A Boy’s Introduction To Killing

Home from school at midday in Livingstone, most likely with no homework, I had a long afternoon to put in. On several occasions a few friends and I would go outside the limits placed by our parents, out through the tall grasses of the Veldt, along the wide deep drainage ditches waiting in their dusty state for the next onslaught of the monsoon rains. It was exciting creeping down these excavations, knowing full well there were snakes there, because our parents had told us that was the reason we were not to trespass outside the town boundary. Across this arid pasture we went until we neared the abattoir, another no-go area. It was here we spied on the Africans slaughtering the pigs. The act certainly didn’t conform to Government regulations; it was more a tribal game. They would release a pig. give it a stab to urge it on its way, then some of the men would run with it until they managed to kill it with a knife. We seem to have been unaffected by this brutal barbarism. I was horrified for the sake of the pigs, while I was left with a mental snapshot, it did not affect me otherwise, no nightmares and no aversion to blood, This was not the only killing I was to observe. In retrospect I realise that the Africans’ values were unsurprisingly different from those of the whites. On one occasion, shortly after I arrived, one of the servants asked me if I would like to see the chicken being killed, the one destined for the table that day. The family reared chickens for eggs and meat in the compound at the back of the house. I assume I acquiesced because I became party to a demonstration of decapitation and the sight of a headless chicken running round the compound until it fell, already dead. This I still see in graphic 3D.

Until I started thinking more deeply concerning those days, I had not realised how much death was taken for granted in that environment. On one occasion I saw from a distance the witch doctor who was brought in for the ritual killing of several people and would ultimately be hanged, himself. I saw a snake killed on the step of the bungalow merely because it was poisonous. I went to the Zambezi to see my father bring in the bodies of several crocodiles, which had been killed because they were thought to be lying in wait for Africans watering their cattle. Both oxen and herders had become the reptile’s prey, swept off their feet by a swipe of a tail and then drowned. These huge creatures lived on an island in the river and took their kills there to bury them for eating later. The white men were rowed out on the river in small boats to shoot the crocs in the water and then, when they were sure the reptiles were dead they would be tied on to the boat and towed ashore. My father and his friends would then stand around while their servants skinned the beasts. I remembered that the smell of raw crocodile was one of the foulest smells I had ever encountered.

All this took place at what was referred to as ‘the bathing place’. An area of cleared River Zambezi riverbank with two rectangular huts in the style of native dwellings, used as changing rooms for the whites – by the men and ladies. In Africa, at that time, white women were all ladies, irrespective of their antecedents or proclivities. As far as I could see, the whole aspect of life as a member of the Raj was like being a member of a select, upper class British club. There were rules, which one only broke on penalty of being black-balled, so one conformed – how one conformed. The actual bathing was done in the Zambezi itself. I assume that an inlet in the bank reduced the velocity of the river to nearly nothing at that point. I have no recollection of currents being a problem. The main river was only about two miles from the Victoria Falls at that point so the velocity in the main stream must have been quite high. To protect the bathers from the ever present threat of crocodiles, wire netting on poles formed the perimeter of the pool, held to the bottom by stones, a crude system which later proved fatal for a friend of mine. At Madeira, on our way home we read of the death by drowning of a school friend who had been lost in the swimming pool. Apparently he had not been seen for a while and when the men went to look for him fearing him drowned, his body was not within the enclosure, but they did find the wire netting had been breached very badly. The assumption was that a crocodile had entered, drowned the boy and left with him. From an age when I could reason cause and effect, I had been astounded that the whites would have permitted the Africans to water their oxen and cattle beside the bathing place, it was tantamount to training the crocodiles, and the death of the school boy had not been a unique case. We later heard that that was the end of bathing in the Zambezi. Incidentally, no one ever called crocodiles anything but crocs

Categorized as Pre-WW2

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *