Hiking the Lucheche

Reading this week:

  • A Matter of Time by Alex Capus (a fictionalized account of the Battle for Lake Tanganyika which, although it isn’t perfectly historically accurate, I highly recommend it because more people should care about central African naval engagements)
  • Congo Diary by Che Guevara (I was very sympathetic with the difficulties he faced)

On the Mbala / Abercorn facebook page, people there have been trying to determine the former site of Chief Zombe’s village (the site is run by the same guy who runs Abercornucopia, which is the premier site for Mbala history in the colonial area). The impetus for this is to identify the spot visited by David Livingstone when he was travelling in the area. The primary clues they’re going off of are an excerpt from The Last Journals of David Livingstone, Volume II (available on Project Gutenberg). In Chapter 10, one of the journal entries reads:

Their journey of the 12th and 13th [of November 1872] led them over low ranges of sandstone and hæmatite, and past several strongly stockaded villages. The weather was cloudy and showery – a relief, no doubt, after the burning heat of the last few weeks. They struck the Halochéché [Lucheche] River, a rapid stream fifteen yards wide and thigh deep, on its way to the Lake, and arrived at Zombé’s town, which is built in such a manner that the river runs through it, whilst a stiff palisade surrounds it. He says: It was entirely surrounded by M’toka’s camp, and a constant fight maintained at the point where the ine of stakes was weakened by the river running through. He killed four of the enemy, and then Chitimbwa and Kasonso coming to help him, the siege was raised.

Based on that excerpt, and by looking over Google Maps, the Mbala/Abercorn guys concluded that this spot was the most likely location, but were looking for someone to ground-truth it:

Google Maps screen shot taken from this discussion.

So, since I live in the area, last Sunday I set out on a hike to see if I could find the old site of Chief Zombe’s village. I set out at about 0700 on foot from my hut with water bottles and some bagels in my bag. Having looked over Google Maps myself, the easiest way to get to the spot was first to walk around the coffee plantation in the area, Isanya Estates.

Shot of the coffee plantation; it’s pretty big.

I hiked around the back of the plantation and found a road leading through some small villages and through a valley and over another ridge. After about three hours of walking I reached the end of the road and listened for the river. Heading in that direction, I soon came to the spot identified as the possible location of Zombe’s village. The first picture at the top of the article is the spot identified by the Mbala/Abercorn guys. Although gorgeous, I don’t think it is the spot for the village. The river for this section runs through a rather deep and rather steep gorge that I think probably continues all the way to its eventual outlet at Kituta Bay, site of my SS Good News adventure. I spotted a maize field at the bottom of the gorge, along with some people preparing a pile of logs to make charcoal. However, I don’t think there is enough room for a whole village, and I don’t think it would be a strategic location. At the time, the people were under occasional attack by Arab slave traders (hence the stockade). The Arabs had guns, making the bottom of a poor location strategically.

The area was too steep on my side of the river to descend at that point, so I followed the ridge up-river towards Lake Chila and Mbala. The river continues to run through a series of picturesque valleys like the one above. Although I don’t think any of the valleys would support a village, people are still farming in the area. That added a difficulty to my expedition, because current farming and charcoal making covers up previous signs of habitation indicating the location of a century-and-a-half-old village.

Speaking of maize though, it absolutely stuns me where people will grow maize. Of the above two pictures, the first one is maize growing on a hill that is a lot steeper than the picture makes it look. There is no home nearby, it is at the bottom of a deep gorge, and that steep hill couldn’t be easy to navigate, and yet there is maize there! The second picture depicts maize being grown where someone had previousely made charcoal. I guess that’s a good spot, but so many random spots get maize grown in them. Highway medians, old foundations, random forest clearings, they all have maize.

I continued down the gorge, following for a bit the path of a dry furrow. It’s rainy season, so the furrow isn’t too necessary (hence it being dry), but I like the engineering that goes into these things. The one above was pretty long and would have required a lot of digging to build.

I eventually reached a spot where I couldn’t really continue along the river, so I climbed up the wall of the gorge to find a hut perched right on the edge. The owner was home, so I said hello and asked the way to Mbala. He pointed me to the path, along which I accidentally found his chim. Unlike most, he doesn’t have a hut over it, giving the dude really great views of the valley when he poops. Continuing along the river, first on top of the ridge and then closer to it, I eventually came back to Isanya Estates. The above picture is a furrow the plantation has dug running off the river, but it looks sorta tropical-y and jungle-y, so I took a picture. With the hike over, I hadn’t really identified any likely locations for the village. I do think it is probably closer to modern-day Mbala than they think, but I don’t have an exact spot. The best part of the hike for me was discovering that these were these deep, beautiful valleys near me. My own valley is less steep (probably why they put a village here), so that is how I think of the surrounding landscape, but I am right on the cusp of the Great Rift Valley. The scenery and geography around here is pretty breathtaking and it is good to get out and take a look.

My valley; good to be home.