Extract from the diary of Joseph Dupont (the copy of Pueth), 1898
English translation from the French original by Fr Gruffat, completed on August 2nd 1999
A fortnight ago I set out for Kitimukulu’s capital with Fr Lefort, Fr Delamarche, and Bro Optat. Our purpose was to establish a mission station in the heart of the land of the Wabemba, and this was in my eyes a project of capital importance for the future. I know I shall clash with a group of opponents who do not share my view. They are not many, but they are very vocal, as is usually the case with people who are in the opposition. Here as in Europe, the great talkers, those with the gift of the gab, don’t find it very difficult to impose their views upon their fellowmen and sway public opinion round to their point of view. Here the opponents, who look to Makasa as their leader, are all young people I know, and to whom I have more then once in the past given something to wear. When they see me, they still come to me and drop on their knees to greet me obsequiously, but as soon as I turn my back, they resume their work of denigration and slander, and they sneer at the ‘old man’ who is naive enough to set great store by their demonstrations of subservience. We are told that Mwamba does not want us to settle down where we are now. All our requests for provisions are turned down. Those who are for us are in danger of being persecuted if they bring us supplies. We thought it wiser to withdraw
We had hardly come out of the capital that the people brought us foodstuffs in plenty. We make our way along the Karungu River, along which live a lot of people. We are everywhere welcomed with a great show of friendliness. After two days’ walk, we reached the Chambeshi River, which marks the border of Kitimkulu’s domain. On the left bank of the river, we choose a lovely hillock, called Kipili, and we make it known all around that it is where we are going to settle down. The countryside is delighted at the sight of the missionaries, and Kitimkulu’s own people spread the news that they are crossing over to our side to come and settle down around us. In fact people began to flock in on the very first day. We have hardly been encamped for four hours that a deputation headed by Kimutwe, a Minister of Mwambwa’s, with a message from the Chief: “My master has given me clear orders to come and fetch you, and to bring you to his capital by forced marches. Kitimkulu made a mistake the day he turned away the Bishop, and he is now putting the blame on me on the ground that I forbade you to settle down in his kingdom. I was given strict orders to bring the Bwana back to the capital, for the King has now the intention to share his country with you the Bishop. He wants the two of you to live together.” – “Mwamba’s words are good to hear,” I answered the Minster, “but he must give me a token of his good will and sincerity by sending me a present and an escort.” – “Very well,” Kimutwe said, “within eight days, I shall be back.” He set out in all haste in a south-western direction. As for me, leaving Fr Lefort and Bro Optat on the spot, I took Fr Delamarche with me and made my way in a northerly direction. I was in a hurry to see my dear old Kayambi again, which I had left in the hands and care of my younger confreres.
After nine days’ rest at Kayambi, Fr Delamarche went back to our encampment on the Kipili hillock.
At last, in the evening of the feast of the Holy Rosary, a message reached me at Kayambi: Mwamba sent two cows as a present, and fifty men as an escort to accompany me to his court.
But this good piece of news was unfortunately marred by a very sad event: Fr Delamarche’s death. The good Father had reached Kipili in a state of near collapse. Nine days later, he was dead, prematurely ending a missionary career started hardly one year before. He was, in fact, the victim of his own over-eagerness. He was never able to admit that he was tired, that he had reached the end of his tether, and that it was time for him to call it a day. He was in fact overdoing it beyond reasonable prudence. It is common
with the young people in Europe, and they often get away with it. Under such climates, this brazen ignorance of one’s physical limitations is usually fatal.
Faced with Mwamba’s invitation, I was not in a position to shilly-shally. The Wabemba, as a nation, are ready to welcome the Good News. They are eager to follow religious instruction. The tenets of the Christian Faith do not offer any insurmountable difficulty to them. We have been in this country for hardly eight years, and very few are the villages in the Ubemba, in a radius of quite a few kilometres from here, where we do not find a few people who know the usual basic prayers and have a smack of catechetical knowledge. The Natives are great travellers before the lord, and this has contributed a lot to the spreading of the Christian doctrine all over the place.
October 4th, I set out again on my perigrinations through the African Bush, for the third time this year. I was heading a caravan of 90 men. It took us two days to reach our encampment at Kipili, where I found my two confreres and the fifty men sent by Mwamba.
But dark clouds of uncertainty began at once to loom over the future of the expedition. For the new envoy of Chief Mwamba, when he was questioned about his master’s intentions, answered quite succinctly: “I have no idea! Chief Mwamba keeps his own counsel. He will tell you in good time what he has in mind!” That was not a very propitious beginning for a journey that promised to be long and arduous. That is why we thought it wiser and safer for two of us, Bro Optat and myself, to go ahead of the caravan as scouts. Fr Lefort was to stay in our present encampment on the Kipili. The heat is oppressive. I am at the end of my tether, I can hardly stand on my legs. Fever is wearing me away. I haven’t eaten or slept for four days. Whenever I stop for a rest, I have all the trouble in the world to gather enough strength and willpower to stand up and be on my way again. I wish I were twenty years younger!
My escort is made up of 190 men, remarkably handsome and vigorous. The carriage and liveliness of those people from the deep African bush are for me an object of wonder. The average man is 1.80 metres tall, broad-shouldered and deep-chested, and well-shaped. All the men are wearing by way of clothing is a loincloth around their waist. Their skin is shining black, always perfectly clean, their movements lithe and graceful. They spend some time every day on keeping their hair trimmed and plaited in intricate designs, which are often quite beautiful. Their features are remarkably fine and regular, and most of the time lighted with a broad and intelligent smile. They are very pleasant travelling companions, for they never run out of conversation. Their natural happy dispositions are not affected by anything, neither by the heat of the day, or by burning thirst, or by the pangs of hunger, or by tiredness. The tougher the journey, the greater their heartiness and gaiety. They are just as pleasant and companionable on the camp site. They usually sit in the shade of trees all around the missionary, and listen wonderingly to what he has to say: about life in Europe, and about the mysteries of the Christian Faith. What they hear is totally new to them and sets them wondering, but they are remarkably quick in understanding even the most abstruse ideas. They eagerly accept the Christian teaching, and they have no difficulty in believing that we are all the children of God. They all gather together around the missionary in the evening for the night prayer. Then they all lie down around the fire, and the conversations gradually die down. At a given signal, they all pray together the prayer to the Guardian Angel, and in the twinkling of an eye, they are all sound asleep. Silence falls over the camp, the great silence of the African bush only broken here and there by the cries of some wild animal. The lion does not think it below its dignity to come and pay us a nightly visit occasionally. Dawn has hardly broken out that chatting begins to be heard all over the camp. The day begins with morning prayer, and usually a lesson of religious instruction. Then everybody shoulders his load and falls in, and the whole caravan is soon on the move again, with songs echoing back and fourth.
