To the Gold Coast for Gold
By Richard F. Burton
Public Domain Books
THE RUINED RIVER-PORT AND THE TATTERED FLAG.
On the night of January 10 we steamed out of Las Palmas to cover the long line of 940 miles between Grand Canary and Bathurst. The A. S. S. generously abandons the monopoly of the Gambia to its rival, the B. and A., receiving in exchange the poor profits of the Isles de Los. Consequently the old Company’s ships, when homeward-bound, run directly from Sierra Leone to Grand Canary, a week’s work of 1,430 knots.
Hardly had we lost sight of the brown and barren island and Las Palmas in her magpie suit, than we ran out of the Brisa Parda, or grey north-east Trade, into calm and cool Harmatan [Footnote: The word is of disputed origin. Ahalabata, or ahalalata, on the Gold Coast is a foreign term denoting the dry norther or north-easter that blows from January to March or April (Zimmerman). Christalier makes haramata, ’Spanish harmatan, an Arabic word.’] weather. We begrudged the voyage this lovely season, which should have been kept for the journey. After the damp warmth of Madeira the still and windless air felt dry, but not too dry; cold, but not too cold; decidedly fresh in early morning, and never warm except at 3 P.M. The sun was pale and shorn, as in England, seldom showing a fiery face before 10 A.M. or after 5 P.M. The sea at night appeared slightly milky, like the white waters so often seen off the western coast of India. Every traveller describes the Harmatan, and most travellers transcribe the errors touching the infusoria and their coats which Ehrenberg found at sea in the impalpable powder near the Cape Verde islands. The dry cold blast is purely local, not cosmical. There is a fine reddish-yellow sand in the lower air-strata; we see it, we feel it, and we know that it comes from the desert-tracts of northern Africa. The air rises en masse from the Great Sahara; the vacuum is speedily filled by the heavier and cooler indraught from the north or south, and the higher strata form the upper current flowing from the Equator to the Poles. But ’siliceous dust’ will not wholly account for the veiling of the sun and the opaqueness of the higher atmosphere. This arises simply from the want of humidity; the air is denser, and there is no vapour to refract and reflect the light-rays. Hence the haze which even in England appears to overhang the landscape when there is unusually droughty weather; and hence, conversely, as all know, the view is clearest before and after heavy showers, when the atmosphere is saturated or supersaturated.
On my return in early April we caught the northeast Trades shortly after turning Cape Palmas, and kept them till close upon Grand Canary. They were a complete contrast with the Harmatan, the firmament looking exceptionally high, and the sun shining hot, while a crisp, steady gale made the ’herds of Proteus’ gambol and disport themselves over the long ridges thrown up by the cool plain of bright cerulean. The horizon, when clear, had a pinkish hue, and near coast and islands puffy folds of dazzling white, nearly 5,000 feet high, were based upon dark-grey streaks of cloudland simulating continents and archipelagoes. Within the tropics the heavens appear lower, and we never sight blue or purple water save after a tornado. The normal colour is a dirty, brassy yellow-brown, here and there transparent, but ever unsightly in the extreme. It must depend upon some unexplained atmospheric conditions; and the water-aspect is often at its ugliest when the skies are clearest. I have often seen the same tints when approaching Liverpool.
Through the Harmatan-haze we failed to sight Cape Juby, opposite Fuerteventura; and at Santa Cruz I missed Mr. Mackenzie, the energetic flooder of the Sahará. He has, they say, given up this impossibility and opened a comptoir: its presence is very unpleasant to the French monopolists, who seem to ’monopole’ more every year. South of Juby comes historic Cape Bojador, the ’Gorbellied,’ and Cabo Blanco, which is to northern what Cabo Negro is to southern Africa. The sole remarkable events in its life are, firstly, its being named by Ptolemy Granaria Extrema, whence the Canarii peoples south-west of the Moroccan Atlas and our corrupted ’Canaries;’ and, secondly, its rediscovery by one Gonçalez Baldeza in 1440.
On the afternoon of Saturday (January 14) we sighted in the offing the two paps of Ovedec, or Cabo Verde, the Hesperou Keras, the Hesperium or Arsenarium Promontorium of Pliny, the trouvaille of Diniz Fernandez in 1446. The name is sub judice. Some would derive it from the grassy green slope clad with baobabs (Adansonia digitata), megatherium-like monsters, topping the precipitous sea-wall which falls upon patches of yellow sand. Others would borrow it from the Sargasso (baccifera), Golfão, or Gulf-weed, which here becomes a notable feature. Cape Verde, the Prasum Promontorium of West Africa, is the ’Trafalgar,’ the westernmost projection, of the Dark Continent ’fiery yet gloomy;’ measuring 17° 3’ from the meridian of Greenwich. The coast is exceedingly dangerous; consequently shipwrecks are rare. The owners, as their national wont is, have done their best to make it safe. Two lighthouses to the north of the true Cape mark and define a long shoal with a heavy break, the Almadies rocks, a ledge mostly sunk, but here and there rising above the foam in wicked-looking diabolitos (devilings), or black fangs, of which the largest is die-shaped. A third pharos, also brilliantly whitewashed, crowns the Cape, and by its side is a lower sea-facing building, the sanatorium; finally, there is a light at the mole-end of Dakar.
Steaming past the Madeleine rocks, here and there capped with green and whitened by sea-fowl, we sight, through an opening in the curtain of coast, the red citadel and the subject town of Goree, the Gibraltar of western Africa, and the harbour of St. Louis, capital of Senegambia. The island is now the only port, the headquarters having suffered from the sand-bar at the mouth of the Senegal. Here our quondam rivals have made the splendid harbour of Dakar, whose jetties accommodate 180,000 tons of shipping at the same time. This powerful and warlike colony, distant only twelve hours’ steaming from Bathurst, has her fleet of steamers for river navigation; her Tirailleurs du Sénégal, and her large force of fighting native troops. Fortified stations defend the course of the river, even above the falls, from the hostile and treacherous Moors. The subject and protected territories exceed Algeria in extent, and the position will link the French possessions in the Mediterranean with the rich mineral lands proposed for conquest in the south.
We English hug to ourselves the idea that the French are bad colonists: if so, France, like China and India, is improving at a pace which promises trouble. Algeria, Senegambia, and Siam should considerably modify the old judgment. Our neighbours have, and honestly own to, two grand faults–an excessive bureaucracy and a military, or rather a martinet, discipline, which interferes with civil life and which governs too much. On the other side England rules too little. She is at present between the two proverbial stools. She has lost the norm of honour, Aristocracy; and she has lost it for ever. But she has not yet acquired the full strength of democracy. This is part secret of that disorganisation which is causing such wonder upon the continent of Europe. Moreover, Colonial England has caught the disease of non-interference and the infection of economy, the spawn of Liberalism; while her savings, made by starving her establishments, are of the category popularly described as penny-wise and pound-foolish. France has adopted the contrary policy. She spends her money freely in making ports and roads and in opening communication through adjacent countries. She lately sent a cruiser to Madeira, proposing to connect Dakar by telegraph with the Cape Verde islands. She is assiduous in forming friendly, or rather peaceable, relations with the people. She begins on the right principle by officering her colonies with her best men, naval and military. In England anyone is good enough for West Africa. She impresses the natives, before beginning to treat, by an overwhelming display of force; and, if necessary, by hard knocks. She educates the children of the chiefs, and compels all her lieges, under a penalty, to learn, and if possible to speak, French. So far from practising non-interference, she allows no one to fight but herself. This imperious, warlike, imperial attitude is what Africa wants. It reverses our Quaker-like ’fad’ for peace. We allow native wars to rage ad libitum even at Porto Loko, almost within cannon-shot of Sierra Leone. On the Gambia River the natives have sneeringly declared that they will submit to the French, who are men, but not to us, who are ------. Later still, the chiefs of Futa-Jalon went, not to London, but to Paris.
