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

Preface.

The notes which form the ground-work of these volumes have long been kept in the obscurity of manuscript: my studies of South America, of Syria and Palestine, of Iceland, and of Istria, left me scant time for the labour of preparation. Leisure and opportunity have now offered themselves, and I avail myself of them in the hope that the publication will be found useful to more than one class of readers. The many who take an interest in the life of barbarous peoples may not be displeased to hear more about the Fán; and the few who would try a fall with Mister Gorilla can learn from me how to equip themselves, whence to set out and whither to go for the best chance. Travelling with M. Paul B. du Chaillu’s “First Expedition” in my hand, I jealously looked into every statement, and his numerous friends will be pleased to see how many of his assertions are confirmed by my experience.

The second part is devoted to the Nzadi or lower Congo River, from the mouth to the Yellala or main rapids, the gate by which the mighty stream, emerging from the plateau of Inner Africa, goes to its long home, the Atlantic. Some time must elapse before the second expedition, which left Ambriz early in 1873, under Lieutenant Grandy, R. N., can submit its labours to the public: meanwhile these pages will, I trust, form a suitable introduction to the gallant explorer’s travel in the interior. It would be preposterous to publish descriptions of any European country from information gathered ten years ago. But Africa moves slowly, and thus we see that the results of an Abyssinian journey (M. Antoine d’Abbadie’s “Géodésic d’Ethiopie,” which took place about 1845, are not considered obsolete in 1873.

After a languid conviction during the last half century of owning some ground upon the West Coast of Africa, England has been rudely aroused by a little war which will have large consequences. The causes that led to the “Ashantee Campaign,” a negro copy of the negroid Abyssinian, may be broadly laid down as general incuriousness, local mismanagement, and the operation of unprincipled journalism.

It is not a little amusing to hear the complaints of the public that plain truth about the African has not been told. I could cite more than one name that has done so. But what was the result? We were all soundly abused by the negrophile; the multitude cared little about reading “unpopular opinions;” and then, when the fulness of time came, it turned upon us, and rent us, and asked why we had not spoken freely concerning Ashanti and Fanti, and all the herd. My “Wanderings in West Africa” is a case in point: so little has it been read, that a President of the Royal Geographical Society (African section of the Society of Arts Journal, Feb. 6, 1874) could state, “If Fantees are cowardly and lazy, Krumen are brave;” the latter being the most notorious poltroons on the West African seaboard.

The hostilities on the Gold Coast might have been averted with honour to ourselves at any time between 1863 and 1870, by a Colonial Office mission and a couple of thousand pounds. I need hardly say what has been the case now. The first steps were taken with needless disasters, and the effect has been far different from what we intended or what was advisable. For a score of years we (travellers) have been advising the English statesman not to despise the cunning of barbarous tribes, never to attempt finessing with Asiatic or African; to treat these races with perfect sincerity and truthfulness. I have insisted, and it is now seen with what reason, that every attempt at deception, at asserting the “thing which is not,” will presently meet with the reward it deserves. I can only regret that my counsels have not made themselves heard.

Yet this ignoble war between barbarous tribes whom it has long been the fashion to pet, this poor scuffle between the breechloader and the Birmingham trade musket, may yet in one sense do good. It must perforce draw public attention to the West Coast of Africa, and raise the question, “What shall we do with it?” My humble opinion, expressed early in 1865 to the Right Honourable Mr. Adderley, has ever been this. If we are determined not to follow the example of the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the Spaniards, and not to use the country as a convict station, resolving to consume, as it were, our crime at home, we should also resolve to retain only a few ports and forts, without territory, at points commanding commerce, after the fashion of the Lusitanians in the old heroic days. The export slave-trade is now dead and buried; the want of demand must prevent its revival; and free emigration has yet to be created. As Mr. Bright rightly teaches, strong places and garrisons are not necessary to foster trade and to promote the success of missions. The best proof on the West African Coast is to be found in the so-called Oil Rivers, where we have never held a mile of ground, and where our commerce prospers most. The great “Tribune” will forgive my agreeing in opinion with him when he finds that we differ upon one most important point. It is the merchant, not the garrison, that causes African wars. If the home authorities would avoid a campaign, let them commit their difficulty to a soldier, not to a civilian.

The chronic discontent of the so-called “civilized” African, the contempt of the rulers if not of the rule, and the bitter hatred between the three races, white, black, and black-white, fomented by many an unprincipled print, which fills its pocket with coin of cant and Christian charity, will end in even greater scandals than the last disreputable war. If the damnosa licentia be not suppressed — and where are the strong hands to suppress it? — we may expect to see the scenes of Jamaica revived with improvements at Sierra Leone. However unwilling I am to cut off any part of our great and extended empire, to renew anywhere, even in Africa, the process of dismemberment — the policy which cast off Corfu — it is evident to me that English occupation of the West African Coast has but slightly forwarded the cause of humanity, and that upon the whole it has proved a remarkable failure.

We can be wise in time.

Richard F. Burton.

P.S. — Since these pages were written, a name which frequently occurs in them has become a memory to his friends — I allude to W. Winwood Reade, and I deplore his loss. The highest type of Englishman, brave and fearless as he was gentle and loving, his short life of thirty-seven years shows how much may be done by the honest, thorough worker. He had emphatically the courage of his opinions, and he towered a cubit above the crowd by telling not only the truth, as most of us do, but the whole truth, which so few can afford to do. His personal courage in battle during the Ashanti campaign, where the author of “Savage Africa” became correspondent of the “Times,” is a matter of history. His noble candour in publishing the “Martyrdom of Man” is an example and a model to us who survive him. And he died calmly and courageously as he lived, died in harness, died as he had resolved to die, like the good and gallant gentleman of ancient lineage that he was.

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