Two Trips to
and the Cataracts of the Congo.
Richard F. Burton.
In Two Volumes
"Quisquis amat Congi fines peragrare nigrantes, Africae et AEthiopum cernere regna, domus, * * * * * * * Perlegat hunc librum." Fra Angelus de Map. Piccardus.
"Timbuctoo travels, voyages to the poles, Are ways to benefit mankind as true Perhaps as shooting them at Waterloo."—Don Juan.
Trieste, Jan. 31, 1875. My Dear Sir George,
Our paths in life have been separated by a long interval. Whilst inclination led you to explore and to'survey the wild wastes of the North, the Arctic shores and the Polar seas, with all their hardships and horrors; my lot was cast in the torrid regions of Sind and Arabia; in the luxuriant deserts of Africa, and in the gorgeous tropical forests of the Brazil. But the true traveller can always appreciate the record of another's experience, and perhaps the force of contrast makes him most enjoy the adventures differing the most from his own. To whom, then, more appropriately than to yourself, a discoverer of no ordinary note, a recorder of explorations, and, finally, an earnest labourer in the cause of geography, can I inscribe this plain, unvarnished tale of a soldier-traveller? Kindly accept the trifle as a token of the warmest esteem, an earnest of my thankfulness for the interest ever shown by you in forwarding my plans and projects of adventure; and, in the heartfelt hope that Allah may prolong your days, permit me to subscribe myself,
Your sincere admirer and grateful friend, RICHARD F. BURTON.
Admiral Sir George Back, D.C.L., F.R.S., Vice-Pres. R.G.S., &c.
The notes which form the ground-work of these volumes have long been kept in the obscurity of manuscript: my studies of South America, of Syria and Palestine, of Iceland, and of Istria, left me scant time for the labour of preparation. Leisure and opportunity have now offered themselves, and I avail myself of them in the hope that the publication will be found useful to more than one class of readers. The many who take an interest in the life of barbarous peoples may not be displeased to hear more about the Fan; and the few who would try a fall with Mister Gorilla can learn from me how to equip themselves, whence to set out and whither to go for the best chance. Travelling with M. Paul B. du Chaillu's "First Expedition" in my hand, I jealously looked into every statement, and his numerous friends will be pleased to see how many of his assertions are confirmed by my experience.
The second part is devoted to the Nzadi or lower Congo River, from the mouth to the Yellala or main rapids, the gate by which the mighty stream, emerging from the plateau of Inner Africa, goes to its long home, the Atlantic. Some time must elapse before the second expedition, which left Ambriz early in 1873, under Lieutenant Grandy, R. N., can submit its labours to the public: meanwhile these pages will, I trust, form a suitable introduction to the gallant explorer's travel in the interior. It would be preposterous to publish descriptions of any European country from information gathered ten years ago. But Africa moves slowly, and thus we see that the results of an Abyssinian journey (M. Antoine d'Abbadie's "Geodesic d'Ethiopie," which took place about 1845, are not considered obsolete in 1873.
After a languid conviction during the last half century of owning some ground upon the West Coast of Africa, England has been rudely aroused by a little war which will have large consequences. The causes that led to the "Ashantee Campaign," a negro copy of the negroid Abyssinian, may be broadly laid down as general incuriousness, local mismanagement, and the operation of unprincipled journalism.
It is not a little amusing to hear the complaints of the public that plain truth about the African has not been told. I could cite more than one name that has done so. But what was the result? We were all soundly abused by the negrophile; the multitude cared little about reading "unpopular opinions;" and then, when the fulness of time came, it turned upon us, and rent us, and asked why we had not spoken freely concerning Ashanti and Fanti, and all the herd. My "Wanderings in West Africa" is a case in point: so little has it been read, that a President of the Royal Geographical Society (African section of the Society of Arts Journal, Feb. 6, 1874) could state, "If Fantees are cowardly and lazy, Krumen are brave;" the latter being the most notorious poltroons on the West African seaboard.
The hostilities on the Gold Coast might have been averted with honour to ourselves at any time between 1863 and 1870, by a Colonial Office mission and a couple of thousand pounds. I need hardly say what has been the case now. The first steps were taken with needless disasters, and the effect has been far different from what we intended or what was advisable. For a score of years we (travellers) have been advising the English statesman not to despise the cunning of barbarous tribes, never to attempt finessing with Asiatic or African; to treat these races with perfect sincerity and truthfulness. I have insisted, and it is now seen with what reason, that every attempt at deception, at asserting the "thing which is not," will presently meet with the reward it deserves. I can only regret that my counsels have not made themselves heard.
Yet this ignoble war between barbarous tribes whom it has long been the fashion to pet, this poor scuffle between the breechloader and the Birmingham trade musket, may yet in one sense do good. It must perforce draw public attention to the West Coast of Africa, and raise the question, "What shall we do with it?" My humble opinion, expressed early in 1865 to the Right Honourable Mr. Adderley, has ever been this. If we are determined not to follow the example of the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the Spaniards, and not to use the country as a convict station, resolving to consume, as it were, our crime at home, we should also resolve to retain only a few ports and forts, without territory, at points commanding commerce, after the fashion of the Lusitanians in the old heroic days. The export slave-trade is now dead and buried; the want of demand must prevent its revival; and free emigration has yet to be created. As Mr. Bright rightly teaches, strong places and garrisons are not necessary to foster trade and to promote the success of missions. The best proof on the West African Coast is to be found in the so-called Oil Rivers, where we have never held a mile of ground, and where our commerce prospers most. The great "Tribune" will forgive my agreeing in opinion with him when he finds that we differ upon one most important point. It is the merchant, not the garrison, that causes African wars. If the home authorities would avoid a campaign, let them commit their difficulty to a soldier, not to a civilian.
The chronic discontent of the so-called "civilized" African, the contempt of the rulers if not of the rule, and the bitter hatred between the three races, white, black, and black-white, fomented by many an unprincipled print, which fills its pocket with coin of cant and Christian charity, will end in even greater scandals than the last disreputable war. If the damnosa licentia be not suppressed—and where are the strong hands to suppress it?—we may expect to see the scenes of Jamaica revived with improvements at Sierra Leone. However unwilling I am to cut off any part of our great and extended empire, to renew anywhere, even in Africa, the process of dismemberment—the policy which cast off Corfu—it is evident to me that English occupation of the West African Coast has but slightly forwarded the cause of humanity, and that upon the whole it has proved a remarkable failure.
We can be wise in time.
Richard F. Burton.
P.S.—Since these pages were written, a name which frequently occurs in them has become a memory to his friends—I allude to W. Winwood Reade, and I deplore his loss. The highest type of Englishman, brave and fearless as he was gentle and loving, his short life of thirty-seven years shows how much may be done by the honest, thorough worker. He had emphatically the courage of his opinions, and he towered a cubit above the crowd by telling not only the truth, as most of us do, but the whole truth, which so few can afford to do. His personal courage in battle during the Ashanti campaign, where the author of "Savage Africa" became correspondent of the "Times," is a matter of history. His noble candour in publishing the "Martyrdom of Man" is an example and a model to us who survive him. And he died calmly and courageously as he lived, died in harness, died as he had resolved to die, like the good and gallant gentleman of ancient lineage that he was.
Contents of Vol. I.
Chapter I. Landing at the Rio Gabao (Gaboon River).—le Plateau, the French Colony Chapter II. The Departure.—the Tornado.—arrival at "The Bush" Chapter III. Geography of the Gaboon Chapter IV. The Minor Tribes and the Mpongwe Chapter V. To Sanga-Tanga and Back Chapter VI. Village Life in Pongo-Land Chapter VII. Return to the River Chapter VIII. Up the Gaboon River Chapter IX. A Specimen Day with the Fan Cannibals Chapter X. To the Mbika (Hill); the Sources of the Gaboon.— Return to the Plateau Chapter. XI. Mr., Mrs., and Master Gorilla Chapter XII. Corisco.—"Home" to Fernando Po
The Gaboon River and Gorilla Land.
"It was my hint to speak, such was my process; And of the cannibals that each other eat, The anthropophagi, and men whose heads Do grow beneath their Shoulders."-Othello.
Trip to Gorilla Land.
Landing at the Rio Gabao (Gaboon River).—le Plateau, the French Colony.
I remember with lively pleasure my first glance at the classic stream of the "Portingal Captains" and the "Zeeland interlopers." The ten-mile breadth of the noble Gaboon estuary somewhat dwarfed the features of either shore as we rattled past Cape Santa Clara, a venerable name, "'verted" to Joinville. The bold northern head, though not "very high land," makes some display, because we see it in a better light; and its environs are set off by a line of scattered villages. The vis-a-vis of Louis Philippe Peninsula on the starboard bow (Zuidhoeck), "Sandy Point" or Sandhoeck, by the natives called Pongara, and by the French Peninsule de Marie- Amelie, shows a mere fringe of dark bristle, which is tree, based upon a broad red-yellow streak, which is land. As we pass through the slightly overhung mouth, we can hardly complain with a late traveller of the Gaboon's "sluggish waters;" during the ebb they run like a mild mill-race, and when the current, setting to the north-west, meets a strong sea-breeze from the west, there is a criss-cross, a tide-rip, contemptible enough to a cruizer, but quite capable of filling cock-boats. And, nearing the end of our voyage, we rejoice to see that the dull down-pourings and the sharp storms of Fernando Po have apparently not yet migrated so far south. Dancing blue wavelets, under the soft azure sky, plash and cream upon the pure clean sand that projects here and there black lines of porous ironstone waiting to become piers; and the water-line is backed by swelling ridges, here open and green- grassed, there spotted with islets of close and shady trees. Mangrove, that horror of the African voyager, shines by its absence; and the soil is not mud, but humus based on gravels or on ruddy clays, stiff and retentive. The formation, in fact, is everywhere that of Eyo or Yoruba, the goodly region lying west of the lower Niger, and its fertility must result from the abundant water supply of the equatorial belt.
The charts are fearful to look upon. The embouchure, well known to old traders, has been scientifically surveyed in our day by Lieutenant Alph. Fleuriot de Langle, of La Malouine (1845), and the chart was corrected from a survey ordered by Capitaine Bouet- Willaumez (1849); in the latter year it was again revised by M. Charles Floix, of the French navy, and, with additions by the officers of Her Britannic Majesty's service, it becomes our No. 1877. The surface is a labyrinth of banks, rocks, and shoals, "Ely," "Nisus," "Alligator," and "Caraibe." In such surroundings as these, when the water shallows apace, the pilot must not be despised.
