IN 1875, WHEN Stanley passed through Uganda on his east-to-west crossing of the continent, he saw Mutesa, then about thirty-eight, at war against the Wavuma people on the northern shore of Lake Victoria. Mutesa’s army was vast. Stanley, doing a rough and ready calculation (and perhaps exaggerating), makes it 150,000, adding in 100,000 followers and women (Mutesa went everywhere with his harem), to make a grand total of 250,000 in Mutesa’s camp.
There were musketeers now in Mutesa’s army, but this did not give them anything like an overwhelming advantage. The Wavuma, who used only spears, knew about muskets and were not frightened of them. They were also skilled fighters on water. Mutesa’s people were better on land; on water they were nervous of tipping over; and for much of the time the advantage seemed to be with the Wavuma. People came out on to the hills above Lake Victoria to see the battle. The engravings in Stanley’s book, many of them based on photographs by Stanley, show what the watchers would have seen. They show the beautiful boats lined up, and the formations of the two disciplined armies, though the details of boats and fighting men in the distance are crowded and not always clear. The battle would have been frustrating for the watchers; since the fighters took their time, seeming to retire after every little episode. When Stanley sought Mutesa out to give advice about the battle, Mutesa appeared to have lost interest in it, and wanted to talk only about religion.
War was noise, to frighten the enemy. Mutesa had fifty drummers, as many flute-players, and any number of men ready to shake gourds with pebbles. There were also more than a hundred witchdoctors, men and women, specially selected, fantastically dressed (the Wavuma were no doubt meant to notice), who had brought along their most potent charms, to keep the evil eye off Mutesa and to sink the Wavuma. Before any action they presented their charms to Mutesa who, already half Muslim and half Christian, acknowledged these precious things of Africa—dead lizards, human fingernails and so on—with great style, pointing an index finger at what was presented, not touching it, and then, like a sovereign at a levee, waiting to see what came next.
Protected in this way, Mutesa began to threaten his commanders. He was going to strip the cowards of all their dignity and all the blessings he had given them. They had started life as peasants; they were going to be returned to that state. Some he was going to burn over a slow fire. (Burning: Mutesa’s mind often went back to this punishment, which he had narrowly escaped as a young man.) The chief minister, recognising the passion of his ruler, threw himself on the ground before the Kabaka and said, “Kabaka, if tomorrow you see my boat retreating from the enemy, you can cut me into small pieces or burn me alive.”
When Stanley next saw Mutesa, Mutesa was in high spirits. His men had managed to seize an old chief of the Wavuma and Mutesa intended to burn the old man alive, to teach the Wavuma a lesson. Stanley talked him out of that, and Stanley also, to everyone’s relief, mediated a peace between the parties.
This happened in 1875. In 1884 Mutesa was dead and was being buried in the tomb at Kasubi, which he had modelled on the tomb of his father Sunna at Wamala. He was, indeed, like his father. The country had given him no other model.
Monthly Archives: February 2011
From West African Pidgin-English: A Descriptive Linguistic Analysis with Texts and Glossary from the Cameroon Area, by Gilbert Donald Schneider (Athens, Ohio, 1966), pp. 177-179. I have followed Schneider’s spelling of Kamtok (except for collapsing mid vowel distinctions) and his translation into English, and have added my own translation into Tok Pisin (New Guinea Pidgin). Both pidgin varieties here are likely to be somewhat rural and old-fashioned.
1k. Som boi i bin bi fo som fan kontri fo insai Afrika, we i bin get plenti sens.
1e. There once lived a very clever lad who lived in a beautiful part of Africa.
1p. I gat wanpela boi i bin stap long wanpela naispela hap long namel bilong Afrika, we em i saveman tru.
2k. I pas king fo sens sef, so i nem bi sens-pas-king.
2e. He was smarter than the King himself and so was given the name, Wiser-than-king.
2p. I winim king yet long save, olsem na ol i kolim em Save-winim-king.
(P olsem ‘so, thus’ < E all same)
3k. King i bin feks plenti, ha i bin hia sey, dis smol-boi i di kas eni-man fo sens.
3e. The King was very annoyed when he heard how this young boy was outwitting everyone.
3p. King em i kros tru, taim i harim tok olsem, dispela boi i save winim yumi olgeta long save.
(K ha ‘how, as’; K kas ‘catch, outwit’)
4k. So, king i bin mimba sey, i go kas i, i go win i fo sens.
4e. He decided to put the lad in his place with a few tricks of his own.
4p. Olsem na king i tingting olsem, em bai kisim em, em bai winim em long save.
(K mimba ‘think’ < E. remember; P kisim ‘catch s.t.’)
5k. I bin sen i imasinja som dey, we dem bin tok say, mek yu kom fo king i tong, na palaba i de.
5e. One day the King sent a messenger to the young man and summoned him to come to the palace for a discussion.
