British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by L.A.H.
Autobiography, and Africa too
Old Moshi

Kilimanjaro and Moshi Town

We went straight away by train to Moshi, inland due west a 15 hour journey, to the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,000 feet), Africa's highest mountain. From there it was a long journey for eight miles, up and up a mountain road to Old Moshi. This was our first home. There were German-built bungalows to house the four European families that lived here. The Headmaster of the small native school, his wife and child. The assistant master and his wife. A Scotsman, who taught all school handicrafts, his wife and child. Ourselves. The houses were solid, well built of stone, all rather rough, but washed over with pink. Good carpentry work from the School. A large verandah right around, and windows with outside shutters to keep out the heat. All gardens were lovely. Anything grew because there was unlimited water everywhere, from the mountain, this combined with tropical heat made for lush vegetation on a very large scale. Lobelia, and maidenhair ferns, grew like small shrubs, with trunks as thick as one's wrists, and the weed groundsel stood four feet high. It all looked a little uncanny. Hedges of scarlet geraniums, which we had to keep cutting back, to prevent them taking over. Roses flourished everywhere, and there was a fine type of grass which needed no kind of cutting. It looked lovely, and grew rather on the principle of strawberry plants, running along and putting down new roots. It was a tremendous asset, especially to English people who love a fine lawn. As to the mountain itself everything here is on the vastest of vast scales. It is an extinct volcano. It runs straight up from the plain to this height of over 19,000 feet, and is always snow covered. This peak is called Mt. Kibo, and is smooth and dome like. Then there is a saddle running along to Mt. Macenzie which is 17,000 feet. This is crag-like and spikey, with a little snow sometimes. The whole range is called Kilimanjaro, two Swahili words meaning Hill (Kilimo), of light (njaro). At Old Moshi we lived 22 miles from the mountain, and the height was such that even at that distance it was not possible to see the summit without leaning back so far that one's neck began to ache. The range dominates everything around it. It can be seen for over 200 miles. Every safari that is ever done in this region, is done with the mountain always there. Many things about it all are always vividly in my mind. The beauty of Mt. Kibo looking down on our verandah in the dazzling light and heat of a 7:30 a.m. breakfast in February. Or at night, seeing it in a thin mauve haze. Sometimes the brightness of the moon, or star-light gleaming on a chasm edge of glacier, giving the brilliance and colour of some exquisite jewel. All this remote cool brilliance in a tropical setting. No wonder I remember.

Autobiography, and Africa too
Wachagga
The Wachagga people, the tribe that lives here all round about the range, are stocky, and well built, and they walk beautifully.

Their irrigation methods are marvellous. Hand-ploughed cuttings are made everywhere in the hills, to hold the water. The plough is called a 'jembe' a kind of huge hoe. They are slogging at the hoeing all the time. Their lives, customs, and religion are dominated by, and centred around, the mountain.

We lived here from February 1932 till August '32, We made our own community life, just meeting in each other's houses to dine, or have a sundowner, talking about home, playing new gramophone records, comparing gardening notes. Greater social contacts were made by going down the eight-mile mountain road, by safari car to Moshi town. Quite a business, and an impossible one in the rainy season when the road was like a river of thin cocoa. Moshi is quite a large town by Tanganyika standards. Hundreds of white traders, because much coffee is grown on the mountain slopes.

Shops in the town are run almost entirely by Indians and ordinary food stuffs were quite easy to come by. Food and drink kept to much the same pattern wherever we lived.

We would send a boy every day to the market for meat. This was of fair quality, and the whole arrangement was always in charge of a white vet wherever we lived.

Local tea was poor, but drinkable, and good enough for safari. Under a kind of title 'How round about can you get' we always took out with us 50 lbs. of good quality tea from our tropical suppliers in London. It was in 1/2 lb. packets, lined with tin-foil, and stored in our own specially lined tea chest, on arrival. Houses were always large enough for one room to be a store room with a key. It was like a small grocer's shop.

Local sugar was fairly good, flour was passable and most of us taught our cook-boys to make bread. It wasn't always an easy task, because kitchen fires were made with wood, and there was a small iron stove, brought from England. Butter and bacon could be bought from a factory at Mwanza, at the extreme south of Lake Victoria. Everything else was ordered in huge supplies from an English store in Dar-es-Salaam. This would include dried milk, dried yeast, dried fruit, and decent quality sugar.

