2.21 Kodok to Rejaf

Hayes steaming up the Nile enchanted by the wildlife visiting the adventurous places he’d read about as a boy.

Here is the map of the current episode, up the Nile through the Sudd

Here is the map of the journey from London so far.  November, December and January.  One more overland push to the mission at Niangara.

January 15,1914- January 24,1914

Shilluk, Sudan Photo from the book Hair in African Art and Culture, Sieber & Herreman, 2000, p. 16

“There are fewer people on the river now.”   But the few Hayes sees interest him greatly:  “Both the Dinkas and the Shillooks are quite naked.  Their only effort in the way of clothing is to mix cow dung with their hair, making a ring six inches wide resembling a hat brim.  From the distance it looks like nothing else than a low crowned hat. The bodies of every person is (sic) smeared with ashes of burned cow dung to keep off the mosquitoes.  It would require a strong-stomached mosquito to drive his beak into this mass.  It is said these people are more virtuous than those who wear clothing.”  A group of men, all over six-feet tall, stood crowded round a white woman “as she exhorted them” at the mission station at Lul with no apparent discomfiture on either side.

Missionaries fairly clog this part of the Nile in 1914:  Austrian fathers at Lul;  Two Australians and a New Zealander, “fitted ill” among the naked blacks; and a Canadian, Tidrick, denied permission by the British to start mission work in Darfour looking to catch on at the Presbyterian mission on the Sobat River.  After counting the missionaries, Hayes turns more enthusiastically to the birds:  “storks, crested cranes, bright colored kingfishers, plovers, Egyptian geese, spur-winged geese, ducks of several species, cormorants, vultures, marabout storks, kites, flycatchers, swallows, other birds I do not recognize.”

At the mouth of the Sobat River, 600 miles south of Khartoum, “A large number of soldiers disembarked there with their white officers enroute to beat back the shiftas, or raiders from Abyssinia who drive down to the Nile itself, taking slaves, cattle, ivory, shooting every elephant whether a tusker or not.  They are going to punish the raiding Nuers as well, for these refuse to permit the British to take cattle as tax for protection.”  In other passages of the diary Hayes speaks in support of a  more humane style of colonialism he observes practiced by the British in comparison with, say, the Belgians or Portuguese.  Still, one might wonder from whom the Nuers pay protection cattle when reading the next sentence: “This country is little tamed since British occupation.”

Shoebill or Whaleheaded stork, listed as “vulnerable” on the current conservation index

On January 19th, without mentioning specific details, Hayes clarifies the direction of his critique:  “War turns men into devils.  All humane instincts are subverted to those of murder and oppression.  So called civilized men turn into worse examples than these whom we term savages.  To show mercy, compassion is a sign of weakness among these men.”

That night the steamer stopped for wood to fuel the boilers at a camp of Dinkas who had recently been fighting the British “and in consequence are surly and reluctant to talk to the white men.”  After counting the soldiers, Hayes returns again more enthusiastically to the wildlife:  “Topi, waterbuck, elephants, hippo, crocodiles, even the rare Mrs. Grey’s waterbuck, tetel and a lot more I don’t know.”  Chasing the soldiers from his mind requires listing not just large animals but also the “strangest of all birds… the whale headed stork, called Abu Markub by the Arabs, which means slipper beak.”

Just after passing the mouth of the Sobat, Hayes writes, “We have entered the sudd.”  This 35,000 square mile swamp (Hayes’ estimate) in which the Nile flattens, choked with papyrus, effectively blocked “discovery of the source of the Nile” from the north for several thousand years.  Its rampant vegetation stopped the boats then its fetid climate killed the explorers trying to hack their way forward.  By 1914, Hayes sailed up a 450 mile (Hayes’ estimate) permanent navigable channel maintained by the British through the sudd.

Romolo Gessi

Upon breaking briefly out of “the never ending green of waving papyrus” on a lagoon at a village Hayes calls Gabeh Shambeh consisting of  “a few low huts with corrugated iron roofs” Hayes identifies the place as “the battle ground between the Arabs under Suleiman and Rabeh (sic) against the redoubtable Gessi Pasha, best soldier of all Gordon’s men.”  He reports that Gessi’s small force killed Suleiman [July 15, 1879] and drove Rabeh west where he “established a great empire about Lake Chad, ruling there until disestablished by the French.”

As the sudd thins, Hayes begins to see “the Bari, a people closely related to the Shillooks and Dinkas.  All are tall, all are naked, many have the reddish tinge of hair obtained by washing their kinky locks in cow urine.  Some of these people are 6 ft. 6 in., slender and small boned like the stork.”  He describes the Bari as “disgustingly dirty” and seems put off that they eat blood from the veins of their cows and “drink the milk and make butter, but all is highly impregnated with cow urine, which seems to give the flavor most desired by these epicures.”

At Bor, “a mission station on Dinka territory,” Hayes enters a wry assessment of the big game hunters aboard the steamer:  “We have seen more elephants, and the sight of these roused the bold thirsty sportsmen to the highest pitch of enthusiasm.  Guns have been so well polished and made ready for the coming debacle.”   The elephants “playful as children… gallop as they tear up trunkfuls of grass and toss these about or over their broad sway backs,” standing in the shade of mimosas, with storks on their backs, unprepared for the arrival of the “sportsmen.”

Crocodiles swarm the upper end of the sudd.  Hayes calls them “the terror of the river.”  The efficient British build fenced corrals at every village “where people may get water in safety and if so desired, bathe.”  Does one read admiration or derision in the following observation about how the natives address the crocodiles?  “The fatalism of these negroes is proverbial.  They are Pagans, not Moslems, too.  Thus they disregard the first rules of safety, saying if God wills they will be caught by a crocodile if that is their final destiny.”

Now entirely out of the sudd, Hayes “arrived at another old town of days long gone, Gondokorko, known to Speke and Baker, pioneers on the upper Nile.”  Speke and Baker had been central figures in the European search for the source of the Nile in the early 1860’s.  Speke’s famous telegram from Khartoum claiming “The Nile is settled”  was disputed by other  players (Richard Burton) because Speke had traveled overland from Lake Victoria to Gondokoro not following the course of the river, thus failing to conclusively establish continuity from the source.

John Hanning Speke

Sir Samuel White Baker

Rejaf is the end of the line for the steamer; “Rapids begin a little way above this town, continuing for more than a hundred miles.”  Hayes will have to walk west and south from here into the Congo.  In case readers had been wondering about his religious partialities:  “It is now fifteen years since the British recovered this country from the Dervishes. The entire sudan had been depopulated by these marauding slavers and in that time the former numerous populations have not recovered their former numbers.  In those days the people lived like wild beasts, hiding where they might to escape the slave raids.  Their women, their cattle were all taken if worth it, the men as burden bearers to carry away their own possessions.  This is within the teachings of Mohammed, yet people who have never come in contact with his disciples say such religion is equally good as that laid down by Jesus Christ.”  A particularly ironic assessment given that he’s headed into the Congo with its history of colonization by the Belgians (see King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild as a start) to the Heart of Africa mission where Hayes will meet a disciple of Christianity that he’ll come to describe as “the most hated man in Africa.”

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