Page images

The whole country before us was one huge lake of flames. Turning to Mortar, I exclaimed, "Good God, our return is cut off!" I had seen many wood and grass fires, but nothing to equal this. Immediately in front of us lay stretched out like a sea a vast pasture prairie, dotted with occasional trees, bounded in the distance by groves of huge giraffe thorns, all in a blaze! Through the very midst of this lay our path. By delaying a few hours the danger would have been considerably diminished, if not altogether over, but delay in our case seemed almost more dangerous than going forward; and so on we pushed, trusting to some favourable accident to bring us through the perils we had to face. As we advanced we heard distinctly the sputtering and hissing of the inflamed grasses and brushwood, the cracking of the trees as they reluctantly yielded their massive forms to the unrelenting and all-devouring element, the screams of startled birds, and other commingling sounds of terror and devastation. There was a great angle in our road, running parallel, as it were, to the raging fire, but afterwards turning abruptly into a burning savannah. By the time we had reached this point, the conflagration, still in its glory on our right, was fast receding on our left, thus opening a passage, into which we darted without hesitation, although the ground was still smouldering and reeking, and in some places quite alive with flickering sparks from the recent besom of hot flames that had swept over it. Tired as our cattle were, this heated state of the ground made the poor brutes step out pretty smartly. At times we ran great risk of being crushed by the falling timbers. Once a huge trunk, in flames from top to bottom, fell athwart our path, sending up millions of sparks, and scattering innumerable splinters of lighted wood all around us, whilst the numerous nests of the social grossbeaks-the Textor erythrorhynchus-in the ignited trees looked like so many lamps suspended in designs at once natural, pleasing, and splendid. It was, altogether, a glorious illumination, worthy of Nature's palace with its innumerable windows and stately vaulted canopy. But the danger associated with the grand spectacle was too great and too imminent for us thoroughly to appreciate its magnificence. Indeed, we were really thankful when once our backs were turned on the awful scene.

At break of day we halted for a few minutes to breathe and to change oxen, then continued to journey on. I despatched all the loose cattle ahead, giving the men orders to return with a fresh team as soon as they had drunk, fed, and rested a little. We arrived at the vley a little before midnight on the 24th of May, but on attempting to kraal the trek-oxen, notwithstanding their fatigue, the thirsty brutes leaped over the stout and tall thorn-fences as if they had been so many rushes, and, with a wild roar, set off at full speed for Okaoa fountain, which they reached the following day, having then been more than one hundred and fifty hours without a single drop of water!

Before reaching the water the men in charge of the loose cattle had become so exhausted with long and incessant marching, suffering all the time from burning thirst, that one by one they had sunk down. The cattle, unherded, found their way to the fountain without much difficulty; but the wretched horse missed his, and kept wandering about until he dropped from sheer exhaustion. Some Ovatjimba fortunately found the brute, and reporting the discovery to their chief, he goodnaturedly brought the dying beast some drink and fodder, by which means he gradually_recovered. The animal when found had been seven days without water. I had no idea that a horse was capable of enduring fatigue and thirst to the extent experienced by this hack of mine.

The poor dogs were by this time in a fearful state. What was once a clear perspicuous eye, now appeared like a mere lustrous speck under a shaggy brow. Blood flowed at times from their nostrils, and it was with difficulty they dragged along their worn and emaciated carcases. Sometimes they tried to give vent to their great sufferings in dismal howls, half-stifled in the utterance. Some of the men were nearly as much affected. Poor Mortar was more than once speechless from thirst, and it was quite pitiful to see him, like a man despairing of life, chew old coffee-tobacco and withered tea-leaves. For my own part,

am thankful to say I suffered on this trying occasion, in a bodily sense at least, less, perhaps, than the rest of my party.

