MUD AND MOSAICS

Chapter 23

TANGANYIKA

We start with an old map which would not have been unfamiliar to the author when he
wrote this book . More importantly, it pinpoints many of the places he visited.


ON the journey from Usumbura to Tabora, we soon left the mountains behind and flew over a dry, sparsely-wooded savannah. It reminded me of the interior of West Africa and of the Northern Regions of Ghana.

It did not take us very long to go round the town of Tabora. It looked very Arab, and both Indian and Moslem influence was apparent everywhere. I went to look for the old slave market, for it is closely connected in my mind with the first White Fathers ever to reach these regions. It was the reports of Livingstone that moved Cardinal Lavigerie so deeply, and led him to undertake his great and successful anti-slavery campaign. I had been told that the walls of the enclosure were still standing, but the site has, in fact, been built over, and there is nothing to mark the spot. Soon it will no longer be remembered. Both the slave trade and those who fought to have it abolished, will be forgotten, just as many of the things brought in from Europe are now forgotten, or conveniently ignored.

I went out to Ndala mission which is on the route taken by the first Caravan of White Fathers, and is one of the early foundations of Tanganyika. It now has thirty-nine outstations for its 7,000 Christians. It was here that I met old Father Boesch, who was 77 years of age. He came to Tabora in 1909, when he walked the two hundred miles from Mwanza on Lake Victoria. He is a specialist in the science of "witch-doctors", and has a very bad opinion of them, and of the "medicine men".

"Exterminate them and you remove a very great obstacle to religion and civilisation, " he said.
He sounded as though he wanted to bring down fire from heaven to destroy them all on the spot, but what he meant was that Government should make it impossible for them to carry on their nefarious practices. He had actually seen some witch-doctors at work. He thinks that some of the deaths attributed to them, however, are accidental. They use herbs to make up medicines, some of which are beneficial, but at times they miscalculate the dose and the patient sometimes dies. One local medicine man when accused of poisoning a client, protested vigorously and took some of his own medicine, which, he said, could not hurt anyone: he died soon after.

In the afternoon Father Boesch took me into the bush to visit the neighbouring witch-doctor. His name was Luanda and he looked harmless enough. I asked him to put on his social insignia for a photograph, but he would not be tempted even by a small present. He said that if he dressed up for show the spirits would be angry and would kill him. He may have believed that, but some cynics said afterwards that my present was too small! He showed us the fifteen Kigabilo; small shrines of twigs each of which was a place of sacrifice and libations. Each one was believed to be inhabited by an ancestor who socialised in curing one kind of trouble or another.

On the way home I asked Father Boesch if he had ever met a lion unexpectedly: missionaries get out into the bush as much as most Europeans except hunters, yet it was astonishing to me to find that so few of them had seen lions.

"I met a lion only once," said Father Boesch. "It was on the road near a village. He just took one look at me and turned round moving fast towards the village where he killed a man soon after."

The White Sisters had a flourishing establishment at Ndala. I went round the secondary school with its one hundred and fifty pupils and talked to some of the classes. Then I went to the fine teachers' training college where there were eighty-five students. The African Sisters, who have twenty postulants teach in the primary schools and also in the lower classes of the secondary school.

At the hospital, I found Sister Clare, a qualified nurse, in charge: "We have about one hundred and twenty consultations a day," she said. "The most popular section now is the maternity with a waiting list for its twenty beds. We have about three hundred and seventy-five confinements a year here; seven hundred pre-natal consultations a year and about three hundred and fifty in-patients for the twelve general beds."

There were twenty patients for the said twelve beds when I looked in! Her buildings were too small, but she would have to have a doctor in charge before she could hope for any grants from Government.

As we talked, a man who looked desperately ill, was brought in on a rough litter.

"It's probably pneumonia," said Sister Clare.

