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