On the eighth day Okaoa was reached in safety, the whole party being in a dreadful state of prostration, not only from fatigue and hardship, but from torn and lacerated feet. This, coupled with the impossibility of procuring trustworthy guides, with the dearth of water, the absence of game, and the other many formidable hindrances, induced Mr. Andersson to turn about homewards without any further delay than was necessary, to recruit the strength of bipeds and quadrupeds. They bade adieu to Okaoa on the 29th of May, and retraced their steps by the same way as that by which they had advanced. The 1st of July found them on the Omaruru River, whence Mortar and Pereira were directed to Otjimbingue to get the wreck of the waggon repaired, whilst Andersson himself proceeded up the Omaruru, and across the Omatako Mountains, to Omuramba Ua' Matako, where he was to be joined by the waggon, and whence he hoped, finally, to penetrate to the Cunene.

Wild beasts of every description abounded in the valley of the Omaruru, and the lions soon put an end to the existence of two of the dogs, the country being further haunted by lion man-eaters. "I have no particular dread," says Mr. Andersson, "of lions, nor am I, generally speaking, a particularly nervous man, but I do fear and dread such a monster as a man-eater. Set me face to face with an enemy, be he white or black, beast or man, in the broad light of day, and I will take some odds against him. But a skulking, sneaking, poaching night prowler, whose cat-like motions and approach no ear can detect, whose muscular strength exceeds that of the strongest ruminating animal, who will pass through your cattle and leave them untouched in order to feast on human flesh, is, I think, a creature which may reasonably inspire terror. There is something hideous in the thought of lying down nightly in expectation of such a visitor."

The fact is, that greater intimacy does not improve acquaintanceship with such formidable opponents. The lapse of time has also something to do with the feelings. Who is there that has not in the flush of youth, vigour, and enterprise, done that which he would not care to do over again in his mature age? It is evident that Andersson entertains different feelings for lions than he did on his first journey. On another occasion, he relates: "Towards morning, two lions hard-by began to roar most lustily. It is strange how the sound affected me. I could scarcely believe I was the same being who, a few years before, could bivouac singlehanded in the very midst of these animals, scarcely noticing their presence, whilst now their mere growl made me nervous."

We quite agree with Mr. Andersson in considering the midnight ambush as one of the most remarkable and characteristic scenes of African sporting life. "The approach of Elephants" in Lake Ngami was the most picturesque thing in the book, and the number of these gigantic quadrupeds met with under similar circumstances upon the present occasion seem to have far exceeded what were met with on his previous travels. Game continued to become more plentiful as our traveller proceeded from western to eastern Damara Land. At the fountain Ombolo, situated on the Omaruru River, he found the country well stocked with giraffes, zebras, gnus, koodoos, and other animals, and he had what he

is pleased to express as "some very decent shooting." Game being thus abundant, lions, hyenas, jackals, and other beasts of prey did not fail to attend upon their victims, and kept up a terrible hubbub of dissonant voices during the night, causing much annoyance and disturbance. If they had hitherto met with but few natives, they now also saw more of them than was desirable. Indeed, the Omaruru River was evidently one of the favourite resorts of the Damaras. The greatest amount of sport was, as usual, afforded by the elephants, and we have the same old stories over again of night-watches and day-trackings, night assemblages of large herds, of shot after shot at these unwieldly lumps of flesh, of frantic and vicious cows, and of great bulls still more bold and resolute in their charges. There were also plenty of giraffes. Whilst waiting for his waggon, our traveller was unexpectedly joined by a Damara trading caravan, consisting of upwards of four hundred persons, men and women, destined for Ŏvambo Land. This caravan was, however, afterwards forbidden by Chipanga, the successor of Nangoro, to enter the country.

One of the most interesting results arrived at in this portion of his journeyings, was that our traveller found Omaubonde, which, to his and Galton's sad disappointment, they had found eight years and a half ago nothing more than a large dried-up vley, to be now a sheet of water, four and a half miles in extent, abounding with water-fowl and largely resorted to by a great variety of game and wild animals, such as elephants, rhinoceroses, elands, koodoos, gemsbucks, zebras, pallahs, lions, &c. There was also another pond close by, and Bushmen villages besprinkled the borders of both.

