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

Chapter 7.

Return to the River.

Early on the last morning in March we roused the Kru-men; they were eager as ourselves to leave the “bush,” and there was no delay in loading and the mission-boat. Forteune, Azízeh, and Asúnye were there to bid me God-speed, and Hotaloya did not fail to supply a fine example of Mpongwe irresolution.

That “sweet youth” had begged hard during the last week that I would take him to Fernando Po; carpenters were wanted for her Majesty’s consulate, and he seemed to jump at the monthly pay of seven dollars — a large sum in these regions. On the night before departure he had asked me for half a sovereign to leave with his wives, and he made me agree to an arrangement that they should receive two dollars per mensem. In the morning I had alluded to the natural sorrow which his better semi-halves must feel, although the absence of groaning and weeping was very suspicious, and I had asked in a friendly way, “Them woman he make bob too much?”

“Ye’, sar,” he replied with a full heart, “he cry too much.”

When the last batch had disappeared with the last box I walked up to him, and said, “Now, Andrews, you take hat, we go Gaboon.”

Hotaloya at once assumed the maudlin expression and insipid ricanement of the Hindú charged with “Sharm kí bát” (something shameful).

“Please, mas’r, I no can go — Nanny Po he be too far — I no look my fader (the villain had three), them boy he say I no look ‘um again!”

The wives had won the day, and words would have been vain. He promised hard to get leave from his papa and “grand-pap,” and to join me after a last farewell at the Plateau. His face gave the lie direct to his speech, and his little manœuvre for keeping the earnest-money failed ignobly.

The swift brown stream carried us at full speed. “Captain Merrick” pointed out sundry short cuts, but my brain now refused to admit as truth a word coming from a Mpongwe. We passed some bateaux pecheurs, saw sundry shoals of fish furrowing the water, and after two hours we were bumping on the rocks outlying Mombe Creek and Nenga Oga village. The passage of the estuary was now a pleasure, and though we grounded upon the shallows of “Voileliay Bay,” the Kru-men soon lifted the heavy boat; the wind was fair, the tide was ebbing, and the strong current was in our favour. We reached Glass Town before midday, and after five hours, covering some twenty-two direct geographical miles, I found myself with pleasure under the grateful shade of the Factory. It need hardly be described, as it is the usual “bungalow” of the West African shore.

Twelve days had been expended upon 120 miles, but I did not regret the loss. A beautiful bit of country had been added to my mental Pinacothek, and I had satisfied my mind to a certain extent upon that quæstio, then vexata, the “Gorilla Book.” Even before my trip the ethnological part appeared to me trustworthy, and, if not original, at any rate borrowed from the best sources. My journey assured me, from the specimen narrowly scrutinized, that both country and people are on the whole correctly described. The dates, however, are all in confusion: in the preface to the second edition, “October, 1859,” became “October, 1858,” and we are told that the excursions were transposed for the simple purpose of taking the reader from north to south. As in the case of most African travels, when instruments are not used, the distances must be reduced: in chapter xii. the Shekyani villages are placed sixty miles due east of Sánga-Tánga; whereas the map shows twenty. Mr. W. Wimvood Reade declares that the Apingi country, the ultima Thule of the explorer, is distant from Ngumbi “four foot-days’ journey;” as MM. de Compiègne and Marche have shown, the tribe in question extends far and wide. Others have asserted that seventy-five miles formed the maximum distance. But many of M. du Chaillu’s disputed distances have been proved tolerably correct by MM. Serval and Griffon du Bellay, who were sent by the French government in 1862 to survey the Ogobe. A second French expedition followed shortly afterwards, under the charge of MM. Labigot and Touchard; and finally that of 1873, like all preceding it, failed to find any serious deviation from fact.

The German exploring expedition (July 25, 1873) confirms the existence of M. du Chaillu’s dwarfs, the Obongo tribe, scoffed at in England because they dwell close to a fierce people of Patagonian proportions. The Germans report that they are called “Babongo,” “Vambuta,” and more commonly “Bari,” or “Bali;” they dwell fourteen days’ march from the mouth of the Luena, or River of Chinxoxo. I have not seen it remarked that these pygmies are mentioned by Andrew Battel Plinian at the end of the sixteenth century. “To the north-east of Mani Kesoch,” he tells us, “are a kind of little people called Matimbas, who are no bigger than boys twelve years old, but are very thick, and live only upon flesh, which they kill in the woods with bows and darts.” Of the Aykas south of the Welle River, discovered by Dr. Schweinfurth, I need hardly speak. It is not a little curious to find these confirmations of Herodotean reports about dwarfish tribes in the far interior, the Dokos and the Wabilikimo, so long current at Zanzibar Island, and so long looked upon as mere fables.