In 1854 France commenced a new and systematic course of colonial policy. She first beat the Pulos (Fulahs), once so bold, and then she organised and gave flags to them. She checked, with a strong hand, the attacks of the Moors upon the gum-gatherers of the Sahará. And now, after drawing away from us the Gambia trade, she has begun a railway intended to connect the Senegal with the Niger and completely to outflank us. This line will annex the native regions behind our settlements, and make Bathurst and Sierra Leone insignificant dependencies upon the continent of Gallic rule. The total distance is at least 820 miles, and the whole will be guarded by a line of forts. It begins with a section of 260 kilometres, which will transport valuable goods now injured by ass and camel-carriage. The natives, wearied with incessant petty wars, are ready to welcome the new comers. The western Súdán, or Niger-basin, has a population estimated at forty millions, ready, if a market be opened, to flock to it with agricultural and industrial products, including iron, copper, and gold. Meanwhile the Joliba (Black Water), with the Benuwe and other tributaries, offers a ready-made waterway for thousands of miles. Sierra Leone lies only 400 miles, less than half, from the Niger; but what would the Colonial Office say if a similar military line were proposed? Nor can we console ourselves by the feeble excuse that Senegal has a climate superior to that of our ’pest-houses.’ On the contrary, she suffers severely from yellow fever, which has never yet visited the British Gold Coast. Her mortality is excessive, but she simply replaces her slain. She has none of that mawkish, hysterical humanitarianism which of late years has become a salient feature in our campaigning. During the Ashanti affair the main object seems to have been, not the destruction of the enemy, but to save as many privates as possible from ague and fever, sunstroke and dysentery.
Ninety miles beyond Cape Verde placed us in the Gambia waters, off the lands of the Guinea region. I will not again attempt a history of the disputed word which Barbot derives from Ginahoa, the first negro region visited by the Portuguese; others from Ghana, the modern Kano; from the Jenneh or Jinne of Mungo Park; from Jenna, a coast-town once of note, governed by an officer under the ’King’ of Gambia-land, and, in fine, from the Italian Genoa.
The s.s. Senegal spent the night of the 14th on the soft and slippery mud, awaiting the dawn. What can the Hydrographic Department of the Admiralty be doing? What is the use of the three cruisers that still represent the old ’Coffin Squadron’? This coast has not had a survey since 1830, yet it changes more or less every year, and half a century makes every map and plan obsolete. But perhaps it would be wrong to risk seamen’s lives by exposure in open boats to ’insolation,’ showers, and surf.
From sunrise the sea had changed its Harmatan-grey for a dull, muddy, dirty green; and the leadsman, who is now too civilised to ’sing out’ in the good old style, calmly announced that the channel was shallowing. ’Gambia,’ or ’Gambi,’ the Gamboa and Gambic of Barbot (Chapter VII.), is said to mean clear water, here a perfect misnomer; it is miry as the Mersey. The ’molten gold of the Gambia River’ is only the fine phrase of some poetic traveller. Low land loomed on both sides, with rooty and tufted mangroves, apparently based upon the waves, showing that we approached an estuary, which soon narrowed from thirty miles to seven and to two. Three buoys, the outermost red, then the ’fairway’ with chequers and cage, and lastly white without cage, all at a considerable distance off the land, marked the river-bar, and presently a black pilot came on board from his cutter. We made some easting running along shore, and gave a wide berth to the Horseshoe Bank and St. Mary’s shoal portwards, to African Knoll and Middle Ground starboardwards, and to a crowd of other pleasant patches, where the water was dancing a breakdown in the liveliest way.
As we drew in shore the now burning sun shone with a sickly African heat through the scirocco-clouds and the thick yellow swamp-reek. ’It will be worse when we land,’ said the normal Job’s comforter. Six knots to starboard, (west), on high and healthy Cape St. Mary, rose a whitewashed building from a dwarf red cliff. To port on the river’s proper right bank (east) lay Fort Bullen, an outpost upon a land-tongue, dead-green as paint, embosomed in tall bentangs, or bombax-trees (Pullom Ceiba). This ’silk-cotton-tree’ differs greatly in shape from its congener in Eastern Africa. The bole bears sharp, broad-based thorns; the wings or flying buttresses are larger; several trunks rarely anastomose; the branches seldom stand out horizontally, nor are the leaves disposed in distinct festoons. It is, however, a noble growth, useful for shade and supplying a soft wood for canoes and stuffing for pillows. Fort Bullen, about one hour’s row from Bathurst, formerly lodged a garrison of seventeen men under the ’Commandant and Governor of the Queen’s Possessions in the Barra Country.’ Now the unwholesome site has been abandoned.
The island and station of St. Mary, Bathurst, of old a graveyard, now start up to starboard. The site was chosen apparently for its superior development of mud and mangrove, miasma and malaria. It is an island within an island. St. Mary the Greater is the northernmost of that mass of riverine holms and continental islands which, formed by the Cachéo and other great drains, extends south to the Rio Grande. Measuring some twenty miles from north to south, by six from east to west, it is embraced by the two arms of the Gambia delta, and is marked in old maps as the Combo, Forni, and Felúp country. St. Mary the Less, upon which stands the settlement facing east, is bounded eastward by the main mouth and westward by Oyster Creek, a lagoon-like branch: it is a mere sand-patch of twenty-one square miles, clothed by potent heats and flooding rains with a vivid and violent vegetation. Water is found everywhere three feet below the surface, but it is bad and brackish. There is hardly any versant or shed; in places the land sinks below the water-level; and, despite the excellent brick sewers, the showers prefer to sop and sod the soil. And, lest the island should be bodily carried away by man, there is a penalty for removing even a pailful of sand from the beach.
Bathurst was unknown in the days of Mungo Park, when traders ran up stream to Jilifri, nearly opposite Fort James, and to Pisania, the end of river-navigation. St. Mary’s Island, together with British Combo, Albreda, and the land called the ’Ceded,’ or ’English Mile,’ were bought from the Mandenga chief of the Combo province. First christened St. Leopold, and then Bathurst, after the minister of that name, the actual town owes its existence to an order issued by Sir Charles Macarthy. That ill-starred Governor of Sierra Leone (1814-24) is still remembered in Ashanti and on the Gold Coast: he is immortalised by a pestiferous island in the Upper Gambia well described by Winwood Reade. The settlement, designed for the use of liberated Africans, was built in 1816 by Lieutenant-Colonel Brereton and by Captain Alexander Grant. In 1821 it was made, like the Gold Coast, a dependency of Sierra Leone, whose jurisdiction, after the African Company was abolished in 1820,
[Footnote: The first African Company was established by Queen Elizabeth, and in 1688 was allowed to trade with Guinea. The Royal African Company, or Guinea Company of Royal Adventurers of England trading to Africa, was incorporated under Charles II. on January 20, 1663. A third was patented on September 27, 1672. The ’African Company’ (1722-24) was not allowed to interfere with ’interlopers.’ On May 7,1820, it was abolished, after bankruptcy, and its possessions passed over to the Crown.]
extended from N. lat. 20° to S. lat. 20°. I found it an independent government, one of four, in 1860 to 1865. In 1866 it again passed under the rule of Sierra Leone; in 1874 this ill-advised measure was withdrawn, and the Gambia was placed under an Administrator and a Legislative Council, the former subject to the Governor-in-Chief of Sierra Leone. A score of years ago it was garrisoned by some 300 men of the West African Corps. Now it is reduced to 100 armed policemen: the Gambia militia, composed of the Combo and Macarthy’s Island forces, is never called out. The population of the twenty-one square miles is given by Whittaker for 1881 as 14,150, including 105 whites. The Wesleyans here, as everywhere, preponderating on the Coast, number 1,405 souls; the Catholics 500, and the Episcopalians 200.
