Imatges de pÓgina

ties, against which a painful struggle was to be maintained. It was a prevailing practice, that, before marriage, the two parties should live together for some time, and make trial of each other's tempers and inclinations, before they formed the final engagement. To this system of probation the people were most obstinately attached, and the missionaries in vain denounced it, calling upon them at once either to marry or to separate. The young ladies were always the most anxious to have the full benefit of this experimental process; and the mothers, on being referred to, refused to incur responsibility, and expose themselves to the reproaches of their daughters, by urging them to an abridgement of the trial, of which they might afterwards repent. The missionaries seem to have been most diligent in the task, as they call it, of “reducing strayed souls to matrimony." Father Benedict succeeded with no less than six hundred; but he found it such “ laborious work,” that he fell sick and died in consequence. Another subject of deep regret respected the many superstitious practices still prevalent, even among those who exhibited some sort of Christian profession. Sometimes the children brought for baptism proved to be bound with ma. gic cords, to which the mothers, as an additional security from evil, had fastened beads, relics, and figures of the Agnus Dei. The chiefs, in like manner, while they gladly availed themselves of the protection promised from the wearing of crucifixes and images of the Virgin, were unprepared to part with the enchanted rings and other pagan amulets with which they had been accustomed to form a 0ply around their persons. In case of dangerous illness, sorcery had been always contemplated as the main or sole remedy, and those who rejected its use were reproached as rather allowing their sick relations to die than incur the expense of a conjurer. But the most general and most pernicious application of magic was made in judicial proceedings. When a charge was advanced against any individual, no one ever thought of inquiring into the facts, or of collecting evidence,-every case was decided by preternatural tests. The magicians prepared a beverage, which produced on the guilty person, according to the measure of his iniquity, spasm, fainting, or death, but left the innocent quite free from harm. It seems a sound conclusion of the missionaries, that the draught was modified according to the good or ill will of the magicians, or the liberality of the supposed culprit. This trial, called the bolungo, was indeed renounced by the king, but only to substitute another, in which the accused was made to bend over a large basin of water, when, if he fell in, he was concluded guilty. At other times a bar of red-hot iron was passed along the leg, or the arm was thrust into scalding water ; and, if the natural effects followed, the person's head was immediately struck off. Snail-shells, applied to the temples, if they stuck, inferred guilt. When a dispute arose between man and man, the plan was to place a shell on the head of each, and make them stoop, when he from off whose head the shell first dropped had a verdict found against him. While we wonder at the deplorable ignorance on which these practices were founded, we must not forget that the judgments of God," as they were termed, employed by our sage ancestors during the middle ages, were founded on the same unenlightened views, and were in some cases absolutely identical.

Other powers of still higher name held sway over the deluded minds of the people of Congo. Some ladies of rank went about beating a drum before them, with dishevelled hair, and pretending to work magical cures There was also a race of mighty conjurers, called Scingilli, who had the power of giving and withdrawing rain at pleasure; and they had a king called Ganja Chitorne, or God of the Earth, to whom its first fruits were regularly offered. This person never died; but when tired of his sway on earth, he nominated a successor, and killed himself,—a step, doubtless, prompted by the zeal of his followers, when they saw any danger of his reputation for immortality being compromised. This class argued strongly in favour of their vocation, as not only useful, but absolutely essential, since without it the earth would be deprived of those influences by which alone it was enabled to minister to the wants of man. The people accordingly viewed with the deepest alarm any idea of giving offence to beings whose wrath might be displayed in devoting the land to utter sterility.

We do not possess any record of the period or the manner in which the Portuguese and their missionaries were expelled from Congo; but a late expedition did not find on the banks of the Zaire any trace or even recollection of either.


Early English Discoveries.

The Portuguese, while they bore away the palm of maritime enterprise from all other nations, considered Africa most especially as a region which they had won for themselves, and had covered with trophies of discovery and victory. But, after being subjected to the cruel and degrading yoke of Philip II. of Spain, they lost all their spirit and energy. Under the same influence they became involved in hostility with the Dutch, who had risen to the first rank as a naval people, and whose squadrons successively stripped them of their most important possessions in this continent as well as in the East Indies. In 1637, Elmina itself, their capital, fell into the hands of these bold and successful rivals ; and at present the boasted lords and rulers of Guinea have not an acre left of their extensive dominions along the whole western coast : they retain only the Madeiras, Canaries, and other islands, which certainly are not destitute of beauty, and even of some degree of political and commercial value.

The Dutch did not remain long undisputed masters of the seas. The glorious and splendid results which had arisen from the discovery of the East and West Indies, caused the ocean to be generally viewed as the grand theatre where wealth and glory were to be gained. The French and English nations, whose turn it was to take the lead in European affairs, pressed eagerly forward in this career, endeavouring at once to surpass their predecessors and each other. Many of their African settlements were formed with the view of securing a supply of slaves for their West India possessions. But a more distant, more innocent, and more brilliant object also attracted their attention. Flattering reports had reached Europe of the magnitude of the gold trade carried on at Timbuctoo and along the Niger. Letters were even received from Morocco, representing its treasures as surpassing those of Mexico and Peru. On that side, indeed, the immense Desert and its barbarous inhabitants rendered these central regions almost inaccessible ;—but there was another channel which appeared to open the fairest and most tempting prospects. According to all the geographical systems of that age, the great river Ni. ger, which flowed through the interior of the continent, and by whose alluvion its plains were covered with gold, was understood to empty itself into the Atlantic either by the Senegal or Gambia, or, as was more commonly supposed, by both these rivers, imagined to be branches proceeding from the great stream. By ascending either the Senegal or Gambia, it therefore seemed possible to reach Timbuctoo and the country of gold; and this became a favourite object with several European nations.

In 1618, a company was formed in England for the purpose of exploring the Gambia. They sent out, that same year, Richard Thompson, a person of spirit and enterprise, in charge of the Catherine


« AnteriorContinua »