Our departure from Mbátá had broken the spell, and Forteune did keep his word; I was compelled in simple justice to cry “Peccavi.” On the very evening of our arrival at Glass Town the youth Kángá brought me a noble specimen of what he called a Nchígo Mpolo, sent by Forteune’s bushmen; an old male with brown eyes and dark pupils. When placed in an arm-chair, he ludicrously suggested a pot-bellied and patriarchal negro considerably the worse for liquor. From crown to sole he measured 4 feet 10 3/4 inches, and from finger-tip to finger-tip 6 feet 1 inch. The girth of the head round ears and eyebrows was 1 foot 11 inches; of the chest, 3 feet 2 inches; above the hip joints, 2 feet 4 inches; of the arms below the shoulder, 2 feet 5 inches; and of the legs, 2 feet 5 inches. Evidently these are very handsome proportions, considering what he was, and there was a suggestion of ear lobe which gave his countenance a peculiarly human look. He had not undergone the inhuman Hebrew–Abyssinian operation to which M. du Chaillu’s gorillas had been exposed, and the proportions rendered him exceedingly remarkable.

That interesting anthropoid’s career after death was one series of misfortunes, ending with being stuffed for the British Museum. My factotum sat up half the night skinning, but it was his first coup d’essai. In a climate like the Gaboon, especially during the rains, we should have turned the pelt “hairy side in,” filled it with cotton to prevent shrinking, and, after painting on arsenic, have exposed it to the sun: better still, we should have placed it on a scaffolding, like a defunct Congo-man, over a slow and smoky fire, and thus the fatty matter which abounds in the integuments would have been removed. The phalanges of the hands and feet, after being clean-scraped, were restored to their places, and wrapped with thin layers of arsenicated cotton, as is done to small animals, yet on the seventh day decomposition set in; it was found necessary to unsew the skin, and again to turn it inside out. The bones ought to have been removed, and not replaced till the coat was thoroughly dry. The skinned spoils were placed upon an ant-hill; a practice which recalls to mind the skeleton deer prepared by the emmets of the Hartz Forest, which taught Oken that the skull is(?) expanded vertebræ. We did not know that half-starved dogs and “drivers” will not respect even arsenical soap. The consequence of exposing the skeleton upon an ant-hill, where it ought to have been neatly cleaned during a night, was that the “Pariah” curs carried off sundry ribs, and the “parva magni formica laboris” took the trouble to devour the skin of a foot. Worse still: the skull, the brain, and the delicate members had been headed up in a breaker of trade rum, which was not changed till the seventh day. It was directed to an eminent member of the old Anthropological Society, and the most interesting parts arrived, I believe, soft, pulpy, and utterly useless. The subject seems to have been too sore for mentioning — at least, I never heard of it again.

The late Dr. John Edward Gray, of the British Museum, called this Nchígo Mpolo, from its bear-like masses of breast-pile, the “hairy Chimpanzee” (Troglodytes vellerosus). After my return home I paid it a visit, and could only think that the hirsute one was considerably “mutatus ab illo.” The colour had changed, and the broad-chested, square-framed, pot-bellied, and portly old bully-boy of the woods had become a wretched pigeon-breasted, lean — flanked, shrunk-linibed, hungry-looking beggar. It is a lesson to fill out the skin, even with bran or straw, if there be nothing better — anything, in fact, is preferable to allowing the shrinkage which ends in this wretched caricature.

During my stay at Glass Town I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of the Rev. Messrs. Walker and Preston, of the Baraka Mission. The head-quarter station of the American Board of Foreign (Presbyterian) Missions was established on the Gaboon River in 1842 by the Rev. J. Leighton Wilson, afterwards one of the secretaries to the Society in New York. He had left the best of memories in “the River,” and there were tales of his having manumitted in the Southern United States a small fortune of slaves without a shade of compulsion. His volume on West Africa, to which allusion has so often been made, contains a good bird’s-eye of the inter-tropical coast, and might, with order, arrangement, and correction of a host of minor inaccuracies, become a standard work.

I have already expressed my opinion, founded upon a sufficiently long experience, that the United States missionary is by far the best man for the Western Coast, and, indeed, for dangerous tropical countries generally. Physically he is spare and hard, the nervous temperament being more strongly developed in him than in the bulbous and more bilious or sanguine European. He is better born, and blood never fails to tell. Again, he generally adopts the profession from taste, not because il faut vivre. He is better bred; he knows the negro from his childhood, and his education is more practical, more generally useful than that of his rivals. Moreover, I never yet heard him exclaim, “Capting, them heggs is ‘igh!” Lastly he is more temperate and moderate in his diet: hitherto it has not been my fate to assist in carrying him to bed.

