1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/British Central Africa

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729221911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 4 — British Central AfricaHarry Johnston

BRITISH CENTRAL AFRICA, the general name given to the British protectorates in South Central Africa north of the Zambezi river, but more particularly to a large territory lying between 8° 25′ S. on Lake Tanganyika and 17° 6′ S. on the river Shiré, near its confluence with the Zambezi, and between 36° 10′ E. (district of Mlanje) and 26° 30′ E. (river Luengwe-Kafukwe). Originally the term “British Central Africa” was applied by Sir H. H. Johnston to all the territories under British influence north of the Zambezi which were formerly intended to be under one administration; but the course of events having prevented the connexion of Barotseland (see Barotse) and the other Rhodesian territories with the more direct British administration north of the Zambezi, the name of British Central Africa was confined officially (in 1893) to the British protectorate on the Shiré and about Lake Nyasa. In 1907 the official title of the protectorate was changed to that of Nyasaland Protectorate, while the titles “North Eastern Rhodesia” and “North Western Rhodesia” (Barotseland) have been given to the two divisions of the British South Africa Company’s territory north of the Zambezi. The western boundary, however, of the territory here described has been taken to be a line drawn from near the source of the Lualaba on the southern boundary of Belgian Congo to the western source of the Luanga river, and thence the course of the Luanga to its junction with the Luengwe-Kafukwe, after which the main course of the Kafukwe delimits the territory down to the Zambezi. Thus, besides the Nyasaland Protectorate and North Eastern Rhodesia, part of North Western Rhodesia is included, and for the whole of this region British Central Africa is the most convenient designation.

Physical Features.—Within these limits we have a territory of about 250,000 sq. m., which includes two-thirds of Lake Nyasa, the south end of Lake Tanganyika, more than half Lake Mweru, and the whole of Lake Bangweulu, nearly the whole courses of the rivers Shiré and Luangwa (or Loangwa), the whole of the river Chambezi (the most remote of the headwaters of the river Congo), the right or east bank of the Luapula (or upper Congo) from its exit from Lake Bangweulu to its issue from the north end of Lake Mweru; also the river Luanga and the whole course of the Kafue or Kafukwe.[1] Other lesser sheets of water included within the limits of this territory are the Great Mweru Swamp, between Tanganyika and Mweru, Moir’s Lake (a small mountain tarn—possibly a crater lake—lying between the Luangwa and the Luapula), Lake Malombe (on the upper Shiré), and the salt lake Chilwa (wrongly styled Shirwa, being the Bantu word Kilwa), which lies on the borders of the Portuguese province of Moçambique. The southern border of this territory is the north bank of the Zambezi from the confluence of the Kafukwe to that of the Luangwa at Zumbo. Eastwards of Zumbo, British Central Africa is separated from the river Zambezi by the Portuguese possessions; nevertheless, considerably more than two-thirds of the country lies within the Zambezi basin, and is included within the subordinate basins of Lake Nyasa and of the rivers Luangwa and Luengwe-Kafukwe. The remaining portions drain into the basins of the river Congo and of Lake Tanganyika, and also into the small lake or half-dried swamp called Chilwa, which at the present time has no outlet, though in past ages it probably emptied itself into the Lujenda river, and thence into the Indian Ocean.

