AFRICAN ADVENTURES
Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell


Chapter XI
RHODESIA

THE word “Bulawayo” means the “Place of Slaughter.” The place was so called by the natives because it was the headquarters of the king of Matabeleland, Lobengula, and his great army of warriors.

It was the custom for the king every year to hold a big rally of his army. They formed a big circle round the platform on which he sat under a shady bush. They sang war songs and danced war dances till they were fully excited and ready for any adventure. Then the king would take his assegai and hurl it in whichever direction he chose. This was a sign to the regiments on that side of the ring to go off on the warpath in that direction, and to harry any tribes they came across.

Lobengula's Tree

I am writing this sitting on Lobengula's mound under the shade of his tree. Where his great kraal was now stands Government House in its lovely garden. It was built by Cecil Rhodes on this spot to show that the old reign of blood and murder was over, and that he, the peaceful white chief of the country, had taken the place of Lobengula, the tyrant.

There in the distance stands the mountain of Thabas Induna, with its flat top and precipitous sides, the “Mountain of the Chiefs,” so called because when any chief offended the king he was taken to the mountain and thrown down it.

Then, looking back two miles in another direction, one sees among the trees what Lobengula did not see—namely, the roofs and pinnacles of the city of Bulawayo—no longer a “place of slaughter,” but a fine, well-laid-out modern town, with its public buildings and charming suburbs looking so peaceful and prosperous—very different from when I first saw it in 1896. Then it very nearly was a “place of slaughter,” for the Matabele had surrounded the township and had murdered in outlying farms nearly two hundred and fifty white settlers—men, women, and little children—and this brought about an expedition of volunteer and regular troops, in which I served, to reestablish peace.

Three years before this the Matabele had raided the neighbouring country of Mashonaland, which was under the rule of the Chartered Company of British South Africa. The Governor, Dr. Jameson, organised an armed expedition to drive back the Matabele, and captured the king's kraal at Bulawayo.

Two of Lobengula's regiments were away in the north on one of his raids, and he fled to join them. A party of thirty men under Major Wilson pursued him across the Shangani River. While endeavoring to capture him, the river rose behind them. They found themselves in the presence of his undefeated regiments. Owing to the flood they were not able to get back to the main body of troops, nor were these able to come to their help. Surrounded they did not surrender, but fought till their ammunition ran out, and were all killed to a man.

Two years later, the Matabele regiments, finding their country now occupied by the white people, resolved to drive them out again. Their plan was to attack the township at Bulawayo by surprise one night. But in making towards Bulawayo some of the warriors could not resist the temptation to kill such farmers as they passed on the way. Several of these escaped in time, and galloping to Bulawayo gave the alarm, so that when the Matabele got to the town they found the inhabitants prepared.

The settlers quickly organised themselves as a fighting force and, assisted by troops sent up from Natal, overcame the rebellion, and, restored peace in Rhodesia. I had the luck to be in this campaign.

THE MATOPOS

Today I have been in a land which a lot of giants' children must have used as their play­ground some millions of years ago. The whole district, for some eighty miles by thirty, is a jumble of huge piles of rocks largely overgrown with bush.  At every turn we came across rocks oddly placed as if put there for fun by youngsters. At more than one spot a tall, straight pillar of rock stood on end; in other places you would see two or three, or even four, great boulders balanced on top of each other.  A great, bald-headed mountain of granite, like the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, would have a big, rounded rock poised on its side, looking as if it might roll down at any moment and crash into the valley below.  One such smooth dome was crowned at the top with a complete circle of great round boulders, twice the height of a man.  We climbed up to it, and there in the centre of the circle was a flat slab of granite with a bronze plate stating “Here lies Cecil John Rhodes.”  It was the grave of the great man who founded the Colony.  He was fond of sitting on this mountain top when he was alive, and called it “The World's View.”

I was with him some forty years ago, when we had to fight the Matabele tribe who inhabited this country and had attacked and murdered a large number of the white settlers.

A Kopje in the Matopos

This particular bit of country is called the Matopo Hills. These hills, or “kopjes” as they are called, made a good stronghold for the Matabele to hide in and defend.  I know it was a very nasty one for us to attack! Each kopje had caves inside it and bushes half hiding it, and so long as the enemy kept hidden inside it you did not know that anyone was there. But they had spy-holes between the rocks, and could watch you unseen, and when you unsuspectingly came near enough they would “Bang!” and let you have it from the old elephant gun, which fired a bullet as big as a plum.

