Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

power. But, unfortunately, according to the spirit of the time, the only mode in which he ever thought of promoting any branch of trade, was by vesting it in an exclusive company; and when, according to the usual fate of such associations, one was involved in bankruptcy, another immediately supplied its place. Thus four successive companies rose and fell, till at length they all merged in that greatest and most fatal delusion, the Mississippi scheme. However, these copartneries, at their first formation, attracted many individuals of opulence and talent, and generally opened with a spirited career of enterprise and discovery. While the English sought to ascend the Gambia, the Senegal was the Niger to the French-the stream by which they hoped to penetrate upwards to Timbuctoo and the regions of gold. At the mouth of this river, about the year 1626, was founded the settlement of St. Louis, which has ever since continued to be the capital of the French possessions in Africa.

The first person who brought home any accounts of French Africa was Jannequin, a young man of some rank, who, seeing, as he walked along the quay at Dieppe, a vessel bound for this unknown continent, took a sudden fancy to embark and make the voyage. The adventurers sailed on the 5th November, 1637, and touched at the Canaries; but the first spot on the continent where they landed was a part of the Sahara, near Cape Blanco. Jannequin was struck, in an extraordinary degree, with the desolate aspect of this region. It consisted wholly of a plain of soft sand, in which the feet were buried at every step; and a man, after walking fifty paces, was overwhelmed with fatigue. At Senegal the colony was found in so imperfect a state that the sailors were obliged to rear huts for their own accommodation; and, slight as these were, the labour under a burning sun was very severe. In ascending the river, however, he was delighted with the brilliant verdure of the banks, the majestic beauty of the trees, and the thick impenetrable underwood. Amid the deep solitude which distinguished the country, all the forests were filled with echoes. The natives received him hospitably, and he was much struck by their individual strength and courage, decidedly surpassing, as appeared to him, the similar qualities in Europeans. He saw a Moorish chief, called the Kamalingo, who, mounting on horseback, and brandishing three javelins and a cutlass, engaged a lion

in single combat, and vanquished that mighty king of the desert. Flat noses and thick lips, so remote from his own ideas of the beautiful, were considered on the Senegal as forming the perfection of the human visage; nay, he even fancies that they were produced by artificial processes. He was surprised by the enormous number of greegrees, or charms, in which the chiefs were enveloped. All the perils, of water, of wild beasts, and of battle, had an appropriate charm, by which the owner was secured against them. These potent greegrees were merely slips of paper, which the marabouts, or Mussulman doctors, had inscribed with Arabic characters; and being then enclosed in cases of thick cloth, or even of gold and silver, were hung round the person in such profusion that they actually formed a species of armour. In some instances they composed such a load that the possessor was unable to mount on horseback without assistance.

The Sieur Brue, who, in 1697, was appointed directorgeneral of the company's affairs, was the person who did most for their prosperity, and made the greatest efforts to penetrate into the interior. In that year he embarked on a visit to the Siratik, or king of the Foulahs, whose territory lay about 400 miles up the Senegal. In ascending that river he was struck, like Jannequin, by the magnificent forests, and the profuse and luxuriant verdure with which they were clothed; while it was amusing to observe the numberless varieties of the monkey tribe, which were continually leaping from bough to bough. Elephants marched in bands of forty or fifty; and large herds of cattle fed on the rich meadows, though, during the season of inundation, they withdrew to the more elevated spots. At Kahayde, he was received by a chief belonging to the Siratik, accompanied by numerous attendants, among whom were his wife, daughters, and some female slaves, all mounted upon asses. He was cordially welcomed; yet the reflection suggested by his dealings with this gay and fair train was, that European beggars, however great their effrontery, might learn much from the example of the higher circles in Africa. When they can no longer ask, they begin to borrow, with the firm resolution of never repaying; and, what is worst of all, when they make a present, they hold it a deadly offence not to receive at least double the value in return.