Her Majesty's steam-ship "Griffon," Commander Perry, found herself, at 2 P.M. on Monday, March, 17, 1862, in a snug berth opposite Le Plateau, as the capital of the French colony is called, and amongst the shipping of its chief port, Aumale Road. The river at this neck is about five miles broad, and the scene was characteristically French. Hardly a merchant vessel lay there. We had no less than four naval consorts "La Caravane," guard-ship, store-ship, and hospital-hulk; a fine transport, "La Riege," bound for Goree; "La Recherche," a wretched old sailing corvette which plies to Assini and Grand Basam on the Gold Coast; and, lastly, "La Junon," chef de division Baron Didelot, then one of the finest frigates in the French navy, armed with fifty rifled sixty-eight pounders. It is curious that, whilst our neighbours build such splendid craft, and look so neat and natty in naval uniform, they pay so little regard to the order and cleanliness of their floating homes.
After visiting every English colony on the West Coast of Africa, I resolved curiously to examine my first specimen of our rivals, the "principal centre of trade in western equatorial Africa." The earliest visit—in uniform, of course—was to Baron Didelot, whose official title is "Commandant Superieur des Etablissements de la Cote d'Or et du Gabon;" the following was to M. H. S. L'Aulnois, "Lieutenant de Vaisseau et Commandant Particulier du Comptoir de Gabon." These gentlemen have neat bungalows and gardens; they may spend their days ashore, but they are very careful to sleep on board. All the official whites appear to have a morbid horror of the climate; when attacked by fever, they "cave in" at once, and recovery can hardly be expected. This year also, owing to scanty rains, sickness has been rife, and many cases which began with normal mildness have ended suddenly and fatally. Besides fear of fever, they are victims to ennui and nostalgia; and, expecting the Comptoir to pay large profits, they are greatly disappointed by the reverse being the case.
But how can they look for it to be otherwise? The modern French appear fit to manage only garrisons and military posts. They will make everything official, and they will not remember the protest against governing too much, offered by the burgesses of Paris to Louis le Grand. They are always on duty; they are never out of uniform, mentally and metaphorically, as well as bodily and literally. Nothing is done without delay, even in the matter of signing a ship's papers. A long proces-verbal takes the place of our summary punishment, and the gros canon is dragged into use on every occasion, even to enforce the payment of native debts.
In the Gaboon, also, there is a complication of national jealousy, suggesting the mastiff and the poodle. A perpetual war rages about flags. English craft may carry their colours as far up stream as Coniquet Island; beyond this point they must either hoist a French ensign, or sail without bunting—should the commodore permit. Otherwise they will be detained by the commander of the hulk "l'Oise," stationed at Anenge-nenge, some thirty-eight to forty miles above Le Plateau. Lately a Captain Gordon, employed by Mr. Francis Wookey of Taunton, was ordered to pull down his flag: those who know the "mariner of England" will appreciate his feelings on the occasion. Small vessels belonging to foreigners, and employed in cabotage, must not sail with their own papers, and even a change of name is effected under difficulties. About a week before my arrival a certain pan- Teutonic Hamburgher, Herr B—, amused himself, after a copious breakfast, with hoisting and saluting the Union Jack, in honour of a distinguished guest, Major L—. report was at once spread that the tricolor had been hauled down "with extreme indignity;" and the Commodore took the trouble to reprimand the white, and to imprison "Tom Case," the black in whose town the outrage had been allowed.
This by way of parenthesis. My next step was to request the pleasure of a visit from Messrs. Hogg and Kirkwood, who were in charge of the English factories at Glass Town and Olomi; they came down stream at once, and kindly acted as ciceroni around Le Plateau. The landing is good; a reef has been converted into a jetty and little breakwater; behind this segment of a circle we disembarked without any danger of being washed out of the boat, as at S'a Leone, Cape Coast Castle, and Accra. Unfortunately just above this pier there is a Dutch-like jardin d'ete—beds of dirty weeds bordering a foul and stagnant swamp, while below the settlement appears a huge coal-shed: the expensive mineral is always dangerous when exposed in the tropics, and some thirty per cent. would be saved by sending out a hulk. The next point is the Hotel and Restaurant Fischer—pronounced Fi-cherre, belonging to an energetic German-Swiss widow, who during six years' exile had amassed some 65,000 francs. In an evil hour she sent a thieving servant before the "commissaire de police;" the negress escaped punishment, but the verandah with its appurtenances caught fire, and everything, even the unpacked billiard-table, was burnt to ashes. Still, Madame the Brave never lost heart. She applied herself valiantly as a white ant to repairing her broken home, and, wonderful to relate in this land of no labour, ruled by the maxim "festina lente," all had been restored within six months. We shall dine at her table d'hote.
Our guide led up and along the river bank, where there is almost a kilometre of road facing six or seven kilometres of nature's highway—the stream. The swampy jungle is not cleared off from about the Comptoir, and presently the perfume of the fat, rank weeds; and the wretched bridges, a few planks spanning black and fetid mud, drove us northwards or inland, towards the neat house and grounds of the "Commandant Particulier." The outside walls, built in grades with the porous, dark-red, laterite-like stone dredged from the river, are whitewashed with burnt coralline and look clean; whilst the house, one of the best in the place, is French, that is to say, pretty. Near it is a cluster of native huts, mostly with walls of corded bamboo, some dabbed with clay and lime, and all roofed with the ever shabby-looking palm-leaf; none are as neat as those of the "bushmen" in the interior, where they are regularly and carefully made like baskets or panniers. The people appeared friendly; the men touched their hats, and the women dropped unmistakably significant curtsies.
After admiring the picturesque bush and the natural avenues behind Le Plateau, we diverged towards the local Pere-la-Chaise. The new cemetery, surrounded by a tall stone wall and approached by a large locked gate, contains only four tombs; the old burial ground opposite is unwalled, open, and painfully crowded; the trees have run wild, the crosses cumber the ground, the gravestones are tilted up and down; in fact the foul Golgotha of Santos, Sao Paulo, the Brazil, is not more ragged, shabby, and neglected. We were shown the last resting-place of M. du Chaillu pere, agent to Messrs. Oppenheim, the old Parisian house: he died here in 1856.
Resuming our way parallel with, but distant from the river, we passed a bran-new military storehouse, bright with whitewash. Outside the compound lay the lines of the "Zouaves," some forty negroes whom Goree has supplied to the Gaboon; they were accompanied by a number of intelligent mechanics, who loudly complained of having been kidnapped, coolie-fashion. We then debouched upon Fort Aumale; from the anchorage it appears a whitewashed square, whose feet are dipped in bright green vegetation, and its head wears a dingy brown roof-thatch. A nearer view shows a pair of semi-detached houses, built upon arches, and separated by a thoroughfare; the cleaner of the two is a hospital; the dingier, which is decorated with the brown- green stains, the normal complexion of tropical masonry, lodges the station Commandant and the medical officers. Fronting the former and by the side of an avenue that runs towards the sea is an unfinished magazine of stone, and to the right, as you front the sun, lies the garden of the "Commandant du Comptoir," choked with tropical weeds. Altogether there is a scattered look about the metropolis of the "Gabon," which numbers one foot of house to a thousand of "compound."
Suddenly a bonnet like a pair of white gulls wings and a blue serge gown fled from us, despite the weight of years, like a young gazelle; the wearer was a sister of charity, one of five bonnes soeurs. Their bungalow is roomy and comfortable, near a little chapel and a largish school, whence issue towards sunset the well-known sounds of the Angelus. At some distance down stream and on the right or northern bank lies a convent, and a house superintended by the original establisher of the mission in 1844, the bishop, Mgr. Bessieux, who died in 1872, aged 70. There are extensive plantations, but the people are too lazy to take example from them.
Before we hear the loud cry a table, we may shortly describe the civilized career of the Gaboon. In 1842, when French and English rivalry, burning hot on both sides of the Channel, extended deep into the tropics and spurned the equator, and when every naval officer, high and low, went mad about concluding treaties and conquering territory on paper, France was persuaded to set up a naval station in Gorilla-land. The northern and the southern shore each had a king, whose consent, after a careless fashion, was considered decorous. His Majesty of the North was old King Glass[FN#1] and his chief "tradesman," that is, his premier, was the late Toko, a shrewd and far-seeing statesman. His Majesty of the South was Rapwensembo, known to the English as King William, to the French as Roi Denis.
Matters being in this state, M. le Comte Bouet-Willaumez, then Capitaine de Vaisseau and Governor of Senegal, resolved, coute que coute, to have his fortified Comptoir. Evidently the northern shore was preferable; it was more populous and more healthy, facing the fresh southerly winds. During the preliminary negotiations Toko, partial to the English, whose language he spoke fluently, and with whom the Glass family had ever been friendly, thwarted the design with all his might, and, despite threats and bribes, honestly kept up his opposition to the last. Roi Denis, on the other hand, who had been decorated with the Legion d'Honneur for saving certain shipwrecked sailors, who knew French well, and who hoped to be made king of the whole country, favoured to the utmost Gallic views, taking especial care, however, to place the broad river between himself and his white friends. M. de Moleon, Capitaine de Fregate, and commanding the brig "Le Zebre," occupied the place, Mr. Wilson[FN#2]("Western Africa," p. 254) says by force of arms, but that is probably an exaggeration. To bring our history to an end, the sons of Japheth overcame the children of Ham, and, as the natives said, "Toko he muss love Frenchman, all but out of (anglice 'in') his heart."
As in the streets of Paris, so in every French city at home and abroad,
"Verborum vetus interit aetas,"
and an old colonial chart often reads like a lesson in modern history. Here we still find under the Empire the Constitutional Monarchy of 1842-3. Mount Bouet leads to Fort "Aumale:" Point Joinville, at the north jaw of the river, faces Cap Montagnies: Parrot has become "Adelaide," and Coniquet "Orleans" Island. Indeed the love of Louis-Philippe's family has lingered in many a corner where one would least expect to meet it, and in 1869 I found "Port Saeed" a hot-bed of Orleanism.