After two days’ walk, we reached a place four kilometres from the residence of Kitimkulu and stopped. It is the same famous Kitimkulu who had refused us access to his country the previous month. The Chief sends at once those sons and daughters of his whom I have known for quite a while now, since they stayed at Kayambi and were regularly attending prayer meetings. “There are only two great men in the country, the Bishop and myself,” Kitimkulu is wont to say now, “ why does the Bishop refuse to come and settle down in my possessions? He is the only man I am fond of! It is Mwamba who forbade me to receive him, and now he is sending for him! He is not fair, he has done me a lot of harm! Am I not also a child of God? If the Bishop is not pleased with Mwamba, he will be welcome in the land of Kitimkulu. We shall be two to rule over the country!” This message of welcome from Kitimkulu was stuffed with lies, for his own children had proved to be responsible for all the wrongdoings of the past. He was now trying to shove the blame of the estrangement between him and me onto Mwamba’s shoulders. He now realises that Mwamba is the object of our interest, not him, and he is now trying to backtrack in order to keep us in his country. I thanked Kitimkulu for his kind words, and I assured him that, if Mwamba were to break his word and fail to give us sufficient guarantees, we would certainly avail ourselves of the kindness and hospitality of Kitimkulu. I assured him that I intended to have a mission station both in Kitimkulu’s and in Mwamba’s domains.
The whole Sunday of October 9th 1898 was spent in hard bargaining with the Chief. On Monday 10th, we set out in a south-western direction. We came across superb hills, but totally empty of population. The average altitude is between 1,100 and 1,200 metres. Around 10.00 hrs, we climbed a small mountain range, between 1,400 and 1,450 metres high. We caught sight of a mountain of red slaty rock that could apparently be cut into superb slates. That is where the village Cuta is situated, which Kitimkulu built some ten years back as an advanced base for his forces when he was planning to wage war on his own son Mwamba. The skulls of the Mwamba soldiers who were killed in skirmishes are still where they were left, impaled on poles overrun by tall grass. In the middle of the day, we reach the bank of the Chibiri River, a most treacherous water course. At first sight you think you are contemplating a magnificent lawn with thickets of tall trees scattered here and there. It is a most pleasant sight when you have been plodding for days on end through the endless, monotonous bush. But it is a most deceptive sight. As soon as you have taken a few steps in this green meadow, your feet sink into heavy, black mud. If you persist, you will in no time be ankle-deep, then knee-deep, and finally buried in slime up to your belly. It is then high time for you to heave yourself out of the putrid mess if you do not want to die a horrible death. We had to slush and flounder around this marsh for over one kilometre. My poor donkey sank in up to his long ears, and it took all the strength of 30 sturdy men to pull the poor animal out of its predicament. It was no small matter in this dreadful and endless mire. Lately we heard that a herd of twenty buffaloes tried to cross this tempting meadow, bogged down in the process and died of exhaustion. The Natives living in the neighbouring villages came to cut up the carcasses of those unfortunate animals on the spot. The Chibiri River flows from the south to the north and is a tributary of the Karungu River.
We were busy pitching our tents on the left bank of the river when messengers came from Chief Mwamba to tell us that the Chief was happy about our coming, and that he expected us to hurry to his headquarters, adding: “Send him the usual presents of cloth at once, so that he may be able to make himself spruce for the day he will welcome you officially.” It is somehow along the traditions in vogue in Europe at the occasion of a state visit: the host Head of State puts on the distinctions he received from the visiting monarch. I immediately pack up a few lengths of calico for His Majesty King Mwamba.
We are pressed on all sides by enthusiastic groups of people, who seem to be happy to see us. All the faces that are turned to us are beaming with joy, and the snatches of conversations we can catch convey the same general impression of public rejoicing. They people proclaim quite openly that they are the children of God. We are offered a lot of provisions.
Tuesday 11th: We reached Mwamba’s headquarters around 14.00 hrs. The sun is blazing, the heat is oppressive. Large crowds of people come to meet us. At the sight of the welcoming throngs, the men in my escort lose all restraint; they caper and cavort like unleashed devils, throwing challenges to all and sundry. That is their way of impressing upon the locals that I am a great chief, and that they are proud of being my escort. They are all together kicking up an infernal din. We come to a standstill ten minutes away from the Chief’s residence. We try to pitch our camp, but in vain, for a huge, compact crowd of people are milling around us, so tight that we can hardly breathe. Impossible even to find a free spot where to sit down. They all want to see us at close quarters, and all at the same time. Mwamba sends a message of welcome, together with provisions. I return his message at once, with a request for an audience. I am sometime later told that the Chief will receive me officially in the evening.
When I arrived at his place, I found the Chief sitting under the veranda of his house among women who were upholding him in their arms. There are very few people around, nor is there any demonstration of public rejoicing. Dusk has come, and I cannot assess the Chief’s state of health. In fact I know he is Mwamba only by the sound of his voice. After the usual greetings, Mwamba offers me as a present an elephant tusk weighing at least 50 pounds.
Wednesday 12th: In the night, the Prime Minister came to visit me, and I asked him to hasten the conclusion of all pending affairs. Around 08.00 hrs I am invited to bring my gifts to the Chief. At the sight of Mwamba, I got a real shock. He is reduced to the state of a skeleton. He is so emaciated that he is practically lifeless, and the women have to hold him up in a sitting position. I had never seen a man in such a pitiable condition before! His female attendants are also shaking zebra and eland tails in front of his face as fans. His eyes are almost closed. Where does he find still enough strength to sit up and deal with current business? He speaks with a firm voice and shows every sign of being in possession of his intellectual faculties and of being clear-minded. His eyes are suddenly alive with joy at the sight of the cloth I am bringing him as a present. It is the more striking since his face is livid and drained of all life. Mwamba seems to be deeply interested in what is said about him in the Chambeshi area and I tell him that he has the reputation of putting the Europeans to death. His Majesty condescends to call me in his august presence and to ask me for my considered opinion on his physical condition. And my considered opinion is that His Majesty is suffering from a liver disease in such an advanced state as to be beyond cure. What His Majesty actually needs is a man endowed with the power of raising the dead.
When I came out of the audience, I sent for Kaliminwa, a son-in-law of the king’s, and shared with him my worries concerning the king’s state of health. “Yes, I guess what the situation is,” he said to me, “and that is the reason why we have called you in. We want you to protect us when the king is dead. You will prevent lots of people from being slaughtered over the king’s tomb. You will hinder our neighbours from invading our land. We shall gather around you and you will save us.”
Here is a development we had not foreseen, some mysterious way of Divine Providence asking us to do something very difficult. Kaliminwa advised me to summon all the Ministers for a meeting in my tent the following night. I spent the rest of the day sending invitations on the sly.
