How relieved I was to receive your dear letters of 21st November 1857, you cannot imagine! Blessed be the Lord and his adorable Providence which in its own time can console even his wickedest servants, although they are wretched sinners! If you would really like to know, I left Khartoum with a sharp pain in my heart since mother was acutely ill; and by divine disposition this heartache continued to afflict me so that at every step it seemed to me I was at her deathbed, although I knew in my heart of hearts that she would not fly to eternal repose, but of course that she would be bound to recover.
What was most unusual, your dearest letter together with a very long one from mother which of course I was not expecting, arrived on a Nubian boat. Thank God, they soothed my aching heart and filled my soul with sweet joy. Obeloved parents! How precious are the letters, the words, the news of distant parents! You will realise this as much as I do.
The Missionary must be prepared for everything: for joy and sadness, for life and death, for embrace and abandonment, and I am ready for it all.
But God wanted to give me the cross of feeling unusually anguished for you and my mother; and God also wanted me to rejoice at her present, somewhat improved state of health. I am with you both at every moment. And I feel in my heart the burden you feel because of our physical separation. How often do I accompany your trips to Supino, to Tesolo, to Riva in your daily rounds, and at night, with mother! And when I leave off thinking of God, I feel oppressed and am forced to fly to heaven with my ideas and to reflect that you have a more sublime, steadfast and infallible support than I can give you: that is, God’s protection sustains you better than mine.
I turn to God every day and every hour, and I commend both of you to him. He comforts me, for I am assured that the Lord and our dear Mother Mary Immaculate have taken special care of you. Nor does it matter if from time to time disagreements, disputes or unpleasantness arise between you. God plays with these in men’s sight, and shows us that if we abandon ourselves to our own will we are victims of our human weaknesses. But in the end, you and your troubles (which are mine too) are looked after by heaven with special solicitude. And you are both the object of the angels’ and God’s most tender delight.
Let the world prattle away; let it say that two poor parents are unhappy because they are childless, but in heaven things are taken differently, up there it is written in very different characters. The doctrine of Jesus Christ, the Gospel, is indeed opposed to the world’s chatter. The world proclaims happiness, delight and satisfaction. The Gospel suggests anguish, wretchedness and sorrow; the world thinks only of the moment and of this mortal life, of the body; the Gospel turns its gaze to eternity, to future life, to the soul. It is all too obvious that the Gospel and the soul have ideas which are different indeed from those of the world and the physical senses: let us therefore be calm and happy, courageous and generous, for Jesus Christ.
I am a martyr for love of the most neglected souls in the world, and you have become martyrs for love of God, sacrificing an only son for their good. But be brave, my dearest parents: God can make me die immediately like 15 other Missionaries of the Khartoum Mission, one of whom expired in the Lord’s embrace a few days before we arrived. God can make you die; everything is in his hands. But he can also make me and you live, keeping in store for us the joy of once more embracing and enjoying blessed gladness for several months or even years, in blessed company within the confines of our beautiful Italy.
Our Superior is bombarding us with letters and wants one of us to return immediately with young black boys and girls and to continue to do this every year; and we are obliged to do so although this year it is going to be impossible, for at the moment we cannot make a selective or good choice of the natives of this tribe where we are going. But this coming year one of us will certainly return to Europe with an expedition; and one year or another it will be my turn if I am still alive. Let us therefore put ourselves with wholehearted generosity under the beneficent wings of divine Providence, because he will arrange every thing far better than we can.
I find the immense distance separating us is not yet enough to make me forget our homeland and familiar customs in the slightest. I frequently spend half a day among these people, without in the least feeling far from home and from you. I need to think about it, to realise that I am in the midst of Africa in unknown lands.
When I advance, the Crucifix on my breast, among a crowd of naked natives surrounding me, armed with spears and bows and arrows and I say some words of J.C’s faith to them, seeing myself alone or with one other in the midst of this fierce people who could fling me dead to the ground with a single blow of the spear, then I realise I am not in Europe, with you. Nevertheless you are also before my eyes, and it seems to me that you are prostrate before God, imploring him to make our words effective.
You see then that our hearts are ever united, although our bodies are separated by so many thousands of miles: indeed for my part, I need to reflect a little on it to know that I really am far from you. Blessed be the Lord who soothes every wound with the balm of his comfort. It might not be disagreeable to you to hear something about our dangerous journey among the tribes of Central Africa after Khartoum. I would like to satisfy you with the full story, but it is impossible for me to describe everything that happened and all that we observed. I really do not have the time or opportunity to do so, because I am prevented by serious tasks and other hindrances which are part and parcel of the Missionary’s life.
If it were a matter of sitting at a desk and having the proper comforts as you can, I would make you see things by writing a volume on my journey from Khartoum to the tribe of the Kich from where I write. However, since in order to write a few lines I have to settle beneath a tree, or in a dark hut lying Arab-style on the ground, or kneeling next to my trunk, to tell you the truth, after I have written for half an hour my back and bones ache and I need to walk, to give my spirit some relief.
So you must be satisfied with just a short account; and others to whom I write, in Verona or elsewhere, will have to make do with a greeting. The distance separating Khartoum from the Kich is only a little more than a thousand and a few hundred miles or so, but the accidents that happen on that terrible and dangerous journey are innumerable.
Besides, before coming to the description of our journey on the White Nile, I must first tell you that the Nile, on which we travelled to Khartoum, is formed by two great rivers, known by the Arabs as the Bahar-el-Azrek or Blue River, and Bahar-el-Abiad, or White River. They converge at Ondurman, near Khartoum, forming the Nile proper. After running through Nubia and Egypt for several thousand miles, it flows out into the Mediterranean Sea not far from Alexandria.
The source of the Blue Nile has been known since antiquity and is located at the Lake of Dembea in Abyssinia near Gondar. Fr Beltrame travelled on this Blue Nile to the 10th parallel in order to find a suitable spot for the Mission according to our Superior’s plan; but not finding this river appropriate for many justifiable reasons, after mature reflection and on the recommendation of our Superior in Verona we were determined to attempt to approach other more suitable tribes on the White River.
Although the Nile has been classified by geographers as the fourth river in the world, nonetheless it is now certain that it is the longest, because geographers calculated that the Nile was a continuation of the Blue Nile, known as we said since antiquity, whereas the White Nile, more than thousand miles longer than the Blue Nile, ought to be considered the father of the Nile. Therefore, calculating only the river on which we have travelled until now, the Nile is more than 400 miles longer than the longest river in the world.
