Jessie Monteath Currie.

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

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mendous callousness exists among these natives
regarding pain and death when they do not affect
themselves. One day the Doctor visited the
Banana village and found a woman who was
dreadfully burnt lying on the ground outside her
hut, quite unprotected from the scorching sun.
I think it was the first time I had seen the
Doctor angry. After scolding the relatives who
had cast the woman out of the hut, he returned
at once to our house and expatiated on their
barbarity while I, by his directions, rolled up a
mat and gathered a few necessary things for the
poor creature's comfort. These last acts perhaps
soothed her, but she died in a day or two.

At the same time there are exceptions, though


alas ! very few. One day a number of natives
arrived at our Station carrying on a litter a very
old woman, the mother of a chief, to the Doctor
to be cured. Her back was one mass of suppura-
ting sores painful to see. Every attention was
given her by her friends, and the Doctor kept her
for a considerable time, treating her to the best
of his skill. The disease, however, proved obsti-
nate and the friends getting tired, more probably
hopeless, carried her back to her people with great
tenderness. What a poor little bundle she looked
as I watched her go past.

It was the only time I ever saw the natives
carrying, without compulsion, one of their own
race. When we remember that the habit of these
heathen is to destroy the deformed, the aged,
and the unwanted in the village, like in the case
of poor old Che Chagula, this instance of feeling
is the more remarkable.

Our two women patients, however, got quite
better, and were able to walk back to their village
ere many days had passed. I grew so accustomed
to the sound of guns, with the frequent explanation
that it was due to a beer drinking, that I ceased to
be anxious, knowing nothing of the fact that a
great brew is generally made before fighting some
enemy. Unfortunately I was to learn that to
my bitter cost ere very long.



BWANALI had just lowered the flag and
sounded the bugle when Robert Tause
came up the steps of the verandah with Ajaula ;
the two boys had been brought back a few hours

There was a painful scene in the dining room,
where the little culprit received her punishment
— two or three strokes from the chikoti, which
were supposed to teach her that the way of
transgressors is hard.

I waited alone in the verandah with a sore heart,
gazing at the golden-edged clouds, tumbled
together above the long line of hills opposite.
The sun was under a cloud and nearly set, but it
shed down two broad rays right between the
purple peaks.

I knew Mele also wanted to come back, but
fear prevented her. She would doubtless return
soon, then the old life would begin again with its
little trilling songs to lighten the work.


But a few days passed and there was no sign
of Mele. At last word came that Robert would
bring her back that evening.

The Msungu was uneasy and irritable. I knew
what he was thinking. At last he said : " I think
I'll not punish Mele. It's horrible to strike a girl."

" But you punished Ajaula," I said, still harping
on discipline. " Why should you make any
difference ? "

" Mele is really a woman," said the Msungu ;
" it will not be necessary in her case. She will
understand, and like us the better for being

" They are all children," I said harshly. " It
will never do to make any difference. How would
Ajaula feel when Mele told her ? Ajaula will be
hurt and angry, and Mele will be proud and
intolerant, thinking she stands higher in your

"If they had only come back together,"
lamented the Msungu, " we might have let them
both off. But if you think I shouldn't make any
difference I won't, though it's detestable."

" It is just a case of discipline," I said. " They
don't feel so intensely as we do, therefore the
lesson must be keener. You cannot appeal to a
higher nature where it is not yet born."

" I suppose you are right," said the Msungu


sadly ; " but I wish I had nothing to do with it."

No more was said on the subject. The day
passed, evening came, and still no sign of Mele.
The drums were beating continuously with a dull
thud, thud, in a little village higher up the moun-
tain. In the stillness of the night wails and
screams were heard at intervals. The weird
sounds got on my nerves. I was glad when the
time came for our native service, when Ajaula
knelt as usual by my side with her elbows resting
on the table. She looked at me, and I saw that
she was trying to draw my attention to something.
I followed her eyes and saw a large grass tick
crawling over the table. The Doctor noticed it
also, and taking out his knife ground its handle
on the creature. It lay still, dead for certain.
But no — to my surprise it walked again as hale
as ever, till the Doctor cut it in four with the blade
of his knife.

