Two Trips to Gorilla Land and the Cataracts of the Congo, by Richard F. Burton

Chapter 3.

Geography of the Gaboon.

Before going further afield I may be allowed a few observations, topographical and ethnological, about this highly interesting section of the West African coast.

The Gaboon country, to retain the now familiar term, although no one knows much about its derivation, is placed, by old travellers in “South Guinea,” the tract lying along the Ethiopic, or South Atlantic Ocean, limited by the Camarones Mountain-block in north latitude 4°, and by Cabo Negro in south latitude 15° 40’ 7”, a sea-line of nearly 1,200 miles. The Gaboon proper is included between the Camarones Mountains to the north, and the “Mayumba,“properly the “Yumba” country southwards, in south latitude 3° 22’ — a shore upwards of 400 miles long. The inland depth is undetermined; geographically we should limit it to the Western Ghats, which rarely recede more than 60 miles from the sea, and ethnologically no line can yet be drawn. The country is almost bisected by the equator, and by the Rio de Gabão, which discharges in north latitude 0° 21’ 25” and east longitude 9° 21’ 23”; and it corresponds in parallel with the Somali–Galla country and the Juba River on the east coast.

The general aspect of the region is prepossessing. It is a rolling surface sinking towards the Atlantic, in parts broken by hills and dwarf chains, either detached or pushed out by the Ghats; a land of short and abnormally broad rivers, which cannot, like the Congo, break through the ridges flanking the Central African basin, and which therefore are mere surface drains of the main ranges. The soil is mostly sandy, but a thin coat of rich vegetable humus, quickened by heavy rains and fiery suns, produces a luxuriant vegetation; whilst the proportion of area actually cultivated is nothing compared with the expanse of bush. In the tall forests, which abound in wild fruits, there are beautiful tracts of clear grassy land, and the woods, clear of undergrowth, resemble an English grove more than a tropical jungle. Horses, which die of the tsetse (Glossina morsitans) in the interior of North Guinea, and of damp heat at Fernando Po, thrive on its downs and savannahs. The Elais palm is rare, sufficing only for home use. The southern parts, about Cape Lopez and beyond it, resemble the Oil River country in the Biafran Bight: the land is a mass of mangrove swamps, and the climate is unfit for white men.

The Eastern Ghats were early known to the “Iberians,” as shown by the Sierra del Crystal, del Sal, del Sal Nitro and other names, probably so called from the abundance of quartz in blocks and veins that seam the granite, as we shall see in the Congo country, and possibly because they contain rock crystal. Although in many places they may be descried subtending the shore in lumpy lines like detached vertebræ, and are supposed to represent the Aranga Mons of Ptolemy, they are not noticed by Barbot. Between the Camarones River and Cape St. John (Corisco Bay), blue, rounded, and discontinuous masses, apparently wooded, rise before the mariner, and form, as will be seen, the western sub-ranges of the great basin-rim. To the north they probably anastomose with the Camarones, the Rumbi, the Kwa, the Fumbina north-east, and the Niger–Kong mountains.1

They are not wanting who declare them to be rich in precious metals. Some thirty years ago an American super-cargo ascended the Rembwe River, the south-eastern line of the Gaboon fork, and is said to have collected “dirt” which, tested at New York, produced 16 dollars per bushel. All the old residents in the Gaboon know the story of the gold dust. The prospector was the late Captain Richard E. Lawlin, of New York, who was employed by Messrs. Bishop of Philadelphia, the same house that commissioned the chasseur de gorilles to collect “rubber” for them, and who was so eminently useful to the young French traveller that the scant notice of his name is considered curious.

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Great would be my wonder if the West African as well as the East African Ghats did not prove auriferous; both fulfil all the required conditions, and both await actual discovery. The Mountains of the Moon, so frequently mentioned by M. du Chaillu and the Gaboon Mission, are doubtless the versants between the valleys of the Niger and the Congo. Lately Dr. Schweinfurth found an equatorial range which, stretching northwards towards the Bahr el Ghazal, was seen to trend westward. According to Mr. Consul Hutchinson (“Ten Years’ Wanderings among the Ethiopians,” p. 250), the Rev. Messrs. Mackey and Clemens, of the Corisco Mission “explored more than a hundred miles of country across the Sierra del Crystal Range of Mountains” — I am inclined to believe that a hundred miles from the coast was their furthest point. We shall presently travel towards this mysterious range, and there is no difficulty in passing it, except the utter want of a commercial road, and the wildness of tribes that have never sighted a traveller nor a civilized man.

