Chapter 56

Exploring Bush Lands

My travels took me into some strange places. I loved going off the beaten track into unexplored places, places that had a bad name or at some time had a curse put upon them by a witch doctor. To such a place that was a blank on the mission map. I asked my men to take me. As some carriers murmured, I left them to make up their minds, saying I would be back within an hour when I expected a dozen men ready to accompany me. I got my men, but one man asked a question.

'If some unknown sorcerer casts a spell, which one of us will suffer?'

I replied, 'Let the curse or spell fall on me. I will deal with it.

There were handshakes and smiles all round. All moved off contented and happy.

After two days travelling, walking about fifty miles, we moved from the recognized path into dense jungle. It was proper bush lands, men in front had to cut down tangles of convolvulus, some of it as thick as an arm. There were times when the sun was shaded by masses of thick foliage. Monkeys, baboons, warthogs, antelope, snakes and millions of insects seemed everywhere - all alerted by our invasion. Progress was slow for a few miles until we came to a place with thousands of giant cacti and twenty-foot-high ant hills.

Beside an anthill stood a tall man, dressed in bark cloth skirt. In one hand a long spear, in the other an oval skin shield. Over his right shoulder a bow and round his waist arrows. He was motionless. My men halted, not a word was spoken. I walked alone towards the man, spoke words of greeting and offered the man my hand. He grasped it in African fashion, a huge grin spread over his face.

'Welcome,' he said twice, then handed me his spear. I took it and handed it back.

At that, my men rushed forward and warmly greeted the stranger. Snuff was handed round and every face had a smile. One of my students said, 'There is no curse, no spell. Let us follow the stranger who calls himself "Nkongono".'

I followed Nkongono for one mile or more until we came to a stockade inside of which were a few huts, hen coops and a clearing of some twenty square yards. Nkongono stopped at the clearing, two men came from the huts. I greeted them, so too my men.

One man spoke. 'Nkongono is our headman, he is brave, speared two lions, slain buffalos single handed; by profession a blacksmith, maker of spears, axes, hoes and shields.'

Nkongono then spoke, 'My father is old, he is a CHRISTIAN.'

I was led to the very old man. He had a strong face, clear eyes. We spoke for a few minutes. I offered a short prayer, then gave the old man one shilling. He kissed the coin and turning to another African said, 'Take it. Buy a Bible for one who can read it tome.'

Before parting, he told me there was an old woman who was his age some distance away.

Led by Nkongono, we turned back, moved towards the hills, crossed a stream, scrambled through very dense bush and sure enough, on the fringe of the jungle was a small round hut, quite unprotected, inside of which I saw a small frail white haired lady lying on a mat. She had many sores, her eyes were deep set in her head, her lips were cracked. Her clothing consisted of a string of large pebble beads around her body. Her companion was a young woman. From my 'Red Cross' box I gave ointment, dusting powder, bandages, safety pins and aspirins to the young woman who was a great granddaughter. One of my men boiled some water. I made tea in my pint jug, added sugar and some condensed milk. The dear old lady sipped up the tea, possibly the first sweet tea she had ever tasted. I handed over some tea, sugar cubes and small tins of condensed milk to the great granddaughter, also some money. As there were only dry beans and a little millet in the hut, I promised to provide dried meat, maize flour and other items the following day. I offered a prayer in the hut. By this time other African women had arrived, kneeling outside. Another man took up the prayer when I had finished. He said, 'Lord, hear our prayer for our dear sister, a faithful Christian since missionaries came to our land.' I was glad I met the old lady about to die.

Her son, who had arrived leaning on the arm of another African, told me his father was once a collector of slaves for Arab traders. Each pebble around his mother's body represented many slaves his father had sold many many moons ago before missionaries came. He asked me if I would like the pebbles. I said I would.

About a month later the old lady died. The son kept his word. I got the pebbles, but I gave the son 5/-. My wife had to disinfect the 'chuckie' pebbles, boiled them in soda and they are to us a reminder of a grand old African woman and the evil slavery days of long ago.

Nearly one hundred samples of soil were taken in the bush lands we explored. Two students in talks with local Africans took note of the variety of trees and listed a number of wild animals.

Before I left, the tall handsome Nkongono asked me if I would like to meet the witch doctor. I was led, with one half-frightened student, by Nkongono to a hideout in the dense jungle near to an outcrop of rugged rocks. The sorcerer was small and ugly - his hut and surrounds were clean. Everywhere were pots - large and small - and willow baskets hung from trees. In one basket I noted the cast-off skins of snakes. In another an assortment of warthog, hyena and animal teeth. The sorcerer backed as I approached with outstretched hand. My two Africans were about to close in when I said, 'Stay where you are. I need this man as he needs me.'

The ugly little man, whose name was Marundi, spoke. 'Let me wash my hands.'

I replied, 'Oh, no. We'll wash our hands in the same pot.'

This was done, then we clasped hands and greeted one another. My student brought salt. I put a pinch of salt in Marundi's hand. I took a little, we both tasted the grains. All disquiet disappeared. We had a long talk, the outcome being we found nearby other huts with naked men, blind, deaf, dumb, crippled, insane, disfigured and diseased.

'I claim all these people,' I said firmly to Marundi. 'Bring food and water at once for them and I will pay you one shilling.'

There was no panic, my demand was met, the outcasts enjoyed the cold maize porridge and water. The sorcerer got his shilling.

My last request was, 'Lead all your hostages, everyone to Livingstonia, dress them in bark skirts. If you fail to do so, I will report you to the District Magistrate for evading tax.'

My bush exploring mission was over. Many barriers were broken down, many people made happy. As agreed, the witch doctor brought his band of outcasts. I found them homes and work. Nkongono and Marundi became my workers. When soil tests came back from the Ministry of Agriculture in Zomba, all results were favourable.

In co-operation with two chiefs and two headmen, a squad of one hundred men cleared the jungle of bush, saplings were uprooted, ground hoed and planted, huts were built near the cacti. In all, twenty acres cleared, sixteen huts built, an irrigation system laid down, a stockade for cattle, sheep and goats erected in the first year.

By the third year, eighty acres were under cultivation. One chief had a new village established, soil from the ant heaps made secure wattle and daub houses. What was once a dreaded, discredited and mysterious jungle, became a lively happy area. Nkongono returned to his trade as a blacksmith, this time as a well-paid servant of mine, making iron goods. Marundi worked for me on roads and bridges, all the outcasts found light work, ample food and shelter and to crown it all, my outlays were repaid in a variety of cereals, nuts, pumpkins and mats, and all additional food and comforts for the boarded students and apprentices. Such is the strange errands and satisfying results that come from quiet evangelism.



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