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



Tallika, the frontier town of Bondou towards Woolli, is inhabited chiefly by Foulahs of the Mohammedan religion, who live in considerable affluence, partly by furnishing provisions to the coffles, or caravans, that pass through the town, and partly by the sale of ivory, obtained by hunting elephants, in which employment the young men are generally very successful. Here an officer belonging to the king of Bondou constantly resides, whose business it is to give timely information of the arrival of the caravans, which are taxed according to the number of loaded asses that arrive at Tallika.

I took up my residence at this officer’s house, and agreed with him to accompany me to Fatteconda, the residence of the king, for which he was to receive five bars; and before my departure I wrote a few lines to Dr. Laidley, and gave my letter to the master of a caravan bound for the Gambia. This caravan consisted of nine or ten people, with five asses loaded with ivory. The large teeth are conveyed in nets, two on each side of the ass; the small ones are wrapped up in skins, and secured with ropes.

December 14. — We left Tallika, and rode on very peaceably for about two miles, when a violent quarrel arose between two of my fellow-travellers, one of whom was the blacksmith, in the course of which they bestowed some opprobrious terms upon each other; and it is worthy of remark, that an African will sooner forgive a blow than a term of reproach applied to his ancestors. “Strike me, but do not curse my mother,” is a common expression even among the slaves. This sort of abuse, therefore, so enraged one of the disputants, that he drew his cutlass upon the blacksmith, and would certainly have ended the dispute in a very serious manner, if the others had not laid hold of him and wrested the cutlass from him. I was obliged to interfere, and put an end to this disagreeable business by desiring the blacksmith to be silent, and telling the other, who I thought was in the wrong, that if he attempted in future to draw his cutlass, or molest any of my attendants, I should look upon him as a robber, and shoot him without further ceremony. This threat had the desired effect, and we marched sullenly along till the afternoon, when we arrived at a number of small villages scattered over an open and fertile plain. At one of these, called Ganado, we took up our residence for the night; here an exchange of presents and a good supper terminated all animosities among my attendants, and the night was far advanced before any of us thought of going to sleep. We were amused by an itinerant SINGING MAN, who told a number of diverting stories, and played some sweet airs by blowing his breath upon a bow-string, and striking it at the same time with a stick.

December 15. — At daybreak my fellow-travellers, the Serawoollies, took leave of me, with many prayers for my safety. About a mile from Ganado we crossed a considerable branch of the Gambia, called Neriko. The banks were steep and covered with mimosas; and I observed in the mud a number of large mussels, but the natives do not eat them. About noon, the sun being exceedingly hot, we rested two hours in the shade of a tree, and purchased some milk and pounded corn from some Foulah herdsmen, and at sunset reached a town called Koorkarany, where the blacksmith had some relations; and here we rested two days.

Koorkarany is a Mohammedan town surrounded by a high wall, and is provided with a mosque. Here I was shown a number of Arabic manuscripts, particularly a copy of the book before mentioned, called Al Sharra. The maraboo, or priest, in whose possession it was, read and explained to me in Mandingo many of the most remarkable passages, and, in return, I showed him Richardson’s Arabic Grammar, which he very much admired.

On the evening of the second day (December 17) we departed from Koorkarany. We were joined by a young man who was travelling to Fatteconda for salt; and as night set in we reached Dooggi, a small village about three miles from Koorkarany.

Provisions were here so cheap that I purchased a bullock for six small stones of amber; for I found my company increase or diminish according to the good fare they met with.

December 18. — Early in the morning we departed from Dooggi, and, being joined by a number of Foulahs and other people, made a formidable appearance, and were under no apprehension of being plundered in the woods. About eleven o’clock, one of the asses proving very refractory, the negroes took a curious method to make him tractable. They cut a forked stick, and putting the forked part into the ass’s mouth, like the bit of a bridle, tied the two smaller parts together above his head, leaving the lower part of the stick of sufficient length to strike against the ground, if the ass should attempt to put his head down. After this the ass walked along quietly and gravely enough, taking care, after some practice, to hold his head sufficiently high to prevent stones or roots of trees from striking against the end of the stick, which experience had taught him would give a severe shock to his teeth. This contrivance produced a ludicrous appearance, but my fellow-travellers told me it was constantly adopted by the slatees, and always proved effectual.

