Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa, 1795-7, by Mungo Park

CHAPTER XIII

ESCAPE FROM CAPTIVITY

Having, as hath been related, obtained permission to accompany Ali to Jarra, I took leave of Queen Fatima, who, with much grace and civility, returned me part of my apparel; and the evening before my departure, my horse, with the saddle and bridle, were sent me by Ali’s order.

Early on the morning of the 26th of May I departed from the camp of Bubaker, accompanied by my two attendants, Johnson and Demba, and a number of Moors on horseback, Ali, with about fifty horsemen, having gone privately from the camp during the night. We stopped about noon at Farani, and were there joined by twelve Moors riding upon camels, and with them we proceeded to a watering-place in the woods, where we overtook Ali and his fifty horsemen. They were lodged in some low shepherd’s tents near the wells.

May 28. — Early in the morning the Moors saddled their horses, and Ali’s chief slave ordered me to get in readiness. In a little time the same messenger returned, and, taking my boy by the shoulder, told him in the Mandingo language, that “Ali was to be his master in future;” and then turning to me, “The business is settled at last,” said he; “the boy, and everything but your horse, goes back to Bubaker, but you may take the old fool” (meaning Johnson the interpreter) “with you to Jarra.” I made him no answer; but being shocked beyond description at the idea of losing the poor boy, I hastened to Ali, who was at breakfast before his tent, surrounded by many of his courtiers. I told him (perhaps in rather too passionate a strain), that whatever imprudence I had been guilty of in coming into his country, I thought I had already been sufficiently punished for it by being so long detained, and then plundered of all my little property; which, however, gave me no uneasiness when compared with what he had just now done to me. I observed that the boy whom he had now seized upon was not a slave, and had been accused of no offence; he was, indeed, one of my attendants, and his faithful services in that station had procured him his freedom. His fidelity and attachment had made him fellow me into my present situation, and, as he looked up to me for protection I could not see him deprived of his liberty without remonstrating against such an act as the height of cruelty and injustice. Ali made no reply, but, with a haughty air and malignant smile, told his interpreter that if I did not mount my horse immediately he would send me back likewise. There is something in the frown of a tyrant which rouses the most secret emotions of the heart: I could not suppress my feelings, and for once entertained an indignant wish to rid the world of such a monster.

Poor Demba was not less affected than myself. He had formed a strong attachment towards me, and had a cheerfulness of disposition which often beguiled the tedious hours of captivity. He was likewise a proficient in the Bambarra tongue, and promised on that account to be of great utility to me in future. But it was in vain to expect anything favourable to humanity from people who are strangers to its dictates. So, having shaken hands with this unfortunate boy, and blended my tears with his, assuring him, however, that I would do my utmost to redeem him, I saw him led off by three of Ali’s slaves towards the camp at Bubaker.

When the Moors had mounted their horses I was ordered to follow them, and, after a toilsome journey through the woods in a very sultry day, we arrived in the afternoon at a walled village called Doombani, where we remained two days, waiting for the arrival of some horsemen from the northward.

On the 1st of June we departed from Doombani towards Jarra. Our company now amounted to two hundred men, all on horseback, for the Moors never use infantry in their wars. They appeared capable of enduring great fatigue; but from their total want of discipline our journey to Jarra was more like a fox-chase than the march of an army.

At Jarra I took up my lodging at the house of my old acquaintance, Daman Jumma, and informed him of everything that had befallen me. I particularly requested him to use his interest with Ali to redeem my boy, and promised him a bill upon Dr. Laidley for the value of two slaves the moment he brought him to Jarra. Daman very readily undertook to negotiate the business, but found that Ali considered the boy as my principal interpreter, and was unwilling to part with him, lest he should fall a second time into my hands, and be instrumental in conducting me to Bambarra. Ali, therefore, put off the matter from day to day, but withal told Daman that if he wished to purchase the boy for himself he should have him thereafter at the common price of a slave, which Daman agreed to pay for him whenever Ali should send him to Jarra.

The chief object of Ali, in this journey to Jarra, as I have already related, was to procure money from such of the Kaartans as had taken refuge in his country. Some of these had solicited his protection to avoid the horrors of war, but by far the greatest number of them were dissatisfied men, who wished the ruin of their own sovereign. These people no sooner heard that the Bambarra army had returned to Sego without subduing Daisy, as was generally expected, than they resolved to make a sudden attack themselves upon him before he could recruit his forces, which were now known to be much diminished by a bloody campaign, and in great want of provisions. With this view they solicited the Moors to join them, and offered to hire of Ali two hundred horsemen, which Ali, with the warmest professions of friendship, agreed to furnish, upon condition that they should previously supply him with four hundred head of cattle, two hundred garments of blue cloth, and a considerable quantity of beads and ornaments.

