Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Explorations In Matabeleland In 1888

  • Wednesday, July 13, 2011
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  • We have received the following letter from Mr. Selous, giving some details of his latest journey through Matabele and Mashuna Land, and notes in explanation of the valuable map of the region which accompanied his letter and which we now publish :-

    Zeerust, Marico, Transvaal, January 5th, 1888. 

    I have just returned from a hunting trip in the Mashona country with three English gentlemen Messrs. J. A. Jameson (brother of the Mr. Jameson who was out here in 1880), A. C. Fountaine, and F. Cooper. We have travelled over a large tract of country in search of game, and I have worked out a rough map of the whole country, based upon Mr. Baines's observations, which I have assumed to be correct, and including my previous journeys in Matabeleland. This map I now send you, hoping that it may be of use to the Society. I had a very good prismatic compass given me by Mr. Jameson, with which I took bearings wherever I could, but in some parts of the country it is impossible to do so, as there are no landmarks or hills of any kind. I have made the distance by my reckoning almost exactly the same as Mr. Baines between Lo Magondi's and Mount Wedza, and the error in the compass may account for the difference in the positions of places on his corrected map, and as I have found them by my compass bearings. I have taken  the positions of Lo Magondi's town and Mount Wedza as they stand in Mr. Ravenstein's last map as my basis in that part of the country, and then filled up the country between; and as I have now travelled all that country by several different routes, I cannot think that I am very far wrong in the way I have marked down the courses of the various rivers. 

    We went again this year to the confluence of the Umfuli and Umnyati rivers, and came straight back from there by a native footpath to Lo- Magondi's town. When Mr, Jameson and I reached the same spot in 1880 we travelled all along the bank of the river over a very rough country, and I overestimated the distance. This year, coming back as we did in a straight line on a native footpath, I was better able to- estimate it, and have accordingly placed the junction further south, and more correctly I think than I did at first. With regard to Thaba In- simbi, there are two ranges of hills lying approximately as I have marked them. Mr. Baines, whose route lay to the west of the Machabe- range, and then round up the Umfuli, and Lundaza and onward to Umtigesa's, could only have seen the one range?the more easterly. Let me here say that I always find the country exactly as Mr. Baines marks it on his actual route, but directly one gets off his line mistakes appear. As for Herr Mauch's routes, I can make nothing of them. Either he never travelled on some of them, or the whole face of the country has ehanged since he was there. For example, on Mr. Ravenstein's last map you will see, near the head of the Bembeesan river, a place called Tabuka's, by Mr. Baines, and some distance to the south of it a place* called Muzigaguva, on one of Herr Mauch's routes. Now Madabuga (Tabuka) and Muzigaguva were two headmen of Mashuna villages, the said villages being close together, not half a mile apart. These people were destroyed by the Matabele in 1883. Indaima's kraal, another Mashuna headman, Herr Mauch has put on the wrong side of the water? shed. The town stands near the river Tukwe, a tributary of the Lumti, and not on the Bembeesan, where Herr Mauch has placed it; the site of the town is the same now as it was forty years ago. The source of the Sebakwe is about where I have placed it too, about half way between Sigaro and Umtigesa's. Father Law took an observation at Sigaro in 1880. We crossed the Sebakwe close to that place this year, and I rode up nearly to the source of the river on horseback?a long journey. 

    At Sinoia, near the river Angwa, there is a very wonderful place- It is an immense circular hole, about 100 feet or more in depth, and 20 yards or more in diameter, at the bottom of which there is a lake or pool of water extending for 60 yards or so in an immense cavern, in under the rock. The water in this pool is of a most wonderful colour, a deep cobalt blue, but very clear, as one can see pebbles at the bottom at a great depth. There is a slanting shaft or tunnel running at an angle of about 45, from a point about 100 yards from the top of the hole, which strikes the bottom of the hole just at the edge of the water. We are inclined to think that all these excavations are the result of old gold workings, and that a vein of quartz has been worked out down the tunnel, and that eventually a spring was tapped, and that the water forming the subterranean lake, has welled up from below. If the whole thing is artificial, and the work of man, a truly extraordinary amount of labour must have been expended in this place. The natives have now built a stockaded town round this old working, or whatever it is, and go down the tunnel to draw water at the bottom. We went and bathed in it, swimming up the cavern to the other end of the pool. The water was quite warm. The rock on each side of the tunnel is covered with innumerable scores, which look as if they had been done with some kind of iron instrument. The natives have no tradition about this most curious place, but they have no traditions of any kind, not even about the large lemon and citron groves the trees covered with fruit which one finds in this part of the country. 