The rivers of our region are of three kinds; little surface drains principally in the north; broad estuaries like the Mersey and many streams of Eastern Scotland in the central parts, and a single bed, the Ogobe, breaking through the subtending Ghats, and forming a huge lagoon-delta. Beginning at Camarones are the Boroa and Borba Waters, with the Rio de Campo, fifteen leagues further south; of these little is known, except that they fall into the Bight of Panari or Pannaria.

According to Barbot (iv. 9), the English charts give the name of Point Pan to a large deep bight in which lies the harbour-bay “Porto de Garapo” (Garápa, sugar-cane juice?); and he calls the two rounded hillocks, extending inland from Point Pan to the northern banks of the Rio de Campo, “Navia.” The unAfrican word Panari or Pannaria is probably a corruption of Páo de Nao, the bay north of Garapo, and “Navia.”

These small features are followed by the Rio de São Bento, improperly called in our charts the St. Benito, Bonito, Bonita, and Boneto; the native name is Lobei, and it traverses the Kombi country, — such is the extent of our information. The next is the well-known Muni, the Ntambounay of M. du Chaillu, generally called the Danger River, in old charts “Rio de São João,” and “Rio da Angra” (of the bight); an estuary which, like most of its kind, bifurcates above, and, receiving a number of little tributaries from the Sierra, forms a broad bed and empties itself through a mass of mangroves into the innermost north-eastern corner of Corisco Bay. This sag in the coast is formed by Ninje (Nenge the island?), or the Cabo de São João (Cape St. John) to the north, fronted south by a large square-headed block of land, whose point is called Cabo das Esteiras — of matting (Barbot’s Estyras), an article of trade in the olden time. The southern part receives the Munda (Moondah) river, a foul and unimportant stream, which has been occupied by the American missionaries.

We shall ascend the Gaboon estuary to its sources. South of it, a number of sweet little water-courses break the shore-line as far as the Nazareth River, which debouches north of Urungu, or Cape Lopez (Cabo de Lopo Gonsalvez), and which forms by anastomosing with a southern river the Ogobe (Ogowai of M. du Chaillu), a complicated delta whose sea-front extends from north to south, at least eighty miles. Beyond Cape Lopez is an outfall, known to Europeans as the Rio Mexias: it is apparently a mesh in the net-work of the Nazareth–Ogobe. The same may be said of the Rio Fernão Vaz, about 110 miles south of the Gaboon, and of yet another stream which, running lagoon-like some forty miles along the shore, has received in our maps the somewhat vague name of R. Rembo or River River. Orembo (Simpongwe) being the generic term for a stream or river, is applied emphatically to the Nkomo branch of the Gaboon, and to the Fernão Vaz.

The Ogobe is the only river between the Niger and the Congo which escapes, through favouring depressions, from the highlands flanking the great watery plateau of Inner Africa. By its plainly marked double seasons of flood at the equinoxes, and by the time of its low water, we prove that it drains the belt of calms, and the region immediately upon the equator. The explorations of Lieutenant Serval and others, in “Le Pionnier” river-steamer, give it an average breadth of 8,200 feet, though broken by sand-banks and islands; the depth in the main channel, which at times is narrow and difficult to find, averages between sixteen and forty-eight feet; and, in the dry season of 1862, the vessel ran up sixty English miles.

Before M. du Chaillu’s expeditions, “the rivers known to Europeans,” he tells us in his Preface (“First Journey,” p. iv.), “as the Nazareth, Mexias, and Fernam Vaz, were supposed to be three distinct streams.” In 1817 Bowdich identified the “Ogoowai” with the Congo, and the Rev. Mr. Wilson (p. 284) shows us the small amount of knowledge that existed even amongst experts, five years before the “Gorilla book” appeared. “From Cape Lopez, where the Nazareth debouches, there is a narrow lagoon running along the sea-coast, and very near to it, all the way to Mayumba. This lagoon is much traversed by boats and canoes, and, when the slave-trade was in vigorous operation, it afforded the Portuguese traders great facilities for eluding the vigilance of British cruizers, by shifting their slaves from point to point, and embarking them, according to a preconcerted plan.”

M. du Chaillu first proved that the Ogobe was formed by two forks, the northern, or Rembo Okanda, and the southern, or Rembo Nguye. The former is the more important. Mr. R.S.N. Walker found this stream above the confluence to be from 1,800 to 2,100 feet wide, though half the bed was occupied by bare sand-banks. Higher up, where rocks and rapids interfered with the boat-voyage, the current was considerable, but the breadth diminished to 600 feet. The southern branch (also written Ngunië) was found in Apono Land (S. lat. 2°), about the breadth of the Thames at London Bridge, 700 feet. In June the depth was ten to fifteen feet, to which the rainy season added ten.

