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



Having, for the reasons assigned in the last chapter, determined to proceed no farther eastward than Silla, I acquainted the dooty with my intention of returning to Sego, proposing to travel along the southern side of the river; but he informed me that, from the number of creeks and swamps on that side, it was impossible to travel by any other route than along the northern bank, and even that route, he said, would soon be impassable on account of the overflowing of the river. However, as he commended my determination to return westward, he agreed to speak to some one of the fishermen to carry me over to Moorzan. I accordingly stepped into a canoe about eight o’clock in the morning of July 30th, and in about an hour was landed at Moorzan. At this place I hired a canoe for sixty kowries, and in the afternoon arrived at Kea, where, for forty kowries more, the dooty permitted me to sleep in the same hut with one of his slaves. This poor negro, perceiving that I was sickly, and that my clothes were very ragged, humanely lent me a large cloth to cover me for the night.

July 31. — The dooty’s brother being going to Modiboo, I embraced the opportunity of accompanying him thither, there being no beaten road. He promised to carry my saddle, which I had left at Kea, when my horse fell down in the woods, as I now proposed to present it to the king of Bambarra.

We departed from Kea at eight o’clock, and about a mile to the westward observed on the bank of the river a great number of earthen jars piled up together. They were very neatly formed, but not glazed, and were evidently of that sort of pottery which is manufactured at Downie (a town to the west of Timbuctoo), and sold to great advantage in different parts of Bambarra. As we approached towards the jars my companion plucked up a large handful of herbage, and threw it upon them, making signs for me to do the same, which I did. He then, with great seriousness told me that these jars belonged to some supernatural power; that they were found in their present situation about two years ago; and as no person had claimed them, every traveller as he passed them, from respect to the invisible proprietor, threw some grass, or the branch of a tree, upon the heap, to defend the jars from the rain.

Thus conversing, we travelled in the most friendly manner, until unfortunately we perceived the footsteps of a lion, quite fresh in the mud, near the river-side. My companion now proceeded with great circumspection; and at last, coming to some thick underwood, he insisted that I should walk before him. I endeavoured to excuse myself, by alleging that I did not know the road; but he obstinately persisted, and, after a few high words and menacing looks, threw down the saddle and went away. This very much disconcerted me; but as I had given up all hopes of obtaining a horse, I could not think of encumbering myself with the saddle, and, taking off the stirrups and girths, I threw the saddle into the river. The negro no sooner saw me throw the saddle into the water than he came running from among the bushes where he had concealed himself, jumped into the river, and by help of his spear, brought out the saddle and ran away with it. I continued my course along the bank; but as the wood was remarkably thick, and I had reason to believe that a lion was at no great distance, I became much alarmed, and took a long circuit through the bushes to avoid him.

About four in the afternoon I reached Modiboo, where I found my saddle. The guide, who had got there before me, being afraid that I should inform the king of his conduct, had brought the saddle with him in a canoe.

While I was conversing with the dooty, and remonstrating against the guide for having left me in such a situation, I heard a horse neigh in one of the huts; and the dooty inquired with a smile if I knew who was speaking to me. He explained himself by telling me that my horse was still alive, and somewhat recovered from his fatigue; but he insisted that I should take him along with me, adding that he had once kept a Moor’s horse for four months, and when the horse had recovered and got into good condition, the Moor returned and claimed it, and refused to give him any reward for his trouble.

August 1. — I departed from Modiboo, driving my horse before me, and in the afternoon reached Nyamee; where I remained three days, during which time it rained without intermission, and with such violence that no person could venture out of doors.

August 5. — I departed from Nyamee; but the country was so deluged that I was frequently in danger of losing the road, and had to wade across the savannas for miles together, knee-deep in water. Even the corn ground, which is the driest land in the country, was so completely flooded that my horse twice stuck fast in the mud, and was not got out without the greatest difficulty.

