With Stanley on the Congo - M. Douglas

From the Nyanza to Banalya

Shortly after six o'clock on the morning of May 24th Stanley's force marched out of camp, and proceeded to Badzwa village, obtaining on the way a view of a snow-clad mountain, supposed by the men to be composed of salt. At first it resembled a silvery cloud; but as the outline revealed itself more clearly, Stanley saw that he was gazing on a vast mountain mass, and guessed that it must be a summit of the hitherto unvisited and unknown range called by the natives Ruwenzori—" the Cloud King." It was a grand discovery, for no previous white explorer of the lake had seen the mountain, and no one had credited the neighbourhood of the Nyanza with the possession of a mountain rising above the limit of eternal snow. As, however, the mountain lay some seventy miles south of the line of march, for the present, at least, time and circumstances did not allow the discoverer the luxury of a closer view of Ruwenzori.

At Badzwa news was received that two powerful chiefs, named Kadongo and Musiri, had combined together to attack the column on the road between Mpinga's and Mazamboni's villages. This, if true, was serious; for though Emin had reinforced the expedition with about a hundred carriers of the Madi tribe, there were only a hundred and eleven rifles, and ammunition was very scarce. To beat off a determined assault would be difficult, if not impossible; so, instead of waiting to be attacked, Stanley determined to be beforehand with the chiefs. Forty Zanzibaris, under two of their own headmen, were detailed to carry Kadongo's camp by storm; and this they successfully did, though Kadongo himself saved his life by shouting to the assailants that he was Bula Matari's friend.

On the return of the victorious Zanzibaris the march was resumed. Scarcely had a start been made when Mazamboni's brother, Katto, made his appearance with a party of Wahuma bearing a red flag. Stanley informed the chief of the expected attack, and requested him to make all speed back to Mazamboni, and ask for assistance in an attack on Musiri, which Stanley proposed to make at dawn on the next morning but one. Katto replied that time was short, but he thought the thing could be accomplished, and he hastened back to Mazamboni, while Stanley went to solicit the aid of Mpinga and his Bavira.

Mpinga readily agreed, and on May 29th the allies set out at three o'clock in the morning, Mazamboni's men leading the way, while Mpinga's brought up the rear. By six o'clock Usiri, Musiri's country, was reached; but as Stanley's warriors streamed over the land they found it utterly deserted, for Musiri, having got wind of the intended attack, had judiciously removed his people and live stock to some safe locality. Men, women, children, cattle, goats, and fowls had all disappeared, and nothing remained to be seized by the victors but a plentiful supply of corn, tobacco, and vegetables. The result, though possibly disappointing to the allies, was highly satisfactory to Stanley, who thus gained his object of clearing the road without the expenditure of a single cartridge.

The road was now open, and on June 8th the columns marched safely into Fort Bodo, where Stanley was greeted by Stairs, whose journey to Ugarrowwa's and back had occupied seventy-one days instead of the thirty-nine estimated by Stanley. This unexpected delay was due first to an attempt to make use of native paths, which, though they seemed to run in the right direction, eventually led the travellers so far from their route that they were compelled to retrace their steps. Then heavy and constant rains caused Stairs to suffer so severely from fever that on reaching Ugarrowwa's he was compelled to keep his bed for two days. Nor were these all his difficulties. Nearly half the men left in Ugarrowwa's charge had died, and the remainder were still so weak and ill that, as Stairs perceived, seven of them could only undertake the march at the gravest risk of their lives.

Ugarrowwa, however, flatly refused to keep them longer, and on March 18th Stairs, with his convoy of invalids, set out for Fort Bodo. Heavy rains again added to the difficulties of the march, and greatly increased the sufferings of the invalids, only fourteen of whom lived to reach the fort. Stairs himself had severe daily attacks of fever, and constant wettings had terribly depressing effects on all the men. Consequently, when at last the fort was reached, so few of the party were fit for further exertion that Stairs was unwillingly obliged to abandon his long-cherished intention of following the column to the Nyanza.

About a week was spent by Stanley in making arrangements and preparations for the march through the forest, and also for the safety of Fort Bodo and its garrison during the absence of the main column. The fort was by this time in so good a state for defence that Stanley had no scruple about leaving a small force under the command of Lieutenant Stairs, who, with Nelson and Parke, was to remain in charge of the depot, while Stanley, with a party of volunteers, went to the assistance of the rear column. It was impossible to say when he might return, but that he could not reach Fort Bodo before the end of the year was certain. It was probable that Emin Pasha and Jephson might come up about the middle of August, and Stanley recommended that, in the event of their bringing a sufficient force of carriers to remove the goods, the garrison should return with them to the lake; otherwise Stairs was to remain at the fort until the arrival of the rear column.

