A Beautiful People and Their Mountaintop Fortress

Henry Stanley

New York Herald/August 11, 1876

Great Explorer’s Attempt to Survey the Albert Niyanza


The Naming of Beatrice Gulf-Retreat to Uganda


A Beautiful People and Their Mountaintop Fortress


Rumanika, King of Karagwe, Befriends the White Man.


Its Lakes and Floating Islands–The Gains to Geography So Far

Kawanga, Frontier Village, between Unyoro and Uganda, Central Africa

January 18, 1876

Six days ago the Anglo-American expedition, under my command, and 2,000 choice spearmen of Uganda under the command of “General” Samboozi, were encamped at Unyampaka, Unyoro, on the shore of the Albert Niyanza. Mtesa, Emperor of Uganda, faithfully fulfilled his promise to me so far as to furnish me with force sufficient to pierce the hostile country of Kabba Rega and to penetrate to the Albert Niyanza, near which we were encamped three days. But though we were successful so far as to reach the lake, drink of its waters, take a couple of astronomical observations and procure much information respecting the contiguous countries, I soon perceived that exploration of the lake was out of the question, unless I then and there resolved to terminate my journey with the exploration of the Albert. For having penetrated by force through Kabba Rega’s country, it would have been folly to expect that 2,200 men could long occupy Unyampaka in the face of the thousands which Kabba Rega, King of Unyoro, and Mtambuko, King of Ankori, would array against them.

Ever since Sir Samuel Baker and his Egyptian force provoked the hostility of the successor to Kamrasi, Unyoro is a closed country to any man of a pale complexion, be he Arab, Turk or European. Besides, Gordon’s officers in the north frequently engage the Wanyoro wherever they are met, and thus the hate which Kabba Rega bears to Europeans is not diminishing. South of Unyoro extends the country of Ankori inhabited by a powerful tribe, whose numbers have generally been found sufficient to give Mtesa measure for measure and blow for blow, and whose ferocity and singular aversion to strangers have compelled all trading caravans to keep clear of them.

Upon considering the chances of success along the various routes to Lake Albert it became too evident to me that, unaided by a force of Waganda, I could not so much as reach the lake, and that even with the Waganda, unless the Emperor assisted me with 50,000 or 60,000, it would be almost hopeless to expect that we could hold our ground long enough to enable me to set out on a two months’ voyage of exploration, and find on my return the expedition still intact and safe. On representing these ideas to the Emperor he and his chiefs assured me that 2,000 men were amply sufficient, as Kabba Rega would not dare lift a spear against the Waganda, because it was he (Mtesa) who had seated Kabba Rega on the throne of Kamrasi. Though not quite convinced with the assurances Mtesa gave me that there would be no trouble I entreated him no further, but accepted thankfully General Samboozi and 2,000 men as escort.

Our march across Uganda, west and northwest, was uninterrupted by any event to mar the secret joy I felt in being once more on the move to new fields of exploration. We made a brave show of spears and guns while marching across the easy swells of pastoral Western Uganda. Game was also abundant, and twenty-seven harte beests fell victims to my love of hunting and our necessities of life.

Having arrived at the frontier of Unyoro we made all warlike preparations, and on January 5 entered Kabba Rega’s territory. The people fled before us, leaving their provisions in their haste behind them, of which we made free use. On the 9th we camped at the base of the tremendous mountain called Kabuga, at an altitude of 5,500 feet above the sea. East of the low ridge on which we camped the Katonga River was rounding from the north to the east on its course toward Lake Victoria, and west of the camp the Rusango River boomed hoarse thunder from its many cataracts and falls as it rushed westward to Lake Albert. From one of the many spurs of Kabuga we obtained a passing glimpse of the king of mountains, Gambaragara, which attains an altitude of between 13,000 and 15,000 feet above the ocean. Snow is frequently seen, though not perpetual. On its summit dwell the chief medicine men of Kabba Rega, a people of European complexion.

Some half dozen of these people I have seen, and at sight of them I was reminded of what Mukamba, King of Uzige, told Livingstone and myself respecting white people who live far north of his country. They are a handsome race, and some of the women are singularly beautiful. Their hair is kinky, but inclined to brown in color. Their features are regular, lips thin, but their noses, though well shaped, are somewhat thick at the point. Several of their descendants are scattered throughout Unyoro, Ankori and Ruanda, and the royal family of the latter powerful country are distinguished, I am told, by their pale complexions. The Queen of Sasua Islands, in the Victoria Niyanza, is a descendant of this tribe.

Whence came this singular people I have had no means of ascertaining except from the Waganda, who say the first King of Unyoro gave them the land around the base of Gambaragara Mountain, wherein through many vicissitudes they have continued to reside for centuries. On the approach of an invading host they retreat to the summit of the mountain, the intense cold of which defies the most determined of their enemies. Two years ago Emperor Mtesa despatched his Prime Minister with about 100,000 men to Gambaragara and Usongora; but though the great General of Uganda occupied the slopes and ascended a great height in pursuit, he was compelled by inclement climate to descend without having captured more than few black slaves, the pale-faced tribe having retreated to their impregnable fortress at the summit.

