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

Chapter 3.

The Festival — a Trip to Calumbo — portuguese Hospitality.

My first step after reaching S. Paolo de Loanda was to call upon Mr. Commissioner Vredenburg, who had lately taken up the undesirable appointment, and who, moreover, had brought a pretty French wife from Pará. I had warned him that he was risking her life and that of her child; he bravely made the attempt and nearly lost them both. I have reason to be grateful to him and to Mr. Vice-consul E. H. Hewett for hospitality during my stay at the Angolan capital. There is a place called an hotel, but it is in the Seven Dials of the African city, and — nothing more need be said.

Fortunately for me, as for herself, Loanda had got rid of Mr. Vredenburg’s predecessor, who soon followed the lamented Richard Brand, first British Consul, appointed in 1844. The “real whole-hearted Englishman” was after that modern type, of which La Grundy so highly approves. An honest man, who does not hold to the British idea that “getting on in the world” is Nature’s first law, would be sorely puzzled by such a career.

The day after my arrival was the festival which gives to São Paulo de Loanda its ecclesiastical name “da Assumpção.” The ceremonies of the day were duly set forth in the Boletim Official do Governo Geral da Provincia de Angola. A military salute and peals of bells aroused us at dawn; followed a review of the troops, white and black; and a devout procession, flags flying and bands playing, paced through the chief streets to the Cathedral. A visit of ceremony in uniform to the Governor–General, Captain José Baptista de Andrade, a historic name in Angola, led to an invitation for the evening, a pleasant soirée of both sexes. The reception was cordial: whatever be the grievances of statesmen and historians, lawyers and slave-mongers, Portuguese officers are always most friendly to their English brethren. The large and airy rooms were hung with portraits of the several dignitaries, and there was an Old World look about Government House, like the Paço at Pangim (Goa). Fifty years ago colonial society was almost entirely masculine; if you ever met a white woman it was in a well-curtained manchila surrounded by “mucambas” or “mucacamas, negro waiting maids:” as the old missioner tells us, “when they go abroad, which is seldom, they are carried in a covered net with attendance of captives.” All this is changed, except as regards leaving the house, which is never done during the day: constitutionals are not wanted in the tropics, and the negroes everywhere make the streets unfit, except for any but the very strongest-minded of the weaker sex. The evenings at Government House are passed with music and dancing, and petits jeux innocents for the juniors, whilst the seniors talk and play voltarete till midnight. I well remember one charming face, but I fear to talk about it — ten years in Africa cannot pass without the saddest changes.

With an eye to future exploration, I was anxious to see something of the style of travel in Angola, and to prospect the proposed line of railway intended to checkmate the bar of the river Cuanza. The Cassange (Kasanjí) war on the eastern frontier had just ended honourably to Portuguese arms, but it proved costly; the rich traffic of the interior had fallen off, and the well-known Feira was sending down its fairings to independent Kinsembo. Moreover, in order to raise funds for the rail, the local Government talked of granting the land to an English company for growing the highly prized gossypium arboreum.

Sr. João Soares Caldeira, C.E., kindly asked me to join his party, which started early on August 19. All rode the tipoia, a mere maca or hammock sadly heating to the back, but handier than the manchila: the bearers wore loose waistbelts, with a dozen small sheep’s bells on the crupper, intended to proclaim our importance, and supposed to frighten away wild beasts. These gentry often require the stimulus of “ndokwe” (go on), but seldom the sedative of “malemba” (gently) or “quinga” (stop). The “boi-cavallo,” the riding bull (not ox) of the interior, which costs about £4, is never used in these fashionable localities. I failed to remark the line of trenches supposed to defend the land-side, but I did remark the “maiangas,” said to be indigo vats made by the Jesuits. After a hot depression we ascended a rough zigzag, and halting we enjoyed a charming view of St. Paul. The domed Morro concealing the squalid lower town was crowned with once lordly buildings — cathedral, palace, treasury, and fort; the colours of the ground-swell were red and white, with here and there a dot of green; and the blue sea rose in its loveliness beyond the hill horizon. For a whole league we were in the region of “arimos,” or outside farms, where villages, villas, and plantations, threaded by hot and sandy lanes with hedges of green euphorbia, showed the former prosperity of the country. Beyond it the land forms, as in Yoruba, lines of crescents bulging west or seaward, quartz and pebbles showing here and there an old true coast.