The hotel verandah was crowded with the minor officials, the surgeons, and the clerks of the comptoir, drinking absinthe and colicky vermouth, smoking veritable "weeds," playing at dominoes, and contending who could talk longest and loudest. At 7 P.M. the word was given to "fall to." The room was small and exceedingly close; the social board was big and very rickety. The clientele rushed in like backwoodsmen on board a Mississippi floating- palace, stripped off their coats, tucked up their sleeves, and, knife in one hand and bread in the other, advanced gallantly to the fray. They began by quarrelling about carving; one made a sporting offer to decouper la soupe, but he would go no farther; and Madame, as the head of the table, ended by asking my factotum, Selim Agha, to "have the kindness." The din, the heat, the flare of composition candles which gave 45 per cent. less of light than they ought, the blunders of the slaves, the objurgations of the hostess, and the spectacled face opposite me, were as much as I could bear, and a trifle more. No wonder that the resident English merchants avoid the table-d'hote.
Provisions are dear and scarce at the Gaboon, where, as in other parts of West Africa, the negro will not part with his animals, unless paid at the rate of some twenty-two or twenty-three shillings for a lean goat or sheep. Yet the dinner is copious; the employes contribute, their rations; and thus the table shows beef twice a week. Black cattle are imported from various parts of the coast, north and south; perhaps those of the Kru country stand the climate best; the Government yard is well stocked, and the polite Commodore readily allows our cruizers to buy bullocks. Madame also is not a "bird with a long bill;" the dinner, including piquette, alias vin ordinaire, coffee, and the petit verre, costs five francs to the stranger, and one franc less pays the dejeuner a la fourchette—most men here eat two dinners. The soi-disant Medoc (forty francs per dozen) is tolerable, and the cassis (thirty francs) is drinkable. I am talking in the present of things twelve years past. What a shadowy, ghostly table d'hote it has now become to me!
After dinner appeared cigar and pipe, which were enjoyed in the verandah: I sat up late, admiring the intense brilliancy of the white and blue lightning, but auguring badly for the future,— natives will not hunt during the rains. A strong wind was blowing from the north-east, which, with the north-north-east, is here, as at Fernando Po and Camaronen, the stormy quarter. A "dry tornado," however, was the only result that night.
My trip to Gorilla-land was limited by the cruise upon which H.M.S.S. "Griffon" had been ordered, namely, to and from the South Coast with mail-bags. Many of those whom I had wished to see were absent; but Mr. Hogg set to work in the most business- like style. He borrowed a boat from the Rev. William Walker, of the Gaboon Mission, who kindly wrote that I should have something less cranky if I could wait awhile; he manned it with three of his own Krumen, and he collected the necessary stores and supplies of cloth, pipes and tobacco, rum, white wine, and absinthe for the natives.
My private stores cost some 200 francs. They consisted of candles, sugar, bread, cocoa, desiccated milk, and potatoes; Cognac and Medoc; ham, sausages, soups, and preserved meats, the latter French and, as usual, very good and very dear. The total expenditure for twelve days was 300 francs.
My indispensables were reduced to three loads, and I had four "pull-a-boys," one a Mpongwe, Mwaka alias Captain Merrick, a model sluggard; and Messrs. Smoke, Joe Williams, and Tom Whistle- -Kru-men, called Kru-boys. This is not upon the principle, as some suppose, of the grey-headed post-boy and drummer-boy: all the Kraoh tribes end their names in bo, e.g. Worebo, from "wore," to capsize a canoe; Grebo, from the monkey "gre" or "gle;" and many others. Bo became "boy," even as Sipahi (Sepoy) became Sea- pie, and Sukhani (steersman) Sea-Coney.
Gaboon is French, with a purely English trade. Gambia is English, with a purely French trade; the latter is the result of many causes, but especially of the large neighbouring establishments at Goree, Saint Louis de Senegal, and Saint Joseph de Galam. Exchanging the two was long held the soundest of policy. The French hoped by it to secure their darling object,—exclusive possession of the maritime regions, as well as the interior, leading to the gold mines of the Mandengas (Mandingas), and allowing overland connection with their Algerine colony. The English also seemed willing enough to "swop" an effete and dilapidated settlement, surrounded by more powerful rivals—a hot-bed of dysentery and yellow fever, a blot upon the fair face of earth, even African earth—for a new and fresh country, with a comparatively good climate, in which the thermometer ranges between 65deg. (Fahr.) and 90deg., with a barometer as high as the heat allows; and where, being at home and unwatched, they could subject a lingering slave-trade to a regular British putting- down. But, when matters came to the point in 1870-71, the proposed bargain excited a storm of sentimental wrath which was as queer as unexpected. The French object to part with the Gaboon, as the Germans appear inclined to settle upon the Ogobe River. In England, cotton, civilization, and even Christianity were thrust forward by half-a-dozen merchants, and by a few venal colonial prints. The question assumed the angriest aspect; and, lastly, the Prussian-French war underwrote the negotiations with a finis pro temp. I hope to see them renewed; and I hope still more ardently to see the day when we shall either put our so- called "colonies" on the West Coast of Africa to their only proper use, convict stations, or when, if we are determined upon consuming our own crime at home, we shall make up our minds to restore them to the negro and the hyaena, their "old inhabitants."
At the time of my visit, the Gaboon River had four English traders; viz.
1. Messrs. Laughland and Co., provision-merchants, Fernando Po and Glasgow. Their resident agent was Mr. Kirkwood.
2. Messrs. Hatton and Cookson, general merchants, Liverpool. Their chief agent, Mr. R.B.N. Walker, who had known the river for eleven years (1865), had left a few days before my arrival; his successor, Mr. R.B. Knight, had also sailed for Cape Palmas, to engage Kru-men, and Mr. Hogg had been left in charge.
3. Messrs. Wookey and Dyer, general merchants, Liverpool. Agents, Messrs. Gordon and Bryant.
4. Messrs. Bruford and Townsend, of Bristol. Agent, Captain Townsend.
The resident agents for the Hamburg houses were Messrs. Henert and Bremer.
The English traders in the Gaboon are nominally protected by the Consulate of Sao Paulo de Loanda, but the distance appears too great for consul or cruizer. They are naturally anxious for some support, and they agitate for an unpaid Consular Agent: at present they have, in African parlance, no "back." A Kruman, offended by a ration of plantains, when he prefers rice, runs to the Plateau, and lays some fictitious complaint before the Commandant. Monsieur summons the merchant, condemns him to pay a fine, and dismisses the affair without even permitting a protest. Hence, impudent robbery occurs every day. The discontent of the white reacts upon his clients the black men; of late, les Gabons, as the French call the natives, have gone so far as to declare that foreigners have no right to the upper river, which is all private property. The line drawn by them is at Fetish Rock, off Pointe Francaise, near the native village of Mpira, about half a mile above the Plateau; and they would hail with pleasure a transfer to masters who are not so uncommonly ready with their gros canons.
The Gaboon trade is chronicled by John Barbot, Agent-General of the French West African Company, "Description of the Coast of South Guinea," Churchill, vol. v. book iv. chap. 9; and the chief items were, and still are, ivory and beeswax. Of the former, 90,000 lbs. may be exported when the home prices are good, and sometimes the total has reached 100 tons. Hippopotamus tusks are dying out, being now worth only 2s. per lb. Other exports are caoutchouc, ebony (of which the best comes from the Congo), and camwood or barwood (a Tephrosia). M. du Chaillu calls it the "Ego-tree;" the natives (Mpongwe) name the tree Igo, and the billet Ezigo.
The Departure.—the Tornado.—arrival at "The Bush."
I set out early on March 19th, a day, at that time, to me the most melancholy in the year, but now regarded with philosophic indifference. A parting visit to the gallant "Griffons," who threw the slipper, in the shape of three hearty cheers and a "tiger," wasted a whole morning. It was 12.30 P.M. before the mission boat turned her head towards the southern bank, and her crew began to pull in the desultory manner of the undisciplined negro.
The morning had been clear but close, till a fine sea breeze set in unusually early. "The doctor" seldom rises in the Gaboon before noon at this season; often he delays his visit till 2 P.M., and sometimes he does not appear at all. On the other hand, he is fond of late hours. Before we had progressed a mile, suspicious gatherings of slaty-blue cloud-heaps advanced from the north-east against the wind, with a steady and pertinacious speed, showing that mischief was meant. The "cruel, crawling sea" began to rough, purr, and tumble; a heavy cross swell from the south-west dandled the up-torn mangrove twigs, as they floated past us down stream, and threatened to swamp the deeply laden and cranky old boat, which was far off letter A1 of Lloyd's. The oarsmen became sulky because they were not allowed to make sail, which, in case of a sudden squall, could not have been taken in under half an hour. Patience! Little can be done, on the first day, with these demi-semi-Europeanized Africans, except to succeed in the inevitable trial of strength.
The purple sky-ground backing the Gaboon's upper course admirably set off all its features. Upon the sea horizon, where the river measures some thirty miles across, I could distinctly see the junction of the two main branches, the true Olo' Mpongwe, the main stream flowing from the Eastern Ghats, and the Rembwe (Ramboue) or south-eastern influent. At the confluence, tree- dots, tipping the watery marge, denoted what Barbot calls the "Pongo Islands." These are the quoin-shaped mass "Dambe" (Orleans Island) alias "Coniquet" (the Conelet), often corrupted to Konikey; the Konig Island of the old Hollander,[FN#3] and the Prince's Island of the ancient Briton. It was so called because held by the Mwani-pongo, who was to this region what the Mwani- congo was farther south. The palace was large but very mean, a shell of woven reeds roofed with banana leaves: the people, then mere savages, called their St. James' "Goli-patta," or "Royal House," in imitation of a more civilized race near Cape Lopez. The imperial islet is some six miles in circumference; it was once very well peopled, and here ships used to be careened. The northern point which starts out to meet it is Ovindo (Oweendo of old), alias Red Point, alias "Rodney's," remarkable for its fair savannah, of which feature more presently. In mid-stream lies Mbini (Embenee), successively Papegay, Parrot—there is one in every Europeo-African river—and Adelaide Island.
Between Ovindo Point, at the northern bend of the stream, stand the so-called "English villages," divided from the French by marshy ground submerged during heavy rains. The highest upstream is Olomi, Otonda-naga, or town of "Cabinda," a son of the late king. Next comes Glass Town, belonging to a dynasty which has lasted a century—longer than many of its European brethren. In 1787 a large ship-bell was sent as a token of regard by a Bristol house, Sydenham and Co., to an old, old "King Glass," whose descendants still reign. Olomi and Glass Town are preferred by the English, as their factories catch the sea-breeze better than can Le Plateau: the nearer swamps are now almost drained off, and the distance from the "authorities" is enough for comfort. Follow Comba (Komba) and Tom Case, the latter called after Case Glass, a scion of the Glasses, who was preferred as captain's "tradesman" by Captain Vidal, R.N., in 1827, because he had "two virtues which rarely fall to the lot of savages, namely, a mild, quiet manner, and a low tone of voice when speaking." Tom Qua Ben, justly proud of the "laced coat of a mail coach guard," was chosen by Captain Boteler, R.N. The list concludes with Butabeya, James Town, and Mpira.