5p. Wanpela dei em i bin salim tultul bilong en bilong tokim em olsem em i mas kam long ples bilong king na toktok wantaim em.
(K tong ‘town, house, place’; P tultul ‘translator’)
6k. Sens-pas-king i bin go, i mas-fut fo rot, waka trong fo hil, sotey i rich fo king i tong.
6e. Wiser-than-king began his journey, up and down the steep hills he went and so finally arrived at the King’s palace.
6p. Save-winim-king i bin go, i wokabaut long rot bilong maunten, inap long em i kamap long ples bilong king.
7k. King i tok sey, yu don kom.
7e. (Upon arrival) the king welcomed him.
7p. King i tok olsem, yu kam pinis.
(K preverbal don and P postverbal pinis mark perfective aspect.)
8k. Mek yu klin ma het, biabia i don plenti tumos fo ma het.
8e. He asked the young man to cut his hair because it was so long.
8p. Yu mas klinim het bilong mi, gras bilong en i kamap planti tumas.
(K biabia, P gras ‘hair’)
9k. Sens-pas-king i bin tok gri sey, i go bap king i het.
9e. Wiser-than-king agreed to cut the King’s hair.
9p. Save-winim-king i tok olsem, orait, bai mi katim gras bilong het bilong king.
(K bap ‘[to] barber’)
10k. I bigin kot-am, bot ha i di kot-am, i di soso trowe simol kon fo fawu, we i de fo king i domot.
10e. But as he was cutting he was also continually throwing down a little corn for the chickens in the King’s courtyard.
10p. Tasol taim em i kirap long katim, em i tromwe liklik kon wantaim long ol paul i stap arasait long haus bilong King.
(K soso ‘only, just’; K domot ‘front yard’ lit. ‘door-mouth’)
11k. King i aks i sey, ha yu di soso trowe kon?
11e. The King asked him, “Why are you always throwing down corn?”
11p. King i askim em olsem, bilong wanem yu tromwe kon i stap?
(P bilong wanem ‘why’ lit. ‘for what’)
12k. Boi ansa i sey, na lo fo gif chop fo fawu?
12e. The lad answered, “Is there a law against feeding chickens?”
12p. Boi i bekim tok olsem, i gat lo long givim kaikai long ol paul?
(P ol plural marker < E all)
13k. Simol tam i don pinis i wok.
13e. Soon he finished his task.
13p. Liklik taim, em i pinisim wok bilong en.
14k. King i het don nyanga bat.
14e. The King’s head looked very fine.
14p. Het bilong king i naispela nogut tru.
(K nyanga ‘handsome’; K bat, P nogut ‘bad, very’)
15k. King i bigin hala, sey, na wati!
15e. The King (then) began to shout, “What’s going on here?”
15p. King i kirap long singaut, olsem wanem?
16k. Simol wowo pikin klin het fo bik-man?
16e. “Can a good-for-nothing youngster cut (shave) the hair of an elder?”
16p. Liklik pikinini nating i katim gras bilong het bilong bikpela man?
(K wowo ‘useless, dirty’; P nating ‘useless’ < E nothing)
17k. Mek yu put bak ma biabia wan-tam!
17e. Put the hair back in place immediately!”
17p. Givim bek gras bilong het bilong mi kwiktaim!
18k. A go kil yu ifi yu no put-am!
18e. “I’ll kill you if you don’t put them back!”
18p. Bai mi kilim yu i dai sapos yu no bekim!
(P sapos ‘if’ < E suppose; kilim ‘hit, beat’, kilim i dai ‘kill’)
19k. Sens-pas-king tok sey, no kes.
19e. Wiser-than-king replied, “It doesn’t matter.”
19p. Save-winim-king i tok olsem, Nogat samting.
20k. A gri. A bi daso sey, mek yu gif bak ma kon bifo a go fiks yu biabia agen.
20e. “I will gladly put your hair back, if you return the corn I fed to your chickens.”
20p. Orait. Tasol mi tok, yu bekim kon bilong mi pestaim, orait, bai mi bekim gras bilong het bilong yu.
(K daso, P tasol ‘only, but’ < E that’s all; P pestaim ‘first’ < E first time)
21k. King i no sabi wati fo tok.
21e. The King was speechless.
21p. King i no save bekim tok ya.
22k. i mof don lok.
22e. He was dumbfounded.
22p. Maus bilong en i pas pinis.
(K lok ‘locked’; P pas ‘fast(ened)’)
23k. Sens-pas-king i di go daso. Man no fit fan i kes fo dis wan.
23e. Wiser-than-king went on his way and no one was able to find fault with him.
23p. Save-winim-king i wokabaut i go. Ol i no inap kotim em long dispela.
(K no fit, P no inap ‘not able < E fit, enough; kotim ‘take s.o. to court’)