Thursday 13th: The meeting with the Ministers did not take place. The king’s health is getting worse every minute. Nobody knows what to do next. We are begged to stay in the capital so as to be here when the king gives up the ghost, so that the people, reassured by our presence, may not flee in a panic and scatter all over the bush. Early in the morning, the king send for me with the request that I bring him drugs. He is evidently dying, and yet he is still receiving people in audience and dealing with current affairs. I give him a mild injection of morphine. I ask Mwamba to send away all the people and to rest, and I withdraw. I have hardly reached my tent that the Prime Minister hurries along with a message from the dying king: “Go and tell the Bishop that he come at once with medecine” I follow the Minister and find the king even weaker than when I left him. “Come to my assistance,” the dying man wails, “give me another treatment. Heal me, and I shall pay you handsomely!” The queen joins her entreaties to the king’s request, and begs to spare no effort to save the king’s life, concluding that I would not regret it. I explained to her that I do not want the goods of the Wabemba, that I am rewarded enough in being permitted to render them some service. I add that the king is seriously ill, and that we must pray God, who alone can now heal him. In the evening, the king sends me word that the remedy I gave him today considerably alleviated his sufferings.
Friday 14th: We are pestered by many visitors. Among them we cannot miss ChandaMkulu, the Princess Chanda, Mwamba’s sister. This woman, who holds sway over the southern province, is at least 1.80 metres tall, and grossly obese. I have never seen such a mountain of fat on a human person; The bark cloth that is supposed to cover her nakedness fails to hide anything, and she offers to the public gaze her monstrous proportions from every angle. When Her Royal Highness wants to stand, her feet are squeezed flat and her legs are bent by her enormous weight, and it is only after three or four unsuccessful attempts that she manages to bring one foot forward and take one step. Walking for this human mountain is quite a feat. In the evening the king calls me to his side, and I hasten to join him with the intention to do whatever I can for him. I stay a long time alone with him, but he is so weak that I do not dare to talk business with him. But he is not allowed to have any privacy. From 06.00 hrs to 19.00 hrs, he must be available to the people. The BanaNgwena – the reigning family – are people who are expected to die in harness, an old man told me recently. Kapalakasa was giving an audience and settling a case when he died. I have the impression that Mwamba intends to follow his example. I do not know where he finds the strength to sit there and handle cases presented to him. If he were to stay inside his house, the rumour would soon spread that the king is dead, and the people would disappear in the bush in no time. In this part of the world, the subjects of a dead king fall prey to their greedy neighbours who feel obliged to go and liquidate the whole nation. The men are put to death, and the women and children are taken away into captivity. The people who are deprived of their leader do not even think of putting up a resistance. Worse than this: they turn one against the other and kill one another. The ministers will fall on the women in the harem of the dead king and on his attendants and kill them all off. The ministers in their turn will be disposed of by the populace on the ground that they must go into the other world to continue to serve their defunct master. The successor of the dead ruler will complete the slaughter by removing all the men of some importance on the ground that they are also needed in the other world, in fact to obliterate all traces of the previous reign and to surround himself with men of his own choice.
Saturday 15th: Feast of St Theresa. The king and the people made it abundantly clear to us that we were to settle down for good some distance from the capital. We also thought it was urgent to establish our camp somewhere in the neighbourhood before the rainy season set in. We selected a place at a distance of one hour’s walk south of the royal residence. That is how today Bro Optat and myself, with a contingent of 50 men, began to clear the ground and to prepare the encampment. The whole country is happy at the news that we have decided to stay and to settle down among them, and they say we shall never regret our decision. May God take the words of those good people into serious consideration and bring about the realisation of their dreams.
Sunday 16th: After Mass, which we celebrated before a huge congregation of strangely silent people, the king sent us two men with instructions to go and fetch remedies at the encampment of our confreres on the Chambeshi, and to tell those confreres of ours that a whole caravan would come within two days to collect them with their luggage, and bring them to his place. I can’t help feeling that the Prime Minister is not straightforward with me, that he is hiding things from me, that I cannot trust him entirely. The people in my immediate entourage, who are devoted to me, keep repeating that my doubts and suspicions are unfounded. As the king refuses to take any food, the Prime Minister tries out another trick. He went to see the king and said to him: “The Bishop asked me to tell you that, if you refuse to eat, he will pack up and go away again!” – “Never in your life! I don’t want him to go away! Go and fetch my meal!” Thus it was that His Majesty took enough food to keep him going for a little while longer. For the last three days, this trick has worked marvels, every time the king refuses to eat the food prepared for him. In the evening I am surrounded by many visitors with responsibilities in their villages and clans. The oneness of God, the oneness of mankind, the necessity of salvation: such are the topics that are successively explained to them, to their greatest satisfaction. To be Christians at every moment of our life, to stop living like ordinary animals! When I tell them that we have left our country to come and teach the Wabemba, they are filled with joy, and those tough warriors do not try to hide their feeling. They are hungry for knowledge, and this hunger should be mentioned several times in every page of this diary, for I witness manifestations of this eagerness for Truth several times a day in different circumstances. It is always the same joy for those warriors to have us with them and to have the possibility of being instructed.
Monday 17th: We are breaking camp and packing off in order to make our way to the emplacement we have chosen as our permanent camping site. Bro Optat will take the lead of the caravan and supervise the installation of our camp. I will stay here near Mwamba so as to be available when it is necessary to attend to his needs. Just as the Brother sets out with the caravan, the Prime Minister arrives with an elephant tusk weighing 50 pounds. In return, the king wants clothing material, gunpowder, glass trinkets. He is also begging for medecine. I make my way to His Majesty’s house at once, and today he finds that my presents are niggardly. It is really sad to hear this dying man say to me: “Send people to Europe to fetch me cotton fabric and pearls, and trunks to keep my goods in!” I told the king a few words about God, and he told me in answer: “That is good, we shall be two in the country. Build your residence here and stay with us!” The king is now turning down all remedies proposed by the witchdoctors and wants to be looked after only by the Bwana Shikofu (the Bishop). The drugs at my disposal are used sparingly. He was smoking hemp when I came in. The women of his entourage are still here to hold him in a sitting position. He raises his head only to look for relief in fast dying pleasures, especially his pipe, which a woman keeps alight. In the evening I am going back to see the king, but His Majesty is fast asleep. I make my way to our permanent encampment, possibly the site of a new mission station, which I reach at nightfall.
Tuesday 18th: Feast of St Luke. I celebrate Holy Mass on the emplacement of the future mission, what is to be hopefully a centre of prayer. May the Lord take possession of his inheritance! The name of the place is Milungu (Devils), we change it into Lesa (God). It will be the first place where organised religious teaching of the revealed truths will be held on a permanent basis. The Natives are coming from all over the bush to visit us. The women are bringing provisions in abundance. The men come to give us a hand in the building and organisation of our camp. I have sent a caravan of thirty men to collect Fr Letort and Fr Boisselier at Panda. The children come to ask us to stay with us. We could have in no time one hundred magnificent children on our compound, but we have no hut to put them up, not even simple grass huts. Moreover, where are the missionaries to look after them? There are very few mission stations in the world where the missionaries can gather in at one go as plentiful a harvest as here in the Ubemba. St Luke the Apostle, whose feast we celebrate today, wrote: “The harvest is plentiful, but the harvesters are very few. Pray the owner of the harvest for harvesters!” Those words the Church reminds us of in today’s liturgy seem to have had this mission of the Wabemba in view. The author was, after all, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, let us hope he will have us in mind today and will intercede with the harvest’s Master on our behalf. For God’s sake, let us have missionaries, holy missionaries, with all the resources the charity of the Christian community will be certainly willing to put at their disposal! A handful of determined missionaries would work out miracles in this country, they would write the most magnificent pages of the ongoing saga in the Church’s history.
