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

Chapter 2.

To São Paulo De Loanda.

At Loango, by invitation of Commander Hoskins, R.N., I transferred myself on board H.M. Steamship “Zebra,” one of the nymphs of the British navy, and began the 240 miles southwards. There was no wind except a slant at sunset, and the current often carried us as far backwards as the sails drove us onwards. The philosophic landlubber often wonders at the eternal restlessness of his naval brother-man, who ever sighs for a strong wind to make the port, and who in port is ever anxious to get out of it. I amused myself in the intervals of study with watching the huge gulls, which are skinned and found good food at Fernando Po, and in collecting the paper-nautilus. The Ocythoë Cranchii was often found inside the shell, and the sea was streaked as with cotton-flecks by lines of eggs several inches long, a mass of mucus with fine membraneous structure adhering to the rocks, and coagulating in spirits or salt water. The drum-fish was not heard except when we were at anchor; its sound somewhat suggests a distant frog-concert, and I soon learned to enjoy what M. Dufosse has learnedly named “ichthyopsophosis,” the song of the fish. Passing Cabinda, 57 miles from Loanda, but barely in sight, we fell in with H.M. Steamship “Espoir,” Commander Douglas, who had just made his second capture of a slave-schooner carrying some 500 head of Congos. In these advanced days, the representative man walks up to you as you come on board; touches his cap or his wool, and expresses his best thanks in West Coast English; when you offer him a dram he compares it with the trade article which “only ‘ting, he no burn.” The characteristic sights are the captured Moleques or negrokins, who, habited in sacks to the knees, choose an M.C. to beat time, whilst they sing in chorus, extending the right arm, and foully abusing their late masters, who skulk about the forecastle.

Ten days sped by before we sighted the beginning of the end, Cape Spilemberta and Dande Point, two bluffs in distinct serrations; the aspect of the land was pleasant, a vista of tall cliffs, white or red, rising wall-like from a purple sea, jagged with sharp, black reef and “diabolito,” and bearing on the summit a plateau well grown with grass and tree. We then opened a deep bight, which has the honour of being entitled the longest indentation from Cape Lopez to Great Fish Bay, some 17° or a thousand miles of coast. A gap in the cliff line and darker vegetation showed the Zenza River, generally called Bengo from the district (Icolo e Bengo) which it traverses. Here was once a busy settlement much frequented by shipping, which thus escaped harbour dues. The mosquito-haunted stream, clear in the dries, and, as usual, muddy during the rains, supports wild duck, and, carried some ten miles in “dongos” or flat-bottomed boats, supplies the capital of Angola with drinking water and dysentery.

image

As we glide towards the anchorage two features attract my attention: the Morro or hill-ridge on the mainland, and the narrow strip which forms the harbour. The escarpment, sweeping from a meridian to a parallel, juts westward in the bluff Cape Lagostas (Lobsters), a many-coloured face, in places not unlike the white cliffs of Dover; it then trends from north-east to south-west, bending at last in a picturesque bow, with a shallow sag. The material is the tauá or blood-red marl of the Brazil, banded with white and brown, green, chocolate, and yellow; huge heaps of “rotten earth,” washed down by the rains, cumber the base of the ruined sea-wall north of the town; in front is a pellucid sea with the usual trimmings, while behind roll the upland stubbles of autumn, here mottled black with fire, there scattered with the wild ficus and the cashew, a traveller from the opposite hemisphere.

The Ilha de Loanda, which gave its name to the city, according to Mr. W. Winwood Reade (“Savage Africa,” chapter xxv.), is “derived from a native word meaning bald:” I believe it to be the Angolan Luánda, or tribute. Forming the best harbour of the South African coast, it is made by the missionaries of the seventeenth century to extend some ten leagues long. James Barbot’s plan (A.D. 1700) shows seven leagues by one in breadth, disposed from north-east to south-west, and, in the latter direction, fitting into the “Mar Aparcelado” or shoaly sea, a curious hook-shaped bight with a southern entrance, the “Barra de Curinba” (Corimba). But the influences which formed the island, or rather islands (for there are two) have increased the growth, reducing the harbour to three and a half miles by two in breadth, and they are still contracting it; even in the early nineteenth century large ships floated off the custom house, and it is dry land where boats once rode. Dr. Livingstone (“First Expedition,” chapter xx.) believes the causa causans to be the sand swept over the southern part of the island: Douville more justly concludes that it is the gift of the Cuanza River, whose mud and ooze, silt and débris are swept north by the great Atlantic current. Others suppose that it results from the meeting of the Cuanza and the Bengo streams; but the latter outfall would be carried up coast. The people add the washings of the Morro, and the sand and dust of the sea-shore south of the city.

