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

Chapter 4.

The Cruise along Shore — the Granite Pillar of Kinsembo.

On August 22nd we left Loanda, and attacked the 180 miles separating it from the Congo mouth. Steaming along shore we enjoyed the vanishing perspective of the escarpment disappearing in the misty distance. The rivers Bengo, Dande, and Onze are denoted by densely wooded fissures breaking the natural sea-wall, and, as usual in West Africa, these lines are the favourite sites for settlements. The Onze or the Lifune of Mazula Bay — which the Hydrographic Chart (republished March 18, 1869) changes into “River Mazulo,” and makes the mouth of the “River Onzo”— is chosen by Bowdich and writers of his day as the northern boundary of Angola, greatly to the disgust of the Portuguese, whose pretensions extend much farther north. Volumes of daily smoke and nightly flame suggest the fires of St. John lighted by the goatherds of Tenerife. They greatly excite the gallant “Griffons,” who everywhere see slaver-signals, and the system is old upon this coast as the days of Hanno and Herodotus. At this season they are an infallible sign that the dries are ending; the women burn the capim (tall grass) for future forage, and to manure the land for manioc, maize, and beans. The men seek present “bush-beef:” as the flames blow inland, they keep to seaward, knowing that game will instinctively and infallibly break cover in that direction, and they have learned the “wrinkle” of the prairie traveller to make a “little Zoar” in case of accidental conflagration.

At 2 P.M. on the 24th we were abreast of Ambriz, an important settlement, where a tall red and white cliff, with a background of broken blue hill, showed a distinct “barra,” or river mouth, not to be confounded with the English “bar.” The north point of the Rio dos Ambres, of the “green” or “raw copal,” is low and mangrove-grown, throwing into high relief its sister formation, Ambriz Head or Strong–Tide Corner, which stands up gaunt and bluff.

A little to the south-east lies the fort, flying the argent and azure flag, and garrisoned by some 200 men; five large whitewashed houses and the usual bunch of brown huts compose the settlement. This nest of slavers was temporarily occupied in May 15, 1855. The Governor–General, Senor Coelho de Amaral, reinforced by 1,000 soldiers from home, and levying 2,500 “Empacasseiros,”1 embarked from Loanda in the “Dorn Fernando” frigate, landed here, once more burnt the barracoons, and built the fort. In 1856 a force was sent under Colonel Francisco Salles Ferreira, to re-open a communication with the Bembe mines of copper and malachite. That energetic officer marched on São Salvador, the old capital of Congo, and crowned Dom Pedro V., whose predecessor died the year before. He there fell a victim to fever, and his second in command, Major Andrade, was nearly cut off on his return. Shortly afterwards the natives blockaded, but were driven from, Bembe, and they attempted in vain to carry Ambriz.

The far-famed copper mines were granted to the Portuguese in the sixteenth century by the King of Congo. They were the property of his feudatory, the (black) “Marquess of Pemba” (Bembe): Barbot mentions their being mistaken for gold, and feels himself bound to warn his readers that the metal was brought “from Sondy, not from Abyssinia or the empire of Prester John.” They lost all their mystery about A.D. 1855, when they were undertaken by an English company, Messrs. John Taylor & Co. of London, after agreement with the concessionists, Messrs. Francisco A. Flores and Pinto Perez of Loanda. Between Ambriz and Bembe, on the Lunguila (Lufula?) River, and 770 feet above sea-level, the Angolan government built four presidios, Matuta, Quidilla, Quileala, and Quimalenco. But the garrison was not strong enough to keep the country quiet, and the climate proved deadly to white men. The 24 sappers and 60 linesmen extracted nearly 4,000 lbs. of gangue per diem, when the English manager and his assistant, with four of the ten miners died, and the plant was destroyed by fire. I was assured that this line (Ambriz–Bembe) was an easy adit to the interior, and so far the information is confirmed by the late Livingstone–Congo Expedition under Lieutenant Grandy.

