Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

an attack; but the determined language of Brue, and the sight of the great guns which the French had on board, made him relinquish all hostile intentions.

The director now reached Dramanet, a thriving town, inhabited by several rich merchants, who traded as far as Timbuctoo, which, according to their computation, was five hundred leagues in the interior. This position was therefore thought the most convenient place for a fort, which was called St. Joseph, and continued long to be the principal seat of French commerce on the Upper Senegal. Brue then went up to Felu, where a large rock, crossing the river, forms a cataract, which it is almost impossible for vessels to pass. Quitting his boats, he proposed to ascend to the falls of Govinea, about forty leagues higher; but the water was getting so low, that, fearing the navigation downward should be interrupted, he returned to St. Louis.

Brue, in reply to numerous inquiries made by him on this journey, received accounts of the kingdom of Bambarra, of the Lake Maberia (Dibbie of Park), of Timbuctoo, of the caravans which came thither from Barbary, and even of masted vessels which were seen on the waters beyond. But the grand object of his research was the course of the Niger, concerning which he received two quite opposite answers. According to some it flowed westward from the Lake Maberia, till it separated into the two channels of the Gambia and Senegal; but other and juster reports represented it as being distinct from both these rivers, and as passing eastward beyond Timbuctoo. The testimonies transmitted to France in favour of this last opinion must have greatly preponderated, since both the great geographers, Delille and D'Anville, adopted this delineation; and yet the popular opinion in that country, as well as through Europe in general, long continued to regard the Niger and Senegal as one and the same river.

Beyond Gallam lay another more tempting region, Bambouk, which contains mines of gold, the most productive of all that are to be found in the interior of Western Africa. The difficulty of penetrating thither, however, was extreme, the natives having completely barred the frontier against white men, in consequence of the tyranny exercised by the Portuguese, who had ruled and oppressed the district till they were cut off or expelled by a general insurrection

G

Many adventurers, after being induced by high bribes to un dertake the journey, successively declined the enterprise. At length one Compagnon, laden with valuable presents, ventured to pass the boundary, and by his address succeeded in conciliating the inhabitants of the nearest village. A general alarm, however, spread through the country, when it was known that there was a white man within its precincts; and representations were sent, that, according to the ancient salutary laws, he should forthwith be put to death; yet Compagnon, by presents and address, succeeded in making his way from village to village. He contrived to visit the principal districts, and even to carry off a portion of the ghingan, or golden earth, which forms the pride and wealth of Bambouk. Brue then transmitted to France various projects, and among others that of conquering the country, which he undertook to effect with 1200 men; but such a degree of apathy prevailed at home, that none of these propositions made any impression. Subse quent governors, however, directed their attention to the same subject: two of them, Levens and David, even visited Bambouk in person; but no attempt was ultimately made either to conquer or to form settlements in that part of Africa. Indeed, though either step might have been successful in the first instance, the possession of such a territory would in the end have proved both costly and precarious.

From the accounts thus received, and which have been collected by Mr. Golberry, Bambouk appears to consist of a mass of lofty, naked, and barren mountains, and to contain scarcely any treasures, except those which are hid in the bowels of the earth. Besides, it is in the most arid and dreary spot of this gloomy region that the gold is found. Several hills in different quarters, not very high, but of considerable extent, have the same metallic substance distributed throughout, under the form of grains, spangles, and even of small lumps, which are always found larger in proportion to the depth of the bed. In the mine of Natakon the ore is mixed with earth, from which the precious dust is extracted by continued agitation in water; or it adheres to fragments of iron, emery, and lapis lazuli, whence it is easily detached. In the mine of Semayla, on the contrary, it is imbedded in a hard reddish loam, mixed with other substances still harder, from which it can be extracted only by