Some Arabs, engaged in the infamous slave trade and the systematic corruption of the people, and who were encamped in the neighbourhood, packed off and left surreptitiously in the dead of night, when they heard that we were to stay here permanently. It is only to be expected that the Devil’s henchmen are to leave the coast clear for Christ’s apostles!
Wednesday 19th: Early in the morning I make my way to the Chief’s residence. On the way, I come across the Prime Minster who was hurrying to my encampment with a message from the dying king. When I reach the house, Mwamba is lying, as usual, in the arms of the women. He asks for a remedy that would cure him from all illnesses, and preferably tasteless! I have some Epsom salts. Everybody in the entourage tastes it and declares that it is all right for His Majesty. I give a dose of Epsom salt to the patient, who expresses the desire to keep some to sprinkle his food with. His Majesty does not want to see the witchdoctors nor does he want their concoctions, the only remedy he accepts is from the Bishop. He would even turn down all food if I were not compelling him to take his meals as usual, and if I were not ostentatiously dropping some medecine in the plate. At the end of today’s consultation, the dying man raises his head and said: “You have not brought me any piece of cloth today. Look! I am lying here naked! You must bring me some every day.” Some days earlier, I had brought him quite a lot of magnificent cloth, but he is so avaricious and close-fisted, even on his death bed, that he had my gift hidden away somewhere and wrapped himself in his old filthy loincloth again! “All right,” I answer, “I shall bring you a new length of cloth tomorrow!” – “No!” he says in protest, “it must be today, for today I am stark naked!”
Thursday 20th: I am told that Fr Letort will not find enough men in the Chambeshi area to act as porters, so I am dispatching another caravan of fifteen more men to him. Kitimkulu, ashamed of the hostility he showed us at first and annoyed by the consequences, since we have chosen to settle down in Mwamba’s country of the Ituna, sent for the English missionaries at Ikawa. Those who were so afraid of the Wabemba will no doubt be very eager to grab the occasion offered to them to set foot in Kitimkulu’s land. I am told that they intend to move in as soon as possible.
The Second Minister comes to see me. Here is the core of the message he brings me: “Last night we held a meeting of all the Ministers under the chairmanship of Mushika, the Premier, and here is what we talked about. Our King is about to die, we said, and what is going to happen to us when this event takes place? We came to the conclusion that we must hand the country over to the Bwana Shikofu. We had a mind to call him whenever the King would die, but now MWAMBA HIMSELF IS CALLING HIM TO TAKE OVER THE GOVERNMENT OF THE LAND. The Bishop is building his house in the country; we shall go and build our homes around him. We shall transfer our capital where the Bishop is, and the house of the Bwana shall be the king’s court. Yes, Bwana Shikofu, we shall bring all the soldiers to you, we shall give you all the guns, and there are many of them. You will not hand us over to those who will come to kill is, will you? In fact, I have been dispatched ahead of all the others to lay down the foundations of an understanding. We shall all come when we have heard from you (what you have decided).”
The country that is referred to here is about as big as one-third of France, and one of the most densely populated of Africa. It is a new country, where no European power has as yet dared to set foot officially. I came here eight days ago with Bro Optat, and nobody else, not knowing what our fate would be, for the Wabemba had the reputation of being brigands, and the members of the royal house very cruel. Now the same chief of those redoubtable brigands chooses me to be his successor, and the brigands themselves to be their leader. If I were St Paul, or more simply St Francis Xavier! I never felt so deeply my unworthiness, my limitations, and my misery. Enough to make me shed tears of frustration! God knows what I am like, He has made me as I am, let Him take me as I am! Like Jeremiah, I say: “Ah! Ah! Ah! Lord, I am a child! I do not know how to speak!” In the evening, the main witchdoctor of the country honours me with his unexpected visit. He is a man of roughly 35 years of age, wild looking, hysterical, and covered with amulets. He offers me a pinch of tobacco, and then sits in front of my tent the whole evening as a sign of respect. I give a lesson of catechism to the crowd of people who are milling around my tent. I come back on the same basic truths: there is One God (the oneness of God), we are all children of the same God the Father (the oneness of the human race), our home is paradise, but we are in danger of going to hell, hence the necessity of praying God. That is what I explain to them, and they find those truths to their liking, for their black faces are shining with joy. “You are telling us great things”, they are wont to say. “You speak the language of a great chief!”
Friday 21st: I pay a visit to the king. His condition is stationary, but he is overwhelmed by an irresistible need to sleep. He practically falls asleep after every word he utters. The women in attendance keep lifting his head, long enough for him to say two or three more words, and then he nods off again. He seems to have only one major preoccupation: the fate of his hoard of cotton fabric and material. “Don’t you see that I am stark naked?” he keeps repeating, “You must bring me every day lengths of material!” I keep trying to slip a word of religious instruction in between his rumblings, but the thought of material possessions seems to be an obsession with him. “Bring me also a chair!” That is another one of his obsessions. “Bring me also .. and also..” The king nods off, and off I am! In the evening, three Ministers brought me confirmation of what Chimya was telling me yesterday. I am trying to sound the Prime Minister on this subject, but he is evasive and mysterious, and pretends he dos not know anything. The cunning Minister does not want to commit himself.
Saturday 22nd: The construction of our ‘boma’ is coming to an end. I have a slight bout of fever.
Sunday 23rd: I celebrate Holy Mass in front of a large crowd of people. Chief Mwamba sends his Prime Minister to enquire about my state of health. His Majesty is asking for a lounging chair. Bro Optat is willing to give him his own. We cover it with nice red material and send it to the king.
Monday 24th: At 04.00 hrs, groups of overwrought women begin to flock to our ‘boma’ and assemble around my tent with the cry “Mwamba is dead! Mwamba is dead!” Women are swarming from all over the bush and invade our encampment with a horde of children, the oldest toddling along in the dewy grass, the youngest carried on the backs of their mothers. Each woman carries the little possessions she has in a battered basket on her head: an earthenware pot, chipped and crazed, and the worse for wear, a handful of sorghum, a hen, a container with red powder and oil for rubbing her skin. No man has appeared yet, but the women and children are already a few thousands in number, milling around helplessly. Around 08.00 hrs, the first men begin to appear. They have gone around the whole bush to warn the scattered people that the king was dead, and that they had to come to our ‘boma’ in all haste. Mwamba gave up the ghost in the middle of the night. Before daybreak, the ministers and the soldiers pounced on the royal enclosure and plundered whatever came in sight, cloth and women. Then they scattered again. They were in a hurry, for the BenaNghandu, the clan of the Bemba royal house, have the duty to kill off all the household of their dead brother. At Mwamba’s headquarters, there remains only Mukolula, a young man who is 18 years old, with some ten companions of his age, and the enormous ChandaMkulu, the sister of the defunct Chief, and his only true heir by tradition. Both came to me to take their orders: “Mwamba called you in to take over the country after his death,” they explain, “he has left us his oxen and his goods. Now we shall do exactly what you will tell us!”
