Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

crossed this ocean of shingle. But his tone of feeling was soon lowered when he came to experience the sufferings arising from the intense heat, the blowing of the sand, and the scanty supply of water, which was allowed to the caravan only twice a-day leaving long intervals, during which the most tormenting thirst was endured. Some small wells, from which they had hoped for a little aid, were found dry; so that both men and animals were reduced to the last extremity, when they reached the copious springs of Telig, and relieved their thirst by repeated draughts.

During many succeeding marches, water again became scarce, and Caillié had much to suffer from the insult and neglect of his companions. El Drah, on the outer frontier of Morocco, was the first inhabited district; but it was poor, and occupied by inhospitable tribes of Moors and Berebbers. Turning somewhat eastward, they passed through the fine country of Tafilet, covered with noble woods of date-trees, and producing a valuable breed of sheep. They then crossed with labour a rugged limb of the Atlas, and arrived at Fez, whence the adventurer found his way, though in a some what poor plight, to Tangier. He arrived on the 18th August, 1828, and M. Delaporte, the vice-consul, received and forwarded him to France.

CHAPTER XIV.

Western Africa.

THE whole coast of Western Africa within the tropics, forming a wide sweep around the Gulf of Guinea, has long been occupied by a chain of European forts, erected with a view to the commerce in gold, iron, and palm-oil, but above all in slaves; and since this last object has been finally abandoned by Great Britain, these stations have become to her of very secondary importance. The territory is in the possession of a number of petty states, many of which compose aristocratic republics, turbulent, restless, licentious, and generally rendered more depraved by their fre

quent intercourse with Europeans. The interior country, extending parallel to the great central chain of mountains, of which the principal branch is here called Kong, presents nothing of that desert and arid character which is stamped on so great a proportion of the African continent. The soil, copiously watered, is liable rather to an excessive luxuriance; but, where well managed, it is highly fruitful. There are found, too, in this tract, several very powerful kingdoms, better organized and more improved than any near the coast. They have not, however, the slightest tincture of European civilization; and their manners, in several important respects, are stained with habits and practices that belong to the very lowest stage of savage life.

Of these greater states the first to which Europeans penetrated was Dahomey, which had distinguished itself early in the last century by the conquest it then achieved of the flourishing kingdom of Whidah, on the slave-coast. The Dahomans committed the most horrible ravages that were ever witnessed,-reducing their country, the most fertile and beautiful then known in Western Africa, to almost utter desolation. As the king of Dahomey continued to hold sway over this province, Mr. Norris, in 1772, undertook a journey thither to observe the character and position of this extraordinary potentate, and to make arrangements for the benefit of the English trade. He passed through a fine country, abounding in the usual tropical productions, and rising by a gentle ascent about 150 miles inland to Abomey, the capital. He arrived at an appalling season, that of the annual customs, when the great men were assembled from every quarter of the kingdom; and he was truly astonished to see those fierce and warlike chieftains, whose very name spreads terror throughout Africa, prostrating themselves before the monarch, flat on the ground, and piling dust on their heads in token of the most abject submission. This homage is yielded, not from fear, but from a blind and idolatrous veneration, which makes them regard their king in the light of a superior being. In his name they rush to battle, and encounter their foes with Spartan intrepidity. One of them said to Mr. Norris, "I think of my king, and then I dare engage five of the enemy myself." He added, "My head belongs to the king, and not to myself; if he please to send for it, I

am ready to resign it; or if it be shot through in a battle, I am satisfied, since it is in his service." The main object contemplated in this national anniversary is, that the king may water the graves of his ancestors with the blood of human victims. These are numerous, consisting of prisoners taken in war, of condemned criminals, and of many seized by lawless violence. The captives are brought out in succession, with their arms pinioned; and a fetisheer, laying his hand upon the devoted head, utters a few magic words, while another from behind, with a large scimitar, severs it from the body, when shouts of applause ascend from the surrounding multitude. At any time when the king has a message to convey to one of his deceased relations, he delivers it to one of his subjects, then strikes off his head, that he may carry it to the other world; and if any thing farther occurs to him after he has performed this ceremony, he delivers it to another messenger, whom he despatches in the same manner.