And all the time Mele lived in my thoughts —
the tick was associated with her, the door also
by which she would enter, and the Msungu
gravely reading the Bible lesson.

Oh, if Mele were only here and everything as

Prayers over I went to bed. I had just lain
down when I heard a stir outside, then the front
door open, and Robert speaking.


" Oh, Mele, Mele," I heard my husband say.

Then the front door shut and I knew that Robert
had gone. My heart began to beat faster. What
if the Msungu had been right and I wrong ? Could
I run in yet and prevent the punishment ?

I half rose from my bed. ' ' Aj aula was as bly the
as a bird the very next day." " Remember how
proudly Mele tosses her head." " The besetting
sin of the native is pride." These thoughts
flashed upon me.

I fell back on my pillow. I heard the reassuring
voice of the Msungu in firm gentle tones through
the wall. " Perhaps he will not do it," I thought.
" Never mind her pride. After all, what wrong
has she done ? It was only the call of the Wild
— the call of Nature she had answered. Why
punish her ? "

Then I heard — one, two, three strokes as from
the chikoti in the next room. I felt each blow
and my face crimsoned — then a fourth stroke,
and I sank back panting on the pillow.

Not a sound from Mele, not a cry. There was
a silence for a few minutes. Then I heard the
Msungu speaking in soft persuasive tones. Was
he praying to the Almighty Father to help her to
resist temptation ? I wondered.

The front door opened and shut, and I knew
that the Msungu had passed out to the tranquility


of the night ; then the fearful thought came to
me — " A woman is never degraded by a man
striking her, but he is." Yet I alone was the
transgressor in this case.

Next day, I saw no difference in my girls. They
chatted and laughed, and went about their tasks
as willingly as ever. I gave them sweets, and
promised them " quenda jenda " (a walk) in the
afternoon, when the work was over.

After lunch some clothes had to be ironed.
The irons were brought in from the kitchen.
Ajaula took hers, spat on it, rubbed it on a paper
and began her work in a business-like manner.

I looked at Mele. She was standing idle,
watching her companion.

" Mele," I said, " Aseti " (iron).

She held her right hand out and showed me
its palm. " See," she said quite brightly, " I
can't iron to-day."

I looked at her hand. I saw nothing wrong ;
but the sorrow of the past night had come back
to me.



THE weather grew cooler, almost every day,
generally in the afternoon there was a
thunderstorm. I dreaded them at first, but very
soon all fear left me. In fact I rather welcomed
them. They cleared the air, and put away my
depression. There were so many greater dangers
that I preferred like King David to "fall into the
hands of the living God."

I might have been perfectly contented if a
longing had not come into my heart to see a white
woman. For over six months, an age it seemed,
I had not seen one of my own kind. How nice,
I thought, it would be to see a person dressed
in pretty clothes with the little ornaments peculiar
to the feminine sex. I even fancied that it would
be a pleasure to count the buttons down the front
of her bodice, as the fashion then was.

When at last word came that a newly married


couple, a missionary and his wife, were coming
to spend a few days with us I was quite excited.

What a preparation I made. What pies and
cakes I baked with the help of Mlenga and Kasas-
wichi. What a cleaning the little drawing room
got, which was to be their bedroom by night, so
easily I could remove the rugs and skins from
the single bed that formed the couch.

But when the Msungu rushed in to tell me that
our visitors were actually coming up the mountain
I fairly trembled. I had to go into my bedroom
and calm myself with sal volatile, foolish thing
that I was. Curbing my agitation I went out to
meet them, and when I saw the bonnie, fresh
face of the young wife all nervousness left me.

Everything seemed conducive to a perfect
friendship. We were nearly the same age, neither
of us was long married, we were both in a strange
land far from home, and our social positions were
the same.

But I was disappointed. I thought I would
pour out my pent-up feminine thoughts, and she
did not understand me. When I said how I had
longed to see a white woman, and how I should
like one at our Station, she remarked that she
would be perfectly happy anywhere alone with
her husband. And that gentleman entirely agreed
with her.