[ocr errors]

reducing them all to a powder. This is effected by pounding them with a pestle of hard wood, which is soon worn away by the resistance of the mineral substances. This mine, therefore, though richer than the other, is less valuable. The Farims, who are absolute chiefs of Bambouk, allow the mining operations only at certain seasons, when they themselves attend to levy a proportion of the proceeds. Two men, or two women,-for they are promiscuously employed in this occupation,-dig out the earth or other substances, which they hand to those who are to extract from it the gold. This metal they imagine to be a capricious being delighting to sport with their eager pursuit; and when they find a rich vein suddenly become unproductive, they call out "He is off." The pit which is six feet in diameter, is dug to the depth of thirty or forty, when the workers are usually arrested by an impenetrable bed of reddish-coloured marble, which, from certain indications, Golberry is led to consider as only the covering of much more abundant veins. These pits or shafts, by means of ladders, are carried down with perpendicular sides, which often fall in and bury the unfortunate workmen. This, however, does not at all discompose the survivors. They apprehend that the Devil, or rather a certain subterranean deity, having occasion for labourers to conduct his own operations underneath, seizes in this manner the best miners he can find on the surface of the earth. Nor do they feel the least surprise, though they cannot conceal their regret, when, in the course of working, they light upon the skeletons of the victims. The Devil, they fancy, has then found himself mistaken in his choice, and has rudely thrown them back to the place whence he had withdrawn them.

The trade to Gallam appears, by the report of M. Saugnier, who undertook a voyage thither, to have been very profitable when carried on with success. Gold, ivory, and slaves could be purchased on easy terms; and the natives, called Serawoolies, were intelligent and active, though inclined to be thievish. The voyage, however, is liable to many vicissitudes, the navigation often dangerous, and the natives on shore perpetually on the watch for plunder, especially the princes or robbers; which terms in Africa are nearly synonymous. The French government, also, had issued instructions not to proceed to great extremities

against these high-born pilferers; and hence Saugnier complains, that though he had at one time eight royal personages on board of his vessel as prisoners, he durst not turn them to any account. In this way the adventure was almost as likely to ruin as to enrich the person who undertook it.

The chief prosperity of the French settlements on the Senegal was derived from the gum-trade, of which Golberry has given a lively description. To the north of this river, where its fertile borders pass into the boundless deserts of the Sahara, grow large forests of that species of acacia from which the gum distils. It is crooked and stunted, resembling rather a bush or shrub than a tree. No incision is necessary; for under the influence of the hot winds the bark dries and cracks in various places. The liquor exudes, but by its tenacity remains attached in the form of drops, which are as clear and transparent as the finest rock-crystal. The Moorish tribes, to whom these woods belong, break up about the beginning of December from their desert encampments, and proceed to the gum district in a tumultuous crowd; the rich mounted on horses and camels, while the poor perform the journey on foot. Six weeks are spent in collecting the material; after which it is conveyed to the great annual fair held on the banks of the Senegal. The scene of this merchandise is an im mense plain of white and moving sand, the desolate monotony of which is not broken by a single herb or a shrub. Here the French take their stand to await the arrival of the Moors. On the appointed morning they hear at a distance the confused noise of their armies in motion. Towards noon this vast and solitary plain appears covered with men, women, and animals innumerable, enveloped in clouds of dust. The chiefs ride beautiful horses; while the females of rank are seated on the backs of camels, elegantly caparisoned, in baskets covered with an awning. An incessant murmur pervades this barbarous assemblage, till, the whole having arrived, the camp is pitched, and a cannon fired as a signal for beginning the fair. The French relate, that every species of artifice and even threats are employed by these rude traffickers to enhance the price of their goods; yet they themselves, it would appear, have little right to complain. inasmuch as they confess that they have insen

[ocr errors]

sibly, and without attracting the notice of their barbarous customers, raised the kantar, by which the gum is measured, from five hundred to two thousand pounds weight.

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

CHAPTER VII.

Early Proceedings of the African Association-Ledyard, Lucas, Houghton.

THE preceding narrative of French and English discoveries proves the imperfect success with which the earlier attempts to penetrate into the interior of Africa, though made by the most powerful nations of Europe, were attended. While the remotest extremities of land and sea in other quarters of the globe had been reached by British enterprise, this vast region remained an unseemly blank in the map of the earth. Such a circumstance was felt as discreditable to a great maritime and commercial nation, as well as to the sciences upon which the extension of geographical knowledge depends. To remove this reproach, a body of spirited individuals formed themselves into what

« AnteriorContinua »