In the evening we arrived at a few scattered villages, surrounded with extensive cultivation, at one of which, called Buggil, we passed the night in a miserable hut, having no other bed than a bundle of corn-stalks, and no provisions but what we brought with us. The wells here are dug with great ingenuity, and are very deep. I measured one of the bucket-ropes, and found the depth of the well to be twenty-eight fathoms.

December 19. — We departed from Buggil, and travelled along a dry, stony height, covered with mimosas, till mid-day, when the land sloped towards the east, and we descended into a deep valley, in which I observed abundance of whinstone and white quartz. Pursuing our course to the eastward, along this valley in the bed of an exhausted river-course, we came to a large village, where we intended to lodge. We found many of the natives dressed in a thin French gauze, which they called byqui; this being a light airy dress, and well calculated to display the shape of their persons, is much esteemed by the ladies. The manners of these females, however, did not correspond with their dress, for they were rude and troublesome in the highest degree; they surrounded me in numbers, begging for amber, beads, &c., and were so vehement in their solicitations, that I found it impossible to resist them. They tore my cloak, cut the buttons from my boy’s clothes, and were proceeding to other outrages, when I mounted my horse and rode off, followed for half-a-mile by a body of these harpies.

In the evening we reached Soobrudooka, and as my company was numerous (being fourteen), I purchased a sheep and abundance of corn for supper; after which we lay down by the bundles, and passed an uncomfortable night in a heavy dew.

December 20. — We departed from Soobrudooka, and at two o’clock reached a large village situated on the banks of the Faleme river, which is here rapid and rocky. The natives were employed in fishing in various ways. The large fish were taken in long baskets made of split cane, and placed in a strong current, which was created by walls of stone built across the stream, certain open places being left, through which the water rushed with great force. Some of these baskets were more than twenty feet long, and when once the fish had entered one of them, the force of the stream prevented it from returning. The small fish were taken in great numbers in hand-nets, which the natives weave of cotton, and use with great dexterity. The fish last mentioned are about the size of sprats, and are prepared for sale in different ways; the most common is by pounding them entire as they come from the stream, in a wooden mortar, and exposing them to dry in the sun, in large lumps like sugar loaves. It may be supposed that the smell is not very agreeable; but in the Moorish countries to the north of the Senegal, where fish is scarcely known, this preparation is esteemed as a luxury, and sold to considerable advantage. The manner of using it by the natives is by dissolving a piece of this black loaf in boiling water, and mixing it with their kouskous.

On returning to the village, after an excursion to the river-side to inspect the fishery, an old Moorish shereef came to bestow his blessing upon me, and beg some paper to write saphies upon. This man had seen Major Houghton in the kingdom of Kaarta, and told me that he died in the country of the Moors.

About three in the afternoon we continued our course along the bank of the river to the northward, till eight o’clock, when we reached Nayemow. Here the hospitable master of the town received us kindly, and presented us with a bullock. In return I gave him some amber and beads.

December 21. — In the morning, having agreed for a canoe to carry over my bundles, I crossed the river, which came up to my knees as I sat on my horse; but the water is so clear, that from the high bank the bottom is visible all the way over.

About noon we entered Fatteconda, the capital of Bondou, and in a little time received an invitation to the house of a respectable slatee: for as there are no public-houses in Africa, it is customary for strangers to stand at the bentang, or some other place of public resort, till they are invited to a lodging by some of the inhabitants. We accepted the offer; and in an hour afterwards a person came and told me that he was sent on purpose to conduct me to the king, who was very desirous of seeing me immediately, if I was not too much fatigued.

