Chief Magud's Hospitality

We quitted Gingelim and proceeded towards the town of the great chief Magud, which we reached in the evening. This town is of considerable extent, consisting of 600 palhotas, and is situated on the west side of the river Save, which flows into the Incomate. In the centre of the town there was a wide open space, with four magnificent trees in the middle; this fronted a wide street, with trees on either side, forming an avenue that reached down to the river, and imparted a very picturesque appearance to the town. We halted here, awaiting the messenger who was to supply us with the requisite palhotas for our accommodation. After some twenty minutes he appeared apologising for the delay, which was owing to the absence of the chief from the town; and he furnished us with the necessary huts for the night, while I ordered a bale of goods to be opened for the purchase of provisions. This, however, proved unnecessary, because the messenger quickly returned bringing a fine kid, and accompanied by three women laden with baskets of meal. This present had been sent me by the chief; hence I was amply provided for, and had no need to purchase food. I offered the man a cup of brandy, which he was in such a hurry to drink, that he spilt half of it, and it was ludicrous to see how wistfully he looked at the spot where the brandy had fallen.

After dividing the meal among the men, I ordered the kid to be killed and given to the hunters. Then I prepared my present for the chief, which consisted of thirty pieces of cotton cloth, ten capelanas, thirty strings of blue beads, two bunches of missanga (glass beads), and a gourdful of brandy. This present I sent by three carriers led by Manova, who undertook the commission with right good will. He was certain that some of the brandy would be given to him, because it is the usual custom in this part of Africa, when chiefs receive presents, not to eat or drink what has been sent to them without first giving a portion to the person who brings the present. This they call chumbutar.

As soon as it grew dark, and I lit a candle, a perfect legion of native women appeared at the door of my hut. This troop of African beauties was headed by four lovely matrons, who entered first, and then all the rest followed, until my hut was full. Some of these negresses were perfectly lovely; tall, lithe, and of extreme elegance of form, a merry smile lighting up their eyes. They commenced to question me very minutely, examining my hair, which they thought very smooth, and at last they asked me for missanga. I gave each of the wives of the chief a bunch of beads, and four rows to every girl. They thanked me in a graceful manner, and went away clapping their hands and laughing, in what I thought derisive uproar.

Those who have never visited the internal districts of Lourenço Marques may perhaps say that I exaggerate the beauty of the natives of that part of Africa. It is true that such negroes as are seen in Europe and America are very plain, if not actually hideous; but it must be observed that the latter are the offspring of the lowest races of Africa. Should this book be read by any who have visited Natal, they will know that I do not exaggerate, because the Zulus of Natal are as fine and perfect a race as the Blangellas, if not even finer.

When Manova returned, after delivering the present to the chief, he brought me word that the chief purposed visiting me on the following morning. I did not retire to rest until midnight, because I went to see a ball that was given in the open space or park of the town. The men danced separately from the women, each sex forming circles and then dividing into groups or bands. They danced to the sound of war-songs, which they sang tastefully. The songs of the women were very pretty, and varied. All the warriors joined in the dance; but elderly women do not dance except when a relative dies, or any person they love, for in this way do they manifest their grief.

In the early morning I went to the river to bathe, and just as I was about to plunge in, I saw rising from the water the terrible head of an enormous crocodile. I went farther down, where the river becomes shallow, and bathed in a part where I could see down to the sand, and, as you may well suppose, I did not linger long in the water, as I had no wish to receive visits from crocodiles, prefering rather the amiable visits of the pretty native ladies.

About nine in the morning, Manova came to my palhota with the secretary of the chief, and a negro carrying an elephant tusk, weighing forty-two pounds and a half. This tusk was a present from the chief in return for what I had sent him the previous evening. Shortly after, the chief arrived, escorted by a large number of blacks, who remained outside, the chief, his secretary, and three friends alone entering my palhota. I ordered a mat to be laid on the ground for the chief to sit upon; the secretary and his friends sat near him, but outside the mat. The chief was a young fellow, of about twenty-five years of age. The secretary addressed me on behalf of the chief, wishing me the usual compliments, and bidding me welcome to his territory, all which I answered in similar terms through Manova. The chief, who had remained silent up to this time, now said "Chauane melunga;" this was the prelude to an animated conversation between us. He asked me to allow him to look at my gun, which I at once handed to him, warning him, however, that it was loaded. He was very pleased with it, and offered me two tusks weighing fifty pounds each, in exchange for the gun, but I told him that I could not possibly part with it then as I required a gun during my journey, but that I could dispose of it when I arrived at Lourenço Marques.

