Chapter 53

One Million Trees


When the rains break with eight to ten inches each day for a week, then, on and off, showers, it is a remarkable sight to see the baked cracked brown earth come to life. Mushrooms of an enormous size burst before one's eyes. The first African to spot the mushroom places crossed sticks beside it. No one will ever touch it. It belongs to the man who first spotted it.

The workers always give warning a week previously that they must go home to hoe the family plot. To make sure I had my quota of workers for essential work, I made arrangements with the various chiefs and headmen to find women to hoe the gardens belonging to my key workers and I would pay them. Every Saturday I allowed my key workers to go home to plant the seed. The arrangement worked.

When the soil was workable, the chief's drummer beat out certain unmistakable notes, for they sounded for one purpose only each year. It was a call to 'Sharpen the hoe'. The chief raised his hoe, struck it into the ground, turned over the sod, crying, 'Sharpen your hoes. Sharpen your hoes,' then the hundreds of subjects followed his example, hoeing the ground, shouting, 'Sharpen your hoes!'

Certain men laid their hoes aside after the first bout of hoeing; some cut down saplings and shrubs with axes and others took up positions as spearmen. The sight of any animal called all spearmen together to kill or ward off danger. The work was hard and continuous for five hours, but the falling rain kept each one cool. The stint over, the chief provided light refreshment. In some cases it was anything but light. The potent beer made men drunk- and saved a few meals. Now the chief had a very large holding cultivated. Appointed men planted the maize, cassava shoots and ground nuts. Women put in the seeds of melon, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.

It was from the chief's example in 1922 that I had an idea to do the same. In 1923 I had five hundred men and women with hoes, twenty-five men with axes and spears. As cash payment was not desired for each worker, 1 pint of bean seeds, 1 pint of maize seed, twelve shoots of cassava and 1 lb of cold maize porridge was given to each person. In addition, the chiefs received packets of tomato and carrot seeds. Everyone was pleased. I was delighted.

My labour scouts went around areas recruiting men and women for afforestation work when most crops were in and in some cases where catch crops were ready. As one scout said, 'No one refuses to work for Bwana Mwakuyu.' I was greatly honoured, for I always treated Africans as human beings. I respected each one.

One day I called all my students and key men together in my office and explained how I wished work to be done and what the priorities were. One student was delegated to each of the twelve afforestation areas and eight key men to the small holdings.

This plan was necessary as recent attacks of malaria had forced me to slow down. The medical staff warned me to relax and cut down exhausting work. It was a case of my wife in command of administration and Dr Laws to check on project areas. I found it difficult to rest, knowing all that I had planned. Others who were working out my tree planting and extensive seed sowing either came daily to report or sent detailed accounts of how work was progressing. I decided to walk down to the large vegetable and fruit gardens and walk around.

Alas, it was not to be. The doctor caught me. I was escorted back to the house, examined in bed and he gave me an injection. That was that. The headaches and fever persisted for three weeks and I lost two stones in weight.

Mr Tom Gordon had a motor cycle and sidecar. He kindly took me to some of my important planting areas. In my scheme of planting, one hundred men working two yards apart, moved forward. I had long bamboo poles painted white as guide marks. Students with chain measurements moved the poles two hundred yards apart, when one was planted. I was very proud of my fourth year students as they were successful in carrying out every task with superb skill. In fact, every one was in advance of my targets.

On Arbour Day, the anniversary of David Livingstone's birthday, 12,000 more trees were put in the same day, in a hundred different places (thirty miles radius), by chiefs, headmen, teachers and ministers. The day was set for the start of a mammoth planting - one I had envisaged four years earlier. In nursery beds the three and a half year plants were 12" to 15" tall - cedars, with a record for growth. At the twelve appointed places the rain was slight, the temperature was right and a gentle breeze was blowing from the lake - indeed, a state of weather that usually lasted for a fortnight, to quote what my friend, Peter the Rainmaker told me. Five hundred people who had watched my plans work for three years, were all ready for work. What was more, there were two bonuses this season: 1/-for sustained work over a fortnight and 1/- for the neatest job. Two shillings was a lot of money in those far off days, when the average wage was 5/6 for men, 4/6 for women - per month.

By the end of March, 1,000,000 trees were planted and every small holding sown with maize, rice, wheat, beans and groundnuts. My long range project, as outlined in 1922, was now an accomplished fact. Many of the staff scoffed at the idea. The Government Director of Agriculture, Horticulture and Forestry wrote (in 1922), 'Your projects sound good on paper. To carry them to fruition with African participation is another matter I'm afraid.'

The Africans I had trusted and respected had completely fulfilled my hopes. With confidence I left my wife, clerks and students to do the work and I ceased to be anxious. On medical advice, I did rest in bed, happy in the thought that all understood my plans.

In other fields of activity on the lake shore, work was ahead of schedule. Chief Solomon and my students saw to that. All that I had previously surveyed was in production and more ground was cleared in excess of my plan. New varieties of seeds were put in for the first time. The Government Director of Agriculture sent me a good supply of Egyptian Seed, much superior to the American seed.

In the fine humid atmosphere of the lake the cotton came through, progressed well - some boll weevil was encountered, but we managed to contain it. An African gave me the recipe that a witch doctor used to cure rashes and kill ticks, so I had a lot made and it worked wonders, not only on cotton boll weevils, but it cured bean mite and the butterfly maggot on brassicas. It worked well on carrot fly and broad bean fly. Early crops were secured at the lake shore on many plantations. They were harvested and other seeds and plants put in. I was only allowed infrequent visits to certain sites, nurseries and plantations, usually in Mr Gordon's motor cycle side car, or by bush car. I was told not to walk, as excessive sweating brought on my headaches and fever.

In May 1926, all my responsible workers brought me detailed reports of everything - it really was an inventory - of crops, acreages; various plants; propagated by bud, graft, layer and 'Gootee'; cotton prospects; stocks of food on hand; and a list of all animals; carts; ploughs; other implements; and contracts on hand. For three days at home I drew up all my lists in duplicate. On the fourth, I was at my very lowest with a crippling bout of malaria. It was the cruellest so far, yet when I seemed to come round, I remembered I had been in worse situations in World War I. My wife was the perfect understudy, she did not lose grasp of any situation in my work and she was always the ideal comforting companion.

I revived to see record crops harvested. I was wheeled around my dear gardens and orchards; everything seemed to be in profusion, smiling at me. I was even taken to see the cotton being ginned; bales of cotton taken to the lake steamers by freshly trained teams of oxen. Students brought me samples of tea, coffee, cocoa pods and date palms. I was very very happy with my visions and hopes but the exhausting work, four years of it, had exceeded my expectations, but seriously undermined my health.

Violent recurring bouts of malaria undermined my strength, the only cure, large doses of quinine, failed to check the fever. In five months my weight was reduced from 12 stone 4 lbs to under 9 stone. One thing I wanted to do was to present my students with their proficiency certificates. Their written examination papers (the exams were supervised by a planter), were returned to The Director of Agriculture at Zomba. Judge my delight when certificates, some with merit, were sent to me

- all my students had passed. The very first of their kind in the history of the mission. I got out of bed, dressed, was wheeled up to my office and in the presence of Dr Laws and others, I presented the awards. My diary was on my table. I wrote in the awards to my twelve students, adding my gratitude for their skill in these words: 'I thank God for having served such loyal people, all the Glory be Thine dear God.' It was my last entry.

That night, I was very ill indeed, injections were needed to make me sleep. In the morning my wife sponged my fever brow

- 'Darling, you are very ill, we are going home.' She was so sweet - she had all the work to pack all we required for going home but she never faltered.



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