After a five hours’ ride we reached Cavúa, the half-way house, where breakfast had been sent on; the habitations are wretched thatches, crowded with pigs and mosquitoes. Clearings had all ended, and the red land formed broken waves of poor soil, almost nude of vegetation at this mid-winter of the tropics, except thickets of “milk plant” and forests of quadrangular cactus; the latter are quaint as the dragon-tree, some twenty feet tall and mostly sun-scorched to touchwood. The baobab (adansonia) is apparently of two kinds, the “Imbundeiro,” hung with long-stringed calabashes, which forms swarming-places for bees; and the “Aliconda” (Nkondo), whose gourd is almost sessile, and whose bark supplies fibre for cloth and ropes. The haskúl or big-aloe of Somali-land was not absent, and, amongst other wild fruits, I saw scattered over the ground the husks of a strychnine, like the east African species. Deer, hares, and partridges are spoken of in these solitudes, but they must be uncommonly hard to find at such a season.

About three hours after leaving Cavúa were spent upon this high, dry, and healthy desert, when suddenly we sighted the long reaches of the Cuanza River, sharply contrasting, like the Nile, with the tawny yellow grounds about its valley. A steep descent over water-rolled pebbles showed the old bank; the other side, far and blue, gave a goodly breadth of five miles; then we plunged into the green selvage of the modern stream, following muddy paths where the inundation had extended last June. Here tobacco, orchilla, and indigo in the higher, and sugar-cane, rice, and ricinus on the lower lands flourish to perfection. The Angolan orchilla was first sent to Lisbon by Sr. F. R. Batalha: it is a moss, like the tillandsia of the Southern United States, and I afterwards recognized it in the island of Annobom. Passing Pembe and other outlying hamlets, after nine hours of burning sun, we entered Calumbo Town, and were hospitably lodged by the Portuguese Commandant. We had followed the highway, as a line for the intended railway had not yet been marked out, and the distance measured 33,393 metres (= 20.75 English miles).

Calumbo is now a poor place, with a few dilapidated stone houses in a mass of wattle and daub huts, surrounded by large “arimos.” The whole “Districto da Barra do Calumbo” contains only 444 hearths. A little stone pier, which Loanda wants, projects into the stream; the lime was formerly procured from shells, but in 1761 calcareous stone was found near the Dande stream. The sightliest part is the vegetation, glorious ceibas (bombax) used for dug-outs; baobabs, tamarinds which supply cooling fruit and distilled waters; limes and bitter oranges. The most remarkable growth is the kaju or cashew nut: an old traveller quaintly describes it “as like St. John’s apple with a chestnut at the end of it.” M. Valdez (“Six Years of a Traveller’s Life,” vol. ii. 267), calls it “a strange kind of fruit,” though it was very familiar to his cousins in the Brazil, of which it is an aborigine. Here it is not made into wine as at Goa: “Kaju-brandy” is unknown, and the gum, almost equal to that of the acacia, is utterly neglected. A dense and shady avenue of these trees, ten paces apart, leads from the river to the parish church of S. José, mentioned by Carli in 1666: an inscription informs us that it was rebuilt in 1850, but the patron is stored away in a lumber-room, and the bats have taken the place of the priest. Portugal has perhaps gone too far in abolishing these church establishments, but it is a reaction which will lead to the golden mean.

The site of Calumbo is well chosen, commanding a fine view, and raised above the damps of the cold Cuanza, whose stagnant lagoon, the Lagôa do Muge on the other side, is divided from the main branch by a low islet with palms and some cultivation. At the base of Church Hill are huts of the Mubiri or blacksmiths, who gipsy-like wander away when a tax is feared; they are not despised, but they are considered a separate caste. I was shown a little north of the town a place where the Dutch, true to their national instincts, began a canal to supply Loanda with sweet and wholesome drinking material and water communication; others place it with more probability near the confluence of the Cuanza and the Lucala, the first great northern fork, where Massangano was built by the Conquistadores. This “leat” was left incomplete, the terminus being three miles from St. Paul’s; the Governor–General José de Oliveira Barbosa, attempted to restore it, but was prevented by considerations of cost.