As regards orographical features, much of the country is high plateau, with an average altitude of 3500 ft. above sea-level. Only a very minute portion of its area—the country along the banks of the river Shiré—lies at anything like a low elevation; though the Luangwa valley may not be more than about 900 ft. above sea-level. Lake Nyasa lies at an elevation of 1700 ft. above the sea, is about 350 m. long, with a breadth varying from 15 to 40 m. Lake Tanganyika is about 2600 ft. above sea-level, with a length of about 400 m. and an average breadth of nearly 40 m. Lake Mweru and Lake Bangweulu are respectively 3000 and 3760 ft. above sea-level; Lake Chilwa is 1946 ft. in altitude. The highest mountain found within the limits previously laid down is Mount Mlanje, in the extreme south-eastern corner of the protectorate. This remarkable and picturesque mass is an isolated “chunk” of the Archean plateau, through which at a later date there has been a volcanic outburst of basalt. The summit and sides of this mass exhibit several craters. The highest peak of Mlanje reaches an altitude of 9683 ft. (In German territory, near the north end of Lake Nyasa, and close to the British frontier, is Mount Rungwe, the altitude of which exceeds 10,000 ft.) Other high mountains are Mounts Chongone and Dedza, in Angoniland, which reach an altitude of 7000 ft., and points on the Nyika Plateau and in the Konde Mountains to the north-west of Lake Nyasa, which probably exceed a height of 8000 ft. There are also Mounts Zomba (6900 ft.) and Chiradzulu (5500 ft.) in the Shiré Highlands. The principal plateaus or high ridges are (1) the Shiré Highlands, a clump of mountainous country lying between the river Shiré, the river Ruo, Lake Chilwa and the south end of Lake Nyasa; (2) Angoniland—a stretch of elevated country to the west of Lake Nyasa and the north-west of the river Shiré; (3) the Nyika Plateau, which lies to the north of Angoniland; and (4) the Nyasa-Tanganyika Plateau, between the basin of the river Luangwa, the vicinity of Tanganyika and the vicinity of Lake Mweru (highest point, 7000–8000 ft.). Finally may be mentioned the tract of elevated country between Lake Bangweulu and the river Luapula, and between Lake Bangweulu and the basin of the Luangwa; and also the Lukinga (Mushinga) or Ugwara Mountains of North Western Rhodesia, which attain perhaps to altitudes of 6000 ft.

The whole of this part of Africa is practically without any stretch of desert country, being on the whole favoured with an abundant rainfall. The nearest approach to a desert is the rather dry land to the east and north-east of Lake Mweru. Here, and in parts of the lower Shiré district, the annual rainfall probably does not exceed an average of 35 in. Elsewhere, in the vicinity of the highest mountains, the rainfall may attain an average of 75 in., in parts of Mount Mlanje possibly often reaching to 100 in. in the year. The average may be put at 50 in. per annum, which is also about the average rainfall of the Shiré Highlands, that part of British Central Africa which at present attracts the greatest number of European settlers.

Geology.—The whole formation is Archean and Primary (with a few modern plutonic outbursts), and chiefly consists of granite, felspar, quartz, gneiss, schists, amphibolite and other Archean rocks, with Primary sandstones and limestones in the basin of Lake Nyasa (a great rift depression), the river Shiré, and the regions within the northern watershed of the Zambezi river. Sandstones of Karroo age occur in the basin of the Luangwa (N.E. Rhodesia). There are evidences of recent volcanic activity on the summit of the small Mlanje plateau (S.E. corner of the protectorate: here there are two extinct craters with a basaltic outflow), and at the north end of Lake Nyasa and the eastern edge of the Tanganyika plateau. Here there are many craters and much basalt, or even lava; also hot springs.

Metals and Minerals.—Gold has been found in the Shiré Highlands, in the hills along the Nyasa-Zambezi waterparting, and in the mountainous region west of Lake Nyasa; silver (galena, silver-lead) in the hills of the Nyasa-Zambezi waterparting; lead in the same district; graphite in the western basin of Lake Nyasa; copper (pyrites and pure ore) in the west Nyasa region and in the hills of North Western and North Eastern Rhodesia; iron ore almost universally; mica almost universally; coal occurs in the north and west Nyasa districts (especially in the Karroo sandstones of the Rukuru valley), and perhaps along the Zambezi-Nyasa waterparting; limestone in the Shiré basin; malachite in south-west Angoniland and North Western Rhodesia; and perhaps petroleum in places along the Nyasa-Zambezi waterparting. (See also Rhodesia.)

