As a whole, the officials of all the British protectorates and colonies of Africa are a good lot of men, although some of the younger of them are inclined to impress on the natives that they are the "big" masters, and that the non-officials are nobodies.
To properly understand this, it is necessary that a European should have been an official, and then, when he becomes a non-official, he is able to see the difference with which many natives treat him. This shows clearly that in many instances the natives only respect power, and, when official power is wanting, they at once take advantage. It depends greatly on the temperament of the non-official whether he is treated badly by the natives or not, and he has to assert himself with certain natives and prove that he is quite able to safeguard his own interests. They soon get to know whether a man can be browbeaten or otherwise, and they are just like children in taking advantage of patience and kindness.
The natives living near civilisation are much worse in this respect than the raw savages. Personally I much prefer the latter, and I cannot bear the swaggering Blantyre mission boy in European clothing, hat, and boots; who in many cases is most insolent to white men. These mission boys are frequently scroundrels and past masters in lying and thieving ; but they are cunning to such a degree that the missionaries are often quite hoodwinked by them, and think them paragons of virtue and integrity. This is not a singular opinion ; but is that of most men who have had a good experience of this country. I do not wish for a moment to insinuate that all mission boys are of the type I have portrayed, but that the majority are is a fact that cannot be gainsaid by all honest men.
On the other hand, the mission teachers (natives) of the White Fathers' missions throughout this country are a much better type of native, as they are taught to be respectful and honest; and my former remarks apply to the native so-called converts of the Scotch mission in Blantyre. The whole matter is one of education, and the White Fathers are a much better type of men in their own country than are most of the missionaries of the Scotch mission. There is a very strong feeling in the country about the missions, and they have only themselves to blame for this feeling, as they go about their work in the wrong way, for they try to go too fast, with the result, to use a slang term, that they " botch" it, and instead of improving the natives, as is probably their earnest desire, they unfortunately end by spoiling most of them. The medical part of the Scotch mission is a most worthy one, and so are all industrial missions.
To get back to the Angoni, I saw a strange custom the other day. A man had bought some pigeons, and in putting them into the cote the man put in the hen birds and his wife the cocks. I asked the reason and was told that if this was not done the birds would prove unfertile.
Not very long ago I shot a hippo in the Bua River. The men had disrobed to get it out of the deep pool, and were in a state of nature—in other words stark naked. An old woman who had smelt the meat appeared and was a keen witness of the proceedings. Some of the men shouted to her to go away, and I was greatly amused at her reply, for she said that she was too old to be interested at the sight of naked men. As her presence interfered with the operations, I told her to leave for the present and come back later, when she would get plenty of meat, and she departed smiling.
Some of the natives are quite as sensitive as white people in exposing their persons, especially to members of the opposite sex, and it is a mistake to think that all tribes are lax in this respect. Even the Angoni youngsters wear a certain amount of clothing round the waist, it is only the babies that are unclothed, and even they are covered at times.
In moments of distress both adults and children use the word mai (mother), and they will cry " A-Mai," " A-Mai" when they are hurt, meaning " oh, mother," " oh, mother." I have mentioned that the Angoni believe in a " Mlungo" (God, or supreme being) and they have a very good idea of the meaning of right and wrong, and long ago they had a stern code of laws. Most native tribes live in communities under different headmen, who are sometimes the sons of old chiefs, or men who by their own intelligence and strength of body and will have been elected chiefs. In old Mpseni's time he acted as an autocrat, and the power of life and death rested in his hands, although he granted great powers to his sons and indunas. Like Lobengula, the former chief of the Matebele nation, he soon squashed any chief who was getting too strong, and these old savage potentates doubtless thought the proverb "A stitch in time saves nine," a good one. It was the survival of the fittest, and the word " fittest " not only meant a strong following of warriors, but also quickness of perception. Mpseni's big hut has been described to me by some of his sons. It was a large round affair, full of lion and leopard skins ; on the floor was laid a great pile of elephant ivory, which was covered with skins and mats, on which Mpseni spent most of his time, swilling large quantities of native beer and hearing reports brought to him by his principal indunas.
When the natives wished to have a " Mlandu " (or case) they first approached the induna, who then carried the story on to the head induna, who likewise informed Mpseni. Naturally a good deal depended on the integrity of the indunas, and I have no doubt that many cases were distorted considerably before they reached the "fountain of justice."
A son of Mpseni told me he had often a vile temper, so at such times his wives, children, and indunas gave him as wide a berth as possible until he cooled down a bit. At certain times the practice of witch smelling took place, and many innocent persons were murdered. The young unmarried people live free lives, and Mpseni did not let his warriors marry until they were well on in life, so great licentiousness was common ; but when once married, if a man or woman committed adultery, they were knocked on the head or strangled to death.
A strange belief is still prevalent among most of the tribes in this country. Should a woman in a weak moment have mistaken another man for her husband, she will betray nervousness in putting salt in his food, and on seeing her fear, he at once accuses her of wrong. Nowadays, people are not killed for crimes such as this, although the injured husband will doubtless thrash the woman unmercifully. Child murder, under exceptional circumstances, still takes place, notwithstanding their love for children, and an Angoni told me that a year or two ago a woman gave birth to three crows and a large stone, the crows appearing first. I expect this was the woman's statement for disposing of a malformed child. The same person told me that another woman had a child with a human body, but its head and hair was just like a warthog's.
I have not much more to write about the Angoni, except that they are a fine race of savages, and it will be a lasting pity if the tide of civilisation brings harm to them. The white man's civilisation and religion is not suited for savage peoples, and they should be left alone to work out their own ends.
It would be a wise provision to prevent them leaving the country for the South African mines, where they can only learn evil, and the only exception to this should be when they are serving as disciplined soldiers under good officers.
More attention should also be paid by the Government to the methods of the missions, which in many cases do them harm instead of good.
They cannot look at matters from our standpoint, and a native told me that in a native church in Fort Jameson the missionary handed round a small basket for the collection, and that he (the native) thought it strange that the white man should take the money of the natives for himself. I, of course, explained that it was for the upkeep of the church and the payment of the native teachers ; but the native would not see this, and went away unconvinced.
As a whole, the natives live far happier lives than do the poorer classes at home. They have only to scratch the soil to reap abundance, and at present their wants are few and easily supplied ; so why try to bring them up to our level, which for them can only result in unhappiness and discontent ?
Since writing the foregoing, I met with a very interesting case of perception on the part of a native, which shows thought and reasoning much above the ordinary. A native said to me in the native language : " God must be very clever, for if I plant three grains of maize, the stalks bear many cobs, which have very many grains ; and if I plant one ground nut, many grow from this. God sends the rain, too, to make things grow, and what would be the end of people without rain, for we would all starve to death ?"
This shows a power of thought and an admiration for natural laws very much above the average intelligence of the natives, who generally take things as they are, and do no inquire into causes.