Early on June 16th Stanley and his men—a little over two hundred in all, including ninety-five Madi porters—marched out of Fort Bodo. Long experience of forest travelling had taught them what difficulties to expect; and though the skewers, the swamps, the ants, the creepers, the fallen logs, the tree-encumbered clearings, and all the other obstacles that on the former journey had caused so many delays, still obstructed the path, good progress was made. So rapid, indeed, was the advance that on June 28th the column reached Nelson's "Starvation Camp" at the mouth of the Ihuru tributary. So far all had gone well; but now the Madis, who, out of sheer laziness, had wasted their stock of food, began to suffer from hunger. Their untaught minds were unable to comprehend that before them lay a region where for many days no food could be obtained; and finding their loads heavy, they had purposely thrown away part of their corn. Thus, shortly after Starvation Camp had been left behind, their strength faltered, they lagged sadly, and when, on July 7th, the column was overtaken by a heavy shower, three of the Madis, unable in their weakened state to withstand the cold and wetting, fell dead in their tracks. After this men died almost daily ; and though occasional plantations of bananas or plantains were discovered, the supply never equalled the demand.

To make matters worse, Ugarrowwa's camp, which was reached on July 13th, was found to be deserted. Evidently the Arabs had been driven away by famine, for the ground was strewn with skeletons, and nothing eatable was to be found in the neighbourhood. The Zanzibaris, however, foraged diligently, but though some plantains were found, the quantity was limited ; and as the column pressed forward the skeletons which here and there lay by the wayside proved that Ugarrowwa's people had fallen on hard times. Thanks to their own incurable improvidence, the luckless Madis suffered even more severely, and day by day one or more lay down and died of sheer weakness and hunger. Disease, too, broke out among them, and by the end of July those who still survived were in a truly deplorable condition. They were quite unfit to march, and it was a great relief when some canoes were found in which the sick and baggage could be embarked.

A few days later (August 10th) Ugarrowwa was overtaken just above Wasp Rapids, where he had arrived on the previous day. With him, to Stanley's great surprise, were the survivors of the Zanzibaris who, nearly six months before, had left Fort Bodo to communicate with Major Barttelot. The poor fellows had a sad tale to tell. At first all had gone well with them, and they had reached Avisibba without mishap; but there troubles began, and shortly after that village was passed several men were hurt, more or less seriously, by arrows. Still they pushed on, but below Panga Falls the journey became a sort of running fight. Neither by night nor by day were they allowed a moment's peace, and by the time Wasp Rapids were reached only eleven men remained unhurt. Here a most determined attack was made by an almost overwhelming force, but the plucky Zanzibaris succeeded in driving off their assailants. Then, having fortified their camp and posted sentries, they prepared to pass the night.

But worn out as they were with incessant work and worry the sentries fell asleep. This was the natives' opportunity. Rendered bold by the darkness and silence they rushed the camp, and the sleeping Zanzibaris were aroused to a knowledge of their danger by the wild shrieks of one of their number who was stabbed as he lay. Fortunately, it was not yet too late for defence, and again and again the Zanzibaris fired their rifles into the dark mass crowding upon them. Many of the natives fell, and at last, just as the ammunition began to fail, the survivors took to their heels. Two of the Zanzibaris had been killed, and a third, who was mortally wounded, with his last breath advised his comrades to return to Ugarrowwa's. Only four men were now uninjured, and in the morning, when they took counsel together, it was unanimously decided that the advice of the dying man should be followed.

Then the retreat began; but still the natives hung around, and attacked at every opportunity. At Panga Falls another man was killed; and when Ugarrowwa's village was reached, fifteen out of the sixteen survivors were wounded. Their bravery had touched the somewhat hard heart of Ugarrowwa. He took every care of them, and by the time Stanley came up thirteen of the wounded had completely recovered. The other two were still ailing, and one of them eventually died.

Ugarrowwa now presented Stanley with three large canoes, which, added to those he already possessed, afforded accommodation for all the men. Rapid progress was therefore made, and early on August 17th the flotilla approached Banalya, which, when last seen, was a prosperous, thickly-inhabited district. But for many miles the canoes had been passing between silent and deserted banks; every village had been abandoned, and not a sign of life was visible. Banalya at first presented no variation of the rule, and it therefore came rather as a surprise when, about half-past nine in the morning, a stockaded village was observed in the distance. Formerly no such thing had existed in the neighbourhood; for the people of Banalya, secure in their own strength, had scorned to make use of any kind of fortification. What could it mean?

Then white-clad people were descried, and in a few moments, as Stanley watched the village through his glass, a red flag, displaying the well-known crescent and star of the Egyptian standard, was hoisted. Then the truth burst upon him—it was the long-wished-for camp of the rear column, and a shout from the men gathered on the bank to watch the approaching canoes assured him beyond any possibility of doubt that he had verily and indeed reached his goal. A few moments later he was shaking hands with Mr. Bonny, who, on hearing of his arrival, had hurried out to meet him. But where were the others?

It was a sad tale that Bonny had to tell, for of all the Europeans whom Stanley had left at Yambuya Bonny alone remained. The major was dead, Troup invalided home, Ward was at Bangala, and Jameson had gone to Stanley Falls in the hope of obtaining porters from Tippu Tib. That misfortune of some sort had overtaken the rear column was only too evident. But the full story of trouble had yet to be told.