The mountain, it appears, is an extinct volcano, for on the summit is a crystal clear lake, about 500 yards in length, from the centre of which rises a column-like rock to a great height. A rim of firm rock, like a wall, surrounds the summit, within which are several villages, where the principal medicine man and his people reside.

Two men of this tribe, who might be taken at first glance for Greeks in white shirts, accompanied Sekajugu, a sub chief under Samboozi, and our expedition to Lake Albert and back to Uganda, but they were extremely uncommunicative, and nothing of the history of their tribe could I obtain from them. Their diet consists of milk and bananas, and they were the only men of rank in the entire force under Samboozi who possessed more than two milch cows to supply them with milk while on the march. Sekajugu, to whom they were friendly and under whom they had enrolled themselves, states that they rebelled against Kabba Rega, and, to avoid his vengeance, sought refuge with him.

Another specimen of this tribe of white complexioned people I saw at the Court of Mtesa in the person of Prince Namionju, the brother of the reigning King Nyika of Gambaragara. When I first saw him I took him for a young Arab of Cairo, who had taken up his residence in Uganda for some unknown reason, and it was not until I had seen several specimens of the same pale color that I could believe that there existed a large and numerous tribe of people of such a singular color in the heart of Africa, remote from the track of all travelers and trading caravans.

Africa is certainly the “haunt of light-headed fable,” romance and superstition, but I shall believe hereafter that there exists some slight modicum of truth in all the statements and revelations of these simple people. On the shores of the Victoria, in Usukuma, I heard of a people far north possessing very large dogs, of such fierce nature that they were often taken to war against the enemies of their masters. These people I subsequently ascertained to be the Wakedi, a tribe living north of Usoga. The same people also, in their various wars with Uganda, have been found wearing iron armor. About four years ago, when exploring the Tanganyika with Livingstone, I heard there existed a race of white people north of Uzige. At that time Livingstone and myself smiled at the absurdity of a white people living in the heart of Africa, and ascribed the report to the brown color of the Warundi. Now I have not only seen the country of these white people, but several specimens of themselves at different periods and in different places. Were it not for the negroid hair I should say they were Europeans or some light-colored Asiatics, such as Syrians or Armenians. Apropos of these singular people, I have heard that the first King of Kishakka, a country southwest of Karagwe, was an Arab, whose scimitar is still served with great reverence by the present reigning family of Kishakka.

Our further passage to Lake Albert was along the southern bank of the Rusango River, which winds in and out among deep mountain folds, and rushes headlong on its course in roaring cataracts and brawling rapids. Ten hours’ swift marching enabled us to cross an uninhabited tract of Ankori and emerge again in Unyoro, in the district of Kitagwenda, which is well populated and cultivated. Our sudden appearance on the scene, with drums beating, colors flying and bugles blowing, drove the natives in a panic from their fields and their houses in such hot haste that many of our people found the family porridge still cooking and great pots full of milk standing ready for the evening meal.

It had previously been agreed upon between “General” Samboozi and myself that if the natives chose to permit our peaceful passage through Unyoro that no violence was to be done to any person. But at Kitagwenda we found ourselves in possession of a populous and thriving district, with not a single native near us to give us information. Lake Albert, on the evening of January 9, was about three miles due west from us, and it behooved us that we might not be surprised to obtain information as to the feelings of the natives toward us. Samboozi was clever enough to perceive our position, and he consented to send out 200 men next morning as scouts, and to capture a few men through whom we could communicate with the chief of Kitagwenda, and satisfy him that if unmolested we had no hostile intention, and, if permitted to reside two months, would pay him cloth, beads or wire for whatever we consumed.

The next day was a halt, and the scouts brought in five natives, who were sent with a peaceful message to the chief. The chief did not deign to answer us, though we knew he resided on the summit of a mountain close by. On the 11th we moved our camp to within one mile of the edge of the plateau, a thousand feet below which was the Albert Niyanza. Here we constructed our camp on the morning of the 11th, and, receiving no word from the chief of the Kitagwenda or of Unyampaka, sent 500 Waganda and fifty of the Anglo-American Expedition to seek out a locality for a fenced camp, and to seize upon all canoes along the coast at the base of the plateau on which we were camped. In about three hours the reconnoitering party returned, bringing information that they had only succeeded in securing five small canoes, too small to be of any service to us, and that the alarm had already spread far along the coast that a large force of strangers had arrived at the lake for war purposes.

The 12th was spent by me in endeavoring to induce Samboozi to move to the lake, that we might build a fortified camp and put the boat Lady Alice together, but it was in vain. The natives had by this time recovered their wits, and, strongly reinforced from the neighboring districts, they were preparing themselves for an effort to punish us for our temerity, and, by the impunity they enjoyed from attack, they occupied all the heights and villages east of our camp. Once we sallied out of our camp for a battle; but the natives, while withdrawing, told us to keep our strength for the next day. Unable to persuade Samboozi to move his camp or stay longer than the next day, there remained for us only to return with them to Uganda, for among such people it was useless to think for a moment that a peaceable residence would be permitted. Besides the country was Unyoro and Kabba Rega, the enemy of the Europeans at Gondokoro was the King. Therefore a peaceful solution of our difficulty was out of the question. Accordingly, on the night of the 12th it was resolved to return and try to discover some other country where the expedition could camp in safety while I explored the lake in the Lady Alice.

