10 – Lukongeh, The King

It was Stanley’s intention to return to Mtesa’s with his expedition after they had explored the lake, but he felt they couldn’t go back that way again because Magassa had deserted him and had taken the canoes with him.  Stanley didn’t want to go back empty handed to Mtesa.  The chief of the village where his camp was located had no boats.  He informed Stanley, though, that he could obtain all the canoes he needed from Lukongeh, king of Ukerewe.  He lived in the capital which was about 50 miles away.  With this news, Stanley set out to find the king.  When he arrived two days later, he found the king was drunk and he had to wait two extra days to have an audience with him.

Stanley showed the king all the presents he had brought for him.  He felt that they were so magnificent that he quickly ordered them covered up again lest the others should see them and become jealous.  He whispered to Stanley that he would come to his hut after dark and look at everything.  He was true to his word and brought five of his principal chiefs with him.  Stanley gave each of them a good amount of fine cloths, beads, wire, two rugs, two red blankets, and some copper ornaments.  The king was so amazed that he promised Stanley all the canoes that he wanted, with the condition that he could stay with him for awhile to learn from him.  He considered the white man to be a fountain of wisdom and he wanted to learn greatly from him.  He came nearly every hour to Stanley to ask him questions, to which he gladly answered.  He perceived that the king would be easily open to hear about the Christian faith and Stanley gave him all the time he wanted.  

Some Wonderful Superstitions

All of his subjects felt that Lukongeh was endowed with some kind of supernatural power, and he made no effort to lessen their belief.   His people imagined that he could parch the land with drought, or flood it with rain at will.  When he met Stanley, he imagined that he might impart to him some of the great secrets of Europe.  He asked him all kinds of questions – such as how to transform men into lions and leopards, how to cause the rains to fall or cease, the winds to blow, to give fruitfulness to women and virility to men.  Many of the chiefs made demands such as these so that they could be more mighty in the eyes of their people. 

The custom of greeting Lukongeh differed from anywhere else that Stanley had observed in Africa.  His people advanced close to him, clapped their hands and knelt before him.  If the king was pleased, he showed his pleasure by blowing and spitting into their hands.  They used this spit to anoint their faces and eyes.  They seemed to believe that the king’s saliva was good for their eyes.  To each other, they knelt, clapped hands and cried out a greeting.

The people sought to thrive upon all kinds of superstitions because they felt that they were a weakness of human nature.  One of the king’s officers declared that a crocodile once lived in the house of a Ukara chief, was fed from his hand, and was docile and obedient as a dog, and as intelligent as  a man.  Lukongeh at one time had a pretty woman in his harem that was coveted by the Ukara chief.  He could not devise any mans to possess her until he thought of his crocodile.  He immediately communicated his desire to the reptile and told him to lie in wait in the rushes near Msossi until the woman approached the lake to bathe.  The crocodile was then to seize her and carry her across the eight mile channel to Ukara without injuring her.  The next day at noon, the woman was in the Ukara chief’s house. 

Also, Machunda, Lukongeh’s father, owned a crocodile that stole an Arab’s wife and carried her across the country to the king’s house.   Kaduma of Kagehyi, also was said to possess a hippopotamus that came to him each morning to be milked and stayed for a long period of time.

Families that were in mourning were distinguished by bands of plantain leaf around their heads and also wore a mixture of pulverized charcoal and butter on themselves.  Their clothing consisted of half-dressed ox hides, goat skins, a cincture of banana leaves, or a kirtle made of a coarse grass cloth. 

On the 7th of June, Stanley obtained 27 canoes from the king.  He cautioned him against allowing any of his subjects to know that they were to be used for any purpose other than to convey him back to his camp.  They were a very suspicious people and the king was afraid they would raise a disturbance.  Stanley returned to his camp in the canoes accompanied by 216 of Lukongeh’s men.  After he got back to camp, he pulled the canoes about 200 yards on to shore and locked the paddles in a strong house.  When the natives discovered this, they threatened bloodshed, but finally quit when Stanley and others drew their guns and had to threaten death if they kept on.   

A Fierce Battle

Finally after all this and Lukongeh’s men having gone back to their camp, Stanley was able to go on with his lake voyage to Uganda.  On June 20th he and his 150 men, women and children left in the canoes.  Because of the bad condition of the canoes, five of them sank the very first night and several of the people almost drowned.  Other canoes were secured without serious delay, though.  It was a relief for him to see Magassa, who had been sent by Mtesa to find him.  He had come with 300 men.  They were a great help to Stanley, because he was about to be at the mercy of 3,000 natives.  They held a narrow passageway that he had to go through to reach Uganda.  Since he now had more men, he started again for the passageway.  When the natives rushed down with spears, bows and sings, and started shouting, Stanley’s group started shooting with their guns in the air.  That scared them so badly that they retreated and he had no more trouble with them. 