Add to the stretch we have covered the fact that the source of the White Nile, or Bahar-el-Abiad, is as yet unknown and it will be clear to you that the Nile is the longest river in the world by hundreds of miles. I should also tell you in advance that the White Nile has been navigated by several others, in particular our deceased confrere, Fr Angelo Vinco from our own Institute, so its banks are somehow familiar. But no one has penetrated far into the hinterland so that although the names of the tribes of the innermost part of Central Africa (those of the White River) are well known, nothing is known of their customs, temperament, etc.
To help you to understand this, suppose that the Kingdom of Lombardy and the Veneto were unknown, and that we were trying to get to know it in order to preach the Gospel there. Suppose that Riva were Khartoum, from where we left to penetrate the Kingdom of Lombardy and Venice, and that the Lake of Garda were the White River. Suppose, in addition, that the Lake of Garda were navigated by someone as far as Gargnano and Castelletto, just as Vinco navigated the White Nile to a specific point. Now if you go from Riva to Gargnano and Castelletto, you know that Lombardy and the Veneto exist because the people of Gargnano will tell you that they are Lombards and those of Castelletto will say that they are Venetians, since Gargnano is part of Lombardy and Castelletto, part of the Veneto.
But even if you have been to Gargnano and Castelletto, could you actually say that you knew Lombardy and the Veneto? No, because in order to know these two kingdoms it is necessary to visit Milan and Venice, etc. On the other hand, from having gone only to Gargnano and Castelletto, you know that Lombardy and the Veneto exist. Now the banks of the Nile are inhabited by various tribes which extend into the hinterland. They are quite unknown although their names are familiar, for no one has been far inland; yet the names of these tribes are known since they extend as far as the river.
I am in the tribe of the Kich. However I know nothing or very little about it, because it extends far inland where no one has penetrated. Yet I am in the tribe of the Kich and know that it exists. Having said this, our goal is to begin to preach the Gospel in one of these vast tribes of the unknown regions of Central Africa. We shall start on the banks of the White Nile and gradually advance inland to the capital, and then reach other tribes as God pleases.
With this objective, we left Khartoum at dawn on 21st January after exchanging embraces with our beloved companion, Fr Alessandro Dalbosco, who stayed behind in this city as Procurator. There were four of us: Fr Giovanni Beltrame, who heads the Mission, Fr Franco Oliboni, Fr Angelo Melotto and I. We were to carry out a thorough exploration down the White Nile, in order to establish a Mission among the black tribes in accordance with the great plan of our Superior, Fr Nicola Mazza of Verona.
The vessel that bore us on this arduous and perilous voyage was the Stella Mattutina, owned by the Khartoum Mission. It was crewed by 14 able sailors, under a courageous and experienced Rais (captain), who had made the voyage before. We well knew by experience how skilled and expert he was in the complicated art of navigating on this great and never-ending river. After the terrible turbulence with the contrary current of the Blue Nile when we rounded the last point of Ondurman at the confluence of the two great rivers, Bahar-el-Abiad loomed ahead, unfolding before us in all its enchanting majesty and beauty. With a strong following wind we sped upstream on those troubled, tumultuous waters whose expanse, breadth and majesty made them seem, rather than a river, a lake flowing in ancient Eden.
The distant banks are picturesquely covered with a variety of greenery whose luxuriant growth at all times in every season of the year is caused by the hot sun and a perpetual springtime. Our Stella Mattutina seemed to smile on those quivering waves as she skimmed majestically through the great river at the speed with which our boats cut through our own Lake Garda although she was running against the current. The first tribe one encounters beyond Khartoum (which is located at the 16th degree Latitude North while Verona is between 45° and 46°) is the Hassanieh, spread over the left and right banks of the Bahar-el-Abiad and consisting of two black and Nubian races. Their inhabitants raise stock from which they obtain their chief nourishment.
The Hassanieh are always armed with spears, and like the Nubians here and there in the desert they always carry a sharp knife tied to their elbow for personal use and for self-defence. On the second day we stopped in this same tribe to buy two oxen, for ourselves and our crew. I can say nothing to you of this vast tribe save that they are a nomadic tribe whose vast families move about, according to where they find the most fertile land and easy grazing for their cattle. As far as we can see, this tribe extends between 16° and 14° Latitude North, and between 29° and 30° longitude, measured from the Paris meridian.
The villages and hamlets which are to be found in this tribe are somewhat distant from the river, some on the left, others on the right. They are called the Fahreh, Malakia, Abdallas, Ogar, Merkedareh, Tura, Waled Nail, Wascellay, Raham, Mokabey, Gùlam Ab, Husein Ab, Sheikh Mussah, Salahieh, Tebidab, Manjurah, Eleis, etc., etc., although for the nomadic tribes every stretch of land is a town, since they never stay put in the same place. Within the boundaries of this tribe the small hills of Jel Auly, Menderah, Mussa, Tura and Korum rise to adorn this sort of earthly paradise, after which, with the exception of the small Dinka mountains at the 12th degree, it is a perfect plain as far as the 7th.
Below 14° of latitude, two other small tribes extend: the Schamkàb on the left, and the Lawins on the right; but we know nothing about them other than that they are a very warlike people. Since they are close to the Hassanieh and the Baqqarah, their customs would be more or less similar. But here we are since 25th January in the vast tribe of the Baqqarah which extends between the 14th and 12th degrees latitude on the left, and on the right, from 13° to 12°, since the stretch from 13° to 14° on the right is inhabited by the nomadic tribe of the Abu-Rof, whose customs are virtually the same as those of the Hassanieh.
Right here we can see a change in the scenery of our long pilgrimage. Beyond the tribe of the Hassanieh, where the Baqqarah tribe begins, the towns and villages are starting to disappear and the last vestiges of the Arab-Nubian type are on the point of finally giving way to the formidable Negro race. If I were to venture to describe to you the spectacle which has kept us busy for many days along the banks of the White River flanked by the overbearing savages of the Baqqarah, I would be attempting the impossible. I think that even the greatest writer of our time would not be able to convey the beauty, majesty and delightful aspect of the virginal and uncontaminated nature where these enchanted gardens smile.
The low banks of the broad and stately river are invaded with vigorous vegetation that has never been touched or altered by human hand. On one side an immense and impenetrable undergrowth, never yet explored, formed by gigantic mimosas and green nébaks – trees of an extraordinary girth, height and age, since man has never interfered with them – growing densely together, form a boundless and variegated enchanted forest. It affords the safest hiding place for immense herds of gazelles, antelopes, tigers, lions, panthers, hyenas, giraffes, rhinos, and other jungle beasts accustomed to the infinite grasslands teeming with snakes of every kind and size. On the other side more undergrowth, dense with mimosas and tamarinds and ambaries, etc. appears, covered in verbena and a sort of thick and supple grass. This forms as it were, natural huts, where one would certainly be protected from the heaviest downpour.