Flora.—No part of the country comes within the forest region of West Africa. The whole of it may be said to lie within the savannah or park-like division of the continent. As a general rule, the landscape is of a pleasing and attractive character, well covered with vegetation and fairly well watered. Actual forests of lofty trees, forests of a West African type, are few in number, and are chiefly limited to portions of the Nyika, Angoniland and Shiré Highlands plateaus, and to a few nooks in valleys near the south end of Tanganyika. Patches of forest of tropical luxuriance may still be seen on the slopes of Mounts Mlanje and Chiradzulu. On the upper plateaus of Mount Mlanje there are forests of a remarkable conifer (Widdringtonia whytei), a relation of the cypress, which in appearance resembles much more the cedar, and is therefore wrongly styled the “Mlanje cedar.” This tree is remarkable as being the most northern form of a group of yew-like conifers confined otherwise to South Africa (Cape Colony). Immense areas in the lower-lying plains are covered by long, coarse grass, sometimes reaching 10 ft. in height. Most of the West African forest trees are represented in British Central Africa. A full list of the known flora has been compiled by Sir W. Thiselton-Dyer and his assistants at Kew, and is given in the first and second editions of Sir H. H. Johnston’s work on British Central Africa. Amongst the principal vegetable products of the country interesting for commercial purposes may be mentioned tobacco (partly native varieties and partly introduced); coffee (wild coffee is said to grow in some of the mountainous districts, but the actual coffee cultivated by the European settlers has been introduced from abroad); rubber—derived chiefly from the various species of Landolphia, Ficus, Clitandra, Carpodinus and Conopharygia, and from other apocynaceous plants; the Strophanthus pod (furnishing a valuable drug); ground-nuts (Arachis and Voandzeia); the cotton plant; all African cultivated cereals (Sorghum, Pennisetum, maize, rice, wheat—cultivated chiefly by Europeans—and Eleusine); and six species of palms—the oil palm on the north-west (near Lake Nyasa, at the south end of Tanganyika and on the Luapula), the Borassus and Hyphaene, Phoenix (or wild date), Raphia and the coco-nut palm. The last named was introduced by Arabs and Europeans, and is found on Lake Nyasa and on the lower Shiré. Most of the European vegetables have been introduced, and thrive exceedingly well, especially the potato. The mango has also been introduced from India, and has taken to the Shiré Highlands as to a second home. Oranges, lemons and limes have been planted by Europeans and Arabs in a few districts. European fruit trees do not ordinarily flourish, though apples are grown to some extent at Blantyre. The vine hitherto has proved a failure. Pineapples give the best result among cultivated fruit, and strawberries do well in the higher districts. In the mountains the native wild brambles give blackberries of large size and excellent flavour. The vegetable product through which this protectorate first attracted trade was coffee, the export of which, however, has passed through very disheartening fluctuations. In 1905–1906, 773,919 ℔ of coffee (value £16,123) were exported; but during this twelve months the crop of cotton—quite a newly developed product, rose to 776,621 ℔, from 285,185 ℔ in 1904–1905. An equally marked increase in tobacco and ground-nuts (Arachis) has taken place. Beeswax is a rising export.

Fauna.—The fauna is on the whole very rich. It has affinities in a few respects with the West African forest region, but differs slightly from the countries to the north and south by the absence of such animals as prefer drier climates, as for instance the oryx antelopes, gazelles and the ostrich. There is a complete blank in the distribution of this last between the districts to the south of the Zambezi and those of East Africa between Victoria Nyanza and the Indian Ocean. The giraffe is found in the Luanga valley; it is also met with in the extreme north-east of the country. The ordinary African rhinoceros is still occasionally, but very rarely, seen in the Shiré Highlands, The African elephant is fairly common throughout the whole territory. Lions and leopards are very abundant; the zebra is still found in great numbers, and belongs to the Central African variety of Burchell’s zebra, which is completely striped down to the hoofs, and is intermediate in many particulars between the true zebra of the mountains and Burchell’s zebra of the plains. The principal antelopes found are the sable and the roan (Hippotragus), five species of Cobus or waterbuck (the puku, the Senga puku, the lechwe, Crawshay’s waterbuck and the common waterbuck); the pallah, tsessébe (Damaliscus), hartebeest, brindled gnu (perhaps two species), several duykers (including the large Cephalophus sylvicultrix), klipspringer, oribi, steinbok and reedbuck. Among tragelaphs are two or more bushbucks, the inyala, the water tragelaph (Limnotragus selousi), the kudu and Livingstone’s eland. The only buffalo is the common Cape species. The hyaena is the spotted kind. The hunting dog is present. There are some seven species of monkeys, including two baboons and one colobus. The hippopotamus is found in the lakes and rivers, and all these sheets of water are infested with crocodiles, apparently belonging to but one species, the common Nile crocodile.

