Looking Ahead Another Journey
My missionary work had something of army regimentation about it. I enjoyed difficult tasks, the exploration and expansion never risked before. To assist me I had gained the confidence of all walks in African life, from chiefs, headmen, African ministers and headmasters, travelling evangelists and all classes of society in native villages. I found morals high, manners good and honesty a marked way of life. Gatherings with chiefs was always pleasurable to them and happy for me. I could speak their language and to make sure no mistakes or misunderstanding took place I had my head clerks and students with me.
One such conference was fruitful. My students thought my ideas too ambitious (such hadn't happened before), so I had a picnic prepared, with a mouth-watering meal for a dozen chiefs and influential Africans from a wide area.
After the meal I explained my plan: the erection of a complete village, with African craftsmen at work; also I wanted fifty samples of African timber. It was a big proposition, so I left the company to thrash out details with two of my students and one clerk to write down all discussions. I provided all visitors with sleeping quarters and food for the night; the conference to resume the next day at six thirty a.m. I had a copy of all the resolutions passed and suggestions offered when we met next day. More people were present, including three African ministers: Rev Edward B. Manda, Rev Yaphet Mkandawiri and Rev Yoram Mpanda.
The proposals were amazing to say the least. A hamlet of four dwelling houses, each different in character, also a rectangular building to house African craftsmen at work. A small hut to show women at work, also open-air booths where others would exhibit their distinctive arts. There would be a primitive 'spirit temple', a miniature church and school. I was astounded at the variety of crafts suggested - animal skin curing; basket, mat and chair making; bark and cloth weaving; string and rope industry; ivory, ebony and head craft; pottery; iron works - hoes, axes, spears, picks and knives; production of dyes; wood carvings; native food processing; fire making and chicken coops. Other ideas were agreed to: building canoes, painting, sculpture, stone work and tribal weapons and dresses.
It was nearing noon, so we all walked to a site on the playing field near the school and one hundred yards from where the huge conference hall would be. Many people had told me before going to Africa, 'The African is slow: he needs days to reach a conclusion; he cannot think when hungry; he changes his mind overnight and he cannot be trusted.' To me this was utter rubbish. I had proved the opposite. At noon that day a meal was ready for all who took part and before leaving, each person received a packet of coloured beads, a bobbin of thread and a box of matches. To the senior chief I handed over a large slab of Sunlight soap to divide up. How it was done, I do not know - all were satisfied.
When I told Dr Laws about my conference and handed over to him an interim report, he was highly delighted. He asked about the cost of the food for the 'two score' conference members. I said £1 would cover everything.
His reply was, 'It's quite modest. You certainly have all the chiefs on your side. Add the amount to your Homestead account!' We were about to part, he turned and with his strange wink, 'You are the first to report progress!'
An invitation came to us to visit the Ekwendeni mission. Rev Charles and Mrs Stuart wanted advice on developing new areas for food supplies, moreso, as two of my students came from their mission and would be appointed to the new development. Dr Laws was pleased to let us go, as we had been working long hours on many projects and the change would do us good. The Doctor agreed to superintend all my schemes during my absence.
We travelled during the night, arriving at Mburunji, the rest house where we spent our honeymoon the previous year. A large crowd awaited our arrival - the bush telegraph moves fast. We had a round of calls, a short service and rested in the late afternoon and evening as we planned to move on at midnight.
Before leaving that night, I asked the villagers to assemble near our house for a special treat in the open air. A screen was fixed up and I gave a magic lantern show, interspersed with gramophone records. The pictures were Biblical ones at first, then comic slides that made the audience roar with laughter, followed by pictures of animals, cattle, sheep, dogs, a lion then a leopard - there was a scream, some natives ran to huts. By the time I had an elephant on the screen only our carriers, students and staff were present. It was my first and last magic lantern show in the open air at night.
The second day's journey was new country for my wife. At one place, at four in the morning, we halted beside a huge tree for a light meal. A large fire was blazing and our carriers huddled around it. Four or five candles were also lit, so still was the air. William, the gun boy, kept a watchful eye and a hearing ear just on the edge of the group, while the hurricane lamp lad stood a little way on the other side. Next day we learned that a lion was actually feasting on an antelope behind the huge tree while we ate our meal. William, the gun boy, kept the secret from us until after daylight and we were over the Rukuru river.
As the sun was rising, a well-known chief - Chief Chimarumwantu - met us with scores of his followers at a clearing. The chief was tall, fine looking, had an enormous belly and was twenty stone in weight. He was full of laughter and fun; his enormous belly bobbed up and down as he chuckled. He had many wives and twenty-five children. He introduced his first love and wife, a beautiful, charming person. She handed us gifts; in return we handed over ours. It was the accepted practice to give and then receive. While we were talking two students who had surveyed the chiefs domain for cereals and afforestation, came and reported to me. I was delighted, as one of the students was Chimarumwantu's son., so I appointed him supervisor of the project.
It was nearing noon when we reached the Rukuru Gorge and suspension bridge. The river was low but running swift. The long narrow bridge was made of bamboo. It swung to and fro, 110 feet below was the deep gorge and crocodile-infested river. The bridge was slender and had no sides. I had crossed it a few times, but my wife was uncertain. I ran across and back again. At last my wife plucked up courage and crossed.
When she was on the other side, a student remarked, 'Mamma, crocodiles wait down there for someone to fall!'
A big surprise awaited us. Not far inland from the river, an Indian trader met us. He was Tara Rann. I had corresponded quite often with him about honey, beeswax, ghee (clarified butter) and vegetable oils - corn, groundnut and bean. He was a familiar figure among planters and traded freely with Africans in calico, coloured beads, enamelware and trinkets. He had a delightful meal ready for us, all delicious Indian foods. We decided, as it was noon and we had been on the road for over eight hours and were too full of fine food, to have our tents erected. Under a shade, we sat outside on deck chairs, beside a folding table with a tea set. All at once I had a strange feeling to which my wife agreed - the whole place became deathly quiet. Not a bird flew. No animal voices were heard. A short distance away all our carriers were lying flat, faces to ground. In a flash the sun was obscured, the ground began to tremble and quake, the crockery on the table tumbled on the ground and within a split second another rumble. A sickly quivering feeling came over us. As soon as the earthquake passed the sun shone, birds flew, monkeys chattered in a nearby copse and Africans moved around. Our African attendant picked up the crockery (nothing was broken) and apologized for being late with the tea. We did not mention the earthquake. According to African custom we remained silent on what had happened. It was our first earth tremor, less than twenty seconds. It made us feel queer.
We bedded early on our camp beds in our tent. Outside the usual jungle racket - crickets, frogs, animal chatter and grunts in the thickets. To such music, safe under our mosquito nets, we fell asleep. Oh yes! William, the gun boy, was nearby. So too, our carriers beside a log fire.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.