I’m doing research for a project on Mama Meli, and you better believe you’re gonna get some of that action in the coming weeks, but in the meantime I’m going to post some interesting stuff I have found out about Niamkolo Church. I mentioned the church briefly in my Mplungu post, and this post will consist entirely of me posting in their entirety three articles from The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society, which is turning out to be a trove of information on northern Zambia at the turn of the 20th century. I wish I had the ability to peruse gigantic PDFs back when I lived in a mud hut. I know there’s not a lot of analysis here, but I’m working on finals, and also retyping these articles took me longer than just writing a post probably would have. Also also also, the most intriguing part of all of this are photos/engravings from the church’s heydey. If you Google the church currently, you get modern-day photos, which is cool, but nothing showing the place with a roof. So that should be exciting!
But before we begin, two more things. First, this is the header of one of the issues of the Chronicle, and I just want to say these guys weren’t messing around:
Two, an excellent Instagram is “Sacral Architecture,” which publishes drawings of various religious buildings in Africa, and yes of course they did Niamkolo Church:
Alright! Now we shall begin in earnest:
April 1891 – “Tanganyika Sketches”
[This is before the church was built]
These are sketches of the Niamkolo station, which is situated at the south end of Lake Tanganyika, and were drawn from photographs sent home by Mrs. Swann. In “Our House” we see her with her husband at her side, and Mr. Carson standing a little way off. The little steamer Good News, having met with an accident, had to be docked and thoroughly repaired, which accounts for one of the sketches. Cloth (calico) takes the place of money in Central Africa. Porters and workmen of all kinds have to be paid in cloth. Hence the need for a “Cloth Store” at each station.
February 1896 – “A New Church”
On returning to his station from the Committee meeting at Fwambo, Mr. Jones spent a Sunday at Niamkolo and preached to the largest congregation he had seen in Central Africa. There must have been 700 people present, and it was a cheering sight. On the following Thursday (August 22nd) a memorial stone in the new church was laid by Mrs. Purves. Copies of the new hymn-book, the Society’s CHRONICLE and News from Afar, and the British Central Africa Gazette, together with cloth and beads to represent the currency, were laid in the cavity, the ceremony being witnessed by a large crowd of natives. Mr. Purves had been fortunate enough to discover an excellent quarry near the lake shore, whence huge slabs of grey freestone were dug, which looked as if they had come from the mason’s hand, so regularly did the seams lie. “It is amusing to see the children now busy on the lake shore,” says Mr. Thomas, “building stone houses and churches. The African in that respect is not very much different from the child at home.”
May 1896 – “New Church at Niamkolo”
Dear Mr. Cousins, – At Niamkolo “a notable great frame” has been erected in the form of a stone church, and I should like to tell you something about it. It is as yet but a “frame,” as you will see from the photographs which I enclose, if you can make any use of them.
The sense of wonder is not so easily roused in the African as some people at home imagine. If he has been any time in contact with the white man, he looks upon most of his actions as a matter of course; so that when he can really do something which makes the native open his eyes and mouth, exclaiming “Yanga we!” (“Oh, mother!”) it is a triumph. It is no uncommon thing to see strangers standing in front of this building, bowing their heads, and accompanying the motion with a “He! He! He!” of astonishment, and perhaps enter into a hot discussion as to whether there are any poles hidden away in the walls to hold the stones together. He is only accustomed to wattle-and-daub shanties, and a large stone structure with a tower piercing the heavens beats him. One of the men said that Mr. Purves, who had to do with the building of it, possessed the wisdom of the gods who piles up the mountains. A wattle-and-daub house at best will only stand five years, so that on a station the work of building is never finished, unless one deals with more permanent material. So that it was a great find to come across a quarry on the lake shore near the station, whence huge slabs of freestone have been dug with edges so straight as to make one think they had just left the mason’s chisel. These were brought round to the station in canoes, and the main outdoor work during the last dry season was the rearing of this structure. It roused a great deal of interest among the people, and even the children were busy building stone churches on the lake shore. One day, as I was watching them at it, I saw the little naked brats setting to and eating the mortar which they had made by dipping a dirty loin cloth in the lake and wringing it out over some stones they had ground to powder. I suppose it served for nsima (native porridge). It made me think that, whatever the African has not got, he is the happy owner of a digestion that many a dyspeptic at home would covet.
Tier upon tier the building went up, while scaffold rose above scaffold, until the heavy beams were laid across the walls, and the couples spanned the abyss. These the natives swarmed and laid on the pliant twigs, to which the grass was fastened by means of fresh bark form young trees. This was the offering of the villagers. They brought in all the trees and twigs, and roofed the building without any pay. Finally the more daring spirits working at the tower completed their dizzy task and capped it with a glass [sic, grass?] roof.
A round cap on a square tower does not look artistic, hence the necessity of some friend to open his heart and send out a number of sheets of corrugated iron to replace it. H.C. Marshall, Esq., the representative of the British South Africa Company nearest us, has kindly promised a bell for the tower, so that when it arrives no villager can say that he did not hear the call to service. One cannot boast that this temple was reared without noise, for a good deal of shouting had to be done to keep them up to the level, and at first a good deal of pulling down, but it is something to be thankful for that it was completed without a single accident. It has proved a fine object-lesson for the training of hand and eye, and will act as a beacon to voyagers on the lake, and, above all, a guide to the hearts of children yet unborn to Him in whose name the house has been built.