Inhabitants.—The human race is represented by only one indigenous native type—the Negro. No trace is anywhere found of a Hamitic intermixture (unless perhaps at the north end of Lake Nyasa, where the physique of the native Awankonde recalls that of the Nilotic negro). Arabs from Zanzibar have settled in the country, but not, as far as is known, earlier than the beginning of the 19th century. As the present writer takes the general term “Negro” to include equally the Bantu, Hottentot, Bushman and Congo Pygmy, this designation will cover all the natives of British Central Africa. The Bantu races, however, exhibit in some parts signs of Hottentot or Bushman intermixture, and there are legends in some mountain districts, especially Mount Mlanje, of the former existence of unmixed Bushman tribes, while Bushman stone implements are found at the south end of Tanganyika. At the present day the population is, as a rule, of a black or chocolate-coloured Negro type, and belongs, linguistically, entirely and exclusively to the Bantu family. The languages spoken offer several very interesting forms of Bantu speech, notably in the districts between the north end of Lake Nyasa, the south end of Lake Tanganyika, and the river Luapula. In the more or less plateau country included within these geographical limits, the Bantu dialects are of an archaic type, and to the present writer it has seemed as though one of them, Kibemba or Kiwemba, came near to the original form of the Bantu mother-language, though not nearer than the interesting Subiya of southern Barotseland. Through dialects spoken on the west and north of Tanganyika, these languages of North Eastern Rhodesia and northern Nyasaland and of the Kafukwe basin are connected with the Bantu languages of Uganda. They also offer a slight resemblance to Zulu-Kaffir, and it would seem as though the Zulu-Kaffir race must have come straight down from the countries to the north-east of Tanganyika, across the Zambezi, to their present home. Curiously enough, some hundreds of years after this southward migration, intestine wars and conflicts actually determined a north-eastward return migration of Zulus. From Matabeleland, Zulu tribes crossed the Zambezi at various periods (commencing from about 1820), and gradually extended their ravages and dominion over the plateaus to the west, north and north-east of Lake Nyasa. The Zulu language is still spoken by the dominating caste in West Nyasaland (see further Zululand: Ethnology; Rhodesia: Ethnology; and Yaos). As regards foreign settlers in this part of Africa, the Arabs may be mentioned first, though they are now met with only in very small numbers. The Arabs undoubtedly first heard of this rich country—rich not alone in natural products such as ivory, but also in slaves of good quality—from their settlements near the delta of the river Zambezi, and these settlements may date back to an early period, and might be coeval with the suggested pre-Islamite Arab settlements in the gold-bearing regions of South East Africa. But the Arabs do not seem to have made much progress in their penetration of the country in the days before firearms; and when firearms came into use they were for a long time forestalled by the Portuguese, who ousted them from the Zambezi. But about the beginning of the 19th century the increasing power and commercial enterprise of the Arab sultanate of Zanzibar caused the Arabs of Maskat and Zanzibar to march inland from the east coast. They gradually founded strong slave-trading settlements on the east and west coasts of Lake Nyasa, and thence westwards to Tanganyika and the Luapula. They never came in great numbers, however, and, except here and there on the coast of Lake Nyasa, have left no mixed descendants in the population. The total native population of all British Central Africa is about 2,000,000, that of the Nyasaland Protectorate being officially estimated in 1907 at 927,355. Of Europeans the protectorate possesses about 600 to 700 settlers, including some 100 officials. (For the European population of the other territories, see Rhodesia.) The Europeans of British Central Africa are chiefly natives of the United Kingdom or South Africa, but there are a few Germans, Dutchmen, French, Italians and Portuguese. The protectorate has also attracted a number of Indian traders (over 400), besides whom about 150 British Indian soldiers (Sikhs) are employed as the nucleus of an armed force.[2]

Trade and Communications.—The total value of the trade of the protectorate in the year 1899–1900 was £255,384, showing an increase of 75% on the figures for the previous year, 1898–1899. Imports were valued at £176,035, an increase of 62%, and exports at £79,449, an increase of 109%. In 1905–1906 the imports reached £222,581 and the exports £56,778. The value of imports into the Rhodesian provinces during the same period was about £50,000, excluding railway material, and the exports £18,000. The principal exports are (besides minerals) coffee, cotton, tobacco, rubber and ivory. A number of Englishmen and Scotsmen (perhaps 200) are settled, mainly in the Shiré Highlands, as coffee planters.

