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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter X - The Silvery Sea

“’Tis wonderful! - and yet, my boy, just such
Is life. Life is a sea as fathomless,
As wide, as terrible, and yet, sometimes
As calm and beautiful. The light of heaven
Smiles on it, and 'tis decked with every hue
Of glory and of joy.  Anon, dark clouds
Arise, contending winds of fate go forth,
And Hope sits weeping o'er a general wreck."


JUST as Mackay was despatching a party of porters to meet Tytherleigh, and to carry up the remaining goods intended for Uganda, he received the sorrowful tidings that his invaluable companion had been called to his rest.

Writing on June 4th, 1878, he says: “What a disastrous mission ours has been! I am the only layman left of our little band. Indeed, Tytherleigh did not belong to the original party, but came out afterwards. But God's ways are not our ways.”

“One thing is certain, this land will ever remain little else than what it is - dark, benighted Africa, until we can find some easy means of travel and transit in it. Very few could endure the trials and hardships we went through together in the early months of this year. His loss is a great grief to me.

“After various fights with Ruga-ruga, and endeavours to pass by a more direct road to the lake, I am now in the thirty-miles' desert, north of Nguru, under escort of men belonging to the great chief of Usonga, who is a superior man and brother to Mirambo. I hope to be in Kagei in a few days. I am going (D.V.) to the island of Ukerewe, to see the king who murdered Lieutenant Smith and O'Neill.

“I have had a bad sun fever since leaving Uyui, but am now all right.”

A few stages north from Uyui the tembes were plastered outside as well as within, and had numerous circular loopholes for defence. Outside most of them pictures of men and lizards were painted, in red and black and white. At one place the door of the chief’s tern be had carved on it, in high relief, the figure of a man nearly life-size, and on the whole well executed. These were the only attempts at sculpture or painting Mackay saw in the interior.

Elephants, hippos, giraffes and zebras were numerous in this desert. After a terekeza, or evening march, they arrived one night at a deserted village, where they found water, and having made a fire, they cooked some potatoes and nuts, and lay down to sleep. Mosquitoes, however, never ceased to torment them, and about 10 p.m. the alarm was raised of an enemy being near. Mackay had heard repeated loud reports, which he took for the fighting of gnus or other large game in the distance, but he failed in his attempts to make his men believe it was other than the guns of Ruga-ruga. Fire in the same direction only increased the alarm. Panic-stricken, the Wasukutna were determined to be off at once, leaving pots and gourds and half-cooked food all about. His reluctance to get up was forced into consent by the terror of his men, who, quicker than ever before, had his clothes, etc., packed up, and seizing their guns took to their heels while he slipped on his boots and followed. The young moon was going down, and the sky was very cloudy. Striking north through the jungle, stumbling and tripping all the way, they came after two hours' quick march on a village called Bushola, where they were received in a friendly manner. In a tembe there was a young man weaving cloth of native fibre, and though his loom was very wide and the process primitive and slow, he succeeded in making a strong, thick material.

Next day they arrived at Mondo, where, as in the Scottish Highlands, the cattle live in the same small huts as the natives. The men were all perfectly nude, and the younger women wore only small aprons of beads. At Marya, about four days' march from the lake, the natives had never seen a white man before, and were most inquisitive, though not rude. Mackay was always glad of every opportunity for the natives to become reconciled to Europeans, believing that frequent intercourse, and just, friendly dealing were the first means to remove natural suspicions. On this account he greatly regretted having to march so hurriedly through the country.

By this time his socks were all worn out. Consequently his heels were blistered, rendering walking very painful. But he was nearly at the end of miserable marching over sandy deserts and swampy plains; and on the evening of June 12th, to his great joy, he caught the first glimpse of the noble lake. There lay the water, calm and silvery grey, and a refreshing breeze from seaward fanned his sunburnt cheeks.

Some notes from his log-book are now interesting:-

June 13th, 1878. - Reached Kagei. Long talk with chief Kaduma. No news from Uganda, but an Arab with many canoes expected soon. Lkonge, king of Ukerewe, is much afraid of white men coming. He has sent repeatedly to Kaduma to ask, ‘Is Mackay not yet come?’ He fears I will go to take vengeance on him, and protests loudly that he had no quarrel with Smith and O'Neill, and that the massacre was caused by the slave-dealer's treachery.”