Perhaps the American missionary carries sobriety too far. In dangerous tropical regions, where there is little appetite and less nutritious diet, where exertion of mind and body easily exhaust vitality, and where “diffusible stimulants” must often take the place of solids, he dies first who drinks water. The second is the man who begins with an “eye-opener” of “brandy-pawnee,” and who keeps up excitement by the same means through the day. The third is the hygienic sciolist, who drinks on principle poor “Gladstone” and thin French wines, cheap and nasty; and the survivor is the man who enjoys a quantum suff. of humming Scotch and Burton ales, sherry, Madeira, and port, with a modicum of cognac. This has been my plan in the tropics from the beginning, when it was suggested to me by the simplest exercise of the reasoning faculties. “A dozen of good port will soon set you up!” said the surgeon to me after fever. Then why not drink port before the fever?

I have said something upon this subject in “Zanzibar City, Island, and Coast” (i. p. 180), it will bear repetition. Joseph Dupuis justly remarks: “I am satisfied, from my own experience, that many fall victims from the adoption of a course of training improperly termed prudential; viz. a sudden change of diet from ship’s fare to a scanty sustenance of vegetable matter (rejecting even a moderate proportion of wine), and seclusion in their apartments from the sun and atmosphere.”

An immense mass of nonsense, copied in one “authority” from another, was thrown before the public by books upon diet, until the “Physiology of Common Life” (George Henry Lewes) discussed Liebig’s brilliant error in considering food chemically, and not physiologically. The rest assume his classification without reserve, and work from the axiom that heat-making, carbonaceous and non-nitrogenous foods (e.g. fat and sugars), necessary to support life in the arctic and polar regions, must be exchanged for the tissue-making, plastic or nitrogenous (vegetables), as we approach the equator. They are right as far as the southern temperates, their sole field of observation; they greatly err in all except the hot, dry parts of the tropics. Why, a Hindoo will drink at a sitting a tumbler of glí (clarified butter), and the European who would train for wrestling after the fashion of Hindostan, as I attempted in my youth, on “native” sweetmeats and sugared milk, will be blind with “melancholia” in a week. The diet of the negro is the greasiest possible, witness his “palm-oil chop” and “palaver sauce;” his craving for meat, especially fat meat, is a feeling unknown to Europe. And how simple the reason. Damp heat demands almost as much carbon as damp or dry cold.

Return we to the Baraka Mission. The name is a corruption of “barracoon;” in the palmy days of the trade slave-pens occupied the ground now covered by the chapel, the schoolroom, and the dwelling-house, and extended over the site of the factory to the river-bank. The place is well chosen. Immediately beyond the shore the land swells up to a little rounded hill, clean and grassy like that about Sánga-Tánga. The soil appears poor, and yet around the mission-house there are some fine wild figs, one a huge tree, although not a score of years old; the bamboo clump is magnificent, and the cocoas, oranges, and mangoes are surrounded by thick, fragrant, and luxuriant quickset hedges of well-trimmed lime.

A few words concerning the banana of this coast, which we find so flourishing at Baraka. An immense god-send to the Gaboon, it is well known to be the most productive of all food, 100 square yards of it giving annually nearly 2,000 kilogrammes of food far more nutritious than the potato. Here it is the musa sapientum, the banana de Soâ Thomé, which has crossed over to the Brazil, and which is there known by its sharper leaves and fruit, softer and shorter than the indigenous growth. The plant everywhere is most vigorous in constant moist heat, the atmosphere of a conservatory, and the ground must be low and wet, but not swampy. The best way of planting the sprouts is so to dispose them that four may form the corners of a square measuring twelve feet each side; the common style is some five feet apart. The raceme, which appears about the sixth to the tenth month, will take sixty days more to ripen; good stocks produce three and more bunches a year, each weighing from twenty to eighty pounds. The stem, after fruiting, should be cut down, in order to let the others enjoy light and air, and the oftener the plants are removed to fresh ground the better.

The banana, when unripe, is white and insipid; it is then baked under ashes till it takes a golden colour, and, like a cereal, it can be eaten as bread. A little later it is boiled, and becomes a fair vegetable, tasting somewhat like chestnuts, and certainly better than carrots or turnips. Lastly, when softer than a pear, it is a fruit eaten with milk or made into beignets. I have described the plantain-cider in “Lake Regions of Central Africa” (ii. 287). The fruit contains sugar, gum, and acids (malic and gallic); the rind, which is easily detached when ripe, stains cloth with ruddy grey rusty colour, by its tannin, gallic, and acetic acids.