Another half-hour placed before us Bathurst in full view. The first salient point is the graveyard, where the station began and where the stationed end. Wags declare that the first question is, ’Have you seen our burial-ground?’ A few tomb-stones, mostly without inscriptions, are scattered so near the shore that corpses and coffins have been washed away by the waves. If New Orleans be a normal ’wet grave,’ this everywhere save near the sea is dry with a witness, the depth and looseness of the sand making the excavation a crumbling hole. Four governors, a list greatly to be prolonged, ’lie here interred.’ But matters of climate are becoming too serious for over-attention to such places or subjects.
The first aspect of this pest-house from afar is not unpleasant. A long line of scattered houses leads to the mass of the settlement, faced by its Marine Parade, and the tall trees give it a home-look; some have compared the site with ’parts of the park at Cheltenham.’ At a nearer view the town of some 5,000 head suggests the idea of a small European watering-place. The execrable position has none of those undulations which make heaps of men’s homes picturesque; everything is low, flat, and straight-lined as a yard of pump-water. The houses might be those of Byculla, Bombay; in fact, they date from the same epoch. They are excellent of their kind, large uncompact piles of masonry, glistening-white or dull-yellow, with blistered paint, and slates, tiles, or shingles, which last curl up in the sun like feathers. A nearer glance shows the house-walls stained and gangrened with rot and mildew, the river-floods often shaking hands with the rains in the ground-floors. The European ends in beehive native huts, rising from the swamp and sand; and these gradually fine off and end up-stream, becoming small by degrees and hideously less.
Bathurst has one compensating feature, the uncommon merit of an esplanade; the noble line of silk-cotton trees separating houses from river is apparently the only flourishing item. We remark that while some of these giants are clad in their old leaves others are bright green with new foliage, while others are bare and broomy as English woods in midwinter. They are backed by a truly portentous vegetation of red and white mangroves, palms, plantains, and baobabs, rank guinea-grass filling up every gap with stalks and blades ten feet tall.
Nor was the scene in the river-harbour at all more lively. The old Albert, of Nigerian fame, has returned to mother Earth; but we still note H.M.S. Dover, a venerable caricature, with funnel long and thin, which steams up stream when not impotent–her chronic condition. There are two large Frenchmen loading ground-nuts, but ne’er an Englishman. The foreshore is defaced by seven miserable wharves, shaky mangrove-piles, black with age and white with oystershells, driven into the sand and loosely planked over. There is an eighth, the gunpowder pier, on the north face of the island; and we know by its dilapidation that it is Government property. These stages are intended not for landing–oh, no!–but only for loading ships; stairs are wanting, and passengers must be carried ashore ’pick-a-back.’ The labourers are mainly, if not wholly, ’Golah’ women of British Combo, whose mates live upon the proceeds of their labours. To-day being Sunday, the juvenile piscators of Bathurst muster strong upon the piers, and no policeman bids them move on.
When the mail-bags were ready, we received a visit from the black health-officer, and we reflected severely on the exceeding ’cheek’ of inspecting, as a rule, new comers from old England at this yellow Home of Pestilence. But in the healthy time of the year we rarely see the listless, emaciated whites with skins stained by unoxygenised carbon, of whom travellers tell. Despite the sun, all the Bathurstians save the Government officials–now few, too few–flocked on board. Mail-days are here, as in other places down-coast, high days and holidays. But times are changed, and the ruined river-port can no longer afford the old traditional hospitality.
Cameron and I landed under Brown’s Wharf, the southernmost pier opposite the red roof and the congeries of buildings belonging to the late proprietor. We then walked up the High Street, or esplanade, which is open to the river except where the shore is cumbered with boats, hides, lumber, and beach-negroes. This is a kind of open-air market where men and women sit in the shade, spinning, weaving, and selling fruits and vegetables with one incessant flux of tongue. Here, too, amongst the heaps, and intimately mixed with the naked infantry, stray small goats, pretty and deer-shaped, and gaunt pigs, sharp-snouted and long-legged as the worst Irisher.
Several thoroughfares, upper and lower, run parallel with the river; all are connected, like a chess-board, by cross-lanes at right angles, and their grass-grown centres are lined by open drains of masonry, now bone-dry. The pavement is composed of stone and dust, which during the rains becomes mud; the trottoirs are in some places of brick, in others of asphalte, in others of cracked slabs. Mostly, however, we walk on sand and gravel, which fills our boots with something harder than unboiled peas. The multiplicity of useless walls, the tree-clumps, and the green sward faintly suggested memories of a semi-deserted single-company station in Western India; and the decayed, tumble-down look of all around was a deadly-lively illustration of the Hebrew Ichabod.
I passed, with a sense of profound sadness, the old Commissariat quarters, now degraded to a custom-house. The roomy, substantial edifice of stone and lime, with large, open verandahs, here called piazzas, lofty apartments, galleries, terraced roofs, and, in fact, everything an African house should have, still stood there; but all shut up, as if the antique domus were in mourning for the past. What Homeric feeds, what noctes coenoeque deorum, we have had there in joyous past times! But now that most hospitable of West-Coasters, Commissary Blanc, has been laid in the sandy cemetery; and where, oh! where are the rest of the jovial crew, Martin and Sherwood? I found only one relic of the bygone–and a well-favoured relic he is–Mr. W. N. Corrie, with whom to exchange condolences and to wail over the ruins.
Passing the post-office and the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and American consulates, poor copies of the dear old Commissariat, we halted outside at Mr. Goddard’s, and obtained from Mr. R. E. Cole a copy of his lecture, ’The River Gambia,’ read at York, September 1881. It gave me pleasure to find in it, ’The man that is wanted throughout the West Coast of Africa is not the negro, but the Chinaman; and should he ever turn his steps in its direction he will find an extensive and remunerating field for the exercise of his industry and intelligence.’
We then turned our attention from the town to the townspeople. They have not improved in demeanour during the last twenty years. Even then the ’liberateds’ and ’recaptives,’ chiefly Akus and Ibos, had begun the ’high jinks,’ which we shall find at their highest in Sierra Leone. They had organised ’Companies,’ the worst of trade-unions, elected headmen, indulged in strikes, and more than once had come into serious collision with the military. The Mandengas, whom Mungo Park calls Mandingoes and characterises as a ’wild, sociable, and obliging people,’ soon waxed turbulent and unruly. This is to be expected; a race of warriors must be governed by the sword. They would prefer for themselves military law to all the blessings of a constitution or a plébiscite. But philanthropy wills otherwise, and in these days the English authorities do not keep up that state whose show secures the respect of barbarians. Where the Governor walks about escortless, like a private individual, he must expect to be ’treated as such.’