This excellent natural breakwater perfectly shelters the shipping from the “calemas,” or perilous breakers on the seaward side, and the surface is dotted with huts and groves, gardens and palm orchards. At the Ponta do Norte once stood a fort appropriately called Na. Sa. Flór de Rosa; it has wholly disappeared, but lately, when digging near the sea, heaps of building stone were found. Barbot here shows a “toll-house to collect the customs,” and at the southern extremity a star-shaped “Fort Fernand.”

This island was the earliest of Portuguese conquests on this part of the coast. The Conquistador Paulo Dias de Novaes, a grandson of Bartholomeo Dias, was sent a second time, in A.D. 1575, to treat with the king of “Dongo,” who caused trouble to trade. Accompanied by 700 Portuguese, he reached the Cuanza River, coasted north, and entered by the Barra de Corimba, then accessible to caravels. He landed without opposition amongst a population already Christianized, and, after occupying for a few months the island, which then belonged to Congo, he founded, during the next year, the Villa de São Paulo de Loanda on the mainland.

The importance of the island arose from its being the great money bank of the natives, who here collected the zimbo, buzio, cowrie, or cypræa moneta. Ample details concerning this industry are given by the old writers. The shell was considered superior to the “impure or Braziles,” brought from the opposite Bahia (de Todos os Santos), though much coarser than the small Indian, and not better than the large blue Zanzibar. M. Du Chaillu (“Second Expedition,” chap, iv.) owns to having been puzzled whence to derive the four sacred cowries: “They are unknown on the Fernand Vaz, and I believe them to have come across the continent from eastern Africa.” There are, indeed, few things which have travelled so far and have lasted so long as cowries — they have been found even amongst “Anglo–Saxon” remains.

The modern Muxi–Loandas hold aloof from the shore-folk, who return the compliment in kind. They dress comparatively well, and they spend considerable sums in their half-heathen lembamentos (marriages) and mutambé (funerals).

As might be expected, after three centuries of occupation, the Portuguese, both in East and West Africa, have naturalized a multitude of native words, supplying them with a Lusitanian termination. The practice is very useful to the traveller, and the despair of the lexicographer. During the matumbé the relations “wake” the toasted, swaddled, and aromatized corpse with a singular vigour of drink and general debauchery.

I arrived with curiosity at the capital of Angola, the first Portuguese colony visited by me in West Africa. The site is pleasing and picturesque, contrasting favourably with all our English settlements and with the French Gaboon; for the first time after leaving Teneriffe, I saw something like a city. The escarpment and the sea-bordering shelf, allowing a double town like Athenæ or Thebæ, a Cidade Alta and a Cidade Baixa, are favourites with the Lusitanians from Lisbon to the China seas, and African São Paulo is reflected in the Brazilian Bahia. So Greece affected the Acropolis, and Rome everywhere sought to build a Capitol. The two lines follow the shore from north-east to south-west, and they form a graceful amphitheatre by bending westward at the jutting headland, Morro de São Miguel, of old de São Paulo. Three hundred years of possession have built forts and batteries, churches and chapels, public buildings and large private houses,white or yellow, withample green verandahs — each an ugly cube, but massing well together. The general decline of trade since 1825, and especially the loss of the lucrative slave export, leave many large tenements unfinished or uninhabited, while the aspect is as if a bombardment had lately taken place. Africa shows herself in heaps of filthy hovels, wattle and daub and dingy thatch; in “umbrella-trees” (ficus), acacias and calabashes, palms and cotton-trees, all wilted, stunted, and dusty as at Cairo. We are in the latitude of East African Kilwa and of Brazilian Pernambuco; but this is a lee-land, and the suffering is from drought. Yet, curious to say, the flora, as will appear, is here richer than in the well-watered eastern regions.

Steaming onwards, at one mile off shore, we turned from south-east to south-west, and presently rounded the north-east point of Loanda Island, where a moored boat and a lantern showed the way. We passed the first fort, São Pedro do Morro (da Cassandama), which reminded me of the Aguada at the mouth of Goa Harbour. The two bastions and their batteries date from A.D. 1700, and have been useful in administering a strongish hint — in A.D. 1826 they fired into Captain Owen. The next work is the little four-gun work, Na. Sa. da Conceição. We anchored in five fathoms about 1,200 yards off shore, in company with some fifteen craft, large and small, including a neat despatch cruizer, built after the “Nimrod” model. Fort São Francisco, called “do Penedo,” because founded upon and let into a rock, with the double-tiered batteries à la Vauban, carefully whitewashed and subtended by any amount of dead ground, commands the anchorage and the northern road, where strings of carregadores, like driver-ants, fetch and carry provisions to town. A narrow causeway connects with the gate, where blacks on guard lounge in fantastic uniform, and below the works are the coal-sheds. Here the first turf was lately turned by an English commodore — this tramway was intended to connect with the water edge, and eventually to reach the Cuanza at Calumbo. So Portugal began the rail system in West Africa.