From the Chinde mouth of the Zambezi to Port Herald on the lower Shiré communication is maintained by light-draught steamers, though in the dry season (April-November) steamers cannot always ascend as far as Port Herald, and barges have to be used to complete the voyage. A railway runs from Port Herald to Blantyre, the commercial capital of the Shiré Highlands. The “Cape to Cairo” railway, which crossed the Zambezi in 1905 and the Kafukwe in 1906, reached the Broken Hill mine in 1907, and in 1909 was continued to the frontier of Belgian Congo. There are regular services by steamer between the ports on Lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika. The African trans-continental telegraph line (founded by Cecil Rhodes) runs through the protectorate, and a branch line has been established from Lake Nyasa to Fort Jameson, the present headquarters of the Chartered Company in North Eastern Rhodesia.

Towns.—The principal European settlement or town is Blantyre (q.v.), at a height of about 3000 ft. above the sea, in the Shiré Highlands. This place was named after Livingstone’s birthplace, and was founded in 1876 by the Church of Scotland mission. The government capital of the protectorate, however, is Zomba, at the base of the mountain of that name. Other townships or sites of European settlements are Port Herald (on the lower Shiré), Chiromo (at the junction of the Ruo and the Shiré), Fort Anderson (on Mount Mlanje), Fort Johnston (near the outlet of the river Shiré from the south end of Lake Nyasa), Kotakota and Bandawe (on the west coast of Lake Nyasa), Likoma (on an island off the east coast of Lake Nyasa), Karonga (on the north-west coast of Lake Nyasa), Fife (on the Nyasa-Tanganyika plateau), Fort Jameson (capital of N.E. Rhodesia, near the river Luangwa), Abercorn (on the south end of Lake Tanganyika), Kalungwisi (on the east coast of Lake Mweru) and Fort Rosebery (near the Johnston Falls on the Luapula [upper Congo]).

Administration.—The present political divisions of the country are as follows:—The Nyasaland Protectorate, i.e. the districts surrounding Lake Nyasa and the Shiré province, are administered directly under the imperial government by a governor, who acts under the orders of the colonial office. The governor is assisted by an executive council and by a nominated legislative council, which consists of at least three members. The districts to the westward, forming the provinces of North Eastern and North Western Rhodesia, are governed by two administrators of the British South Africa Chartered Company, in consultation with the governor of Nyasaland and the colonial office.

