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The Zambesi pours its waters into the ocean by four mouths, namely, the Milambe, which is the most westerly, the Kongone, the Luabo, and the Timbwe (or Muselo). When the river is in flood, a natural canal running parallel with the coast, and winding very much among the swamps, forms a secret way for conveying slaves from Quillimane to the bays Massangano and Nameara, or to the Zambesi itself. The Kwakwa, or river of Quillimane, some sixty miles distant from the mouth of the Zambesi, has long been represented as the principal entrance to the Zambesi, in order, as the Portuguese now maintain, that the English cruisers might be induced to watch the false mouth, while slaves were quietly shipped from the true one; and, strange to say, this error has lately been propagated by a map issued by the colonial minister of Portugal.
After the examination of three branches by the able and energetic surveyor, Francis Skead, R.N., the Kongone was found to be the best entrance. The immense amount of sand brought down by the Zambesi has in the course of ages formed a sort of promontory, against which the long swell of the Indian Ocean, beating during the prevailing winds, has formed bars, which, acting against the waters of the delta, may have led to their exit sideways. The Kongone is one of those lateral branches, and the safest; inasmuch as the bar has nearly two fathoms on it at low water, and the rise at spring tides is from twelve to fourteen feet. The bar is narrow, the passage nearly straight, and, were it buoyed and a beacon placed on Pearl Island, would always be safe to a steamer. When the wind is from the east or north, the bar is smooth; if from the south and south-east, it has a heavy break on it, and is not to be attempted in boats. A strong current setting to the east when the tide is flowing, and to the west when ebbing, may drag a boat or ship into the breakers. If one is doubtful of his longitude and runs east, he will soon see the land at Timbwe disappear away to the north; and coming west again, he can easily make out East Luabo from its great size; and Kongone follows several miles west. East Luabo has a good but long bar, and not to be attempted unless the wind be north-east or east. It has sometimes been called "Barra Catrina," and was used in the embarkations of slaves. This may have been the "River of Good Signs," of Vasco da Gama, as the mouth is more easily seen from the seaward than any other; but the absence of the pillar dedicated by that navigator to "St. Raphael," leaves the matter in doubt. No Portuguese live within eighty miles of any mouth of the Zambesi.
The Kongone is five miles east of the Milambe, or western branch, and seven miles west from East Luabo, which again is five miles from the Timbwe. We saw but few natives, and these, by escaping from their canoes into the mangrove thickets the moment they caught sight of us, gave unmistakeable indications that they had no very favourable opinion of white men. They were probably fugitives from Portuguese slavery. In the grassy glades buffaloes, wart-hogs, and three kinds of antelope were abundant, and the latter easily obtained. A few hours' hunting usually provided venison enough for a score of men for several days.
On proceeding up the Kongone branch it was found that, by keeping well in the bends, which the current had worn deep, shoals were easily avoided. The first twenty miles are straight and deep; then a small and rather tortuous natural canal leads off to the right, and, after about five miles, during which the paddles almost touch the floating grass of the sides, ends in the broad Zambesi. The rest of the Kongone branch comes out of the main stream considerably higher up as the outgoing branch called Doto.
The first twenty miles of the Kongone are enclosed in mangrove jungle; some of the trees are ornamented with orchilla weed, which appears never to have been gathered. Huge ferns, palm bushes, and occasionally wild date-palms peer out in the forest, which consists of different species of mangroves; the bunches of bright yellow, though scarcely edible fruit, contrasting prettily with the graceful green leaves. In some spots the Milola, an umbrageous hibiscus, with large yellowish flowers, grows in masses along the bank. Its bark is made into cordage, and is especially valuable for the manufacture of ropes attached to harpoons for killing the hippopotamus. The Pandanus or screw-palm, from which sugar bags are made in the Mauritius, also appears, and on coming out of the canal into the Zambesi many are so tall as in the distance to remind us of the steeples of our native land, and make us relish the remark of an old sailor, "that but one thing was wanting to complete the picture, and that was a 'grog-shop near the church.'" We find also a few guava and lime-trees growing wild, but the natives claim the crops. The dark woods resound with the lively and exultant song of the kinghunter (Halcyon striolata), as he sits perched on high among the trees. As the steamer moves on through the winding channel, a pretty little heron or bright kingfisher darts out in alarm from the edge of the bank, flies on ahead a short distance, and settles quietly down to be again frightened off in a few seconds as we approach. The magnificent fishhawk (Halietus vocifer) sits on the top of a mangrove-tree, digesting his morning meal of fresh fish, and is clearly unwilling to stir until the imminence of the danger compels him at last to spread his great wings for flight. The glossy ibis, acute of ear to a remarkable degree, hears from afar the unwonted sound of the paddles, and, springing from the mud where his family has been quietly feasting, is off, screaming out his loud, harsh, and defiant Ha! ha! ha! long before the danger is near.
Several native huts now peep out from the bananas and cocoa-palms on the right bank; they stand on piles a few feet above the low damp ground, and their owners enter them by means of ladders. The soil is wonderfully rich, and the gardens are really excellent. Rice is cultivated largely; sweet potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbages, onions (shalots), peas, a little cotton, and sugar-cane are also raised. It is said that English potatoes, when planted at Quillimane on soil resembling this, in the course of two years become in taste like sweet potatoes (Convolvulus batatas), and are like our potato frosted. The whole of the fertile region extending from the Kongone canal to beyond Mazaro, some eighty miles in length, and fifty in breadth, is admirably adapted for the growth of sugar-cane; and were it in the hands of our friends at the Cape, would supply all Europe with sugar. The remarkably few people seen appear to be tolerably well fed, but there was a dearth of clothing among them; all were blacks, and nearly all Portuguese "colonos" or serfs. They manifested no fear of white men, and stood in groups on the bank gazing in astonishment at the steamers, especially at the "Pearl," which accompanied us thus far up the river. One old man who came on board remarked that never before had he seen any vessel so large as the "Pearl," it was like a village, "Was it made out of one tree?" All were eager traders, and soon came off to the ship in light swift canoes with every kind of fruit and food they possessed; a few brought honey and beeswax, which are found in quantities in the mangrove forests. As the ships steamed off, many anxious sellers ran along the bank, holding up fowls, baskets of rice and meal, and shouting "Malonda, Malonda," "things for sale," while others followed in canoes, which they sent through the water with great velocity by means of short broad-bladed paddles.
Finding the "Pearl's" draught too great for that part of the river near the island of Simbo, where the branch called the Doto is given off to the Kongone on the right bank, and another named Chinde departs to the secret canal already mentioned on the left, the goods belonging to the expedition were taken out of her, and placed on one of the grassy islands about forty miles from the bar. The "Pearl" then left us, and we had to part with our good friends Duncan and Skead; the former for Ceylon, the latter to return to his duties as Government Surveyor at the Cape.
Of those who eventually did the work of the expedition the majority took a sober common-sense view of the enterprise in which we were engaged. Some remained on Expedition Island from the 18th June until the 13th August, while the launch and pinnace were carrying the goods up to Shupanga and Senna. The country was in a state of war, our luggage was in danger, and several of our party were exposed to disease from inactivity in the malaria of the delta. Here some had their first introduction to African life, and African fever. Those alone were safe who were actively employed with the vessels, and of course, remembering the perilous position of their fellows, they strained every nerve to finish the work and take them away.
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