On the morning of the 13th we set out on our return from the lake in order of battle, 500 spearmen in front, 500 spearmen for rear guard, 1,000 spearmen and the expedition in the centre. Whether it was our compact column that prevented an attack or not I cannot say. We were, however, permitted to leave the country of Kitagwenda unmolested, the natives merely closing in on our rear to snatch stragglers. On the 14th our expedition comprised the rear guard, and as we entered Benga, in Unyoro, the natives rushed from some woods to attack us, but a few rounds of ball cartridge dispersed them. On the 18th we re-entered Uganda.

However slightingly your readers may think of our trip to the Albert, honestly I do not suppose I have been guilty of such a harebrained attempt as this before. Looking calmly at it now, I regard it as great folly, but the success of having penetrated through Unyoro and reached the Albert redeemed it somewhat from absurdity. I sometimes think, though it would have been entirely contrary to orders, that, having reached the Albert, it would have been better to have launched the boat and explore the lake, leaving the expedition to take care of itself, to perish or survive my absence. But I thought it too great a pity that a first class expedition, in first class order should terminate on the shore of the Albert, and if one road was closed there might probably be others open; and after much deliberation with myself I resolved to return and endeavor to discover countries more amenable to reason and open to friendly gifts than hostile Unyoro or incorrigible Ankori.

Though we made strict inquiries we could discover no news of Gordon or his steamers. The natives of Unyampaka had never heard of a ship or any vessel larger than a canoe; and it is impossible that a vessel so singular as a steamer could approach near Usongora without the news of so singular an apparition becoming notorious.

The geographical knowledge we have been able to acquire by our forcible push to the Albert Niyanza is considerable. The lay of the plateau separating the great reservoirs of the Nile, the Victoria and Albert Niyanzas, the structure of the mountains and ridges, and the course of the watersheds, and the course of the rivers Katonga and Rusango have been revealed. The great mountain Gambaragara and its singular people have been discovered, besides a portion of a gulf of the Albert, which I have taken the liberty to call, in honor of Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice, Beatrice Gulf.

This gulf, almost a lake of itself, is formed by the promontory of Usongora, which runs southwest some thirty miles from a point ten geographical miles north of Unyampaka. The eastern coast of the Gulf is formed by the countries of Irangara, Unyampaka, Buhuju and Mpororo, which coast line runs a nearly south-southwest course. Between Mpororo and Usongora extend the islands of the maritime State of Utumbi. West of Usongora is Ukonju, on the western coast of Lake Albert, reputed to be peopled by cannibals. North of Ukonju is the great country of Ulegga.

Coming to the eastern coast of Lake Albert we have Ruanda running from Mpororo on the east to Ukonju on the west, occupying the whole of the south and southeast coast of Lake Albert. North of Unyampaka, on the east side, is Irangara and north of Irangara the district of Toro. Unyoro occupies the whole of the east side from the Murchison Falls of the Victoria Nile to Mpororo, for Unyampaka, Toro, Buhuju and Irangara are merely districts of Unyoro. The great promontory of Usongora, which half shuts in Beatrice Gulf, is tributary to Kabba Rega, though governed by Nyika, King of Gambaragara.

Usongora is the great salt field whence all the surrounding countries obtain their salt. It is, from all accounts, a very land of wonders, but the traveler desirous of exploring it should have a thousand Sniders to protect him, for the natives, like those of Ankori, care for nothing but milk and goatskins. Among the wonders credited to it are a mountain emitting “fire and stones,” a salt lake of considerable extent, several hills of rock salt, a large plain encrusted thickly with salt and alkali, a breed of very large dogs of extraordinary ferocity, and a race of such long-legged natives that ordinary mortals regard them with surprise and awe. The Waganda, who have invaded their country for the sake of booty, ascribe a cool courage to them, against which all their numbers and well known expertness with shield and spear were of little avail. They are, besides, extremely clannish, and allow none of their tribe to intermarry with strangers, and their diet consists solely of milk. Their sole occupation consists in watching their cows, of which they have an immense number; and it was to capture some of those herds that the Emperor of Uganda sent 100,000 men under his Prime Minister to Usongora. The expedition was successful, for by all accounts the Waganda returned to their country with about 20,000; but so dearly were they purchased with the loss of human life that it is doubtful whether such a raid will again be attempted to Usongora.

I propose to rest here a couple of days and then proceed to Karagwe to discover another road to Lake Albert.

P.S. Our camp on Lake Albert in Unyampaka was situated in longitude 31 deg. 24 min. 30 sec. by observation and latitude 25 min. by account. The promontory of Usongora, due west, was about fifteen miles.

(Source: “Stanley’s Despatches to the New York Herald,” Archive.org)