There is no difficulty in distinguishing at first sight Moslem from Kafir. Besides the gypsy-like Pulo, the ’brown race,’ our older Fúlahs and Fellalahs, whose tongue is said to be a congener of the Nubian; and the wild, half-naked pagan Jolu, the principal tribes, are two, the Mandengas and the Wólofs. The former, whom Europeans divide into the Marabút, who does not drink, and the Soninki, who does, inhabit a triangle, its base being the line from the south of the Senegal to the Gambia River, and its apex the Niger; it has even extended to near Tin-Bukhtu (the Well of Bukhtu), our Timbuctoo. In old Mohammedan works their territory is called Wángara. This race of warmen and horsemen surprisingly resembles the Somal, who hold the same parallels of latitude in Eastern Africa, as to small heads, semi-Caucasian features, Asiatic above the nose-tip and African below; tall lithe figures, high shoulders, and long limbs, especially the forearm.
There is the usual Negro-land variety in the picturesque toilette; no two men are habited alike. A Phrygian bonnet, Glengarry or Liberty-cap of dark, indigo-dyed cotton, and sometimes a Kan-top or ear-calotte of India and Hausa-land, surmount their clean-shaven heads. For this they substitute, when travelling, ’country umbrellas,’ thatches of plaited palm-leaves in umbrella-shape; further down coast we shall find the regular sun-hat of Madeira, with an addition of loose straw-ends which would commend itself to Ophelia. The decent body-garb is a kamís, a nightgown of long-cloth, and wide, short drawers; the whole is covered with a sleeveless abá, or burnous, and sometimes with a half-sleeved caftan–here termed ’tobe’–garnished with a huge breast-pocket. It is generally indigo-stained, with marblings or broad-narrow stripes of lighter tint than the groundwork. An essential article, hung round the neck or slung to the body, is the grigri, ta’awíz, or talisman, a Koranic verse or a magic diagram enclosed in a leathern roll or in a flat square. Of these prophylactics, which answer to European medals and similar fetish, a ’serious person’ will wear dozens; and they are held to be such ’strong medicine’ that even pagans will barter or pay for them. Blacksmiths, weavers, and spinners work out of doors. Contrary to the general Moslem rule, these Mandengas honour workers in iron and leather, and the king’s blacksmith and cobbler are royal councillors.
Some of the motley crowd sit reading what the incurious stranger tells you is ’the Alcoran;’ they are perusing extracts and prayers written in the square, semi-Cufic Maghrabi character, which would take a learned Meccan a week to decipher. Others, polluted by a license which calls itself liberty, squat gambling shamelessly with pegs stuck in the ground. Now and then fighting-looking fellows ride past us, with the Arabic ring-bit and the heavy Mandenga demi-pique. The nags are ponies some ten hands high, ragged and angular, but hardy and sure-footed. As most of the equines in this part of Africa, they are, when well fed, intensely vicious and quarrelsome. Like the Syrians, they have only three paces, the walk, the lazy loping canter, and the brisk hard gallop; the trot is a provisional passage from slow to fast. Yet with all their shortcomings I should prefer them to the stunted bastard barb, locally called an Arab and priced between 20l. and 40l. The latter generally dies early from chills and checked perspiration, which bring on ’loin-disease,’ paralysis of the hind-quarters, or from a fatal swelling of the stomach, the result of bad forage. Most of the men carried knives, daggers, and crooked swords in curious leather scabbards. This practice should never be permitted in Africa. Natives entering a station should be compelled to leave their weapons with the policeman at the nearest guard-house.
The Wólofs, a name formerly written Joloff, also dwell in Senegambia, between the Senegal and the Gambia, and their habitat is divided into sundry petty kingdoms. As early as 1446 they were known to the Portuguese, and one Bemoy, of princely house, soon afterwards visited Lisbon, was baptised, and did homage to D. João II. More like the Abyssinians than their Mandenga neighbours, they are remarkable for good looks, pendent ringlets, and tasteful dress and decorations. ’Black but comely,’ with long, oval faces, finely formed features, straight noses and glossy jetty skins, in character they are brave and dignified, and they are distinctly negroids, not negroes. This small maritime tribe, who make excellent sailors, is interesting and civilisable; many have been Christianised, especially by the Roman Catholic missioners. The only native tongue spoken by European residents at Bathurst is the Wólof. As M. Dard remarks in his ’Grammaire Wolof,’ the [Footnote: He was Instituteur de l’École Wolof-Française du Sénégal, and published in 1826. It is still said that no one will speak Wolof like him, the result of the new régíme of compulsory French instruction. I printed 226 of his proverbs in Wit and Wisdom from West Africa (London, Tinsleys, 1865). It is curious to compare them with those of the pagan negroes further south.]
language is widely spread: Mungo Park often uses expressions which he deems Mandenga, but which belong to the ’Jews of West Africa,’ as the Wólofs are sometimes called, their extensive commercial dealings between the coast and the western Sudan being the only point of likeness. For instance, in the tale of ’poor Nealee’ the cry ’Kang-tegi!’ (’Cut her throat!’) is the Wólof ’Kung-akateke!’ (’Let her head be cut off!’), and ’Nealee affeeleeata!’ (’Nealee is lost!’) appears equally corrupted by author or printer from ’Nealu afeyleata!’ (’Nealee breathes no more!’)
Pursuing our peregrinations, we reach No. 1 Fort, at the northern angle of the town, north-eastern corner of the islet St. Mary the Less. This old round battery is surmounted by three 32-pounders, en barbette, with iron carriages and traversing platforms, but without racers: a single 7-inch shell would smash the whole affair. Thence we bent westward and passed the once neat ’Albert Market’ with its metal roof, built in 1854-56 by Governor Luke O’Connor and Isaac Bage. We did not enter; the place swarms with both sexes in blue: African indigo yields a charming purple, but one soon learns to prefer white clothing. Nor need I describe the stuff exposed for sale: there will be a greater variety at Sierra Leone.
Passing the market we come upon the engineer’s yard, which a hand-bill sternly forbids us to enter. It contains a chapel, where the Rev. Mr. Nicol officiates: this loose box is more hideous than anything I have yet seen, a perfect study of architectural deformity. The cracked bell and the nasal chant, at times rising to a howl as of anguish, were completely in character. As the service ended issued a stream of worshippers, mostly women, attired in costumes which will be noticed further on; most of them led negrolings suggesting the dancing dog. Meanwhile the police, armed only with side-arms, sword-bayonets, and looking more like Sierra Leone convicts reformed and uniformed, followed a band composed of drums, cymbals, and a haughty black sergeant, a mulatto noncommissioned, bringing up the rear. They went round and round the barrack square, a vast space occupied chiefly by grass and drains; in the back-ground is the large jaundiced building upon whose clock-tower floated, or rather depended, the flag of St. George. The white building by its side is the Colonial Hospital: it has also seen ’better days.’
