Northern Rhodesia

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Northern Rhodesia (from the book: Bulawayo Up-to-date; Being a General Sketch of Rhodesia. by Walter H. Wills, junr J Hall, Joyce Garraway. Published by Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1899. pp. 177-180)
by Frederick Russell Burnham
An article, contributed by Mr. F. R. Burnham, dealing with that part of Northern Rhodesia directly north of the Victoria Falls, now known as Zambia.


The general features and characteristics of the country lying between the Limpopo and the Zambezi rivers are now generally known. But even Rhodesians are scarcely aware that there is a still larger country to the north of Victoria Falls, extending to the water-shed of the Congo, that embraces a great plateau, which will as inevitably fall under the control and settlement of the white man as have the Bulawayo and Salisbury highlands. Neither will the settlers be disappointed in the fertility or climate of this northern territory. It is in many respects a duplicate of the country to the south. The Zambezi river and its valley of fever is to the north the same kind of barrier that the crocodile used to be to the lands of King Loben. Tales of hard luck, fever, fly, and thirst fill the pages of nearly every book telling of the northern trek. The newcomer rolling into Bulawayo in a palace car registers a kick with the officials because the eggs at Station were boiled too long ; he cannot realize that a few years ago it might easily have cost him his life to reach even Loben's capital.

The route to the Victoria Falls, to avoid the fly, crosses a very dry country; it is, in fact, a continuation of the Kalahari desert, water, with few exceptions, being found only in pans during the rainy season.

Immediately north of the Falls the appearance of the whole country changes ; a gradual ascent over rolling hills shows an altitude of 3,500 feet above sea level in twenty miles.

The head waters of the Ungwezi river have an altitude of 4,000 feet; from this point, for a distance of three hundred miles in a northerly direction, the country is well watered and well timbered. It is rolling with occasional ridges and peaks, that reach an altitude of 5,000 feet and over.

Many of the varieties of timber common to Southern Rhodesia are found here, and include such varieties as the Umguza wood, teak, mapani, Ma-ho-bo-ho-bo, acacia, and mimosa.

The soil is fertile on some of the branches of the Kafukwe river; the corn reaches such a height that the ears are above a man on horseback. A staadt of twenty huts will obtain their whole subsistance from a small plot that does not exceed ten acres. The natives in this part of the country are Matokas. They have much the same appearance as the Mashonas, and cultivate nearly the same products, but have been terribly raided in the past both by Matabele and Barotse. The streams of this part of the country show fine gold by panning, and the formation is mica, schist, and slate alternating with granite ; there is a great quantity of quartz float, but it has never yet been prospected. The Matokas have some cattle in those parts of the country which are free from fly.

Continuing north until crossing the streams flowing into the Kafukwe the country becomes more rugged, though still easy of access. The Mashukalumba occupy this country in part, and there is a sprinkling of a class of nomadic bushmen called the Monquoas. They live mostly on honey, roots, fruit, and game, using poisoned arrows both for game-hunting and warfare. This part of the country is one of the finest game countries in Africa. It still furnishes ivory to the Barotze king, and nearly all the other large game of Africa, except ostrich and giraffe, are found here in large numbers. Hippos and huge crocodiles ascend even the small streams. Black rhinos are found in the thorn belts on the head waters of the Majili, Crocodile, and Incalla rivers.

Buckingham's mission station is about 200 miles north of the Falls on the Incalla river, and twelve miles from the Kafukwe; it is oiithe western edge of the country of Mashukalumba and eastern edge of Barotseland. This station, through the kindness of the missionary, has been used by several exploring parties for storing their supplies, the goods being sometimes carried to this point by head loads, and sometimes by donkeys and oxen. The late Mr. Buckingham treked in with oxen from the Barotze capital. North of this station and still on the high plateau is probably one of the greatest copper fields on the continent. The natives have worked this ore for ages, as can be seen by their old dumps, and they work it to-day. The field is very extensive, and reaches away to Katanga.

It was to establish its value and locality that Stair's last and fatal expedition was made from the Congo side of the plateau. He found the field, but died on the river going home. The natives inhabiting this part of the country are skilled workmen, and have traded their handiwork with all comers, even as far afield as the Portugese of the West Coast and the Arabs of the East. These natives, being miners and workers of copper and iron, and being permanently located in the ground, would give the very element needed in developing these fields. The country being high is healthy for the white man, and the increasing use of copper bids fair to make it one of the most valuable products a country can have.

The copper mines of Montana and Arizona have proven of more value than the gold mines, regardless of the fact that the copper had to be hauled two thousand miles by rail to the seaboard, and the coal and coke to smelt it hauled hundreds of miles to the mines. So far as natural difficulties are concerned, this northern field can be fed from the coal deposits of the valley of the Zambezi, and the product shipped to the East Coast at a less expense than the product of Montana and Arizona can be laid on the dock at New York.

As to gold and diamonds, all distant and little-known countries teem with tales of gold, and it is useless to repeat them. Rhodesia itself is a good illustration of these tales, honeycombed as it is from Manica laud to Khama's country by ancient workings. It was years before any quartz actually carrying gold was placed in the hands of parties who had the enterprise or opportunity to take advantage of it. Gold, both from quartz and placer, has positively come out of this northern country, and its sources will be traced. And as the country comes under the active sway of the white man, and the raidings of one tribe by another are rigorously put down, it will be found to produce a still greater variety of products. Its cotton may be as famed as that of Egypt, its coffee of like quality to that of Blantyre, and its fibres and rubber equal to any grown. There is here a great field for the patient and energetic colonist for years to come—to control and direct the different tribes of natives, and to organize and develop its permanent industries. It may yet be that the thin bands of steel creeping ever northward will do for the Empire what " that thin red line" has done so often in every corner of the earth.

F. R. Burnham.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.