These villages are not built street-wise after Mpongwe fashion. They are scatters of shabby mat-huts, abandoned after every freeman's death; and they hardly emerge from the luxuriant undergrowth of manioc and banana, sensitive plant and physic nut (Jatropha Curcas), clustering round a palm here and there. Often they are made to look extra mean by a noble "cottonwood," or Bombax (Pentandrium), standing on its stalwart braces like an old sea-dog with parted legs; extending its roots over a square acre of soil, shedding filmy shade upon the surrounding underwood, and at all times ready, like a certain chestnut, to shelter a hundred horses.
Between the Plateau and Santa Clara, beginning some two miles below the former, are those hated and hating rivals, Louis Town, Qua Ben, and Prince Krinje, the French settlements. The latter is named after a venerable villain who took in every white man with whom he had dealings, till the new colony abolished that exclusive agency, that monopoly so sacred in negro eyes, which here corresponded with the Abbanat of the Somal. Mr. Wilson (p. 252) recounts with zest a notable trick played by this "little, old, grey-headed, humpback man" upon Captain Bouet-Willaumez, and Mr. W. Winwood Reade (chap, xi.) has ably dramatized "Krinji, King George and the Commandant." On another occasion, the whole population of the Gaboon was compelled by a French man-o-war to pay "Prince Cringy's" debts, and he fell into disfavour only when he attempted to wreck a frigate by way of turning an honest penny.
But soon we had something to think of besides the view. The tumultuous assemblage of dark, dense clouds, resting upon the river-surface in our rear, formed line or rather lines, step upon step, and tier on tier. While the sun shone treacherously gay, a dismal livid gloom palled the eastern sky, descending to the watery horizon; and the estuary, beneath the sable hangings which began to depend from the cloud canopy, gleamed with a ghastly whitish green. Distant thunders rumbled and muttered, and flashes of the broadest sheets inclosed fork and chain lightning; the lift-fire zigzagged in tangled skeins here of chalk-white threads, there of violet wires, to the surface of earth and sea. Presently nimbus-step, tier and canopy, gradually breaking up, formed a low arch regular as the Bifrost bridge which Odin treads, spanning a space between the horizon, ninety degrees broad and more. The sharply cut soffit, which was thrown out in darkest relief by the dim and sallow light of the underlying sky, waxed pendent and ragged, as though broken by a torrent of storm. What is technically called the "ox-eye," the "egg of the tornado," appeared in a fragment of space, glistening below the gloomy rain-arch. The wind ceased to blow; every sound was hushed as though Nature were nerving herself, silent for the throe, and our looks said, "In five minutes it will be down upon us." And now it comes. A cold blast smelling of rain, and a few drops or rather splashes, big as gooseberries and striking with a blow, are followed by a howling squall, sharp and sudden puffs, pulsations and gusts; at length a steady gush like a rush of steam issues from that awful arch, which, after darkening the heavens like an eclipse, collapses in fragmentary torrents of blinding rain. In the midst of the spoon-drift we see, or we think we see, "La Junon" gliding like a phantom-ship towards the river mouth. The lightning seems to work its way into our eyes, the air-shaking thunder rolls and roars around our very ears; the oars are taken in utterly useless, the storm-wind sweeps the boat before it at full speed as though it had been a bit of straw. Selim and I sat with a large mackintosh sheet over our hunched backs, thus offering a breakwater to the waves; happily for us, the billow-heads were partly cut off and carried away bodily by the raging wind, and the opened fountains of the firmament beat down the breakers before they could grow to their full growth. Otherwise we were lost men; the southern shore was still two miles distant, and, as it was, the danger was not despicable. These tornadoes are harmless enough to a cruiser, and under a good roof men bless them. But H.M.S. "Heron" was sunk by one, and the venture of a cranky gig laden a fleur d'eau is what some call "tempting Providence."
Stunned with thunder, dazzled by the vivid flashes of white lightning, dizzy with the drive of the boat, and drenched by the torrents and washings from above and below, we were not a little pleased to feel the storm-wind slowly lulling, as it had cooled the heated regions ahead, and to see the sky steadily clearing up behind, as the blackness of the cloud, rushing with racer speed, passed over and beyond us. The increasing stillness of the sea raised our spirits;
"For nature, only loud when she destroys, Is silent when she fashions."
But the storm-demon's name is "Tornado" (Cyclone): it will probably veer round to the south, where, meeting the dry clouds that are gathering and massing there, it will involve us in another fray. Meanwhile we are safe, and as the mist clears off we sight the southern shore. The humbler elevation, notably different from the northern bank, is dotted with villages and clearings. The Peninsula de Marie-Amelie, alias "Round Corner," the innermost southern point visible from the mouth, projects to the north-north-east in a line of scattered islets at high tides, ending in Le bois Fetiche, a clump of tall trees somewhat extensively used for picnics. It has served for worse purposes, as the name shows.
A total of two hours landed me from the Comte de Paris Roads upon the open sandy strip that supports Denistown; the single broad street runs at right angles from the river, the better to catch the sea-breeze, and most of the huts have open gables, a practice strongly to be recommended. Le Roi would not expose himself to the damp air; the consul was not so particular. His majesty's levee took place in the verandah of a poor bamboo hut, one of the dozen which compose his capital. Seated in a chair and ready for business, he was surrounded by a crowd of courtiers, who listened attentively to every word, especially when he affected to whisper; and some pretty women collected to peep round the corners at the Utangani (white man). [FN#4]
Mr. Wilson described Roi Denis in 1856 as a man of middle stature, with compact frame and well-made, of great muscular power, about sixty years old, very black by contrast with the snow-white beard veiling his brown face. "He has a mild and expressive eye, a gentle and persuasive voice, equally affable and dignified; and, taken altogether, he is one of the most king- like looking men I have ever met in Africa," says the reverend gentleman. The account reminded me of Kimwere the Lion of Usumbara, drawn by Dr. Krapf. Perhaps six years had exercised a degeneratory effect upon Roi Denis, or perchance I have more realism than sentiment; my eyes could see nothing but a petit vieux vieux, nearer sixty than seventy, with a dark, wrinkled face, and an uncommonly crafty eye, one of those African organs which is always occupied in "taking your measure" not for your good.
I read out the introductory letter from Baron Didelot—the king speaks a little French and English, but of course his education ends there. After listening to my projects and to my offers of dollars, liquor, and cloth, Roi Denis replied, with due gravity, that his chasseurs were all in the plantations, but that for a somewhat increased consideration he would attach to my service his own son Ogodembe, alias Paul. It was sometime before I found out the real meaning of this crafty move; the sharp prince, sent to do me honour, intended me to recommend him to Mr. Hogg as an especially worthy recipient of "trust." Roi Denis added an abundance of "sweet mouf," and, the compact ended, he condescendingly walked down with me to the beach, shook hands and exchanged a civilized "Au revoir." I reentered the boat, and we pushed off once more.
Prince Paul, a youth of the Picaresque school, a hungry as well as a thirsty soul and vain with knowledge, which we know "puffeth up," having the true African eye on present gain as well as to future "trust," proceeded: "Papa has at least a hundred sons," enough to make Dan Dinmont blush, "and say" (he was not sure), "a hundred and fifty daughters. Father rules all the southern shore; the French have no power beyond the brack and there are no African rivals,"—the prince evidently thought that the new-comer had never heard of King George. Like most juniors here, the youth knew French, or rather Gaboon-French; it was somewhat startling to hear clearly and tolerably pronounced, "M'sieur, veux-tu des macacques?" But the jargon is not our S'a Leone and West-coast "English;" the superior facility of pronouncing the neo-Latin tongues became at once apparent. It is evident that European languages have been a mistake in Africa: the natives learn a smattering sufficient for business purposes and foreigners remain without the key to knowledge; hence our small progress in understanding negro human nature. Had we so acted in British India, we should probably have held the proud position which now contents us in China as in Western Africa, with factories and hulks at Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi, and Madras.
From Comte de Paris Roads the southern Gaboon shore is called in charts Le Paletuvier, the Mangrove Bank; the rhizophora is the growth of shallow brackish water, and at the projections there are fringings of reefs and "diabolitos," dangerous to boats. After two hours we crossed the Mombe (Mombay) Creek-mouth, with its outlying rocks, and passed the fishing village of Nenga-Oga, whence supplies are sent daily to the Plateau. Then doubling a point of leek-green grass, based upon comparatively poor soil, sand, and clay, and backed by noble trees, we entered the Mbata River, the Toutiay of the chart and the Batta Creek of M. du Chaillu's map. It comes from the south-west, and it heads much nearer the coast than is shown on paper.
Presently the blood-red sun sank like a fire-balloon into the west, flushing with its last fierce beams the higher clouds of the eastern sky, and lighting the white and black plume of the soaring fish-eagle. This Gypohierax (Angolensis) is a very wild bird, flushed at 200 yards: I heard of, but I never saw, the Gwanyoni, which M. du Chaillu, (chapter xvi.) calls Guanionian, an eagle or a vulture said to kill deer. Rain fell at times, thunder, anything but "sweet thunder," again rolled in the distance; and lightning flashed and forked before and behind us, becoming painfully vivid in the shades darkening apace. We could see nothing of the channel but a steel-grey streak, like a Damascus blade, in a sable sheathing of tall mangrove avenue; in places, however, tree-clumps suggested delusive hopes that we were approaching a region where man can live. On our return we found many signs of population which had escaped our sight during the fast-growing obscurity. The first two reaches were long and bulging; the next became shorter, and Prince Paul assured us that, after one to the right, and another to the left, we should fall into the direct channel. Roi Denis had promised us arrival at sunset; his son gradually protracted sunset till midnight. Still the distance grew and grew. I now learned for the first time that the boat was too large for the channel, and that oars were perfectly useless ahead.
