Of SCOURGES and PIROGUES.

My survey area of about four to five thousand square kilometres lay in the eastern quadrant of the confluence of the Shiré and Zambezi rivers, but my camp just outside the town of Mopeia lay on the eastern boundary. The vast interior either had no roads or they were seasonal; cut off by swampy floodplain and overgrown by three-metre high grass.

Beside the heat, the tsetse flies, horse-flies, mopani bees and malaria, we had to put up with dysentery and ulcerating veld-sores (Ecthyma). I was one of the lucky ones; I was spared malaria and worse. Frank Merryweather had got hepatitis the year before. Terry Haffern caught it in 1972 and it ended his career with the company. Jed got Blackwater fever, but that’s another story.

I picked up pubic lice (Pthirus pubis ). Not from bodily contact, I can assure you. I have got past the stage where I would be too embarrassed to tell you if it were not so, but I haven’t a clue where I did catch it. The itch was bad enough, but trying to get rid of it by wiping it with petrol was excruciating and not clever! I tried to shave my own bum, but that was difficult. Jack, my foreman, kindly took over the job! In retrospect it is extremely funny, if you have that kind of warped sense of humour, but as I had no idea what the problem was at the time, it was very worrying.

Charles Howard (Jed) called me Crabby for a while.

Jack and I communicated in Chilapalapa/Fanagalo with bits of English and Portuguese thrown in.

(Yo, Jek! Lo pikanin intu, yena blala mina lapa lo ngoti lapa emva ka mina!)

Talking of nicknames: obviously Jed was called Boss Nyoka, due to his interest in snakes. Bruce Barichievy was called Boss Kweka, which means Underpants, due to the very tight shorts that were his attire. Chivurivuri had been my name in the Alto Moloque region, but in the Zambezi Valley it was Namangani. I discovered that the two names meant the same thing: whirlwind. Now this does not mean speedy or dynamic, as it might do in English, it means he who ignores the roads and goes wherever he pleases, despite advice to the contrary. Or he who subjected his Land Rover to unreasonable tests.

Unknown castle

Unknown castle

Finally the tall grass was dry enough to burn and the locals did so, opening up hitherto inaccessible parts of my area. Exploring hitherto unreachable regions, I came across the most amazing sights that none of my team, who were locals, had even heard about. One was a long abandoned lime kiln. Another was a castle. If anyone can shed light on these curiosities, please comment!

abandoned lime kiln

abandoned lime kiln

I moved west to Chimuara which, then, consisted of little more than a few huts. (I say then because a bridge has been built over the Zambezi, there, and it has swelled to a substantial village. A new highway cuts across my previously remote area, to the city of Quelimane.)

There was the ruin of a store where a man and his family had all died, it was said, of malaria.

haunted house

haunted house

The ruin was avoided by the locals because they believed it to be haunted by their ghosts. I had my team thatch in a small room at the back and blocked off a window with a grass-covered frame. It was cosy, but the first night the frame came crashing down.

I told the ghosts that I appreciated their hospitality, apologised for my intrusion and propped the frame up again. No problem, after that.

One day while out describing soil pits, I heard a rumble. There were no clouds in the sky, but the rumbling continued until a pirogue hove into sight. It was being rolled on logs by the family who owned it. A series of fires burned on its inside. With them travelled the pirogue builder who chopped away the coals and directed the building of new fires. He chopped and shaped and smoothed until, three weeks later, the pirogue reached the river, where it would be sold to the fishermen for a meagre three thousand Escudos. ($US100-00)

Pirogue-to-be

Pirogue-to-be

The family would then retrace their steps homeward, eighty-odd kilometres. In the forest they would have already cut several other trees which would lie there for a year to dry before they selected one to start the journey to the river…

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 4 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom' and 'Medicinal Purposed Only', all from Southern Africa.
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4 Responses to Of SCOURGES and PIROGUES.

  1. That castle is something else – will see if I can find out anything 🙂 Nice post, your writing transports me into another world!

    • peterjearle says:

      Armed with camera! That would be a story I’d love to hear! There may well be info about it now that the “new” road to Quelimane has been built through the area.

  2. Nigel Rollo says:

    Great castle. I bet there is a good story to go with it.
    Quite a pirogue and what a fine pedigree. I spent a week travelling to and fro to work across the Lower Shire River in a 14-16 seater. It looked somewhat like the one in your photo.

  3. peterjearle says:

    Maybe Lianne of Africa farandwide can track it down and prize the story loose! I once saw a pirogue with a 4-cylinder inboard marine diesel in it, down in the Zambezi delta beyond Marromeu.

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