Brue sailed up the river, and landed at the port of Ghiorel; then, with a party of armed attendants, set out for Gumel, about ten leagues in the interior, where the Siratik resided. At Ghiorel he was visited by Bukar Siré, one of the young princes, and afterward by the Kamalingo or general, and the Bouquenet, a venerable and aged negro, who filled an office similar to that of treasurer or prime minister. These two latter personages assured the director of the hearty welcome which ited him at court; intimating, at the same time, their readiness to receive the presents which he was understood to have brought to the Siratik. These accordingly were spread forth, and consisted of scarlet cloths, coloured worsteds, copper kettles, pieces of coral and amber, brandy, spices, and a few coins, in portions respectively destined for the king, his wives, and the illustrious messengers; yet these liberal gifts, though they amply satisfied the great personages who received them, did not drain the finances of the company, since the entire cost did not exceed sixty or seventy pounds. The country was found level, well cultivated, and filled with such numerous herds that the French with difficulty made their way through them. At a village called Buksar, the Siré and his attendants again met them, brandishing their lances or assagayes, as if in the act to strike. This being explained as meant for the greatest possible compliment, Brue, in return, cocked his pistol at the young prince, with whom he then spent the evening. After being introduced to several ladies of the court, he was entertained with supper, consisting of fruits, kouskous, and other simple products of African cookery. Then followed the folgar or dance, the favourite amusement of the negroes; but while all the youth of the village were tripping it gayly upon the green, amid songs and music, he found more gratification in the kalder, or conversation carried on by the old men seated on mats in a circle. Their manners were noble and dignified; they showed retentive memories and quick apprehensions respecting the objects which came within their limited range of observation.

He set out next morning for the residence of the Siratik, being met and escorted thither by the Kamalingo. He found that prince surrounded by none of those circumstances which constitute in Europe the pomp of royalty.

His palace was merely a cluster of mud cabins surrounded by a hedge of reeds. In one of these huts he reclined on a couch, while several of his wives and daughters sat round him on mats spread on the ground. The reception was perfectly friendly, and Brue even obtained permission to erect forts, a privilege of which African princes are usually and indeed naturally jealous. The director was allowed full liberty to converse with the female circle, who were by no means held in that state of austere seclusion which gives such a gloom to Mussulman society. The ladies began to talk in the most lively and familiar manner; and as Brue was thought to eye with admiration a handsome young princess of seventeen, she was tendered to him in marriage. He excused himself as one already joined in the bonds of matrimony; but the ladies professed themselves quite unable to conceive how this could form an objection, their young relative being of course prepared to share the honour with any reasonable number of rivals. It then behooved the director to explain the matrimonial system of Europe, which furnished, as it always does in Africa, ample ground for wonder and speculation. The lot of the French ladies was pronounced to be truly enviable; but Brue's own situation was much commiserated, especially in his present state of separation from his only wife.

The court being obliged to remove by the annoyance arising from a species of flying insect, Brue had an opportunity of observing the royal procession travelling in order. First came a numerous body of mounted musicians, who, performing on various instruments, produced a noise at once deafening and discordant. Next followed the royal ladies, mounted on the backs of camels in large osier baskets, which so completely enveloped their persons that their heads only were seen peeping above. Their female domestics, riding by their side on asses, endeavoured to enliven them by incessant talk. The baggage behind was borne by a long train of camels and asses; while horsemen, in military array, with the king and his principal nobles at their head, closed the procession. The director and his party, while all this gay train passed by, exchanged with them mutual courtesies and salutations. Having satisfactorily accomplished the immediate object of his journey, Brue returned to St. Louis.

In 1698, the same gentleman undertook another voyage, in which he aimed not merely at the limited objects above stated, but sought to ascend the Senegal as high as possible, and to open a commercial intercourse with the interior. In this voyage he had gained an amicable interview with the Siratik, and employed four of his negroes in destroying an enormous lion which had infested the neighbourhood. Farther on he observed some peculiar forms of the animal creation. The air for two hours was darkened by the passage of a cloud of locusts, and the boats were covered with their filth. Lions and elephants roamed in vast numbers; but the latter were quite tame and harmless unless when attacked. Monkeys swarmed in their usual multitudes; and in one place there was a species of a red colour, which appeared extremely surprised at the view of the strangers, and used to come in successive parties to gaze at them; on which occasion they conversed with each other, and even threw down dry branches upon the boats. The French, we know not why, fired and killed several; upon which they raised an extraordinary commotion, and sought, by throwing stones and sticks, to avenge the fall of their comrades; but, soon finding the contest unequal, they retired for safety into the woods. The navigators were also introduced to a personage called "The King of the Bees," who, by the use of a particular charm, came to the boat surrounded by thousands of these insects, over which he exercised an absolute sway, guiding them as a shepherd does his sheep, and completely securing all his friends against their formidable stings.

On reaching Gallam, Brue found himself in a somewhat delicate position. Two rival princes disputed the throne, each holding, at his respective residence, a certain sway; but each also claiming for himself the entire homage, and all the presents brought by the irector. The legitimate prince, in particular, sent his son to remonstrate that his undoubted claim ought not to be set aside for that of an ephemeral usurper. The European, however, acting steadily on the principle of self-interest, endeavoured to ascertain which of the two sovereigns could most benefit the company; and, finding the real power chiefly in the hands of the rebel, bestowed on him the larger portion of good things. The other party was thereby so incensed that he even threatened

« AnteriorContinua »