The Picnic, Followed by a Storm
In Africa, as in all countries, moments of celebration come combining great excitement with genuine regard. The event passes and ordinary humdrum activities must become routine again. Life settles down.
In most cases visitors came to Livingstonia by steamer and I had to arrange for passengers and luggage to be brought safely the eleven miles, 3,000 feet up the hillside, to the station. I was often asked to spend a sum of money on the workers. The sum would not be large and by agreement with Dr Laws. I was allowed to spend it on food for all who took part. Over the Jubilee celebrations I had a few pounds handed to me by grateful travellers.
In the period just before the rains break the ground is very hard and work slacks off, so in consultation with Vurayata, the 'Rain Maker', it was arranged to invite all my staff, key workers, students and all the workers that could be spared, along with chiefs, headmen, ministers, teachers and medical assistants (they performed valuable work), to a picnic on the lake shore. I had these things in mind. Food was cheaper from my store at the lake. No transport - all could wash and clean up in the lake and wild game was plentiful along the shore and an abundance of lovely fish in the huge lake.
It did not take long for word to get around to some five hundred people, not counting children brought by women workers. A small committee of four was set up to make all the arrangements.
No. 1 was to arrange for pots of all kinds to be on the site I had chosen. No. 2 would be in charge of fuel - dried wood and fixing up fires. No. 3 was to act with William, the gun boy, in killing huge antelopes, carrying in the carcasses and dressing the meat and No. 4 was to work in conjunction with me, for rice, cassava flour, maize flour, pumpkins, beans, ground nut oil and salt, mustard, chillies, curry, pepper and dried horse radish.
'No food so good without proper seasoning,' one chief told me. From the gardens my men were told to bring or buy on the shore for me fruit of all kinds. As strong drink was not allowed, I had arranged with an 'Hotel Keeper', who had a booth, to have large drums or pots of lemon and honey drinks available free. I would supply the ingredients and she would be paid for her work.
The great day came. Some had travelled thirty miles. They were weary and dusty, so soap was given to one man and one woman to give out to all who wanted to wash, also their clothes. There was a huge line of bathers, men and women apart -scattered a mile along the shore. Clothes dried within minutes. Men and women combed their hair into various tribal forms. At a given hour drums began to beat, 'Come to the cook-house door'. Each one carried a basket or pot for the meal.
Slowly the party settled down on a sloping sandy bank, with a background of palm trees and citrus trees. The people had waited six hours for the meals to be cooked. It was the moment of thanksgiving to all my faithful men and women who had toiled for nine months to make the Jubilee celebrations a success.
Beside my wife and me stood the Rev Edward Boti Manda. I said only a few words of greeting, then asked Edward to give out a native hymn and ask a blessing on the meal. The hymn was a beautiful one, then the prayer - dear Edward, his prayer was long, very long. I thought he was going to name every one of the 2,036 items in the exhibition.
My mind was back at the church picnic when I was a boy and the minister with his endless prayer naming all the fish in the sea! I touched Edward's arm to attract his attention and he looked down. 'Amen,' I whispered.
Edward took the hint and concluded with, 'We thank God for Bwana Mwakuyu and his wife. Amen.' The picnic party gave a full throated Amen.
The picnic was an outstanding success. Lots and lots of good things to eat, helping after helping of porridge (from various cereals) and 1/2 lb of lean meat, with lashings of hot seasoning, followed by pumpkin, fresh fruit, cooked green bananas and maize cobs and sweet lemon and lime drinks. The sun was about to set - some of the elderly chiefs and headmen were so full they dozed and fell asleep. Some began to sing. Edward was full too and sleepy. He whispered, 'A full stomach makes a person feel friendly, happy and drowsy.'
We moved to the rest house for our evening meal. We wrote some letters and by nine o'clock we were under our mosquito nets and soon asleep. We had to be up at four a.m. the following morning as we had the week end meat, fruit and vegetables for the staff to prepare and, at two o'clock in the afternoon, four hundred workers to pay.
During the picnic I gave a sealed envelope to Chief Solomon requesting he should open it, read the message and if necessary take action. The next afternoon just as I had paid all the workers, Chief Solomon came towards me in my office.