Back at the mission, Father Dekker said: "Child marriages are a scourge here. We get boys of eight and ten in school who are married ! Not long ago a boy came to me crying: 'My father wants me to marry a second wife', he said. That boy was only twelve years of age! Of course, it's illegal, but it's done. I've found girls of nine years of age who were sold in marriage for money, the purchaser's real intention being to get extra servants in the family. Not long ago a girl of two years of age was sold here to an old man for thirty shillings to enable her parents to pay their taxes."

In the evening we drove over to the new mission of Ygumo. It was started a year previous and already had seventeen out-stations with over a thousand Christians.

Brother Paul who was building the mission, is a great hunter. A few years ago a lion mauled a Father and bit a lump out of his shoulder. Brother Paul was there and shot the lion as it was mauling the priest: a risky shot, but I am sure the priest did not mind!

We had a lantern slide show in the evening. A tilly lamp was put inside the lantern, a sheet put on the wall, and the show was on. There were shrieks of appreciation from the audience whenever they recognised anybody. The show went on and on and I was working out how late it would be when we got back to Ndala, but the African audience was enjoying it so much we had not the heart to stop the treat.

Young Father Dekkers is Inspector of Schools at Ndala and he took me round. 'He had ten schools in the radius of twelve miles of the mission. The schools were clean but suffering from poverty. For instance, we took a sack of cement to one schoolmaster to make a floor for his school.

"It's not enough, Father!"

"Sorry, I cannot afford more," said Father Dekkers, "you'll have to manage."

The Government pays a lump sum for the two class rooms and teachers' house: £125 in all. The upkeep is the mission's responsibility and the mission must manage on what the pupils are supposed to pay each year. This varies from 7s. to 13s. a year. The school covers four years instruction by having the first and second years in the morning and third and fourth in the afternoon.

At St. George's Middle School, the headmaster turned out the band to play in my honour. Then I gave a talk to the boys. Some of these boys walk seven miles each day to school, work all day and walk back without food. Others bring some cold maize porridge, but in general they are undernourished. No wonder they are listless, especially in the afternoon. The parents don't seem to care. Father Dekkers was building a dining room in mud bricks.

"We cannot afford cement blocks," he said. I wondered where food was going to come from when the dining room was built. Perhaps they would get boarding school grants, then, to cover cost.

Next day I left to return to Tabora.

I sat by the roadside and started to write my journal. I had said goodbye to the mission an hour before, for the previous evening in answer to my enquiry I had been told "There's a good bus every day into Tabora, it leaves at eight o'clock".

We went down to catch it. "Yes, we run every day to Tabora, but not today!" That's Africa! Father Dekkers then ran me down to the main road a few miles away, and I was hoping for the bus from Mwanza, also due an hour before.

Two small buses passed. I tried to get on — no room. I waited. My bus arrived. I was shown the place of honour, up beside the driver, right on top of the boiling hot engine! Still, I was on my way. A heavily veiled woman had been moved out to make way for me, and now she was in the back which was so full it looked like the Black Hole of Calcutta, and still we stopped to pick up more!
Two hours later we passed the first bus I had tried to board — it had a broken axle! A little later we picked up several passengers from the second bus which was at the side of the road with bits of pistons lying around, and two men flat underneath pulling out more.

"Something must have gone wrong," said my driver. A mild understatement, I thought.

Our own bus was groaning as thought it was perpetually in second gear, the speedometer was not registering but we got along. Most cars out here seem to be short of brakes and, mercifully for one's nerves, the speedometers do not work. How often had I heard recently, as I borrowed a car or a lorry: "Careful, Father, the brakes don't work!"

We got to Tabora and I walked up to the mission, hot, but in one piece.

In the cool of the evening I walked through the garden of orange groves and palms to call on the White Sisters. They had a savage, howling watch dog. The thick mud walls of the convent stand today as they stood fifty years ago. Only the original windows, which were narrow and heavily barred, have been replaced by something more suitable.

"Here in 1908," said Sister Rose Mary, pointing to a spot in the garden, "we had to stand powerless and watch a woman slave being beaten almost to death. She had escaped from her master who caught her at the entrance to the convent enclosure. We had no money to buy her . . . he beat her unconscious."

