Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

was informed that a present was on its way to him, and he feasted his imagination on the idea of some rich dress or golden ornament; instead of which, the whole consisted of a crust of bread, a dried fish, and sour milk. He had the boldness to remonstrate with the king on this donation, deelaring, that in course of travelling over the whole world, he had never received the like; and his majesty, instead of being incensed, began to extend to him some measure of bounty. Ibn Batuta, however, was disgusted by the abject homage paid to this monarch, as it still is to the native princes of Africa; the courtiers, as they approached, casting dust on their heads, throwing themselves prostrate and grovelling on the earth,--a degradation which he had never witnessed in the most despotic courts of the East. Yet justice is admitted to have been most strictly administered, and property to be perfectly secure; as a proof of which, merchants from the most distant country, who died at Mali, were as assured of leaving their inheritance to their posterity as if it had been deposited at home. The traveller was astonished by the immense bulk of the trees of this region, in the hollow trunk of one of which he observed a weaver plying his trade.

Ibn Batuta on this part of his journey saw the Niger; and the view necessarily led to a conclusion opposite to that hitherto entertained by his countrymen, who considered it as flowing westward to the ocean. Destitute of all opportunity of complete observation, he fell into the opposite error, since prevalent in Northern Africa, and identified it with the Nile. He supposed it to flow by Timbuctoo, Kakaw (Kuku?), Yuwi (seemingly the Yeou, or river of Bornou), and then by Nubia to Egypt.

From Mali our traveller turned northward to Timbuctoo. This city was then subject to the former, governed by a negro viceroy, and far from possessing the celebrity and importance which it has since attained. The town is described as being chiefly peopled by merchants from Latham, but what particular country that was it appears now impossible to conjecture. He next proceeded eastward by Kakaw, Bardama, and Nakda, where he seems to have been near Nubia, but gives no farther details till he again arrived at Fez.

About two centuries after Ibn Batuta, a very full de

nus.

scription of Africa was furnished by a geographer named Leo, who was even honoured with the surname of Africa

He was a native of Granada, but after the capture of that city by Ferdinand, repaired to Fez; and in that once eminent school, applied himself to acquire a knowledge of Arabic learning and of the African continent. He afterward travelled through a great part of the interior, and, having repaired to Rome, wrote his description of Africa under the auspices of Leo X. It appears, that since the time of Edrisi, one of those revolutions to which barbarous states are liable had greatly changed the aspect of these countries. Timbuctoo, which at the former period either did not exist, or was not thought worthy of mention, had now risen to be the most powerful of the interior kingdoms, and the great centre of commerce and wealth. Ghana, once possessed of imperial greatness, had already changed its name to Kano, and was ranked as tributary to Timbuctoo. Bornou appears under its old appellation; and several kingdoms which have since held a conspicuous place are mentioned for the first time,-Casena or Cassina (Kashna), Zegzeg, Zanfara, and Guber. Gago, represented as being four hundred miles south-east of Timbuctoo, is evidently Eyeo, lately visited by Clapperton. Ghinea, or Gheneoa, described as a city of great commerce and splendour, has been supposed to be Ghana; but I think it is evidently Jenne, which Park found to be the largest and most flourishing city of Bambarra. At Timbuctoo many of the merchants were extremely opulent, and two of them had obtained princesses in marriage. Literature was cultivated with ardour, and manuscripts bore a higher price than any other commodity. Izchia, the king, who had been successful in subduing all the neighbouring countries, maintained an army of 3000 horse, and a numerous infantry, partly armed with poisoned arrows. Gold, for which Timbuctoo had now become the chief mart, was lavishly employed in the ornament of his court and person. He displayed solid masses, larger even than the one at Ghana, and some of his ornaments weigehd 1300 ounces. The royal palace and several mosques were handsomely built of stone; but the ordinary habitations here, as in all Central Africa, were merely bell-shaped huts, the materials of which were stakes, elay, and reeds.

CHAPTER IV.

Portuguese Discoveries. Europe, for ten centuries, during the decline of the Ro. man empire, the irruption of the barbarous nations, and the operation of the rude systems of feudal polity, remained sunk in profound apathy respecting all objects relating to science, discovery, and distant commerce. The splendour of the Crescent for a short interval outshone all that was brightest in the Christian world; and the courts of Bagdad, of Fez, and of Cordova were more refined and more en. lightened than those of London and Paris. At a somewhat early period, it is true, the Hanse Towns and the Italian republics began to cultivate manufactures and commerce, and to lay the foundation of a still higher prosperity ; but they carried on chiefly an inland or coasting trade. The naval efforts even of Venice and Genoa extended no farther than to bring from Alexandria and the shores of the Black Sea the commodities of India, which had been con. veyed thither chiefly by caravans overland. Satisfied with the wealth and power to which they had been raised by this local and limited commerce, these celebrated republics m zde no attempt to open a more extended path over the ocean. Their pilots, indeed, guided most of the vessels which were engaged in the early voyages of discovery; but they were employed, and the means furnished, by the great monarchs whose ports were situated upon the shores of the Atlantic.