The Matopos have, by Rhodes's direction, been made into a National Park, where people can come and camp and enjoy the wild scenery. There are a few wild animals there, such as sable antelope, baboons, and leopards.

A case happened here the other day in the Matopos when a leopard saw his chance of a dinner off a succulent little baby baboon. He stalked and pounced upon it, killing it with a blow of his sharp claws. But he did not get far with his meal, for mother baboon saw him and shrieked out the baboons' alarm-call.  In a few moments the whole tribe came tumbling from the rocks and trees, all yelling with rage as they ringed round the great cat. The leopard turned and tried to get away from them, first in one direction and then in another, but whichever way he turned he was faced with a madly enraged mob baring their teeth and screaming their anger.  As he turned, those behind him sprang on to his back, and in a few moments he was overwhelmed with a flood of baboons tearing and biting at him so that before long he, too, was killed.

In the midst of this wild country, with its baboons and leopards, and its vision of past battles fought among those kopjes, I was suddenly faced with a signboard pointing to “Gordon Park, the Training Ground of the Boy Scouts' Association.” Here, the wildest among the many jungle Gilwells that I have seen in different parts of the world, was a truly lovely backwood camping-ground.

It is named after the popular Commissioner of the Boy Scouts of Bulawayo, Major “Boomerang” Gordon. He has a nasty habit—at least snakes think it nasty—of catching a snake by the tail and “cracking” it as you would crack a whip, thereby breaking its neck.

THE VICTORIA FALLS

It is over eighty years since two African explorers lay sick with fever in camp far away north of the Transvaal. There was a sound like the rumble of distant thunder in the air, and in the distance there rose above the thick bush of the country what one of them described as “clouds of vapour rising exactly as when large tracts of grass are burned.” They were white below, and higher up became dark, so as to look exactly like smoke.  No one can imagine the beauty of the view.  “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight!”  The man who wrote that was David Livingstone, and his com­panion was my relative, Cotton Oswell.

They asked their native guides what it all meant, and the “boys” replied that it was “Moosiwatunya”—that is, “The smoke that sounds.” And that it came from an immense waterfall some ten. miles distant from where they were. But they were too ill to go on and see the fall, and had to be carried back southward by their boys. It was not till two years later that Livingstone got to the river again—the Zambesi—and at last saw this wonderful fall. In honour of Queen Victoria, he named it Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls

The Zambesi at this point is a mile and a half across, and it suddenly falls over a cliff into a great chasm 370 feet deep and only 150 yards wide, where an equally high cliff forms the opposite side of the “ditch.” The river then runs out at one end of the canyon through a narrow gully between further high cliffs for the next forty miles. These Falls are not unlike Niagara, but are just twice as wide and twice as high.  (The height of the Victoria Falls is the same as the height of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.)

Livingstone reached the Falls by canoe, traveling down the river till he landed on an island in the middle. This island is on the edge of the Fall, and divides it into two. Here he looked down into the chasm, and wrote of it that “Looking down one sees nothing but a dense white cloud, which at the time had two rainbows in it. The cloud rushes up high into the sky, and there condensing, it came back in a constant shower which soon wetted us to the skin.”

When I arrived here by train yesterday, we had seen this cloud when we were still some ten miles away. It was early dawn, and the lower part of the cloud was still in darkness, while the upper part caught the rays of the rising sun and was brilliant red; a beautiful sight.

It was owing to the wonderful colours of this immense cloud, and the roar that accompanies it, that the natives used to worship it as their god. Well, one can quite understand this when you stand on the brink of a dizzy height, with a strong squall blowing the spray round you in drenching showers, with the roar of the cataract half stunning you. It certainly “gives you an emotion,” as the French would say.

Matabele Warriors Looking Over Victoria Falls

But the whole scene gives you something more than this; it makes you feel what a small atom you are in the presence of the majesty and power of it all—and you feel a greater reverence and trust in God the Creator.