I felt rebuked. Was there something a-wanting
in my nature ? Had I somehow failed to be
a good wife ?

The Doctor and the Msungu took my part, and
they almost had words with her husband, and I
had much trouble in keeping peace. But the
lady was too buxom and healthy ever to be dis-
turbed. Fortunately it was only at meal-times
that we had much chance for conversation.

Yet when I considered that this lady had never
been in my position, but had always been
supported by the companionship of other women,
older and more experienced, a little clique in fact,
some of them even related, and that the Mission
Station in which she lived had every home comfort,
not to mention luxury, I could better understand

As we had received information that the mail
might arrive any day, we were busy writing
letters all that first evening, and next day I had
not much conversation with her as my time was
greatly taken up with cooking preparations, and
in the little leisure I had my guest was occupied
with a novel in the drawing room. But I did not
blame her. She could not know the weary longing
that was in my heart.

As a picnic had been planned up the mountain
I rose early next day, and baked and cooked a


variety of things for our lunch outdoors. By
the time we were ready to start I was quite
fatigued, and although we took men and a machilla
with us we all walked. I did not like to show
weakness, my lady guest was so strong and
robust. I tried hard to keep up with the others.

The day was perfect. The scenery magnificent ;
but the way was all up hill, and ere I had gone
very far a shivering and sickness came over me.
My head ached intolerably. My legs felt like
weights of lead.

I hid my trouble as long as I could, but when
at long and last we sat down to lunch in the shade
of some huge cedars I fairly collapsed. Had
our Doctor been with us it might have been
different; as it was, nobody, unless the Msungu,
showed the least concern, and even he tried to
make light of it. It was only an ordinary case
of fever, the most common thing in the African
world ; yet I got the machilla on the way home,
for which I was thankful.

I remember nothing more except that as soon
as we got home I crept to bed and left my guests
to entertain themselves. I could hear them
laughing and chatting through the thin wall of
my room while I buried my burning, throbbing
head in the pillow.

I did not see my visitors again. About five


next morning they left for their own Station.
That day my temperature rose to 104 . I was
quite conscious. After all the usual remedies
had been tried without success, the Doctor asked
me if I would take Warburg's tincture, a medicine
he had not as yet tested on his patients. If I took
it, he said, I must refrain from drinking water,
or any liquid, for two hours.

So the draught was given, and I lay watching
the little carriage clock on the chest of drawers,
at intervals tossing and turning with that burning,
intolerable thirst killing every other desire in my
nature. Ever before me was the cool, cool spring
near my cottage home. What bucketfuls I drank
in imagination, but I only grew thirstier. And
my wearied eyes were straining on the clock.
How slowly its hands moved. Would the time
never pass ? But I bore it ; and just as the two
hours were ending the sweat broke out all over
me. My life was saved.

What a relief it was. I was lifted into another
bed for coolness. It was low and near the ground.
Two tin travelling boxes, one on the top of the
other, acted as a table beside me. On it lay a
candle, a water-bottle, a match-box, and the
powder which I was to take at a certain time
through the night. But a whole family of rats
came out to hold a nocturnal revel and danced


over me for hours. They ate the candle, knocked
over the water-bottle, which flooded the powder
and the matches, making it impossible for me to
strike a light or take my medicine. But I did not
mind them. I was too happy from the relief
I had experienced. At dawn my merry visitors
left me, when I discovered a baby rat drowned in
a basin of water beside my bed.



HOWEVER distressing these fevers of mine
may seem on narrating, to me they are
now glossed over, and I only think of them as
occasions for rest and being attended to instead
of attending. I was often so tired. The responsi-
bility seemed so great, the climate was so trying,
and just at the beginning of the rainy season
another girl — Achilandana — was added to my

How can I describe her ? To say that she was
blacker than our other girls and that she was not
particularly good-looking, though exactly true,
would give an entirely wrong impression. From
the very first she inspired confidence. There was
a certain firmness and kindness in her manner.
Living with her and seeing her each day one forgot
all other disadvantages and felt only her bright-
ness, willingness and good-nature.

