13 – Village Of Casembe

Livingstone had been forced to stay at Hara because of the rainy season and he had become good friends with Hamees.  When he left the village on September 22nd, Hamees sent several Arabs with him while he followed at a distance.  He also supplied guides to take Livingstone to Lake Moero.  The journey to the lake was through beautiful country which was very thickly populated.  The natives were terror stricken at the sight of guns, though, because of the recent Arab battles.  They would not stop to barter but ran off and hid themselves.  Because of this, food was very difficult to obtain for the crew.  They were glad they had brought a considerable amount of it along with them. 

     Along the Kalongi River the natives were more friendly, and the river was bountiful with fish so they could feast for awhile.  Now they could make rapid progress and on November 1st they came to the village of Casembe.  They were all delighted because they were very tired.  The chief had just died at the village before their arrival.  This village did not have one family as succession to the chiefhood.  Because of this the village was without a ruler for nearly a year before a new chief was selected to succeed the old one. 

     The plain that extended from the Lunde river to Casembe was very level, and studded thickly with red ant hills which were fifteen to twenty feet high. 

     The chief’s residence was enclosed in a wall of reeds which were 8 or 9 feet high and 300 hundred yards square.  The gateway was ornamented with about 60 human skulls and a shed stood in the middle of the road that fronted the gate.  There was a cannon under it that was ornamented with gaudy cloth.  Livingstone and his men went through the gate and went in to see the Arab leader Mohamid bin Saleh.  He gave Livingstone a reception by firing guns and them led them to a large shed for further ceremonies such as bowing, firing salutes, rubbing elbows, etc.  After this a large hut was given to Livingstone for his residence until others could be built.  The town was headquarters for the Arab slave-trade and there was a very large stockade for slaves there which Livingstone saw was full. 

     Many of the Casembe people had their ears cropped and hands lopped off.  When he inquired as to the reason for this, he was told that it was the practice of the Casembe to mutilate their subjects for petty offenses, or sometimes just to gratify their barbarous inclinations. 

     Livingstone was given a reception by the chief on the third day after his arrival.  He was seated in great state in front of his council chamber, while his next in lines squatted on the ground around him.  There were two native musicians who played the drums while the chief’s wives danced up to Livingstone with small branches of trees in their hands.  With these they swept the ground as they bowed before him.  One of the officers presented their white guest with an elephant’s tusk as an evidence of the great esteem with which he was regarded.  The affair was one of the most stately that Livingstone had ever witnessed in Africa and he described the incident and the people at some length which is written below:

     The present Casembe has a heavy, uninteresting countenance, without beard or whiskers, and somewhat of the Chinese type, and his eyes have an outward squint.  He smiled but once during the day, and that was pleasant enough, though the cropped ears and lopped hands, with human skulls at the gate, made me indisposed to look on anything with favor.  His principal wife came with her attendants, after he had departed, to look at the Englishman.  She was a fine, tall, good-featured lady, with two spears in her hand.  The principal men who had come around made way for her, and called on me to salute:  I did so; but she, being forty yards off, I involuntary beckoned her to come nearer:  this upset the gravity of all her attendants; all burst into a laugh, and ran off.  Casembe’s smile was elicited by a dwarf making some uncouth antics before him.  His executioner also came forward to look:  he had a broad Lunda sword on his arm, and a curious scissor-like instrument at his neck for cropping ears.  On saying to him that his was nasty work, he smiled, and so did many who were not sure of their ears a moment;  many men of respectability show that at some former time they have been thus punished.  Casembe’s wife passes frequently to her plantation carried by six, or more commonly by twelve men, in a sort of palanquin:  she has European features, but light-brown complexion.  A number of men run before her, brandishing swords and battle-axes, and one beats a hollow instrument, giving warning to passengers to clear the way; she has two enormous pipes ready filled for smoking.  She is very attentive to her agriculture; cassava (a tropical herb or shrub that has edible roots – a starch that tapioca is made from) is the chief product, but they also raise sweet potatoes, maize, sorghum, millet, ground nuts and cotton.  The people seem more savage than any I have yet seen; they strike each other barbarously from mere wantonness, but they are civil to me.”

     The Troglodytes

     Livingstone took leave of Casembe on December 22nd.  After a journey through severe bogs, he finally reached Lake Moero on January 1st.  The lake lay in a  basin surrounded by the Rua Mountains.  Its shape was almost circular, and it had a diameter of almost 50 miles.  There were numerous villages that lined its shores and there were very large game, such as buffaloes, elephants, zebras, lions and leopards.  

     It was in this vicinity that he found a singular race or species known as the Troglodytes, which were impossible to classify.  They lived in underground houses along the Rua Mountain sides for twenty miles or so.  In some cases the doorways were level with the adjacent country, while a ladder was used in reaching others.  Generally their habitations were in the caves found in the mountains.  They were truly like a species of people that he had never met before. 

     Livingstone had left Casembe with the assurance of his guides that he would be back to his main starting point of Ujiji, where he would replenish his supplies, within a month.  But the rains came and were so incessant that traveling was nearly impossible for several months.  There was no way they could travel very far and had to stay in the vicinity of Lake Moero and Casembe for nearly four months.  During this time he just visited the surrounding villages that he could get to in order to keep from just sitting idly around. 

     At a place called Mofwe, he found an Arab digging and fencing up a well, to prevent his slaves from being taken away by crocodiles.  He didn’t think of this until he had lost three slaves.  Because of all the rain, the country was almost covered with water and was badly infested by crocodiles.  The wild animals were driven from their hunting ground and forced to seek refuge on hills, knolls, and other high places.  Their terror of dying seemed to rob them of their fierce propensities and natural instincts.  Lions, hyenas, leopards, antelopes, monkeys, and other animals were often seen huddled close together in small dry spots, without any attempt of the strong and ferocious to attack the weak and defenseless.  Such scenes were very remarkable and made Livingstone think of the time when ‘the lion and the lamb shall lie down together’.

     This is one of Livingstone’s drawings of the animals that he saw co-habiting together on small dry patches of land.  He was totally amazed at how they didn’t try to attack each other, but just were there surviving together. 

Animals - David Livingstone's Travels

It was not until the first of June that the floods had subsided sufficiently to even think about resuming their journey, which was now to be directed toward Lake Bangweolo instead of Ujiji because he had heard so much about it. 

     Just as they were about to leave, Livingstone saw an unusually beautiful woman who was in a slave chain-gang.  He asked about her and was told that she had been sold for unfaithfulness by a sub-chief.  Her husband Kapika was an old man, while she was both youthful and pretty.  Her offense was the same as we frequently see among civilized people who are similarly mis-mated. 

     The case of the chieftainess brought much sympathy among the people;  many brought her food, and one man offered to redeem her with three slaves.  The matter was finally brought before Casembe, but this chief, owing to the fact that he himself was an old man having a pretty young wife, declared that ten slaves could not redeem the faithless woman.  He pronounced this judgment with a scowl and looked at his own wife at the same time. 

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About Cathy Deaton

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My name is Cathy Deaton, Owner of Fan the Flame Ministries. God has radically changed my life, and He has shown me that I am to share the awesome things I am learning especially with the Millennial Generation (1981 – 1996), but I love connecting with Christians of all ages. I have found that the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher when I listen to, obey, and apply what He teaches to my life. You truly can make a difference for God in an uncertain world.

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