Once in old days the Matabele warriors were raiding the Batoka Tribe near the Zambesi. The Batokas fled before them, and rather than be captured, they threw themselves over the cliff into the river below.  The Matabele looked over the edge at the stream “like a white cord below,” so far down that they became giddy, and were obliged to go away holding on to the ground.

The Christmas card which I sent out to my friends last Christmas was a sketch which I made of the east window of a little church away in the back blocks of New Zealand. This window was not a work of art with highly coloured saints in a jigsaw of leaded bits of stained glass, designed by an artist; it was a plain sheet of plate-glass looking out upon a magnificent work of Nature, a great mass of snow, mountain, and glacier framed among the green fronds of tree ferns and forest.

In that little church, gazing across the altar to the snows beyond, I felt nearer to God the Creator than I could do in a church where the blue sky and God's handiwork were shut out by man-made coloured saints.

Since then I have had the same experience in seeing the Victoria Falls. As one comes within ten miles of them in the early dawn on a cloudless day—as I did—one sees a massive pillar of cloud rising a thousand feet into the sky, still dark in the shades of night at its base, but glowing red above, where rays touch it of the sun about to rise.

There amid wild rock and bush, with the ever-changing rainbows in the mist as this sways and surges in the wind, one senses a Presence, not inanimate but full of life and colour. Little wonder that the neighbouring tribes worshipped it as divine.

Thirty years ago I saw the Falls in their natural surroundings, untouched by man; today, with railway and hotel, trolley lines and signposts, well-laid paths and gardens, it is not the same. Man's puny effort to improve Nature is pathetic, but I suppose necessary to meet the demands of the times. Still, the grandeur of the whole stands far above these tinkerings.

But now I know that only those who have communed with the Falls by night have really grasped their inward message. As through the window of the little church in New Zealand, here was God manifest in Nature. In the soft light of the South African moon at the full, I stood and gazed at the stupendous scene.

I doubt if any written words could truly describe the awesome majesty of that immense, dimly-seen procession of water thundering into the depths of the chasm, where it is lost to view, hidden in a dense fog of spray.

Before one, rising high into the sky, is a wide semicircular arch of silvery lunar rainbow. Above it the dark sky is spangled with bright stars; with­in and framed by it stands, in contrast, a vast luminous film of mist having the light of the moon reflected through it with magic effect from the face of the falling foam.

This fairy scene, while it appeals to the eye in its beauty, has as its accompaniment the impres­sive sound of the thudding roar of the tons of falling `eaters—a rhythmic diapason which is not of today, nor of yesterday, but has maintained its continuous cadence without a stop for tens of thousands of years.

One could only gaze spellbound at the majesty, might, and power of it all, as a wondrous manifestation of the work of the Creator, and with a sense of awe such as no ceremonial service, however im­pressive, in a man-made cathedral could ever evoke.

CROCS AND HIPPOS

The first town you get to in Northern Rhodesia is Livingstone. To get into Northern Rhodesia you cross the Zambesi by a bridge just below the Victoria Falls. Above the Falls the river is a mile and a half wide.

As I have told you, the river comes suddenly to a precipice and falls over it into a gorge four hundred feet deep, and faced by another cliff.  The gorge is about one hundred and fifty yards wide.  At the eastern end of it, the gorge turns sharply for half a mile and then turns sharply again for another half-mile, and it keeps on doing this zigzag business for forty-five miles, all the time between high cliffs.

At the first turn below the Falls the bridge spans the gorge, and gives you a splendid view of the Falls as you stand on it.  It is wonderful to look over the parapet and see far, far below you, four hundred feet down, the great whirlpool known as the Boiling Pot, and the river rushing along be­neath you between its high walls. The water is at that point only one hundred yards wide, when just before its fall it was over a mile across.  So all that water crammed into the narrow gorge naturally must be very deep—eighty-five feet deep they told me it was.  The spray from the Falls rushes up a thousand feet into the sky and falls on the bridge like rain.  With the sun shining upon it you see the most wonderful and beautiful rainbow, making a complete circle.

Looking down into the gorge one saw a little smear on the rocky shore—it wasn't a rock, it was a croc.