    Mr. Fountaine and myself climbed to the top of the most easterly, and, I think, highest peak of Mount Wedza, and found by the aneroid that it is 1750 feet from the base to the summit. The whole mountain is a mass of very rich ironstone, and we could take no compass bearings at all, as the compass would not work. I took the heights by my large aneroid all over the country, but I will not answer for their correctness. As a starting-point I took Kerr's altitude at our camp [on the Hanyame], 4050 feet, to be correct * 

    You will find that I have marked on the map all the rivers running westwards from the Matabele country into the Gwai (or Guay) somewhat differently from what they,appear on the published maps. My authority is Mr. David Thomas, now dead, a son of the missionary Mr. E. M. Thomas. He made several hunting trips from his father's place, Shiloh, between Emhlangen and Gubuluwayo, to the Zambesi, and found the position and course of the rivers as I have marked them. When I came back from the Zambesi to Emhlangen early in 1878, I crossed the Rutopi (Utope) near its source, and thought that it probably ran into the Gwai, but from what David Thomas told me, I feel sure that it runs into the Sengwe. 

    I am now going to cross the Zambesi with my waggons at the junction of the Chobe and Zambesi, and intend to go up to the Barotse country, as I am tired of the region south of the Zambesi. I intend to spend a couple of years in the wilds, hunting and collecting, and shall then, I think, return to England. 

    Cape Town, January 21th, 1888. 

    I have had three copies made here of my map by the Surveyor- General, Mr. de Smidt one I have given to him, the second to the Governor, and the third I am sending to you, I myself keeping my original. I had another sheet which I wished to send you, with a second map made out according to my compass bearings, but somewhere between Klerksdorp and here it has got lost, having no doubt slipped out of the centre of the roll in the middle of which it was. If I have time when I get back to Klerksdorp, I will make out a second copy from my note- book and send you. The map I am now sending you is one of a country which is bound to be of great importance in the near future, for there is an alluvial gold-field of large extent and wronderful richness I speak with some authority, as it has this year been roughly tested with really extraordinary resultsbacked by a country of great fertility, and watered most plentifully. However, please understand that my map is only a sketch-map, and lays no claim whatever to scientific accuracy. I believe it will be found by any one visiting the country to be a fairly correct map in a rough way, but that is all. 

    Note by Mr. Turner.

    Whilst engaged upon the accompanying map illustrating Mr. Selous's letter, it occurred to me that the following extract from a report by Lieut. E. A. Maund, published in Blue Book C. 4643, February 1886, with reference to the altered situations of Gubuluwayo and Inyati, which does not appear to have been referred to elsewhere (except in a new French gazetteer), might perhaps be appropriately introduced here, as explaining the discrepancies in the positions of these towns as shown in various recent maps of this region. 

    In describing the division of the Matabele country into four military territorial divisions, he states, on p. 115 :- "Each regiment on formation receives a kraal named after it. This is the only kind of Matabele town existing. These kraals are posted near water, and when they have destroyed the wood for miles round, or there is not sufficient water or pasture for the cattle, as they increase by pillage or breeding, then the kraal is burnt, and the regiment builds another in a fresh bit of country. A large kraal or town can occupy a place for about ten years. This will account for Inyati having removed from the place marked as such on the maps. Emhlangen is the name of the place [still retained for the station of the London Missionary Society], and the Inyati regimental kraal is now 50 miles to south-east of it, hence the name of the new site is for the time being Inyati; while Gubuluwayo is 18 miles north of the position it occupied four years ago." 

    This Blue Book includes several official reports, containing a considerable amount of geographical information and description of the tribes, with the capabilities of the soil, in the country to the west and north of the Transvaal, not otherwise available.

    * Vide 'Proceedings R. GL S.,' 1881, pp. 169 and 352; 1883, p. 268; 1884, p. 284. Mr. James S. Jameson, who joined, as naturalist, Stanley's expedition for the reiief of Emin Pasha. No. V.May 1888.]

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