The Baraka Mission has had several out-stations. One was at a ruined village of Fán, which we shall presently pass on the right bank of the river. The second was at Ikoi, a hamlet distant about fifteen (not twenty-five) miles, upon a creek of the same name, which enters the Gaboon behind Point Ovindo, and almost opposite Konig Island. A third is at Anenge-nenge, vulgò Inenge-nenge — “nenge” in Mpongwe, and anenge in Bákele, meaning island — situated forty (not 100) miles up the main stream; here a native teacher still resides. The Baraka school now (1862) numbers thirty scholars, and there are twelve to fifteen communicants. The missionaries are our white “labourers;” but two of them, the Revs. Jacob Best and A. Bushnell, are absent in the United States for the benefit of their health.

My first visit to the Rev. William Walker made me regret my precipitate trip to Mbátá: he told me what I now knew, that it was the wrong line, and that I should have run two or three days up the Rembwe, the first large influent on the southern bank of the Gaboon. He had come out to the River in 1842, and had spent twenty years of his life in Africa, with occasional furloughs home. He greatly interested me by a work which he was preparing. The Gaboon Mission had begun its studies of the many native dialects by the usual preparatory process of writing grammars and vocabularies; after this they had published sundry fragmentary translations of the Scriptures, and now they aimed at something higher. After spending years in building and decorating the porticoes of language, they were ambitious of raising the edifice to which it is only an approach; in other words, of explaining the scholarship of the tongue, the spirit of the speech.

“Language,” says the lamented Dr. O.E. Vidal, then bishop designate of Sierra Leone,1 “is designed to give expression to thought. Hence, by examining the particular class of composition”— and, I may add, the grammatical and syntactical niceties characterizing that composition —“to which any given dialect has been especially devoted, we may trace the direction in which the current of thought is wont to flow amongst the tribe or nations in which it is vernacular, and so investigate the principal psychical peculiarities, if such there be, of that tribe or nation.” And again he remarks: “Dr. Krap was unable to find any word expressing the idea of gratitude in the language of all the Suaheli (Wásawahílí) tribes; a fact significant enough as to the total absence of the moral feeling denoted by that name.” Similarly the Mpongwe cannot express our “honesty;” they must paraphrase it by “good man don’t steal.” In time they possibly may adopt the word bodily like pús (a cat), amog (mug), kapinde (carpenter), krus (a cross), and ilepot (pot).

Such a task is difficult as it is interesting, the main obstacle to success being the almost insuperable difficulty of throwing off European ideas and modes of thought, which life-long habit has made a second nature. Take the instance borrowed from Dr. Krap, and noticed by a hundred writers, namely, the absence of a synonym for “gratitude” amongst the people of the nearer East. I have explained the truth of the case in my “Pilgrimage,” and it will bear explanation again. The Wásawahíli are Moslems, and the Moslem view everywhere is that the donor’s Maker, not the donor, gives the gift. The Arab therefore expresses his “Thank you!” by “Mamnún”— I am under an obligation (to your hand which has passed on the donation); he generally prefers, however, a short blessing, as “Kassir khayr’ ak” (may Allah) “increase thy weal!” The Persian’s “May thy shadow never be less!” simply refers to the shade which you, the towering tree, extend over him, the humble shrub.

Another instance of deduction distorted by current European ideas, is where Casalis (“Etudes sur la langue Séchuana,” par Eugène Casalis, part ii. p. 84), speaking of the Sisuto proverbs, makes them display the “vestiges of that universal conscience to which the Creator has committed the guidance of every intelligent creature.” Surely it is time to face the fact that conscience is a purely geographical and chronological accident. Where, may we ask, can be that innate and universal monitor in the case of a people, the Somal for instance, who rob like Spartans, holding theft a virtue; who lie like Trojans, without a vestige of appreciation for truth; and who hold the treacherous and cowardly murder of a sleeping guest to be the height of human honour? And what easier than to prove that there is no sin however infamous, no crime however abominable, which at some time or in some part of the world has been or is still held in the highest esteem? The utmost we can say is that conscience, the accident, flows directly from an essential. All races now known to the world have a something which they call right, and a something which they term wrong; the underlying instinctive idea being evidently that everything which benefits me is good, and all which harms me is evil. Their good and their evil are not those of more advanced nations; still the idea is there, and progress or tradition works it out in a thousand different ways.

My visits to Mr. Walker first gave me the idea of making the negro describe his own character in a collection of purely Hamitic proverbs and idioms. It appeared to me that, if ever a book aspires to the title of “l’Africain peint par lui-même,” it must be one in which he is the medium to his own spirit, the interpreter to his own thoughts. Hence “Wit and Wisdom from West Africa” (London, Tinsleys, 1856), which I still hold to be a step in the right direction, although critics, who possibly knew more of Cornhill than of Yoruba, assured me that it was “rather a heavy compilation.” Nor can I yet see how the light fantastic toe can show its agility in the sabots of African proverbs.

1 “Introductory Remarks to a Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language.” Seeleys, Fleet Street, London.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burton/richard/b97g/part1.7.html

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