11 – The Great Naval Battle

In Mtesa’s huge army, there were only a few of his warriors that had ever had any experience fighting on water because most of them came from the interior.  On the contrary, though, his enemies lived near large islands in Victoria Lake.  These were natural fortresses, and the warriors were in their elements when fighting on water. 

The enemy’s number did not exceed 30,000 men, but they presented a formidable force against the inexperienced army of Mtesa.  To add to his disadvantage, Mtesa had only 300 canoes, which were capable of carrying only 900 men.  Many of the boats were 70 feet in length and 70 in width, but they were badly manned. 

When Mtesa reached the lake, he filled his boats and sent his soldiers across the lake, but they were met by the enemy and soundly defeated, with 13 of his canoes being captured.  This discouraged him so much that he tried to build a causeway out of stones and trees across the 500 yards that separated the island from the main shore.  He abandoned it after 130 yards, though.  Mtesa finally gave up for the time being, and went back home. 

There was now a long period of inaction on Mtesa’s part and Stanley was able to start to teach him the principles of Christianity.  He also translated a considerable portion of the New Testament for him.  Stanley was able to talk to him for about a month before he renewed his desire for war. 

The next morning 40 Waganda canoes left again to battle.  Mtesa was followed by about three-fourths of his army and proceeded to Nakaranga Point to view the battle.  There were about 50 great war-drums that went with him, one hundred fifes, and a great number of men shaking gourds that were filled with pebbles.  There were also court-criers and mad-charmers that had come to ward off evil. 

A large hut had been erected on the mountain slope for Mtesa and the women that he chose to bring with him.  When he was seated, the priests and priestesses of the Muzimu, or witchcraft, came up to him.  They numbered more than 100, and offered him charms in a really tedious, ceremonious way. 

The chief priest of these was a most wonderfully dressed madman.  On his head he wore a huge crown of feathers, that were fantastically arranged.  In his ears and around his neck were hung long strings of beads; his ankles, wrists and arms were adorned with brass rings.  From these rings hung bits of bone, teeth of animals, and other charms.  Around his loins was a leopard skin with the tail in front, and in his right hand he carried a harp with a well-carved imitation of a human head on one end. 

Below is a picture that Stanley drew of him.


He was a rain-doctor as well as a priest and exercised much power over the ignorant savages who believed in his supernatural powers.  It was customary before having a battle, for all the priests to carry all their potent medicines and charms to the monarch, so that he could touch or point his finger at them.

The charms consisted of dead lizards, bits of wood, hide, nails of dead people, claws of animals, and beaks of birds.  There was also a mysterious compound composed of herbs and leaves that was carefully enclosed in vessels that were ornamented with various color beads. 

During the battle, these wizards and witches would chant their incantations and exhibit their medicines while the gourd-and-pebble bearers would sound a hideous alarm that was enough to cause the nerves of anyone who wasn’t an African to be set on edge at once. 

Mtesa and his army were in full war-paint, and the principal men wore splendid leopard-skins over their backs, but the Wasoga were regal in their splendor of dress and ornate equipments. 

Aukori, the chief, and his officers wore show-white ostrich plumes on their heads, lion and leopard-skins on their backs, while their loins were girded with snow-white, long-haired monkey and goat-skins.  Even the staves of their lances were ornamented with feathers and rings of white monkey-skin. 

Mtesa’s men started across the water again in their 230 canoes.  The enemy had spotted them and had hidden themselves among tall reeds.  As the Wagonda approached the shore, 192 boats shot out from among the reeds and drove them rapidly back to where they had come from.  The other soldiers covered them by shooting muskets and cannons so they wouldn’t get killed.

Mtesa was devastated by this second defeat, and called his men over to him and soundly berated them for being cowards.  He reminded them that everything they had was because of his generosity, and he told them that if he saw any of them showing cowardice ever again, he would roast them over a slow fire. 

A few days later, the battle was renewed again.  The Waganda manned their 230 canoes and started toward the island again, but again were met with 192 canoes of the enemy.  This time the Waganda carried two howitzers with them, each in a large canoe.  They used these so effectively that ten of the enemy canoes were sunk and they were driven back in confusion.  Instead of following up on their advantageous situation and charging the enemy, they returned to the shore to receive the congratulations of Mtesa. 

The war was continued on for three more weeks until Stanley decided to take some action.  He called Mtesa and said:  “Send me 2,000 men and tomorrow I will begin the construction of such a wonderful war-boat that the mere appearance of it will bring the enemy quickly to its knees and your kingdom will be peaceful again.”

This proposition was met heartily by Mtesa, for he was beginning to think that he could never defeat the other warriors.  Stanley immediately set the 2,000 men to cutting trees and poles.  They were peeled and the bark was used for ropes.  He lashed three canoes, of seventy feet length and 6 1/2 feet breadth, four feet from each other.  Around the edge of these he made a stockade of strong poles, set in upright, and then intertwined them with smaller poles and rope bark. 

This made the floating stockade 70 feet long and 27 feet wide, and so strong that spears could not penetrate it.  The huge craft floated well, and the men could be inside it paddling and no one could see them because of the distances between the boats.  Their enemies thought that it was being propelled by something supernatural.  It was manned by 214 people, and it looked like it was just moving across the channel on its own. 

As this terrible monster of the deep approached them, Stanley shouted out to them in deep and guttural tones that if they did not surrender at once, their whole island would be blown to pieces.  His strategy worked magnificently, and they surrendered unconditionally because they were terror-stricken. 

Two hours later they sent a canoe and 50 men with the tribute money that Mtesa had demanded in the first place.  This ended the war on the 13th day of October, 1875.


Departure For The West

On the last day of October, Stanley reminded Mtesa of his promise to send a suitable escort to conduct him through the Unyoro country to the Muta Nzige Lake.  The king immediately sent for Sambuzi, one of his leading generals, and ordered him to muster 1,000 men at once for the service. 

Preparations were made quickly and on November 2nd, the expedition moved toward the lake which Stanley was so eager to explore.  The march was begun with 2,800 men, with 2,300 of them being Mtesa’s warriors.  At the first sign of any attack from the king of Uzimba, though, the greatest portion of them deserted him.  This included General Sambuzi, who was a great boaster but also a great coward. 

After this first trouble, Stanley moved through the country with little opposition, when he only had one other attack.  He was able to handle the situation without any loss of life, though. 

He reached Kafurro on the 28th of February, where he remained a month.

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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.