The city was preparing for her ecclesiastical festival, and I went ashore at once to see her at her best. The landing-place is poor and mean, and the dusty and sandy walk is garnished with a single row of that funereal shrub, the milky euphorbia. The first sensation came from the pillars of an unfinished house —

“Care colonne, che fate quà?

— Non sappiamo in verità!”

The Ponta de Isabel showed the passeio, or promenade, with two brick ruins: its “five hundred fruit-trees of various descriptions” have gone the way of the camphor, the tea-shrub, and the incense-tree, said to have been introduced by the Jesuits. “The five pleasant walks, of which the central one has nine terraces, with a pyramid at each extremity, and leads to the Casa de Recreio, or pleasure-house of the governor-general, erected in 1817 by Governor Vice–Admiral Luiz da Motta Feio,” have insensibly faded away; the land is a waste, poor grazing ground for cattle landed from the south coast, whilst negrokins scream and splash in the adjoining sea.

Beyond the Government gardens appears the old Ermida (chapel), Na Sa. da Nazareth, which English writers have dubbed, after Madeiran fashion, the Convent. The frontage is mean as that of colonial ecclesiastical buildings in general, and even the epauletted façades of old São Paulo do not deserve a description. Here, according to local tradition, was buried the head of the “intrepid and arrogant king of Congo,” Dom Antonio, whose 100,000 warriors were defeated at Ambuilla (Jan. ist, 1666) by Captain Luiz Lopes de Sequeira, the good soldier who lost his life, by a Portuguese hand, at the battle of Matamba (Sept. 4th, 1681). A picture in Dutch tiles (azulejos) was placed on the right side of the altar to commemorate the feat.

After the Ermida are more ruined houses and ragged plantations upon the narrow shelf between the sea-cliff and the sea: they lead to the hot and unhealthy low town skirting the harbour, a single street with small offsets. A sandy strip spotted with cocoa-nuts, represents the Praia do Bungo (Bungo Beach), perhaps corrupted from Bunghi, a praça, or square; it debouches upon the Quitanda Pequena, a succursale market-place, where, on working-days, cloth and beads, dried peppers, and watered rum are sold. Then come a single large building containing the Trem, or arsenal, the cavalry barracks, the “central post-office,” and the alfandega, or custom-house, which has a poor platform, but no pier. The stables lodge some half-a-dozen horses used by mounted orderlies — they thrive, and, to judge from their high spirits, the climate suits them. In Captain Owen’s time (A.D. 1826) there was “a respectable corps of cavalry.”

Passing the acting cathedral for the See of Angola and Congo, which deserves no notice, you reach the Quitanda Grande, where business is brisker. There is a sufficiency of beef and mutton, the latter being thin-tailed, and not “five-quartered.” Fish is wisely preferred to meat by the white man, “affirming that it is much easier digested;” and a kind of herring, and the sparus known upon the Brazilian coast as the “tainha,” the West African “vela,” and the French “mulet,” at times superabound. All the tropical fruits flourish, especially the orange; the exotic vegetables are large and sightly, but tasteless and insipid, especially peas and radishes: the indigenous, as tomatoes, are excellent, but the list is small. Gardens are rare where the soil is so thin, and the indispensable irrigation costs money. The people still “choke for want of water,” which must be bought: there is only one good well sunk in the upper town, about 1840, when the Conde de Bomfim was Minister of Marine and the Colonies — it is a preserve for government officials. Living in the native style is cheap; but cooks are hardly procurable, and a decent table is more expensive than in an English country town. A single store (M. Schutz) supplies “Europe” articles, of course at fancy prices, and here a travelling outfit may be bought. It has been remarked that Loanda has no shop that sells “food for the mind;” this is applicable, not only to all East and West Africa, but to places far more progressive. A kind of cafe-billard supplies a lounge and tepid beer. The attendants in Portuguese houses are slaves; the few English prefer Cabindas, a rude form of the rude Kru-boy, and the lowest pay of the lowest labourer is 5d. per diem.

