Five Weeks in a Balloon
Kazeh.--The Noisy Market-place.--The Appearance of the Balloon.--The Wangaga.--The Sons of the Moon.--The Doctor’s Walk.--The Population of the Place.--The Royal Tembe.--The Sultan’s Wives.--A Royal Drunken-Bout.--Joe an Object of Worship.--How they Dance in the Moon.--A Reaction.--Two Moons in one Sky.--The Instability of Divine Honors.
Kazeh, an important point in Central Africa, is not a city; in truth, there are no cities in the interior. Kazeh is but a collection of six extensive excavations. There are enclosed a few houses and slave-huts, with little courtyards and small gardens, carefully cultivated with onions, potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and mushrooms, of perfect flavor, growing most luxuriantly.
The Unyamwezy is the country of the Moon--above all the rest, the fertile and magnificent garden-spot of Africa. In its centre is the district of Unyanembe--a delicious region, where some families of Omani, who are of very pure Arabic origin, live in luxurious idleness.
They have, for a long period, held the commerce between the interior of Africa and Arabia: they trade in gums, ivory, fine muslin, and slaves. Their caravans traverse these equatorial regions on all sides; and they even make their way to the coast in search of those articles of luxury and enjoyment which the wealthy merchants covet; while the latter, surrounded by their wives and their attendants, lead in this charming country the least disturbed and most horizontal of lives--always stretched at full length, laughing, smoking, or sleeping.
Around these excavations are numerous native dwellings; wide, open spaces for the markets; fields of cannabis and datura; superb trees and depths of freshest shade--such is Kazeh!
There, too, is held the general rendezvous of the caravans--those of the south, with their slaves and their freightage of ivory; and those of the west, which export cotton, glassware, and trinkets, to the tribes of the great lakes.
So in the market-place there reigns perpetual excitement, a nameless hubbub, made up of the cries of mixed-breed porters and carriers, the beating of drums, and the twanging of horns, the neighing of mules, the braying of donkeys, the singing of women, the squalling of children, and the banging of the huge rattan, wielded by the jemadar or leader of the caravans, who beats time to this pastoral symphony.
There, spread forth, without regard to order--indeed, we may say, in charming disorder--are the showy stuffs, the glass beads, the ivory tusks, the rhinoceros’-teeth, the shark’s-teeth, the honey, the tobacco, and the cotton of these regions, to be purchased at the strangest of bargains by customers in whose eyes each article has a price only in proportion to the desire it excites to possess it.
All at once this agitation, movement and noise stopped as though by magic. The balloon had just come in sight, far aloft in the sky, where it hovered majestically for a few moments, and then descended slowly, without deviating from its perpendicular. Men, women, children, merchants and slaves, Arabs and negroes, as suddenly disappeared within the “tembes” and the huts.
“My dear doctor,” said Kennedy, “if we continue to produce such a sensation as this, we shall find some difficulty in establishing commercial relations with the people hereabouts.”
“There’s one kind of trade that we might carry on, though, easily enough,” said Joe; “and that would be to go down there quietly, and walk off with the best of the goods, without troubling our heads about the merchants; we’d get rich that way!”
“Ah!” said the doctor, “these natives are a little scared at first; but they won’t be long in coming back, either through suspicion or through curiosity.”
“Do you really think so, doctor?”
“Well, we’ll see pretty soon. But it wouldn’t be prudent to go too near to them, for the balloon is not iron-clad, and is, therefore, not proof against either an arrow or a bullet.”
“Then you expect to hold a parley with these blacks?”
“If we can do so safely, why should we not? There must be some Arab merchants here at Kazeh, who are better informed than the rest, and not so barbarous. I remember that Burton and Speke had nothing but praises to utter concerning the hospitality of these people; so we might, at least, make the venture.”
The balloon having, meanwhile, gradually approached the ground, one of the anchors lodged in the top of a tree near the market-place.
By this time the whole population had emerged from their hiding-places stealthily, thrusting their heads out first. Several “waganga,” recognizable by their badges of conical shellwork, came boldly forward. They were the sorcerers of the place. They bore in their girdles small gourds, coated with tallow, and several other articles of witchcraft, all of them, by-the-way, most professionally filthy.