Her child life, in Namonde, the chief's, village,


had been more trying than interesting. She loved
the flowers and the little grey moles which she
dug up to play with, and if the older people had
but let her alone she might have been perfectly
happy. But she was betrothed to an elderly man
with a black beard, named Mtande, and her parents
had decreed that she must have a waistband,
like all other well-bred girls, so that she would be
quite presentable when the time came to give her
in marriage. She had therefore to go every other
day to an old woman, who took great pains in
tattooing an elaborate pattern round her body.

Achilandana did not like it. She would much
rather have been left unadorned like the common
slave girls. And there was still another ordeal
in prospect : she was to be initiated into the
mysteries of the Unyago.

When she heard that some missionaries had
come to the mountain, she never dreamed that
their coming would affect her until she saw
several of her companions taken to live at the
white man's house. Soon she heard what wonder-
ful things they were learning and seeing. Every
Sunday afternoon the girls from the Mission would
come home with such stories, a favourite one
being about a man called Noah who made a large
wooden house that could float on the water, so
big that it could hold one of every living thing ;


and when a great Spirit sent a flood to drown
every body and creature in the world, this man
got them all into his great boat and saved them.
This powerful Spirit was a friend of the white
man and taught him all kinds of magic, and most
wonderful of all — he actually wanted to teach
the black man also.

No wonder that Achilandana was fired with a
desire to go to the Mission. She ceased to take
an interest in the village pastimes, and winced
every time the old woman pricked that lovely
pattern on her waist. Her people had no patience
with her, and were not sorry when the Msungu
came and arranged that she should come to the

I have thus expatiated on Achilandana, for she
was my little companion and comfort in the time
of trial, which came — as already had been

Did I give the impression that these times of
fever were my only opportunities for rest ? If
so I must hasten to add that one day in the week
was to me as an oasis in the desert. Sunday it
was. Not from any religious principle, or that,
as some might say, I had sweet communion with
the Eternal, though these I had, but simply
because it was a day when my wearied body and
mind left struggling alone.


I think I see my three girls as they sallied into
my bedroom on a Sabbath morning. Through my
room into the little store they went, where they
kept their clothes in one of my tin boxes. With
what a look of importance they came out, trans-
formed into neat little maids with short print
skirts and blouses, their red cotton sashes tied in
neat bows behind. So proud were they of these
sashes that one day when a traveller arrived with
a camera, a rare opportunity for me to be photo-
graphed with my girls, they tied them conspicu-
ously in front, instead of behind. Unfortunately
I took a sudden fever in the afternoon and the
photo was never made.

My girls waited for me at the door, and we
walked down the road to church, past the Doctor's
house, and entered the low thatched building of
wattle and daub. It had no windows. The open
door admitted sufficient light. A number of
natives, already assembled, were squatted on the
ground. Besides babies on backs, little toddling
children, naked as they came into the world, were
there also, and when the hymns were sung they
got up and danced ; but then, David himself
praised God in the dance.

Across the lapse of time the sweet strains come
back to me, and I hear their soft childish voices
in the hymn — " Jesus loves me " — that appeals


to black and white. But they are the Yao words

I hear : —

" Yesu akunonyela,
Chindu achi ngumanya ;
Wanono wa m'mangwakwe
Akulimba kwangune."

The sermon was most simple. They seemed
to listen attentively. Namonde's chief wife in
particular, a sad-eyed woman, with a yearning
look on her face, never took her eyes off the

The service over we went home. Stepping up
the verandah this particular Sunday we suddenly
stopped. A black snake, about a yard long, was
in the act of entering our dining room. The boys
drew back in fear, but the Msungu seized a stick,
and striking it smartly on the head, killed it.
The boys reluctantly, with the help of two sticks,
threw it into the bush. They said it was a very
deadly kind which had a head at each end.

I thought no more of it at the time, but hurried
round to the kitchen to see about lunch. Return-
ing to the house with a plate of steaming pancakes
I met the Doctor, who shook his head with pre-
tended disapproval.

" O Donna, Donna, I am surprised at you,"
he said, " breaking the Sabbath this way."

