The Selous is full of interesting history, from the battles that ensued in World War 1, to the death of Frederick Courtney Selous at the trigger finger of a German Marksmen. Many a story can be told as one goes out on either a walk or a drive in the area, and some stories are more sinister and mysterious than others.
There is a beautiful Baobab Tree close to Beho Beho, where Christopher Bailey’s ashes were scattered (he was the previous owner of Beho Beho since 1977, with his son Charlie Bailey inheriting Beho Beho in 2002). However this Baobab also marks the position of a mass grave site and one of the many villages which are described on the hills surrounding Beho Beho.
Several months ago, Sean and I lead a walk with some guests, and as we stopped and took our seats at the usual refreshment stop under the Baobab, Sean spotted what would turn out to be the graves of two children. We have subsequently found more graves, but the question remains: how old are the graves, how did they die, what happened, etc.?
Well if we go back in history there was a lot of villages scattered around on hill slopes. The hills offered a safe vantage point to spot any invading tribes which could take over the village; but also due to topographical and relief rainfall, minerals, salts and nutrients are leached from the soils on top and deposited below in the valleys. This makes these soils very fertile and perfect areas to grow crops and other vegetables. So the villagers would be able to keep an eye on their crops from the hill, and they would also be safe from any flash floods.
When looking at areas where there were previous villages, you often find pottery shards, remnants of ash pits, and the area is usually devoid of plant growth, besides trees and shrubs which would form shade, and usually bare edible fruit supplementing the diet of the villagers. It is also believed that some of these fruiting trees were planted, as a food source. The evidence of a previous village is prominent around Christopher’s Baobab, with pottery shards scattered around, graves and very open landscape.
But what could have happened to these children and people in the Beho Beho village?
The honest answer is: we don’t know. We can only speculate and some possibilities are drought, disease, malaria, starvation or even tribal massacre.
There is some evidence in some historical readings which may point more to the sinister side. In 1880 William Beardall, under the orders of the Sultan of Zanzibar, Sayyid Barghash, undertook a mission to explore the Rufiji River, but he also found that the Mahenge tribe had burnt down the Beho Beho village. The Mahenge tribe often hunted and took people by force, to sell to the Arab slave traders. The Mahenge tribe had kidnapped the Beho Beho chief Korogero, and the villages didn’t put up too much of a fight against the Mahenge tribe when they came in to ransack their villages and then burnt them down.
So it is possible that these people and children met their death during these conflicts, and those who were able to hide and escape, came back to bury the dead.
One can look at many possibilities as the baobab in many African cultures is seen as a sacred tree, and it could have been used as a spiritual burial ground. But this is what makes these discoveries so interesting, as you don’t always have the answers.