He was smiling as he told me, 'I carried out your order sir. I made up twenty-seven good meals, wrapped them in banana leaves and delivered them to elderly sick, mental cases, blind, deaf, lepers and your friend with the withered legs. Three of the meals, maize and cassava porridge with gravy I gave to ill children.'
So my message telling Chief Solomon to give food left over to the needy was carried out to the letter, perhaps the only decent meal the twenty-seven outcasts had for a long time.
The chief, with a twinkle in his eyes and his usual broad smiled asked me out to the compound. The Rev Edward Boti Manda had a smile too. Beside him were a number of baskets, live chickens tied by the legs and a woven mat. Said Edward, 'These are gifts, brought by the people yesterday for Mrs Caseby and yourself-just a bit of kindness and thanks.'
In the baskets, eggs, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, ground nuts, pineapples, cape gooseberries and loquats. In a small basket, trinkets of bone, ivory and wood and in another, varieties of flour. Really an interesting assortment. Not much in money value, but a sacrifice from many workers, something my wife and I greatly appreciated. I asked Chief Solomon and Edward to convey our thanks to all.
I kept the chickens, eggs and tomatoes for our own use and the mat and trinkets for our collection. The remainder was handed over to my clerks to pass on to the very poor and sick.
My diary always lay on my desk. My movements were written in and my future travel to steamers , other stations and all the location sites were all according to plan. There was also a large paper clip to which all letters and messages that came in my absence were clipped.
One evening, as I was entering everything up in my diary, my three clerks, William, Peter and Matthew, came up the stairs. I greeted them as they had been out checking up work.
'Well, my good friends, what is it this evening - a complaint or a request?'
'Please, sir, in your diary you are to go to the Tunda Hill and the grain storage bins. It is a bad day to go, for every ten moons the iron stone rocks are struck by lightning and rocks are scattered everywhere. At the same time a corner of your house could be hit by the storm, sometimes the cattle kraal. The place where Mr T. Cullen Young keeps his cattle is on iron stone -the storm passes that way.
I turned up my diary. I has fixed 19th November to work down the mountain side on the grain bins at Tunda.
'What day should I go?' I asked Peter. (Once I had disobeyed his prediction and was caught in a severe storm.)
'Go on the 16th or 17th, but not 19th. That is good,' replied Peter.
'May I go to Tunda also?' I agreed.
It was a perfect day on the 16th. We reached our appointed place, checked everything and were back by the late afternoon. We were on the lake for the steamer next day with a fair amount of cargo. That evening all the cargo was carried to the plateau. I was home by seven in the evening - thirteen hours to go.
November 18th was a really lovely, sunny, hot day. In the evening, my wife and I stood on our veranda, watching a storm out on the lake - thousands of lightning-forked flashes, wild fire and non-stop thunder, cloudless sky, humid atmosphere.
At four p.m. I said to Peter, 'What a fine day.'
He looked straight at me. 'Please, sir, the day is not finished until the sun goes down!'
After dinner, at seven o'clock, we were back on the veranda. The storm was nearing. Through the flashes dirty black clouds were moving our way. There was one deafening bang and sure enough, it was on Tunda Hill; rocks tumbled down the hillside. Earlier, I had told Rev T. Cullen Young that Peter had told me about Tunda Hill, my house, the cattle kraal and the situation of his kraal.
'My dear Caseby, I have been here over twenty years. I have no time for airy-fairy stories by Rain Makers,' he told me. I said no more.
I sent for my two night watchmen and told them to take cattle, sheep and goats out of the kraal and herd them into the compound.
The storm raged. The noise was louder than a hundred cannon firing salvo after salvo, just like battle long ago in France. We bedded at nine thirty, but from the kitchen, Boyd, the dog, was whimpering which was unusual for him.
We were awakened about midnight by a terrible crash. The house seemed to shake and a wall plank above our bed blew out. I jumped up. I heard feet, the watchmen were calling -'Bwana, your house has been struck, the kraal too, but all animals are safe. Bwana Young's kraal has been struck and all his animals are dead.'
I dressed. The damage to our house was slight, cattle kraal, part of the brick wall damaged, corrugated iron ripped. Mr Young's stockade was on fire, animals dead, a gaping hole in the ground three feet deep, six feet across - lodestone lying around.
Picnics and storms are part of life in Africa. I never heard Vurayata once tell 'airy-fairy' stories!
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.