In the evening of the same day I arrived at Nyara, where I was well received by the dooty; and as the 6th was rainy I did not depart until the morning of the 7th; but the water had swelled to such a height, that in many places the road was scarcely passable, and though I waded breast-deep across the swamps I could only reach a small village called Nemaboo, where however, for a hundred kowries, I procured from some Foulahs plenty of corn for my horse and milk for myself.

August 8. — The difficulties I had experienced the day before made me anxious to engage a fellow-traveller, particularly as I was assured that, in the course of a few days, the country would be so completely overflowed as to render the road utterly impassable; but though I offered two hundred kowries for a guide, nobody would accompany me. However, on the morning following, August 9th, a Moor and his wife, riding upon two bullocks, and bound for Sego with salt, passed the village, and agreed to take me along with them; but I found them of little service, for they were wholly unacquainted with the road, and being accustomed to a sandy soil, were very bad travellers. Instead of wading before the bullocks to feel if the ground was solid, the woman boldly entered the first swamp, riding upon the top of the load; but when she had proceeded about two hundred yards the bullock sunk into a hole, and threw both the load and herself among the reeds. The frightened husband stood for some time seemingly petrified with horror, and suffered his wife to be almost drowned before he went to her assistance.

About sunset we reached Sibity, but the dooty received me very coolly; and when I solicited for a guide to Sansanding he told me his people were otherwise employed. I was shown into a damp old hut, where I passed a very uncomfortable night; for when the walls of the huts are softened by the rain they frequently become too weak to support the weight of the roof. I heard three huts fall during the night, and was apprehensive that the hut I lodged in would be the fourth. In the morning, as I went to pull some grass for my horse, I counted fourteen huts which had fallen in this manner since the commencement of the rainy season.

It continued to rain with great violence all the 10th; and as the dooty refused to give me any provisions, I purchased some corn, which I divided with my horse.

August 11. — The dooty compelled me to depart from the town, and I set out for Sansanding without any great hopes of faring better than I had done at Sibity; for I learned, from people who came to visit me, that a report prevailed, and was universally believed, that I had come to Bambarra as a spy; and as Mansong had not admitted me into his presence, the dooties of the different towns were at liberty to treat me in what manner they pleased. From repeatedly hearing the same story I had no doubt of the truth of it; but as there was no alternative I determined to proceed, and a little before sunset I arrived at Sansanding. My reception was what I expected. Counti Mamadi, who had been so kind to me formerly, scarcely gave me welcome. Every one wished to shun me; and my landlord sent a person to inform me that a very unfavourable report was received from Sego concerning me, and that he wished me to depart early in the morning. About ten o’clock at night Counti Mamadi himself came privately to me, and informed me that Mansong had despatched a canoe to Jenne to bring me back; and he was afraid I should find great difficulty in going to the west country. He advised me therefore to depart from Sansanding before daybreak, and cautioned me against stopping at Diggani, or any town near Sego.

August 12. — I departed from Sansanding, and reached Kabba in the afternoon. As I approached the town I was surprised to see several people assembled at the gate, one of whom, as I advanced, came running towards me, and taking my horse by the bridle, led me round the walls of the town, and then, pointing to the west, told me to go along, or it would fare worse with me. It was in vain that I represented the danger of being benighted in the woods, exposed to the inclemency of the weather and the fury of wild beasts. “Go along!” was all the answer; and a number of people coming up and urging me in the same manner, with great earnestness, I suspected that some of the king’s messengers, who were sent in search of me, were in the town, and that these negroes, from mere kindness, conducted me past it with a view to facilitate my escape. I accordingly took the road for Sego, with the uncomfortable prospect of passing the night on the branches of a tree. After travelling about three miles, I came to a small village near the road. The dooty was splitting sticks by the gate, but I found I could have no admittance, and when I attempted to enter, he jumped up, and with the stick he held in his hand, threatened to strike me off the horse if I presumed to advance another step.