From afar, hundreds of very pleasant fertile islands, large, small, lightly clad in enamel green, one more beautiful than the other, look like the loveliest of gardens. These hazy islands are shaded by a series of superb mimosas and acacias that barely let a single ray of the baking African sun penetrate. They form an archipelago more than 200 miles long which makes the most enchanting view. Infinite flocks of birds of every size, variety and colour; birds perfectly golden, others silver, etc., fly peacefully with no fear between the trees, among the grasses, on the banks, over the rigging of the boats. Black and white ibises, wild duck, pelicans, abusin, royal cranes, eagles of every kind, herons, parrots, marabous, abumarcub and other birds were flying about or strutting up and down the banks looking at the sky, so that they seemed as if they were blessing the beneficial Providence of God who created them.
Bands of monkeys scamper down to the river to drink and leap up and down through the trees, playing happily with the most ridiculous grimaces, typical of their race. Hundreds of antelopes and gazelles graze among this undergrowth in which they never hear the bang of a gun or experience the cunning art of hunters laying traps to kill them. Immense crocodiles bask on the little islands or on the banks. Huge hippos emerge snorting from the water, especially in the evening, filling the air with the most furious roars which, resounding in the forest, after first inspiring terror, awaken in the soul the most sublime idea of God.
How great and powerful is the Lord! Our boat advances, one could say, on the backs of the hippopotamuses. These are about four times the size of an ox and numerous, for there are hundreds of them and they could sink us in an instant. But God ensures that these very fierce animals flee before us. The dugouts and little boats of naked Africans armed with shields and spears could attack us in a country isolated from all; instead, as soon as they catch sight of us fearlessly advancing, they rush away, concealing themselves beneath the branches of those gigantic trees growing on the river banks and extending beyond them because of their enormous size.
Other men, having reached the banks, leave their craft and hide in the forest. Delighting our gaze in this way and blessing the Lord, we reach the Abu-Said-Mocadah passage, a place where the river is very wide and shallow and the boat runs aground. The sailors are all obliged to jump overboard and, dragging the boat with an unspeakable effort, manage to free her after several hours. It is very serious when a vessel is stranded.
More than hundred times we happened to find ourselves in places where the river was very wide, and only a foot deep. Then the sailors would slip into the river and, by pushing and shoving, drag the boat for several miles until the river became deeper and the boat, favoured by the wind, could sail on her own. Beyond Abu-Said, we see someone hidden between the trees on the bank, spear in hand, and furtively observing the Stella Mattutina; others realise that they have been seen by us and flee. In that instant, the vessel hits a rock, and we feel a sudden violent shock. All the circumstances seem to indicate that the hull is smashed: instead, the boat is sound, although she continues to leak more than usual for the rest of the voyage. The natives’ canoes are hidden among the tall reeds which cover some of the islands.
Among these islands those of Assal, Tauoat, Genna, Sial, Schebeska, Gubescha, Hassanieh, Dumme, Hassaniel Kebire, Mercada, Inselaba, and El Jiamus are outstanding for their beauty and size. The stretch we have covered so far runs along the boundaries of the appropriately named Baqqarah tribe. The Baqqarah, which in our language means cowherds, are so called because of their special preference for training horned animals, most of which are cows. Cows serve this tribe as pack animals or mounts serve us. They possess an infinite number of them, which accounts for the source of their wealth.
The Baqqarah are divided into various tribes, known in Central Africa by the name of Baqqarah Hawasma, Baqqarah Selem, Baqqarah Omur and Baqqarah Risekad; and I think that perhaps they are divided in this way because of the rebellion of the great rich cowherds, who, when the number of cows they possessed increased, went in quest of new grazing grounds, making themselves the heads of as many tribes. Since the Baqqarah are supremely rich in cattle they are constantly at war with the powerful tribe of the Shilluks, who come to steal their riches as I will tell later, and with the great tribe of Gebel Nuba to which the Moor Miniscalchi who is now in Verona belongs, whom you know. As to the Baqqarah’s government and region, I can tell you nothing. Only that this tribe, like that of the Hassanieh, for many justifiable reasons are not at the moment suited to our purpose.
Therefore we continue to push ahead and the men who have been watching us from afar soon run away. Herds of thousands of buffaloes, bulls and cows graze on the distant grasslands. The undergrowth on the right bank thickens while on the left it gets sparser. It was quite a sight to see a herd of cattle on an island, terrified by the passing of our ship and rushing into the water to reach the bank, the cowherds endeavouring in vain to prevent them with their spears. Thus they crossed the river astride the animals, so that it looked as if an army had suddenly been routed. Our Stella Mattutina is skimming through the waves when suddenly, close to the shallows of Mocàda-el-Kelb, the boat runs aground. It is midnight. To the right we can still see the fires of the natives, who are watching us leaning on their shields, spear in hand. These are the Dinka. On the left are moored 12 or 15 canoes, very like a rougher version of Venetian gondolas. Meanwhile their respective boatmen are with their wives and naked children in the nearby thicket, squatting by fires (these fires were made by setting light to the clumps of reeds that happen to be growing there).
We are between the Shilluks and the Dinkas. Some of the Shilluk crews stay close to their bank of the river staring with fear at our Stella Mattutina. Others, belonging to the Dinkas, pass our boat terrified and move off. We hail their captain. He hails us and flees. That night the attempts to remove our ship from the mud and sand are vain. Two boatmen keep guard to wake us should any armed native craft approach with hostile intentions. God protected us: no grim accident happened to us.
Our position is quite critical. We are in the middle of the White Nile with the Dinka on one side. Only last year they massacred some of the men on a boat belonging to a certain Latif of Khartoum and committed other barbarities; on the other side are the Shilluks, one of the most powerful and ferocious tribes of Central Africa who live as robbers and thieves.
We cannot move. We do indeed possess ten guns; but the Missionary lets himself be slain a hundred times rather than talk about defending himself and thereby seriously endangering the enemy. J.C. would not have done so. Demoralised, the captain of the vessel tells us that he is at a loss. Had those men wished, they could have destroyed us in less than ten minutes. Can you imagine how we discussed the matter?
Among the other things, after discussing every move over and over again, we said that if the Shilluks were to make an armed attack on us, with our invulnerable Crucifix at our breast we would yield everything to them, boat and all. They would certainly have taken us as slaves before the King of the Shilluks, perhaps to suffer death. But with God’s grace and the exercise of charity, and primarily, as doctors, we would have won that people’s affection so that without seeking any other place to toil in Christ’s vineyard we would have planted the Cross and founded our Mission here.