It is now midday. Our ‘boma’ has been turned into a small town. The soldiers of Kalimanjira return to camp. “When we realise that Kalimanjira wanted to lead us away,” they explain, “we refused to follow him any further and came to your ‘boma’. The soldiers and the women who were following us are also on their way back here. Mwamba has entrusted us to you, why would we go and seek another master? Kalimanjira himself will probably be here this evening. The headmen of the faraway villages are on their way here to take their orders from you, and will go back in all haste to collect their people and bring them here!”
At 21.00 hrs Kalimanjira arrives at our ‘boma’ with fifty court members of the defunct king and a large number of soldiers. To justify his defection of this morning, he says: “We were afraid that you would hand us over to the people who came to kill us off!” I make it quite clear to him that nobody, absolutely nobody, will lay hand on anybody in my ‘boma’. I assure him that he and all his people are perfectly safe in my ‘boma’. All those who are standing around at this interview are the men who are important in the land. Assuming a voice of authority, the Prime Minster solemnly declares: “Mwamba called in Bwana Shikofu in order to ensure our security after his death. Here is now the master of the land! The BenaNghandu, we no longer know them. The BenaNghandu can no longer claim any authority or sway any power over us.” Those words are greeted with loud cheers and hand clapping. “If they try to do away with us, we shall fight back and kill them. We have no fear of them any more!” There is a new wave of cheers and hand clapping. “Our masters are the Whites, let them come with field guns. We are their soldiers. We don’t recognise any other chief!” More cheers and hand clapping. “Now, send men to fetch the oxen and all the possessions of the Chief. The Chief left everything to you!” A detachment of men set out at once to go to the capital and fetch the herd kept there, which turns out to be made of 25 skinny animals. Another detachment set out at once for Kawe, where the bulk of the royal herd is kept. Just at that moment the news reaches us that a certain Mfupa, a nephew of Mwamba’s, has preceded our people at Kawe and has made off with the herd and the people who were stationed there. He is now on his way to the capital to make a razzia. I sent out patrols to keep a watch on the surrounding countryside and issued clear orders that the rascal be apprehended wherever he turns up.
As far as I am concerned, we are within that part of Africa that has been set aside for the British. My kingship simply consists in handing the Ituna over to the sovereign the Powers of the Old Europe has designated for this part of Africa. In other words, we have conquered a large country for England. I am going to inform England as soon as possible that this country, which has been so ardently coveted and so abjectly feared for so long, is now an English possession ready to be plucked without striking a blow. I hope that England will never forget who are those who have handed over to her the nation of the Wabemba.
Around 17.00 hrs, I was sitting in the middle of between two hundred and three hundred armed soldiers when a magnificent young man of twenty-five years of age presents himself to me. At his sight, silence falls instantly upon the crowd, but I can read in their eyes threat and contempt for the newcomer. I signal to the stranger to come and join me in my tent. The people close their ranks on us. The young man is Mpepo, son of ChandaMkulu, nephew and heir of Mwamba. He has come to greet me. His noble bearing and manners cannot disguise the fact that the tardy arrival of this visitor is an embarrassment to everybody. The reactions are not long in coming. First the Prime Minister speaks out his mind: “The BenaNghandu (the Clan of the Crocodile) are out of the picture. We do not want them as our rulers any more. Our Chief, here he is!” and the Prime Minister points me out. “If the BenaNghandu come here, we shall simply kill them off. We have no fear of them any more. We shall do away with them!” Then the Prime Minster springs up and cavorts around like a man in a towering rage, and all the people join him in this demonstration of overt hostility, grinding their teeth at Mpepo and yelling in chorus: “We shall kill them! We shall kill them!”
Mpepo is perspicacious enough to understand that he has no chance to survive this deep wave of popular hatred against his clan, and finds it wiser to howl along with the pack of wolves and call curses on his own clan. He does not seem to realise that he is calling curses on his own head. The people echo his shouts, but are in fact laughing at him, and he does not seem to realise it!
The soldiers set out to fetch the herd of cattle. Mpepo does not know what they are going to the capital for, and he does not dare to follow them. He leaves much later, and once out of the ‘boma’ and far from the crowd, he vanishes into the bush.
It was a memorable night. Several thousand women were wailing at the tope of their voice “I am dying! I am dying!” The drums do not let up for a moment. Volleys of gunfire burst out every now and then to revive the zeal of the mourners who are growing more and more tired.
Tuesday 25th: Around 06.00 hrs, the din subsides a little, and I take this opportunity to celebrate Holy mass, followed by morning prayer and the lesson of catechism. The assistance is compact, and deeply recollected. Then we go back to what is the affair of paramount importance for the moment. All the Ministers are here with a large part of the army. “We are afraid you will hand us over to the BenaNghandu to get rid of us according to the old custom. They will bring you ivory, and you will not resist the temptation of selling us out. We do not want the BenaNghandu to come and visit you. They can’t have good intentions in coming here. They should all be killed, together with the sons of the dead king. If you refuse, you will show that you have no pluck. We are going away!” They are trying to sound my intentions, for fear of being betrayed and delivered to the BenaNghandu and abandoned to their tender care is still deep and widespread. I am doing my best to reassure them. I swear on all that is dear to me that I shall never hand them over to anybody, and that I shall always take their side and defend them, even if I were to die in the attempt. As regards the execution of the members of the royal clan and family, it is totally out of the question as far as I am concerned. This is essentially anti-Christian. I put forward the idea that they ought to be left alone, but that they should be closely watched. “If they indulge into massacres,” I pointed out to my audience, “you will know who your real enemies are, and you will know what to do to neutralise them.”
Caravans of people, entire villages are flocking to our ‘boma’ from the four cardinal points. Mweka, the queen mother, arrives with her whole village. Fula, a powerful chief who resides on the Lukulu River, comes to tell us that he has fortified his village. “Since your village is a fortress,” I advise him, “gather all the people of the surrounding countryside and stay all together at your place!” From all over the country, the chiefs and headmen come with beefy escorts of well-armed warriors to take their orders from the successor of Mwamba. I am now taking my role as king very seriously. Although I am new in the job, I happen to be au fait with what is going on, and I have no trouble in settling lots of problems and disputes to everybody’s satisfaction. My capital, which came into existence only yesterday morning, is, after hardly thirty hours, already one of the busiest and liveliest towns in Continental Africa. My capital is spread over some one hundred hectares of cleared bush, and the people are living one on top of another.