This chief appeared to be very intelligent, and evidently understood something about firearms. My gun was an English double-barrelled rifled carbine, and certainly was a splendid specimen. Speaking of firearms and shooting, I incidentally asked the chief whether hippopotami were found in the river, and he told me that about a mile and a half from the town there lived an enormous one, who, for some years past, had caused much havoc in the farms and manchambas (plantations) along the river, because at night he would come on land and demolish the crops. According to his account, this animal was of enormous size, and very crafty; for he always either discovered the snares laid for him, or managed to break through them. The snares, which are set by the natives for capturing hippopotami, are arranged in this wise. A large hole is dug near the river on a spot where the hippopotamus usually passes at night on his way to the plantations seeking food. Over this hole are placed reeds close together, and over these reeds again, a quantity of earth is laid. The animal walks over this, his own weight causing the reeds to break through, and falling into the hole, he is thus caught as in a mousetrap.

On hearing about this animal, a great wish took possession of me to go to the whereabouts of the hippopotamus and try and shoot him; so I asked the chief to be good enough to let me have a guide, and I should proceed to the spot and do my best to kill him. He at once offered to go in person with me, followed by his whole retinue; so taking Manova and three hunters with me, we started on our expedition to the spot, a distance of a mile and a half.

The chief and I sat down on the banks of the river, while all the others sat about a distance of fifty yards behind us, I enjoining silence and perfect quietude. We had not long to wait, for soon after sitting down, we saw the enormous head of a hippopotamus rise for a moment out of the water and disappear again. I loaded my gun, and prepared to fire as soon as he would appear above the surface. After a few minutes his head and part of the neck appeared, then he turned and looked fixedly at the crowd on the shore, giving me time to take aim and fire a shot, which hit him on the head, and then rebounded. The animal rose half out of the water opening his uncouth mouth, which was large enough to hold a man standing upright; then closed it, turned round and dipped into the water.

The head of the hippopotamus is very tough, and as impenetrable as a rock, and a musket-ball takes no effect. At times he would show his nostrils above water to breathe and dip into the water again, but never giving me a favourable opportunity of firing a good shot at him. In this way we watched him for a whole hour, until the idea struck me of making all the negroes come down to the water's edge, and burst out into shouts and shrieks as soon as the animal should appear above the water. This had an excellent effect. The animal raised his head out of the water for a moment, and the blacks simultaneously broke out into a tremendous uproar. The hippopotamus disappeared under water for a few minutes, and then rose up close to where I was standing, lifting his whole head and shoulders out of the water to look at the black crowd, thus imprudently exposing his neck, when, without losing an instant, I took aim and fired a shot which hit him in the nape. It was evident that the animal had been mortally wounded, for his head began to fall very slowly. The ball had entered and crushed the bones at the back of the neck, piercing the spinal marrow, from which resulted instantaneous death. I had shot him at about a distance of seventy yards.

On seeing the animal's head slowly fall into the water the negroes began to cry out, "Adél! Afil!" (He is killed! he is dead!). My three hunters bounded towards me to offer me their congratulations, while the escort of the chief danced, and leaped, and shouted for sheer joy. In a short time the huge carcass of the dead hippopotamus rose to the surface, and directly after, some forty negroes plunged into the river to drag the enormous animal on shore.

I was perfectly astonished to see the men plunging into the river regardless of the crocodiles that abounded in that part; and, on expressing my surprise to the chief, he told me that many indeed fell victims to the crocodiles, especially women who came down to the river for water, but, curiously enough, as soon as a dead hippopotamus floats on the surface of a river; all the crocodiles disappear instantly to hide themselves in their burrows, from which they do not emerge for several hours.

The escort of the chief consisted of between four and five hundred men, but, by the time the hippopotamus was about to be brought to land, there was a crowd of more than three thousand men, women, and children, who had come from the town to witness the landing of this enormous beast, who had been the terror of the neighbourhood. The combined strength of some four hundred negroes, who had gone into the water to bring him ashore, scarcely sufficed to drag one half of his body out of the water. He was truly a monstrous thing; his legs were perfectly colossal; his hideous head enormous.

The negroes lopped off the fore and hind legs as he lay on his side, then opened him and drew out the entrails, thus lessening considerably the weight. They then were able to drag him right out of the water on to the dry land, where they continued to cut him up into pieces, leaving the head and backbone, which resembled a large beam.

Then followed the distribution of the meat. The first portion was for the chief, and consisted of a loin, leg, and some of the entrails, which he sent to the town. My people also received a leg, the heart, liver, and kidneys, a part of the loin being reserved for myself, and servants. I gave a large portion to the escort of the chief, and then sent the head and neck to the chief of the next district, enjoining a condition that he should extract the teeth and send them to me. What remained of the hippopotamus was given away among the assembled crowd.

