A research trip to Shellem
The following letter was originally written in Danish to the Danish Sudan Mission. It was published in the magazine "Sudan", #11, Nov. 1917, p147ff. Translation by Margaret Nissen for the book "An African Church is Born", printed in Nigeria by Bethel and Partners 1963, pp83.
Read the letter in Danish.
Numan, July 25, 1917.
My wife and I have made a trip to Shellem. We need a little vacation after finishing the building work, which it has been my responsibility to organize. On June 5, we packed everything needed for the trip, and that means everything, because there are no furnished rest houses here. You must bring beds, tables, chairs, utensils, food, etc. etc. It was therefore no wonder that we needed eight carriers for our loads, even though we took as little as possible, and each burden was fairly heavy.
The carriers arrived at 6 o’clock next morning, and, when we had parted with our fellow missionaries, we were ferried arross to Imburu. From here we set out for Shellem, my wife in the hammonk, I on horse back. Travel in Africa is done in single file along the narrow paths winding across fields and through woods, following the course of least resistance. This habit of walking behind one another is rather annoying to us Europeans; we like to carry on a conversation while we travel.
When a caravan like ours proceeds in good order, it looks like this: The cook heads the column. He does not have to carry anything, but he must be the first person to arrive in camp, as he has to procure firewood and water to get the meal under way. After him walks the carrier who has the camp chairs, so that they can be ready when we arrive. (This order has been worked out to a nicety by Government Officials who spend most of their time on trek in the bush.) The other carriers follow in the order they please. We follow the men, and are in turn followed by our boys. Each man carries one to four spears, a knife or a sword, and often a bow and arrows. They walk practically naked as it is very hot. The Bachama have their hair braided and put up in a cock’s comb. On a trip like this most of them carry a skin bag, usually the whole skin of a calf, or some other small animal. It has simply been pulled off over the ears of the dead animal. In this they carry their food, etc. My boy, walking last, carries my gun over his shoulder, so the whole caravan looks like a war party on its way to raid a village.Just as all roads in Europe, in olden days, led to Rome, so here, almost all roads lead to Kano. We traveled along the west bank of the Gongola River, and passed Billaci and Barre, both Mbula villages. Billaci is on the east bank and Barre on the west. We stopped at the latter, as the carriers, especially, needed a rest. The Chief and his council, as well as a great number of our former patients, welcomed us. They seated themselves on the ground around us while we sat on our boxes, (It is considered a must, on their part, as far as good manners are concerned, to sit with averted eyes, and to make sure that at no time do they stare their visitors in the face.) By one o’clock we reached Kiri, where Shellem District starts. Here we stopped for the night, because, when the men have walked eight hours with their burdens, they indeed have done a day's work. Several of the village elders came to greet us, but most of the talk consisted of our trying to make conversation, while they answered "Zaki" (Lion), the term of respect used to any person in authority, and to all Europeans.
Next Morning we were up by three o’clock and away by five. It is by far most pleasant to trave! during the cool hours of the morning. My wife chose to walk for about an hour or two. We passed Talum, a Kanakuru viliage, and later Gugu, a Longuda village. The men claim that the people living in the mountains some miles west of here are still cannibals. After Gugu we arrived at Banjeram, also Longuda, where we were met by the son of the Shellem Chief. He had come to welcome us to his father’s territory. When we stopped to rest for a while, the Chief of Banjeram sent us a chicken as a present. By noon we arrived in Lakumna, a little Kanakuru village on the west bank of the River Gongola, just across from Shellem. Here we had to wait for a canoe, as the water in the rainy season is too deep to wade across. One backwater, however, we had to ford, and my wife was carried over on the shoulders of the tallest carrier we had with us.