Calumbo must be a gruesome place to all except its natives. Whilst Loanda has improved in climate since Captain Owen’s day (1826), this has become deadly as Rome in 1873. The raw mists in early morning and the hot suns, combined with the miasmas of the retreating waters, sometimes produce a “carneirado” (bilious remittent) which carries off half the inhabitants. Dysenteries are everywhere dangerous between the Guinea Coast and Mossamedes, the cause being vile water. All the people looked very sickly; many wore milongos, Fetish medicines in red stripes, and not a few had whitewashed faces in token of mourning. I observed that my Portuguese companions took quinine as a precaution. Formerly a few foreign merchants were settled here, but they found the hot seasons fatal, and no wonder, with 130° (F.) in the shade! The trade from the upper river, especially from the Presidio das Pedras Negras de Pungo Andongo,1 consists of hides, cattle tame and wild (cefos); saltpetre washed from earth in sieves, mucocote or gum anime (copal), said by Lopes de Lima to be found in all the forests of Pungo Andongo; wax, white and yellow; oil of the dendêm (Elaïs Guineënsis) and mandobim, here called ginguba (arachis); mats, manioc-flour, and sometimes an ivory.

Calumbo was built as early as 1577 by the Conquistador Porcador and first Capitão Mór Paulo Dias II., a gallant soldier, who died in 1589 at Massangano, the “Presidium,” which he had founded between 1580–83, and who was buried in the Church of Na. Sa. da Vittoria; he is said also to have built the Church of Santa Cruz. Equidistant from Loanda and the sea, the settlement soon had a wealthy trade with the fortified stations of the interior, and large Government stores filled with merchandize. In 1820 a number of schooners, pinnaces, and small crafts plied up and down to Muchimo, Massangano, Cambembe, and other inland settlements; now we find out only a few canoes. The Cuanza at “Sleepers’ Bay” has one of the worst shifting bars on the whole coast. At this distance, five leagues from the mouth, its width is one hundred fathoms, and the depth varies from eight to nine. It breeds good fish; the manatus is common, people talk of fresh-water sharks, and the jacare (crocodile) is fatal to many a pig even in the village. It is navigable for schooners, they say, six days, or 150 miles, to the large “Presidio de Cambembe,” where Andrew Battel (1589–1600) visited a “perpendicular water-fall, which made such a noise as to be heard thirty miles’ distance.” This and another water-fall higher up are laid down in the map of Dr. Livingstone’s admirable first journey. Above Cambembe the river-bed is broken by archipelagoes, and the shoals render it fit only for boats. The Cuanza head has been explored only lately, although a royal order to that effect was issued on March 14, 1800.

After receiving and returning the visits of the principal whites, all habited in frocks and continuations of the blackest and heaviest broadcloth, we feasted with the excellent commandant, who was hospitality itself. The mosquitoes soon roused us from any attempt at sleep, and we passed the night after a fashion which sometimes leads to red eyes and “hot coppers” in the morning. I left early, for my companions had business at Calumbo; as they were no longer present to control the bearers, a race soft as putty, and I was not used to manage them, the gang became unbearable. The soldier sent to keep them in order did his best with his “supple-jack,” and the consequence was that all bolted into the bush. At Cavúa two men were forcibly enlisted, but I preferred walking in. When at home in the Red House (Mr. Hewett’s) the hammock men came complaining of my deserting them, and begging bakhshish.

It was another lesson to me — the Gaboon had lately administered one — that, however well you may know the negro generally, each tribe requires a specific study. This, however, would not take long, and with a little knowledge of the language there would be no difficulty in following the footsteps of Joaquim Rodrigues Graça; letters would be required to the several commandants, the season of setting out should be in early Cacimbo (April), and the up march would take six months, with about four to return. But, unless active measures are adopted, only the seaboard will remain to the Portuguese. This is an exploration which I had kept “dark” for myself; but Captain von Homeyer has gained the day, and nothing remains for me but to give the gallant officer God speed. After a short but exceedingly pleasant visit, I left the capital of Angola with regret. All seemed anxious to further my views of travel; the authorities gave me the very best advice, and offered me introductions to all the district commandants, Sr. Moses Abecasis, and Sr. Francisco A. Flores, Sir Henry Huntley’s host, obliged me with recommendations to the most influential agents at Porto da Lenha on the Congo River. Mr. Essex of St. Helena placed me in the hands of his compatriot, Mr. Scott, and Captain Hoskins, R.N., ended his kindness with ordering for me a passage on board H.M. Steamship “Griffon,” an old acquaintance in the Gaboon River. Briefly, I quitted São Paulo with the best wishes for one and all who had befriended me.

1 See “The Lands of the Cazembe,” p. 15, Royal Geographical Society, London, 1873.

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