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"A Restless Spirit" by Wallis Mackay. This is one of Mackay's sketches from his travelogue, The Prisoner of Chiloane: Or, With the Portuguese in South-east Africa (1890), p.63. The title of the book alludes Chiloane, a tropical island and port just off the coast of Mozambique, and also to Byron's The Prisoner of Chillon (1816) about a sixteenth-century monk imprisoned in the Castle of Chillon in Switzerland, the only survivor of his martyred family. Mackay endured many perils in his year's sojourn in Africa, especially in Chilaone. This was the time of the gold rush to these parts, but he does not clearly state his own purpose. He seems to have gone mainly as a journalist, with commissions to sketch various places and scenes.

Of course, the caption of this sketch seems ironic. The man depicted does not look restless at all. But the description is not entirely ironic. This is "Senhor Pinto," who only takes a quick nap now and then, otherwise remaining very much on the alert. Later on, we discover that falling asleep in the jungle is not a good thing at all: "Never wander along an unknown track of African country to make a sketch without you have arms, ammunition, water, dry matches, and a pocket compass — even if it only be ever such a little distance — and even then do not give way to drowsiness and sleep" (80).

Left to right: (a) A woman carrying a bowl on her head, and a baby on her back (155). (b) Young girl practicing for motherhood (159). (c) Boys "playing at war" (160).

While life was fraught with danger for European visitors, except perhaps for the great elephant-hunter, life among the locals was vibrant, and Mackay has a particularly entertaining chapter on children and child-care in Chilaone. He observed that a baby, comfortably wrapped on its mother's back, rarely cried and never howled: "Crying is a luxury it does not indulge in, and in this it certainly asserts a superiority over its white kindred of pampered cultivation. This may be a virtue for which it perhaps does not deserve much personal credit, being the result of the absolutely healthy circumstances of its birth and existence" (156-57). A little girl, he noticed, learned early how to be motherly and helpful, carrying a pumpkin on her back like a doll, and made a "good and mindful" mother when her turn came (155), while a a young boy was a mini-warrior from the start, "an untamed piece of electricity" (150). Mackay, who had children of his own at home, seems to have taken great pleasure in watching these lively youngsters.

After a year's adventuring, beset by fevers, dysentery, perils and frustrating setbacks, Mackay returned intact, clearly with plenty of material, but not of the golden kind. He was certainly glad to be back:

Arrived at home, Portuguese lethargy and delay still influenced my destiny, for I had got ahead of my own despatches, and was the announcer of my own arrival. There was a momentary shock about having to explain to the wife of one's bosom and the children of one's heart that I was not "the man come about the carpets," but the pillar and stay of their existence. For they knew me not. Strawberry marks and other melodramatic subterfuges were, however, not necessary to proclaim my identity. Though "bearded like the pard," and rigged out in the latest ready-made fashions of the Cape Town "Johnnies" — a good two years behind London cut, especially about the hat — I am not surprised that this should have been so. And 1 soon forgot it in the luxurious realization of what I had never thoroughly appreciated the full value of before. [184]

Source

Mackay, Wallis. The Prisoner of Chiloane: Or, With the Portuguese in South-east Africa. London: Trischler and Co., 1890. Internet Archive. Copy from an unknown library. Web. 3 April 2016.


Created 4 April 2016