The waggon having returned on the first day of 1859, our traveller at once set forth for the River Omuramba Ua' Ovambo, which Messrs. Green and Hahn conceived to be identical with the Cunene. On the 16th of the same month he crossed a dry, narrow, but somewhat deeply depressed river-bed, which he only afterwards ascertained was the veritable river he was in search of! The road was not so difficult in eastern as it had been in western Damara, but in parts it was so obstructed with wood that they had to cut down at the rate of a hundred and seventy bushes and trees in every three hundred yards, or about a thousand bushes a mile; above all, there was occasional water and a sufficient supply of game. As he proceeded, however, the difficulties both of finding the way and of finding water increased, and he was obliged to surround and capture a whole werft of Bushmen in order to obtain guides. With this assistance the party reached the next day the Ombongo, the first periodical watercourse they had met with for a distance of more than a hundred and fifty miles. We must now let Mr. Andersson describe his next great discovery in his own words:

The following day was to solve the problem that had so long engaged all my thoughts, and which was to mark a momentous crisis, not only in my present travels, but also in my entire life. I felt, therefore, considerable anxiety about the description of river I was on the eve of discovering. Some Bushmen we had encountered in our wanderings had positively spoken of it as a mere omuramba, i. e. a kind of deeply depressed valley, with a succession of vleys periodically filled with water; whilst others had asserted that it was a permanent stream, traversed by the natives in canoes, and abounding in hippopotami, fish, and alligators. I dreaded lest the first of these accounts should turn out correct,

for in that case all the great expense incurred, and the immense amount of labour lavished on its discovery, would prove valueless and abortive.

At break of day we were afoot, but, the morning air being raw and sharp, I had at first some difficulty in getting the guides along. After about six hours' journeying at a rapid rate, these Bushmen suddenly stopped short, and each of them, drawing from his quiver two or three arrows, carefully concealed them amongst the trees. On demanding an explanation of this singular proceeding, I was simply told that the Ovaquangari were a very unscrupulous set of men, who, whenever they thought themselves strong enough, would take forcible possession of anything that struck their fancy; and as the concealed missiles were new, and of some value to the Bushmen, they were, they said, loth to lose them. They also warned me to be on my guard, as the natives, whose villages we were now fast approaching, were fierce and savage. This was an old tale, and though I did not despise the warning, I conjectured that our sudden and unannounced arrival amongst them would cause rather fright and consternation than any demonstration of hostility on their part.

After this little delay we again proceeded, but had not gone far before I perceived on the far-away horizon a distinct dark blue line. "Ah ha!" I exclaimed to myself, "in the valley of which that line evidently forms the border; there is surely something more than a mere periodical watercourse." A few minutes afterwards, catching a glimpse of an immense sheet of water in the distance, my anticipation was realised to its utmost. A cry of joy and satisfaction escaped me at this glorious sight. Twenty minutes more brought us to the banks of a truly noble river, at this point at least two hundred yards wide. This was then, in all probability, the Mukurn Mukovanja of the Ovambo, which these people had given us to understand flowed westward. Taking it for granted that their statement was in this respect correct, I had stood some time by the water before I became aware of my mistake. "By Heavens !" I suddenly exclaimed, "the water flows towards the heart of the continent, instead of emptying itself into the Atlantic!" For a moment I felt amazed at the discovery. East!" I continued to soliloquise; "why, what stream can this then be, in this latitude and longitude? Tioughe? No; that channel alone is much too insignificant to form the outlet for such a mighty flow of water. Well, then, it must be one of the chief branches of that magnificent river, the Chobe." This was my first impression, which was to some extent corroborated by the natives, who described this river, called by the Ovaquangari "Okavango," as forking off in two directions in the neighbourhood of Libebe, one branch forming the said Tioughe, the other finding its way to the Chobe. But on more mature consideration, I strongly question the correctness both of my own impression and of the account of the natives.


