we approached it.
Their way was to give little claps at intervals in
a song. Now they roared their lustiest : —

" Chilambo cha mkolo
Changali walume,
Walume uwe."
(0 country of women without any men,
We are the men, we are the men).



ACROSS THE GREAT TUCHILLA PLAIN. 19

Hearing the noise, a number of native servants
ran out to meet us, followed by the kindly hostess

and her sister, Miss W . White folk are always

welcomed here if they are respectable at all ; but
we received more than ordinary hospitality. Both
ladies urged us to stay a few days, but after tea,
and an hour's rest, we bade them good-bye. We
were anxious to get home. The jungle lay before
us, covering a plain, nearly fifty miles in extent,
the haunt of the lion, zebra, koodoo and elephant.
At that time there was no proper road, only a path,
the breadth of a man, lay between the high grass
and scrub. Here and there, some trees, impeding


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