A very, very rare type of food which we had very, very rarely was called 'Millionaires Salad'. Called this because it needs a whole coconut tree to be cut down to procure it. The very point of the tree is like a giant stick of celery, and tastes very like it too. It is chopped up finely, and put in a salad. But when cutting it up, the beauty of the grain is revealed, and it seems a shame to eat it. The pattern is most wonderfully intricate, like fine lace work with little lines and veins running through, and creases and strands all interwoven. The colour is like pale cream. Of the tree itself not an atom is wasted. The long straight trunk is used to make dug-out canoes. The wood is also used for making spears. Fronds are plaited to make sides of huts, and thatching, and can be woven into baskets. The milk can be drunk, the nut eaten, and the empty shells make drinking cups. Patronise home industries.

Autobiography, and Africa too
Indian Duka
Wherever we lived in the Territory there were always Indian dukas (stores). Pleasant to look at, everything to sell, and horrible to smell. Around the dukas are shelves, well made by Sikh carpenters, and stocked with all kinds of edibles. Lentils, dhal, poor rice, kola nuts, poor quality tmneric, coriander, chillies, saffron, peppercorns. Besides all this there will be stacked the inevitable blue mottled soap, a product of the territory, coarse and horrible-looking, like chimks of Gorgonzola cheese, and rivaling it in smell. Fatty pastries, saffron coloured little cakes, and dirty looking salt completed the picture. This is why we sent to Dar-es-Salaam, to the English store, for food stuffs. In contrast to this, the dukas which sold silks and cottons were well patronised. Also on sale would be beautifully embroidered dressing gowns and shawls from Kashmir (where else?).

Hung up near the doors would be various types of shirts and shorts, and a Goan squatting on the floor nearby, quite often with a Singer sewing machine, and usually turning out very good work for local boys. Also round about will be the most shoddy bright gim-cracks which Japan is able to export. CJieap beads, looking glasses, handkerchiefs, bangles, ear-rings, and nose studs. A small looking-glass would be used as a personal adornment, htmg around the neck, or from an ear lobe, or around the ankle. It was literally dazzling in the glaring sun. Bananas are grown in ^ ea t quantities, in this part of the Territory. One hundred and thirtynine varieties, from tiny little sweet ones, which are very good to eat, right up to others, which are red, and nearly three inches across, and are used as food for cattle. Banana blossom is very like a large fuschia.

Tabora

Autobiography, and Africa too
Kilimanjaro by Plane
In August 1932, we left Moshi, by air, for Tabora, some 200 miles south west. A tiny plane, with 14 passengers, and a bumpy trip of H hours. It was quite an experience to be flying up beside the mountain, even for only a few minutes. The flight was quite uneventful, and I don't even remember landing!

Tabora was at one time the centre of the slave trade. In the market place there are the posts and rings where the slaves used to be chained. A horrible sight. It was at Tabora that Livingstone and Stanley lived for a time after they had met at Ujiji (Kigoma), some 300 miles west of Tabora. The place is marked by a fine memorial stone with an inscription in English and Swahili. Tabora is a large Government centre with hundreds of Arab, and Indian traders, as well as hundreds and hundreds of white people. The climate is hot, but dry. A great impression of coolness is given because of the masses and masses of mango trees which have been planted all about. They are deep dark green in colour, and counteract entirely the hot dried up look of the place. No fine Moshi grass here, but lovely avenues of acacia, and Madagascar 'flame' trees, with their brilliantly scarlet blooms, very little foliage, and light grey branches and trunks.

Frangipani, oleander, bourganvillae, and hibiscus, all these tropical shrubs abound in beauty. Also, perhaps best of all, the tree 'Pride of Barbados'. It is rather like a laburnum tree, except that the blossoms are pink, and from the blossoms there hangs a rainbow-coloured fringe. The beauty is enhanced if/when it all sways about in a small breeze.

First Foot Safari to the Wilds

From Tabora we moved in October 1932 to Sumbawanga. A day and a night by train to Kigoma in the west, at a tedious pace. Not a very wonderful train but wonderful to have one at all. The line just driven through the bush by German slave labour. The front of the engine carries an enormous search light to scare the wild animals, and to enable the Indian driver to see that the line is clear. Most of the time there is the din of baboons screaming, and shrieking, and leaping about in order to get out of the way of this strange huge monster. The train is steam driven, and runs on wood. What a job.