"Nasty Fellows, Crocs"

Yes, the river is full of crocodiles and hippos. Nasty fellows, crocs.  Thanks to one of them I heard a good report of one of our lately organized native Scouts. A native boy was washing his hands in the river when a crocodile made a sudden rush out of the water and grabbed him by the arm, and with his powerful jaws bit it clean off. A native “Pathfinder Scout,” as they are called, rushed to his rescue and promptly tied a strip of linen round above the limb and wound it tight with a stick so that it stopped the flow of blood which was gushing from the artery, and thus he saved the boy's life. He had remembered his lessons in first aid by practising them occasionally, as every Scout should do, lest he forget some of the details.

Think, now, where is the artery, and how would you stop the bleeding if you had been this Rover?

Besides the crocs, there are, as I have said, lots of hippos in the Zambesi, even close to the town of Livingstone, but they don't come out much in the daytime, they prefer night, especially when they go on marauding expeditions in the crops.  But the other day one old hippo was very bold.  It got into a paddock where there was a valuable bull, and the two animals went for each other, and, strange to say, the hippo got the best of the fight, and left the bull badly wounded (for a hippo has nasty little tusks sticking straight out from his ugly mouth).

Not content with his victory, the hippo thought it over, and next day came back, and, finding his antagonist far from well after his battle, went at him again and killed him.

The owner of the bull considered that this was going a bit too far on the part of the hippo, and he pursued him with a rifle, and that night all the natives around had a hippo-meal supper.

A hunter shot a big hippopotamus in the St. John's River, in South Africa. That was not a very difficult thing to do—but when it came to getting him out of the water and up the bank on to dry land it was another matter.

He got a whole crowd of natives to pull and tug and lever the beast up. But it was no go. They could not move him.

So he borrowed a team of oxen, and finally a second team, and passed the chains, which they pulled their wagon by, round the carcass, and the oxen heaved with such force that they broke the chains, and the old hippo still lay there, smiling.

Everybody was at a loss to know what to do when along came an old sailor, who remarked, “Why don't you parbuckle the beggar? You would have him out in two jiffies.”

“Parbuckle?—What do you mean?”

“Why—this way.  Take a long rope.  Pass it round a tree or strong post where you want to bring the hippo. Then take both ends of the rope, pass them under his body, and then back over his top-side. Then lay your men or your oxen to haul the two ends, and the old hippo will come rolling over and over till you land him where you want.”

A Parbuckle in Action

And that was how they got him out quite easily. In the same way you can move any round and heavy thing like a big log or a barrel of beer.

If you have got a good big fat boy in your Troop (and there are few Troops that haven't got their “Fatty”) try parbuckling him. Pass the two ends of your rope round a post or tree, then under and back over him, and haul on the two ends and you will roll him up to the post—and he will enjoy the ride. He must, of course, lie quite stiff like a log.

LIONS

“Send those lions away out of the garden,” was what Lady Young said to a servant last week, when, on looking out of her bedroom window in the morning, she saw two lions strolling about among her flowers.

This was at Lusaka, the capital of Northern Rhodesia, of which Sir Hubert Young is the Governor. You know, of course, so I need not tell you, that Northern Rhodesia is a British Colony, north of the Zambesi.  This river divides it from Southern Rhodesia.

Northern Rhodesia is just about three times the size of Great Britain and Ireland.  Rather bigger than you expected, eh?  There are several up-to­date English towns and big mining centres in it. They are far apart from one another, and therefore it is difficult for the Scouts in them to get together for Rallies, but they work away at Scouting although far from each other, and very far away from you in the “Old Country.”

As you may guess from the above remark of Lady Young's, their hiking and camping in the vast wild bush country is not without excitement, owing to the presence of lions and other little oddities of the jungle, like hippos and giraffes and crocodiles and snakes. But the Scouts don't mind. Some of the natives themselves were wild and hostile people only a few years ago. They were called “Mashukulumbwe”—though they don't like the name, because it was what another tribe called them after defeating them in battle.  It means “under-dogs.”  They prefer to be called “Baila.”  They used to wear their hair done up with mud and string into a tapering horn like a rhino's horn. When out in hunting parties they used to fix a little tassel on the tip of this horn, so that when hiding and stalking their game in long grass, their tassel would be seen by their comrades, and so they did not get shot by accident.

They were great lion-hunters, and lions are still plentiful in the country.

A missionary in this country once came across an old and very decrepit chief. He was an ugly sight, and the missionary thought to himself that he didn't want to have much to do with him.  But then he heard this chief's story, and he soon altered his opinion of him.

