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

CHAPTER XXV

THE JALLONKA WILDERNESS; A WARLIKE TALE

We continued at Kinytakooro until noon of the 22nd of April, when we removed to a village about seven miles to the westward, the inhabitants of which, being apprehensive of hostilities from the Foulahs of Fooladoo, were at this time employed in constructing small temporary huts among the rocks, on the side of a high hill close to the village. The situation was almost impregnable, being everywhere surrounded with high precipices, except on the eastern side, where the natives had left a pathway sufficient to allow one person at a time to ascend. Upon the brow of the hill, immediately over this path, I observed several heaps of large loose stones, which the people told me were intended to be thrown down upon the Foulahs if they should attempt the hill.

At daybreak on the 23rd we departed from this village and entered the Jallonka Wilderness. We passed in the course of the morning the ruins of two small towns which had lately been burnt by the Foulahs. The fire must have been very intense, for I observed that the walls of many of the huts were slightly vitrified, and appeared at a distance as if covered with a red varnish. About ten o’clock we came to the river Wonda, which is somewhat larger than the river Kokoro; but the stream was at this the rather muddy, which Karfa assured me was occasioned by amazing shoals of fish. They were indeed seen in all directions, and in such abundance that I fancied the water itself tasted and smelt fishy. As soon as we had crossed the river, Karfa gave orders that all the people of the coffle should in future keep close together, and travel in their proper station. The guides and young men were accordingly placed in the van, the women and slaves in the centre, and the freemen in the rear. In this order we travelled with uncommon expedition through a woody but beautiful country, interspersed with a pleasing variety of hill and dale, and abounding with partridges, guinea-fowl, and deer, until sunset, when we arrived at a most romantic stream, called Co-meissang. My arms and neck having been exposed to the sun during the whole day, and irritated by the rubbing of my dress in walking, were now very much inflamed and covered with blisters, and I was happy to embrace the opportunity, while the coffle rested on the bank of the river, to bathe myself in the stream. This practice, together with the cool of the evening, much diminished the inflammation. About three miles to the westward of the Co-meissang we halted in a thick wood and kindled our fires for the night. We were all by this time very much fatigued, having, as I judged, travelled this day thirty miles, but no person was heard to complain. Whilst supper was preparing, Karfa made one of the slaves break some branches from the trees for my bed. When we had finished our supper of kouskous, moistened with some boiling water, and put the slaves in irons, we all lay down to sleep; but we were frequently disturbed in the night by the howling of wild beasts, and we found the small brown ants very troublesome.

April 24. — Before daybreak the bushreens said their morning prayers, and most of the free people drank a little moening (a sort of gruel), part of which was likewise given to such of the slaves as appeared least able to sustain the fatigues of the day. One of Karfa’s female slaves was very sulky, and when some gruel was offered to her she refused to drink it. As soon as day dawned we set out, and travelled the whole morning over a wild and rocky country, by which my feet were much bruised, and I was sadly apprehensive that I should not he able to keep up with the coffle during the day; but I was in a great measure relieved from this anxiety when I observed that others were more exhausted than myself. In particular, the woman slave who had refused victuals in the morning began now to lag behind, and complain dreadfully of pains in her legs. Her load was taken from her and given to another slave, and she was ordered to keep in the front of the coffle. About eleven o’clock, as we were resting by a small rivulet, some of the people discovered a hive of bees in a hollow tree, and they were proceeding to obtain the honey when the largest swarm I ever beheld flew out, and, attacking the people of the coffle, made us fly in all directions. I took the alarm first, and, I believe, was the only person who escaped with impunity. When our enemies thought fit to desist from pursuing us, and every person was employed in picking out the stings he had received, it was discovered that the poor woman above mentioned, whose name was Nealee, was not come up; and as many of the slaves in their retreat had left their brindles behind them, it became necessary for some persons to return and bring them. In order to do this with safety, fire was set to the grass a considerable way to the eastward of the hive, and, the wind driving the fire furiously along, the party pushed through the smoke and recovered the bundles. They likewise brought with them poor Nealee, whom they found lying by the rivulet. She was very much exhausted, and had crept to the stream in hopes to defend herself from the bees by throwing water over her body; but this proved ineffectual, for she was stung in the most dreadful manner.