I took my interpreter with me, and followed the messenger till we got quite out of the town, and crossed some corn-fields; when, suspecting some trick, I stopped, and asked the guide whither he was going. Upon which, he pointed to a man sitting under a tree at some little distance, and told me that the king frequently gave audience in that retired manner, in order to avoid a crowd of people, and that nobody but myself and my interpreter must approach him. When I advanced the king desired me to come and sit by him upon the mat; and, after hearing my story, on which be made no observation, he asked if I wished to purchase any slaves or gold. Being answered in the negative, he seemed rather surprised, but desired me to come to him in the evening, and he would give me some provisions.

This monarch was called Almami, a Moorish name, though I was told that he was not a Mohammedan, but a kafir or pagan. I had heard that he had acted towards Major Houghton with great unkindness, and caused him to be plundered. His behaviour, therefore, towards myself at this interview, though much more civil than I expected, was far from freeing me from uneasiness. I still apprehended some double-dealing; and as I was now entirely in his power, I thought it best to smooth the way by a present. Accordingly, I took with me in the evening one canister of gunpowder, some amber, tobacco, and my umbrella; and as I considered that my bundles would inevitably be searched, I concealed some few articles in the roof of the hut where I lodged, and I put on my new blue coat in order to preserve it.

All the houses belonging to the king and his family are surrounded by a lofty mud wall, which converts the whole into a kind of citadel. The interior is subdivided into different courts. At the first place of entrance I observed a man standing with a musket on his shoulder; and I found the way to the presence very intricate, leading through many passages, with sentinels placed at the different doors. When we came to the entrance of the court in which the king resides, both my guide and interpreter, according to custom, took off their sandals; and the former pronounced the king’s name aloud, repeating it till he was answered from within. We found the monarch sitting upon a mat, and two attendants with him. I repeated what I had before told him concerning the object of my journey, and my reasons for passing through his country. He seemed, however, but half satisfied. When I offered to show him the contents of my portmanteau, and everything belonging to me, he was convinced; and it was evident that his suspicion had arisen from a belief that every white man must of necessity be a trader. When I had delivered my presents, he seemed well pleased, and was particularly delighted with the umbrella, which he repeatedly furled and unfurled, to the great admiration of himself and his two attendants, who could not for some time comprehend the use of this wonderful machine. After this I was about to take my leave, when the king, desiring me to stop a while, began a long preamble in favour of the whites, extolling their immense wealth and good dispositions. He next proceeded to an eulogium on my blue coat, of which the yellow buttons seemed particularly to catch his fancy; and he concluded by entreating me to present him with it, assuring me, for my consolation under the loss of it, that he would wear it on all public occasions, and inform every one who saw it of my great liberality towards him. The request of an African prince, in his own dominions, particularly when made to a stranger, comes little short of a command. It is only a way of obtaining by gentle means what he can, if he pleases, take by force; and as it was against my interest to offend him by a refusal, I very quietly took off my coat, the only good one in my possession, and laid it at his feet.

In return for my compliance, he presented me with great plenty of provisions, and desired to see me again in the morning. I accordingly attended, and found in sitting upon his bed. He told me he was sick, and wished to have a little blood taken from him; but I had no sooner, tied up his arm and displayed the lancet, than his courage failed, and he begged me to postpone the operation till the afternoon, as he felt himself, he said, much better than he had been, and thanked me kindly for my readiness to serve him. He then observed that his women were very desirous to see me, and requested that I would favour them with a visit. An attendant was ordered to conduct me; and I had no sooner entered the court appropriated to the ladies, than the whole seraglio surrounded me — some begging for physic, some for amber, and all of them desirous of trying that great African specific, BLOOD-LETTING. They were ten or twelve in number, most of them young and handsome, and wearing on their heads ornaments of gold, and beads of amber.

They rallied me with a good deal of gaiety on different subjects, particularly upon the whiteness of my skin and the prominency of my nose. They insisted that both were artificial. The first, they said, was produced when I was an infant, by dipping me in milk; and they insisted that my nose had been pinched every day, till it had acquired its present unsightly and unnatural conformation. On my part, without disputing my own deformity, I paid them many compliments on African beauty. I praised the glossy jet of their skins, and the lovely depression of their noses; but they said that flattery, or, as they emphatically termed it, honey-mouth, was not esteemed in Bondou. In return, however, for my company or my compliments (to which, by the way, they seemed not so insensible as they affected to be) they presented me with a jar of honey and some fish, which were sent to my lodging; and I was desired to come again to the king a little before sunset.

