The Mukuru-Madse has a deep rocky bed. The water is generally about four feet deep, and fifteen or twenty yards broad. Before reaching it, we passed five or six gullies; but beyond it the country, for two or three miles from the river, was comparatively smooth. The long grass was overrunning all the native paths, and one species (sanu), which has a sharp barbed seed a quarter of an inch in length, enters every pore of woollen clothing and highly irritates the skin. From its hard, sharp point a series of minute barbs are laid back, and give the seed a hold wherever it enters: the slightest touch gives it an entering motion, and the little hooks prevent its working out. These seeds are so abundant in some spots, that the inside of the stocking becomes worse than the roughest hair shirt. It is, however, an excellent self-sower, and fine fodder; it rises to the height of common meadow-grass in England, and would be a capital plant for spreading over a new country not so abundantly supplied with grasses as this is.
We have sometimes noticed two or three leaves together pierced through by these seeds, and thus made, as it were, into wings to carry them to any soil suited to their growth.
We always follow the native paths, though they are generally not more than fifteen inches broad, and so often have deep little holes in them, made for the purpose of setting traps for small animals, and are so much obscured by the long grass, that one has to keep one's eyes on the ground more than is pleasant. In spite, however, of all drawbacks, it is vastly more easy to travel on these tracks than to go straight over uncultivated ground, or virgin forest. A path usually leads to some village, though sometimes it turns out to be a mere game track leading nowhere.
In going north, we came into a part called Mpemba where Chibisa was owned as chief, but the people did not know that he had been assassinated by the Portuguese Terera. A great deal of grain was lying round the hut, where we spent the night. Very large numbers of turtledoves feasted undisturbed on the tall stalked mapira ears, and we easily secured plenty of fine fat guinea-fowls--now allowed to feed leisurely in the deserted gardens. The reason assigned for all this listless improvidence was "There are no women to grind the corn- -all are dead."
The cotton patches in all cases seemed to have been so well cared for, and kept so free of weeds formerly, that, though now untended, but few weeds had sprung up; and the bushes were thus preserved in the annual grass burnings. Many baobab-trees grow in different spots, and the few people seen were using the white pulp found between the seeds to make a pleasant subacid drink.
On passing Malango, near the uppermost cataract, not a soul was to be seen; but, as we rested opposite a beautiful tree-covered island, the merry voices of children at play fell on our ears--the parents had fled thither for protection from the slave-hunting Ajawa, still urged on by the occasional visits of the Portuguese agents from Tette. The Ajawa, instead of passing below the Cataracts, now avoided us, and crossed over to the east side near to the tree on which we had hung the boat. Those of the Manganja, to whom we could make ourselves known, readily came to us; but the majority had lost all confidence in themselves, in each other, and in every one else. The boat had been burned about three months previously, and the Manganja were very anxious that we should believe that this had been the act of the Ajawa; but on scanning the spot we saw that it was more likely to have caught fire in the grass-burning of the country. Had we intended to be so long in returning to it, we should have hoisted it bottom upwards; for, as it was, it is probable that a quantity of dried leaves lay inside, and a spark ignited the whole. All the trees within fifty yards were scorched and killed, and the nails, iron, and copper sheathing, all lay undisturbed beneath. Had the Ajawa done the deed, they would have taken away the copper and iron.
Our hopes of rendering ourselves independent of the south for provisions, by means of this boat, being thus disappointed, we turned back with the intention of carrying another up to the same spot; and, in order to find level ground for this, we passed across from the Shire at Malango to the upper part of the stream Lesungwe. A fine, active, intelligent fellow, called Pekila, guided us, and was remarkable as almost the only one of the population left with any spirit in him. The depressing effect which the slave-hunting scourge has upon the native mind, though little to be wondered at, is sad, very sad to witness. Musical instruments, mats, pillows, mortars for pounding meal, were lying about unused, and becoming the prey of the white ants. With all their little comforts destroyed, the survivors were thrown still further back into barbarism.
It is of little importance perhaps to any but travellers to notice that in occupying one night a well-built hut, which had been shut up for some time, the air inside at once gave us a chill, and an attack of fever; both of which vanished when the place was well-ventilated by means of a fire. We have frequently observed that lighting a fire early in the mornings, even in the hottest time of the year, gives freshness to the whole house, and removes that feeling of closeness and langour, which a hot climate induces.