We resolved to call upon Mr. Administrator V. S. Goulsbury, M.D. and C.M.G. He had lately been subjected to an attack, of course anonymous, in the ’African Times;’ an attack the more ungentlemanly and cowardly because it reflected upon his private not public life; and consequently he could neither notice it nor answer it, nor bring an action for libel. This scandalous print, which has revived the old ’Satirist’ in its most infamous phase, habitually inserts any tissue of falsehoods suggested to proceed from a ’native,’ an ’African,’ a ’negro,’ and carefully writes down to the lowest level of its readers. It attracts attention by the cant of charity, and shows its devotion to ’the Bible, and nothing but the Bible,’ by proving that the earth, having ’four corners,’ is flat, and that the sun, which once ’stood still,’ must move round its parasite. The manner of this pestilence is right worthy of its matter, and the style would be scouted in a decent housekeeper’s room. All well-meaning men, of either colony, declare that it has done more harm in West Africa than the grossest abuse yet written. Its tactic is to set black against white, to pander for the public love of scandal, and systematically to abuse all the employés of Government. And the sole object of this vile politic, loudly proclaimed to be philanthropic and negrophile, has been low lucre–in fact, an attempt to butter its bread with ’black brother.’
We inspected the second or western fort, a similar battery of six 32-pounders, with two 10-inch mortars, fit only to pound ’fúfú,’ or banana-paste; add a single brass field-piece, useful as a morning and evening gun for this highly military station. Then we came to Government House, apparently deserted, flying a frayed and tattered white and blue flag, which might have been used on board H.M.S. Dover, but which ought to have been supplanted on shore by a Union Jack. After waiting a quarter of an hour, we managed, with the assistance of a sentinel, whose feet were in slippers and whose artillery carbine was top-heavy with a fixed sword-bayonet, to arouse a negro servant, by whom we sent in our cards to H.E. the Administrator. An old traveller on the Gold Coast, and lately returned from a long expedition into the interior, [Footnote: Gambia: Expedition to the Upper Gambia. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1882.] he had much to tell us. His knowledge of Ashanti-land, however, induced him to place the Kong Mountains in that meridian too far north; he held the distance from the seaboard to be at least 500 miles. But he quite agreed with us about the necessity of importing Chinese coolies. Here no free man works. The people say, ’When a slave gets his liberty he will drink rainwater’–rather than draw it from a well. The chief cargo of the S.S. Senegal was Chinese rice, when almost every acre of the lower Gambia would produce a cereal superior in flavour and bolder in grain. Hands, however, are wanting; and all the women are employed in loading and unloading ships.
The Residency is a fine large building in an advanced stage of decomposition; the glorious vegetation around it–cotton-trees, caoutchouc-figs, and magnificent oleanders–making the pile look grimmer and grislier. And here we realised, to the fullest extent, how thoroughly ruined is the hapless settlement. The annual income is about 24,500l., the expenditure is 20,000l. in round numbers, and the economies are said to reach 25,000l. This sum is forwarded to the colonial chest, instead of being expended in local improvements; and, practically, when some petty war-storm breaks it is wasted like water. The local officials are not to be blamed for this miserable system, this niggardly colonial policy of the modern economical school, which contrasts so poorly with the lavish republican expenditure in French Senegambia. They have, to their honour be it said, often protested against the taxes raised from struggling merchants and a starveling population, poor as Hindûs, being expended upon an ’imperial policy.’ But economy is the order of the day at home, and an Administrator inclined to parsimony gladly seizes the opportunity of pleasing his ’office.’ The result is truly melancholy. I complained in 1862 that the ’civil establishment’ at Bathurst cost 7,075l. I now complain that it has been reduced to 2,600l. [Footnote: Administrator = 1,300l;.; Chief Magistrate = 600l.; Collector and Treasurer = 700l. Thus there is no Colonial Secretary, and, curious to say, no Colonial Chaplain. I formerly recommended the establishment to be reduced by at least one-half, and that half to be far better paid (Wanderings in West Africa, i. 182).] The whole establishment is starved; decay appears in every office, public and private; and ruin is writ large upon the whole station. An Englishman who loves his country must blush when he walks through Bathurst. Even John Bull would be justified in wishing that he had been born a Frenchman in West Africa.
We returned to the s.s. Senegal anything but edified; and there another displeasure awaited us. Our gallant captain must have known that he could not load and depart that day. Yet, diplomatically mysterious, he would not say so. Consequently we missed a visit to Cape St. Mary, the breezy cliff of which I retain the most agreeable memory. The scenery had appeared to me positively beautiful after the foul swamps of St. Mary’s Island;–stubbles of Guinea-corn, loved by quails; a velvety expanse of green grass sloping inland, with here and there a goodly palmyra grander than the columns of Ba’albek; palms necklaced with wine-calabashes, and a grove of baobab and other forest trees cabled with the most picturesque llianas, where birds of gorgeous plume sit and sing. We could easily have hired hammocks or horses, or, these failing, have walked the distance, six or seven miles. True, Oyster Creek, the shallow western outlet of the Gambia, has still a ferry: a bridge was lately built, but it fell before it was finished. It would, however, have been pleasurable to pass a night away from the fever-haunts of Bathurst.
During one of my many visits to Bathurst I resolved to inspect old Fort James: one thirsts for a bit of antiquity in these African lands, so bare of all but modern ruins. Like Bance Island, further south, it is the parent of the modern settlement; and so far it has the ’charm of origin.’ My companion was Captain Philippi, then well known at Lagos: the last time we met was unexpectedly at Solingen. A boat with four Krumen was easily found; but our friends warned us that the ascensus would be easy and the descensus the reverse; the latter has sometimes taken a day and a night.
The Gambia River here opens its mouth directly to the north; and, after a great elbow, assumes its normal east-west course. We ran before a nine-knot breeze, and shortly before noon, after two hours’ southing, we were off the half-way house, reef-girt Dog Island, and Dog Point, in the Barra country. The dull green stream sparkled in the sun, and the fringe of mangroves appeared deciduous: some trees were bare, as if dead; others were clothed with bright foliage. Presently we passed British Albreda, where our territory now ends. This small place has made a fuss in its day. It was founded by the French in 1700 as a dependency of Goree, and it carried on a slave-trade highly detrimental to English interests. In 1783 the owners had abandoned all right to its occupation, and in 1858 they ceded it to their English rivals. The landing is bad, especially when the miry ebb-tide is out. The old village of the French company was reduced when we visited it to a few huts and two whitewashed and red-roofed houses, occupied by a Frenchwoman in native dress and by an English subject, Mr. Hughes. The latter did the honours of the place and showed us the only ’punkah’ at that time known to the West African coast.
From Dog Island we bent to the east and passed the Jilifri or Grilofre village, in the Badibu country, a place well known during the days of Park. Then bending south-east, after a total of four hours, covering seventeen to eighteen knots, we landed upon James Island, the site of Fort James. The scrap of ground has a history. First the Portuguese here built a factory: Captain Jobson found this fact to his cost when (1621) he sailed up in search of gold to Satico, then the last point of navigation. A few words in the native dialects–’alcalde,’ for instance–preserve the memory of the earliest owners. It passed alternately into the hands of the Dutch, French, and English, who exchanged some shrewd blows upon the matter of possession. In 1695 it was destroyed by M. de Gennes, and was rebuilt by the Royal African Company, which had monopolised the traffic. It fell again in 1702 to Capitaine de la Roque, and cost the conqueror his life. In 1709 it was attacked for the third time by M. Parent, commanding four privateering frigates. About 1730 we have from Mr. Superintendent Francis Moore a notice of it amongst the Company’s establishments on the Gambia River. The island is described as being situated in mid-stream, here three to four miles broad, thirty miles from the mouth: the extent was 200 yards long by fifty broad. The factory had a governor and a deputy-governor, two officers, eight factors, thirteen writers, two inferior attendants, and thirty-two negro servants. The force consisted of a company of soldiers, besides armed sloops and shallops. Compare the same with our starved establishment at the Ruined River-port! In other parts of the Gambia valley eight subordinate comptoirs, including Jilifri or Gilofre, traded for hides and bees’-wax, ivory, slaves, and gold. When Mungo Park travelled (1795-97) the opening of the European trade had reduced its exports to a gross value of 20,000l., in three ships voyaging annually. After the African Company was abolished (1820) it passed over to the Crown, and the station was transferred to its graveyard, Sainte-Marie de Bathurst. Barbot [Footnote: Lib. i. chap. vii., A Description of the Coasts of North and South Guinea, &c., in 1700. Printed in Churchill’s Collection. Also his Supplement, ibid. pp. 426-26.] tells us that Fort James was founded (1664), under the names of the Duke of York and the Royal African Company, by Commodore Holmes when expeditioning against the Hollanders in North and South Guinea. It was the head-centre of trade and its principal defence. But, he says, the occupants were obliged to fetch fresh water from either bank. Had the cistern and the powder-magazine been bomb-proof, and drink as well as meat stored quant. suff., the fort would have been ’in a manner impregnable, if well defended by a suitable garrison.’ The latter in his day consisted of sixty to seventy whites, besides ’Gromettoes,’ free black sepoys.