When the slatees had picked out the stings as far as they could, she was washed with water and then rubbed with bruised leaves; but the wretched woman obstinately refused to proceed any farther, declaring that she would rather die than walk another step. As entreaties and threats were used in vain, the whip was at length applied; and after bearing patiently a few strokes she started up and walked with tolerable expedition for four or five hours longer, when she made an attempt to run away from the coffle, but was so very weak that she fell down in the grass. Though she was unable to rise, the whip was a second time applied, but without effect; upon which Karfa desired two of the slatees to place her upon the ass which carried our dry provisions; but she could not sit erect, and the ass being very refractory it was found impossible to carry her forward in that manner. The slatees, however, were unwilling to abandon her, the day’s journey being nearly ended; they therefore made a sort of litter of bamboo-canes, upon which she was placed, and tied on it with slips of bark. This litter was carried upon the heads of two slaves, one walking before the other, and they were followed by two others, who relieved them occasionally. In this manner the woman was carried forward until it was dark, when we reached a stream of water at the foot of a high hill called Gankaran–Kooro, and here we stopped for the night, and set about preparing our supper. As we had only ate one handful of meal since the preceding night, and travelled all day in a hot sun, many of the slaves who had loads upon their heads were very much fatigued, and some of them SNAPPED THEIR FINGERS, which among the negroes is a sure sign of desperation. The slatees immediately put them all in irons, and such of them as had evinced signs of great despondency were kept apart from the rest, and had their hands tied. In the morning they were found greatly recovered.

April 25. — At daybreak poor Nealee was awakened, but her limbs were now become so stiff and painful that she could neither walk nor stand; she was therefore lifted, like a corpse, upon the back of the ass, and the slatees endeavoured to secure her in that situation by fastening her hands together under the ass’s neck, and her feet under the belly, with long slips of bark; but the ass was so very unruly that no sort of treatment could induce him to proceed with his load, and as Nealee made no exertion to prevent herself from falling she was quickly thrown off, and had one of her legs much bruised. Every attempt to carry her forward being thus found ineffectual, the general cry of the coffle was Kang-tegi, kang-tegi (“Cut her throat, cut her throat”)— an operation I did not wish to see performed, and therefore marched onwards with the foremost of the coffle. I had not walked above a mile, when one of Karfa’s domestic slaves came up to me, with poor Nealea’s garment upon the end of his bow, and exclaimed, Nealee affeeleeta (“Nealee is lost”)! I asked him whether the slatees had given him the garment as a reward for cutting her throat. He replied that Karfa and the schoolmaster would not consent to that measure, but had left her on the road, where undoubtedly she soon perished, and was probably devoured by wild beasts.

The sad fate of this wretched woman, notwithstanding the outcry before mentioned, made a strong impression on the mind of the whole coffle, and the schoolmaster fasted the whole of the ensuing day in consequence of it. We proceeded in deep silence, and soon afterwards crossed the river Furkoomah, which was about as large as the river Wonda. We now travelled with great expedition, every one being apprehensive he might otherwise meet with the fate of poor Nealee. It was, however, with great difficulty that I could keep up, although I threw away my spear and everything that could in the least obstruct me. About noon we saw a large herd of elephants, but they suffered us to pass unmolested; and in the evening we halted near a thicket of bamboo, but found no water, so that we were forced to proceed four miles farther to a small stream, where we stopped for the night. We had marched this day, as I judged, about twenty-six miles.

