Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Romance and Reality of life in Northern Rhodesia (Kerswell)

Sialwala - a Mutonga headman
This little book was published in London in the early 20th century by Kate Kerswell and tells the story of Revd J.A. Kerswell and his wife Kate's mission in Nambala from roughly 1908-1912.
It's a brief but pleasant read, as usual describing travel from England to the interior and then time at the mission, with the usual stories of snakes, lions, malaria, mishaps and misunderstandings.
They go via Southampton in 1908 and up by train from Cape Town via Kimberley, Bulawayo, Livingstone, Kafue Bridge and Broken Hill (Kabwe) where they stop at the Grand Hotel, 'a number of round huts' with windows covered by calico.
There they meet the Rev. W. Chapman and Ila porters who will carry their luggage to their mission station at Nambala. At a village near Mumbwa they meet Mr A.C. Anderson, 'the official of the Kafue district'. They also meet the grandson of famous missionary Dr Moffat. (Anderson must have died not long after as he is later referred to as 'the late'.)
We hear a little of a local chief, Katumpa and his encounter with a mirror.
The native teacher is Robert Maolosi (from Aliwal North, South Africa).

After some time Chapman leaves them there. They receive a letter from G.E.Butt saying he will visit soon, but he needs porters to bring his bags from the railway station, 113 miles away. Later they join him in a trip to Nanzela where they meet Rev J.W. and Mrs Price.


'Native method of carrying a letter'
Returning to Nambala they meet Rev. W. Comber Burgess, a Wesleyan minister who (declining to take quinine, trusting to God instead) died of malaria in Lusakas that same rainy season (1909).
We hear also of the medical work the Kerswell's carried on at Nambala. Medicine donated by a Mr Calow 'of Redcar' turns out to be useful. We also hear about cases of 'jiggers' and many other events in the lives of Ila people and the mission.




There is a summary of names in the book at the end of this article. 
Machilas, machelas, maschelas...

A reader asked me if I knew what "maschelas" referred to on a postcard. I thought I'd just post a response here.

I think the most common spelling I've seen is "machila", but clearly there will be regional variations in the spelling, and besides, early writers would have spelt it phonetically, according to how they heard it.

Europeans travelling long distances, mostly women and children, would be carried on a machila by Africans, sometimes as far as from the coast to the interior.

Also people who were ill, injured or lame would often be carried this way. Sometimes Africans were carried this way long distances to the few medical stations there were in these days.

It is basically a conveyance that looks like a hammock, usually with a sun-shade, and carried on poles by teams of carriers, who would take turns relieiving one another if the journey was long.

Occasionally one will hear a story of how someone fell out or how many times they fell out that day, and of how all the carriers laughed. Apparently it would be a bit difficult to get used to, a bit sea-sick making perhaps, but also could be quite soporific if the carried person surrendered to it.


Nambala to the Zambesi, depending on which part of the river, might have been 200 miles or so. This was also the way that Kate travelled to Nambala from Broken Hill.

If you do some googling (add some relevant words, like "transport") you will see that this form of transport was also used in other parts of the world, apparently with the same name - so where did the name come from? I haven't researched it. Perhaps someone will comment.

Some names in this book

Anderson, Mr A.C.
Burgess, Rev. W. Comber
Buzande 69
Calow p84
Chapman, Rev W
Chibomba
Chidabufu's 63
Fell, Revd J.R. and Mrs p58, 70-1, 75, 81, 92
Hogg, Mr (Sijoba) p95
Kafwifwi's 64
Katumpa
Kerswell
Maolosi, Robert
Maulusi's  61
Mbula or Mbulu p50-54
Mono
Mukubelu
Mukunkus 61
Naluba's 67
Senachisigili, chief p89
Shamakundi's 65
Smith, Mr & Mrs 64-7, 84
Spencer, Mr T (of South Shields) p76
Tomo
Walker (early farmer) p67
Zamo 69