Wednesday 26th: Today is very much identical to yesterday. The people continue to arrive in large numbers. I gave orders for the creation of two others agglomerations on the Lukulu. I fear that such a dense and enormous concentration of population may run out of all essentials. It is pandemonium with no end in sight. I am pressed from all sides by a huge crowd of people who are shouting and gesticulating madly. There are plenty of outbreaks of violence. In no time you have 100, 200, 300, 500, any number of men facing one another with their weapons at a ready, yelling , hurling insults, prepared to shed blood. Blows are exchanged here and there, and blood does flow from time to time. It is not easy to re-establish peace among the conflicting parties, facing one another in furious hostility and eager to settle disputes by force of arms. While I am writing those lines, I am surrounded by some two hundred people who are trying their best to shout one another into silence. I have just managed to get 33 chiefs and headmen together and extracted from them a promise of allegiance to the English Authority. Just now I am at the end of my tether, and I am shaking with fever. At 21.00 hrs, news is sent to me that a hostile force of armed men is on the move against us. I dispatch ten scouts.
Thursday 27th: Early in the morning, the scouts are back with tales of exploits that defy both imagination and description. But I have come to know my Africans pretty well after all those years, and from their glowing accounts of what they achieved, I draw the conclusion that there was no enemy army on the move anywhere. At 11.00 hrs I am told that a ‘macila’ or hammock is in sight. It is Fr Letort and Fr Boisselier, and I welcome them with relief. The population that has been piling up for days in our 'boma’ is giving my confreres a tumultuous welcome. I am so happy to see them! They are in top shape, in perfect physical condition to tackle the enormous task of converting the whole country, which the Divine Providence has widely opened for us in such extraordinary circumstances. Groups of people continue to drift in every day and swell up the already unmanageable population of our capital.
Mfupa, nephew and successor of Mwamba, sent us two cows. He has moved his quarters at a distance of one day’s walk from our ‘boma’ in a district that Mwamba had given him before he passed away. He is asking us what he is supposed to do, for I am Mwamba, he is Cupa, ready to carry out all my orders. I defer my answer until I have met in council with the elders. On the following day, I am sending some lengths of cloth to decorate the place where Mwamba’s body is lying in state.
Friday 28th: The day starts as usual with prayer in front of a huge crowd, packed close together outside. They all repeat the words of the prayer, and they all answer the questions of the catechism. Those who do not know are shouting just as loudly as the others, repeating a fraction of a second later what they have caught from their more learned neighbours. I am shaking with fever, we are literally baking under the tent turned into an oven by the implacable October sun. After prayer, I sit down and deal with all the affairs that our brought to my attention and for which the Chief is expected to give a solution. At the same time, I am dictating as best as I can some letters to Fr Boisselier. The Superiors of the White Fathers won’t be a little surprised at the situation some of their missionaries find themselves in, and which look providential for the future of the Mission. I am also writing to the English Governor, for, according to the stipulations of the Berlin Conference of 1885, this part of Africa falls within the sphere of British influence. The British agents have so far lived in fear of the Wabemba, and it was not in their plans to take over the Ubemba very soon. They will probably be very surprised to hear that two defenceless Catholic missionaries have taken possession of this fearsome land without striking a blow.
Saturday 29th: Today I chair a council of the Ministers, some forty of them all together. Fr Letort and Fr Boisselier are also present. We are certainly learning a lot in the course of this meeting. Fr Letort is unfortunately forced to go out right at the beginning of the meeting, for news has reached us that Mfupa’s soldiers have plundered the stock of provisions at Inama. Delegates of Mfupa are sitting on this council, and the other members at once send orders to Mfupa to withdraw from all the places where our supplies are stored., and condemn him to pay compensation for the damage, which experts are dispatched at once to assess. Chief Ponde, our fearsome neighbour in the northeast of the Ituna, expresses the desire to enter into negotiations with us. He says he is ready to abide by our decisions. We accept the idea of negotiating with him, but we lay down as a preliminary condition Ponde’s immediate withdrawal from the territory he is occupying: Ponde must go back to his own fiefdom or take the responsibility of the war that will inevitably follow. The envoys dispatched to Ponde are back. This ruffian shows himself ready to give us satisfaction. He acknowledges our authority and declares his readiness to send back those wives of Mwamba’s he had captured. He sent people to his own capital to find something that could be offered to us. Within three days, he hopes his envoys will be back with the present, and once he has handed it over to us, he will withdraw to his own land. The envoys we sent to Mfupa are also back. They found at his place Ndayala and Chewe with a large army. On my orders Mfupa breaks camp at once and withdraws in the sight of all our people. He sends me a girl in compensation for all the damage he has already caused us. Sunkuntu and Mtole, two chiefs residing in the south of Lake Mweru, came to take orders from me. Wolia Chibola, a sister of Mwamba’s, came to ask permission to go back to her fiefdom; she will be on her way within two days.
Sunday 30th: In one of the meetings of Counsel of Ministers, the decision was taken that normal life was to be resumed at once, and that the people were to go back and work in their gardens. Ponde sent a delegation asking that we send representatives to him at Katuba. Mpepo, heir-apparent to Mwamba, managed to pinch a few heads of cattle from the herd of his nephew Mukakula. I sent a messenger to him to rebuke him for his behaviour. I pointed out to him that he couldn’t take such decisions without my approval. He sent the messenger back with his apologies, and a goat as a token of repentance.
Monday 31st: ChandaMkulu, the colossal sister of Mwamba, asked me permission to go back to her domain for a few days and have a look around. Four very strong men are needed to carry her along.
Tuesday 1st: All Saints’ Day. In the night, a storm broke out over our ‘boma’, and solid sheets of water drowned the whole place. We are swimming in water. All the fires were put out, of course, and our people spent the rest of the night, shivering with cold, squatting in pools of mud. In the morning I had planned to give this great feast of the Church some solemnity, but our people are stiff with cold, and raked with coughing, and in no state for a celebration. They can hardly get warmed again in the sun. We have spread our few possessions in the sun to dry.
Wednesday 2nd: Today Chief Kabwibwi turns up with eight other chiefs in his neighbourhood. They are the chiefs ruling all the districts east of the Bangweolo Lake. They come to make obeisance to the new Mwamba (that is who I am in their eyes) and to receive my instructions. When they leave me, they go to the former capital where the body of the late king is still lying in state. Although the rampart around the compound is still in sound condition, all the visitors are bound in conscience by tradition to add to the security of the place to prevent wild beasts from disturbing the sacred remains of the defunct king. Let us not forget that the poor king will be buried only next year. Lukubula, Mwana Kingola, and his band of musicians played for us this morning in front of our tent. Then they asked permission to go to the late king’s resting place and sing and play there for the rest of the day. The whole population is in mourning. They all wear around their heads crowns made of tree bark. The closer your relations with the defunct king, the greater the number of crowns you are supposed to wear. The sisters of the late Mwamba have their bodies wrapped in strips upon strips of fresh bark, as well as their heads covered with bark crowns. Today we send away the men of Mwamba who had followed us.