April 26. — This morning two of the schoolmaster’s pupils complained much of pains in their legs, and one of the slaves walked lame, the soles of his feet being very much blistered and inflamed; we proceeded, notwithstanding, and about eleven o’clock began to ascend a rocky hill called Boki–Kooro, and it was past two in the afternoon before we reached the level ground on the other side. This was the most rocky road we had yet encountered, and it hurt our feet much. In a short time we arrived at a pretty large river, called Boki, which we forded; it ran smooth and clear over a bed of whinstone. About a mile to the westward of the river we came to a road which leads to the north-east towards Gadou, and seeing the marks of many horses’ feet upon the soft sand, the slatees conjectured that a party of plunderers had lately rode that way to fall upon some town of Gadou; and lest they should discover upon their return that we had passed, and attempt to pursue us by the marks of our feet, the coffle was ordered to disperse and travel in a loose manner through the high grass and bushes. A little before it was dark, having crossed the ridge of hills to the westward of the river Boki, we came to a well called Cullong Qui (White Sand Well), and here we rested for the night.

April 27. — We departed from the well early in the morning, and walked on with the greatest alacrity, in hopes of reaching a town before night. The road during the forenoon led through extensive thickets of dry bamboos. About two o’clock we came to a stream called Nunkolo, where we were each of us regaled with a handful of meal, which, according to a superstitious custom, was not to be eaten until it was first moistened with water from this stream. About four o’clock we reached Sooseeta, a small Jallonka village, situated in the district of Kullo, which comprehends all that tract of country lying along the banks of the Black River, or main branch of the Senegal. These were the first human habitations we had seen since we left the village to the westward of Kinytakooro, having travelled in the course of the last five days upwards of one hundred miles. Here, after a great deal of entreaty, we were provided with huts to sleep in, but the master of the village plainly told us that he could not give us any provisions, as there had lately been a great scarcity in this part of the country. He assured us that, before they had gathered in their present crops, the whole inhabitants of Kullo had been for twenty-nine days without tasting corn, during which time they supported themselves entirely upon the yellow powder which is found in the pods of the nitta, so called by the natives, a species of mimosa, and upon the seeds of the bamboo-cane, which, when properly pounded and dressed, taste very much like rice. As our dry provisions were not yet exhausted, a considerable quantity of kouskous was dressed for supper, and many of the villagers were invited to take part of the repast; but they made a very bad return for this kindness, for in the night they seized upon one of the schoolmaster’s boys, who had fallen asleep under the bentang tree, and carried him away. The boy fortunately awoke before he was far from the village, and, setting up a loud scream, the man who carried him put his hand upon his mouth and ran with him into the woods; but afterwards understanding that he belonged to the schoolmaster, whose place of residence is only three days’ journey distant, he thought, I suppose, that he could not retain him as a slave without the schoolmaster’s knowledge, and therefore stripped off the boy’s clothes and permitted him to return.

April 28. — Early in the morning we departed from Sooseeta, and about ten o’clock came to an unwalled town, called Manna, the inhabitants of which were employed in collecting the fruit of the nitta-trees, which are very numerous in this neighbourhood. The pods are long and narrow, and contain a few black seeds, enveloped in the fine mealy powder before mentioned; the meal itself is of a bright yellow colour, resembling the flour of sulphur, and has a sweet mucilaginous taste. When eaten by itself it is clammy, but when mixed with milk or water it constitutes a very pleasant and nourishing article of diet.

The language of the people of Manna is the same that is spoken all over that extensive and hilly country called Jallonkadoo. Some of the words have a great affinity to the Mandingo, but the natives themselves consider it as a distinct language. Their numerals are these

One, Kidding.
Two, Fidding.
Three, Sarra.
Four, Nani.
Five, Soolo.
Six, Seni.
Seven, Soolo ma fidding.
Eight, Soolo ma sarra.
Nine, Soolo ma nani.
Ten, Nuff.

The Jallonkas, like the Mandingoes, are governed by a number of petty chiefs, who are in a great measure independent of each other. They have no common sovereign, and the chiefs are seldom upon such terms of friendship as to assist each other even in war-time. The chief of Manna, with a number of his people, accompanied us to the banks of the Bafing, or Black River (a principal branch of the Senegal), which we crossed upon a bridge of bamboos of a very singular construction. The river at this place is smooth and deep, and has very little current. Two tall trees, when tied together by the tops, are sufficiently long to reach from one side to the other, the roots resting upon the rocks, and the tops floating in the water. When a few trees have been placed in this direction, they are covered with dry bamboos, so as to form a floating bridge, with a sloping gangway at each end, where the trees rest upon the rocks. This bridge is carried away every year by the swelling of the river in the rainy season, and is constantly rebuilt by the inhabitants of Manna, who, on that account, expect a small tribute from every passenger.