The Journal of the early days of the White Sisters at Tabora reads like a novel. Slavery, although abolished by law, flourish in fact.

"We used to buy the old and infirm women, leaving the healthy ones to survive till we found more money," said the Sister.

In the Mission Diary under the date of the Feast of the Annunciation in 1908 I read of how Sister St. Henry and a companion were called to a sick baby:

" . . . A door was opened, then locked behind us. We crossed a courtyard filled with women slaves. We passed another door which was also locked after us. We found ourselves in a second enclosure full of slaves, we passed another door into a third court also full of slaves and at last we came to the woman in question, with her sick baby . . ."

The Sisters must have said many a prayer for protection as those doors were locked behind them!

I went to Itaga to see the mission and the seminary, and I got a royal welcome from Father Tom Conway, who had been in charge of the organisation in Scotland. He looked very fit and said he never wanted to be on "Propaganda" again. I didn't blame him!

A bush fire had just destroyed the kitchen buildings of the seminary. A temporary kitchen was installed in an old barn, and I could hardly see the cooks for smoke. Coughing and spluttering, I staggered out, but the cooks calmly stayed on with never a cough out of them. Another mystery of Africa!

There were sixty boys in this junior seminary, all hoping to be priests in the diocese of Tabora. I asked some of the boys to get me a few large scorpions to take home, for the place is overrun with them. In about twenty minutes they had two large jars full of the beasts. Father Rombault gave me a big black one several inches long. He has been stung so often he no longer feels it — much! One morning putting on his trousers he found to his painful surprise that a scorpion had been asleep in them!

The boys are clever at pinching off the vicious tail sting before turning a scorpion loose in the classroom!

The Fathers and one doctor I met declared that salt water in the eyes is a cure for a scorpion sting: perhaps the cure is so painful that you forget the sting. I remembered that Father Leger in the Sudan used to pickle scorpions in alcohol and rub in the solution where one had been stung, but it was probably the alcohol rather than the scorpion-pickle that did the trick.

Four African priests were in charge of the parish here at Itega, with its 2,000 Christians and thirty outstations Father Peter Mirambo took me round his church, built in 1917 and dedicated to St. Anthony. There was a strong smell of bats and I could hear them squeaking in the roof.

Kipalapala, not far away, was one of the first missions in this country. In November, 1882 when the Fathers had to flee from King Mutesa of Uganda, Father Lourdel arrived at Tabora with a group of Baganda catechumens and he bought some land from the local chief at Kipalapala to start a mission. Bishop Livinhac, the first Vicar Apostolic of Uganda passed through several times, once on his way back to Europe to be consecrated. It was here, too, in the mission chapel on August 24th, 1887, that he consecrated Monsignor Charbonnier, the first Vicar Apostolic of Tabora.

In 1889, trouble started when the Arab slave traders put pressure on the local chief. At dead of night the Fathers fled with the orphans they had rescued, losing almost everything they possessed. They found refuge with a friendly Arab in Tabora, but the Mission of Kipalapala was pillaged and the Fathers did not return there. A little chapel now stands on that historic site. The same local chief revolted against the Germans, and after an unsuccessful effort to blow himself up, he was caught and hanged. In 1925, Kipalapala was chosen as the place to open a regional seminary, and it already has 176 priests to its credit.

I went to the big printing press and book store. The Brother and Father were both busy with the "latest editions" off the press. I met two Dutch Y .C. W. members who had volunteered to give two or three years work to the missions. This is the answer to many mission problems, or it could be if we had more volunteers. These laymen replace, and therefore release for other work a Brother or a priest, of whom there are all too few to minister to the people. It is a great pity that priests should be taken up with building and printing, but it is a necessity at present.

I heard that Bishop Holmes-Siedle, WF (left) had six of these Young Christian Workers: four were building his seminary, and two others were running his Traders' Association. I was sorry to be unable to visit the Diocese of Karema. I had heard so much about the happy lake people, on the High Plateau, a lovely country of grass and streams, three quarters Catholic with very little Moslem influence, for it was well off the ancient routes of the slave-traders.