History.—The history of the territory dealt with above is recent and slight. Apart from the vague Portuguese wanderings during the 16th and 17th centuries, the first European explorer of any education who penetrated into this country was the celebrated Portuguese official, Dr F. J. M. de Lacerda e Almeida, who journeyed from Tete on the Zambezi to the vicinity of Lake Mweru. But the real history of the country begins with the advent of David Livingstone, who in 1859 penetrated up the Shiré river and discovered Lake Nyasa. Livingstone’s subsequent journeys, to the south end of Tanganyika, to Lake Mweru and to Lake Bangweulu (where he died in 1873), opened up this important part of South Central Africa and centred in it British interests in a very particular manner. Livingstone’s death was soon followed by the entry of various missionary societies, who commenced the evangelization of the country; and these missionaries, together with a few Scottish settlers, steadily opposed the attempts of the Portuguese to extend their sway in this direction from the adjoining provinces of Moçambique and of the Zambezi. From out of the missionary societies grew a trading company, the African Lakes Trading Corporation. This body came into conflict with a number of Arabs who had established themselves on the north end of Lake Nyasa. About 1885 a struggle began between Arab and Briton for the possession of the country, which was not terminated until the year 1896. The African Lakes Corporation in its unofficial war enlisted volunteers, amongst whom were Captain (afterwards Sir F. D.) Lugard and Mr (afterwards Sir) Alfred Sharpe. Both these gentlemen were wounded, and the operations they undertook were not crowned with complete success. In 1889 Mr (afterwards Sir) H. H. Johnston was sent out to endeavour to effect a possible arrangement of the dispute between the Arabs and the African Lakes Corporation, and also to ensure the protection of friendly native chiefs from Portuguese aggression beyond a certain point. The outcome of these efforts and the treaties made was the creation of the British protectorate and sphere of influence north of the Zambezi (see Africa; § 5). In 1891 Johnston returned to the country as imperial commissioner and consul-general. In the interval between 1889 and 1891 Mr Alfred Sharpe, on behalf of Cecil Rhodes, had brought a large part of the country into treaty with the British South Africa Company, These territories (Northern Rhodesia) were administered for four years by Sir Harry Johnston in connexion with the British Central Africa protectorate. Between 1891 and 1895 a long struggle continued, between the British authorities on the one hand and the Arabs and Mahommedan Yaos on the other, regarding the suppression of the slave trade. By the beginning of 1896 the last Arab stronghold was taken and the Yaos were completely reduced to submission. Then followed, during 1896–1898, wars with the Zulu (Angoni) tribes, who claimed to dominate and harass the native populations to the west of Lake Nyasa. The Angoni having been subdued, and the British South Africa Company having also quelled the turbulent Awemba and Bashukulumbwe, there is a reasonable hope of the country enjoying a settled peace and considerable prosperity. This prospect has been, indeed, already realized to a considerable extent, though the increase of commerce has scarcely been as rapid as was anticipated. In 1897, on the transference of Sir Harry Johnston to Tunis, the commissionership was conferred on Mr Alfred Sharpe, who was created a K.C.M.G. in 1903. In 1904 the administration of the protectorate, originally directed by the foreign office, was transferred to the colonial office. In 1907, on the change in the title of the protectorate, the designation of the chief official was altered from commissioner to governor, and executive and legislative councils were established. The mineral surveys and railway construction commenced under the foreign office were carried on vigorously under the colonial office. The increased revenue, from £51,000 in 1901–1902 to £76,000 in 1905–1906, for the protectorate alone (see also Rhodesia), is an evidence of increasing prosperity. Expenditure in excess of revenue is met by grants in aid from the imperial exchequer, so far as the Nyasaland Protectorate is concerned. The British South Africa Company finances the remainder. The native population is well disposed towards European rule, having, indeed, at all times furnished the principal contingent of the armed force with which the African Lakes Company, British South Africa Company or the British government endeavoured to oppose Arab, Zulu or Awemba aggression. The protectorate government maintains three gunboats on Lake Nyasa, and the British South Africa Company an armed steamer on Lake Tanganyika.

Unfortunately, though so rich and fertile, the land is not as a rule very healthy for Europeans, though there are signs of improvement in this respect. The principal scourges are black-water fever and dysentery, besides ordinary malarial fever, malarial ulcers, pneumonia and bronchitis. The climate is agreeable, and except in the low-lying districts is never unbearably hot; while on the high mountain plateaus frost frequently occurs during the dry season.

See Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambezi, &c., by David and Charles Livingstone (1865); Last Journals of David Livingstone, edited by the Rev. Horace Waller (1874); L. Monteith Fotheringham, Adventures in Nyasaland (1891); Henry Drummond, Tropical Africa (4th ed., 1891); Rev. D. C. Scott, An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of the Mang’anja Language, as spoken in British Central Africa (1891); Sir H. H. Johnston, British Central Africa (2nd ed., 1898); Miss A. Werner, The Natives of British Central Africa (1906); John Buchanan, The Shiré Highlands (1885); Lionel Décle, Three Years in Savage Africa (1898); H. L. Duff, Nyasaland under the Foreign Office (1903); J. E. S. Moore, The Tanganyika Problem (1904); articles on North Eastern and North Western Rhodesia (chiefly by Frank Melland) in the Journal of the African Society (1902–1906); annual Reports on British Central Africa published by the Colonial Office; various linguistic works by Miss A. Werner, the Rev. Govan Robertson, Dr R. Laws, A. C. Madan, Father Torrend and Monsieur E. Jacottet.  (H. H. J.) 

  1. The nomenclature of several of these rivers is perplexing. It should be borne in mind that the Luanga (also known as the Lunga) is a tributary of the Luengwe-Kafukwe, itself often called Kafue, and that the Luangwa (or Loangwa) is an independent affluent of the Zambezi (q.v.).
  2. The organized armed forces and police are under the direction of the imperial government throughout British Central Africa, and number about 880 (150 Sikhs, 730 negroes and 14 British officers).