Sunday, 11 September 2016

Chuma and Susi in Northamptonshire

Most people will have heard of David Livingstone's companions James Chuma and Abdullah Susi, who in 1873 along with Matthew Wellington found Livingstone dead and helped to carry his preserved body from Chitambo's village in North Western Zambia, wrapped in bark, 1500 kilometres to Bagamoyo in Tanzania. Chuma and Susi are rightly remembered for this loyalty and effort, but little is known or said of their time before or after Livingstone. I was surprised to discover then that both of them had traveled to England. Apparently neither was with Livingstone when he was buried at Westminster Abbey, although Jacob Wainwright, who carved the famous memorial in a tree at Chitambo's was.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - the original memorial
Wainwright, who had been part of Stanley's famous expedition to find Livingstone, was one of the pall bearers at the funeral, along with the Revd Horace Waller, who edited Livingstone's last diaries.

Chuma and Susi must have traveled around England quite a lot, having apparently spent time in Leytonstone (north London) and also in Twywell, Northamptonshire, where they are remembered in the local church of St Nicholas. They helped Waller to decipher Livingstone's notes and fill in gaps in his story. I am not sure where they spent the greater amount of their time, but they were in Leytonstone long enough to build a replica of the hut in which Livingstone died, which must have been viewed by many visitors. Since I live nearby, I like to think that Chuma and Susi must have visited Northampton, and to imagine them walking about. Anita McCullough [2] reports that Susi and Chuma probably returned to Africa before the year was out and it is reported elsewhere that they were not treated very well, and although feted were housed and fed with servants [3]. Both received bronze medals from the Royal Geographical Society.

Stranger still, in Twywell rumour has it that one of the two remained in England and married a French girl, with whom he had two sons, one of whom married a Twywell girl [4]. This seemed very unlikely to me in light of other evidence that both Chuma and Susi returned to Africa and died quite young. Chuma and Susi both returned to work with the UMCA [5, 6, 7]. Chuma died in Zanzibar aged about 32 in 1882, and Susi also in Zanzibar in 1891 [7]. So where did this story come from? It seems that one day a 'dark stranger' was seen crossing a field, who later claimed to be a son of either Chuma or Susi and eloped with a local girl, named Polly Abbot [8]. According to Jeffrey Green the man was actually George Henry Watteau, son of a well-known gardener in Chislehurst, Kent, also called George. The elder George claimed to have been part of Livingstone's party and to have helped bring his body from Africa, but this does not seem possible. According to another source [9] his name may have been derived from his habitual greeting of 'What ho!', but his original name may have been Makepo (Makipo?) and it is possible he was born in South Africa.

It seems clear that George Watteau senior cultivated the idea that he had worked with David Livingstone, which must have given him a celebrity status and possibly an income (his portrait appears to have been taken on many occasions). Did George say that he worked at Livingstone House in Kent, and go along with the idea that it was David Livingstone's house? Did the villagers of Twywell transfer George's parentage to Chuma and Susi, or was that George junior's ruse?

St Nicholas Church is worth a visit if you are interested in David Livingstone and this history. They have a few interesting artefacts as well as two beautifully carved pews depicting the work of the UMCA and African animals. On examining the photos carefully I see that one is actually of George Watteau. At first I thought this was a Rhodesian newspaper, but now I'm wondering if it is a UK paper with the headline 'Livingstone Echo'. There is again the claim that Watteau was involved with Livingstone's expeditions and was a servant to Livingstone - but I've not seen any evidence of this elsewhere. I suspect that the newspaper fell for this story, as apparently did many other people.

Artefacts at Twywell, including pincers for removing slave shackles, and bark in which Livingstone's body was wrapped.

Mr Watteau, I presume?
St Nicholas Church, Twywell, Northamptonshire

A watercolour of the spot where Bishop Mackenzie was buried, present day Malawi
Slaves - on the right of the panel
Chuma and Susi working for the UMCA. The UMCA leads the slaves out from slavery, to the cross on the left of the panel
O all ye beasts and cattle bless ye the Lord. Praise him and magnify him for ever. O ye children of men, bless ye the Lord. Praise him and magnify him for ever. (Inscription on the carved panels in the choir pews.)