This quasi-venerable site is a little holm a hundred yards in diameter, somewhat larger than the many which line the river’s western bank. We found its stony shingle glazed with a light-green sediment, which forbade bathing and which suggested fever. The material is conglomerate, fine and coarse, in an iron-reddened matrix; hence old writers call it a ’sort of gravelly rock, a little above water.’ Salsolaceæ tapestry the shore, and fig-trees and young calabashes spring from the stone: the ground is strewn with white shells, tiles, bricks and iridescent bottles–the invariable concomitants and memorials of civilisation. The masonry, lime and ashlar, is excellent, but time and the portentous growth of the tropics have cracked and fissured the walls. Masses of masonry are fallen, and others are assuming the needle-shape. The great quadrangle had lozenge-shaped bastions at each end, then lined with good brick-work: the outliers, which run round the river-holm, were three horseshoe redoubts ’with batteries along the palisades from one to another.’ Four old iron guns remained out of a total of sixty to seventy pieces. The features were those of the ancient slave-barracoon –dwelling-houses, tanks and cisterns, magazines, stores, and powder-room, all broken by the treasure-hunter.
The return to Bathurst was a bitter draught. We had wind and water against us, and the thick mist prevented our taking bearings. Hungry, thirsty, weary, cross, and cramped, we reached the steamer at 5 A.M., and slept spitefully as long as we could.
The last displeasure of my latest visit to Bathurst was the crowd of native passengers, daddy, mammy, and piccaninny, embarking for Sierra Leone, and the host of friends that came to bid them good-bye. They did not fail to abscond with M. Colonna’s pet terrier and with the steward’s potatoes: no surveillance can keep this long-fingered lot from picking and stealing. It is a political as well as a social mistake to take negro first-class passengers. A ruling race cannot be too particular in such matters, and the white man’s position on the Coast would be improved were the black man kept in his proper place. A kind of first-class second-class might be invented for them. Nothing less pleasant than their society. The stewards have neglected to serve soup to some negro, who at every meal has edged himself higher up the table, and whose conversation consists of whispering into the ear of a black neighbour, with an occasional guffaw like that of the ’laughing jackass.’
’I say, daddee, I want my soop. All de passenger he drink ’im soop; me no drink my soop. What he mean dis palaver?’
The sentence ends in a scream; the steward smiles, and the first-class resumes–
’Ah, you larf. And what for you larf? I no larf, I no drinkee soop!’
Here the dialogue ends, and men confess by their looks that travelling sometimes does throw us into the strangest society.
Even in Sierra Leone, where the negro claims to be civilised, a dusky belle, after dropping her napkin at a Government House dinner, has been heard to say to her neighbour, ’Please, Mr. Officer-man, pick up my towel.’ The other day a dark dame who missed her parasol thus addressed H.E.: ’Grovernah! me come ere wid my umbrellah. Where he be, my umbrellah Give me my umbrelláh: no go widout my umbrelláh.’
For our black and brown passengers, fore and aft, there is a graduated and descending scale of terminology: 1. European, that is, brought up in England; 2. Civilised man; 3. African; 4. Man of colour, the ’cullered pussun’ of the United States; 5. Negro; 6. Darkey; and 7. Nigger, which here means slave. All are altogether out of their assiettes. At home they will eat perforce cankey, fufu, kiki, and bad fish, washing them down with mimbo, bamboo-wine, and pitto, hopless beer, the pombe of the East Coast. Here they abuse the best of roast meat, openly sigh for ’palaver-sauce’ and ’palm-oil chop,’ and find fault with the claret and champagne. Chez eux they wear breech-cloths and nature’s stockings–eoco tutto. Here both men and women must dress like Europeans, and a portentous spectacle it is. The horror reaches its height at Sierra Leone, where the pulpit as well as the press should deprecate human beings making such caricatures of themselves,
In West Africa we see three styles of dress. The first, or semi-nude, is that of the Kru-races, a scanty pagne, or waist-wrapper, the dark skin appearing perfectly decent. The second is the ample flowing robe, at once becoming and picturesque, with the shalwar, or wide drawers, of the Moslems from Morocco to the Equator. The third is the hideous Frank attire affected by Sierra Leone converts and ’white blackmen,’ as their fellow-darkies call them.
Many of the costumes that made the decks of the s.s. Senegal hideous are de fantaisie, as if the wearers had stripped pegs in East London with the view of appearing at a fancy-ball. The general effect was that of ’perambulating rainbows en petit surmounted by sable thunder-clouds.’ One youth, whose complexion unmistakably wore the shadowed livery of the burnished sun, crowned his wool with a scarlet smoking-cap, round which he had wound a white gauze veil. The light of day was not intense, but his skin was doubtless of most delicate texture. Another paraded the deck in a flowing cotton-velvet dressing-gown with huge sleeves, and in bottines of sky-blue cloth. Even an Aku Moslem, who read his Koran, printed in Leipzig, and who should have known better, had mimicked Europeans in this most unbecoming fashion.
Men of substance sported superfine Saxony with the broadest of silk-velvet collars; but the fit suggested second-hand finery. Other elongated cocoa-nuts bore jauntily a black felt of ’pork-pie’ order, leek-green billycocks, and anything gaudy, but not neat, in the ’tile’-line. Their bright azure ribbons and rainbow neckties and scarves vied in splendour with the loudest of thunder-and-lightning waistcoats from the land of Moses and Sons. Pants were worn tight, to show the grand thickness of knee, the delicate leanness of calf, the manly purchase of heel, and the waving line of beauty which here distinguishes shin-bones. There were monstrous studs upon a glorious expanse of ’biled’ shirt; a small investment of cheap, tawdry rings set off the chimpanzee-like fingers; and, often enough, gloves invested the hands, whose horny, reticulated skin reminded me of the black fowl, or the scaly feet of African cranes pacing at ease over the burning sands. Each dandy had his badine upon whose nice conduct he prided himself; the toothpick was as omnipresent as the crutch, nor was the ’quizzing-glass’ quite absent. Lower extremities, of the same category as the hands, but slightly superior in point of proportional size, were crammed into patent-leather boots, the latter looking as if they had been stuffed with some inanimate substance–say the halves of a calf’s head. Why cannot these men adopt some modification of the Chinese costume, felt hat and white shoes, drawers, and upper raiment half-shirt, half-doublet? It has more common sense than any other in the world.
