“Narrative of Said Bin Habeeb, An Arab Inhabitant of Zanzibar”

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Art. IX.—Narrative of Said Bin Habeeb, an Arab Inhabitant of Zanzibar.      Contributed by Government.

Read before the Society by the Secretary on the 31st May 1860.

I left Zanzibar to travel in the interior of Africa about sixteen years ago. I went partly to trade in ivory, and partly for the purpose of visiting unexplored regions of that great country. I first travelled to Ugiji on the shore of the great lake of Tanganika. I then crossed the lake, and went twenty-seven days' journey down its western coast by boat to Umaroongoo, which is situated near the south end of the lake. A broad river, called the Maroongoo, flows into the lake near this place. From Umaroongoo, I travelled south, and visited the country of a powerful Chief whose title is 'the Casembe.' I first went seven days journey to Peto, thence seven days to Karembo Makoonga; in three days more to Karoongwesi, and thence in three days to Roonda, a large town, where the Casembe resides. Roonda is situated on the banks of a large river called the Ruapoora,--the stream flows North towards the Tanganika lake. The Casembe is a Negro, by name Sultan Chareka. The people are armed with muskets. There are plenty of sheep, goats, and poultry procurable at Roonda, but no horses, horned cattle, or camels. The markets of Roonda are well supplied with meat, fish, grain, and vegetables. There is no money: Venetian beads form the circulating medium. The people appear comfortable and contented, the country is everywhere cultivated, and the inhabitants are numerous. There are no stone buildings,--all the houses are constructed of wood or mud, with roofs of grass or leaves. The Casembe governs with mildness and justice, and the roads are quite safe for travellers. After residing for some time at Roonda, I went a journey of twenty-five days to the great copper-mines; they are situated to the west of Roonda, and the country all forms part of the dominions of the Casembe; it is well peopled and cultivated. The copper-mines are situated in a large range of mountains; a great many people are employed at them, and the copper is taken for sale all over the country. After
0002 Narrative of Said Bin Habeeb. 147 smelting, about seventy-five pounds weight of copper are sold for four cubits of American sheeting; iron is everywhere abundant, and the miners' tools are made from iron procured in the neighbourhood. A large town called Katanza is situated near the copper-mines, it contains a greater population than Roonda. The bazars at Katanza are well supplied with rice, Indian corn, jowarree, bajree, vegetables of various sorts; sheep and goats are plentiful; cotton is abundant, and is made into cloth in the country. There are no horses or horned cattle. Around Katanza, the country is generally populous, and the land well cultivated; but there are also extensive forests and mountains abounding in lions, elephants, and other wild animals. From the copper-mines, or "Masden Safr," it is a journey of three days to Waramba, the country of an independent chief. The town of Katanza and the copper-mines are situated in the dominions of a chief, whose title is 'Manene.' A large river, called the Rafira, flows past Katanza, and joins the Ruapoora to the North. I remained two months at Katanza; it is a quiet peaceable place, with very few robbers: the people always treated me in a friendly manner, and goods of all kinds were abundant. In payment of purchases in the markets, you break a few beads off a string, and give them in exchange. There is no coined money. I suffered but little inconvenience from my ignorance of the languages of the various countries through which I passed, because the Africans, who accompanied me from Zanzibar, acquired these languages with surprising rapidity, and always made themselves understood.

From Katanza, I travelled in a westerly direction, and, after two months, reached a country called Boira. The country through which I passed is divided into petty states, the chiefs treat travellers well, but it is necessary to stay amongst them and gain their goodwill. The country was generally thickly peopled, and grain, fowls, sheep, and vegetables, always procurable in abundance.

From Boira, I went a journey of seventeen days to "Warengeh:" the people of this country are the most barbarous I met with during all my travels; they go entirely naked, and pull out all their upper front teeth. From Warengeh, I travelled in two months to a country called Ugengeh, not far from the river Zambesi; the chief ruler of this country is named "Makororo:" the people are a handsome race, many are quite fair with long hair flowing over the neck, others are as black as negroes. In
0003 148 Narrative of Said Bin Habeeb. Ugengeh, the people possess abundance of horned cattle, horses, sheep, and goats: they travel about, and carry on a considerable trade. From Ugengeh, I went in thirty days' journey through a fine rich country to Lui: there is very little forest in this part; cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry are everywhere abundant. I reached the city of Loanda, on the shore of the great ocean in eighty-days' journey from Lui. I remained at Loanda twenty-five days, and then returned into the interior. I travelled about in various directions, trading in ivory, and visited the city of Loanda three times. I resided at various towns in the interior; and, at length, having been absent from my own country for so many years, I resolved to return to Zanzibar. I travelled east until I reached the river Zambesi, and then proceeded north until I reached the great lake Nyassa. I travelled seventeen days along the shore of the lake towards its northern end, in order to cross it at a narrow point, and I then returned to the east coast through the country of the Miyan and Magindo tribes. The lake of Nyassa is of vast extent, a large frigate could manœuvre on it. The country all around is very rich; cotton grows everywhere in great abundance, and the natives weave it into cloth.

During all my journeys, I met with hospitality and friendship, and I intend returning to the interior of Africa after arranging my affairs here. I met Dr. Livingstone near the Zambesi, and conveyed letters for him to Loanda. I have never written down anything I observed during my travels, because Arabs take no interest in the discovery of foreign countries, and do not care to hear of anything unconnected with the acquisition of riches.

Item Details

Author(s) & contributor(s): [British] Government; Said Bin Habib

Date(s): 31 May 1860

Form & transmission history: Original narrative, as translated, written down, edited, and published in a British geographical journal.

Original publication details: Transactions of the Bomaby Geographical Society 15 (31 May 1860): 146-48

Digital edition & date: One More Voice, 2020

Critical editing & encoding: Anne Martin, Heather F. Ball, Adrian S. Wisnicki

Cite this digital edition (MLA): [Bombay] Government; Said Bin Habib. “‘Narrative of Said Bin Habeeb, An Arab Inhabitant of Zanzibar’” (31 May 1860). Anne Martin, Heather F. Ball, Adrian S. Wisnicki, eds. One More Voice, site launch edition, 2020, https://onemorevoice.org/html/transcriptions/liv_020001_TEI.html.

Rights: Critically-edited text copyright One More Voice. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

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