Such was our state; but we possessed a weapon powerful enough for us to fear nothing. In the Stella Mattutina, there is the loveliest of chapels, adorned with a most beautiful image of Mary. How could our good Mother to whom we have entrusted our Mission see us suffering and in grave difficulty without coming to our rescue? In the morning, Mass was celebrated. Oh, how sweet it was in those difficult circumstances to hold in one’s hand the Master of the rivers, the Lord of all the tribes of the earth, and to pray to him for us, for our needs, for those who are in peril with us, for you, for those who do not know him, for the whole world!
Yes, my dearest parents, our most consoling prayer in that difficult situation was for the Shilluks and the Dinkas, whose lands have never been brightened by a single spark of the light of the Gospel. If we had been taken at that point and dragged in chains before their haughty king, perhaps it would have been the salvation of that proud people. However, perhaps neither we nor even they deserved such a grace. In the morning our sailors clamber down into the river and for several hours with indescribable effort and exertion, endeavour to free the boat from the shallow bottom. But she will not budge: what was to be done at this point?…
We all agreed to call those men to help us. Shouting as loudly as we could, we gesture to them to come to us, almost as if to receive gifts. After an hour of shouting, clapping our hands, yelling and everything else, one canoe holding 12 Shilluks and a captain leaves the bank and moves towards us, armed with spears, bows and arrows and shields; while all the others on the bank prepare their weapons to come to the aid of the canoe that had left.
When they come aboard our Stella Mattutina, with words and shouts we show them that we want them to help us to free our ship. They make us understand that before doing so they want to return to the bank to negotiate with their chief to agree on the quantity of glass beads they want in return. This we will not allow. So they leap into the river to help our boatmen: all in vain. Then we made them understand that they should go and call others, and that afterwards we would pay them very, very well. No, they replied. What we want, they said, is your chiefs, (this is what they called us priests) as two or three hostages, and to take them with us and keep them until you have given us the glass beads.
While the captain disagreed and refused, we agreed who would go as hostage. All four of us wanted to go. At last, while each one of us was explaining the reasons why it would be appropriate for him to go, they left and in less than a quarter of an hour another three canoes bearing armed men like the others above arrived. They strove with all their might to move our boat. After much effort, the boat moved. Thrilled, we encouraged them, but when they saw that the boat had moved, they stopped and spear in hand, demanded the glass beads. We showed them the beads, but did not consider giving them to them immediately. However, as soon as they had their hands on them they made off and left us alone with our ship even more firmly embedded than before. As soon as they landed we saw a large gathering dividing the packet of glass beads. The whole of that day went by in this way. We were constantly observing our Shilluk friends and to tell you the truth, seeing those canoes going backwards and forwards, others appearing, and the Dinkas on the other side of the river departing (and we knew that the Dinkas are very afraid of the Shilluks, so that when there are a crowd of Shilluks on one side, the Dinkas flee on the other), made us wonder whether they would attempt to take possession of our boat and make a good mess of us.
When evening came and nightfall, we held a council on how to escape from the difficult situation. We made suggestions, we discussed, we prayed: but I have already told you that it is impossible ever to be afraid when you think that we had a powerful and loving Mother who was watching over us.
The Virgin Mary, the Missionary’s precious comfort, the Virgin who is the true Queen of Africa and Mother of Consolation could not abandon her four poor servants who were also trying make her known, as well as her divine Son, to those idolatrous people. She did come to our help suggesting how we could extricate ourselves from that embarrassing situation. At night the usual sentinels were keeping watch; and it was a great effort to refuse the boatmen guns. We had to, or there would have been a brawl and there would have been a fight between them, for our boatman are Mohammedans; and for them killing others is a virtue.
The night passed, and in the morning the plan we had decided upon is put into effect. The plan is this: to build a raft with the 16 oars from the boat (four times as big as those of our Garda ferries) where the river was deep, and to place 30 chests on the raft, those which are not damaged by getting wet, such as tools, bottles, hardware, etc. in order to lighten the boat, which would then float better in the water and be more easily pushed into deeper water by the boatmen. This was done, well and quickly. Loading the raft, pushing the ship and reloading it took about 10 hours; and the effort the boatmen had to make to transport it all was incredible beneath a sun of 38°C.
God blessed our plan. After 42 difficult hours stationary in those terrible shallows, favoured by a strong wind we continued our voyage, thanking divine Providence who that day had quieted the warlike character of the Shilluks, who never miss such opportunities to take plunder and booty. Rejoicing to have passed this danger, we made rapid but very careful progress. Every quarter of an hour the Stella Mattutina runs aground, and is freed with great efforts. She frequently hits rocks or sand-banks. Although she is the largest and strongest river-boat in Sudan because she is iron-plated, it is a wonder that she got us as far as here, to the Kich, without disintegrating.
The left and right banks are swarming with men armed with spears, shields, bows and arrows. The Shilluks are on the left, and, on the right, the Dinkas who hide among the bushes when they realise that the Shilluks are very numerous, and only appear when the left bank is less populated with Shilluks. It is surprising to see stretches of many miles of land covered with herds of cows and bulls; and to see clouds of birds by the thousands and millions (I am not exaggerating at all) of every species, colour and size, blocking the sight of the sun.
Imagine forests and grasslands where birds are never hunted. The natives do nothing to catch the birds, which on the other hand are not a popular food among them. As we proceed they grow less, and they hide increasingly in the bushes until we can see no more. Thus the banks until the 7th parallel appear to be covered only with reeds, papyrus, and mimosa bushes. Only every now and then there grows a gigantic Baobab, the broadest and tallest tree in the world. Before reaching the capital of the Shilluks where we moored with the Stella Mattutina, I would like to give you a brief description of the two great tribes of the Shilluks and the Dinkas. The tribe of the Shilluks, one of the largest and most powerful in Central Africa, extends from the 12th degree to the 9th, Latitude North.
As far as we can see they have no religion. They believe only that there is an invisible spirit who has made everything, and who sometimes comes down to visit them in the likeness of a lizard, a mouse or a bird. As the Shilluk do not have enough herds of cows both to make their marriages and to live, they are constantly at war with the neighbouring tribe of the Baqqarah, and they are now very rich, because of constantly stealing from the latter. Every year, when the winds blow from the south, that part of the Shilluk people who are feeling the pinch of poverty form large armies commanded by one of their chiefs. On their rapid canoes they go two hundred miles down the river and hide on the little islands densely covered with shrubs which I mentioned above.
When they have finished exploring the places where the Baqqarah take and water their herds, they form teams of 30 to 40 canoes which, being fast, long and low, can travel unobserved at night and easily disappear behind the thick undergrowth on the banks. When the herds arrive and plunge thirstily into the water, the concealed Shilluks charge, spear in hand, into the midst of the terrified herdsmen, and embark cattle, sheep, bulls, etc. and return to their islands even before the distant camps of Baqqarah can come to the aid of their assaulted brothers; and since they have no boats, nor any means to chase the robbers, they can only threaten their thieving enemies from afar.
