The Wonderful Wagogo Tribe – A Royal Reception
Mr. Stanley had written several things into the record of his march to Ujiji that are extremely interesting. The following is what he wrote about the Wasagara tribe:
The tribes living within a hundred miles of the coast do not show any strongly-marked distinguishing features by which to classify them: only the most critical observer will note the tribal connections: punctures of the ear, very little difference in garb, and tattoo marks. But as we approach nearer to the interior, there is a very noticeable distinction, extending to habits of life, dress, disposition, and physical contour. Some of the people are frank and friendly, notably the Wasagara, who are peculiarly susceptible to missionary teachings. Their country is literally a land flowing with milk and honey, and a more trustworthy and kind people never lived. They are an exception. They are first met with at the village Mpwapwa.
Here the long slender ringlets, ornamented with brass and copper pendicles, balls, with bright pice from Zanzibar, with a thin line of miniature beads running here and there among the ringlets, are first seen. A youthful Wasagara, with a faint tinge of ochre embrowning the dull black hue of his face, with four or five bright copper coins ranged over his forehead, with a tiny gourd’s neck in each ear, distending his ear lobes, with a thousand ringlets well greased and ornamented with tiny bits of brass and copper, with a head well thrown back, broad breast thrown well forward, muscular arms, and full proportioned limbs, represents the beau-ideal of a handsome young African savage.
The Wasagara, male and female, tattoo the forehead, bosom and arms. Besides inserting the neck of a gourd in each ear (which carries his little store of “tumbac”, or tobacco and lime, which he has obtained by burning land shells – he carries quite a number of most primitive ornaments around his neck, such as two or three snowy cowrie-shells, carved pieces of wood, or a small goat’s horn, or some medicine consecrated by the medicine-man of the tribe, a fundo of white or red beads, or two or three pierced Sungomazzi egg-beads, or a string of copper coins, and sometimes small brass chains, like Cheap-Jack watch-chains.
The Waseguhla are neighbors of the Wasagara, but they are one of the most treacherous and ferocious tribes of Africa, finding congenial occupation only in fighting and enslaving the neighboring tribes who are too weak to resist them.
The Wonderful Wagogo Tribe
The Wagogo were the most extortionate tribe in Africa. They had many in their number and were extremely good fighters. They showed their strength by levying the heaviest burdens of any other tribe on anyone who passed through their country. They were physically and intellectually the best of the races between Unyamwezi and the sea.
Their color was a rich dark brown and their faces were broad and intelligent. Their eyes were large and round, their noses flat, and their mouths were very large. Even with their being an attractive figure to the white traveler, they were still very ferocious and the slightest provocation would set off their anger.
They made splendid soldiers because they were brave and cunning. Their weapons were a bow and sheaf of murderous-looking arrows that were pointed, pronged and barbed; a couple of light, beautifully made assegais, which was a broad-like spear with a blade over two feet long; a battle-axe, and a rungu, or knob-club. The soldier also had a shield that was painted with designs in black and white, oval-shaped, sometimes of rhinoceros, elephant, or bull-hide.
From the time these soldiers had been toddlers, they had been familiar with all these weapons, and by the time they were 15 they were extremely good at using them. They could be armed for battle in an extremely short time. When they were being attacked, a messenger would run from village to village blowing the ox-horn, which was the signal for war.
When the soldiers heard the signal, they would throw their hoe over their shoulder and run to their house. In just a few seconds they would come forth again arrayed in war paint and in full fighting costume. Feathers of either the ostrich, eagle, or vulture, would nod above their heads and long crimson robes would stream behind them. Their shields would be on their left arm and their assegai (spear) in their left hand. Then they had a huge man-cleaver that was double-edged and pointed, in their right hand. They also had jingling bells tied around their ankles and knees and ivory wristlets on their arms to sound their approach. In just a matter of minutes, they could go from a peasant to a proud warrior.
Their tembe, or dwelling house, was divided into apartments that were separated from each other by a wall. Each of the apartments might contain a family of grown-up boys and girls. They made their beds on the floor out of dressed animal hides. Only the father of the family had a fixed cot called a kitanda, that was made of ox-hide stretched over a frame or between trees.
The floor of the hut was made of tamped mud. It was extremely filthy, and smelled horribly to Stanley. He noted that in the corners of the rooms were huge spider webs that were home to monstrous black spiders and other monstrous insects.