At 8 P.M. we entered what seemed a cul de sac; it looked like charging a black wall, except where a gleam of grey light suggested the further end of the Box Tunnel, and cheered our poor hearts for a short minute, whilst in the distance we heard the tantalizing song of the wild waves. The boughs on both sides brushed the boat; we held our hands before our faces to avoid the sharp stubs threatening ugly stabs, and to fend off the low branches, ready to sweep us and our belongings into the deep swirling water. The shades closed in like the walls of the Italian's dungeon; until our eyes grew to it, the blackness of Erebus weighed upon our spirits; perspiration poured from our brows, and in this watery mangrove-lane the pabulum vitae seemed to be wanting. After forcing a passage through three vile "gates," the sheet-lightning announced a second tornado. We sighed for more vivid flashes, but after twenty minutes they dimmed and died away, still showing the "bush"-silhouette on either side. The tide rushed out in strength under the amphibious forest—all who know the West Coast will appreciate the position. It was impossible to advance or to remain in this devil's den, the gig bumped at every minute, and the early flood would probably crush her against the trees. So we dropped down to the nearest "open," which we reached at 9.30 P.M.
After enduring a third tornado we grounded, and the crew sprang ashore, saying that they were going to boil plantains on the bank. I made snug for the night with a wet waterproof and a strip of muslin, to be fastened round the mouth after the fashion of Outram's "fever guard," and shut my lips to save my life, by the particular advice of Dr. Catlin. The first mosquito piped his "Io Paean" at 8 P.M.; another hour brought legions, and then began the battle for our blood. I had resolved not to sleep in the fetid air of the jungle; time, however, moved on wings of lead; a dull remembrance of a watery moon, stars dimly visible, a southerly breeze, and heavy drops falling from the trees long haunted me. About midnight, Prince Paul, who had bewailed the hardship of passing a night sans mostiquaire in the bush, and whose violent plungings showed that he failed to manage un somme, proposed to land and to fetch fire from l'habitation.
"Oh! a little village belonging to papa."
"And why the —-didn't you mention it?"
"Ah! this is Mponbinda, and you know we're bound for Mbata!"
Nothing negrotic now astonishes us, there is nought new to me in Africa. We landed upon a natural pier of rock ledge, and, after some 400 yards of good path, we entered a neat little village, and found our crew snoring snugly asleep. We "exhorted them," refreshed the fire, and generously recruited exhausted nature with quinine, julienne and tea, potatoes and potted meats, pipes and cigars. So sped my annual unlucky day, and thus was spent my first jungle-night almost exactly under the African line.
At 5 A. M. the new morning dawned, the young tide flowed, the crabs disappeared, and the gig, before high and dry on the hard mud, once more became buoyant. Forward again! The channel was a labyrinthine ditch, an interminable complication of over-arching roots, and of fallen trees forming gateways; the threshold was a maze of slimy stumps, stems, and forks in every stage of growth and decay, dense enough to exclude the air of heaven. In parts there were ugly snags, and everywhere the turns were so puzzling, that I marvelled how a human being could attempt the passage by night. The best time for ascending is half-flood, for descending half-ebb; if the water be too high, the bush chokes the way; if too low, the craft grounds. At the Gaboon mouth the tide rises three feet; at the head of the Mbata Creek, where it arrests the sweet water rivulet, it is, of course, higher.
And now the scene improved. The hat-palm, a brab or wild date, the spine-palm (Phoenix spinosa), and the Okumeh or cotton-tree disputed the ground with the foul Rhizophora. Then clearings appeared. At Ejene, the second of two landing-places evidently leading to farms, we transferred ourselves to canoes, our boat being arrested by a fallen tree. Advancing a few yards, all disembarked upon trampled mud, and, ascending the bank, left the creek which supplies baths and drinking water to our destination. Striking a fair pathway, we passed westward over a low wave of ground, sandy and mouldy, and traversed a fern field surrounded by a forest of secular trees; some parasite-grown from twig to root, others blanched and scathed by the fires of heaven; these roped and corded with runners and llianas, those naked and clothed in motley patches. At 6.30 A.M., after an hour's work, probably representing a mile, and a total of 7 h. 30 m., or six miles in a south-south-west direction from Le Plateau, we left the ugly cul de sac of a creek, and entered Mbata, which the French call "La Plantation."
Women and children fled in terror at our approach—and no wonder: eyes like hunted boars, haggard faces, yellow as the sails at the Cape Verdes, and beards two days long, act very unlike cosmetics. A house was cleared for us by Hotaloya, alias "Andrew," of the Baraka Mission, the lord of the village, who, poor fellow! has only two wives; he is much ashamed of himself, but his excuse is, "I be boy now," meaning about twenty-two. After breakfast we prepared for a sleep, but the popular excitement forbade it; the villagers had heard that a white greenhorn was coming to bag and to buy gorillas, and they resolved to make hay whilst the sun shone.
Prince Paul at once gathered together a goodly crowd of fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, cousins and connections. A large and loud-voiced dame, "Gozeli," swore that she was his "proper Ngwe," being one of his numerous step mas, and she would not move without a head, or three leaves, of tobacco. Hotaloya was his brother; Mesdames Azizeh and Asunye declared themselves his sisters, and so all. My little stock of goods began visibly to shrink, when I informed the greedy applicants that nothing beyond a leaf of tobacco and a demi verre of tafia would be given until I had seen my way to work. Presently appeared the chief huntsman appointed by Roi Denis to take charge of me, he was named Fortuna, a Spanish name corrupted to Forteune. A dash was then prepared for his majesty and for Prince Paul. I regret to say that this young nobleman ended his leave-taking by introducing a pretty woman, with very neat hands and ankles and a most mutine physiognomy, as his sister, informing me that she was also my wife pro temp. She did not seem likely to coiffer Sainte Catherine, and here she is.
The last thing the prince did was to carry off, without a word of leave, the mission boat and the three Kru-boys, whom he kept two days. I was uneasy about these fellows, who, hating and fearing the Gaboon "bush," are ever ready to bolt.
Forteune and Hotaloya personally knew Mpolo (Paul du Chaillu), and often spoke to me of his prowess as a chasseur and his knowledge of their tongue. But reputation as a linguist is easily made in these regions by speaking a few common sentences. The gorilla-hunter evidently had only a colloquial acquaintance with the half-dozen various idioms of the Mpongwe and Mpangwe (Fan) Bakele, Shekyani, and Cape Lopez people. Yet, despite verbal inaccuracies, his facility of talking gave him immense advantages over other whites, chiefly in this, that the natives would deem it useless to try the usual tricks upon travellers.
Forteune is black, short, and "trapu;" curls of the jettiest lanugo invest all his outward man; bunches of muscle stand out from his frame like the statues of Crotonian Milo; his legs are bandy; his hands and feet are large and patulous, and he wants only a hunch to make an admirable Quasimodo. He has the frank and open countenance of a sportsman—I had been particularly warned by the Plateau folk about his skill in cheating and lying. Formerly a cook at the Gaboon, he is a man of note in his tribe, as the hunter always is; he holds the position of a country gentleman, who can afford to write himself M.F.H.; he is looked upon as a man of valour; he is admired by the people, and he is adored by his wives—one of them at once took up her station upon the marital knee. Perhaps the Nimrod of Mbata is just a little henpecked—the Mpongwe mostly are—and I soon found out that soigner les femmes is the royal road to getting on with the men. He supplies the village with "beef," here meaning not the roast of Old England, but any meat, from a field-rat to a hippopotamus. He boasts that he has slain with his own hand upwards of a hundred gorillas and anthropoid apes, and, since the demand arose in Europe, he has supplied Mr. R.B.N. Walker and others with an average of one per month, including a live youngster; probably most, if not all, of them were killed by his "bushmen," of whom he can command about a dozen.
Forteune began by receiving his "dash," six fathoms of "satin cloth," tobacco, and pipes. After inspecting my battery, he particularly approved of a smooth-bored double-barrel (Beattie of Regent Street) carrying six to the pound. Like all these people, he uses an old and rickety trade-musket, and, when lead is wanting, he loads it with a bit of tile: as many gorillas are killed with tools which would hardly bring down a wild cat, it is evident that their vital power cannot be great. He owned to preferring a charge of twenty buckshot to a single ball, and he received with joy a little fine gunpowder, which he compared complimentarily with the blasting article, half charcoal withal, to which he was accustomed.
Presently a decently dressed, white-bearded man of light complexion announced himself, with a flourish and a loud call for a chair, as Prince Koyala, alias "Young Prince," father to Forteune and Hotaloya and brother to Roi Denis,—here all tribesmen are of course brethren. This being equivalent to "asking for more," it drove me to the limits of my patience. It was evidently now necessary to assume wrath, and to raise my voice to a roar.
"My hands dey be empty! I see nuffin, I hear nuffin! What for I make more dash?"
Allow me, parenthetically, to observe that the African, like the Scotch Highlander, will interpose the personal or demonstrative pronoun between noun and verb: "sun he go down," means "the sun sets" and, as genders do not exist, you must be careful to say, "This woman he cry too much."
The justice of my remark was owned by all; had it been the height of tyranny, the supple knaves would have agreed with me quite as politely. They only replied that "Young Prince," being a man of years and dignity, would be dishonoured by dismissal empty- handed, and they represented him as my future host when we moved nearer the bush.
"Now lookee here. This he be bad plabba (palaver). This he be bob! I come up for white man, you come up for black man. All white man he no be fool, 'cos he no got black face!"
Ensued a chorus of complimentary palaver touching the infinite superiority of the Aryan over the Semite, but the point was in no wise yielded. At last Young Prince subsided into a request for a glass of rum, which being given "cut the palaver" (i.e. ended the business). I soon resolved to show my hosts, by threatening to leave them, the difference between traders and travellers. Barbot relates that the Mpongwe of olden time demanded his "dassy" before he consented to "liquor up," and boldly asked, "If he was expected to drink gratis?" The impertinence was humoured, otherwise not an ivory would have found its way to the factory. But the traveller is not bound to endure these whimsy-whamsies; and the sooner he declares his independence the better. Many monkeys' skins were brought to me for sale, but I refused to buy, lest the people might think it my object to make money; moreover, all were spoilt for specimens by the "points" being snipped off.
I happened during the first afternoon to show my hosts a picture of the bald-headed chimpanzee, Nchigo Mbuwwe (Troglodytes calvus), here more generally called Nchigo Mpolo, "large chimpanzee," or Nchigo Njue, "white-haired chimpanzee." They recognized it at once; but when I turned over to the cottage ("Adventures," &c., p. 423), with its neat parachute-like roof, all burst out laughing.
"You want to look him Nago (house)?" asked Hotaloya.
"Yes, for sure," I replied.
Forteune set out at once, carrying my gun, Selim followed me, and the rear was brought up by a couple of little prick-eared curs with a dash of the pointer, probably from St. Helena: the people will pay as much as ten dollars for a good dog. They are never used in hunting apes, as they start the game; on this occasion they nearly ran down a small antelope.