Another grand object of this periodical festival is the market for wives. All the unmarried females throughout the kingdom are esteemed the property of the sovereign, and are brought to the annual customs, to be placed at his disposal. He selects for himself such as appear most beau tiful and engaging, and retails the others at enormous prices to his chiefs and nobles. No choice on this occasion is allowed to the purchaser; in return for his twenty thou sand cowries, a wife is handed out, and, even be she old and ugly, he must rest contented; nay, some, it is said, have in mockery been presented with their own mothers. The king usually keeps his wives up to the number of three thousand, who serve him in various capacities,-being partly trained to act as a body-guard, regularly regimented, and equipped with drums, flags, bows and arrows, while a few carry muskets. They all reside in the palace, which consists merely of an immense assemblage of cane and mud tents, enclosed by a high wall. The sculls and jawbones of enemies slain in battle form the favourite ornament of the palaces and temples. The king's apartment is paved, and the walls and roof stuck over with these horrid trophies; and if a farther supply appears desirable, he announces to his general that "his house wants thatch," when a war for that purpose is immediately undertaken.

Mr. M'Leod, during his residence at Whidah, in 1803, found the country still groaning under the cruel effects of Dahoman tyranny. He particularly deplores the case of Sally Abson, daughter of the late English governor by a native female, who, trained in all European accomplishments, added to them the most engaging simplicity of manners. Suddenly, she disappeared, and Mr. M'Leod's eager inquiries were met by a mysterious silence; all hung down their heads, confused and terrified. At length an old domestic whispered to him that a party of the king's halfheads (as his messengers are termed) had carried her off in the night, to be enrolled among the number of his wives, and warned him of the danger of uttering a word of com plaint.

A more pleasing spectacle was presented to Messrs. Watt and Winterbottom, who, in 1794, ascended the Rio Nunez to Kakundy, and made an excursion to Foota Jallo, the principal state of the southern Foulahs. This people profess the Mohammedan religion, are orderly and well instructed, display skill in working mines of iron, and in carrying on the manufacture of cloth, leather, and other African fabrics. Caravans of 500 or 600 Foulahs were often met, carrying on their heads loads of 160 pounds weight. The article chiefly sought after is salt, which the children suck as ours do sugar; and it is common to describe a rich man by saying, he eats salt. The two principal towns, Laby and Teemboo, were found to contain respectively 5000 and 7000 inhabitants. The king could muster 16,000 troops, whom, unhappily, he employed in war, or at least hunts, against twenty-four pagan nations that surround his territory, chiefly with the view of procuring slaves for the market on the coast. When the travellers represented to him the iniquity of this course, he replied, "The people with whom we go to war never pray to God; we never go to war with people who pray to God Almighty." As they urged, that in a case of common humanity this ought to make no distinction, he quoted passages from the Koran commanding the faithful to make war on unbelievers. They took the liberty to insinuate that these might be interpolations of the Devil, but found it impossible to shake his reliance on their authenticity.

A more recent and memorable intercourse was that opened

with the court of Ashantee. This people were first mentioned, in the beginning of last century, under the name of Assente or Asienti, and as constituting a great kingdom in the interior,-the same that was described to Mr. Lucas, at Tripoli, as the ultimate destination of those caravans which, proceeding from that city, measure the breadth of Africa. Being separated from the maritime districts, however, by Aquamboc, Dinkira, and other powerful states, they did not come inro contact with any European settlement. It was not, indeed, till the commencement of this century that these states were obliged to give way before the growing strength of the Ashantee empire, which at length extended to the borders of the Fantees, the principal people on the Gold Coast. These last were ill fitted to cope with such formidable neighbours. They are a turbulent, restless tribe, and extremely prompt in giving offence, but in battle they are equally cowardly and undisciplined. The king of Ashantee having, not unwillingly perhaps, received from them high provocation, sent, in 1808, an army of 15,000 warriors, which entered their territory, and laid it waste with fire and sword. At length they came to Anamaboe, where the Fantees had assembled a force of 9000 men; but these were routed at the first onset, and put to death, except a few who sought the protection of the British fort. The victors, then considering the British as allies of their enemy, turned their arms against the station, at that time defended by not more than twelve men. Yet this gallant little band, supported by slender bulwarks, completely baffled the fierce and repeated assaults made by this barbarous host, who were repulsed with considerable slaughter. Seized with admiration and respect for British prowess, the Ashantees now made proposals for a negotiation, which were accepted, and mutual visits were paid and returned. The English officers were peculiarly struck with the splendid array, the dignified and courteous manners, and even the just moral feeling, displayed by these warlike strangers. They, on their side, expressed an ardent desire to open a communication with the sea and with the British, complaining that the turbulent Fantees opposed the only obstacle to so desirable a purpose. A treaty was concluded, and a thoroughly good understanding seemed established between the two nations. The Ashan

« AnteriorContinua »