The spiritual temple is slower in the building than this stone one. During the year seven have been admitted into full membership at Niamkolo. May be, one is over-particular in rejecting the stones until they are trimmed in the accustomed way; while, on the other hand, one shuns the accusation of first making them church members, and then making them Christians.
[Here Niamkolo Church stuff, and all paragraph sensibilities, end]
At our new station called Kambole, on the Ulunga plateau, a large church, built of wattle and daub, was finished by Mr. Nutt, before he had to leave for home after the second attack of haematuric fever. He will be greatly missed, for he was a most enthusiastic African, and full of energy. Mr. Jones is now left there alone, a day and a half’s journey from a white man. However, just lately he has been kept far from being dull. Ponde, the Awemba [Bemba] chief I visited last year, made an attack upon the village of Kitimbwa – the paramount Chief of Ulunga – which is only some four miles distant from the new station. There has been a good deal of raiding carried on between these two parties of late, but the final provocation that led to the attack was the fact that one of Kitimbwa’s sub-chiefs had, a few days before, taken two women belonging to Ponde’s village, and the very day he was presenting these to his head chief, Ponde, together with another small Awemba chief, called Zisampa, appeared near Kitimbwa’s, and found the village – although a large one – an easy prey. Instead of making the attack at deep dawn as is their custom, they besieged it about 10 am, when most of the people were away at their gardens, and the chief was left with a few people in the village. Kitimbwa was killed, and a number of those with him, although it is said the chief lost his life dearly, having shot the son of Kitimkuru, the great Awemba chief, who was among the besiegers. The people in their gardens, instead of running to aid their chief when the weird alarm was sounded on the drum, fled and left him to his fate. Mr. and Mrs. Purves, who were up spending a short holiday with Mr. Jones, heard the war beat, and wounded women with their children soon after fled to them for refuge, and the next two nights they had a very anxious time, for on the first night the Awemba camped at the village of Kitimbwa, close by, and during the night a man, supposed to be a spy, attempted to climb the stockade; having refused to say who he was, or to speak at all, he got a cold reception from one of the men on guard, and disappeared. I sent forty men up from the lake as soon as possible, and they remained there until they knew the Awemba were well on their way home with their spoil of cloth and powder, a large number of women, several heads, and the body of Kitimbwa. This was cut up and burned on the ruins of an old Ulunga village which they sacked years ago, on the boundary of their country. The body of a chief taken in war is burned outside their own territory, lest his spirit should return in some other form and wreak vengeance. Mr. Jones, in a letter to me, said: “Yes, Kitimbwa has gone to his account, the only chief who has actually and openly opposed missionary work in the district. Is not that a significant fact? Better for him if he had done otherwise. Most of his villagers are now in this boma, and all say they want to settle here. Whether they will or not depends upon the measure of safety that will be guaranteed to them.”
Here, to my mind, is strong evidence that the Awemba do not wish to molest the white man. No doubt they have a wholesome fear of the gun; but here was Mr. Jones, with a mere handful of people round him, and a strong temptation offered in the way of cattle, although flushed with their unexpected success, they left him alone. The sight of the village after the attack, with mutilated bodies lying within and without the stockade, haunted one day and night for a long time. Surely the cup of this dominant tribe must be about full, and this extensive upland, and well-watered country, which remains a hunting-ground of the Arab slaver, must come under a better rule. It seems that at last the British Administration has given his quietus to Mlozi, a powerful Arab slaver at the north end of Lake Nyassa, the head and front of the offending in the Karonga war eight years ago, described by Captain Lugard in the first volume of his “Rise of our East African Empire.” There is a rumor that the British South Africa Company, under whose aegis this region has recently come, intent do settle the Awemba problem next year. Then there will be a fine opportunity for a mission to enter, for the country is healthy, and the people are a physically fine race, brave and industrious. Who is to enter in and possess the land? Already the French Fathers have established a station on the edge of it. However much we might wish, we are in no position to move a step in the matter, as things are at present reduced to one man on each station except this one. Since I came out six persons have left for home, and no new man come to take their places. Fever, after two years’ conflict, has driven me from the lake up to the hills, wehre Ihope to share the work in the coming ear with Mr. Carson at Fwambo. A fine, comfortable brick house which he had built, or at least the natives, who, he said, needed but little superintendence, was ready to receive me, with a flourishing fig-tree in the square in front. To my right a road recently constructed stretches away for some distance in the direction of the lake, but one cannot hope to see Mr. and Mrs. Purves coming along, as they cannot leave the station for any length of time. Another long stretch runs in the direction of home, and it is in vain that one strains his sight along this for coming of the much-needed reinforcement. If it was not for the native teachers we should be at a loss what to do. The charge of the outlying schools both here and at the lake depends almost solely upon them. One can but do his best, sitting at times under his fig-tree, though the vine may be absent, and labor and wait for the fulfillment of that fine prophecy: “But in the latter days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow into it. And many nations shall go and say: Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths… And He shall judge between many peoples, and shall reprove strong rulers afar off; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” -Yours truly, W. Thomas.