After lunch the girls and all the boys, except
one or two who waited to help with dinner, were


allowed home. The Doctor went to preach in
some village, and the Msungu and I were left alone.
How quiet and deserted the Station felt ; but
I liked it — no hurrying from my rest in the after-
noon to give the girls their lessons, only the
welcome peace of the Sunday when the great hills
seemed like everlasting arms stretched protectingly
around us.

An idea of how the mountains affected me can
be gathered from my diary under the date of
January 29th. I remember it was written in the
morning after a fearfully windy night when we
thought our house would be swept down the hill.
Was it by chance or guidance that I opened the
Bible at these words which I wrote in my diary ?

" For lo, He that formed the mountains, and createth the
wind, and declareth unto man what is His thought,
that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth
upon the high places of the earth. The Lord, the
God of Hosts is His name."

This place, indeed, seemed the very home of the


That Sunday afternoon there was a great rain-
fall, and the Lekabula at the foot of the mountain
came down in flood. Consequently the boys did
not return that night from the village, but the
girls, wonderful to relate, appeared all drenched
with water, having swum across the river.

Our Sunday dinner at six o'clock was the chief


event in the week. The Doctor always dined with
us that day, and I generally tried to have some-
thing out of the usual. In spite of the rough sur-
roundings the table looked very well with its white
cloth, ironed smooth by the girls. A red geranium
was stuck in each serviette. The glasses shone.
The finest coffee, newly roasted and ground, ended
the meal.

Then what a feast the boys would have at the
end of the verandah with all that was left over.
As a rule they were allowed to cook for us what
vegetables they pleased. Sometimes there was
a marvellous choice. Probably there would be
a dish of mashed yams, an enormous root, in its
raw state very sticky and juicy ; and chipere, a
very fine bean ; also sweet potatoes and rice.
The more they cooked the greater the chance of
them being well fed.

But to return to that Sunday when we saw the
snake. I remembered about it just as we were
going to bed. Having heard that a snake never
comes into a house alone, but brings a mate with
it, we made a very careful search of the bedroom
before lying down. Nothing disturbed us that
night ; but the night after I was awakened by
hearing a splashing noise in the dining room.
Right through the wall, where the sound came
from, stood a filter and two pails of water.


I sat up, listening anxiously. Splash, splash.
Something undoubtedly was struggling in the
water — the snake for certain.

I awoke my husband. Ever on the alert he
became conscious at once. We got up, lit a candle,
hastily threw on our dressing gowns, and went
into the dining room. The girls lay as usual asleep
under the table, like bales of red blankets. We
awoke them so that they might defend themselves
from the snake. They were highly excited on
hearing our story, and we all tip-toed forward,
the Msungu leading the way with a stout stick
in his hand, ready to strike.

I shone the candle over the pail. The splashing
continued vigorously. Truly it had been no
nightmare this time. Fearfully we peeped in.
Then we all jumped back with one accord, the
girls screaming in terror : " Lijoka " (snake).

We had seen a large black curved thing under
the water. The snake must have fallen from the
roof. Summoning up all our courage we ventured
to look again, and discovered that the large black
curved thing was only the reflection or shadow
of the pail's handle which happened to be in an
erect position.

But what of the splashing ? A frightened
mouse was swimming about in the water.



THESE were the days of the great rains.
Sometimes we were awakened through the
night by water coming down on our heads. We
would rise and shift the bed to a drier position,
if possible, then go to sleep again. Various efforts
were made at thatching as soon as we could
procure a man for the work. Matwika it was
who went on the roof. He had a cheerful way
of making strange noises with his mouth. We
could have sworn that a lion or some other wild
beast was wandering over the thatch. It seemed
to help him with his work.

Yet the rain came through in spite of Matwika's
efforts and groanings. The streams were flooded
and the Linje took its giant leap over the great
cliff with a deafening roar, and as if to keep it
company, myriads of smaller streams ran down,
and gushed through the rock at unexpected

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Online LibraryJessie Monteath CurrieThe Hill of goodbye; the story of a solitary white woman's life in Central Africa → online text (page 8 of 13)