The Old Rectory, Twywell in 2015 - Livingstone's last journals were at least in part edited here
A letter to Horace Waller from General Gordon


[1] Bombay Africans, Royal Geographical Society

[2] "Rev Horace Waller: Dr David Livingstone's friend in Leytonstone", Anita McCullough, Leyton History Society

[3] Heroes of Livingstone's last trek revealed, The Scotsman, 20 May 2007

[4] Tales of Old Northamptonshire, Marian Pipe, Countryside books, 1990; also personal communication with the church-warden at St Nicholas, Twywell in 2015.

[5] Chuma+Susi fact file, Royal Geographical Society resources

[6] James Chuma, Royal Geographical Society

[7] Abdullah Susi, Royal Geographical Society

[8] George Watteau, the African gardener of Chislehurst, Jeffrey Green,

[9] David Stuart-Mogg, Letters to the Daily Telegraph, 2nd December 2006

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Kariba, 1959

Here is a story from a magazine article written in 1959 for the "Wide World" magazine [1] - "The true adventure magazine for men". It's one of those slightly unbelievable stories you hear, such as might have turned up in 'Jock of the Bushveld'.

The author, Jack Dee (no, not that one) looks quite the part in his beret. He says

"The white man builds a dam, and the Ba-Tonga must move to another home... How will this simple and happy people fare, now that they are come more and more into contact with the outside world?"

 I won't  tell the story of the building of Kariba Dam, which is told many places already.You can see some film clips made at the time online at the excellent Pathé News website. There are some good books on the subject, such as Operation Noah, by Charles Lagus [2].

By 1959, many of the people have been moved off their land already.

"Many of them believe that they will later return to their lands of the Valley and the white man's magic will fail"   I've seen the same thing said elsewhere, relating to how the river god, Nyami Nyami, would never let the river be dammed.

At this stage the operation is proceeding apace, trees are being felled by chains tied between massive iron balls, dragged behind heavy vehicles. Animals are fleeing the waters and being trapped (hence 'operation Noah').

"They grew maize and millet, pumpkins and melons. For their meat they went digging for the fat and juicy rats in their burrows along the high banks.... That was the time when hippo were wont to come out and create havoc among the mealie patches.

A story of these people concerns a woman who was taken by a crocodile and left in its larder, just under the bank... she was half drowned, as well as suffering in dreadful pain from her injuries, when the creature left her there for dead. For crocodiles like their meat to be well on the way to decomposition and the larder is a repository for the purpose. 

However, as she was lying in that vile den, the woman thought she could see light through the top earth. Dementedly scrabbling at it with her hands, she managed to break through.... From there she struggled back to the village, to collapse outside one of the huts.

By this time, the drums were already sounding the dance for the dead, for her people were sure that the Great Spirit of the river had claimed her for his own.

Mournfully the women danced, throwing the white ash of the fire over themselves. The drums throbbed, the men sang, and the chief watched, together with the old witchdoctor. 

Suddenly, someone came screaming into their midst. As they all ran forward they saw the 'dead' woman rise, and stagger towards her husband. 'It is not she,' they cried.

The witchdoctor demanded that the men take her and throw her back into the river, claiming that it was no longer the same woman, only a body possessed by evil. This must have been so for never had a human come back from the world of the Great Spirit.

And so the poor soul was thrown back into the water".

Apparently this story was recorded by the Northern Rhodesia Police.

A rescued sixteen foot python [2]
When the Tonga left their ancestor's graves behind they touched them with brushwood, and then dragged the staves, without losing contact with the ground, until they reached their new homes. Those old graves are now under water, along with many others of early missionaries, police and hunters.

"May the metamorphosis they must now undergo be not hurtful to them, and may they find, in the new way of life, compensation for the loss of one in which there was much beauty."

Of course, it was not an easy thing for the Tonga to move their homes in this way. The BBC does well to remember this in their Witness programme [3] which points out that even now electricity has not come to many people in the area, and that the hurt of the displacement is not yet forgotten.  Mwiindachi Siamwiza speaks eloquently about the scar that the displacement of his village left.

Those massive balls can still be seen at the museum in Choma, which is worth a stop on your way to Livingstone if you're travelling from Lusaka. In any case it is a place to break your journey, stretch and have a picnic. They also have a great old engine...


[1] The Wide World Magazine, January 1959, "Notice to quit for the people of the river", (b/w photos, quotes)
[2] Operation Noah, Charles Lagus, William Kimber, London, 3rd Edition, 1960 (python picture)
[3] BBC Witness, The Building of Kariba Dam, Fri May 15 2015