On the Kagera River

Henry Stanley

New York Herald/August 11, 1876

Kafurro, Arab Depot, near Rumanika’s Capital,

Karagwe, Central Africa

March 26, 1876

Before parting with “General” Samboozi I received some more unkindness from him, which made another cause of complaint to add to his refusal to assist building a fenced camp on Lake Albert. The “General,” no doubt perceiving that his hopes of reward from me were very slim, undertook to reward himself and accordingly refused to return three porters’ loads of beads given him for carriage, and appropriated them for his own benefit. By such a proceeding he became guilty of theft, and, what is worse in Uganda, of disrespect and misbehavior to the Emperor’s guest, and laid himself open to the severest penalties. My letter of complaint was no sooner received by the Emperor than a force of musketeers were despatched under Saruti, their chief, who despoiled “General” Samboozi of cattle, wives, children, slaves and every article he possessed, and the “General” himself was seized, bound and carried in chains to the Emperor, whose influence must be used to save even his head.

Mtesa also sent a series of messages after me, imploring me to return, and promising me Sekibobo with 50,000 men and Mquenda with 40,000 men to escort me back again to Lake Albert, and giving me the solemn assurance that these chiefs should defend the camp until I returned from my voyage of exploration. But, though I almost wept from sheer vexation, and was extremely sorry to refuse such a generous offer, I respectfully declined relying upon Waganda any more; and wrote him to that effect as fast as each message came from him. Besides, I was too far south, being encamped on the north banks of the Kagera River when I first learned Mtesa’s intentions, and to return from the Kagera to the Katonga and march back again to Lake Albert would have occupied three months, and should Sekibobo and Mquenda prove as faithless as Samboozi I should find, on my return to Unyampaka from the lake, that the Waganda and the expedition were flown. I had many other strong reasons for persisting in my refusal to return; and, though I prosecuted my march to Karagwe, it was with a sad heart I bade farewell to my hopes of exploring Lake Albert from the East side.

Until I arrived at Karagwe I was daily encouraged with the reports of simple natives that a country lay behind Mpororo where we would be received as friends; but on inquiry of the gentle, sweet tempered Pagan Rumanika, I was informed that the friendly country was Utumbi, but was inaccessible, owing to the people of Mpororo, who would not even let his own people enter their territory. On asking if Ruanda was accessible to travellers I was informed that at five different times Arabs had endeavored to open intercourse with them, but each time had been repulsed, and some had been murdered by the treacherous people. I then inquired if there was no road between Ruanda and Urundi by which I could reach Uzige. The old King smiled at the question, and said the Warundi were worse than the natives of Ruanda. Not quite satisfied with his replies, I questioned Hamed Ibrahim, an Arab gentleman, who has done business in Karagwe twelve years. As to the possibility of penetrating anywhere westward from any point near Karagwe, his replies, though more definite and explicit, swept away almost all hope of ever again reaching Lake Albert from the east side.

To test Rumanika’s friendship I requested he would permit me to explore the frontier of Karagwe as far north as Mpororo, and south to Ugufu, a distance of eighty geographical miles, and that he would lend me guides and a native escort. To my surprise the gentle old King not only gave me guides and escort, but canoes and the freedom of Karagwe, or, in other words, he promised that so long as I explored I and my people should have subsistence gratis! Thus I was assisted a second time by African monarchs in the cause of geography.

I lost no time, you may rest assured, in getting ready. The boat Lady Alice was conveyed to Speke’s Lake Windermere and the sections screwed together, and the next day, convoyed by six of Rumanika’s canoes, manned by Wanyambu (natives of Karagwe), we set out for another exploring trip. After circumnavigating Lake Windermere we entered the Kagera River, and almost immediately it flashed on my mind that I had made another grand discovery, that I had discovered, in fact, the true parent of the Victoria Nile.

If you glance at Speke’s map, you will perceive that he calls this river the Kitangule River, and that he has two tributaries running to it, called respectively the Luchuro and the Ingezi. Speke, so wonderfully correct, with a mind which grasped geographical knowledge with great acuteness, and arranged the details with clever precision and accuracy, is seriously in error in calling this noble river Kitangule. Neither Waganda nor Wanyamba know it by that name, but they all know the Kagera River, which flows near Kitangule. From its mouth to Urundi it is known by the natives on both banks as the Kagera River. The Luchuro, or rather Lukaro, means “higher up,” but is no name of any river. Of the Ingezi I shall have occasion to speak further on.

While exploring the Victoria Lake I ascended a few miles up the Kagera, and was then struck with its great volume and depth — so much so as to rank it as the principal affluent of the Victoria Lake. But in coming south, and crossing it at Kitangule, I sounded it and found fourteen fathoms of water, or eighty-four feet deep, and 120 yards wide. This fact, added to the determined opinion of the natives that the Kagera was an arm of the Albert Niyanza, caused me to think the river worth exploring. I knew, as all know who know anything of African geography, that the Kagera could not be an effluent of Lake Albert, but their repeated statements to that effect caused me to suspect that such a great body of water could not be created by the drainage of Ruanda and Karagwe — that it ought to have its source much further, or from some lake situate between Lakes Albert and Tanganyika.