The “Calçada Nova,” a fine old paved “ramp”— to speak Gibraltar–English — connects Basse Ville and Hauteville. The latter was once a scatter of huge if not magnificent buildings, now in ruins; we shall pass through it en route to Calumbo. Here are the remains of the three chief convents, the Jesuit, the Carmelite, and the Third Order of St. Francis. The citadel de São Miguel, lately blown up, has been restored; the extensive works of dressed freestone, carefully whitewashed, stand out conspicuously from the dark bush dotting the escarpment top. Here also is the Alto das Cruzes, the great cemetery, and the view from the sheer and far-jutting headland is admirable. A stroll over this cool and comparatively healthy escarpment ended by leaving a card at the Paço do Governo.

Lopes de Lima (vol. iii. part ii.) gives São Paulo in 1846 a total of 5,065 whites, mulattoes, and blacks, distributed into 1,176 hearths; the census of 1850–51 raised the number to 12,000, including 7,000 negroes, of whom 5,000 were serviles; in 1863 the figure was understood to have diminished rather than to have increased. Old authors divided the population into five orders. The first was of ecclesiastics, the second contained those who were settled for command or trade, and the third were convicts, especially new Christians of Jewish blood, who were prevented from attending the sacred functions for a scandalous reason. Then ranked the Pomberos, or Pombeiros, mostly mulattoes, free men, and buyers of slaves; their morals seem to have been abominable. Last and least were the natives, that is, the “chattels.” Amongst the latter the men changed wives for a time, “alleging, in case of reproof, that they are not able to eat always of the same dish;” and the women were rarely allowed by their mistresses to marry — with the usual results. The missionaries are very severe upon the higher ranks of colonists. Father Carli (A.D. 1666) found the whites the most deceitful and the wickedest of men — an effect caused by the penal settlement. Father Merolla (A.D. 1682) declares that “the women, being bred among blacks, suffer themselves to be much perverted — they scarcely retain anything white about them except their skins.” J. C. Fêo Cardoso (Memoir published in Paris in 1825) attributes the decadence of Angola and Benguela to three reasons; rare marriages amongst the higher orders; poverty amongst the lower; and the immorality and incontinence of both. Lopes de Lima (p. 149 loc. cit.) traces the decline and fall of Christianity in the eighteenth century to the want of priests, to the corruption of the regular clergy (Carmelites and Franciscans), for whom West Africa, like Syria and Palestine, was made a kind of convict station, and to the inhuman slave-export, as opposed to domestic slavery. All has now changed for the better; society in Angola is not a whit inferior to that of any English colony in West Africa, and, as a convict establishment, Loanda is a great success.

The theoretical garrison is one regiment of the line, a squadron of cavalry, and two companies of artillery with three-pounders; the real force is of some 800 men, mostly convicts. No difference is made between white and black, nor is the corps force, which was once very cruelly used, severely treated as the Légion Etrangère of Algeria. Most of the men have been found guilty of capital crimes, yet they are allowed to carry arms, and they are intrusted with charge of the forts. Violence is almost unheard of amongst them: if an English sailor be stabbed, it is generally by the free mulattoes and blacks, who hate the uniform for destroying their pet trade of man-selling. It is true that these convicts have hopes of pardon, but I prefer to attribute their remarkable gentleness and good behaviour to the effects of the first fever, which, to quote from the Latin grammar,

“Emollit mores nec sinit esse feros.”

The negroes of Loanda struck me as unusually ill-favoured; short, “stumpy,” and very dark, or tinged with unclean yellow. Lepers and hideous cripples thrust their sores and stumps in the face of charity. There was no local colouring compared with the carregadores, or coolies, from the northeast, whose thrum-mop heads and single monkey skins for fig-leaves, spoke of the wold and the wild. The body-dress of both sexes is the tángá, pagne, or waist-cloth, unless the men can afford trousers and ragged shirts, and the women a “veo preto,” or dingy black sheet, ungracefully worn, like the graceful sárí of Hindostan, over the bright foulard which confines the wool. “It is mighty ridiculous to observe,” says the old missionary, “that the women, contrary to the custom of all other nations, buy and sell, and do all things which the men ought to do, whilst their husbands stay at home and spin or weave cotton, or busy themselves in such other effeminate actions.” This is not wholly true in ‘63. The “munengana,“or machila-man, is active in offering his light cane palanquin, and he chaffs the “mean white” who is compelled to walk, bitterly as did the sedan-chairmen of Bath before the days of Beau Nash. Of course the Quitandeira, or market-woman, holds her own. The rest of the street population seems to consist of negro “infantry” and black Portuguese pigs, gaunt and long-legged. The favourite passe-temps is to lie prone in sun or shade, chattering and smoking the cachimbo, a heavy clay pipe, with peculiar stem —“to sleep supine,” say the Arabs, “is the position of saints; on the dexter side, of kings; on the sinister, of learned men; and on the belly, of devils.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burton/richard/b97g/part2.2.html

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