War in Africa

The expedition reached Mtesa’s on the 23rd of August, and the king again received Stanley into his council chamber with a huge ceremony.  Stanley also told him of the reason of his visit – to procure guides and an escort to conduct him to Albert Lake.  Mtesa’s reply was that he was engaged in a war with the people of Uvuma.  They refused to pay their tribute, harassed the people along the coast, and were abducting his people and selling them to traders that came by.  He told Stanley that it was not customary in Uganda to permit strangers to proceed on their journeys while the Kabaka was engaged in war, but as soon as they had peace again Stanley could have his army of people to give him safe conduct to the lake.  Mtesa told him that the war would not last long, so Stanley decided to stay there and take the time to acquire information about the country and its people.

On August 27th, Mtesa left his camp and began the march to Nakaranga.  This was the place that had been chosen by the Wavuma as their depot and stronghold.  He had collected an army of 150,000 warriors just to make sure that he was well prepared.  They were also nearly 50,000 women and that many children and slaves also that were with him.  Stanley figured that at the least there must have been about 250,000 people in Mtesa’s camp.  Stanley looked at all this with awe and amazement.  He also had the pleasure of watching this immense army as it was put in motion toward the battleground.  He described all this with much graphic style:

“The advance-guard had departed too early for me to see them, but, curious to see the main body of this great army pass, I stationed myself at an early hour at the extreme limit of the camp.”

“First with his legion, came Mkwenda, who guards the frontier between the Katonga valley and Willimiesi against the Wanyoro.  He is a stout, burly young man, brave as a lion, having much experience of wars, and cunning and adroit in their conduct, accomplished with the spear, and possessing, besides, other excellent fighting qualities.  I noticed that the Waganda chiefs, though Muslimized, clung to their war paint and national charms, for each warrior, as he passed by on the trot, was most villainously debaubed with ochre and pipe-clay.  The force under the command of Mkwenda might be roughly numbered at 30,000 warriors and camp-followers, and though the path was a mere goat-track, the rush of this legion on the half-trot soon crushed out a broad avenue.”

“The old general Kangau, who defends the country between Willimiesi and the Victoria Nile, came next with his following, their banners flying, drums beating, and pipes playing, he and his warriors stripped for action, their bodies and faces daubed with white, black, and ochreous war-paint.”

“Next came a rush of about 2,000 chosen warriors, all tall men, expert with spear and shield, lithe of body and nimble of foot, shouting as they trotted past their war-cry of ‘Kavya, kavya’ (king, king), and rattling their spears.  Behind them, at a quick march, came the musket-armed body-guard of the Emperor, about two hundred in front, a hundred on either side of the road, enclosing Mtesa and his Katekiro, and two hundred bringing up the rear, with their drums beating, pipes playing, and standards flying, and forming quite an imposing and warlike procession.”

“Mtesa marched on foot, bare-headed, and clad in a dress of blue checked cloth, with a black belt of English worn round his waist, and – like the Roman emperors, who, when returning in triumph, painted their faces a deep vermillion – his face dyed a bright red.  The Katekiro preceded him, and wore a dark-grey cashmere coat.  I think this arrangement was made to deceive any assassin who might be lurking in the bushes.  If this was the case, the precaution seemed wholly unnecessary, as the march was so quick that nothing but a gun would have been effective, and the Wavuma and Wasoga have no such weapons.”

“After Mtesa’s body-guard had passed by, chief after chief, legion after legion, followed, each distinguished to the native ear by its different and peculiar drum-beat.  They came on at an extraordinary pace, more like warriors hurrying up into action than on the march, and it is their custom, I am told, to move always at a trot when on an enterprise of a warlike nature.  “

About two hours after the main body began its march, Kasuju, the guardian of the young princes and Mtesa’s women, preceded by a thousand spears and followed by a similar number, trotted by.  The women numbered about 5,000, with about 500 of them actually being the wives of the king.  The rest were for the duties of the household.

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About Cathy Deaton


My name is Cathy Deaton, Owner of Fan the Flame Ministries. God has radically changed my life, and He has shown me that I am to share the awesome things I am learning especially with the Millennial Generation (1981 – 1996), but I love connecting with Christians of all ages. I have found that the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher when I listen to, obey, and apply what He teaches to my life. You truly can make a difference for God in an uncertain world.