The Slaughter of the Arabs

Henry Stanley

New York Herald/July 15, 1872


Kwihara, Unyanyembe

September 20, 1871

The African expedition of the NEW YORK HERALD arrived at Unyanyembe on June 23, 1871. It had suffered considerably in its personnel and transport. One of the white men has died, he but lived to reach half-way here; two of the armed escort as well as eight pagazis died also from dysentery and smallpox. Two horses and twenty-seven asses have also perished. On arriving at Unyanyembe your correspondent wrote two letters and entrusted them to Said Ben Salim (Burton and Speke’s former Ras Cafilah), now Governor of Unyanyembe. One gave an account of our journey from the coast here; the other of our battle with Mirambo, who occupied the country lying between the HERALD expedition and the object of its search. I then prepared for the second stage, viz: the journey to Ujiji and Manyema.

But difficulties had been on the increase for about a month before our arrival here. Mirambo, King of Uyowa, in western Unyamwezi, had been levying blackmail to an unconscionable amount upon caravans bound westward to Ujiji, the lake and the regions lying behind; to Urundi, to Karagwah, Uganda and Unyoro. The road to these countries led through his country, a serious misfortune not only to the expedition but to all caravans bound anywhere westward.

About the time the expedition arrived Mirambo capped his arbitrary course by taking from a caravan five bales of cloth, five guns and five kegs of powder, and then refusing it permission to pass, declaring that none should pass any more except over his body. This, of course, led to a declaration of war on the part of the Arabs, which was given after I had secured new carriers and was almost ready for the journey.

The Arabs were so confident of easy victory over the African King, declaring that fifteen days at the most would suffice to settle him, that I was tempted in an unlucky moment to promise them my aid, hoping that by this means I would be enabled to reach Livingstone sooner than by stopping at Unyanyembe awaiting the turn of events.

Mirambo was but twenty-seven hours’ march from Unyanyembe.

On the first day we burned three of his villages, captured, killed or drove away the inhabitants. On the second I was taken down with the ever-remitting fever of the country. On the third a detachment was sent out and audaciously attacked the fenced village where the King was, and after an hour’s fighting entered it at one gate while Mirambo left it by another.

In returning to our camp this detachment was waylaid by Mirambo and his men and a great slaughter of the Arabs took place. Seventeen Arab commanders were slain, among them one or two personal friends of mine, who had traveled with me from the coast. Five of the soldiers of the HERALD expedition were killed. The fourth day was a frightful retreat, from the simple cause of seeing smoke in the distance, which was believed to be caused by Mirambo’s advance or Ruga-Ruga freebooters. Without informing each other the Arabs, followed by their slaves, rushed out of their village, and I was left in my tembe alone, in a fever. My own men, frightened by their isolation, lost courage and ran, all but six, my Arab boy, Selim, and the Englishman Shaw. With these I reached Mfuto, half-way to Unyanyembe, at midnight. After this graceless retreat it became evident to me that it was going to be a long affair between Arab and African. Livingstone’s caravan, which had gone to its first camp preparatory for the journey, had been ordered back, and the goods had been safely lodged in my house.

The Arabs’ cowardly retreat invited Mirambo to follow them to their homes. While I was debating what to do (knowing that speed was a necessity with the expedition) Mirambo entered Tabora, the Arab capital of Central Africa, with his ferocious allies, the Watuta.

Tabora is one mile from Kwihara, the place where I date this telegram. The Kazeh of Speke and Burton is not known here except as the fenced residence of an old Arab. Tabora includes all the Arab residences. The Arabs of Kwihara were in great alarm and their thorough selfishness came out strongly. The Governor and others were for running to the coast at once, declaring Central Africa forever closed to travel and trade.

About one-fourth of Tabora was burned; five eminent Arabs were killed; cattle, ivory and slaves carried away. Expecting attack I turned the Governor’s house into a little fort, in order to defend the property of the expedition and that of Livingstone from the Watuta. All fugitives from Tabora who were armed were invited in, until I had 150 armed men within the tembe. Provisions and water were brought to last five days. At the end of that time Mirambo and his allies retired with great booty. During the state of siege the American flag was hoisted.

After this event I informed the Arabs that I could not assist them any more, for if they ran away once they would run away again, and declared my intention to travel at once to Ujiji by another road. They all advised me to wait until the war was over; that I was going straight to death by travelling during war time. But I was obstinate, and they looked on me as a lost man. I engaged thirty men of Zanzibar at treble prices. The effects of the expedition were reduced to the smallest scale consistent with the actual necessities of the journey.

As the day drew near the restlessness of the men increased and Bombay (Burton and Speke’s handy man, but always my stumbling block), did his utmost to slacken the courage of the armed escort — the Englishman Shaw even became so smitten with fear that he could not assist in my preparations. The Arab reports of the wars along our road were influencing the men of the expedition.

(Source: Stanley’s Dispatches to the New York Herald,