The path led through a new clearing; a field of fern and some patches of grass breaking the forest, which, almost clear of thicket and undergrowth, was a charming place for deer. The soil, thin sand overlying humus, suggested rich crops of ground-nuts; its surface was everywhere cut by nullahs, now dry, and by brooks, running crystal streams; these, when deep, are crossed by tree-trunks, the Brazilian "pingela." After twenty minutes or so we left the "picada" (foot-path) and struck into a thin bush, till we had walked about a mile.
"Look him house, Nchigo house!" said Hotaloya, standing under a tall tree.
I saw to my surprise two heaps of dry sticks, which a schoolboy might have taken for birds' nests; the rude beds, boughs, torn off from the tree, not gathered, were built in forks, one ten and the other twenty feet above ground, and both were canopied by the tufted tops. Every hunter consulted upon the subject ridiculed the branchy roof tied with vines, and declared that the Nchigo's industry is confined to a place for sitting, not for shelter; that he fashions no other dwelling; that a couple generally occupies the same or some neighbouring tree, each sitting upon its own nest; that the Nchigo is not a "hermit" nor a rare, nor even a very timid animal; that it dwells, as I saw, near villages, and that its cry, "Aoo! Aoo! Aoo!" is often heard by them in the mornings and evenings. During my subsequent wanderings in Gorilla land, I often observed tall and mushroom- shaped trees standing singly, and wearing the semblance of the umbrella roof. What most puzzles me is, that M. du Chaillu ("Second Expedition," chap, iii.) "had two of the bowers cut down and sent to the British Museum." He adds, "They are formed at a height of twenty to thirty feet in the trees, by the animals bending over and intertwining a number of the weaker boughs, so as to form bowers, under which they can sit, protected from the rains by the masses of foliage thus entangled together, some of the boughs being so bent that they form convenient seats." Surely M. du Chaillu must have been deceived by some vagary of nature.
The gorilla-hunter's sketch had always reminded me of the Rev. Mr. Moffat's account of the Hylobian Bakones, the aborigines of the Matabele country. Mr. Thompson, a missionary to Sherbro ("The Palm Land," chap. xiii), has, however, these words:—"It is said of the chimpanzees, that they build a kind of rude house of sticks in their wild state, and fill it with leaves; and I doubt it not, for when domesticated they always want some good bed, and make it up regularly."
Thus I come to the conclusion that the Nchigo Mpolo is a vulgar nest-building ape. The bushmen and the villagers all assured me that neither the common chimpanzee, nor the gorilla proper (Troglodytes gorilla), "make 'im house." On the other hand, Mr. W. Winwood Reade, writing to "The Athenaeum" from Loanda (Sept. 7, 1862), asserts,—"When the female is pregnant he (the gorilla) builds a nest (as do also the Kulu-Kamba and the chimpanzee), where she is delivered, and which is then abandoned." And he thus confirms what was told to Dr. Thomas Savage (1847): "In the wild state their (i.e. the gorillas') habits are in general like those of the Troglodytes niger, building their nests loosely in trees."
Geography of the Gaboon.
Before going further afield I may be allowed a few observations, topographical and ethnological, about this highly interesting section of the West African coast.
The Gaboon country, to retain the now familiar term, although no one knows much about its derivation, is placed, by old travellers in "South Guinea," the tract lying along the Ethiopic, or South Atlantic Ocean, limited by the Camarones Mountain-block in north latitude 4deg., and by Cabo Negro in south latitude 15deg. 40' 7", a sea-line of nearly 1,200 miles. The Gaboon proper is included between the Camarones Mountains to the north, and the "Mayumba,"properly the "Yumba" country southwards, in south latitude 3deg. 22',—a shore upwards of 400 miles long. The inland depth is undetermined; geographically we should limit it to the Western Ghats, which rarely recede more than 60 miles from the sea, and ethnologically no line can yet be drawn. The country is almost bisected by the equator, and by the Rio de Gabao, which discharges in north latitude 0deg. 21' 25" and east longitude 9deg. 21' 23"; and it corresponds in parallel with the Somali-Galla country and the Juba River on the east coast.
The general aspect of the region is prepossessing. It is a rolling surface sinking towards the Atlantic, in parts broken by hills and dwarf chains, either detached or pushed out by the Ghats; a land of short and abnormally broad rivers, which cannot, like the Congo, break through the ridges flanking the Central African basin, and which therefore are mere surface drains of the main ranges. The soil is mostly sandy, but a thin coat of rich vegetable humus, quickened by heavy rains and fiery suns, produces a luxuriant vegetation; whilst the proportion of area actually cultivated is nothing compared with the expanse of bush. In the tall forests, which abound in wild fruits, there are beautiful tracts of clear grassy land, and the woods, clear of undergrowth, resemble an English grove more than a tropical jungle. Horses, which die of the tsetse (Glossina morsitans) in the interior of North Guinea, and of damp heat at Fernando Po, thrive on its downs and savannahs. The Elais palm is rare, sufficing only for home use. The southern parts, about Cape Lopez and beyond it, resemble the Oil River country in the Biafran Bight: the land is a mass of mangrove swamps, and the climate is unfit for white men.
The Eastern Ghats were early known to the "Iberians," as shown by the Sierra del Crystal, del Sal, del Sal Nitro and other names, probably so called from the abundance of quartz in blocks and veins that seam the granite, as we shall see in the Congo country, and possibly because they contain rock crystal. Although in many places they may be descried subtending the shore in lumpy lines like detached vertebrae, and are supposed to represent the Aranga Mons of Ptolemy, they are not noticed by Barbot. Between the Camarones River and Cape St. John (Corisco Bay), blue, rounded, and discontinuous masses, apparently wooded, rise before the mariner, and form, as will be seen, the western sub-ranges of the great basin-rim. To the north they probably anastomose with the Camarones, the Rumbi, the Kwa, the Fumbina north-east, and the Niger-Kong mountains.[FN#5]
They are not wanting who declare them to be rich in precious metals. Some thirty years ago an American super-cargo ascended the Rembwe River, the south-eastern line of the Gaboon fork, and is said to have collected "dirt" which, tested at New York, produced 16 dollars per bushel. All the old residents in the Gaboon know the story of the gold dust. The prospector was the late Captain Richard E. Lawlin, of New York, who was employed by Messrs. Bishop of Philadelphia, the same house that commissioned the chasseur de gorilles to collect "rubber" for them, and who was so eminently useful to the young French traveller that the scant notice of his name is considered curious.
Great would be my wonder if the West African as well as the East African Ghats did not prove auriferous; both fulfil all the required conditions, and both await actual discovery. The Mountains of the Moon, so frequently mentioned by M. du Chaillu and the Gaboon Mission, are doubtless the versants between the valleys of the Niger and the Congo. Lately Dr. Schweinfurth found an equatorial range which, stretching northwards towards the Bahr el Ghazal, was seen to trend westward. According to Mr. Consul Hutchinson ("Ten Years' Wanderings among the Ethiopians," p. 250), the Rev. Messrs. Mackey and Clemens, of the Corisco Mission "explored more than a hundred miles of country across the Sierra del Crystal Range of Mountains" —I am inclined to believe that a hundred miles from the coast was their furthest point. We shall presently travel towards this mysterious range, and there is no difficulty in passing it, except the utter want of a commercial road, and the wildness of tribes that have never sighted a traveller nor a civilized man.
The rivers of our region are of three kinds; little surface drains principally in the north; broad estuaries like the Mersey and many streams of Eastern Scotland in the central parts, and a single bed, the Ogobe, breaking through the subtending Ghats, and forming a huge lagoon-delta. Beginning at Camarones are the Boroa and Borba Waters, with the Rio de Campo, fifteen leagues further south; of these little is known, except that they fall into the Bight of Panari or Pannaria.
According to Barbot (iv. 9), the English charts give the name of Point Pan to a large deep bight in which lies the harbour-bay "Porto de Garapo" (Garapa, sugar-cane juice?); and he calls the two rounded hillocks, extending inland from Point Pan to the northern banks of the Rio de Campo, "Navia." The un-African word Panari or Pannaria is probably a corruption of Pao de Nao, the bay north of Garapo, and "Navia."
These small features are followed by the Rio de Sao Bento, improperly called in our charts the St. Benito, Bonito, Bonita, and Boneto; the native name is Lobei, and it traverses the Kombi country, —such is the extent of our information. The next is the well-known Muni, the Ntambounay of M. du Chaillu, generally called the Danger River, in old charts "Rio de Sao Joao," and "Rio da Angra" (of the bight); an estuary which, like most of its kind, bifurcates above, and, receiving a number of little tributaries from the Sierra, forms a broad bed and empties itself through a mass of mangroves into the innermost north-eastern corner of Corisco Bay. This sag in the coast is formed by Ninje (Nenge the island?), or the Cabo de Sao Joao (Cape St. John) to the north, fronted south by a large square-headed block of land, whose point is called Cabo das Esteiras—of matting (Barbot's Estyras), an article of trade in the olden time. The southern part receives the Munda (Moondah) river, a foul and unimportant stream, which has been occupied by the American missionaries.
We shall ascend the Gaboon estuary to its sources. South of it, a number of sweet little water-courses break the shore-line as far as the Nazareth River, which debouches north of Urungu, or Cape Lopez (Cabo de Lopo Gonsalvez), and which forms by anastomosing with a southern river the Ogobe (Ogowai of M. du Chaillu), a complicated delta whose sea-front extends from north to south, at least eighty miles. Beyond Cape Lopez is an outfall, known to Europeans as the Rio Mexias: it is apparently a mesh in the net- work of the Nazareth-Ogobe. The same may be said of the Rio Fernao Vaz, about 110 miles south of the Gaboon, and of yet another stream which, running lagoon-like some forty miles along the shore, has received in our maps the somewhat vague name of R. Rembo or River River. Orembo (Simpongwe) being the generic term for a stream or river, is applied emphatically to the Nkomo branch of the Gaboon, and to the Fernao Vaz.
The Ogobe is the only river between the Niger and the Congo which escapes, through favouring depressions, from the highlands flanking the great watery plateau of Inner Africa. By its plainly marked double seasons of flood at the equinoxes, and by the time of its low water, we prove that it drains the belt of calms, and the region immediately upon the equator. The explorations of Lieutenant Serval and others, in "Le Pionnier" river-steamer, give it an average breadth of 8,200 feet, though broken by sand- banks and islands; the depth in the main channel, which at times is narrow and difficult to find, averages between sixteen and forty-eight feet; and, in the dry season of 1862, the vessel ran up sixty English miles.
Before M. du Chaillu's expeditions, "the rivers known to Europeans," he tells us in his Preface ("First Journey," p. iv.), "as the Nazareth, Mexias, and Fernam Vaz, were supposed to be three distinct streams." In 1817 Bowdich identified the "Ogoowai" with the Congo, and the Rev. Mr. Wilson (p. 284) shows us the small amount of knowledge that existed even amongst experts, five years before the "Gorilla book" appeared. "From Cape Lopez, where the Nazareth debouches, there is a narrow lagoon running along the sea-coast, and very near to it, all the way to Mayumba. This lagoon is much traversed by boats and canoes, and, when the slave-trade was in vigorous operation, it afforded the Portuguese traders great facilities for eluding the vigilance of British cruizers, by shifting their slaves from point to point, and embarking them, according to a preconcerted plan."
M. du Chaillu first proved that the Ogobe was formed by two forks, the northern, or Rembo Okanda, and the southern, or Rembo Nguye. The former is the more important. Mr. R.S.N. Walker found this stream above the confluence to be from 1,800 to 2,100 feet wide, though half the bed was occupied by bare sand-banks. Higher up, where rocks and rapids interfered with the boat-voyage, the current was considerable, but the breadth diminished to 600 feet. The southern branch (also written Ngunie) was found in Apono Land (S. lat. 2deg.), about the breadth of the Thames at London Bridge, 700 feet. In June the depth was ten to fifteen feet, to which the rainy season added ten.
M. du Chaillu also established the facts that the Nazareth river was the northern arm of the Delta, and that the Fernao Vaz anastomosed with the Delta's southern arm.
The only pelagic islands off the Gaboon coast are the Brancas, Great and Little; Corisco Island, which we shall presently visit; Great and Little Elobi, called by old travellers Mosquito Islands, probably for "Moucheron," a Dutchman who lost his ship there in 1600. The land about the mouths of the Ogobe is a mass of mangrove swamps, like the Nigerian Delta, which high tides convert into insular ground; these, however, must be considered terra firma in its infancy. The riverine islands of the Gaboon proper will be noticed as we ascend the bed.
Pongo-land ignores all such artificial partitions as districts or parishes; the only divisions are the countries occupied by the several tribes.
The Gaboon lies in "Africa-on-the-Line," and a description of the year at Zanzibar Island applies to it in many points.[FN#6] The characteristic of this equatorial belt is uniformity of temperature: whilst the Arabian and the Australian deserts often show a variation of 50deg. Fahr. in a single day, the yearly range of the mercury at Singapore is about 10deg.. The four seasons of the temperates are utterly unknown to the heart of the tropics—even in Hindostan the poet who would sing, for instance, the charms of spring must borrow the latter word (Buhar) from the Persian. If the "bull" be allowed, the only rule here appears to be one of exceptions. The traveller is always assured that this time there have been no rains, or no dries, or no tornadoes, or one or all in excess, till at last he comes to the conclusion that the Clerk of the Weather must have mislaid his ledger. Contrary to the popular idea, which has descended to us from the classics, the climate under the Line is not of that torrid heat which a vertical sun suggests; the burning zone of the Old World begins in the northern hemisphere, where the regular rains do not extend, beyond the tenth as far as the twenty-fifth degree. The equatorial climate is essentially temperate: for instance, the heat of Sumatra, lying almost under the Line, rarely exceeds 24deg. R.= 86deg. Fahr. In the Gaboon the thermometer ranges from 65deg. to 90deg. Fahr., "a degree of heat," says Dr. Ford, "less than in many salubrious localities in other parts of the world."
Upon the Gaboon the wet seasons are synchronous with the vertical suns at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. "The rainy season of a place within the tropics always begins when the sun has reached the zenith of that place. Then the tradewinds, blowing regularly at other seasons, become gradually weaker, and at length cease and give way to variable winds and calms. The trade-wind no longer brings its regular supply of cooler, drier air; the rising heats and calms favour an ascending current" (in the sea-depths, I may add, as well as on land), "which bears the damp air into the upper regions of the atmosphere, there to be cooled, and to occasion the heavy down-pour of each afternoon. The nights and mornings are for the most part bright and clear. When the sun moves away from the zenith, the trade-winds again begin to be felt, and bring with them the dry season of the year, during which hardly ever a cloud disturbs the serenity of the skies.
"Between the tropical limits and the equator, however, the sun comes twice to the zenith of each place. If now, between the going and coming of the sun, from the Line to its furthest range, a sufficient pause intervenes, or if the sun's temporary distance from the zenith is great enough, the rainy season is divided into two portions, separated by a lesser dry season. Closer to the tropical lines, where the sun remains but once in the zenith, the rainy season is a continuous one."
Such is the theory of the "Allgemeine Erdkunde" (Hahn, Hochstetter and Pokorny, Prague, 1872). An explanation should be added of the reason why the cool wind ceases to blow, at the time when the air, heated and raised by a perpendicular sun, might be expected to cause a greater indraught. We at once, I have said, recognize its correctness at sea. The Gaboon, "in the belt of calms, with rain during the whole year," has two distinctly marked dry seasons, at the vernal and the autumnal equinoxes. The former or early rains (Nchangya?) are expected to begin in February, with violent tornadoes and storms, especially at the full and change, and to end in April. The heavy downfalls are mostly at night, possibly an effect of the Sierra del Crystal. I found March 28th (1862) very like damp weather at the end of an English May; April 6th was equally exceptional, raining from dawn to evening. During my trip to Sanga-Tanga and back (March 25th to 29th) we had frequent fogs, locally called "smokes," and almost daily tornadoes, sometimes from the south-east, whilst the lightning was dangerous as upon the Western prairies. After an interval of fiery sun, with occasional rain torrents and discharges of electricity, begin the Enomo (Enun?), the "middle" or long dries, which last four months to September. The "Enomo" is the Angolan Cacimbo, meaning cool and cloudy weather, when no umbrella is required, and when the invariably grey sky rarely rains. Travellers are told that June and July are the cream of the year, the healthiest time for seasoned Europeans, and this phantom of a winter renders the climate more supportable to the northern constitution.
During the "middle dries," when the sun, retiring to the summer solstice, is most distant, land winds and sea breezes are strong and regular, and the people suffer severely from cold. In the Gaboon heavy showers sometimes fall, July being the least subject to them, and the fiery sun, when it can disperse the clouds, turns the soil to dust. At the end of September appear the "latter rains," which are the more copious, as they seldom last more than six hours at a time. It is erroneous to assert that "the tract nearest the equator on both sides has the longest rainy season;" the measure chiefly depends upon altitude and other local conditions.
The rainy seasons are healthier for the natives than the cold seasons; and the explorer is often urged to take advantage of them. He must, however, consult local experience. Whilst ascending rivers in November, for instance, he may find the many feet of flood a boon or a bane, and his marching journeys are nearly sure to end in ulcerated feet, as was the case with poor Dr. Livingstone. The rains drench the country till the latter end of December, when the Nanga or "little dries" set in for two months. The latter also are not unbroken by storms and showers, and they end with tornadoes, which this year (1862) have been unusually frequent and violent. Thus we may distribute the twelve months into six of rains, vernal and autumnal, and six of dry weather, aestival and hibernal: the following table will show the sub-sections:—
Early December to early February, the "little dries;" February to early April, the "former," early or spring rains; May to early June, the variable weather; June to early September, the Cacimbo, Enomo, long or middle dries; September to early December, the "latter rains."
Under such media the disease, par excellence, of the Gaboon is the paroxysm which is variously called Coast, African, Guinea, and Bullom fever. Dr. Ford, who has written a useful treatise upon the subject,[FN#7] finds hebdomadal periodicity in the attacks, and lays great stress upon this point of chronothermalism. He recognizes the normal stages, preparatory, invasional, reactionary, and resolutionary. Like Drs. Livingstone and Hutchinson, he holds fever and quinine "incompatibles," and he highly approves of the prophylactic adhibition of chinchona used by the unfortunate Douville in 1828. Experience in his own person and in numerous patients "proves all theoretical objections to the use of six grains an hour, or fifty and sixty grains of quinine in one day or remission to be absolutely imaginary." He is "convinced that it is not a stimulant," and with many apologies he cautiously sanctions alcohol, which should often be the physician's mainstay. As he advocated ten-grain doses of calomel by way of preliminary cathartic, the American missionaries stationed on the River have adopted a treatment still more "severe"—quinine till deafness ensues, and half a handful of mercury, often continued till a passage opens through the palate, placing mouth and nose in directer communication. Dr. Ford also recommends during the invasion or period of chills external friction of mustard or of fresh red pepper either in tincture or in powder, a good alleviator always procurable; and the internal use of pepper-tea, to bring on the stages of reaction and resolution. Few will agree with him that gruels and farinaceous articles are advisable during intermissions, when the patient craves for port, essence of beef, and consomme; nor can we readily admit the dictum that in the tropics "the most wholesome diet, without doubt, is chiefly vegetable." Despite Jacquemont and all the rice-eaters, I cry beef and beer for ever and everywhere! Many can testify personally to the value of the unofficinal prescription which he offers in cases of severe lichen (prickly heat), leading to impetigo. It is as follows, and it is valuable:—
Cold cream. . . . . . . . . . 3j. Glycerine . . . . . . . . . . 3j. Chloroform . . . . . . . . .3ij. Oil of bitter almonds . . gtt. x.
The Minor Tribes and the Mpongwe.
The tribes occupying the Gaboon country may roughly be divided into two according to habitat—the maritime and those of the interior, who are quasi-mountaineers. Upon the sea-board dwell the Banoko (Banaka), Bapuka, and Batanga; the Kombe, the Benga and Mbiko, or people about Corisco; the Shekyani, who extend far into the interior, the Urungu and Aloa, clans of Cape Lopez; the Nkommi, Commi, Camma or Cama, and the Mayumba races beyond the southern frontier. The inner hordes are the Dibwe (M. du Chaillu's "Ibouay"), the Mbusha; the numerous and once powerful Bakele, the Cannibal Fan (Mpongwe), the Osheba or 'Sheba, their congeners, and a variety of "bush-folk," of whom little is known beyond the names. Linguistically we may distribute them into three, namely, 1. the Banoko and Batanga; 2. the Mpongwe, including the minor ethnical divisions of Benga, and Shekyani; the Urungu, the Nkommi, the Dongas or Ndiva, and the Mbusha, and 3. the Mpongwe and the tribes of the interior. Lastly, there are only three peoples of any importance, namely, the Mpongwe, the Bakele, and the Fan.
The Mpongwe, whom the French call "les Gabons," are the aristocracy of the coast, the Benga being the second, and the Banoko and Bapuka ranking third. They are variously estimated at 5,000 to 7,000 head, serviles included. They inhabit both sides of the Gaboon, extending about thirty-five miles along its banks, chiefly on the right; on the left only seawards of the Shekyani. But it is a wandering race, and many a "mercator vagus" finds his way to Corisco, Cape Lopez, Batanga, and even Fernando Po. The two great families on the northern river bank are the Quabens and the Glass, who style themselves kings and princes; the southern side lodges King William (Roi Denis) near the mouth, and the powerful King George, about twenty-five miles higher up stream. There are also settlements scattered at various distances from the great highway of commerce to which they naturally cling, and upon the Coniquet and Parrot Islands.
Barbot (iv. 9) describes the "Gaboon blacks" as "commonly tall, robust, and well-shaped;" they appeared to me rather below the average of West Coast size and weight. Both sexes, even when running to polysarcia, have delicate limbs and extremities, and the features, though negroid, are not the negro of the tobacconist's shop: I noticed several pyramidal and brachycephalic heads, contrary to the rule for African man and simiad. In the remarkable paper read (1861) by Professor Busk before the Ethnological Society, that eminent physiologist proved that the Asiatic apes, typified by the ourang-outang, are brachycephalic, like the Mongolians amongst whom they live, or who live amongst them; whilst the gorillas and the African anthropoids are dolichocephalic as the negroes. The Gaboon men are often almost black, whilst the women range between dark brown and cafe au lait. The beard, usually scanty, is sometimes bien fournie, especially amongst the seniors, but, whenever I saw a light-coloured and well-bearded man, the suspicion of mixed blood invariably obtruded itself. It is said that during the last thirty years they have greatly diminished, yet their habitat is still that laid down half a century ago by Bowdich, and all admit that the population of the river has not been materially affected.
The Mpongwe women have the reputation of being the prettiest and the most facile upon the West African coast. It is easy to distinguish two types. One is large-boned and heavy-limbed, hoarse-voiced, and masculine, like the "Ibos" of Bonny and New Calabar, who equal the men in weight and stature, strength and endurance, suggesting a mixture of the male and female temperaments. Some of the Gaboon giantesses have, unlike their northern sisters, regular and handsome features. The other type is quasi-Hindu in its delicacy of form, with small heads, oval faces, noses a la Roxolane, lips sub-tumid but without prognathism, and fine almond-shaped eyes, with remarkably thick and silky lashes. The throat is thin, the bosom is high and well carried, or, as the admiring Arab says, "nejda;" the limbs are statuesque, and the hands and feet are Norman rather than Saxon. Many Europeans greatly admire these minois mutins et chiffones.[FN#8]
Early in the present century the Mpongwe braided whiskers and side curls, tipping the ends with small beads, and they plaited the front locks to project like horns, after the fashion of the present Fan and other wild tribes. A custom noticed by Barbot, but apparently obsolete in the days of Bowdich, was to bore the upper lip, and to insert a small ivory pin, extending from nose to mouth. The painting and tattooing were fantastic and elaborate; and there was a hideous habit of splitting either lip, so as to "thrust the tongue through on ceremonial occasions." A curious reason is given for this practice. "They are subject to a certain distemper very common there, which on a sudden seizes them, and casts them into fits of so long a continuance, that they would inevitably be suffocated, if by means of the split at their upper lip they did not pour into their mouths some of the juice of a certain medicinal herb, which has the virtue of easing and curing the diseased person in a very short time."
All these things, fits included, are now obsolete. The men shave a line in the hair like a fillet round the skull, and what is left is coiffe au coup de vent. The head-dress is a cap, a straw hat, a billy cock, or a tall silk "chimney pot," the latter denoting a chief; he also sports in full dress a broad coat, ending in a loin cloth of satin stripe or some finer stuff, about six feet long by four and a half broad; it is secured by a kerchief or an elastic waist belt; during work it is tucked up, but on ceremonial occasions it must trail upon the ground. The lieges wear European shirts, stuffed into a waist-cloth of cheaper material, calico or domestics; This Tanga, or kilt, is, in fact, an article of general wear, and it would be an airy, comfortable, and wholesome travelling costume if the material were flannel. The ornaments are necklaces of Venetian beads, the white pound, and the black and yellow seed: Canutille or bugles of various patterns are preferred, and all are loaded with "Mengo," Grigris (which old travellers call "gregories"), or talismans, chiefly leopards' teeth, rude bells, and horns. The Monda are hunting prophylacteries, antelope horns filled with "fetish" medicines, leopard's hair, burnt and powdered heart mixed with leaves, and filth; the mouths are stopped with some viscid black stuff, probably gum. They are often attached to rude bells of iron or brass (Igelenga, Ngenge, Nkendo, or Wonga), like the Chingufu of the Congo regions and the metal cones which are struck for signals upon the Tanganyika Lake.
A great man is known by his making himself a marvellous "guy," wearing, for instance, a dingily laced cocked hat, stuck athwart- ships upon an unwashed night-cap, and a naval or military uniform, fifty years old, "swearing" with the loin-cloth and the feet, which are always bare.
The coiffure of the is peculiar and elaborate as that of the Gold Coast. These ladies seem to have chosen for their model the touraco or cockatoo,—they have never heard of "Kikeriki,"—and the effect is at first wondrously grotesque. Presently the eye learns to admire pretty Fanny's ways; perhaps the pleureuse, the old English corkscrew ringlet, might strike the stranger as equally natural in a spaniel, and unnatural in a human. Still a style so peculiar requires a toilette in keeping; the "king" in uniform is less ridiculous than the Gaboon lady's chignon, contrasting with a tight-bodied and narrow-skirted gown of pink calico.
The national "tire-valiant" is a galeated crest not unlike the cuirassier's helmet, and the hair, trained from the sides into a high ridge running along the cranium, not unfrequently projects far beyond the forehead. Taste and caprice produce endless modifications. Sometimes the crest is double, disposed in parallel ridges, with a deep hollow between; or it is treble, when the two lines of parting running along the mastoids make it remarkably like bears' ears, the central prism rises high, and the side hair is plaited into little pig-tails. Others again train four parallel lines from nape to forehead, forming two cushions along the parietals. The crest is heightened by padding, and the whole of the hair is devoted to magnifying it,—at a distance, some of the bushwomen look as if they wore cocked hats. When dreaded baldness appears, rosettes of false hair patch the temples, and plaits of purchased wigs are interwoven to increase the bulk: the last resources of all are wigs and toupets of stained pine-apple fibre. The comb is unknown, its succedaneum being a huge bodkin, like that which the Trasteverina has so often used as a stiletto. This instrument of castigation is made of ivory or metal, with a lozenge often neatly carved and ornamented at the handle. The hair, always somewhat "kinky," is anointed every morning with palm-oil, or the tallow-like produce of a jungle-nut; and, in full dress, it is copiously powdered with light red or bright yellow dust of pounded camwood, redwood, and various barks.
The ears are adorned with broad rings of native make, and, near the trading stations, with French imitation jewellery. The neck supports many strings of beads, long and short, with the indispensable talismans. The body dress is a Tobe or loin-cloth, like that of the men; but under the "Namba," or outer wrapper, which hangs down the feet, there is a "Siri," or petticoat, reaching only to the knees. Both are gathered in front like the Shukkah of the eastern coast, and the bosom is left bare. Few except the bush-folk now wear the Ibongo, Ipepe, or Ndengi, the woven fibres and grass-cloths of their ancestry; amongst the hunters, however, a Tanga, or grass-kilt, may still be seen. The exposure of the upper person shows the size and tumidity of the areola, even in young girls; being unsupported, the mammae soon become flaccid.
The legs, which are peculiarly neat and well turned, are made by art a fitting set-off to the head. It is the pride of a Mpongwe wife to cover the lower limb between knee and ankle with an armour of metal rings, which are also worn upon the wrists; the custom is not modern, and travellers of the seventeenth century allude to them. The rich affect copper, bought in wires two feet and a half long, and in two sizes; of the larger, four, of the smaller, eight, go to the dollar; the brass are cheaper, as 5: 4; and I did not see iron or tin. The native smiths make the circles, and the weight of a full set of forty varies from fifteen to nineteen pounds. They are separate rings, not a single coil, like that used by the Wagogo and other East African tribes; they press tightly on the limb, often causing painful chafes and sores. The ankle is generally occupied by a brass or iron chain, with small links. Girls may wear these rings, of which the husband is expected to present a considerable number to his bride, and the consequence is, that when in full dress she waddles like a duck.
Commerce and intercourse with whites has made the Mpongwe, once the rudest, now one of the most civilized of African tribes; and, upon the whole, there is an improvement. The exact Barbot (iv. 9) tells us "the Gaboon blacks are barbarous, wild, bloody, and treacherous, very thievish and crafty, especially towards strangers. The women, on the contrary, are as civil and courteous to them, and will use all possible means to enjoy their company; but both sexes are the most wretchedly poor and miserable of any in Guinea, and yet so very haughty, that they are perfectly ridiculous ... They are all excessively fond of brandy and other strong liquors of Europe and America ... If they fancy one has got a mouthful more than another, and they are half drunk, they will soon fall a-fighting, even with their own princes or priests ... Their exceeding greediness for strong liquors renders them so little nice and curious in the choice of them, that, though mixed with half water, and sometimes a little Spanish soap put into it to give it a froth, to appear of proof by the scum it makes, they like it and praise it as much as the best and purest brandy." Captain Boteler remarks, in 1827: "The women do not speak English; though, for the sake of what trifles they can procure for their husbands, they are in the habit of flocking on board the different vessels which visit the river, and will permit them to remain; and the wives are generally maintained in clothing by the proceeds of their intercourse with the whites." He further assures us, that mulatto girls thus born are not allowed to marry, although there is no such restriction for the males; and elsewhere, he concludes, that never having seen an infant or an adult offspring of mixed blood, abortion is practised as at Delagoa and Old Calabar, where, in 1862, I found only one child of mixed blood. If so, the Mpongwe have changed for the better. Half-castes are now not uncommon; there are several nice "yaller gals" well known on the river; and the number of old and sick speaks well for the humanity of the tribe.