Then the Baqqarah sometimes take revenge on the Shilluks. They are sometimes informed of the arrival and hostile plans of the Shilluks, and wait for them on stretches of the river where the vegetation is dense. Then they take them by surprise the moment when the black men are stalking their prey, separate them from their boats, and take them prisoner, sell them as slaves to Nubian merchants and they then become saleable goods in the Khartoum markets.
The Shilluks have a despotic government. Although we passed in front of their capital, we did not see their king’s residence here. The royal quarters are located about three miles away and, as a native who could speak Arabic told me, are built in the form of a labyrinth. The king’s life is not safe from evening to morning; and he lives invisible, never sleeping two nights in the same room.
All the villages of this vast tribe are obliged to pay an annual tribute of many heads of cattle, according to their wealth or the number of inhabitants. Furthermore, the king has a right to one-third of all the booty his subjects plunder outside the tribe, and punishes by its total loss, or almost, those who have stolen it and have not brought his quota. Like all the tribes in Africa they practise polygamy. They can leave or keep as many women as they like, and abandon them whenever it suits them. With regard to hippopotamus hunting, the form of their huts, etc., as they are similar to those of the other African tribes we have come across, I will say something about them when I tell you about those.
We had several chances to become acquainted with and observe this people. They are tall and strong-limbed, and I saw many who were enormous. The men, like all the African black people we visited, are completely naked. So are the women with the exception of those who are married who are clad in the skin of a sheep or goat, knotted on their left or right side. The richest have tiger skins, but they are not much use to cover what ought to be covered. I would almost say, as far as I could see, that I tend to believe that this is not done from feelings of modesty, but through pride. The whimsy of the Shilluks is particularly noticeable in the way they dress their hair. They cut it in thousands of different ways: in the shape of coxcombs or goats beards, and sometimes when they trim it they leave what hair is left looking like sheep or tiger ears. I would not be able to describe to you in detail all the oddities of this kind of adornment, of which they are proud.
This would seem a suitable tribe for our Missionary plan; but for reasons which I will tell you, we left it, and here we are at its capital, Denab, and Kaco. This town is situated on the White Nile and is several miles long. The king never grants audiences to anyone except three or four of his trusted intimates, and his numerous women when he wants to use them. When these trusted subjects present themselves they have to creep like snakes, and receive his orders with their faces to the ground. They then have to retire creeping; well, you will allow me to use the Veronese phrase, to enable you to understand. When they present themselves to the king they have to enter his hut gattognao [on hands and elbows]. In front of the Shilluk capital we enjoyed a surprising sight. When the Stella Mattutina moored in front of it, a rabble of people of different races and customs appeared and stood gaping on the market bank. Among them was a race of men who were completely red, like fresh blood, of whom I have seen some near Halfaya.
There were nomads of a reddish colour. There were the Abu-Gerid, a people who are a terracotta colour. There were some who were absolutely yellowish, who resembled the Hassanieh. Some were Kordofans, who are a brownish-black; and then the nationals, the Shilluks, who like all black Central Africans are always armed with a spear (whose shape varies according to the tribe), a leather shield of an oblong shape and arrows; they always carry these weapons (except for the shield which they sometimes lay down) whether they are grazing their flocks, bargaining or doing nothing. All the tribes we visited use spears for self-defence or to attack, and to cut anything that serves for their use, for fishing, hunting, etc.
Both men and women are adorned with strings of beads which they wear around the neck, or as we do with waist bands, they wrap them round their hips or forehead; and the one who has the most beads is considered the most beautiful: I have seen a chief’s son who was loaded with pieces of glass down to his stomach and strutting like the lord of the world.
In this regard the king thinks he is the grandest monarch on earth with the exception of the King of Abyssinia. This is why he will grant no one an audience, with the exception of the King of Abyssinia if he were to visit. In Kaco, a town of the Shilluks located on the 10th parallel, I attempted to find similarities with my friend Bahkit Miniscalchi’s language; but I found it different. Moreover I am of the opinion that through Kaco it will be very easily possible to penetrate the tribes of the Karco and Fanda, that is, Gebel Nuba, without crossing the desert of the Baqqarah, and the Kordofan and Dongola, the route taken by the Moor Miniscalchi. This tribe also would be suitable for our plan, but the reasons I shall explain to you were against it. The whole of the left coast of the Shilluks as far as 9.5° Latitude North swarmed with armed Shilluks as I told you; they walk very awkwardly with the heels turned outwards.
But let us come to the Dinka. This is Central Africa’s largest tribe as far as we can see; and this is the reason why for a long time we have turned our eyes towards it, selecting it to be the focal point of our efforts and the field of our labour. As regards this tribe’s condition, its government, religion, etc., we have no exact knowledge. Its boundaries are unknown. However, before making this choice we would like to have a look at other tribes and then we can make a more correct and certain decision. The Dinka, like all the tribes we have seen, naked as they are, cover their whole body, head and eyes with ashes; we were told that this was to protect themselves from the mosquitoes, which in an infinite number and various species, torment the inhabitants of Central Africa.
The [river] banks are overflowing with crocodiles and hippopotamuses. One day, from a distant point I saw a big long rock which I believed was made of red granite; it was an island formed by large hippopotamuses all massed together. The Dinkas, like all the black people in Africa, wear ivory bracelets at the elbow and wrists. Their arrows are dipped in a certain poisonous herb and are therefore lethal. The members of this tribe are distinguished from other Negro races. They have a wide and pronounced forehead and a flat cranium, sloping towards the temples, and a long, slim body.
Seeing these men holding their spears, carelessly leaning their bodies on their shields it seemed the picture of an idle, lazy life; and as long as they have merissa to make themselves drunk, milk to nourish them and women to deal with, they want nothing else. But the light of the Gospel will shine before their eyes, penetrating their minds and hearts, and with divine grace they will change their thoughts, their counsel and their customs. Their language is widespread among other African tribes and it seems to me that it is nothing but a mass of monosyllables. The Dinka villages are very poor, and contrast with the majestic towns of the Shilluks, which are bigger, more spacious and more comfortable. All the towns are a mass of villages joined together which can be distinguished by a space between them of about 30 steps. The villages consist in fifty, a hundred, three hundred or more huts, which are almost conical in shape. The wall around them is circular, about 7 foot high and is made of mud. They are covered with rather elegant cane roofing. Look at sketch n. 1 which gives an idea of Kaco. But enough about the Dinkas(1): later, if God pleases, when we succeed in penetrating this vast tribe, I shall be able to give you more abundant information.