In 1863 the coast was still in confusion. The Portuguese claimed too much seaboard according to the British: the British government ignored the just claims of Portugal, and the political bickerings were duly embittered by a demoralized race of English traders, who perpetually applied for cruisers, complaining that the troops interfered with their trade. Even in the seventeenth century the Portuguese had asserted their rights to the Reino do Congo, extending between the great stream of that name and the Ambriz, also called the Loge and Doce River. In the older maps — for instance, Lopes de Lima — the Loge is an independent stream placed north of the Ambriz River; in fact, it represents the Rue or Lue River of Kinsembo, which is unknown to our charts. Within the Doce and the Cuanza lies the Reino de Angola, of which, they say, the Congo was a dependency, and south of the Cuanza begins the Reino de Benguela. The Government–General of Loanda thus contained four provinces-Congo (now reduced to Ambriz), Angola, Benguela, and Mossamedes. The English government has now agreed to recognize the left or southern bank of the Ambriz as the northern frontier of Angola and of Portuguese rule.

Passing the river mouth, we were alongside of independent lands, and new to us. Boobies (Pelecanus sula), gulls, petrels, and men-of-war birds (P. aquila), flew about the ship; according to the experts, they were bound for fetid marshes which outlie the Loge River. Before nightfall we were off the Lue or Rue River of Kinsembo, which disputes with Landána (not “Landano”2) the palm of bad landing. At this season boats are sometimes kept waiting fourteen days, and the “barreiras” (cliffs) are everywhere at unbounded war with the waters. I determined to land and to inspect the “remarkable lofty granite pillar,” which was dimly visible from our deck; but we rowed in vain along the tall and rusty sea-walls. No whaler could attack the huge rollers that raised their monstrous backs, plunged over with a furious roar, and bespread the beach with a swirl of foam. At last, seeing a fine surf-boat, artistically raised at stern and bow, and manned by Cabindas, the Kruboys of the coast, made fast to a ship belonging to Messrs. Tobin of Liverpool, we boarded it, and obtained a passage.

The negroes showed their usual art. Paddling westward they rounded the high red and white South Point, where a projecting reef broke the rollers. We waited for some twenty minutes for a lull; at the auspicious moment every throat was strained by a screaming shout, and the black backs bent doughtily to their work. We were raised like infants in the nurse’s arms; the good craft was flung forward with the seething mass, and as she touched shore we sprang out, whilst our conveyance was beached by a crowd of stragglers. The dreaded bar is as usual double: in the heaviest weather boats make for a solitary palm-tree at the bottom of the sandy bay. Some of the dug-outs are in pairs like the Brazilian Ajoujo; the sides are lashed together or fastened by thwarts, and both are made to bend a little too much inwards.

It was dark when we climbed up the stiff Jacob’s ladder along the landward side of the white Kinsembo bluff. There are three ramps: the outermost is fit only for unshod feet; the central is better for those who can squeeze through the rocky crevices, and the furthest is tolerably easy; but it can be reached only by canoeing across the stream. Mr. Hunter of Messrs. Tobin’s house received us in the usual factory of the South Coast, a ground-floor of wicker-work, windowless, and thatched after native fashion. The chief agent, who shall be nameless, was drunk arid disorderly: it is astonishing that men of business can trust their money to such irresponsible beings; he had come out to Blackland a teetotaller, and presently his condition became a living lecture upon geographical morality.

The night gave us a fine study of the Kinsembo mosquito, a large brown dipter, celebrated even upon this coast. A barrel of water will act as nursery; at times the plagues are said to extinguish a lantern, and to lie an inch deep at the bottom. I would back them against a man’s life after two nights of full exposure: the Brazilian “Marimbondo” is not worse. At 7 A.M. on the next day we descended the easiest of the ramps, which are common upon this coast, and were paddled over the Kinsembo River. Eleven miles off, it issues from masses of high ground, and at this season it spreads out like the Ambriz in broad stagnant sheets, bordered with reeds and grass supplying fish and crabs, wild ducks and mosquitoes. Presently, when the Cacimbo ends in stormy rains and horrid rollers, its increased volume and impetus will burst the sand-strip which confines it, and the washed-away material will recruit the terrible bar.

Leaving the ferry, wre mounted the “tipoias,” which Englishmen call “hammocks” after the Caribs of Jamaica, and I found a strange contrast between the men of Kinsembo and of São Paulo. The former are admirable bearers, like their brethren of Ambrizette, famed as the cream of the coast: four of them carried us at the rate of at least six miles an hour; apparently they cannot go slowly, and they are untireable as black ants. Like the Bahian cadeira-men, they use shoulder-pads, and forked sticks to act as levers when shifting; the bamboo-pole has ivory pegs, to prevent the hammock-clews slipping, and the sensation is somewhat that of being tossed in a blanket.