Little by little the crowd gathered beside them, the women and children grouped around them, the drums renewed their deafening uproar, hands were violently clapped together, and then raised toward the sky.
“That’s their style of praying,” said the doctor; “and, if I’m not mistaken, we’re going to be called upon to play a great part.”
“Well, sir, play it!”
“You, too, my good Joe--perhaps you’re to be a god!”
“Well, master, that won’t trouble me much. I like a little flattery!”
At this moment, one of the sorcerers, a “myanga,” made a sign, and all the clamor died away into the profoundest silence. He then addressed a few words to the strangers, but in an unknown tongue.
Dr. Ferguson, not having understood them, shouted some sentences in Arabic, at a venture, and was immediately answered in that language.
The speaker below then delivered himself of a very copious harangue, which was also very flowery and very gravely listened to by his audience. From it the doctor was not slow in learning that the balloon was mistaken for nothing less than the moon in person, and that the amiable goddess in question had condescended to approach the town with her three sons--an honor that would never be forgotten in this land so greatly loved by the god of day.
The doctor responded, with much dignity, that the moon made her provincial tour every thousand years, feeling the necessity of showing herself nearer at hand to her worshippers. He, therefore, begged them not to be disturbed by her presence, but to take advantage of it to make known all their wants and longings.
The sorcerer, in his turn, replied that the sultan, the “mwani,” who had been sick for many years, implored the aid of heaven, and he invited the son of the moon to visit him.
The doctor acquainted his companions with the invitation.
“And you are going to call upon this negro king?” asked Kennedy.
“Undoubtedly so; these people appear well disposed; the air is calm; there is not a breath of wind, and we have nothing to fear for the balloon?”
“But, what will you do?”
“Be quiet on that score, my dear Dick. With a little medicine, I shall work my way through the affair!”
Then, addressing the crowd, he said:
“The moon, taking compassion on the sovereign who is so dear to the children of Unyamwezy, has charged us to restore him to health. Let him prepare to receive us!”
The clamor, the songs and demonstrations of all kinds increased twofold, and the whole immense ants’ nest of black heads was again in motion.
“Now, my friends,” said Dr. Ferguson, “we must look out for every thing beforehand; we may be forced to leave this at any moment, unexpectedly, and be off with extra speed. Dick had better remain, therefore, in the car, and keep the cylinder warm so as to secure a sufficient ascensional force for the balloon. The anchor is solidly fastened, and there is nothing to fear in that respect. I shall descend, and Joe will go with me, only that he must remain at the foot of the ladder.”
“What! are you going alone into that blackamoor’s den?”
“How! doctor, am I not to go with you?”
“No! I shall go alone; these good folks imagine that the goddess of the moon has come to see them, and their superstition protects me; so have no fear, and each one remain at the post that I have assigned to him.”
“Well, since you wish it,” sighed Kennedy.
“Look closely to the dilation of the gas.”
By this time the shouts of the natives had swelled to double volume as they vehemently implored the aid of the heavenly powers.
“There, there,” said Joe, “they’re rather rough in their orders to their good moon and her divine sons.”
The doctor, equipped with his travelling medicine-chest, descended to the ground, preceded by Joe, who kept a straight countenance and looked as grave and knowing as the circumstances of the case required. He then seated himself at the foot of the ladder in the Arab fashion, with his legs crossed under him, and a portion of the crowd collected around him in a circle, at respectful distances.
In the meanwhile the doctor, escorted to the sound of savage instruments, and with wild religious dances, slowly proceeded toward the royal “tembe,” situated a considerable distance outside of the town. It was about three o’clock, and the sun was shining brilliantly. In fact, what less could it do upon so grand an occasion!
The doctor stepped along with great dignity, the waganga surrounding him and keeping off the crowd. He was soon joined by the natural son of the sultan, a handsomely-built young fellow, who, according to the custom of the country, was the sole heir of the paternal goods, to the exclusion of the old man’s legitimate children. He prostrated himself before the son of the moon, but the latter graciously raised him to his feet.
Three-quarters of an hour later, through shady paths, surrounded by all the luxuriance of tropical vegetation, this enthusiastic procession arrived at the sultan’s palace, a sort of square edifice called ititenya, and situated on the slope of a hill.