At a little distance from this village (and further from the road) is another small one. I conjectured that, being rather out of the common route, the inhabitants might have fewer objections to give me house-room for the night; and having crossed some cornfields, I sat down under a tree by the well. Two or three women came to draw water, and one of them, perceiving I was a stranger, inquired whither I was going. I told her I was going for Sego, but being benighted on the road, I wished to stay at the village until morning, and begged she would acquaint the dooty with my situation. In a little time the dooty sent for me, and permitted me to sleep in a large baloon.

August 13. — About ten o’clock I reached a small village within half a mile of Sego, where I endeavoured, but in vain, to procure some provisions. Every one seemed anxious to avoid me; and I can plainly perceive, by the looks and behaviour of the inhabitants, that some very unfavourable accounts had been circulated concerning me. I was again informed that Mansong had sent people to apprehend me, and the dooty’s son told me I had no time to lose if I wished to get safe out of Bambarra. I now fully saw the danger of my situation, and determined to avoid Sego altogether. I accordingly mounted my horse, and taking the road for Diggani, travelled as fast as I could till I was out of sight of the villagers, when I struck to the westward, through high grass and swampy ground. About noon I stopped under a tree to consider what course to take, for I had now no doubt that the Moors and slatees had misinformed the king respecting the object of my mission, and that people were absolutely in search of me to convey me a prisoner to Sego. Sometimes I had thoughts of swimming my horse across the Niger, and going to the southward for Cape Coast, but reflecting that I had ten days to travel before I should reach Kong, and afterwards an extensive country to traverse, inhabited by various nations with whose language and manners I was totally unacquainted, I relinquished this scheme, and judged that I should better answer the purpose of my mission by proceeding to the westward along the Niger, endeavouring to ascertain how far the river was navigable in that direction. Having resolved upon this course, I proceeded accordingly, and a little before sunset arrived at a Foulah village called Sooboo, where, for two hundred kowries, I procured lodging for the night.

August 14. — I continued my course along the bank of the river, through a populous and well-cultivated country. I passed a walled town called Kamalia 4 without stopping, and at noon rode through a large town called Samee, where there happened to be a market, and a number of people assembled in an open place in the middle of the town, selling cattle, cloth, corn, &c. I rode through the midst of them without being much observed, every one taking me for a Moor. In the afternoon I arrived at a small village called Binni, where I agreed with the dooty’s son, for one hundred kowries, to allow me to stay for the night; but when the dooty returned, he insisted that I should instantly leave the place, and if his wife and son had not interceded for me, I must have complied.

4 There is another town of this name hereafter to be mentioned.

August 15. — About nine o’clock I passed a large town called Sai, which very much excited my curiosity. It is completely surrounded by two very deep trenches, at about two hundred yards distant from the walls. On the top of the trenches are a number of square towers, and the whole has the appearance of a regular fortification.

About noon I came to the village of Kaimoo, situated upon the bank of the river, and as the corn I had purchased at Sibili was exhausted, I endeavoured to purchase a fresh supply, but was informed that corn was become very scarce all over the country, and though I offered fifty kowries for a small quantity, no person would sell me any. As I was about to depart, however, one of the villagers (who probably mistook me for some Moorish shereef) brought me some as a present, only desiring me to bestow my blessing upon him, which I did in plain English, and he received it with a thousand acknowledgments. Of this present I made my dinner, and it was the third successive day that I had subsisted entirely upon raw corn.

In the evening I arrived at a small village called Song, the surly inhabitants of which would not receive me, nor so much as permit me to enter the gate; but as lions were very numerous in this neighbourhood, and I had frequently, in the course of the day, observed the impression of their feet on the road, I resolved to stay in the vicinity of the village. Having collected some grass for my horse, I accordingly lay down under a tree by the gate. About ten o’clock I heard the hollow roar of a lion at no great distance, and attempted to open the gate, but the people from within told me that no person must attempt to enter the gate without the dooty’s permission. I begged them to inform the dooty that a lion was approaching the village, and I hoped he would allow me to come within the gate. I waited for an answer to this message with great anxiety, for the lion kept prowling round the village, and once advanced so very near me that I heard him rustling among the grass, and climbed the tree for safety. About midnight the dooty. with some of his people, opened the gate, and desired me to come in. They were convinced, they said, that I was not a Moor, for no Moor ever waited any time at the gate of a village without cursing the inhabitants.

