Saisi Battlefield

Kamba Hill

I’ve really stretched out the content on this site, but over the second to last weekend in April I went to go visit the Saisi Battlefield. This is an expedition that Colin from the oft-referenced Mbala / Abercorn Facebook page asked me to go on. In the midst of the Centenary Celebrations, a Saisi Battlefield Park was set up, as detailed in this YouTube video. This park, according to Colin (and now me), appears to be in the wrong spot. So Colin asked me to head out to investigate.

This was a fun little adventure and will be (was, by time you read this) my last adventure in Zambia, provided the trip to ringout goes smoothly. It is located about 65km from me and so it took me a while to get around to going there because it was a multi-day trip. I set off the first day and made it to Katie’s, where we searched for Mama Meli, and the next day Katie and I biked to our friend TJ’s house, who lives pretty near the battlefield. It was a very pleasent bike ride, being mostly downhill, and had very pretty views as we rounded the escarpment and biked down into the valley.

The information we were operating off of when it came to the site comes from A Soldier’s Burden, which seems to be a book detailing some of the battles of WWI, an excerpt of which you can find here (it was also used as the basis for that YouTube video above). The battlefield map from Soldier’s Burden is above, and clearly is of Kamba Hill (8°56’12.0″S 31°44’12.1″E), as opposed to the location of the Saisi Battlefield Park, located much closer to Mt. Sunzu. Some things make sense about this to me and some things don’t. I don’t actually know the exact provenance of the map, but if it was made by someone who was at the battle then yeah, we’ve got the spot right. The rivers on the map are a lot wider and marshier in real life, and could provide good defenses, but the map shows the man-made defenses facing towards the south when the Germans (this was a British fort) were coming from the north. The site also apparently had a garrison of several hundred people, but the area of the entrenchments is not actually that big I think you’d be hard pressed to fit that many people into the fort. But I am no WWI expert. Nonetheless, we forged ahead to check out the site!

TJ and Katie, adventuring with me.

TJ was very enthusiastic about this project, and is a bit of a WWI enthusiast himself, but didn’t know he lived so close to a battlefield until I told him. He asked around his village and got a lot of information for us which was cool. After arriving at his house we went over to the hill and climbed to the top. Our goal was to find more concrete evidence that this was the site.

Unfortunately, the evidence for that was mixed. We didn’t find anything like old bullets or guns, and none of us were experts on century-old trenches. The above picture is me standing in a semi-circle of stones that we thought (based on some other stuff we found on the internet) might have been a gun emplacement of some sort. Again, it faces the south, and I don’t know why that would be, but it appears those stones were put there by people. Whether that was villagers or the British. Over on the east side of the hill I found some things I thought could be trenches, though to be fair they could be furrows or just natural formations. What a century can do, ya know? Like I said though, TJ had asked around the village and the people living there were clearly familiar with it having been a battle, and even told TJ about weapon caches to the north, in Tanzania. So pretty neat!

One of the more interesting aspects of this adventure was the crowd we gathered. The hill is mostly covered in tall grass and we had actually accumulated quite a number of children followers before we noticed. Since they were short (being children) they were only a few feet from us in the tall grass before we spotted them. Good thing they weren’t velociraptors. In the above picture you can sorta see the string of children following us down the hill. They’re only that visible in the above picture because we taunted them a bit by asking if they were scared of us; they claimed they were not.

So all in all a good adventure. As it got dark we climbed off the hill and went back to TJ’s house and had a relaxing night. I sent a lot of the pictures I took and my thoughts about the site to Colin, and he is talking to some other historians he knows and trying to pin down some more information about the battlefield. Yet another potential tourist attraction in Zambia totally under-used. Imagine the gift shops the villagers could run! This is an important piece of history in the Mbala region and I hope it gets documented, and soon.