Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

degree. There does not, probably, without some foreign interposition, exist in Africa a stone house, or one which rises two stories from the ground. The materials of the very best habitations are merely stakes of wood plastered with earth, built in a conical form like bee-hives, and resembling the first rude shelter which man framed against the elements. Many of these mansions afford little facility for standing upright, and indeed are resorted to chiefly for sleep and shelter; while the court before the door, shaded by the family tree, is the scene of social intercourse, and of all meetings for the purposes of business and gaiety. Greater efforts indeed are made to form a commodious state-room or public hall, called the palaver-house; yet this, too,

[graphic]

consists merely, as shown in the annexed plate, of a large apartment, raised on posts fixed in the ground, and roofed with sloping planks, which leave the interior open to the air on every side. The houses and yards of persons in any degree opulent are enclosed by an outer wall or hedge, sometimes pretty high, serving

the purposes both of privacy and defence. Even the palaces of the grandees, and of the greatest monarchs, consist of merely a cluster of these hovels or cottages, forming a little village, with large open spaces, and surrounded by a common wall. The state-hall of the Sultan of the Fellatas, the greatest of the African princes, is an apartment to which, in Captain Clapperton's opinion, the term shed would in Europe be properly applied. Slender, however, as is the accommodation afforded by these edifices, they are liberally adorned, especially in the larger cities, both with carving and painting.

If African houses be of mean construction, the internal accommodations are equally scanty. Except the state-chairs or thrones of the great monarchs, ascended only on very solemn occasions, there is not throughout native Africa a seat to sit upon. The people squat on the ground in circles; and if the chief can place beneath him the skin of a lion or leopard, he is at the height of his pomp. For a table there is at best a wooden board, whereon is neither plate, knife, fork, nor spoon; the fingers being supposed fully adequate to the performance of every function. If it be necessary to separate into parts a large joint, or even a sheep roasted whole, the dagger or sword of the warrior is drawn forth, and very speedily accomplishes the object.

The intellectual character of the natives of this continent presents a peculiar and remarkable deficiency. If we except the Ethiopic language, which is seemingly of Arabic origin, and the unknown characters, probably Phoenician, inscribed by the Tuaricks on their dark rocks, there is not a tincture of letters or of writing among all the aboriginal

tribes of Africa. There is not a hieroglyphic or a symbol,-nothing corresponding to the painted stories of Mexico, or the knotted quipos of Peru. Oral communication forms the only channels by which thought can be transmitted from one country and one age to another. The lessons of time, the experience of ages, do not exist for the nations of this vast continent.

Notwithstanding so great a deficiency, the African must not be imagined as sunk in entire mental apathy. The enterprise of a perilous and changeful life developes energies which slumber amid the general body of the people in a civilized society. Their great public meetings and palavers exhibit a fluent and natural oratory, accompanied often with much good sense and shrewdness. Above all, the passion for poetry is nearly universal. As soon as the evening breeze begins to blow, the song resounds throughout all Africa,-it cheers the despondency of the wanderer through the desert,-it enlivens the social meeting,-it inspires the dance, -and even the lamentations of the mourner are poured forth in measured accents. Their poetry

does not consist in studied and regular pieces, such as, after previous study, are recited in our schools and theatres; they are extemporary and spontaneous effusions, in which the speaker gives utterance to his hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows. All the sovereigns are attended by crowds of singing men and singing women, who, whenever any interesting event occurs, celebrate it in songs, which they repeat aloud and in public. Flattery, of course, must be a standing reproach against this class of bards; yet from this imputation their European brethren are

not exempted; while, from Major Laing's report, it appears that there is often present a sable Tyrtæus, who reproaches the apathy of the prince and people, and rouses them to deeds of valour. Specimens are wanting of the African muse; yet, considering that its effusions are numerous, inspired by nature, and animated by national enthusiasm, they seem not unlikely to reward the care of a collector. The few examples actually given favour this conclusion. How few among our peasantry could have produced the pathetic and affecting lamentation which was uttered in the little Bambarra cottage over the distresses of Park! These songs, besides, handed down from father to son, contain evidently all that exists among these nations of traditional history. From the songs of the Jillimen of Soolimani, Major Laing was enabled to compile the annals of this small kingdom for more than a century.

In their religion the negroes labour under the disadvantage of being left to unassisted reason, and that, too, very little enlightened. Man has, perhaps, an instinctive sentiment that his own fate and that of the universe are ruled by some supreme and invisible power; yet he sees this only through the medium of his wishes and imagination. He seeks for some object of veneration and means of protection, which may assume an outward and tangible shape. The negro reposes his faith in the doctrine of charms, which presents a substance stamped with a mystic and supernatural character, capable of being attached to himself individually, and of affording a feeling of security amid the many evils that environ him. The manitou of the native Americans is founded upon the same principle; and the

similar use, by Catholics, of images, beads, and relics, pervertedly employed even under a pure and exalted religion, shows the strength of this propensity in the human mind. In all the Moorish borders, where writing is known, it forms the basis of feticherie; and its productions, rendered more brilliant and sensible by being enclosed in golden or ornamented cases, are hung round the person as guardian influences. The very circumstance of the characters being unintelligible gives to them the power of exciting ideas more mysterious and supernatural. Where this art is unknown, a bow, a horn, a feather, the beaks and the claws of birds, even the most frivolous and insignificant object, is employed and relied on with the fullest confidence. Absurd, however, as are the observances of the negro, he is a stranger to the deadly bigotry of his Moslem neighbour. He neither persecutes, nor even brands as impious, those whose religious views differ the most widely from his own. There is only one point on which his faith assumes a savage character, and displays darker than inquisitorial horrors. The hope of an immortal destiny, dimly working in the blinded human heart, leads to the wildest errors. The despot, the object of boundless homage on earth, seeks to transport all his pomp, and the crowd of his attendants, to his place in the future world. His death must be celebrated by the corresponding sacrifice of a numerous band of slaves, of wives, and of courtiers: their blood must water his grave; and the sword of the rude warrior once drawn, does not readily stop;—a general massacre often takes place, and the capitals of these barbarian chiefs are seen to stream with blood. This horrid system is not exclusively African; but it elsewhere exists on a smaller

« AnteriorContinua »