June 8. — In the afternoon Ali sent his chief slave to inform me that he was about to return to Bubaker: but as he would only stay there a few days to keep the approaching festival (Banna selee), and then return to Jarra, I had permission to remain with Daman until his return. This was joyful news to me; but I had experienced so many disappointments that I was unwilling to indulge the hope of its being true, until Johnson came and told me that Ali, with part of the horsemen, were actually gone from the town, and that the rest were to follow him in the morning.

June 9. — Early in the morning the remainder of the Moors departed from the town. They had, during their stay, committed many acts of robbery; and this morning with the most unparalleled audacity, they seized upon three girls who were bringing water from the wells, and carried them away into slavery.

June 12. — Two people, dreadfully wounded, were discovered at a watering-place in the woods; one of them had just breathed his last, but the other was brought alive to Jarra. On recovering a little he informed the people that he had fled through the woods from Kasson; that Daisy had made war upon Sambo, the king of that country; had surprised three of his towns, and put all the inhabitants to the sword. He enumerated by name many of the friends of the Jarra people who had been murdered in Kasson. This intelligence made the death-howl universal in Jarra for the space of two days.

This piece of bad news was followed by another not less distressing. A number of runaway slaves arrived from Kaarta on the 14th, and reported that Daisy, having received information concerning the intended attack upon him, was about to visit Jarra. This made the negroes call upon Ali for the two hundred horsemen which he was to furnish them according to engagement. But Ali paid very little attention to their remonstrances, and at last plainly told them that his cavalry were otherwise employed. The negroes, thus deserted by the Moors, and fully apprised that the king of Kaarta would show them as little clemency as he had shown the inhabitants of Kasson, resolved to collect all their forces, and hazard a battle before the king, who was now in great distress for want of provisions, should become too powerful for them. They therefore assembled about eight hundred effective men in the whole, and with these they entered Kaarta on the evening of the 18th of June.

June 19. — This morning the wind shifted to the south-west; and about two o’clock in the afternoon we had a heavy tornado, or thunder-squall, accompanied with rain, which greatly revived the face of nature, and gave a pleasant coolness to the air. This was the first rain that had fallen for many months.

As every attempt to redeem my boy had hitherto been unsuccessful, and in all probability would continue to prove so whilst I remained in the country, I found that it was necessary for me to come to some determination concerning my own safety before the rains should be fully set in; for my landlord, seeing no likelihood of being paid for his trouble, began to wish me away — and Johnson, my interpreter, refusing to proceed, my situation became very perplexing. I determined to avail myself of the first opportunity of escaping, and to proceed directly for Bambarra, as soon as the rains had set in for a few days, so as to afford me the certainty of finding water in the woods.

Such was my situation when, on the evening of the 24th of June, I was startled by the report of some muskets close to the town, and inquiring the reason, was informed that the Jarra army had returned from fighting Daisy, and that this firing was by way of rejoicing. However, when the chief men of the town had assembled, and heard a full detail of the expedition, they were by no means relieved from their uneasiness on Daisy’s account. The deceitful Moors having drawn back from the confederacy, after being hired by the negroes, greatly dispirited the insurgents, who, instead of finding Daisy with a few friends concealed in the strong fortress of Gedingooma, had found him at a town near Joka, in the open country, surrounded by so numerous an army that every attempt to attack him was at once given up; and the confederates only thought of enriching themselves by the plunder of the small towns in the neighbourhood. They accordingly fell upon one of Daisy’s towns, and carried off the whole of the inhabitants; but lest intelligence of this might reach Daisy, and induce him to cut off their retreat, they returned through the woods by night bringing with them the slaves and cattle which they had captured.

June 26. — This afternoon a spy from Kaarta brought the alarming intelligence that Daisy had taken Simbing in the morning, and would be in Jarra some time in the course of the ensuing day. Early in the morning nearly one-half of the townspeople took the road for Bambarra, by the way of Deena.

Their departure was very affecting, the women and children crying, the men sullen and dejected, and all of them looking back with regret on their native town, and on the wells and rocks beyond which their ambition had never tempted them to stray, and where they had laid all their plans of future happiness, all of which they were now forced to abandon, and to seek shelter among strangers.

June 27. — About eleven o’clock in the forenoon we were alarmed by the sentinels, who brought information that Daisy was on his march towards Jarra, and that the confederate army had fled before him without firing a gun. The terror of the townspeople on this occasion is not easily to be described. Indeed, the screams of the women and children, and the great hurry and confusion that everywhere prevailed, made me suspect that the Kaartans had already entered the town; and although I had every reason to be pleased with Daisy’s behaviour to me when I was at Kemmoo, I had no wish to expose myself to the mercy of his army, who might in the general confusion mistake me for a Moor. I therefore mounted my horse, and taking a large bag of corn before me, rode slowly along with the townspeople, until we reached the foot of a rocky hill, where I dismounted and drove my horse up before me. When I had reached the summit I sat down, and having a full view of the town and the neighbouring country, could not help lamenting the situation of the poor inhabitants, who were thronging after me, driving their sheep, cows, goats, &c., and carrying a scanty portion of provisions and a few clothes. There was a great noise and crying everywhere upon the road, for many aged people and children were unable to walk, and these, with the sick, were obliged to be carried, otherwise they must have been left to certain destruction.