Quitting the creeper-bound sand, we crossed a black and fetid mire, and struck inland to a higher and drier level. The vegetation was that of the Calumbo road, but not so utterly sunburnt: there were dwarf fields of Manioc and Thur (Cajanus indicus), and the large wild cotton shrubs showed balls of shortish fibre. As we passed a euphorbia-hedged settlement, Kizúlí yá Mú, “Seabeach Village,” a troop of women and girls, noisy as those of Ugogo, charged us at full gallop: a few silver bits caused prodigious excitement in the liberal display of charms agitated by hard exercise. The men were far less intrusive, they are said not to be jealous of European rivals, but madly so amongst themselves: even on suspicion of injury, the husband may kill his wife and her lover.

At Kilwanika, the next hamlet, there was a “king;” and it would not have been decent to pass the palace unvisited. Outside the huts stood a bamboo-girt “compound,” which we visited whilst H.M. was making his toilette, and where, contrary to Congo usage, the women entered with us. Twenty-two boys aged nine or ten showed, by faces whitened with ashes, that they had undergone circumcision, a ceremony which lasts three months: we shall find these Jinkimba in a far wilder state up the Congo. The rival house is the Casa das Tinta, where nubile girls are decorated by the Nganga, or medicine-man, with a greasy crimson-purple pigment and, preparatory to entering the holy state of matrimony, receive an exhaustive lecture upon its physical phases. Father Merolla tells us that the Congoese girls are locked up in pairs for two or three months out of the sight of man, bathing several times a day, and applying “taculla,” the moistened dust of a red wood; without this “casket of water” or “of fire,” as they call it, barrenness would be their lot. After betrothal the bride was painted red by the “man-witch” for one month, to declare her engagement, and the mask was washed off before nuptials. Hence the “Paint House” was a very abomination to the good Fathers. Amongst the Timni tribe, near Sierra Leone, the Semo, or initiation for girls, begins with a great dance, called Colungee (Kolangí), and the bride is “instructed formally in such circumstances as most immediately concern women.”

After halting for half an hour, ringed by a fence of blacks, we were summoned to the presence, where we found a small boy backed by a semi-circle of elders, and adorned with an old livery coat, made for a full-grown “Jeames.” With immense dignity, and without deigning to look at us, he extended a small black paw like a Chimpanzee’s, and received in return a promise of rum — the sole cause of our detention. And, as we departed through the euphorbia avenue, we were followed by the fastest trotters, the Flora Temples and the Ethan Allens, of the village.

Beyond Kilwanika the land became rougher and drier, whilst the swamps between the ground-waves were deeper and stickier, the higher ridges bearing natural Stonehenges, of African, not English, proportions At last we dismounted, ascended a rise, the most northerly of these “Aravat Hills,” and stood at the base of the “Lumba” The Pillar of Kmsembo is composed of two huge blocks, not basaltic, but of coarse-grained reddish granite the base measures twenty and the shaft forty feet high. With a little trimming it might be converted into a superior Pompey’s Pillar: we shall see many of these monoliths in different parts of the Congo country.

The heat of the day was passed in the shade of the Lumba, enjoying the sea-breeze and the novel view. It was debated whether we should return viâ Masera, a well-known slaving village, whose barracoons were still standing. But the bearers dissuaded us, declaring that they might be seized as “dash,” unless the white men paid heavy “comey” like those who shipped black cargoes: they cannot shake off this old practice of claiming transit money. So we returned without a halt, covering some twelve of the roughest miles in two hours and a quarter.

The morning of the 26th showed an ugly sight from the tall Kinsembo cliff. As far as the eye could reach long green-black lines, fronted and feathered with frosted foam, hurried up to the war with loud merciless roars, and dashed themselves in white destruction against the reefs and rock-walls. We did not escape till the next day.