I carried with me some beads and writing-paper, it being usual to present some small offering on taking leave, in return for which the king gave me five drachms of gold, observing that it was but a trifle, and given out of pure friendship, but would be of use to me in travelling, for the purchase of provisions. He seconded this act of kindness by one still greater, politely telling me that, though it was customary to examine the baggage of every traveller passing through his country, yet, in the present instance, he would dispense without ceremony, adding, I was at liberty to depart when I pleased.

Accordingly, on the morning of the 23rd, we left Fatteconda, and about eleven o’clock came to a small village, where we determined to stop for the rest of the day.

In the afternoon my fellow-travellers informed me that, as this was the boundary between Bondou and Kajaaga, and dangerous for travellers, it would be necessary to continue our journey by night, until we should reach a more hospitable part of the country. I agreed to the proposal, and hired two people for guides through the woods; and as soon as the people of the village were gone to sleep (the moon shining bright) we set out. The stillness of the air, the howling of the wild beasts, and the deep solitude of the forest, made the scene solemn and oppressive. Not a word was uttered by any of us but in a whisper; all were attentive, and every one anxious to show his sagacity by pointing out to me the wolves and hyaenas, as they glided like shadows from one thicket to another. Towards morning we arrived at a village called Kimmoo, where our guides awakened one of their acquaintances, and we stopped to give the asses some corn, and roast a few ground-nuts for ourselves. At daylight we resumed our journey, and in the afternoon arrived at Joag, in the kingdom of Kajaaga.

Being now in a country and among a people differing in many respects from those that have as yet fallen under our observation, I shall, before I proceed further, give some account of Bondou (the territory we have left) and its inhabitants, the Foulahs, the description of whom I purposely reserved for this part of my work.

Bondou is bounded on the east by Bambouk, on the south-east and south by Tenda and the Simbani wilderness, on the south-west by Woolli, on the west by Foota Torra, and on the north by Kajaaga.

The country, like that of Woolli, is very generally covered with woods, but the land is more elevated, and, towards the Faleme river, rises into considerable hills. In native fertility the soil is not surpassed, I believe, by any part of Africa.

From the central situation of Bondou, between the Gambia and Senegal rivers, it is become a place of great resort, both for the slatees, who generally pass through it on going from the coast to the interior countries, and for occasional traders, who frequently come hither from the inland countries to purchase salt.

These different branches of commerce are conducted principally by Mandingoes and Serawoollies, who have settled in the country. These merchants likewise carry on a considerable trade with Gedumah and other Moorish countries, bartering corn and blue cotton cloths for salt, which they again barter in Dentila and other districts for iron, shea-butter, and small quantities of gold-dust. They likewise sell a variety of sweet-smelling gums, packed up in small bags, containing each about a pound. These gums, being thrown on hot embers, produce a very pleasant odour, and are used by the Mandingoes for perfuming their huts and clothes.

The customs, or duties on travellers, are very heavy; in almost every town an ass-load pays a bar of European merchandise, and at Fatteconda, the residence of the king, one Indian baft, or a musket, and six bottles of gunpowder, are exacted as the common tribute. By means of these duties, the king of Bondou is well supplied with arms and ammunition — a circumstance which makes him formidable to the neighbouring states.

The inhabitants differ in their complexions and national manners from the Mandingoes and Serawoollies, with whom they are frequently at war. Some years ago the king of Bondou crossed the Faleme river with a numerous army; and, after a short and bloody campaign, totally defeated the forces of Samboo, king of Bambouk, who was obliged to sue for peace, and surrender to him all the towns along the eastern bank of the Faleme.