Vacancy Tanganyika
On Safari
Kigoma, on the Lake shore is the end of the line, and from there it is a six day run by Lake steamer, the Liemba, to Kasanga, a small port at the extreme south end of the Lake. Lake Tanganyika at 400 miles long is the longest fresh water lake in the world. It is said to be 25--30 miles wide, and the depth unplumbed. It is part of the Great Western Rift Valley. From Kasanga it was a safari on foot for six days north east to Sumbawanga. The first days safari is straight up the escarpment to a height of 6,000 feet. Wonderful country, thickly wooded, with out-croppings of red, and pink rock, and a narrow path threading along, but heavy going. I had had some good leather shoes made at the School in Old Moshi. They had 1/4 inch steel studs put in, rather like football boots. Specially made for foot safari. At the end of this safari the studs were worn right down, and the soles had gleaming, fiat pieces of steel, all over them like old sixpenny pieces. After the climb, there is a plateau, and five days walking. We had 75 porters with our loads. It had meant a great packing up at Tabora. Five houseboys, one cook-boy, one askari (native police) and two office messengers, were also with us on safari. The word safari is derived from the Swahili verb ku safiri - to travel. It is all very memorable to me, because as we went along I knew that all this journey must be done in reverse in January '33 when I must return to Tabora Hospital for the birth of our baby.

The climate here abouts was as near perfect as one could wish, on account of the height. Vegetation was lush, but not overdone, and the atmosphere wonderfully clear. Rolling down-land, kind of country. When once one managed to achieve a kind of plodding mentality, this five days on the plateau was not really very difficult. Porters went on ahead, the tent was already pitched in camp when we arrived. The table and chairs at the ready, and us very ready to sit down. So we arrived and settled into the new home. The Senior District Officer and his wife and ourselves were the only European people. Our nearest European neighbours were a German farming family 40 miles away by donkey path.

The two houses were again the solid German type, but no extras in the form of doors that shut well, or good window frames. Between his office hours, - 8 a.m. to mid-day, and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Thlrlo - my husband, worked with the village carpenter, and mason, and before long we had a very smart looking home. Outside shutters, painted bright green, and a lovely stone built fire place, and often a huge log fire. At that height the evenings were comparatively cool, and a good fire gave the extra warmth, and made it look "just like home". Here we spent Christmas 1932. We put up decorations much to the delight of our boys who were Christian, and the mystification of those who were Mahommedans.

Second Foot Safari for Rex's Birth

January 9th, 1933 saw the start of our safari back to Tabora, for me to be there for the great event. We left at 5 a.m. having had an early evening quiet farewell supper party with our neighbours. Early starts are necessary on safari in order to get in a good 5 hours' walking time, with one short break before the sun gets too hot to be comfortable. I never knew, nor was I ever sufficiently interested to find out whether there was an official safari gear for wives, especially wives expecting babies, but my way of dressing was as follows Bra, briefs, socks, heavy shoes, slacks, tunic, linen frock, thick khaki drill skirt, the frock top now made a blouse, Shetland jumper, brown suede jerkin. It was cold starting out, and no doubt I looked a bundle, but the system worked well, gradually discarding a garment as the sun became stronger. Eventually there was I arrayed neatly for the rest of the safari in slacks and tunic. I felt I had achieved the ultimate in safari attire, and always kept to this routine in the years ahead. It worked well.

Vacancy Tanganyika
Mango Fruit Flowers, Tabora
Usually we would arrange a walking safari like this. Breakfast first. Walk 5 a.m. to 7-30 a.m., a rest, and then walk 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Boys and porters then put up a small camp in order to make some shade, and other creature comforts including a most elaborate bamboo-screened loo. Labour and bamboo were unlimited commodities, and the end product was often palatial. We would have a meal, rest in the shade, and set out again about 4-15 p.m. to walk 2 1/2 hours in order for the main camp to be set up before the rapid tropical sundown. We were never troubled with insomnia.

News of our arrival would have been sent on ahead by one of the messengers to the village of our camping, so water and wood would be all ready. The water would need careful filtering. We had to set up this apparatus ourselves. It was like a huge double-saucepan, with a fine sandstone-like "candle" through the middle. The water dripped through drop by drop, leaving a very questionable deposit on the candle. Then the water had to be boiled, and cooled. We always carried jars of acid drops for thirst quenching. Better still, we drank a can of beer. Up till now, my own drinking habits had been limited to two tablespoons of brandy poured over the Christmas pudding at home. But even this was too much for a relative who often stayed at my home over Christmas. He insisted that if "that stuff" was to be poured on, could he please have his slice of pudding cut out first.