Tanganyika is a vast territory with many facets, but I did not see much of it. I tried to make up for this by talking to everybody I could who knows the country and conditions.

I was told that more than a third of all the education available was given in Catholic schools, but as most of the Catholic missionaries are not British and do not speak English perfectly they appear to have an inferiority complex vis-a-vis Government officials. English is of the greatest importance in education here, and in forming the growing public opinion of Tanganyika with which the Church's future in the land is connected.

Nationalistic tendencies are calling for full state ownership and organisation of schools, while Government, although it favours inspection and control, wants the mission schools to exist as such, recognising their unique value for training the people in morals and good conduct.

From the little I saw, I wondered what steps were taken to assure adequate feeding in schools. It seemed odd to provide teachers and schools for children who were too hungry to learn. But Tanganyika is a poor country, and I was told that over ninety per cent. of its inhabitants have a very low standard of living.

In the British Territories I noticed a marked difference between Government's educational and medical policies. The former seemed broad and helpful; it recognised the value of co-operation with the missions. The medical policy, however, seemed to be to build up a state system leaving the missions without help to develop private services as best as they could. Given the modern high requirements for medical services and their great cost, the missions can do little alone, and a fine opportunity of valuable co-operation is being lost. Government medical services are so far short of requirements themselves that it would seem common-sense to organise and to use all suitable collaborators. The Catholic and Protestant missions of Tanganyika have half the total hospital beds for the whole territory, and would surely welcome the co-operation of Government.


There is a danger of completely destroying what is probably considered a lesser good, in the anxiety to obtain a greater good in the problematic future, i.e., a full state medical system. I had seen the local African government take a very different view in Ghana with excellent results for the hospitals in the Northern Regions. There the mission Doctor was paid a good salary and offered good working conditions whereas in the other territories it was left to the mission to pay what it could, with the result that a Doctor with a wife and family could not afford to work in such territory.

One of the first needs is for the training of a great number of African medical orderlies, and the foundation of more rural clinics: and who better than the missionaries (both Catholic and Protestant), could undertake this work, and guarantee the necessary supervision of the clinics?

On September 14th I went to a local coronation; that of the Chief of Unyanyembe, Abdullah Fundikira III. He is a paramount-chief, ruling some 100,000 people, and it was his ancestor who sold us the site of the original mission of Kipalapala. The ceremony took place at Itetemia, not far from Kipalapala. Soon after we arrived, the new Chief was led out by a procession of witch-doctors and bandsmen beating the Bayege drums. The poor man told me afterwards he had spent a sleepless night undergoing the ritual preparation by the said witch-doctors.

There were hundreds of tribesmen sitting around, with long muzzle-loading rifles which, in their excitement, they continually fired into the air. The Chief, dressed in traditional robes, his head shaven, sat impassive. He was presented with the tribal Bow and Arrow, and admonished to defend his people, as his ancestors had done before him. Then an ancient Spear and Shield were given him and he was called upon to use the spear to kill elephant in the manner of his ancestors, and to use the shield to ward off all evil. A tribal elder brought seeds and presented them with a prayer that the new reign would bring good harvests. The Chief scattered the seed to the four winds. Then the Kibangwa, the crown of office, was presented by a woman and the senior Elder placed it on the Chief's head. The Chief's wife was then proclaimed the Mother of the Tribe, while a stole of office was placed around her shoulders.

Guns went off, drums were beaten, and the people yelled their approval. Shortly afterwards we left, for the whole assembly was warming up for the dancing and feasting; dust was rising in clouds, and excited warriors were firing a bit wildly.

I went to the Chief's Sundowner in the evening. It was strange to see the same man dressed in well-cut European clothes. He was at Cambridge, and he is a specialist in agricultural questions. The witch-doctors will find him a difficult handful, I think, but if he can overcome tribal prejudice, his knowledge will prove a great asset to his people.

Next day I was to leave for Uganda on my way home, but I still had a week there before my plane left for Europe.

 

Return to Top


Click below on the Chapter you wish to read: