Chapter 49

Boats to the Rescue


I had a great desire to have a store of food at the Overtoun Institution, Livingstonia, that would ensure ample food for all who lived on the Plateau. To this end I built large bins, each to hold ten tons. At certain other areas - on the lake shore and at five other places inland - plans were also drawn up to have barns to store food in case of famine. I had experienced a two and a half month period when the villagers had only one main meal in a day and so hungry were many youngsters that the precious seed kept for planting was eaten. With fever among animals and illnesses among the people, it was difficult to hire extra workers to carry food to the needy.

Mr Uriah Chirwa, a splendid African who toiled with Dr Laws and shared in all his adventures for nearly fifty years asked me to visit a new boat he was building at Florence Bay, on the lake. To my surprise I arrived for the launching at which I offered a prayer, asking 'God to Bless all who sailed in it and may it be the means of bringing food, rescue and travellers for the well being of the people!'

It was a splendid piece of craftsmanship and had taken four years to build. Nearby, for the special occasion, was another fine boat, owned by Rev Yaphet Mkandawiri and yet another smaller craft, the property of Chief Solomon. Later that afternoon I asked Uriah, Yaphet, Solomon and Mark (skipper of the mission steel skip) to my rest house for a cup of tea and cakes. All were excellent English speakers, so we spoke in English. We all had note books and pencils. I said, 'Friends, I trust you all. I hope you will trust me. I need lots and lots of food to fill all my bins and barns. Across the lake there is surplus food. At the north end of the lake there is surplus food. Will you do your best to bring what I need in your boats. I promise you good prices. I never want to see hungry Africans, especially hungry children, again.'

As usual I left them to talk for half an hour while I walked to the cut wood centre where large stocks of wood fuel was stored for the steamers. When I got back four smiling faces greeted me. Uriah was the spokesman.

'Bwana, we will do everything possible to help you. You have given us a free hand, we will bring the food.'

I told Mark I would require the mission boat and six men, in four days' time to visit Deep Bay. The others understood.

Mission boat in the water at Florence Bay
Florence Bay and Mount Waller, Livingstonia.
This shows the Mission boat in the water.

Next morning the three ships were on the sky blue waters of the lake on a rescue operation. The boats would do what hungry people and dying cattle were unable to do. Again, this was cooperation at its best.

Monday was a lovely day, so my wife, 'Boyd' our dog and I set out for the lake. The boat was in order, sails all in place for a trip to Deep Bay. A squad of men had marked the boundary of the mission ground and I was keen to see some cleared acres which I hoped would prove a source of food - beans, maize and rice in particular, with cassava, melons and pumpkins as catch crops.

It was delightful skimming across the lake on calm water. Mark (the man in charge of the boat), indicated we were nearing a spot for good fishing, so rods were made ready. The first cast was about to be thrown when Boyd (dog) turned sick and like a flash jumped overboard. The boat was turned to get hold of him, when a huge crocodile was spotted moving towards us. One man slipped over the side of the boat and caught Boyd by the collar. Willing hands hauled both on board. The oarsman thrashed the water while others hoisted sails. In a few seconds we were leaving the crocodile behind and within another ten minutes we had a dozen fine trout. With the sails an awning was erected, as shelter from the sun.

Mission boat on Lake Nyasa
The Mission boat on Lake Nyasa.  On one occasion the Casebys were in this boat with their pet dog when a crocodile tried to capsize it.

My wife rested there in the shade while I inspected boundary markings and cleared land. I was very pleased with all I had seen and better pleased when my students told me they had bought fifty bags of rice, enough for 10,000. The students heard that a band of Africans, under an Indian leader, were moving towards the north with the rice. They intercepted them, made a bargain which was favourable - the lot for 10. As I did not have money with me I wrote a letter to a planter inland to pay the Indian and I would settle with him later.

We soon had the grain on the boat and we set sail for Florence Bay and then the eleven miles up the hillside for home, a long and happy day.