June 14th. - Went out with Kaduma to see the Daisy lying dry on the beach covered with grass. Found her in a terribly dilapidated condition. The machinery also in a deplorable state. Most valuable tools thrown amongst nails and dirt, and all destroyed by rust.”

“Next I visited the grave of my dearly loved brother Dr. Smith. There stands the pile and tombstone with inscription, and alongside is the grave of Barker of Stanley's expedition. I must raise a tombstone for our two dear martyrs, Smith and O'Neill, either here or in Ukerewe.”

June 15th. - To-day the men left who were going to Ukerewe. I gave them a clear message to Lkonge, Kadurna interpreting from Suahili into their language. I told them that the king need not be afraid of me, and that to dispel his fears of my men accompanying me, I begged him to send a canoe of his own for me, when I should go to the island with his men, leaving my gun and servants all behind here.”

“I have sorted and assorted machinery, nails, screws, etc., etc., till quite done up, and much still remains to do. To-morrow is the Lord's day, and I shall be glad of the rest and peace it brings. May I use it well!”

June 16th. - Quiet Sunday. Chief Kaduma came as usual early. I endeavoured to teach him that by God's command we white men keep this day as a great day. I read to him from Steere’s Suahili Scripture lessons the account of the six days' work of creation and the sanctification of the seventh day. He understood well, but our lesson was frequently interrupted by the cattle, which took to fighting just at the time. The devil seems to hinder even the entrance of a little light in this land of darkness.”

All the natives in the neighbourhood of Kagei strongly advised Mackay not to trust Lkonge, as they felt certain he meant treachery, and would poison him. They told him that after his brethren fell, the king persuaded their followers to put away their weapons and sit down in peace, as he would not harm them. The Wangwana believed him and began to cook their food, when he attacked them and killed many. Mackay writes: “I feel it is a questionable step to take, to put my head right into the lion's jaws; but our object is to Christianise Ukerewe as well as Uganda, and the sooner Lkonge and we are once more reconciled the better. God can close the lion's mouth, and it is in His service alone I go to Ukerewe. My men are afraid to go, and have asked me not to bid them accompany me.”

At length, on the 28th of June, he embarked in a large canoe. The cheerful song of the paddlers, the novelty of the scene and the adventurous nature of his mission, were most exhilarating to his spirits. The natives stood on the beach and watched the canoe out of sight:-

"And sang their rude song, like the death-spirit's moan:-
The stranger has gone where the simoom will burn:
Alas I for the white man will never return!” 

They then retired to discuss the matter over their pombe (beer), and by sunset the whole village, from chief down to mothers and little children, were perfectly intoxicated.

After a voyage of two days he reached his destination, when, after rest and refreshment, he was summoned to see the king, who was sitting in his Baraza - a circular roof supported by a network of posts, and open on all sides. Lkonge was then only about twenty years of age, stoutly built, with plain but not unpleasant features. He was dressed in a grey rifle suit, evidently a present from O'Neill, with a red pocket-handkerchief tied about his head. His legs and arms were loaded with rings of brass and iron wire, while on his neck hung two strings of very large beads, one black and the other white.

As he saw Mackay approach he went out to meet him and cordially shook hands with him, saluting him in Suahili, of which he knew a little. He then took his seat on the throne, a large wooden stool, flat on top and base, with one central leg-cut, of course, out of the solid, for the art of joining trees, except by sewing, is unhappily quite unknown through the length and breadth of Africa.

The Baraza was crowded with men sitting on the ground. Each one, on arrival, knelt before the throne, folded his hands, and saluted the king, who seldom made any response. One man presented his Majesty with a small bundle of something which evidently did not give satisfaction, for he threw it at the donor, who picked it up and withdrew, protesting loudly as to the value of the gift.

After much talk, Mackay could see that certain men were being selected for some purpose, for about half a dozen went forward on bended knee and kissed the palms of the king's hands. Soon after the court rose.

N ext day, while Mackay was sitting under the shade of a tree, his Majesty appeared on the scene, attended by his prime minister and chief counsellors. Mackay rose to meet him, and after the usual greeting a stool was brought for the king and another for the stranger, while the natives knelt or sat on the ground on both sides.

At a signal from Lkonge, the prime minister rose and related at great length the account of the massacre of the missionaries.