M. du Chaillu also established the facts that the Nazareth river was the northern arm of the Delta, and that the Fernão Vaz anastomosed with the Delta’s southern arm.

The only pelagic islands off the Gaboon coast are the Brancas, Great and Little; Corisco Island, which we shall presently visit; Great and Little Elobi, called by old travellers Mosquito Islands, probably for “Moucheron,” a Dutchman who lost his ship there in 1600. The land about the mouths of the Ogobe is a mass of mangrove swamps, like the Nigerian Delta, which high tides convert into insular ground; these, however, must be considered terra firma in its infancy. The riverine islands of the Gaboon proper will be noticed as we ascend the bed.

Pongo-land ignores all such artificial partitions as districts or parishes; the only divisions are the countries occupied by the several tribes.

The Gaboon lies in “Africa-on-the-Line,” and a description of the year at Zanzibar Island applies to it in many points.2 The characteristic of this equatorial belt is uniformity of temperature: whilst the Arabian and the Australian deserts often show a variation of 50° Fahr. in a single day, the yearly range of the mercury at Singapore is about 10°. The four seasons of the temperates are utterly unknown to the heart of the tropics — even in Hindostan the poet who would sing, for instance, the charms of spring must borrow the latter word (Buhar) from the Persian. If the “bull” be allowed, the only rule here appears to be one of exceptions. The traveller is always assured that this time there have been no rains, or no dries, or no tornadoes, or one or all in excess, till at last he comes to the conclusion that the Clerk of the Weather must have mislaid his ledger. Contrary to the popular idea, which has descended to us from the classics, the climate under the Line is not of that torrid heat which a vertical sun suggests; the burning zone of the Old World begins in the northern hemisphere, where the regular rains do not extend, beyond the tenth as far as the twenty-fifth degree. The equatorial climate is essentially temperate: for instance, the heat of Sumatra, lying almost under the Line, rarely exceeds 24° R.= 86° Fahr. In the Gaboon the thermometer ranges from 65° to 90° Fahr., “a degree of heat,” says Dr. Ford, “less than in many salubrious localities in other parts of the world.”

Upon the Gaboon the wet seasons are synchronous with the vertical suns at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. “The rainy season of a place within the tropics always begins when the sun has reached the zenith of that place. Then the tradewinds, blowing regularly at other seasons, become gradually weaker, and at length cease and give way to variable winds and calms. The trade-wind no longer brings its regular supply of cooler, drier air; the rising heats and calms favour an ascending current” (in the sea-depths, I may add, as well as on land), “which bears the damp air into the upper regions of the atmosphere, there to be cooled, and to occasion the heavy down-pour of each afternoon. The nights and mornings are for the most part bright and clear. When the sun moves away from the zenith, the trade-winds again begin to be felt, and bring with them the dry season of the year, during which hardly ever a cloud disturbs the serenity of the skies.

“Between the tropical limits and the equator, however, the sun comes twice to the zenith of each place. If now, between the going and coming of the sun, from the Line to its furthest range, a sufficient pause intervenes, or if the sun’s temporary distance from the zenith is great enough, the rainy season is divided into two portions, separated by a lesser dry season. Closer to the tropical lines, where the sun remains but once in the zenith, the rainy season is a continuous one.”

Such is the theory of the “Allgemeine Erdkunde” (Hahn, Hochstetter and Pokorny, Prague, 1872). An explanation should be added of the reason why the cool wind ceases to blow, at the time when the air, heated and raised by a perpendicular sun, might be expected to cause a greater indraught. We at once, I have said, recognize its correctness at sea. The Gaboon, “in the belt of calms, with rain during the whole year,” has two distinctly marked dry seasons, at the vernal and the autumnal equinoxes. The former or early rains (Nchangyá?) are expected to begin in February, with violent tornadoes and storms, especially at the full and change, and to end in April. The heavy downfalls are mostly at night, possibly an effect of the Sierra del Crystal. I found March 28th (1862) very like damp weather at the end of an English May; April 6th was equally exceptional, raining from dawn to evening. During my trip to Sánga-Tánga and back (March 25th to 29th) we had frequent fogs, locally called “smokes,” and almost daily tornadoes, sometimes from the south-east, whilst the lightning was dangerous as upon the Western prairies. After an interval of fiery sun, with occasional rain torrents and discharges of electricity, begin the Enomo (Enun?), the “middle” or long dries, which last four months to September. The “Enomo” is the Angolan Cacimbo, meaning cool and cloudy weather, when no umbrella is required, and when the invariably grey sky rarely rains. Travellers are told that June and July are the cream of the year, the healthiest time for seasoned Europeans, and this phantom of a winter renders the climate more supportable to the northern constitution.