Nonetheless, before going on I would like to describe to you how we stopped at Hano to provide ourselves with a bull. Here we received the old chief (Sheikh) of this town on board the Stella Mattutina. With his white hair, his trembling limbs, naked as he was, he aroused our compassion. We took him into our beautiful chapel, and surprised by the marvel he let out a loud cry and retreated like a man out of his senses. Taking him to a large mirror in the saloon of the boat, it is impossible to describe his strange and curious behaviour. Seeing his face in the mirror he talked to himself, answered, shouted, burst in to loud guffaws, and finally, perhaps prompted by something he saw in the mirror, he tried to flee. We held him back; and he made so many protests with words, that he seemed to want to put his authority in our hands. Finally he went back to land on a boat made of ambary stalks bound together like bundled vine branches with which the Shilluks usually cross the Nile.
That village, or town, was surrounded by the loveliest doleb palms, a tree like the date palm with this difference: the plant is broader in the middle than it is at the base or at the top. A few miles beyond Hano is the majestic mouth of the River Sobat, which leads inland to the heart of the Dinka tribe. It is, so to speak, still red with the blood of some who have attempted to enter it. These paid the penalty because they came along with a hostile attitude, threatening the natives if they did not bring out the elephant tusks in their possession. Right from Europe we were determined to penetrate the Dinkas through the mouth of the Sobat; and perhaps we will carry out this project. But now since Aswan we have thought that we should investigate several places, the better to ascertain where it would please God for us to found our mission.
This delta forms a delightful lake fringed with fertile vegetation. When it reaches this point the river suddenly turns exactly West, watering on the left the tribe of the Janghèhs, on the right the immense swamp of the Nuer, which is a real island, surrounded on one side by the Nile and on the other by the channel of the Nuer, and has a circumference of more than 400miles. I will say nothing to you about the small tribe of the Janghèh, except that it is full of papyrus plants which the ancients used to write on instead of paper, and which once grew abundantly in Egypt. This beneficial plant is like that of maize, except that its leaves, like hair, fall gracefully like a mane. In this tribe we hailed some natives who roughly but cordially responded with cries to our greeting, exultant because they had killed a large hippopotamus, pieces of whose flesh they had spread out in the sun to eat raw, as is the Negro habit.
In the Janghèh we saw many baobabs of middling size, immense herds of wild buffalo, which are the size of an ox, with monstrously twisted horns on their heads and which these people hunt. Towards the Tkem Mountains, and Tira, which are very far inland to the west, there are immense giraffes which with their long necks reach the height of 25 feet. Then the right bank of the Nuer afforded us the sight of a herd of huge elephants of which there are many in that immense swamp, which were grazing and seemed to have come to the river to drink. There are many rhinoceroses, one of which was killed the other day, near our temporary station. It was after seeing these elephants that a gust of wind ripped the mainsail of our boat so that we were forced to stay half a day in that swamp, near the place where a Nubian from the Khartoum mission, who had strayed from the bank, was killed by a Nuer with a thrust of a spear.
There, while Fr Beltrame was hunting a hippopotamus, I wanted to follow a flock of Abusin, birds as large as small goats: but although Fr Giovanni is quite a good shot, the hippopotamus did not even deign to move because its hide alone is 4 fingers thick; and at my shots, the Abusin hardly bothered to fly a few steps off, scorning my efforts as though they were nothing. I have never fired bullets. When the sail was repaired, we continued our journey, with the sail reefed (rolled up) and without full sails the boat sped along like a steamer. Two days after turning to the west, we reached the mouth of another very large Central African river, the Bahr-el-Ghazàl, or deer river. The aspect of this lake formed by the White Nile and Ghazàl Rivers was of an enchanted lake, whose shores were edged with immense and delightful gardens of mimosas, ambaries and baobabs, the work of nature and which human hands had never dared touch.
At this point, which is on the 9th degree, we went directly south, continuing to skirt the immense tribe of the Nuers who live on the left and right banks. From here as far as the Kich, there are more than 40 bends in the river which curves now to the south, now to the north, now to the east, now to the west; so that for several days the boatmen had to tow the boat (tirare l’anzana you say on Lake Garda), under the most scorching sun. Since the Nuers think little of a man’s life, every time the boatmen landed they always had to arm themselves. The trickiest were the places where, with a contrary wind, they could not land because of the shrubs which spread their thick branches far into the river; then we had to cast anchor, and wait for a propitious wind. But casting anchor on the White Nile is not like doing so on a lake because the current carries you downstream. In this process one evening we enjoyed a surprise spectacle of hippopotamuses and ibis. We saw thousands and thousands of hippopotamuses all the way from Khartoum and as many ibis. The hippopotamus, four times the size of an ox, has an enormous head the shape of that of a calf. Aman could stand upright in its mouth. Its back is like that of a horse and its short legs like a pig’s, but in proportion. Its ordinary mooing is like a cow’s but at a lower register. The hippopotamus lives in the water during the day and at night emerges from the river and grazes on grass. In the places where there is grain and durra, like in Nubia, it can destroy a field in a single night. Towards evening the hippopotamus rises from the river bottom and suddenly snorting and bellowing, bounding like a horse, it then plunges into the river disturbing the water like a storm. Our boat frequently sailed over the backs of hippopotamuses. And we often had to take tremendous bumps, caused by a passing hippopotamus. Indeed, on board the Stella Mattutina, a few years ago the cook who was cooking was knocked into the water by a hippopotamus, and swallowed in a single gulp.
Now that evening we found ourselves in the midst of a thousand hippopotamuses, and with their snorting and bellowing and sudden stampedes it seemed that a throng of these terrible amphibians was battling round us. This scene lasted until dawn, and frequently forced the ship to cross to the other side of the river to avoid these terrible animals all massed together and forming as many islands. That evening again we covered many miles, looking longingly on the right bank, at a three-mile stretch of very tall trees, all covered in ibis.
The ibis is twice the size of our turkey, with a long neck, a duck’s bill and the most beautiful plumage: the ibis was in ancient times one of the greatest Egyptian gods. Even now its name has been perpetuated by a society of scientists in Verona who print a sheet entitled Ibis. So imagine continuing for three miles through a stretch of trees all covered rather than with flies by hundreds of thousands of these precious birds, which are fearlessly observing the Stella Mattutina as she passes by.