Hot and tired from the exposure to the noonday sun, we reached Shellem at two o'clock. We were received by two men in red gowns representing the Chief, as he himseif was away collecting taxes. Having been shown to our quarters, two small huts connected by a veranda, we arranged our things, in order to be as comfortable as possible during the weeks we were to stay here. The roof and walls were riddled by termites, who eat everything except rocks and metal. We had to hang everything up so that it did not touch the walls, and even then the little pests dropped down from the roof and started to devour our things. During our meals all food had to be kept covered, as we did not fancy eating termites with our victuals. A rumour, that Likita (the docror) would come to Shellem and stay for some time, had brought a number of patients, and they kept coming as long as we were there. Most of them were Kanakuru and Longuda, but there were also Waja and Lalla people. At least 120 different patients were treated during the four weeks we were there, and among them the Chief himseif and three of his reported forty wives.
On the way to Shellem. A Longuda village. To the left you find the corn containers.
Printed from "Sudan", #11, Nov. 1917.
Since, for some time, the Chief, Mujibouna, came every day for treatment, we had many talks with him; he speaks Hausa. On most occasions he is dressed very simply in a long shirt-like garment, but when he is out collecting taxes, he is decked out in all his finery, and rides at the head of a band of forty horsemen. There are a bt of horses in Shellem. We visited the Chief one day in his "Castle", ordinary clay buildings. He gets a good salary from the Government, but apparently spends most of it on wives and horses. He is an elderly man, and impressed me as a man of some comnon sense and wisdom, even though he has no education by our standards. He is too old to learn to read and write, but he can be of immense help to the Mission if he is favourably inclined to the work. He could also make it difficult for uss. People, no doubt, will take their cue from him, as he seems to have acquired quite a bit of influence.
While we were in Shellem, I made an effort to visit the three tribes over which this chief rules, Kanakuru, Longuda, and Lalla. Because some of these journeys were so strenuous that my wife preferred to stay at sin horne, Pitto, our boy, and I went on horseback. In Deben, a Lalla village, I found a whole colony of Bachama people, about eighty all told; when they heard I lived i Numan, they insisted on dancing for me. The Lalla, a tribe of about three thousand people, live in small villages hidden away in the mountains. They keep to themselves, and do not trade with surrounding tribes; they still make very strange with the white man, of course.
The Longuda, most of whom live west of the main road going north from Numan to Gombe, have been in touch with surrounding people for some time, yet quite a number of their villages are still situated on the slopes of the mountains. We visited one called Gweo. A very steep climb it was, and very rocky.
Most of the Kanakuru villages were visited. In very few of them have they ever seen a white man. If I met a woman on the road, she would walk way over in the field to avoid me. I learned their greeting, “Kanaku, Kanaku dinga, Kanakuru”, and when I called this greeting, they seemed less afraid, and some even answered me. They often work together, twenty to thirty men on one field, each with his short-handled hoe. When I passed, they left their work to see and greet me, kneeling down and some times even prostrating themselves on the ground, calling “Lion”, as if I were a chief or a Government official. The custom of all working together on one another’s fields appeals to me. One day, as we were riding along, we came upon three young men, each with a spear and a sting, chasing birds who were picking up the newly sown corn. When they saw me, they became so frightened that they cowered on the ground, covering their faces with one hand, and strewing dirt on their heads with the other, while they kept repeating, “Zaki, Zaki”. I was unarmed; If anybody was dangerous it certainly was not I. They had their long spears, and I could hardly keep from smiling at those three big boys. But, at the same time, the sight filled me with sadness. It will take some time before this spirit of fear can be conquered. We hope that Christ will create manly and noble leaders from these Africans. At present, the most common interest among the men seems to be a full stomach and a new wife. They say a woman has to have a beating once in a while, otherwise a man can not handle her.
One of our trips took us north along the eastern bank of the Gongola. We passed Beti-Bere and Labau which are a three hour ride from Shellem. Here the Gongola turns in a northeasterly direction, and is joined by one of its tributaries, the Hawal River, on whose northern bank there are a number of Kanakuru villages. I hired a giant of a Kanakuru to find a place where we could cross on horseback. We got wet, but the sun soon dried us out again. Along the Hawal we visited Jeki, Kubo, Dandang, Bakaina and Shani. We stopped at Shani, a large village, knowing that since we were expected back at Shellem before night, we would have to turn back soon. All these villages are situated on fairly high ground, and between them and the river is a stretch of land with many palm trees. It is beautiful country. The Chief of Shani and his people received us courteousiy, and grass and corn were brought for our horses. I let the Chief and his men look through my telescope. This amused them greatly. After having rested for about two hours, we started back. The Chief and several of his men saddled their horses, and accompained us for an hour on our homeward journey.