Mackay then said “he had come in peace, and in a friendly way, as the king could see from his having no arms with him, and that he believed the king's version of the story - viz., that he had no desire to kill the white men.” At this remark Lkonge was much pleased, and said they “must kill a goat at once and make blood brotherhood.” Mackay continued: “The Queen of England is a great sultan, and her kingdom is larger than that of any other sovereign in the world.” Strong expressions of disapproval were heard among the counsellors, the king laughing and saying to them, “Does the Muzungu mean to say that his sultan is greater than the King of Ukerewe?”

Mackay said, “King Lkonge need not laugh, for the kingdom of Queen Victoria is not only bigger than Ukerewe, but larger than the whole Nyanza, and Uganda, and Usukuma, and all Barra (the Interior), and her people are very, very many, so many that no one could even count them all.” He then told the king that “white men who came up country did not come with guns to fight, but to make friends with black men, and teach them to know all the wonderful things that white men knew. They left their great power behind, in England, and would not bring soldiers to Ukerewe to fight, unless Lkonge first declared war with England.”

Mackay next asked the king if he wished him to bring two or three white men to live in Ukerewe, and teach his people and his children to read and write and to know the word of God. Lkonge replied, “By all means. I want white men to stay with me, but my people are afraid of them.” Mackay pointed out the absurdity of many men being afraid of two or three, and asked, “Are you afraid of me?” The king answered, “No, because you are our friend, nor would we be afraid of two or three such as you, but you must not bring many.”

Mackay next asked the king, as a pledge of his good faith, if he would return the book in which his brother Lieut. Smith had been seen writing the day he died, as it was very valuable, and he was most anxious to send it home to the white man's friends in England. But this took the king aback: he pretended that the book was lost, and the guns and other things also, that his people had taken them, one here and another there, and that they could not be found.

Mackay pressed the point, demanding as a proof of the king's friendship the restoration of the articles in question, adding, that a “great king had only to tell his people to deliver them up and they would be brought.” Lkonge said he would “look for the articles,” and the interview closed.

Day after day passed, and as neither the book nor the guns were produced, Mackay sent the king his red blanket and a dressing-gown, with the message that “he must now leave.”

But Lkonge would not let him off until the bond of blood brotherhood was sealed, but no goat was forthcoming.

Mackay suspected the king was delaying bringing the animal until the demand was withdrawn, so he made fun of Lkonge calling himself “a big king,” and at the same time being unable to produce a goat in three days!

“Let the king stop looking for a goat.  I will not demand the property of my brethren until I come back from Uganda, when I will be sure to bring a goat with me!”

This touched the right chord, and Mackay was immediately summoned to the Baraza, where was a great crowd of people, a goat standing in the midst. The king held the fore legs and the white man the hind. A leading man explained the rite as being a solemn seal of friendship between the king's god and Mackay's God. The executioner then passed a knife rapidly down the middle of the living animal, which was severed at once, the whole company lifting up their hands and sticks to heaven with a continuous yell, which is prayer in Ukerewe!

After many a hearty “good-bye,” Mackay started for Kagei, which he reached after a nine days' absence, amidst the screams of scores of delighted natives, who danced for joy on the beach at the return of the white man.

Mackay next set to work to repair the Daisy, which was a most arduous undertaking. It was frightfully warped by the heat, while the wet grass which it had been filled with, to protect it a little from the rays of the sun, had harboured myriads upon myriads of white ants, which had played frightful havoc. Another difficulty was that there was no wood in the neighbourhood with which he could mend the leaking planks. At last he succeeded in getting from the chief a few heavy logs which were too large for the natives to use as fuel; but these had to be sawn into boards; and the heavy work, together with the hot rays beating down on his head, on the shadeless beach, soon brought on a bad attack of fever.

On recovery, he had the most faulty section of the boat uncoupled and carried under a beautiful large fig-tree in the village, where he subjected it to a thorough repair, hosts of naked natives surrounding him, intently watching every operation. The news of the white man and his “big canoe” soon spread, and many chiefs from the neighbouring districts came to “make brotherhood” with him. He writes: “I hope thus by degrees to establish friendly relations with all the tribes around the lake. This must be one of our main objects, as it may open many a door.”