In the afternoon we passed several villages, at none of which we could procure a lodging, and in the twilight we received information that two hundred Jallonkas had assembled near a town called Melo, with a view to plunder the coffle. This induced us to alter our course, and we travelled with great secrecy until midnight, when we approached a town called Koba. Before we entered the town the names of all the people belonging to the coffle were called over, and a freeman and three slaves were found to be missing. Every person immediately concluded that the slaves had murdered the freeman and made their escape. It was therefore agreed that six people should go back as far as the last village, and endeavour to find his body, or collect some information concerning the slaves. In the meantime the coffle was ordered to lie concealed in a cotton-field near a large nitta-tree, and nobody to speak except in a whisper. It was towards morning before the six men returned, having heard nothing of the man or the slaves. As none of us had tasted victuals for the last twenty-four hours, it was agreed that we should go into Koba and endeavour to procure some provisions. We accordingly entered the town before it was quite day, and Karfa purchased from the chief man, for three strings of beads, a considerable quantity of ground nuts, which we roasted and ate for breakfast. We were afterwards provided with huts, and rested here for the day.

About eleven o’clock, to our great joy and surprise, the freeman and slaves who had parted from the coffle the preceding night entered the town. One of the slaves, it seems, had hurt his foot, and the night being very dark they soon lost sight of the coffle. The freeman, as soon as he found himself alone with the slaves was aware of his own danger, and insisted on putting them in irons. The slaves were at first rather unwilling to submit, but when he threatened to stab them one by one with his spear, they made no farther resistance; and he remained with them among the bushes until morning, when he let them out of irons, and came to the town in hopes of hearing which route the coffle had taken. The information that we received concerning the Jallonkas who intended to rob the coffle was this day confirmed, and we were forced to remain here until the afternoon of the 30th, when Karfa hired a number of people to protect us, and we proceeded to a village called Tinkingtang. Departing from this village on the day following, we crossed a high ridge of mountains to the west of the Black River, and travelled over a rough stony country until sunset, when we arrived at Lingicotta, a small village in the district of Woradoo. Here we shook out the last handful of meal from our dry provision-bags, this being the second day, since we crossed the Black River, that we had travelled from morning until night without tasting one morsel of food.

May 2. — We departed from Lingicotta; but the slaves being very much fatigued, we halted for the night at a village about nine miles to the westward, and procured some provisions through the interest of the schoolmaster, who now sent forward a messenger to Malacotta, his native town, to inform his friends of his arrival in the country, and to desire them to provide the necessary quantity of victuals to entertain the coffle for two or three days.

May 3. — We set out for Malacotta, and about noon arrived at a village near a considerable stream of water which flows to the westward. Here we determined to stop for the return of the messenger who had been sent to Malacotta the day before; and as the natives assured me there were no crocodiles in this stream, I went and bathed myself. Very few people here can swim, for they came in numbers to dissuade me from venturing into a pool where they said the water would come over my head. About two o’clock the messenger returned from Malacotta, and the schoolmaster’s elder brother, being impatient to see him, came along with the messenger to meet him at this village. The interview between the two brothers, who had not seen each other for nine years, was very natural and affecting. They fell upon each other’s neck, and it was some time before either of them could speak. At length, when the schoolmaster had a little recovered himself, he took his brother by the hand, and turning round, “This is the man,” said he, pointing to Karfa, “who has been my father in Manding. I would have pointed him out sooner to you, but my heart was too full.”