The Wagogo believed in the existence of a god, or sky spirit, whom they called Mulungu. Their prayers were generally directed to him when their parents died. After the father had died and been buried, the son collected his father’s chattels together, his cloth, his ivory, his knife, his hoe, his bows and arrows, his spears, and his cattle and knelt before them. Then he repeated a wish that Mulungu would increase his worldly wealth, that he would bless his labors, and make him successful in trade.
Stanley had a conversation with a Wagogo trader and asked him who he thought made him. The man said that Mulungu made him, of course. The man also said that he believed when he died that he would just be no more, and that anyone who said otherwise was a liar.
He said that when they buried a person they tied his legs together, his right arm to his body, and his left arm was put under his head. He was then rolled on his left side in the grace. His cloth that he wore during his life was spread over him, and the earth was then put over him. They they put thorn bushes over the grave to prevent the hyenas from digging it up. A woman was buried on her right side in a grave apart from the man.
Stanley also asked the man what the penalty for murdering another was ? He told him that the murderer had to pay fifty cows to his family. If he was too poor to pay, then the Sultan gave his permission to the murdered man’s friends or relatives to kill him. If they were able to catch him, then they would tie him to a tree and throw spears at him. At first they threw the spears one at a time, then they would spring on him and cut off his head, then his arms, then his limbs, and scatter them about the country.
Then Stanley asked him what the punishment for a thief was ? The man said that in that case he would be killed at once with nothing said about it if they were positive that he committed the crime. If they were not sure, then they would kill a chicken. If the entrails were white, then the man was innocent, and if yellow, he was considered guilty. When Stanley asked him if he believed in witchcraft, he said that of course he did. He also said that if a man bewitched cattle or made it stop raining that he would be punished with death also.
The Wakimbu were something like the Wasagara in appearance and disposition, but they were much more industrious. They were the best agriculturists in Africa, and though their country was far from being the richest in soil, they made it the most productive by the way that they tilled the land. Their communal dwellings were so well constructed, that it would have required heavy cannon to break them down. They did little or no hunting, but were skillful in constructing traps for elephants and buffaloes. In these traps, they would also frequently catch lions and leopards.
A Royal Reception
Stanley was royally received at Unyanyembe by the Arab population, which numbered about 500 out of a total of 5,000 persons. The governor invited him to his house where he was fed a delightful meal with many things that Stanley had not eaten in a while. Stanley entertained the governor by telling him of the personal and political affairs of Arabia and Egypt.
Then the governor showed him to the house he would occupy during his stay there. There governor took great pride in calling attention to its many rooms as stated in what he told him as follows:
“Walk in, master, this is your house, now; here are your men’s quarters; here you will receive the great Arabs; here is the cook-house; here is the store-house; here is the prison for the refraetory; here are your white men’s apartments; and these are your own: see, here is the bedroom, here is the gun-room, bathroom,” etc.
Stanley now turned his attention to storing his goods and paying off his carriers, as this was the end of the trade route from Bagamoyo. When he had dismissed them, his force was reduced to 25 men.
He was overwhelmed by the service as he wrote in his diary: “Just as I began to feel hungry again came several slaves in succession, bearing trays full of good things from the Arabs; first an enormous dish of rice, with a bowlful of curried chicken; another with a dozen huge wheaten cakes, another with a plateful of smoking hot crullers; another with papaws, another with pomegranates and lemons; after these came men driving fat hump-backed oxen, eight sheep and ten goats, and another man came with a dozen chickens and a dozen fresh eggs. This was real, practical, noble courtesy, munificent hospitality, which quite took my gratitude by storm. My people were as delighted at the prodigal plentitude visible on my tables and in my yards as I was myself. And, as I saw their eyes light up at the unctuous anticipations presented to them by their riotous fancies, I ordered a bullock to be slaughtered and distributed.”
Because of sickness and a war that took place between the Arabs and a native chief named Mirambo soon after his arrival, Stanley was detained at Unyanyembe for nearly three months. Because of the terrible state of the country, he was finally forced to abandon the regular route to Ujiji and make a long circuit to the southwest in order to avoid any conflict with the terrible Mirambo. They had defeated the Arabs in two huge battles, and were now described as the Napoleon of Africa. Finally, on the 20th of September, Stanley organized a new force and once more started for Ujiji by this new southern route.