When I explored Lake Windermere I discovered, by sounding, that it had an average depth of forty feet, and that it was fed and drained by the Kagera. On entering the Kagera I stated that it flashed on my mind that the Kagera was the real parent of the Victoria Nile; by sounding I found fifty-two feet of water in a river fifty yards wide. I proceeded on my voyage three days up the river, and came to another lake about nine miles long and a mile in width, situate on the right hand of the stream. At the southern end of the lake, and after working our way through two miles of papyrus, we came to the island of Unyamubi, a mile and a half in length. Ascending the highest point on the island the secret of the Ingezi or Kagera was revealed. Standing in the middle of the island I perceived it was about three miles from the coast of Karagwe and three miles from the coast of Kishakka west, so that the width of the Ingezi at this point was about six miles, and north it stretched away broader, and beyond the horizon green papyri mixed with broad gray gleams of water. I discovered, after further exploration, that the expanses of papyri floated over a depth of from nine to fourteen feet of water; that the papyri, in fact, covered a large portion of a long, shallow lake; that the river, though apparently a mere swift, flowing body of water, confined apparently within proper banks by dense, tall fields of papyri, was a mere current, and that underneath the papyri it supplied a lake, varying from five to fourteen miles in width and about eighty geographical miles in length.

Descending the Kagera again, some five miles from Unyamubi, the boat entered a large lake on the left side, which, when explored, proved to be thirteen geographical miles in length by eight in breadth. From its extreme western side to the mainland of Karagwe east was fourteen miles, eight of which was clear, open water; the other six were covered by floating fields of papyri, large masses or islands of which drift to and fro daily. By following this lake to its southern extremity I penetrated between Ruanda and Kishakka. I attempted to land in Ruanda, but was driven back to the boat by war cries, which the natives sounded shrill and loud.

Throughout the entire length (eighty miles) the Kagera maintains almost the same volume and almost the same width, discharging its surplus waters to the right and to the left as it flows on, feeding, by means of the underground channels, what might be called by an observer on land seventeen separate lakes, but which are in reality one lake, connected together underneath the fields of papyri, and by lagoon-like channels meandering tortuously enough between detached fields of the most prolific reed. The open expanses of water are called by the natives so many “rwerus” or lakes; the lagoons connecting them and the reed-covered water are known by the name of “Ingezi.” What Speke has styled Lake Windermere is one of these rwerus, and is nine miles in extreme length and from one to three miles in width. By boiling point I ascertained it to be at an altitude of 3,760 feet above the ocean and about 320 feet above Lake Victoria. The extreme north point of this singular lake is north by east from Uhimba south; its extreme southern point, Karagwe, occupies the whole of its eastern side. Southwest it is bounded by Kishakka, west by Muvari, in Ruanda, northwest by Mpororo and northeast by Ankori. At the point where Ankori faces Karagwe the lake contracts, becomes a tumultuous noisy river, creates whirlpools and dashes itself madly into foam and spray against opposing rocks, and finally rolls over a wall of rock ten or twelve feet deep with a tremendous uproar — for which the natives call it Morongo, or the Noisy Falls.

On returning from my voyage of exploration — during which time I was most hospitably entertained, so powerful was the name of the gentle pagan Rumanika — I requested guides to take me overland to the hot springs of Mtagata, which have obtained such renown throughout all the neighboring countries for their healing properties. Two days’ severe marching toward the north brought us to a deep wooded gorge wherein the hot springs are situated. I discovered a most astonishing variety of plants, herbs, trees and bushes; for here Nature was in her most prolific mood. She shot forth her products with such vigor that each plant seemed to strangle the others for lack of room. They so clambered over one another that small hills of brush were formed, the lowest in the heap stifled by the uppermost, and through the heaps thus formed tall mvules shot forth an arrow’s flight into the upper air, with globes of radiant, green foliage upon their stem-like crowns.

The springs were visited at this time by numbers of diseased persons. Male and female were seen lying promiscuously in the hot pools half asleep, while their itchy and ulcerous bodies were being half cooked. The hottest issued in streams from the base of a rocky hill, and when Fahrenheit’s thermometer was placed in the water the mercury rose to 129 degrees. Four springs bubbled upward from the ground through a depth of dark, muddy sediment, and had a temperature of 110 degrees. These were the most favored by the natives, and the curative reputation of the springs was based on the properties of this water.

I camped at the springs three days, and made free use of a reserved spring; but, excepting unusual cleanliness, I cannot say I enjoyed any benefit from the water. I drank about a gallon of the potent liquid, and can say this much, that it has no laxative effect on the system. A bottleful of the purest water I took away with me, in the hope that some day it may be analyzed by professionals in Europe.

I but yesterday returned from the hot springs, and, having seen all worth seeing in Karagwe, and having as yet discovered no road westward, I propose the day after to-morrow to march along the eastern shore of the lake, south or south-west, as far as practicable, with the view to follow up the interesting discoveries I have made.

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