During the “middle dries,” when the sun, retiring to the summer solstice, is most distant, land winds and sea breezes are strong and regular, and the people suffer severely from cold. In the Gaboon heavy showers sometimes fall, July being the least subject to them, and the fiery sun, when it can disperse the clouds, turns the soil to dust. At the end of September appear the “latter rains,” which are the more copious, as they seldom last more than six hours at a time. It is erroneous to assert that “the tract nearest the equator on both sides has the longest rainy season;” the measure chiefly depends upon altitude and other local conditions.

The rainy seasons are healthier for the natives than the cold seasons; and the explorer is often urged to take advantage of them. He must, however, consult local experience. Whilst ascending rivers in November, for instance, he may find the many feet of flood a boon or a bane, and his marching journeys are nearly sure to end in ulcerated feet, as was the case with poor Dr. Livingstone. The rains drench the country till the latter end of December, when the Nángá or “little dries” set in for two months. The latter also are not unbroken by storms and showers, and they end with tornadoes, which this year (1862) have been unusually frequent and violent. Thus we may distribute the twelve months into six of rains, vernal and autumnal, and six of dry weather, æstival and hibernal: the following table will show the sub-sections:—

Early December to early February, the “little dries;” February to early April, the “former,” early or spring rains; May to early June, the variable weather; June to early September, the Cacimbo, Enomo, long or middle dries; September to early December, the “latter rains.”

Under such media the disease, par excellence, of the Gaboon is the paroxysm which is variously called Coast, African, Guinea, and Bullom fever. Dr. Ford, who has written a useful treatise upon the subject,3 finds hebdomadal periodicity in the attacks, and lays great stress upon this point of chronothermalism. He recognizes the normal stages, preparatory, invasional, reactionary, and resolutionary. Like Drs. Livingstone and Hutchinson, he holds fever and quinine “incompatibles,” and he highly approves of the prophylactic adhibition of chinchona used by the unfortunate Douville in 1828. Experience in his own person and in numerous patients “proves all theoretical objections to the use of six grains an hour, or fifty and sixty grains of quinine in one day or remission to be absolutely imaginary.” He is “convinced that it is not a stimulant,” and with many apologies he cautiously sanctions alcohol, which should often be the physician’s mainstay. As he advocated ten-grain doses of calomel by way of preliminary cathartic, the American missionaries stationed on the River have adopted a treatment still more “severe”— quinine till deafness ensues, and half a handful of mercury, often continued till a passage opens through the palate, placing mouth and nose in directer communication. Dr. Ford also recommends during the invasion or period of chills external friction of mustard or of fresh red pepper either in tincture or in powder, a good alleviator always procurable; and the internal use of pepper-tea, to bring on the stages of reaction and resolution. Few will agree with him that gruels and farinaceous articles are advisable during intermissions, when the patient craves for port, essence of beef, and consomme; nor can we readily admit the dictum that in the tropics “the most wholesome diet, without doubt, is chiefly vegetable.” Despite Jacquemont and all the rice-eaters, I cry beef and beer for ever and everywhere! Many can testify personally to the value of the unofficinal prescription which he offers in cases of severe lichen (prickly heat), leading to impetigo. It is as follows, and it is valuable:—

Cold cream. . . . . . . . .. 3j.
Glycerine. . . . . . . . .. 3j.
Chloroform. . . . . . . . .3ij.
Oil of bitter almonds.. gtt. x.

1 “Abeokuta and the Camaroons Mountains,” vol. ii. chap. i. London: Tinsleys, 1863.

2 See “Zanzibar City, Island, and Coast,” vol. i. chap. v sect. 2.

3 “Observations on the Fevers of the West African Coast.” New York: Jenkins, 1856. A more valuable work is the “Medical Topography, &c. of West Africa,” by the late W.F. Daniell, M.D., 1849. Finally, Mr. Consul Hutchinson offered valuable suggestions in his work on the Niger Expedition of 1854–5 (Longmans, 1855, and republished in the “Traveller’s Library”).

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burton/richard/b97g/part1.3.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31