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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

King Lo Bengula

King Lo Bengula.

Lo Bengula—literally "The Defender" and the bearer of many grandiloquent titles, such as "The Great Elephant" "The Eater of Men," "The Stabber of the Sun,"—is sixty years of age, suffers from gout, and is enormously fat and unwieldy in person, which tends greatly to diminish his otherwise kingly appearance. He is close upon six feet, weighs nearly twenty stone, and rarely takes physical exercise, although he has in his earlier days been active and powerful. He is a man of extraordinary character and ability, with great power of work. The descriptions of Lo Bengula's personal appearance range between that of a most truculent and bloodthirsty savage, with a "deadly cruel" look in the eyes, and a pleasant, mild-mannered old gentleman, with a gentle, winning, childlike smile. It is probably wise to adopt neither of these extreme portraits. There seems no doubt that at times he has a singularly sweet smile, softening the usual character of his face, and with him, as with despotic monarchs similarly gifted, these occasions not infrequently bode somebody no particular good. His natural disposition is said by those who know him well to be not cruel; but the exercise of unrestrained despotic power, surrounded by intrigues, has led to indifference to life, whenever it seemed to him a matter of policy or, as not unseldom, self-preservation. Relations and friends at the Matabele court alike have been removed when found to be "inconvenient." There is no doubt as to his great intelligence; he goes to the bottom of a question, never being diverted from it; his memory is great; he hears reports from all quarters, decides difficult questions of law, judges criminals, and settles details of his enormous cattle-business. A favourite seat is the waggon-box; at page 57 other times a veritable Bath-chair, given to him by some English admirer. In his cattle kraal, with his body wrapped in a coloured blanket, and feet swathed in dirty flannel-bandages, in the midst of dirt and discomfort, and surrounded by skulls of slaughtered bullocks and mangy pariah dogs, the King was frequently to be seen.

The fact that Lo Bengula succeeded in restraining the war-party so long speaks volumes as to his force of character, tact and diplomacy. As illustrating his capacity for business I may here mention that when I was serving in Mashonaland he sent an agent, Mr. Dawson, an English trader at Buluwayo, to investigate some of the goldfields, and to secure for his Majesty certain interests therein—an arrangement which was concluded with satisfaction to himself and to the Company, on whose behalf I acted in the transaction. This fact is worthy of note, as an evidence of the King's belief in the gold-wealth of the country and of the British South Africa Company's bona fides.