Kinsembo does not appear upon the old maps, and our earliest hydrographic charts place it six miles wrong.3 The station was created in 1857–61 by the mistaken policy of Loanda, which determined to increase the customs three per cent, and talked of exacting duties at Ambriz, not according to invoice prices, but upon the value which imported goods represented amongst the natives. It was at once spread abroad that the object was to drive the wax and ivory trade to São Paulo, and to leave Ambriz open to slavers. The irrepressible Briton transferred himself to Kinsembo, and agreed to pay the king £9 in kind, after “country fashion,” for every ship. In 1857 the building of the new factories was opposed by the Portuguese, and was supported by English naval officers, till the two governments came to an arrangement. In February, 1860, the Kinsembo people seized an English factory, and foully murdered a Congo prince and Portuguese subject, D. Nicoláo de Agua Rosada, employed in the Treasury Department, Ambriz. Thereupon the Governor–General sent up two vessels, with thirty guns and troops; crossed the Loge River, now a casus belli; and, on March 3rd, burned down the inland town of Kinsembo. On the return march the column debouched upon the foreign factories. About one mile in front of the point, Captain Brerit, U.S. Navy, and Commander A. G. Fitzroy, R.N., had drawn up 120 of their men by way of guard. Leave was asked by the Portuguese to refresh their troops, and to house six or seven wounded men. The foreign agents, headed by a disreputable M— M— now dead, protested, and, after receiving this unsoldierlike refusal, the Portuguese, harassed by the enemy, continued their return march to Ambriz. The natives of this country have an insane hate for their former conquerors, and can hardly explain why: probably the cruelties of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not peculiar to the Lusitanians, have rankled in the national memory. A stray Portuguese would infallibly be put to death, and it will, I fear, be long before M. Valdez sees “spontaneous declarations of vassalage on the part of the King of Molembo (Malemba) and others.”

In 1860 the trade of Kinsembo amounted to some £50,000, divided amongst four houses, two English, one American, and one Rotterdam (Pencoff and Kerdyk). The Cassange war greatly benefited the new station by diverting coffee and other produce of the interior from Loanda. There are apochryphal tales of giant tusks brought from a five months’ journey, say 500 miles, inland. I was shown two species of copal (gum anime) of which the best is said to come from the Mosul country up the Ambriz River: one bore the goose-skin of Zanzibar, and I was assured that it does not viscidize in the potash-wash. The other was smooth as if it had freshly fallen from the tree. It was impossible to obtain any information; no one had been up country to see the diggings, and yet all declared that the interior was open; that it would be easy to strike the Coango (Quango) before it joins the Congo River, and that 150 miles, which we may perhaps reduce by a third, would lodge the traveller in the unknown lands of “Hnga.”

Bidding kindly adieu to Mr. Hunter and wishing him speedy deliverance from his dreadful companion, we resumed our travel over the now tranquil main. Always to starboard remained the narrow sea-wall, a length without breadth which we had seen after the lowlands of Cape Lopez, coloured rosy, rusty-red, or white, and sometimes backed by a second sierra of low blue rises, which suggests the sanatorium. Forty miles showed us the tall trees of Point Palmas on the northern side of the Conza River; on the south of the gap-like mouth lies the Ambrizette settlement, with large factories, Portuguese and American, gleaming against the dark verdure, and with Conza Hill for a background. The Cabeça de Cobra, or “Margate Head,” led to Makula, alias Mangal, or Mangue Grande, lately a clump of trees and a point; now the site of English, American, and Dutch factories. Here the hydrographic charts of 1827 and 1863 greatly vary, and one has countermarched the coast-line some 75 miles: Beginning with the Congo River, it lays down Mangue Pegueno (where Grande should be), Cobra, and Mangue Grande (for Pequeno) close to Ambrizette. Then hard ahead rose Cape Engano, whose “deceit” is a rufous tint, which causes many to mistake it for Cape or Point Padrão. To-morrow, as the dark-green waters tell us, we shall be in the Congo River.

1 See “The Lands of the Cazembe” (p. 25, note), where, however, the word has taken the form of “Impaçeiro.” At p. 27, line 6, a parenthesis has been misplaced before and after “Impalancas,” a word differently interpreted by Portuguese writers.

2 The Directory and Charts.

3 That of the Hydrographic Office, dated 1863, assigns it to S. Lat. 7° 44’, and E. Long. 13° 5’; and the Granite Pillar to S. Lat. 7° 36’ 15”, and E. Long. 13° 6’ 30”.

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