Vacancy Tanganyika
MV Liemba
Porters would collect wood to make a good fire for the cook-boy and his assistant to get a meal going. Also a large separate fire would be made to keep any animals at bay, except in rhino country. A fire infuriated them, and they would then come and try and stamp it out, and you too if you were unlucky. The first five days were all along the plateau mentioned before, and then the last day down, down, down, instead of up, up, up the 6,000 ft. to the lake shore. Very tiring and trying, whether up or down. From Kasanga, the little port, I went on without Thirlo. He had to walk back to Sumbawanga. I was taken under the care of the wife of the Scottish engineer on the 'Liemba', the little lake steamer. Five days sailing north to Kigoma again. A calm and lovely trip; spotless little ship, of course, and pleasant company. The few passengers were white Father Missionaries from Holland, spealdng perfect English. It was a peaceful restful time, and I was glad of the rest. I was met at Kigoma on January 20th by the District Officer and his wife, and they put me on the train for the 1 1/2 days to Tabora. This was the only time during the whole episode that I felt a little timid, because this was the only time that I was actually alone. There were several Europeans on the train, and there was one woman who was specially friendly, and we always sat together for meals.

I had with me our own houseboy who saw to my wants. An excellent fellow, and I, having started to learn Swahili properly by this time, was only too glad to air my knowledge much to his amusement very often. His gleaming white teeth in his jet black face was happiness to me.

At Tabora station there was quite a deputation to meet me. Friends whom we had known when we lived there before, and, most important, the special friends with whom I was to stay for the special event. By now it was January 22nd, the safari was over and I was glad. I went along to the hospital for a quick check-up, and none of the staff would believe my safari story at first.

Tabora was cooler now than when we had lived there before; the rainy season had just begun. So I stayed there with these kind friends awaiting the happy event. Here I spent my 27th birthday on February 1st. The hospital was a fine German building, with lovely Arab doors, beautifully carved. There, on February 27th, Rex was born. My thoughts were happy, people were kind, all had gone (comparatively) smoothly and the baby, of course, was wonderful.

We came out of hospital early in March and stayed with friends till early April. It was wise to make the stay this length, for there was no point in having anyone approaching semi-invalidity on the return safari to Sumbawanga. As well as my personal boy, I now had a good ayah. We got on famously.

Third Foot Safari - One Small Child

At midnight on April 1st we left Tabora by train. The baby, ayah and I, and oh! the shock, my good houseboy dead drunk. The train steamed out very slowly, and there was no platform as we know it. To the District Officer by the carriage window I said, "What shall I do?" He said, "Find the Indian guard immediately, he will help you." I bundled ayah and tiny Rex into our compartment, found the guard, told him the trouble, and I never saw the boy again. It was a shaky start to our long journey. We stayed in Kigoma until April 6th. The heat and glare were uncomfortable. Or was I beginning to will? I was glad to get on board the little 'Liemba' again, the engineer and his wife, and the Skipper, and they were all keen to see the baby - the youngest European passenger ever on their list. The six days down to the south of the lake, to Kasanga again passed smoothly. Thirlo met us there, so it was a happy family again.

There was a mission station at Kawimbe, Northern Rhodesia, and a padre from there Christened Rex; Reginald Thirlwall were the names we chose. We walked a little way through the tall 6 feet high elephant grass to a small mud-built mission Church. The staff from the 'Liemba', the padre, ourselves and R.T. were the only European people. There were very many interested black people. The padre told us that there had only ever been one white woman here, and never before a white baby. So it was quite an occasion all round.

The setting was scanty in the extreme. No robes for the padre, and the furniture in the little mud Church consisted of four wooden forms, and a small wooden table. This wood is called mninga, and is very like mahogany. There was no font. A native-made bowl of pink mud, called mtungi was held by an African server. The Church, so dark, with only slits for windows, was in very great contrast to the brilliance outside.

The palm trees, the banana trees, the hot sand, the safari path between the elephant grass, the intensely blue fresh water lake breaking on to an intensely yellow shore with the intensely hot sun beating down, made the old cliche "typically tropical" exactly true in this case.

We said goodbye to Liemba friends, and were glad to turn into our camp quarters and get some rest before starting off again early the next morning for the six-day walk back to Sumbawanga. The same safari that we had done last October, 1932 and January, 1933, but now plus one.

Sekenke Gold Mine

We went to Sekenke on another occasion, an easy safari over very open country, looking right over the plains in three directions, and the Ndurumu River completely dried up, so that it was just a wide wandering ribbon of pale yellow sand, a most extraordinary sight. The atmosphere is so astonishingly clear that it is possible to see for 80-100 miles or more. Then there is the climb up the escarpment of 4,000 feet. Not quite as daunting as the Kasanga one from the Lake, but an awkward road for a car, and a rough surface. Although the open spaces of the plain are great, they seem greater still when seen from a height. It is all very much like looking at the country from the air. The road over which we had travelled looking unbelievably smooth from this height and distance.