It is hardly fair to deride a man’s ugliness, but the ugly is fair game when self-obtruded into notice by personal vanity and conceit. Moreover, this form of negro folly is not to be destroyed by gentle raillery; it wants hard words, even as certain tumours require the knife. Such aping of Europeans extends from the physical to the moral man, and in general only the bad habits, gambling, drinking, and debauching, are aped.
The worst and not the least hideous were the mulattos, of whom the negroes say they are silver and copper, not gold. It is strange, passing strange, that English blood, both in Africa and in India, mixes so badly for body and mind (brain) with the native. It is not so with the neo-Latin nations of Southern Europe and the Portuguese of the Brazil. For instance, compare the pretty little coloured girls of Pondicherry and Mahé with their sister half-castes the Chichis of Bengal and Bombay.
As for the section conventionally called ’fair,’ and unpolitely termed by Cato the ’chattering, finery-loving, ungovernable sex,’ I despair to depict it. When returning north in the A.S.S. Winnebah, we carried on board a dark novice of the Lyons sisterhood. She looked perfectly ladylike in her long black dress and the white wimple which bound her hair under the sable mantilla. But the feminines on board the Senegal bound for Sierra Leone outrage all our sense of fitness by their frightful semi-European gowns of striped cottons and chintzes; by their harlequin shawls and scarves thrown over jackets which show more than neck and bare arms to the light of day, and by the head-gear which looks like devils seen in dreams after a heavy supper of underdone pork. Africa lurks in the basis: the harsh and wiry hair is gathered into lumps, which to the new comer suggest only bears’ ears, and into chignons resembling curled up hedge-hogs. Around it is twisted a kerchief of arsenic-green, of sanguineous-crimson, or of sulphur-yellow; and this would be unobjectionable if it covered the whole head, like the turban of the Mina negress in Brazilian Bahia. But it must be capped with a hat or bonnet of straw, velvet, satin, or other stuff, shabby in the extreme, and profusely adorned with old and tattered ribbons and feathers, with beads and bugles, with flowers and fruits. The tout ensemble would scare any crow, however bold.
I am aware that the sex generally is somewhat persistent in its ideas of personal decoration, and that there is truth in the African proverb, ’If your head is not torn off you will wear a head-dress,’ corresponding with our common saying, ’Better out of the world than out of the fashion.’ But this nuisance, I repeat, should be abated with a strong hand by the preacher as well as by the pressman. The women and the children are well enough as Nature made them: they make themselves mere caricatures, figures o’ fun, guys, frights. If this fact were brought home to them by those whose opinions they value, they might learn a little common sense and good taste. And yet–wait a moment–may they not sometimes say the same of us? But our monstrosities are original, theirs are borrowed.
The ’mammies’ at once grouped themselves upon the main-hatch, as near the quarter-deck and officers’ cabins as possible. I can hardly understand how Englishmen take a pleasure in ’chaffing’ these grotesque beings, who usually reply with some gross, outrageous insolence. At the best they utter impertinences which, issuing from a big and barbarous mouth in a peculiar patois, pass for pleasantry amongst those who are not over-nice about the quality of that article. The tone of voice is peculiar; it is pitched in the usual savage key, modified by the twang of the chapel and by the cantilene of the Yankee–originally Puritan Lancashire. Hence a ’new chum’ may hear the women talking for several days before he finds out that they are talking English. And they speak two different dialects. The first, used with strangers, is ’blackman’s English,’intelligible enough despite the liberties it takes with pronunciation, grammar, and syntax. The second is a kind of ’pidgin English,’ spoken amongst themselves, like Bolognese or Venetians when they have some reason for not talking Italian. One of the Gospels was printed in it; I need hardly say with what effect. The first verse runs, ’Lo vo famili va Jesus Christus, pikien. (piccaninny) va David, dissi da pikien va Abraham.’ [Footnote: Da Njoe Testament, &c. Translated into the negro-English language by the missionaries of the Unitas Fratrum, &c. Printed by the British and Foreign Bible Society. London: W. McDowall, Pemberton Row, 1829.]
This ’pidgin English’ runs down West Africa, except the Gold Coast and about Accra, where the natives have learnt something better. The principal affirmation is ’Enh,’ pronounced nanny-goat fashion, and they always answer ’Yes’ to a negative question: e.g. Q. ’Didn’t you go then?’ A. ’Yes’ (sub-audi, I did not), thus meaning ’No.’ ’Na,’ apparently an interrogative in origin, is used pleonastically on all occasions: ’You na go na steamer?’ ’Enty’ means indeed; ’too much,’ very; ’one time,’ once; and the sign of the vocative, as in the Southern States of the Union, follows the, word:’ Daddy, oh!’ ’Mammy, oh!’ ’Puss,’ or ’tittle,’ is a girl, perhaps a pretty girl; ’babboh,’ a boy. ’Hear’ is to obey or understand; ’look,’ to see; ’catch,’ to have; ’lib,’ to live, to be, to be found, or to enjoy good health: it is applied equally to inanimates. ’Done lib’ means die; ’sabby’ (Portuguese) is to know; ’chop,’ to eat; ’cut the cry,’ to end a wake; ’jam head,’ or ’go for jam head,’ to take counsel; ’palaver (Port.) set,’ to end a dispute; to ’cut yamgah’ is to withhold payment, and to ’make nyanga’ is to junket. ’Yam’ is food; ’tummach’ (Port.) is the metaphorical heart; ’cockerapeak’ is early dawn, when the cock speaks; all writing, as well as printing, is a ’book;’ a quarrel is a ’bob;’ and all presents are a ’dash,’ ’dassy’ in Barbot, and ’dashs’ in Ogilby. All bulls are cows, and when you would specify sex you say ’man-cow’ or ’woman-cow.’ [Footnote: For amusing specimens of amatory epistles the reader will consult Mrs. Melville and the Ten Years’ Wanderings among the Ethiopians (p. 19), by my old colleague, Mr. Consul Hutchinson.]
These peculiarities, especially the grammatical, are not mere corruptions: they literally translate the African dialects now utterly forgotten by the people. And they are more interesting than would at first appear. Pure English, as a language, is too difficult in all points to spread far and wide. ’Pidgin English’ is not. Already the Chinese have produced a regular lingua franca, and the Japanese have reduced it to a system of grammar. If we want only a medium of conversation, a tongue can be reduced to its simplest expression and withal remain intelligible. Thus ’me’ may serve for I, me, my. Verbs want no modal change to be understood. ’Done go’ and ’done eat’ perfectly express went and ate. Something of the kind is still wanted, and must be supplied if we would see our language become that of the commercial world in the East as it is fast becoming in the West.
We left Bathurst more than ever convinced that the sooner we got rid of the wretched station, miscalled a colony, the better. It still supplies hides from the tipper country, ivory, bees’-wax, and a little gold. The precious metal is found, they say, in the red clay hills near Macarthy’s Island; but the quality is not pure, nor is the quantity sufficient to pay labour. The Mandengas, locally called ’gold strangers,’ manage the traffic with the interior, probably the still mysterious range called the ’Kong Mountains.’ They are armed with knives, sabres, and muskets; and for viaticum they carry rude rings of pure gold, which, I am told, are considered more valuable than the dust.
