Having compared British East Africa with this country, I will now go on to give an account of making a camp in the wilderness. In North-Eastern Rhodesia and Nyasaland I have made several big camps, as it is most uncomfortable being in a tent always. A tent is either too hot or too cold, and it is always a cramped abode for anyone liking a fair amount of space. Besides, a man cannot keep healthy in a tent during the rainy season, as the ground is usually damp and sodden. So, without a preliminary description of how I got there, except to say that it was on my legs and not by machilla, I will bring my reader to a spot in the African bush situated near the source of the Bua River in Nyasaland.
On the journey from Blantyre I had shot a considerable amount of game for my "boys" (all native servants are called "boys" here), and once I had heard a lion grunting early in the morning near the Rivi-Rivi stream.
I left the path to look for this lion, but he did not " speak" again, and as the ground was hard and stony I could not find his tracks, so I failed to get a shot. On getting to Memeza's village (this chief is a son of Mpseni, the late paramount chief of the Angoni race living in this district), I rented a fair-sized native hut, as I knew it would take about two months to build my camp, and my single fly " Whymper" tent was rather old and weather-worn, and I wished to keep it for further shooting trips. Besides, as I have mentioned, life in a tent is uncomfortable over a long time.
A thatched hut, if clean and free from fleas and other human tormentors, is a much better habitation in every way, but I knew from much past experience that the rats and village dogs and pigs would prove a nuisance.
Of all tropical pests I would give the ubiquitous rat first place, as these dirty vermin are fearful destroyers of all property. I have had the following and other articles gnawed and destroyed by them, so it will be seen that a rat's "menu" is probably one of the most varied of any living creature.
To enumerate some of these articles, I can mention rifle stocks, the rubber heelplates often fitted to heavy weapons, leather and web slings of rifles and bags, putties, clothes, sponges, corks of waterbottles, lead articles, books (for the gum or glue in the binding), vulcanite pipe stems and other articles made of that substance, indiarubber articles, leather body belts, hats (it is most cheering to find a hole the size of a crown piece in a new double "Terai" which cost a guinea), skins, horns, all food stuffs, etc. I could easily give a page full of other articles if I cared to, and it is enough to state that rats, and next to them white ants, cause a great amount of loss to the settler here. Traps are of little use, as they get too wary after a time, and there is generally plenty of food kept in the native bins, and offal in quantity for them to feed on. Cats reduce their numbers and make them clear out, although they often get very cute and keep aloft in the thatch where the felines cannot reach them. Other pests, such as mosquitos, fleas, hornets, tarantula spiders, scorpions, centipedes, snakes, biting ants, and other tormentors, do not compare with rats and white ants.
With the latter one can take care not to build over a nest, although some parts of this country are so bad that it is difficult to keep clear of them. I have noticed that white ants and fleas are most troublesome in the dry season, whereas snakes, scorpions, centipedes, and some other insects are worse in the rains. Even after taking great care to build my huts in a place apparently clear of white ants, they eventually found their way in, and came up through the mud on the floor, eating skins and boxes, and on the walls they got up the poles and would come out and eat things hung on pegs or nails.
It is a good plan to put one's cherished possessions in watertight tin boxes which are impervious to rats or ants, and every night before I turn in I have a look round and lock things up. Unfortunately, one is inclined to leave this until an article has already suffered a certain amount of damage, and most of my belongings bear the marks of rats' teeth, or pieces eaten out of slings and bags by white ants. It is worth mentioning that neither rats nor white ants care to eat green Willesden canvas, such as tents and guncases are made of, and this is a much better material than leather or brown canvas for the tropics. When bees make up their mind to hive they can prove a great nuisance, and I once lost over ten fowls which were stung to death by a swarm. Eventually, they settled in a brick chimney (I was then living in a brick house in Zomba), and in the evening I smoked them out and they dropped into my bedroom by the hundred, which I discovered later when I went to bed, for many were only dazed and stupefied with the smoke, and they soon woke up and began to crawl about.
Black ants are bad biters, and I was seldom more amused than when an officer of the King's African Rifles in Zomba, who apparently had never had any previous knowledge of their ways, stood over a line of the " warriors " until many of them had .climbed up the legs of his pants. Then he jumped and rushed into his house and undressed quicker than I ever saw a man do before. His " boys" and I then helped to unload him, which was a difficult business, as he was unable to stand still for long. These ants have very strong mandibles, and if a man were too sick to move, or tied up, a swarm would soon kill him. I have had several ducks and fowls killed by them, and once they nearly killed a calf which they had attacked.
Lately, a swarm of fleas appeared at my camp and settled on the ducks and fowls, and the birds' necks and heads got covered with them. They were so numerous that they resembled fine bead work. In three months I had lost nine ducks and about a dozen fowls, when I tried to kill the fleas by rubbing on various strong solutions of corrosive sublimate, permanganate of potash, or boracic acid; and on one duck I tried a rubbing of paraffin oil, which quickly killed the fleas; but it killed the duck also, for it gave a few shivers and expired. I fancy that when the fleas felt the oil, in their dying struggles they all began to bite hard, which proved too much for the duck.