About five o’clock we arrived at a small farm belonging to the Jarra people, called Kadeeja; and here I found Daman and Johnson employed in filling large bags of corn, to be carried upon bullocks, to serve as provisions for Daman’s family on the road.

June 28. — At daybreak we departed from Kadeeja, and having passed Troongoomba without stopping, arrived in the afternoon at Queira. I remained here two days, in order to recruit my horse, which the Moors had reduced to a perfect Rosinante, and to wait for the arrival of some Mandingo negroes, who were going for Bambarra in the course of a few days.

On the afternoon of the 1st of July, as I was tending my horse in the fields, Ali’s chief slave and four Moors arrived at Queira, and took up their lodging at the dooty’s house. My interpreter, Johnson, who suspected the nature of this visit, sent two boys to overhear their conversation, from which he learnt that they were sent to convey me back to Bubaker. The same evening two of the Moors came privately to look at my horse, and one of them proposed taking it to the dooty’s hut, but the other observed that such a precaution was unnecessary, as I could never escape upon such an animal. They then inquired where I slept, and returned to their companions,

All this was like a stroke of thunder to me, for I dreaded nothing so much as confinement again among the Moors, from whose barbarity I had nothing but death to expect. I therefore determined to set off immediately for Bambarra, a measure which I thought offered almost the only chance of saving my life and gaining the object of my mission. I communicated the design to Johnson, who, although he applauded my resolution, was so far from showing any inclination to accompany me, that he solemnly protested he would rather forfeit his wages than go any farther. He told me that Daman had agreed to give him half the price of a slave for his service to assist in conducting a coffle of slaves to Gambia, and that he was determined to embrace the opportunity of returning to his wife and family.

Having no hopes, therefore, of persuading him to accompany me, I resolved to proceed by myself. About midnight I got my clothes in readiness, which consisted of two shirts, two pairs of trousers, two pocket-handkerchiefs, an upper and under waistcoat, a mat, and a pair of half-boots; these, with a cloak, constituted my whole wardrobe. And I had not one single bead, nor any other article of value in my possession, to purchase victuals for myself or corn for my horse.

About daybreak, Johnson, who had been listening to the Moors all night, came and whispered to me that they were asleep. The awful crisis was now arrived when I was again either to taste the blessing of freedom or languish out my days in captivity. A cold sweat moistened my forehead as I thought on the dreadful alternative, and reflected that, one way or another, my fate must be decided in the course of the ensuing day. But to deliberate was to lose the only chance of escaping. So, taking up my bundle, I stepped gently over the negroes, who were sleeping in the open air, and having mounted my horse, I bade Johnson farewell, desiring him to take particular care of the papers I had entrusted him with, and inform my friends in Gambia that he had left me in good health, on my way to Bambarra.

I proceeded with great caution, surveying each bush, and frequently listening and looking behind me for the Moorish horsemen, until I was about a mile from the town, when I was surprised to find myself in the neighbourhood of a korree belonging to the Moors. The shepherds followed me for about a mile, hooting and throwing stones after me; and when I was out of their reach, and had begun to indulge the pleasing hopes of escaping, I was again greatly alarmed to hear somebody holloa behind me, and looking back, I saw three Moors on horseback, coming after me at full speed, whooping and brandishing their double-barrelled guns. I knew it was in vain to think of escaping, and therefore turned back and met them, when two of them caught hold of my bridle, one on each side, and the third, presenting his musket, told me I must go back to Ali. When the human mind has for some time been fluctuating between hope and despair, tortured with anxiety, and hurried from one extreme to another, it affords a sort of gloomy relief to know the worst that can possibly happen. Such was my situation. An indifference about life and all its enjoyments had completely benumbed my faculties, and I rode back with the Moors with apparent unconcern. But a change took place much sooner than I had any reason to expect. In passing through some thick bushes one of the Moors ordered me to untie my bundle and show them the contents. Having examined the different articles, they found nothing worth taking except my cloak, which they considered as a very valuable acquisition, and one of them pulling it from me, wrapped it about himself, and, with one of his companions, rode off with their prize. When I attempted to follow them, the third, who had remained with me, struck my horse over the head, and presenting his musket, told me I should proceed no farther. I now perceived that these men had not been sent by any authority to apprehend me, but had pursued me solely with a view to rob and plunder me. Turning my horse’s head, therefore, once more towards the east, and observing the Moor follow the track of his confederates, I congratulated myself on having escaped with my life, though in great distress, from such a horde of barbarians.

I was no sooner out of sight of the Moor than I struck into the woods to prevent being pursued, and kept pushing on with all possible speed, until I found myself near some high rocks, which I remembered to have seen in my former route from Queira to Deena and, directing my course a little to the northward, I fortunately fell in with the path.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24