Thursday 3rd: In the middle of the night, a man armed to the teeth came to my tent with a letter from Mr MacCunnon, Collector of the B.S.A.C. at Ikawa. He informs me that he would like to meet me, and that he is camping at a distance of three hours’ walk from my ‘boma’. He is with Mr Jouny, his assistant. Early in the morning, I dispatch men with a message of greetings and to serve them as guides. They reach our ‘boma’ around 10.00 hrs. 25 soldiers in uniform and with fixed bayonet parade as best as they can over the uneven ground, preceded by nine bugle players, each blaring away an independent tune in his instrument. In spite of all the din and pageantry, my thousand soldiers remain in their huts. At midday, Mr MacCunnon accepts to come and share my our midday meal, a very Spartan affair as usual. Mr Jouny is ill, and absent. At the end of the meal, Mr MacCunnon seems suddenly very embarrassed, terribly annoyed, and is in fact shaking with anger when he comes out with the big surprise of the day: a clear order from the English Administrator to the French missionaries to leave the country at once! “The Administrator does not want you to be here,” Mr MacCunnon explains, “I have orders to chase you from the land. No question of French missionaries to settle down here, not in your life! You do not have any permission from the Administrator, and you haven’t kept him informed of your movements. Away with you!” – “May I know who is the Administrator you are talking about?” – “Mr Codrington, who has just succeeded to Major Forbes.” – “That is news to me! I did not know there was a new Administrator! All I know is that Major Forbes gave me a written document stamped with the seal of the Company to the effect that I was officially allowed to open mission stations in the territories ruled by Mwamba and Kitimkulu. Before I moved into the Ubemba, I sent a written notification to Mr Marshall and to Mr Palmor, the Company’s agents in this part of the country, informing them of my intentions.” – “Those people are no longer in charge, I was appointed Agent in their place ten days ago, and I am in charge here!” – “I am glad to hear this, but may I point out to you that all you blame me for was done before your appointment? I acted with the full approval of the Company’s Agents who were then in charge. Ten years ago, we were at Fort Johnston. When you arrived, we withdrew to avoid all trouble. We moved to Mambwe, where you followed us shortly afterwards. You were scared of the Wabemba, whom we all looked upon as fierce brigands. Not without reason, mind you, for they were wont to come and plunder the land under your very noses at Ikawa, while you cowered away in your houses. It was in 1895 and in 1896. Again I moved away from you, I left Mambwe to penetrate into the land of the Wabemba. I came to settle down at Kayambi. I was the first in the Ubemba, I opened the country for you. When I had settled down, you came to visit me, and then you began to impose laws and regulations in the country. But you never dared to go over the Chambeshi! It was not even part of your long-term policy, so scared you were of the Wabemba! Last month, I came to the Ituna, to the capital of Chief Mwamba, the real Chief of the Wabemba, and the most feared of all Bemba Chiefs. Not only did Mwamba welcome me, but he also appointed me his successor when he saw he was dying! Yes, he wanted to rule his country, which is larger than half England. Mwamba died on October 23rd, and all his subjects, acknowledging the last will and testament of their Chief, recognised me as heir to his power and chieftainship, and acclaimed me as the new Chief. You can count the people encamped around me here: there are probably more than 10,000. You can meet the chiefs of the distant districts, they are all here waiting for my instructions. But I am perfectly aware that we are within the sphere of British influence, and I am happy to hand over to the British Government those lands and the great people therein. But remember that, if I were not here, you would not be here either! I have taken possession of the whole Ubemba single-handed, and I come to hand it over to you. You are safe here only because you are my guests, and you have got the cheek to order me out! No, Sir, I am here at home. I am quite prepared to hand over the sovereignty of this country over to the British, and to be what I came here to be: a simple missionary. But if you try to throw me out, I shall let the world know, through the newspapers in Europe, that you have deliberately and contemptuously ignored our loyal services, and that your conduct has been consistently ignominious!”
Mr MacCunnon is now shaking all over and garbles a few words of apologies. Back to his camp, he summons the Ministers to a meeting. They come to me to know what they are supposed to do. I advise them to go. Listen to what Mr MacCunnon told them: “Your Bwana are worthless people. We are the great chiefs. Is that not so? It is me you like, isn’t it? It is me you want, not the Bishop!” Complete silence greets his words. “Answer me! It is me you like, not the Bishop. You do not want to stay with the Bishop, do you?” Complete silence! He asks each Minister to step into his tent one after the other to answer this basic question. Each Minister stands in front of him in total silence! “All right!” he finally says, “you will come tomorrow to give me an answer!”
The Ministers come back in my ‘boma’ in towering rage: they do not want to go back to Mr MacCunnon’s headquarters! “Mwamba entrusted us and the whole country to the Bishop,” they say; “and the Bishop has been with us for a long time. He is the one who saved us from death. The Basungu were afraid of us. Now that our Chief is dead, and that the Bishop has been chosen as his successor, they come in all haste to tell us we ought to drive away our Father. The Bishop tells us to welcome them as visitors, that is what we do. Let them go in peace. We keep our Father with us!” When the signal is given for night prayer, it is only one cry: “We are God’s children! Let us all go to pray!” Their heartiness is truly admirable!
Friday 4th: In the course of the night, Mr MacCunnon makes repeated attempts to win the Ministers over to his cause, but the Ministers do not want to have anything to do with him. Early in the morning, he sends summons to the Ministers, who simply turn their backs on him. At 10.00 hrs they all turn up at my tent. They tell me they are with me, and they intend to follow me everywhere. I advise them to answer the invitation of the Collector and attend the meeting he is summoning. Incredibly enough, the Collector summons them to choose between himself and the Bishop: “Say that you like me, and that you do not like the Bishop!” Complete silence! “Where are Mwamba’s oxen? Where are Mwamba’s wives?” Complete silence! Mr MacCunnon tries by all means to scatter the population gathered around us. He comes to tell us that we are to send the people away lest they all starve to death. He is all out for harassing us, without shame. He proclaims that those who side with us are hostile to England. He does not seem to understand that a person can very well serve God and the Sovereign, and that, in Great Britain like everywhere else, the most faithful subjects of the Queen are the most devoted servants of God. In the evening a fire destroys part of our village.
Saturday 5th: Mr MacCunnon and Mr Jouny come back to our tent for lunch. They hold a totally different language from yesterday. We have achieved a lot, they tell us, we have saved the country from bloodshed and misery. They will not fail to stress our part in saving the peace in the report they will send to the Authorities. Mr MacCunnon adds: “We were on our way to visit Kitimkulu when we heard of Mwamba’s demise. We came here to see you! Now we are going away!” In the evening, we are bewildered to hear that those gentlemen moved their camp one and half hour away from our ‘boma’ and that they are busy building a post right in the middle of the people’s gardens! It is absolutely incredible! Let us wait and see!