A few days later we learned a trap had been set for the crocodile that had followed our boat - perhaps it was our dog Boyd he wanted - and it was caught. Its length was eighteen feet and in its insides, ornaments were found. It solved a mystery: the disappearance of three women, missing for one week. No doubt the women had visited the lake for water.

Three weeks later, the boats of Uriah Chirwa, Yaphet and Chief Solomon set out. They were back within days of each other. At daylight one morning, I sailed out to Uriah's boat, it was a pretty sight. Five tons of maize, rice, wheat, ground nuts and beans; also ten 10-gallon drums of honey; 100 lbs ghee (butter) and ten gallons of ground nut oil. A very valuable contribution to the European and African food supply. It was enough to give nearly five hundred workers and boarders a balanced diet for six weeks. Uriah Chirwa's boat was a great attraction. Canoes came long distances to see it, so I called everyone present to be quiet for a few minutes, then I held a quarter-hour service - something all joined in.

After the Benediction, I had a fine opportunity to talk to all the canoe owners.

'Bring good fish out of the lake. Smoke them African fashion. Also bring fresh trout - you will be paid well.'

Within a fortnight 2,000 smoked fish came to my office, also 100 lovely fresh trout, average weight 2 lbs, which was a treat to the mission staff. Again I made a contract with the canoers.

'Bring me smoked fish, every month, about 1,000 and in the month of October bring me 3,000 and also fresh trout for Europeans.

The boat belonging to the Rev Yaphet Mkandawiri also arrived with food. Yaphet was a good Pastor. He had a wide parish and was anxious to uplift his people, especially the young people. He was fond of children. Yaphet was also a keen business man. We both had a common interest - trust, friendship and fair dealings.

When at the lake, a student carried my lunch hamper, so Yaphet and I had a meal in the rest house - sandwiches, lots of coffee and fruit. Our talking over, we rowed out to his ship. A fascinating variety of foodstuff met my gaze. Hundreds of large pumpkins, baskets of fruit, mango, orange, lemon, apple, bunches of bananas; sacks of grain, drums of oil, baskets of sweet potatoes, beans, boxes of eggs, scores of chickens, bundles of cured antelope meat, dried smoked fish and bags of cassava flour. There were also neat packets of dried locusts, insects and flying ants, great delicacies to Africans.

Sitting on the deck, well shaded from the hot sun, we bargained. It was to be money and barter. After two hours we clinched a deal. The barter was sawn boards, tools, hoes, calico, nails, seeds, young trees, including fruit trees and two ploughs.

In his best professional manner, Yaphet wrote out the deal in duplicate, which we both signed. Within minutes a flotilla of small boats and canoes had all my welcome purchases on shore and stored in secure buildings.

That evening I got home tired. First there'd been the chill of the mountain air then the cool of the Plateau and the heat of the lake shore. I'd walked over thirty miles and was on the go for sixteen hours. I'd made successful deals and for the first time, ample food for everyone.

The next morning when I reported to Dr Laws, his first words were, 'Any pumpkins on this trip, Mr Caseby? I told him hundreds.

'Ah, I do love pumpkin pie.' The usual pause. 'Any smoke trout? Yaphet is an expert at that.'

For the third time in a week I walked down to the lake, as Chief Solomon's boat had arrived. His boat was small but he had 11/2 tons of maize, 100 corn on the cob, 200 lbs dried meat and 100 stalks of sugar cane. Then he produced a little bag: 10 lbs of coffee beans. Small cargo, but a welcome one. There was no disputing about the deal. It was for cash.

I asked Solomon: 'Will you come to the Plateau for your money tomorrow?' He agreed.

'Will you call on your lake shore subjects to carry all your goods up to Livingstonia tomorrow? For your kindness I will give you three fever-free sheep.'

It was a deal and by nightfall next day, all the ship load was safe in my Homestead.



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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.