So across the plateau, rather dull and monotonous, a few huts, people, some dressed, some not, dogs, cattle, dry burnt grass, trees, burnt white and grey with bush fires, a kind of ghost forest, looking most weird in the bright sunshine. We agreed that in all the travels so far in this Territory, which already is something like from John O' Groats to Sicily, we have never seen anything quite so strange.

We reached the edge of the plateau, and then started the descent on the other side. There was a huge board just here, rather like the England-Scotland notice near Berwick, but with different wording. It reads, "Hatari! ya matelemko" - "Danger! here is a great going down". It certainly was that all right. This up and over approach to Sekenke is necessary because this amazing plain is a trap. If it is possible to be bogged down in sand, then travellers would be bogged down in sand. This road down the escarpment has been properly engineered by the Gold Mine Coy: and cost a fortune. The road cut into the mountainside, like the Swiss railways. It makes a great impression to see a construction like this, after travelling on the usual safari road. Our boys had never seen a road like it and chattered about it all the time.

Vacancy Tanganyika
Sekenke Gold Mine
From this wonderful road, the view seemed more wonderful still. It starts with the scrub and bush at the road side, and becomes first brown burnt country, then a band of burnt forest land, then sand, then hazy, then blue hazy, fading to a purple in the distance, and then a deep black band against the far, far horizon. It seemed as if this deep horizon would be the limit of one's vision, but no, on again, it would be possible to see the side of a mountain, lit up in the sunshine. Quite astounding, made possible no doubt, that first the space is there, and secondly the clear, clear atmosphere, with the intense sunshine. It could also be due to good eyesight. Then at Sekenke itself we saw not "God's open spaces" but great slag heaps, and mine shafts, engine sheds, concrete buildings, and all the evidences of a north country town at home, stuck out in the middle of Africa. Strange indeed. It is all this required machinery that makes the all-weather road so necessary. It runs to a tiny rail station called Kinyangiri. to join up with the main rail line from Singida, Central Province, to the coast.

We stayed in the Sekenke Rest House, and had our meals with the manager of the Gold Mine. We spent the evening at a sundowner party, when Rex was safely bedded down. The next morning we were on parade to go down the mine. Slacks and overalls, a linen cap and a tin helmet. Four of us clambered into a large bucket. It was a 4 foot high cylinder, made of strong heavy steel. We were lowered 400 feet into the mine. Curious sensation going down, down, down. I felt a bit nervous, but recovered when remembering it had been worse on foot safari down the escarpment to Kasanga, before Rex was born. So we reached the bottom, and clambered out. Pitch dark, except for the small beam of light thrown by the small acetylene lamps which we carried. We crept along tunnels ankle deep in water. All the rock solid looking quartz, and most of it, to someone as ignorant as I, looking as unlike gold as it is possible to imagine. There were the working boys, with pick axes and shovels, and spades, digging, digging, and all the "mud" being hoisted into trolleys, and taken up in the same way that we had been brought down. We walked miles it seemed, and we were all pouring with sweat. The rock formation altered very much, varying from that which looked like the most beautiful marble, and striped black, which the manager told us was rich in gold, to what looked like grey sand-stone. Pneumatic drills in such a confined space were far from pleasant. But even this became amusing when the manager, who was stone deaf, having been in a mine explosion in Johannesburg, turned to me and said, "Tm afraid there is a bit of a rattle" .

We had a short rest in a siding, and were then whisked to the surface again. This wasn't quite right either, because, in contrast it was so very bright and chilly. After this we went around the various engine rooms, and although these did not interest me very much, it was wonderful to see all this machinery and hear the whirrings, and then look about and see this illimitable space of Africa, with miles and miles and hundreds of miles of bush - 'pori' is the Swahili word - and almost desolation. It was almost more than one could take in. to try to imagine what it all meant in terms of transport in order to get the goods from "there to here". Engines, dynamos, winding equipment, pile-drivers, laboratory equipment for the assay shop, and so on.

After this we saw the mill which swallowed up mud and rock, and pounded and pounded until all became slush in a great grey pond. Then it was all treated with cyanide, and mercury then smelted, and eventually there is the nugget of gold. These small half-inch square little pellets, so heavy, so precious I suppose. We were told that the football field might yield 5 åcwt to the ton. Not every club can boast that their ground is gold in that way.

British Colony Map
1946 Map of Northern Tanganyika
British Colony Map
1947 Map of Tabora Region
British Colony Map
1947 Map of Tabora Region
Colony Profile
Tanganyika
Originally Published
OSPA Journals 43, 44 & 46:
April - Oct 1982, October 1983
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Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika


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