Two lions had got into a kraal where the cattle were put for the night. So the chief went out, armed with an assegai, and entered the kraal, and managed to kill one lion and to drive the other out after a great struggle.

But this second lion turned on him, knocked him down, and mauled him most dreadfully before he was rescued. As a result of these wounds the chief has been paralysed in his limbs ever since. But he was a brave man to go in and tackle two lions single-handed and armed only with an assegai.

Well, only the other day, near Lusaka, a native, with his wife and two girls, was camping at the roadside, and in the middle of the night a lion came along and killed the man.  His wife seized one of the girls and pushed her up into a tree for safety, but before she could get the other there the lion jumped on to her, and though she fought him bravely he killed her and then killed the remaining child.  That poor girl up in the tree had a horrible time watching the lion eating her family. For the next two days the lion hung about there, and it was not till after three days that the girl was able to come down and make her way to the nearest village.

My old Zulu hunter said that when lions attacked him he used to fling himself down under his shield and let them jump over him, and he then stuck them with his assegai as they went over! Quite simple!

A lion actually attacked a motor-car on the road. He jumped on to the bonnet, and seemed to think that the lamps had something to do with the life of the car, for he got his powerful claws round one of the headlights and twisted it round and broke its neck, as it were. Then he slipped off the bonnet on to the road, and the driver thought he was rid of the beast, but not a bit of it. When he looked round he saw that the lion was coming along after him as fast as he could go. So the driver did the best thing possible under the circumstances, and “trod on the gas” and drove the car like billy-o till he got well out of range of the old lion.

SNAKES

Talking of motor-cars in Rhodesia, a driver was trying to get his car to start the other day, and the self-starter would not work. So he got down and opened up the bonnet to see what was wrong, and got the surprise of his life when he found a snake twiddled up in the engine.

Talking of snakes (I'm sure you like hearing about snakes), two cases were in the paper today. An elderly lady was in her garden in Bulawayo when she saw a big snake creep in under a water­butt, so she nipped into the house and got a gun and a couple of cartridges and ran out and fired twice at him. But somehow she failed to hit him, and out he came and slid away into the garage. “All right, my friend, I've got you now,” she said to herself, as she shut him in there while she went and got some more cartridges. Then she came back, opened the door and went in.  She shot him dead this time!

It was plucky of her, wasn't it?  Most women would have called for somebody else to come and kill the snake, but Rhodesian women are accustomed to doing things for themselves—like good Scouts!

The second snaky case was that of a small native boy who saw a snake sliding into his father's hut. He knew that when his father came home and went into the hut, which was very dark inside, he would not see the snake and the snake would get him. So that little imp determined to get that snake himself, and, arming himself with a spear with which the natives catch fish, he boldly went into the but to tackle the intruder.

Mind you, this was no harmless grass snake that he was dealing with, but the most dangerous of the South African serpents, a black mamba, poisonous and fierce. But the little chap went at him all the same, and managed to jab the spear into him before the reptile could bite him.  He killed the beast and hung it up in triumph.  A friend of mine went and stood alongside it. It was longer than he was, and he stood six feet!  I don't suppose its slayer was much more than half that height.  Plucky lad!


Table of Contents

Pentwall
Chapter I. Off To Africa
Chapter II. Tugs
Chapter III. Marseilles
Chapter IV. Egypt
Chapter V. The Red Sea-Port Sudan--Aden
Chapter VI. British East Africa
Chapter VII. Africa From The Air
Chapter VIII. The Jamboree At East London
Chapter IX. Durban
Chapter X. Through South Africa
Chapter XI. Rhodesia
Chapter XII. Two- And Four-Legged Animals
Chapter XIII. St. Helena, Ascension, And Home


Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell
African Adventures, 1937
Under Development
The Scouting story continues down to the present day at the website of the Boy Scouts Association of Zimbabwe, Matabeleland Province and of the 1st Bulawayo (Pioneer) Scout Group.
Howard Hensman's, A History of Rhodesia, London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1900. Includes an account of the Matabele War, the Jameson Raid and the later Matabele Rebellion.  (link temporarily disabled)
The Baden-Powell Library. A Selection of excerpts from the works of Lord Baden-Powell and works relating to his life and career.
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