The sun set before we reached Shellem, and here in the tropics it is dark almost as soon as the sun goes down, especially in the woods. About seven o’clock we realized we were lost, only seven or eight miles from home. Try as we might, we could not find the road again. We wandered around in the bush for four hours. As we and our horses were tired, I was contemplating the possibility of spending the night in the bush, but Pito did not like this at aIl. I therefore shouted, “If anyone hears us, beat a drum so we can follow the sound.” After some time Pito took courage, he climbed a tree and shouted with all his might, but to no avail. Then we came upon some hillocks. I climbed one and shouted again and again, but no one heard me. However, I heard in the distance a Moslem call to prayer. We rode in that direction, and soon came upon a cattie trail which led us to a little village in the bush. flere we hired a young Fulani to guide us to Shellem where we arrived at midnight. We were tired of the ride in the sun and the aimless wanderings in the bush, but we were glad to be horne, and my wife and our helpers were glad to see us.
Another trip took us north, along the west bank of the river. Again we started very early, and I had to promise my wife to be home before dark. We passed the villages of Lakumna, Parokayo, Madda, Bodeino, Kaule, Bobini, and Kombo, whlere we stopped, although we were told that there were still more villages farther north. In all these villages, sorne Kankuru, some Longuda, the chiefs welcomed us in the friendliest fashion. Kombo lies on a rise of ground surrounded by hills. We stayed for about an hour before starting back. Everything went fine till we came close to Lakumna again. Here we were overtaken by a violent electric storm. The horses became frightened. Pito’s horse bolted, and threw him off into a thorny shrub. The rain poured down, and we became drenched, but, as the crops needed the rain, we did not mind much. My greatest concern was our last good watch of the four we had brought out from America. It was in my pocket, in a match box, because it had lost its crystal; if it got wet it would stop. I saved it by keeping my hand around it in my pocket.
It was dark when we came to the river, so I could not entirely make good my promise to my wife. We had arranged that our horseboy should meet us on the west bank of the river with my gun, so that I could shoot a few shots to frighten the crocodiles, before letting the horses cross the river. The boy, however, had dallied on the way, and wasn’t there. No doubt, he had waited too long on the east side, and was afraid to cross in the clark. He met us in the middle of the river. I did not scold him, but Pito did so, soundly.
We had really come to Shellem for a rest, but we could not send away the sick who came to us for help; neither could we dismiss quickly the people who came to greet us and show us their friendliness. As a resu!t we did flot get much rest. Something that bothered us while we were there was the squeaking of hundreds of bats in the tall trees near our huts which kept us awake at night. When we found out that the children like to eat bats, I fired my gun several times into the branches, and scores fell to the ground. The children lit fires, roasted and ate them. When I was not on tour, we often took a walk in the evening. One day my wife decided to try riding my horse, and she !iked it so well that, from then on, I had to walk either ahead or behind her, and run the risk of being taken for her horseboy. She was a good scout. She tried several new modes of travel on this trip: the hammock, the shoulders of a Negro, horseback, and last of all the canoe. On July 3, we started back to Numan by river, she had to sit still in the same spot for hours, and had to bail water to keep her feet dry.
Whether Shellem will become our second Mission Station, we don’t know; the Lord will have to guide. The people and Chief Mujibauno certainly received us well. When we left Shellem, he was there to wish us a safe journey, and said that he hoped to see us again. After a thirteen hour trip by canoe, we arrived safely in Numan at seven o’clock. We were soon seated around the supper table, the guests of Miss Tillisch, Miss Erichsen, and Miss Kristiansen, together with Miss Rose and Mr. Jensen. Food tasted much better around the festive table, together with our friends, than it had done while we were on trek.
Greetings in Jesus’ Name,
Eline and Mogens Ubrenholt.