But the staple export from Bathurst–in fact, nine-tenths of the total–consists of the arachide, pistache, pea-nut, or ground-nut (Arachis hypoga). It is the beat quality known to West Africa; and, beginning some half a century ago, large quantities are shipped for Marseilles, to assist in making salad-oil. Why this ’olive-oil’ has not been largely manufactured in England I cannot say. Thus the French have monopolised the traffic of the Gambia; they have five houses, and the three English, Messrs. Brown, Goddard, and Topp, export their purchases in French bottoms to French ports.
Moreover, the treaty of 1845, binding the ’high contracting Powers’ to refrain from territorial aggrandisement (much like forbidding a growing boy to grow), expired in 1855. Since that time, whilst we have refrained even from abating the nuisance of native wars, our very lively neighbours have annexed the Casamansa River, with the fine coffee-lands extending from the Nunez southwards to the Ponga River, and have made a doughty attempt to absorb Matacong, lying a few miles north of Sierra Leone.
Whilst English Gambia is monopolised by the French, French Gaboon is, or rather was, in English hands. For a score of years men of sense have asked, ’Why not exchange the two?’ When nations so decidedly rivalistic meet, assuredly it is better to separate à l’aimable. Moreover, so long as our economical and free-trade ’fads’ endure, it is highly advisable to avoid the neighbourhood of France and invidious comparisons between its policy and our non-policy, or rather impolicy.
According to the best authorities, the whole of the West African coast north of Sierra Leone might be ceded with advantage to the French on condition of our occupying the Gaboon and the regions, coast and islands, south of it, except where the land belongs to the Portuguese and the Spaniards. Some years ago an energetic effort was made to effect the exchange, but it was frustrated by missionary and sentimental considerations. Those who opposed the idea shuddered at the thought of making over to a Romanist Power (?) the poor converts of Protestantism; the peoples who had been peaceful and happy so long under the protecting aegis of Great Britain; the races whom we were bound, by an unwritten contract, not only to defend, but to civilise, to advance in the paths of progress. The colonists feared to part with the old effete possession, lest the French should oppose, as they have done in Senegal, all foreign industry–in fact, ’seal up’ the Gambia. A highly respectable merchant, the late Mr. Brown, contributed not a little, by his persuasive pen, to defeat the proposed measure. And now it is to be feared that we have heard the last of this matter; our rivals have found out the high value of their once despised equatorial colony. If ever the exchange comes again to be discussed, I hope that we shall secure by treaty or purchase an exclusively British occupation of Grand Bassam and the Assini valley, mere prolongations of our Protectorate on the Gold Coast. A future page will show the reason why our imperial policy requires the measure. At present both stations are occupied by French houses or companies, who will claim indemnification, and who can in justice demand it.
We steamed out of the Ruined River-port, and left ’this old sandbank in Africa they call St. Mary’s Isle,’ at 11 A.M. on January 16, with a last glance at the Commissariat-buildings. Accompanied by a mosquito-fleet of canoes, each carrying two sails, we stood over the bar, sighting the heavy breakers which defend the island’s northern face, and passed Cape St. Mary, gradually dimming in the distance. After Bald Cape, some sixty miles south, we ran along the long low shore, distinguished only by the mouths and islands of the Casamansa and the Cachéo rivers. Our course then led us by the huge and hideous archipelago off the delta of Jeba and the Bolola, the latter being the ’Rio Grande’ of Camoens, which Portuguese editors will print with small initials, and which translators mistranslate accordingly. [Footnote: The Lusiads, v. 12. I have noticed this error in Camoens: his Life and his Lusiads (vol. i. p. 896. London: Quaritch, 1881). It was probably called Grande because it was generally believed to be the southern outlet of the Niger.] These islands are the Bijougas, or Bissagos, the older ’Biziguiches,’ inhabited by the most ferocious negroes on the coast, who massacred the Portuguese and who murder all castaways. They are said to shoot one another as Malays ’run amok,’ and some of their tribal customs are peculiar to themselves.
Here, about 350 miles north of Sierra Leone, was established the unfortunate Bulama colony. Its first and last governor, the redoubtable Captain Philip Beaver, R.N., has left the queerest description of the place and its people. [Footnote: African Memoranda. Baldwin, London, 1805.] Within eighteen months only six remained of 269 souls, including women and children. In 1792 the island was abandoned, despite its wealth of ground-nuts. After long ’palavering’ it was again occupied by Mr. Budge, manager of Waterloo Station, Sierra Leone; but he was not a fixture there. It is now, I believe, once more deserted.
Early next morning we were off the Isles de Los, properly Dos Idolos (of the Idols). On my return northwards I had an opportunity of a nearer view. The triad of parallel rock-lumps, sixty miles north of Sierra Leone, is called Tama, or Footabar, to the west; Ruma, or Crawford, a central and smaller block of some elevation; and Factory Island, the largest, five or six miles long by one broad, and nearest the shore. Their aspect is not unpleasant: the features are those of the Sierra Leone peninsula, black rocks, reefs, and outliers, underlying ridges of red soil; and the land is feathered to the summit with palms, rising from stubbly grass, here and there patched black by the bush-fire. A number of small villages, with thatched huts like beehives, are scattered along the shore. The census of 1880 gives the total figures at 1,300 to 1,400, and of these 800 inhabit Factory Island. Mr. J. M. Metzger, the civil and intelligent sub-collector and custom-house officer, a Sierra Leone man, reduced the number to 600, half of them occupying the easternmost of the three. He had never heard of the golden treasures said to have been buried here by Roberts the pirate, the Captain (Will.) Kidd of these regions.
In our older and more energetic colonial days we had a garrison on the Isles de Los. They found the climate inferior to the Banana group, off Cape Shilling. Factory Island still deserves its name. Here M. Verminck, of Marseille, the successor of King Heddle, has a factory on the eastern side, an establishment managed by an agent and six clerks, with large white dwellings, store-houses, surf-boats, and a hulk to receive his palm-oil. The latter produces the finest prize-cockroaches I have yet seen.
My lack of strength did not allow me to inspect the volcanic craters said to exist in these strips, or to visit any of the ’devil-houses.’ Mr. G. Neville, agent of the steamers at Lagos, gave me an account of his trip. Landing near the French factory, he walked across the island in fifteen minutes, followed the western coast-line, turned to the south-west, descended a hollow, and found the place of sacrifice. Large boulders, that looked as if shaken down by an earthquake, stood near one another. There were neither idols nor signs of paganism, except that the floor, which resembled the dripstone of Tenerife, was smoothed by the feet of the old worshippers. When steaming round the south-western point we saw–at least so it was said–the famous ’devil-house’ which gave the islands their Portuguese name.
Factory is divided by a narrow strait from Tumbo Island, and the latter faces the lands occupied by the Susus. These equestrian tribes, inhabiting a grassy plain, were originally Mandengas, who migrated south to the Mellikuri, Furikaria, and Sumbuyah countries, and who intermarried with the aboriginal Bulloms, Tonko-Limbas, and Baggas. All are Moslems, and their superior organisation enabled them to prevail against the pagan Timnis, who in 1858-59 applied to the Government of Sierra Leone for help, and received it. Of late years the chances of war have changed, and the heathenry are said to have gained the upper hand. The Susus are an industrious tribe, and they trade with our colony in gum, ground-nuts, and benni, or sesamum-seed.
It is uncommonly pleasant to leave these hotbeds and once more to breathe the cool, keen breath of the Trades, laden with the health of the broad Atlantic.