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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter VI - Uganda

“Africa! what mighty grief
Hidden lies in that sad name!
Millions lost in unbelief,
Steeped in blood, and tears, and shame!
Christians, think of millions dying;
Leave them not in darkness lying!”


UGANDA stretches along the north-western shores of the Victoria Nyanza, and lies directly under the equator. It now forms a part of the vast territories of the Imperial British East African Company. Captain Speke visited the country a dozen years before Stanley, and suggested it as a favourable field for missionary enterprise. Having been for generations ruled by kings of the Abyssinian type, he thought it might even retain a latent germ of Christianity. The ruling caste call themselves Bahuma, and claim to be of foreign extraction. [The bulk of the people are Negroes of a more pronounced type.] They retain a tradition that they were once half white and half black, with hair on the white side straight, and on the black side frizzly. The founder of the monarchy is believed to be Kintu, who arrived from the north-east, and established himself on the north-west shore of the lake, where he and his wife were the only inhabitants. The legend says, however, that the country soon became densely populated, as every year his wife had four twins; the boys were born with beards, and at two years of age the girls became mothers! Kintu brought with him a cow, a goat, a sheep, a fowl, a banana root, and a potato, each of which multiplied at a prodigious rate. There were soon flocks and herds in abundance - the banana root produced a forest, while the stems of the potato covered the ground Kintu had been the priest of an ancient race, and had a great aversion to blood-shedding. His children, however, discovered the method of making strong liquors, and became drunken, lazy, violent and murderous. Kintu, therefore, quitted the country, taking with him the animals he had introduced, also the original banana and potato roots. His family sought for him far and wide, but in vain, yet to this day his immortality is believed in.

According to Captain Speke, nine generations back, Kimera, a descendant of Kintu, gave the government its definite form. He had soon an army, a navy, a grand palace, smart officers, and, according to barbarous ideas, every magnificence. Since his time the prosperity of the country has ever been on the increase, and the cognisance which he adopted - viz., a white dog, spear, shield and woman - is still used by the sovereign.

When Mackay arrived in Uganda, Mtesa was on the throne. He was an intelligent monarch, but had an exaggerated idea of his own importance. Speke gives an amusing account of his first interview with his majesty: how again and again in the course of an hour he inquired, “Have you seen me?” and how he handled the articles which the traveller presented to him, “made silly remarks, and pondered over them like a perfect child, until it was quite dark.” Stanley talks of his dignified expression of face, and of the “large, lustrous, lambent eyes that lent to it a peculiar beauty.” The missionaries allow that he had many kingly qualities, but that he was very capricious and self-indulgent. Mackay frequently denounced his wickedness to his face, and yet the king was always disposed to befriend the missionaries. Doubtless his ambition to imitate the ways of the white men, his respect for their courage and conscientiousness, and a keen eye for" bintu" (goods) all prompted him to favour them. Mtesa died in the autumn of 1884, and was succeeded by his son, Mwanga, a vain, vacillating youth, who lacked the common-sense and experience of his father.

