Jameson, James Sligo - The Wacusu Cannibals

May 11th 1888, Riba-Riba

Took a long wald round the outskirts of the town, and found some parts very pretty, standing in small clearings in the forest on little hills, with streams running between them. Opposite many of the houses I noticed small huts, not over two or three feet in height, made of grass mats, which, I was told, were graves, and in one I found a circular mound with a hole in the centre, resembling the one in the chief's grave at Yaweeko. Salem told me that they had heard from the Falls that Major Barttelot had sent Ward down to Banana, and that he was asking for a steamer. As Tippu-Tib was very busy, I went over to the old chief's house to have a talk with him, when presently a band, consisting of four drummers, arrived with three pedestal-shaped side-drums, and one wedge-shaped chondo. The players, whose heads were covered with thick white clay, and ornamented with a coronet of white feathers, knelt in front of the house, one a little in front of the others. The upper part of their bodies was streaked with the same white clay, and their dress consisted of strips of fresh palm-leaves hanging from a green branch fastened round their waists. Presently there danced into the reception house two men and a woman; the first man was dressed like the drummers, but the other man and the woman were clad in the ordinary Tamba-Tamba cloths. The first man held a large bunch of small branches and leaves in each hand, which he struck together over the head of each of us, dancing all the time, and all three singing a wild sort of chant. The woman had a knife in one hand, and a bunch of leaves in the other, with a curcle of saffron-colour surrounding each eye. The other man held a spear and a bunch of leaves. These were followed by six men and the same number of women, with heads whitened, and dressed the same as the drummers. They danced in, and, each in turn, clapped their branches of leaves together over our heads, and danced out again. The man an woman with the spear and knife, as well as a small boy holding two chickens with their throats cut, and two youths, all dressed the same as the others, went and stood behind the drummers. The other men and women then danced forward in a line, the men first, then the women, the drums striking up a lively measure. They now moved round the band in a circle, their bodies bent forward in a half-sitting posture, going through the most extraordinary contortions. This was kept up for some time by the men and women alternately, but at last they all stood still in a half-curcle round the band and sanf a wild chant. Next came a handsome, tall young nigger in the long white Arab dress, with a head-dress of red parrot feathers, and a woman dressed in gaudy-coloured clothes, and this couple, having become the centre figures of the group, went through a sort of benediction pantomime, raising their hands as the others all bowed their heads. The chief then presented them with a gun, and explained to me all about them. They are slaves from the Wacusu, and a good many of them have been dying lately, so these men and women went away into the bush for two months, during which time they have not been seen by anyone. They ony returned to-day, having finished their medicine-making. Tippu-Tip, who came in before it was over, told me that they usually kill several people, and have a grand feast, for the Wacusu are terrible cannibals. He then told me, amongst other stories, that long ago, when fighting near Maléla, they killed a great many of the enemy. The natives who were with him were cannibals, and not a body could be found next morning. (He tells me that two men will easily eat one man in a night.) He sent for water in the night to wash his hands and to drin, the water there being in a well. When it was brought, he could not make out why it stuck to his hands, and was so oily and bad to drin. Next day he and several Arabs went up to see what was the matter with the water, and there they saw a most horrible sight. The top of the water was all covered with a thick layer of yellow fat, which was running over the side, and he found out that his natives had taken all the human meat to the well to wash it before eating. At the next place he camped by a stream, and made the natives camp below him. I told him that people at home generally believed that these were only "travellers' tales," as they are called in our country, or, in other words, lies. He then said something to an Arab called Ali, seated next him, who turned round to me and said, "Give me a bit of cloth, and see." I sent my boy for six handkerchiefs, thinking it was all a joke, and that they were not in earnest, but presently a man appeared, leading a yound girl of about ten years old by the hand, and I then witnessed the most horribly sickening sight I am ever likely to see in my life. He plunged a knife quickly into her breast twice, and she fell on her face, turning over on her side. Three men then ran forward, and began to cut up the body of the girl; finally her head was cut off, and not a particle remained, each man taking his piece away down to the river to wash it. The most extraordinary thing was that the girl never uttered a sound, nor struggled, until she fell. Until the last moment, I could not believe that they were in earnest. I have heard many stories of this kind since I have been in this country, but never could believe them, and I neber would have been such a beast as to witness this, but I could not bring myself to believe that it was anything save a ruse to get money out of me, until the last moment. The girl was a slave captured from a village close to this town, and the cannibals were Wacusu slaves, and natives of this place, called Mculusi. When I went home I tried to make some small sketches of the scene while still fresh in my memory, not that it is ever likely to fade from it. No one here seemed to be in the least astonished at it.


Jameson, James Sligo: The story of the rear column of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, 1891, S. 289-291


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