On concluding the distribution of the dead animal, I returned to the town, accompanied by the chief and all his people. The whole town was in a state of great excitement and perfect joy; men, women, and children were busy roasting the meat and devouring the savoury morsels. I ordered my own dinner to be prepared for me, consisting of boiled rice, a piece of the liver and kidney, roasted and basted with the fat of the hippopotamus. The flesh of this animal is the best of all wild beasts; its appearance and flavour being very much like beef. While the dinner was cooking I took a walk about the town. In the first street I met an old negress, who, without the least ceremony, put up her black hands to my face and said, "Calimanbo melungo" (Thanks, white man!).

"What do you thank me for, madam?" I asked.

"Ah! melungo," she replied, " you have indeed performed a good service to us in killing the Cavalhomarinho (sea-horse). This feiticeiro (sorcerer) used to devour all our corn crops!"

I bade her good-day and turned away laughing heartily at her idea of calling the animal a "sorcerer." Farther on I passed a palhota, where, at the door, sat on a mat, one of the pretty negro girls who had come to visit me on the previous evening; she was holding a baby in her arms. She had scarcely seen me than she put the child down on the mat and ran. towards me to offer her thanks. I asked her in fun whether that child was hers, and she smiled and said it was. I told her I did not believe it, as she was too young to be a mother; she laughed and said that it was a child of her sister's, who was the great wife of the chief, and therefore she called the babe her own. I felt a hand laid on my shoulder, and on turning round, saw it was the chief holding a little boy by the hand.

"Melungo," he said, "is she not pretty?" meanwhile casting a proud affectionate glance at the young woman.

"Yes indeed," I replied; "she is very lovely."

"Well, she is my wife; I married her two months ago," he replied. Had he not been the chief, I would have told him that he did not deserve to have such a pretty woman for a wife, he being really a very ugly man, for, though tall and well formed, and possessing regular features, yet he had little twinkling eyes, and ears so large and prominent that he looked like a mule. Therefore I merely replied that he was a lucky. man to possess such a charming wife. He seemed very much gratified that I admired her, and asked me to come to his palhota, where the little boy laid two mats, one for me to sit upon, and the other for the chief and his wife. After a few moments, two negroes appeared carrying a large panful of bejála (a fermented liquor, made from Indian corn flour and other cereals), which they set down outside the entrance of the hut, and placed some wooden mugs by the side.

A number of friends of the chief then came and sat down before the door. The chief summoned one of them, named Chicomanhana, whom he treated as a brother. because he was a near relative, his head war-chief, and a very brave man.

In obedience to the invitation of the chief, the warrior entered and eat down on the threshold, with all that respect and submission which negroes always manifest towards their chief. He filled a cup of bejála and handed it to the chief, who, after taking a good draught, handed it over to me, and I drank a little. He successively filled each of the mugs, giving one to the chief, and one to his "great wife" and her sister. They all drank a second mugful, but I remained quite satisfied with my first portion, as these mugs held quite a pint of liquid. What remained in the pan was finished by the war-chief and his companions, and then bidding the chief and his friends good-day, I departed for my hut to partake of my dinner, which was now ready, but the bejála had completely spoilt my appetite.

A great ball took place that night, which I attended. Next morning the chief brought me an elephant's tusk, weighing 85 lbs., for sale, which I purchased in exchange for beads and pieces of cotton goods.

The negro who had undertaken to extract the teeth from the head of the hippopotamus had been very expeditious in his work, for by nine in the morning he brought me all the teeth; the two foreteeth of the lower jaw weighed 13 lbs.; the top ones, 8 lbs.; and the other eight teeth together weighed 11 lbs., the maxillary teeth not being of any use.

On the following morning I left the town of Magud. The chief kindly accompanied me for some distance beyond the town. In the evening we reached a village on the borders of the territory ruled by Cossa. The chief of this village, or small town, was called Malange. As in this small place there were not a sufficient number of palhotas to accommodate all our men, we encamped under the trees. The next day we made a long journey, reaching the districts belonging to the chief Changano, and encamped under the trees of a village ruled by the chief Iávine. Provisions cost us a good price here, and, indeed, I had to send a great distance for them, as in this village there was nothing to be had, and some hours elapsed before they arrived. I distributed what food they brought, which was cooked with some remains of the hippopotamus. My own dinner consisted of a fowl, roasted over the fire with a wooden prong, and some boiled meal.

At five the next morning we started towards a small hamlet, consisting of only nine huts. Here we remained some hours, while the hunters went shooting, so as to prepare some provisions for the long journey which awaited us, and during which we would be unable to procure any food, as a large desert tract lay before us, which would take two days and a half to cross. After the hunters had taken a short rest, they started on their shooting excursion.


Source: D. Fernandes das Neves, A Hunting Expedition to the Transvaal, trans. M. Monteiro (London: George Bell, 1879), 33-45.