British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Reverend John Jeremy Collingwood (District Officer, Northern Rhodesia/Zambia, 1961 - 1970)
Kenya Journey
David Livinstone
I went out to Northern Rhodesia as a cadet in 1961, with my wife. I was posted to Mporokoso in the Northern Province. In June 1963 I made a tour in Itabwa country, bordering the Congo. My principal purpose was not to do village touring, but as far as possible to verify on the ground a new series of maps (scale 1:50,000) produced from aerial photographs by the Federal Department of Surveys. I met District Messenger Substone Ngonga, who had been sent on ahead to recruit carriers, at Bulaya road camp. All the katundu (gear and supplies) was taken by vehicle to the very edge of the Chishyela swamp. We were ferried across the Chishyela in a vastly overloaded clinker-built government boat. We had five bicycles perched on the bow and some eleven persons squeezed astern. Substone, my cook Abram, and I went on ahead by bicycle to Joane Mukonso village, a distance of some ten miles. There we waited for DM Buxton Chitimbwa to arrive with the carriers, who only had one bicycle between them. As darkness fell we went to look for them along a narrow footpath lined with head-high grass. I had heard of lions in the area and lived in expectation of one jumping out at us from the grass. Not finding any signs of the carriers we made our way back to Joane, where we did meet up with the carriers who had come by another path.

Next day we went on to Kalaba, a distance of some fifteen miles. There I met Barrington Njalamimba, who was a capitao of the International Red Locust Control Service (IRLCS). We went on together to Kanjiri which stands on a promontory overlooking the Mweru Marsh. Barrington was most helpful in checking the maps with me. I made my way back to Kalaba, where I arrived with a raging thirst, barely assuaged by three pots of tea, some water and two oranges. I slept that night in the school office, courtesy of the head teacher, Fabiani Sumaili, a patriarchal figure with a large greying moustache. Fie told me that as an Anglican he and his wife said morning and evening prayer together every day. Anglicans were rare in this part of the world which was predominantly Watchtower.

The 14th June was genuine bush bashing and the best day's touring that I have had. The object was to reach Dixon Mutono, marked on the new map as being on the banks of the Munkonge river, but which proved to be on high ground overlooking the Chishyela swamp. A villager from Kapepula agreed to be our guide. He led us in an easterly direction towards the morning sun along the right bank of the Kamusenga river. There were ducks by the score in the swamps and if I had been a shooting man I could have had an enormous bag. We eventually reached a ford which necessitated wading through the swamps in our underpants. We crossed the actual river balancing precariously on several large pieces of timber whilst endeavouring to carry our bicycles at the same time. I emptied the water out of my half length Wellingtons, squeezed the water out of my pants and was told that I was in the Congo. We were inside the de facto border but well south of the de jure one. The country was dotted with date palms and we plunged into head-high grass. Buffalo spore was everywhere but we did not see any big game.

We emerged from our grassy maze at the Munkonge, where we waded across the river which was far from clear but pleasantly cool in the boiling sun. We now tramped through black mud for about a mile, then across an expanse of more grassland, before climbing a small hill covered with high grass. We came across some women who could not have seen a white man for a good long time. After passing through a deserted village we came to a delightful fresh running brook with full shade. We sat on the rocks and bathed our faces, hands and feet in the cool water. Ablutions were followed by 'elevenses'. I dressed and put on stockings and shoes and felt that by arriving in the village in such a spruce condition after such an arduous journey I was not dishonouring the best traditions of the Colonial Service. The villagers of Dixon Mutono did not seem unduly surprised to see a white bwana in their midst. I asked when the last boma officer had visited them and was told that it was 'Bwana Murrell' in 1954.

After discussing the map with the villagers, we pushed on with a new guide in search of a boat to ferry us across the flooded Chishyela Swamp, which is normally traversable on foot in a dry year. After waiting some time at a fishing camp, a large dugout was found for us. Buxton and I piled in with our two bicycles and three paddlers. One passenger was removed as his presence was thought to make us unseaworthy. Even so the dugout felt highly unstable. Each lurch seemed to threaten us with turning turtle. I sat Immobile amidships desperately trying to keep the balance. We paddled out into the midst of the swamp. There were birds galore and hippo could be heard but we did not see them. After about an hour we still had not reached the opposite shore and our paddlers expressed themselves uncertain as to our whereabouts. In order to give an air of confidence I suggested that I should take our bearings with a compass. I was landed on a convenient anthill and fiddled with the compass. Meanwhile one of the paddlers climbed a tree. Bantu voices were then heard and It was proposed that we should make towards them. This we did and found ourselves plumb on the landing stage for Mutundu Camp and Kampala village.

I was terribly dehydrated on arrival and consumed gallons of tea, cocoa and water, together with a pineapple, two oranges, an apple and two bananas. Even after sixteen cups of tea I was still thirsty. After one day's exploring, David Livingstone was much on my mind. I must certainly have crossed the tracks of his 1869 journey when he forded the Chishyela, presumably near Bulaya, and then followed the river, probably the Munkonge, into the Congo.

The following day to my surprise I was picked up by a Land Rover with my wife Margaret aboard. We spent two nights together at Sumbu. There I represented the DC at a meeting of fishermen with Alan Bowmaker, the Fisheries Officer and Deputy Senior Chief Nsama. The meeting heard numerous complaints about the fish levy, but it broke up with an apparent agreement, which was repudiated the next day at a UNIP public meeting. Before returning to the boma I paid a visit to Mushi village, which lay an hour and a half to the north of Sumbu. We went across Lake Tanganyika in a canoe fitted with an outboard motor which gave the impression that it could give up the ghost at any time. At Mushi I visited the Kapishya hot springs, which consist of four or five small springs of water which emerge from the ground at a temperature just below boiling. On our journey back to Mporokoso through the Sumbu Game Reserve we saw six hartebeest, a roan antelope and a herd of upwards of twenty buffalo. Maggie naturally collected elephant dung for the garden.

Kenya Map
Northern Rhodesia Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal: October 2014


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