We reached Malacotta in the evening, where we were well received. This is an unwalled town. The huts for the most part are made of split cane, twisted into a sort of wicker-work, and plastered over with mud. Here we remained three days, and were each day presented with a bullock from the schoolmaster. We were likewise well entertained by the townspeople, who appear to be very active and industrious. They make very good soap by boiling ground nuts in water, and then adding a ley of wood-ashes. They likewise manufacture excellent iron, which they carry to Bondou to barter for salt. A party of the townspeople had lately returned from a trading expedition of this kind, and brought information concerning a war between Almami Abdulkader, king of Foota–Torra, and Damel, king of the Jaloffs. The events of this war soon became a favourite subject with the singing men and the common topic of conversation in all the kingdoms bordering upon the Senegal and Gambia; and, as the account is somewhat singular, I shall here abridge it for the reader’s information. The king of Foota–Torra, inflamed with a zeal for propagating his religion, had sent an embassy to Damel similar to that which he had sent to Kasson, as has been previously related. The ambassador on the present occasion was accompanied by two of the principal bushreens, who carried each a large knife fixed on the top of a long pole. As soon as he had procured admission into the presence of Damel, and announced the pleasure of his Sovereign, he ordered the bushreens to present the emblems of his mission. The two knives were accordingly laid before Damel, and the ambassador explained himself as follows:— “With this knife,” said he, “Abdulkader will condescend to shave the head of Damel, if Damel will embrace the Mohammedan faith; and with this other knife Abdulkader will cut the throat of Damel if Damel refuses to embrace it: take your choice.” Damel coolly told the ambassador that he had no choice to make; he neither chose to have his head shaved nor his throat cut; and with this answer the ambassador was civilly dismissed. Abdulkader took his measures accordingly, and with a powerful army invaded Damel’s country. The inhabitants of the towns and villages filled up their wells, destroyed their provisions, carried off their effects, and abandoned their dwellings as he approached. By this means he was led on from place to place, until he had advanced three days’ journey into the country of the Jaloffs. He had, indeed, met with no opposition, but his army had suffered so much from the scarcity of water that several of his men had died by the way. This induced him to direct his march towards a watering-place in the woods, where his men, having quenched their thirst and being overcome with fatigue, lay down carelessly to sleep among the bushes. In this situation they were attacked by Damel before daybreak and completely routed. Many of them were trampled to death as they lay asleep by the Jaloff horses; others were killed in attempting to make their escape; and a still greater number were taken prisoners. Among the latter was Abdulkader himself. This ambitious, or, rather, frantic prince, who but a month before had sent the threatening message to Damel, was now himself led into his presence as a miserable captive. The behaviour of Damel on this occasion is never mentioned by the singing men but in terms of the highest approbation; and it was indeed so extraordinary in an African prince that the reader may find it difficult to give credit to the recital. When his royal prisoner was brought before him in irons, and thrown upon the ground, the magnanimous Damel, instead of setting his foot upon his neck and stabbing him with his spear, according to custom in such cases, addressed him as follows:— “Abdulkader, answer me this question. If the chance of war had placed me in your situation, and you in mine, how would you have treated me?” “I would have thrust my spear into your heart,” returned Abdulkader, with great firmness; “and I know that a similar fate awaits me.” “Not so,” said Damel; “my spear is indeed red with the blood of your subjects, killed in battle, and I could now give it a deeper stain by dipping it in your own; but this would not build up my towns, nor bring to life the thousands who fell in the woods. I will not, therefore, kill you in cold blood, but I will retain you as my slave, until I perceive that your presence in your own kingdom will be no longer dangerous to your neighbours, and then I will consider of the proper way of disposing of you.” Abdulkader was accordingly retained, and worked as a slave for three months; at the end of which period Damel listened to the solicitations of the inhabitants of Foota–Torra, and restored to them their king. Strange as this story may appear, I have no doubt of the truth of it. It was told me at Malacotta by the negroes; it was afterwards related to me by the Europeans on the Gambia, by some of the French at Goree, and confirmed by nine slaves who were taken prisoners along with Abdulkader by the watering-place in the woods and carried in the same ship with me to the West Indies.

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