Mackay believed that the climate of Uganda was far healthier than anywhere on the coast of Zanzibar, and much less enervating, although more so than Unyamwezi, because moister. The lake itself is a centre of atmospheric disturbance, and the very broken nature of the surface of the country certainly encourages rainfall, yet it is very far from being a regular rainy region. On the whole, he considered that rain contributed more to comfort and pleasure than nine months of drought. There is an enormously greater rainfall in Busongora, on the west side of the lake, than in Uganda. He says: “The constant southeast wind, which blows all day across the lake, gets its vapours condensed on the bold metamorphic cliffs, which, rising terrace above terrace to a thousand feet above the Nyanza, I call the galleries of Busongora. There seems to be a connection between the amount of rainfall and darkness of skin of the natives. The moister the climate the darker the complexion of the black. The inhabitants of Busongora and Karague are black as coal, while the Banyoro are more of a chocolate colour, and the tribes from the hills of Busoga and Gambaragara are, some of them, not much darker than Arabs. It remains to be proved, but is I think true, that the darker the skin the deeper the degradation; at any rate, the more agricultural, and therefore peaceful and timid, the tribe; while the lighter shades own herds of cattle, are freer and livelier and more addicted to war. The country is a constant succession of hills and swampy hollows, and the soil is wonderfully fertile. It is true of Uganda as of the Promised Land that each man sits under his vine and under his fig-tree, for the banana - the king of fruit trees - each bunch being as heavy as the renowned cluster of grapes of Eshcol - flourishes everywhere, as also the ficus - from the bark of which the national dress is made. There are several species of fig, which yield the fibrous bark for clothing, some having a pale yellow colour of texture, while others shade into darker rays of red and even brown. The trees never attain great size, being probably stunted by frequent stripping - which is begun at an early age, the younger trees yielding a finer and more uniform bark. The stem is peeled from a height of six or eight feet to close on the ground. ,The soft fibrous pad is then beaten out into a thin fabric by being laid on a long beam and struck with round (cylindrical) wooden mallets, finely grooved, thus giving the cloth a corrugated appearance. After the bark is stripped off, the stem is carefully wrapped in plantain leaves, firmly lashed to the trunk.

“The tree shows no signs of injury from the process, and a new bark soon forms, which is again removed when ready.”

“I have never seen fruit on a fig-tree in Uganda. At Kagei I found plenty, but there the art of barkcloth making is not practised.”

“There are several varieties of plantains, one being manufactured into strong liquor.”

“Tobacco is planted indiscriminately among these trees.”

Maize has hitherto been the principal cereal, and yields from three hundred to five hundredfold. One can sow and reap any day, and in any month, although not to such advantage as when timing these processes by the equinoctial rains. It is strange that while tilling the soil is health in a cold climate, it is next to death in the tropics. The great amount of decaying vegetation suddenly brought to the surface in freshly turned-up soil produces malaria, which gets imbibed at every pore of the body. When the soil is dry there is less poison generated, but then the ground cakes like brick beneath the fierce rays of the sun and is practically unworkable. Unless after heavy rains, one can no more dig or plough in the tropics than Scotch farmers can turn over hard-frozen ground.

Foreigners are looked upon with some contempt by the people, especially by the chiefs. One reason is that they walk about alone, and unattended by a retinue of idle fellows, as the chiefs are whenever they appear in public. Then, again, the missionaries have no wealth like them - wealth of women, cattle and slaves; but the chief reason of the inferiority of the white man is that he works with his own hands. Work is only fit for slaves in Uganda, and even they refuse to dig the soil. Women only perform such humble tasks as cultivating the ground, repairing dilapidated walls, and making parapets of reeds. The men are warriors, robbers and idle loungers. They almost all smoke, as do the women. Their pipes have a small bowl of black clay, with stems of wood, four or six feet long, sometimes longer. These stems are made of green saplings, - pith wood, the pith being forced out by a long piece of wire.

The missionaries have had to contend against the belief in witchcraft, in the Lubare, and charms and spells; also a particular fear of the spirits or ghosts of dead men, which the Baganda fondly cling to. Polygamy and general licentiousness all over the country have also been a great hindrance to the entrance of the Gospel. The people are, however, remarkably intelligent and apt at learning. Mackay soon saw that his first duty was to learn the language, and as speedily as possible reduce it to writing. As soon as this was accomplished, and he and his brethren were able to translate portions of the Scriptures and print them, a new world opened to the natives. They flocked to the mission premises, and often crowded Mackay's workshop in their eagerness to learn to read the Word of God, and as fast as they learned they taught others.

At the present time there are upwards of twelve thousand devout worshippers, and nowhere in the annals of missionary history have converts stood better the repeated tests of fiery trials and persecutions, many having suffered martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ.

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