Sunday 6th: The rumour we heard yesterday about the two Europeans is simple truth: they have settled down at a place hardly one and a half-hour’s walk from our ‘boma’ and they are stirring the local population against us. The Counsel of the Ministers come to meet at my tent. The people are terribly upset by the shocking conduct of the two Englishmen. If the priests were not here, they say, the English would not be allowed to trespass over their land with total impunity as they do. They would pay with their lives for their contemptible attitude. The Ministers make it clear to me once more that they simply refuse to recognise any authority but that of the man the dying Mwamba gave them as their next Chief. Instead of accepting my loyal services, Mr MacCunnon is now intent upon persecuting me shamelessly at every turn. His aim is clear: he wants to give the impression that he is the man who took possession of the land, and he owes nothing to me! Why this persistent hostility? “It is clear, Mr Collector,” I said, “you have no sense of fair play, nor have you any political flair. You should have endeavoured to create the impression that we are, not your enemies, but your auxiliaries. This would have allowed me to continue to work for the English Administration and to hand over to the English the power Mwamba has bestowed on me, and which the country acknowledges as perfectly legitimate. But all you think of doing is to put spokes in my wheel and to spread around the news that you are my enemy. What can I tell the people who look up to me as their Chief? You were very careful not to enter this country before I did. Where do you suddenly get this courage of yours? I want the civilised world to know your name and what you did!”
The messengers of Kitimkulu arrive at my ‘boma’, saying: “How is it that you have not informed me of Mwamba’s death?” – “It is Mwamba who gave me authority over his land.” – “I am very happy to hear this, that the Bwana Shikofu has succeeded to Mwamba. He is really our Father! It is Bwana Shikofu who will bury Mwamba! I want Bwana Shikofu to come and bury me, and take my succession, too!” That is something, for Kitimkulu is close to one hundred years old. In this country, the privilege of burying the dead sovereign belongs to his successor on the throne. To bury the dead king is tantamount to taking over the government of his country.
If Mr MacCunnon could read the hearts and minds of the people who are filing past his encampment on their way to my ‘boma’, he would understand that patience and procrastination are a much better approach to the solution of problems than bullying and raving.
Monday 7th: The messengers of Kitimkulu go to mourn Mwamba and bring to the body of the dead king a present from their master. That is the only way they can enter the death chamber to view the corpse
From 8th to 14th: I am busy every day from morning to evening to attend to many questions related to the death of the king and his succession. Many deputations are coming from all over the provinces and even from outside the country. Several chiefs of the Urungu, Chief Fula on the Lukulu, Chief Mfupa (a nephew of Mwamba’s), all the sons and nephews of Mwamba, they all send me greetings with the title of UNCLE. A clear sign that they also recognise me as the legitimate successor of Mwamba. One of the Ministers, Tiniya Moni, went to offer his services to the English people. He even tried to win over to his side the Prime Minister and a son of Mwamba’s, but he met only with indifference and even contempt on their part. He came back home shame faced and has not come out of his house ever since.
Fr Letort is down with fever, and I have a foot that is so swollen that I am obliged to lie down. This does not prevent the crowds to lay siege to my tent from morning till evening. A chief in this country is a public figure and has, in fact, no right to any privacy. The crowd has no mercy on me. If I want to do something about my bad foot, everybody is there to watch and to give his opinion. My foot is placed on top of a drum, and the local doctors work on it according to their knowledge. They rub and re-rub, and everybody has something to add to what the others did or said. Behind the crowd the court jesters and singers are kicking up a terrible din the whole day long without one moment of interruption. Around my chair those who came for the settlement of court cases are talking and arguing endlessly. I need all the strength of character I can muster to keep cool and to allow the people to handle me as they like. I could do without all the trimmings of power and public honour. I am not supposed to resist the demands of the people, who are wont to shout: “The Chief belongs to everybody!” It is really St Paul’s words “to be everything to everybody” that are literally applied by people who do not know Paul’s writings. I am everybody’s pet, as it were. May St Paul help me to live literally the rest of his quotation “in order to win all to Christ!” From morning till evening, I am sowing the good seed in the course of business transactions and especially court cases. My position as supreme judge in the land gives me many opportunities of preventing acts of injustice and of pronouncing judgements according to our moral code. That is the way I spread the Good News, by my words and by my decisions according to the principles of the Natural Law and the teaching of the Gospel. My decisions are a subject of admiration and wonder for the local people, who are so used to court decisions being dictated by vindictiveness and self-interest.
I cannot take time off during the day. I must say my breviary in public, among people who are talking to and from over my head. I hope God won’t mind my distractions.
15th: The deputations are getting more and more numerous every day. Fula comes to see me in person,. So do two chiefs of the Maiti. Among the court cases submitted to my decision, one was of special interest. Four women drag a man into my presence unceremoniously. This lout dared to push his way uninvited into the house where those ladies were drinking beer, and suffering from a cold, he cleared his throat and spat on the ground. That is a very serious insult. I order the guilty lout to disappear into the bush, and I don’t need to repeat my order twice. But the ladies do not agree with my leniency and they start in pursuit of the man, determined to beat the life out of him. I have to send men to protect him from those Furies, for women in a rage can really make a mess of a fellow.
18th & 19th: The deputations follow one after the other, without interruption. The court cases are multiplying. The population, upset by the king’s death, has not gone back to normal life and behaviour yet. There are all sorts of rumours going around. The queen is suspected to make plans for evading the watchfulness of the people and take her son to Makasa. That would certainly be a stupid thing to do. The elders gathered together for a meeting without any prompting on my part and decided to offer me two oxen and to ask me to chase the English people from the country. A fortnight ago, they told me they would certainly have killed off the Englishmen a long time ago, had I not constantly protected them. Today they would like me to chase them away. It is good that those gentlemen hear about those details – not very pleasant as far as they are concerned – and that they may realise they are still here thanks to our protection. I overheard today the conversation of men chatting together, and who were not aware of my presence. The Basungu, they say, do not pray, they are not God’s people, and therefore they are not worth much. The reason given for not having much respect for the Europeans is very significant, and very revealing. Their reasoning shows the deep religious spirit of those tough people considered uncivilised in Europe, and the impious conduct and attitude of those who pretend to bring their brand of civilisation to them; the justness of the ideas of the people living in the African Bush, and the ideological emptiness of their conquerors. The Europeans place themselves below those they pretend to raise to a higher level of civilisation.
Today’s Counsel of Elders grouped more than 90 men and they met under my chairmanship. Those present took the initiative to abolish dancing. Dancing is very popular in this country, young men and young women love capering and cavorting together. Unfortunately some dances are not conducive to good moral conduct. The Counsel demanded, and unanimously voted for, the abolition of dancing as a source of immorality and not a proper means of educating the youth. The head of the police was instructed on the spot to implement this decision at once, and with great severity.
19th-20th : My time is entirely taken up by audiences and court cases. The number of men and women who claim to be sons and daughters of Mwamba is unbelievable, and I am told there are more of them. Mfupa sent me two heifers, he is greeting his ‘uncle’ and asking for an audience. I am anxious to meet him, but I answer that he must wait until the people have really calmed down and returned to normal. The Collector is summoning the Prime Minister for a meeting. At first the Prime Minister refuses, but on my advice, he sets out to meet this official at his camp.