That was a reason to praise the greatness of God who with such wisdom and power thought even of those animals. The haziness of that evening and night was increased by the endless fires of the Nuers. To clear the way to the river from inland, they set light to the tall plants all over the plain; it is a spectacle worth seeing. The vast Nuer territory also offered us the spectacle of immense troops of antelopes, buffaloes and many other animals. Once we had passed the very large town of Goden, to our extreme surprise we saw that the black people cultivate durra. Their huts looked like those of the Shilluks but each was separated from the next by many steps, and durra was planted around each hut, to provide for the family. The tribe of the Nuers is the most hard-working of all we have seen and therefore in my opinion the richest. I came to learn something about this people, since we stopped in Fandah-el-Eliab which is like their capital and the tribe’s main market.
Here I would like to make a brief digression for you. Right from Europe, from books, etc. and especially after the tragic tales we heard in Khartoum, we formed a frightening impression of the Nuers that they killed and ate people, etc., etc. and we were convinced of this in Khartoum in particular, where we were advised to arm ourselves with many guns to withstand the assaults of the Negroes. Ever since the tribe of the Hassanieh we had always seen the Negroes fleeing before us. The Baqqarahs, the Shilluks, the Dinkas, the Nuers, etc., either answered our greeting or fled. Therefore to tell you in a word, although we find ourselves, and have always found ourselves, among so many people armed with spears, shields, poisonous arrows and clubs, I must conclude that they fear us and are more afraid of us than we are of them. Which is why, when we present ourselves to the black tribes, we walk unafraid and without showing any fear, so that seeing us so firm, they flee if we do not invite them to stay with us.
I put this into practice when having reached Fandah, I wandered in among the spears at a large market of the Nuers, who as we passed made way for us as though an emperor were passing. On that occasion I came to see the eccentricity of the Nuer men and women. Many had their hair plastered with mud, ashes or durra, and trailing like tails. Others wore wigs all covered in beads and glass, like military helmets. Others had their hair stiffly curling towards the sky, like those devils which are painted at home. Others had brass or copper squares on their forehead. Others wore hair flattened out like a plate. Others wore strips of tiger skin around their neck, all with two, three or even five bracelets at the elbows; which, adorning the body of those naked figures smeared in ashes, I tell you the truth, looked like a crowd of devils. The women were even stranger. Their ears were hung with two, three, ten and even fifteen copper rings; others had their ears covered in beads and glass, others with their stomach decorated with strings of rings, beads, etc., and many had a string of beads or glass or copper embedded in their upper lip and sticking upwards.
All in all it was quite a sight to see them among the spears, shields and arrows. The face of the women is monstrous, they have long white teeth, their skin wrinkled by ashes and their bodies are hideously plastered; to tell the truth they almost make one vomit. This vast tribe of Nuer would be a most splendid area for our efforts; but their swampy land is deadly for the European. And I will tell you a little later what further reinforces our reasons. In Fandah we received on board this tribe’s chief who expressed the same wonder as the chief in Hauo: but this one was prouder and more determined.
Close to Meha, we saw a woman’s corpse in the river. We realised that we were in the Kich tribe, where the bad habit of throwing dead bodies into the river exists. A Circassian Koshut with three others came there to meet us on the Stella Mattutina and told us many things about the tribe of the Angai, which is situated in the heart of the interior, and whose chief a little while ago bought a handsome youth for 17 oxen and then killed him. We saw the chief of the tribe as dirty as a pig and angry because the Nuers had just descended on his tribe and rustled all their herds. We saw the wretched hovels of the Kich which told us much of the poverty in which those poor Africans live. Passing in front of a village where one of the chiefs was, he came behind our ship saying “our lord has come” crying cham-cham which means I am hungry; and when we gave him some biscuit, he wanted to follow us armed from the bank, almost as if to protect our way from the thieves who are very numerous; indeed it can be said that the Kich are all thieves, although not very shrewd, and timid.
Having left the large town of Abu-Kuka, aided by the Negroes who were towing our ship, finally on 14th February we reached the Station of Holy Cross where we are now, in the country of Pà-Nòm, 25 days after our departure from Khartoum, a little more than 1,000 miles from that city, by precise and close calculations. Pà-Nòm is located at 7° Latitude North, and it is a magnificent central point, safer than the others, from which to undertake explorations. So here we stay; and if nothing else happens to the contrary, we are determined to organise our Superior’s plan and carry out his orders, to find a tribe suitable to our plans; and this is what we intend to do. From all our reconnoitring and the information we possess we have been able to discover with certainty that the Dinka’s language is the most widespread of all Africa watered by the Bahar-el-Abiad. It is spoken and understood not only by the tribe of the Dinka, but also by the Nuers, the Janghèhs, the Kich, the Tuit and by the Shilluks who dwell on the left bank opposite the Dinka.
We are now stopping here with the Kich to learn the Dinka language and at the same time do some exploration to get a clearer idea on what God wants us to do. When we have learned the language, we will immediately have many tribes who speak Dinka to choose from. In this way we have more time in which to consult the Lord’s will.
Our present temporary post is situated not far from the river, at the edge of unexplored forest full of elephants, tigers, lions, hyenas, buffaloes, rhinoceroses and other wild animals and ferocious beasts. Every night elephants and lions and other beasts come by our camp and go to the river to drink. Three days after our arrival among the Kich, a lion dragged an ass out of the pen and made a mess of its back. Two days later we saw more than 200 elephants pass close by us (shut into our huts) and drink at the river. Last Sunday when Fr Angelo and I went into the forest for an hour and a half looking for some small trees there with which to build a hut, we saw a large number of fallen trees lying on the ground, the work of elephants, and the spoor of buffaloes and lions, but we came across no fierce animals, because they move about at night and because God was protecting us. I promised you earlier to tell you something about our elephant and hippopotamus hunts but I have no time. It will be enough for me to tell you that the elephant is the biggest animal known on earth and with its proboscis (trunk) can uproot very large trees, that its two front tusks weigh three, four and even five measures each; and that in Cairo the price of an elephant tusk is 100 thaler per kantar (4 of our measures).
Dearest parents, I see that I am indeed in a world different from that of Europe. […] Furthermore, it seems to me that the accounts of travellers in Africa are exaggerated. It is true that these men who massacre and kill are cruel to whites; but only when they are provoked.
We came here with the kiss of peace to bring them the greatest good that exists, Religion. They have never given us any reason for disgust: they bring us wood, straw and everything there is. In exchange we give them durra grain or glass beads and they go away satisfied. Do not fear, my dearest ones. With the crucifix on my breast and words of peace the fiercest beasts are tamed. It is true that God’s grace is essential, but this is never lacking. We must toil, sweat and die, but the thought that we sweat and die for the love of Jesus Christ and for the salvation of the most abandoned souls in the world is too sweet for us to be frightened away from this great undertaking.