About the end of the fifteenth century, the human mind began to make a grand movement in every direction; in religion, science, freedom, and industry. It eagerly sought, not only to break loose from that thraldom in which it had been bound for so many ages, but to rival and even surpass all that had been achieved during the most brilliant eras of antiquity. These high aims were peculiarly directed to the department of maritime discovery. The invention of the compass, the skill of the Venetian and Genoese pilots, and the knowledge transmitted from former times, inspired mankind with the hope of being able to pass all the ancient barriers, and to throw light upon regions hitherto unknown. A small power, long sunk in apathy and political degradation, started first in this career, and took the lead for a certain time of all the European states. Portugal, during the reign of its kings John and Emmanuel, stood pre-eminent in enterprise and intelligence. Prince Henry, in particular, a younger son of John I., devoted all his thoughts and his whole life to the promotion of naval undertakings. No idea, however, was yet entertained of the new worlds which were afterward discovered by the daring spirit of Columbus. The local position of Portugal, its wars and expeditions against Morocco, led to the idea that the western border of Africa was the best field for discovery. The information respecting this coast was still very limited; so that the passage of Cape Bojador by Gilianez, in 1433, caused a surprise and admiration almost equal to what were afterward excited by the discovery of America. A rapid progress was afterward made along the shore of the Sahara, and the Portuguese navigators were not long in reaching the fertile regions watered by the Senegal and the Gambia.

The early part of this progress was dreary in the extreme. The mariners saw only naked rocks and burning sands, stretching immeasurably into the interior, and affording no encouragement to any project of settlement. Beyond Cape Blanco, however, Nuno Tristan, in 1443, discovered the island of Arguin; and notwithstanding the disaster of Gonzalo da Cintra, who, in 1445, was killed by a party of Moors, the Portuguese made it for some time their principal establishment. The country was far from presenting a brilliant aspect, though it was visited by caravans of the “Brabariis and Luddaias” (the people of Bambarra and Ludamar), who gave a very favourable report of the interior regions. Besides the expected accession to the power and splendour of the monarchy, the Portuguese cherished another object still more fondly. They hoped to open an intercourse with a prince, or person, of whom they had heard much under the mysterious appellation of Prester John. This singular name seems to have been first introduced by travellers from Eastern Asia, where it had been applied to some Nestorian bishop, who held there a species of sovereignty; and as soon as ru

mours arrived of the Christian king of Abyssinia, he was concluded to be the real Prester John. His dominions being reported to stretch far inland, and as the breadth of the African continent was very imperfectly understood, the conclusion was formed, that a mission from the western coast might easily reach his capital. What were the precise expectations formed from an intercourse with this personage does not fully appear ; but it seems to have been thoroughly rooted in the minds of the Portuguese, that they would be raised to a matchless height of glory and felicity, if they could by any means arrive at the court of Prester John. The principal instruction given to all officers employed in African service was, that, in every quarter and by every means, they should endeavour to effect this grand discovery. They accordingly never failed to put the question to all the wanderers of the desert, and to every caravan that came from the interior ; but in vain-the name of Prester John had never been heard. The Portuguese then besought the natives, at all events, into whatever region their journeys might lead them, studiously to inquire if Prester John was there, or if any one knew where he was to be found ; and, on the promise of a splendid reward in case of success, this was readily undertaken.

In 1446, Diniz Fernandez discovered Cape Verd, and in the following year Lancelot entered the Senegal. The Portuguese found in this neighbourhood fertile and populous regions, that promised to reward their exertions much more effectually than the visionary name after which they had so eagerly inquired. A circumstance occurred, also, most convenient for monarchs who contemplate an extension of dominion. Bemoy, a prince of the Jaloff nation, came to Arguin, complaining that he had been driven from the throne, and entreating the aid of the Portuguese to restore to him his crown, which he was willing to wear as their ally, and even as their vassal. Bemoy was received with open arms, and conveyed to Lisbon.

Here he experienced a brilliant reception, and his visit was celebrated by all the festal exhibitions peculiar to that age--bullfights, puppet-shows, and even feats of dogs. On this occasion Bemoy made a display of the agility of his native attendants, who, on foot, kept pace with the swiftest horses,

E

« AnteriorContinua »