The Foulahs in general (as has been observed in a former chapter) are of a tawny complexion, with small features and soft silky hair; next to the Mandingoes, they are undoubtedly the most considerable of all the nations in this part of Africa. Their original country is said to be Fooladoo (which signifies the country of the Foulahs); but they possess at present many other kingdoms at a great distance from each other; their complexion, however, is not exactly the same in the different districts; in Bondou, and the other kingdoms which are situated in the vicinity of the Moorish territories, they are of a more yellow complexion than in the southern states.

The Foulahs of Bondou are naturally of a mild and gentle disposition, but the uncharitable maxims of the Koran have made them less hospitable to strangers, and more reserved in their behaviour, than the Mandingoes. They evidently consider all the negro natives as their inferiors; and, when talking of different nations, always rank themselves among the white people.

Their government differs from that of the Mandingoes chiefly in this, that they are more immediately under the influence of Mohammedan laws; for all the chief men, the king excepted, and a large majority of the inhabitants of Bondou, are Mussulmans, and the authority and laws of the Prophet are everywhere looked upon as sacred and decisive. In the exercise of their faith, however, they are not very intolerant towards such of their countrymen as still retain their ancient superstitions. Religious persecution is not known among them, nor is it necessary; for the system of Mohammed is made to extend itself by means abundantly more efficacious. By establishing small schools in the different towns, where many of the pagan as well as Mohammedan children are taught to read the Koran, and instructed in the tenets of the Prophet, the Mohammedan priests fix a bias on the minds, and form the character, of their young disciples, which no accidents of life can ever afterwards remove or alter. Many of these little schools I visited in my progress through the country, and I observed with pleasure the great docility and submissive deportment of the children, and heartily wished they had had better instructors and a purer religion.

With the Mohammedan faith is also introduced the Arabic language, with which most of the Foulahs have a slight acquaintance. Their native tongue abounds very much in liquids, but there is something unpleasant in the manner of pronouncing it. A stranger, on hearing the common conversation of two Foulahs, would imagine that they were scolding each other. Their numerals are these:—

One, Go.
Two, Deeddee.
Three, Tettee.
Four, Nee.
Five, Jouee.
Six, Jego.
Seven, Jedeeddee.
Eight, Je Tettee.
Nine, Je Nee.
Ten, Sappo.

The industry of the Foulahs, in the occupations of pasturage and agriculture, is everywhere remarkable. Even on the banks of the Gambia, the greater part of the corn is raised by them, and their herds and flocks are more numerous and in better condition than those of the Mandingoes; but in Bondou they are opulent in a high degree, and enjoy all the necessaries of life in the greatest profusion. They display great skill in the management of their cattle, making them extremely gentle by kindness and familiarity. On the approach of the night, they are collected from the woods and secured in folds called korrees, which are constructed in the neighbourhood of the different villages. In the middle of each korree is erected a small hut, wherein one or two of the herdsmen keep watch during the night, to prevent the cattle from being stolen, and to keep up the fires which are kindled round the korree to frighten away the wild beasts.

The cattle are milked in the mornings and evenings: the milk is excellent; but the quantity obtained from any one cow is by no means so great as in Europe. The Foulahs use the milk chiefly as an article of diet, and that not until it is quite sour. The cream which it affords is very thick, and is converted into butter by stirring it violently in a large calabash. This butter, when melted over a gentle fire, and freed from impurities, is preserved in small earthen pots, and forms a part in most of their dishes; it serves likewise to anoint their heads, and is bestowed very liberally on their faces and arms.

But although milk is plentiful, it is somewhat remarkable that the Foulahs, and indeed all the inhabitants of this part of Africa, are totally unacquainted with the art of making cheese. A firm attachment to the customs of their ancestors makes them view with an eye of prejudice everything that looks like innovation. The heat of the climate and the great scarcity of salt are held forth as unanswerable objections; and the whole process appears to them too long and troublesome to be attended with any solid advantage.

Besides the cattle, which constitute the chief wealth of the Foulahs, they possess some excellent horses, the breed of which seems to be a mixture of the Arabian with the original African.

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