It is true Dr. Livingstone, in one of his early maps, lays down a river as coming from Libebe's towards Sekeletu's town; and I myself, when at Lake 'Ngami, heard of a water communication existing between these two places. But as the Tioughe is known to send out a branch towards Chobe considerably below Libebe, i. e. south of it, called Dzo, it is just possible that this is the stream alluded to by the natives. Furthermore the country, for a great distance about Libebe, is known to abound in immense marshes; it is probable, therefore, that the Okavango, though of such large dimensions, is more or less swallowed up in these extensive swamps, leaving merely sufficient water for the formation of the Tioughe and its inundations. Unquestionably Dr. Livingstone, if he succeeds in revisiting Sekeletu's town, will be able to settle this question.

However this may be, it is manifest that the Cunene, followed up to its sources, with the Okavango, Tioughe, or Teoge, the Chobe, in the interior, and the Zambesi, reaching to the Pacific, open an almost continuous waterline across the continent of intertropical Africa. The interest and importance of the discovery can thus scarcely be overrated. It brings Livingstone's researches and discoveries in the east and in the interior in con

nexion with the west; it opens a way from the westward to the cottongrowing countries of interior central Africa, and to the hospitable and thriving population on the Liambye and other tributaries to the Zambesi, and a station founded in a sanitary position on the coast, or not far from the mouth of the Cunene, or Nourse River, if they are the same, would not only soon become more prosperous than San Paul de Loando, but would inevitably become the chief port of all South-Western Africa, and the means by which the benefits of civilisation and the spread of the Gospel might be ensured to a population occupying an amount of territory almost equal to a whole continent.

All the villages and cultivated lands of the Ovaquangari, as the people dwelling and boating upon the Okavango are called, being situated on the north bank of the river, they had to wait for canoes to cross to them; but these were not to be easily obtained, for the natives were seized with a universal panic at the sight of the white man. At length relations were established with them through the medium of the Bushmen, and some well-armed men made their appearance, tall, well-built fellows, richly bedaubed with grease and ochre, the wealthier being also profusely covered with iron and bead ornaments. Their language was identical with that of the Ovambo, of which nation they constituted a branch, thus further establishing the continuity of the fertile and available band of south tropical Africa to be by the Okavango and Ovambo Land, and not by Damara Land. The chief of the nation, Chikongo by name, resided at a considerable distance to the southward of the point where Andersson first struck the river, and after some delay-a messenger to announce his approach having been previously despatchedour traveller obtained a canoe just large enough for himself, a few traps, and the paddle-man.

This boatman was a stout, sturdy fellow, but a great blackguard. Under the pretence of avoiding hippopotami, he kept polling the canoe amongst reeds and shallows, stopping at every spot where he had a friend or acquaintance, and calling out, at the top of his voice, to the inhabitants far and near, to come and have a look at the white man. He was, for the time being, the self-elected Barnum of the Okavango. The whole scene, Andersson says, reminded him of visitors to a menagerie stopping at some wild beast's den curiously to examine the monster. Nor does the trial appear to have suited our traveller's temper much, for he revenges himself upon the ladies by declaring that they were an exceedingly ugly-looking lot-thick-set, square, with clumsy figures, bull-dog lips, and broad flat faces. "Even without the grease and ochre, so delicious and ornamental to the body in the opinion of all savages, some of the females would have been perfectly hideous. With their crisp curly hair standing erect in little tangled knots, they might, had their countenances been more animated and intelligent, have been reckoned good models for the Furies." Oh! Mr. Andersson, to speak thus of the beauties of the Okavango!

In the afternoon they lay to and encamped under a noble sycamore. The night, however, albeit in tropical Africa, was cold and blowy. Early next morning another start was effected, and between ten and eleven o'clock they reached the great chieftain Chikongo's village.

We were not, however, permitted to land at the village; so, whilst waiting for instructions, Tom and I set about preparing a light breakfast, which we had

« PreviousContinue »