On Sundays he always endeavoured to instruct the natives, who thronged about him, in spiritual matters, and found them always ready to listen. But he says: “Their dark minds can only grasp a little at a time - all is so new to them; while their knowledge of Suahili is imperfect, especially of words and ideas for religious matters. Here also, as in all tropical countries, the men do no work, and an idle life can never be a Christian one. What Bishop Patteson calls ‘the second step’ we must make an essential part of the first step, else our teaching will be fruitless.”

At length, on the 23rd of August, having been hindered for many days owing to severe storms of thunder and lightning, the Daisy set sail, with a favourable breeze, for Uganda; but on the fifth day a terrific storm arose suddenly and with no barometrical warning, and the crew, or rather live cargo, became panic-stricken, and refused to render any assistance. The sea broke terribly over the boat, and as she was fast filling with water, there was no alternative but to let her drift ashore on the bleak coast of Busongora.

The little vessel was so shattered that for the third time since her arrival in Africa she had to be shortened and otherwise repaired. The natives. of the place were friendly, however, and not only built huts for the protection of the C.M.S. property, but sent some men with their only canoe to Uganda, to ask Mtesa to send on some canoes to carry the remaining goods, which the now diminished boat could not accommodate.

Cupidity and curiosity kept them continually hovering about the camp; their usual expression on seeing the rotary processes of the white man was that “God must be in the air!”  They really thought that the knowledge of such wonderful things could only have come from heaven.

Mackay says: “Every day they see more wonders. We grind our corn with a revolving hand-mill; we sharpen our tools on a revolving grindstone; we produce blast by a revolving fan; we turn round articles on a revolving lathe; we clench articles firmly in a vice by a revolving screw; we bore holes by a revolving brace and bit; and we fasten screws into the boat by a revolving screwdriver. By-and-bye we hope to have revolving motion in our steam-engines, in water-wheels, in windmills, in circular saws, and above all in the cart-wheels which we hope to introduce at no distant date.”

“I fear the King of Uganda will be so struck with awe at our endless applications of the principle of revolution, that he will be tempted to say, as the President of the Mexican Republic did at the Vienna Exhibition, when he was shown an engine which made a thousand revolutions per minute, ‘Dat is more revolutions even dan dey make in my contree!’”

The work of repairing the boat was sorely hindered by the weather. In the morning, it was intolerably sultry, then rain fell accompanied by violent storms of thunder and lightning. Not unfrequently waterspouts were seen in the distance, and one day a very large floating island, with many great trees on it, glided along the coast.

Eight weeks were spent on this coast, when they got afloat once more, and after a rough voyage and enduring many hardships they sighted Ntebe, the port of Uganda, on the 1st of November, 1878. The natives saw them, manned a canoe, and paddled out to meet them with drums beating merrily.

On the 6th they reached the capital (Rubaga), but the king was too ill for an audience. He, however, sent his salaams and two very large fat goats. Mackay writes:-

Friday, 8th November. - Eventful day. Word was brought that the king was in his Baraza, and Wilson and I were to go at once. We set off, bearing our presents, as the excitable couriers could hardly be persuaded to carry the few things.


Mtesa’s Palace

“Messenger after messenger came running like mad men to hurry us on, but I was determined not to give way to the frantic behaviour of these excited couriers, and kept a steady step. At length we entered on the grand esplanade, running east and west along the top of the hill and terminating in the palace at the west end, where the law of fashion seems to hold good all the world over. The gates were opened, the grand guard presented arms, and we passed along through the double row of guards, into a large hall, densely lined with retainers. At the far end was a door, through which we were ushered into the presence of the king. Here he was, seated on a mat, dressed in a long white robe and long black coat richly embroidered with gold braid. He bowed politely, and stools were brought for us to sit on, while some Turkish-dressed attendants squatted on the ground. An old woman sat behind the king, a little way off, and watched intently. For ten minutes we eyed each other in dead silence, when a little talk began. Our gifts were presented, and the music-box struck up the fine air ‘The Heavens are telling,’ from Haydn's ‘Creation.’

“After some time the king intimated that he was too ill to sit long, and gave us permission to go. We left, the whole court rising and following us down the hill - small boys, as usual, forming a large bulk of the spectators and followers. In the evening the king sent us no less than ten fat cattle as a present, and a man's load of tobacco, with a like quantity of both coffee and honey.”

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