August 16. — About ten o’clock I passed a considerable town, with a mosque, called Jabbee. Here the country begins to rise into hills, and I could see the summits of high mountains to the westward. About noon I stopped at a small village near Yamina, where I purchased some corn, and dried my papers and clothes.

The town of Yamina at a distance has a very fine appearance. It covers nearly the same extent of ground as Sansanding, but having been plundered by Daisy, king of Kaarta, about four years ago, it has not yet resumed its former prosperity, nearly one-half of the town being nothing but a heap of ruins. However, it is still a considerable place, and is so much frequented by the Moors that I did not think it safe to lodge in it, but in order to satisfy myself respecting its population and extent, I resolved to ride through it, in doing which I observed a great many Moors sitting upon the bentangs, and other places of public resort. Everybody looked at me with astonishment, but as I rode briskly along they had no time to ask questions.

I arrived in the evening at Farra, a walled village, where, without much difficulty, I procured a lodging for the night.

August 17. — Early in the morning I pursued my journey, and at eight o’clock passed a considerable town called Balaba, after which the road quits the plain, and stretches along the side of the hill. I passed in the course of this day the ruins of three towns, the inhabitants of which were all carried away by Daisy, king of Kaarta, on the same day that he took and plundered Yamina. Near one of these ruins I climbed a tamarind-tree, but found the fruit quite green and sour, and the prospect of the country was by no means inviting, for the high grass and bushes seemed completely to obstruct the road, and the low lands were all so flooded by the river, that the Niger had the appearance of an extensive lake. In the evening I arrived at Kanika, where the dooty, who was sitting upon an elephant’s hide at the gate, received me kindly, and gave me for supper some milk and meal, which I considered (as to a person in my situation it really was) a very great luxury.

August 18. — By mistake I took the wrong road, and did not discover my error until I had travelled nearly four miles, when, coming to an eminence, I observed the Niger considerably to the left. Directing my course towards it, I travelled through long grass and bushes with great difficulty until two o’clock in thee afternoon, when I came to a comparatively small but very rapid river, which I took at first for a creek, or one of the streams of the Niger. However, after I had examined it with more attention, I was convinced that it was a distinct river, and as the road evidently crossed it (for I could see the pathway on the opposite side), I sat down upon the bank in hopes that some traveller might arrive who would give me the necessary information concerning the fording-place — for the banks were so covered with reeds and bushes that it would have been almost impossible to land on the other side, except at the pathway, which, on account of the rapidity of the stream, it seemed very difficult to reach. No traveller however arriving, and there being a great appearance of rain, I examined the grass and bushes for some way up the bank, and determined upon entering the river considerably above the pathway, in order to reach the other side before the stream had swept me too far down. With this view I fastened my clothes upon the saddle, and was standing up to the neck in water, pulling my horse by the bridle to make him follow me, where a man came accidentally to the place, and seeing me in the water, called to me with great vehemence to come out. The alligators, he said, would devour both me and my horse, if we attempted to swim over. When I had got out, the stranger, who had never before seen a European, seemed wonderfully surprised. He twice put his hand to his mouth, exclaiming, in a low tone of voice, “God preserve me! who is this?” but when he heard me speak the Bambarra tongue, and found that I was going the same way as himself, he promised to assist me in crossing the river, the name of which he said was Frina. He then went a little way along the bank, and called to some person, who answered from the other side. In a short time a canoe with two boys came paddling from among the reeds. These boys agreed for fifty kowries to transport me and my horse over the river, which was effected without much difficulty, and I arrived in the evening at Taffara, a walled town, and soon discovered that the language of the natives was improved from the corrupted dialect of Bambarra to the pure Mandingo.

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