The first effort that God has desired us to make is to learn the language of the Dinkas. As long as one has grammar books, dictionaries and good teachers it is not so difficult to acquire a foreign language. But our case is very different. The Dinka language has never been known; so there are no grammars or dictionaries or teachers. It is we who will put together the grammar and a dictionary of the Dinka language. This means that we must take every word from the lips of these natives, who do not know our language or Arabic. Therefore we shall need to use gestures: you see how difficult it is!
Then as soon as we have a smattering of words, by logical deductions we will have to work out the grammatical rules, the formation of the tenses, the phraseology, and so forth. Yes, we must do it all ourselves. However, in order to preach we are not waiting to have a perfect knowledge of the language. As soon as we can stammer four short sentences you will see us in the midst of a crowd of armed men, giving them an idea of God, of Jesus Christ and of religion. We have already begun here among the Kich to gather them. May God move their hearts.
What still causes us sorrow is to see these people deplorably idle. There are plains of hundreds of miles of land that in Europe would produce miracles. And they leave it uncultivated. They suffer starvation and do not think of planting. It is true they lack tools and everything else, but the industry which taught them how to make spears and arrows should have also taught them to make themselves good hoes, shovels, picks, and knives. But I do not want to tell you anything about that, waiting until I know them better to describe them to you. Until now I have not mentioned their Religion and the ideas they have about God. In order to select a proper area for the Mission we must find out about everything, even things which do not seem to have anything to do with Religion. But the time will come when I will write to you about that too. Those who live on the river banks go fishing.
The Nile is full of large fish. The abundance of fish in our lake should not be compared with those in the Nile, and especially here among these tribes. I have deduced this from the way in which these natives fish. They have neither hooks nor nets. They have a long stick with an arrow fixed to one end; then they get into their canoes, and cover for example a stretch of about a hundred steps, constantly and haphazardly thrusting with the cane, without having taken aim at a fish beforehand. And in a short time they succeed in catching an innumerable quantity of fish. Their canoes are the length of our boats, but exceedingly narrow, no wider than three spans with barely room for one person. The Shilluks make these and bind them together with strings of tree bark; and here among the Kich they are of a single block, hollowed out by harpoon blows.
But enough, dear parents. I would have other things to tell you, I would like to stay with you always to comfort you, to repeat to you to be glad and unworried. Do not complain of the distance and my leaving you; let those who have no faith moan about the distance. Supposing even that we were never to meet again on this earth, is it not fortunate to leave one another on earth to find ourselves blessed in heaven, and forever?
Those narrow-minded, poor people who know of no other world than this or of no other union than the physical one of the person can complain of farewells, distance and abandonment, but, through our faith, we know that Paradise exists; and that there all the true children of God come together; there the prayers of men converge, raised from all the corners of the earth. Therefore although you may be in one part of the world and I in another, we are and will always be united, because we are linked to a single point: God, who is the centre of communication between me and you.
But do you know what Providence has ordained?… Perhaps we shall see each other again. The African climate is terrible; but not as bad as is believed. Doesn’t it seem miraculous to you that of all six of us no one has died on the journey? For your consolation I must also tell you that the position where we are is much better than that of Khartoum, and it is healthy. We are already used to the heat: fevers come and go, but finally they go. I shall die. God knows it, but so far I am healthy. And all five of us are in wonderfully good health. We thank the Lord, but with the proviso that he sends us other tribulations if he does not want to send us illnesses and deaths.
But this is enough, my beloved parents. May the Lord bless you, first in soul and then in body. Remember that I always keep you in my heart. My companions send you their sincere greetings, and send you their holy blessing, hoping that you remember them! Pray for them and for the Mission. When you least expect, God will console you. And then, won’t I be able to comfort you with my letters? Wretched and scanty they may be, but think that they are written, if scrappy, by your son who loves you.
I treasure your letters like a relic. I file them as soon as I receive them, and when I am oppressed by a natural inclination to grieve for you I read them and they comfort me, because I know I am alive in your memory. You too, do the same. When things go wrong (which then is a sign that we are in this world) read a few pages of these rough scribbles of letters, which I send you from time to time, and you will see that they will console you. Oh who knows what consolations God has prepared for you on earth! However, you must always aim for those of heaven, spurning temporal ones. God sees everything! God is capable of everything! God loves us! Pray for the conversion of Africa.
Meanwhile I give both of you my greetings. Greet Eustachio affectionately, Erminia, Uncle Giuseppe, Cesare, Pietro, Vienna and all our relatives, not forgetting to give Eugenio a kiss for me when he returns gloriously from Innsbruck. Give my respects to Signor Councillor, the Master, Signora Livia through them, Adolfo and the Signori Giacomo and Teresa Ferrari of Riva. Give my respects to the new Spiritual Counsellor, telling him that as his parishioner I also have a right to his pastoral solicitude. But since he is in one hemisphere and I in another, and since I am many miles away from his eyes, and so he cannot put his paternal care into practice, at least I have a right to participate in this pastoral solicitude with prayers; then as his office brings him to pray to the Lord for his people, and on feast days to say Mass Pro Populo, I intend to share in his pastoral care, participating in his prayers. In a word, tell him to pray to the Lord for me, one of his lambs, however lost.
Give my greetings to Signor Giuseppe and Giulia Carettoni, Signor Pietro Ragusini and Bortolo Carboni, the Patuzzi family, old and young, Fr Bem, the three Parolari-Patuzzi ladies, the Girardis, that is, the Signora Nina and Titta, Signor Giovanni, Ventura, etc. the doctor, all the Lucchinis, our friend Antonio Risatti, the Corporal also on Fr Angelo’s behalf, the painter, the gardeners of Supino and Tesolo, Rambottini and Barbera, good Pietro Roensa and his family and daughter, the servant of our relations. And it goes without saying, to our servant. Say hello to Signora Cattina Lucchini, Sassani, etc., etc. Send my cordial greetings to the Archpriest of Pieve, to Fr Luigi, Fr Pietro, to the parish priest of Voltino, to Dr David and to that lovely old soul, Marianna Perini.
In a word, greet all those who come to our house, the Minico in Riva, our relatives in Bogliaco and Maderno, and all the people of Limone. Tell them in Limone that I have left them physically, but never mentally. The sweetness of thoughts of home can only be felt by those who are far away. Tell them to pray to the Lord for one of their compatriots who feels affection for them even at a distance. Remember me to the invulnerable Pirele and his wife, the prim Maria. So goodbye, my dear parents. I enjoy telling you once again that I am in the best of health. I hope the same for you. I hope that when you receive this letter, you will already have received the bundle from Jerusalem. Tell those to whom I have sent souvenirs to remember me to God. I send you my fondest embrace together with my holy blessing, from
Your most affectionate son
Fr Daniel Comboni
Apostolic Missionary in Central Africa
(1) Dinkas cut their two incisors at the age of 7.