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

CHAPTER VII

INTERVIEW WITH KING DEMBA SEGO JALLA

About eight o’clock in the morning of January 15th, 1796, we went to an audience of the king (Demba Sego Jalla), but the crowd of people to see me was so great that I could scarcely get admittance. A passage being at length obtained, I made my bow to the monarch, whom we found sitting upon a mat, in a large hut. He appeared to be a man of about sixty years of age. His success in war, and the mildness of his behaviour in time of peace, had much endeared him to all his subjects. He surveyed me with great attention; and when Salim Daucari explained to him the object of my journey, and my reasons for passing through his country, the good old king appeared not only perfectly satisfied, but promised me every assistance in his power. He informed me that he had seen Major Houghton, and presented him with a white horse; but that, after crossing the kingdom of Kaarta, he had lost his life among the Moors, in what manner he could not inform me. When this audience was ended we returned to our lodging, and I made up a small present for the king out of the few effects that were left me; for I had not yet received anything from Salim Daucari. This present, though inconsiderable in itself, was well received by the king, who sent me in return a large white bullock. The sight of this animal quite delighted my attendants; not so much on account of its bulk, as from its being of a white colour, which is considered as a particular mark of favour. But although the king himself was well disposed towards me, and readily granted me permission to pass through his territories, I soon discovered that very great and unexpected obstacles were likely to impede my progress. Besides the war which was on the point of breaking out between Kasson and Kajaaga, I was told that the next kingdom of Kaarta, through which my route lay, was involved in the issue, and was furthermore threatened with hostilities on the part of Bambarra. The king himself informed me of these circumstances, and advised me to stay in the neighbourhood of Kooniakary till such time as he could procure proper information respecting Bambarra, which he expected to do in the course of four or five days, as he had already, he said, sent four messengers into Kaarta for that purpose. I readily submitted to this proposal, and went to Soolo, to stay there till the return of one of those messengers. This afforded me a favourable opportunity of receiving what money Salim Daucari could spare me on Dr. Laidley’s account. I succeeded in receiving the value of there slaves, chiefly in gold dust; and being anxious to proceed as quickly as possible, I begged Daucari to use his interest with the king to allow me a guide by the way of Fooladoo, as I was informed that the war had already commenced between the kings of Bambarra and Kaarta. Daucari accordingly set out for Kooniakary on the morning of the 20th, and the same evening returned with the king’s answer, which was to this purpose — that the king had, many years ago, made an agreement with Daisy, king of Kaarta, to send all merchants and travellers through his dominions; but that if I wished to take the route through Fooladoo I had his permission so to do; though he could not, consistently with his agreement, lend me a guide. Having felt the want of regal protection in a former part of my journey, I was unwilling to hazard a repetition of the hardships I had then experienced, especially as the money I had received was probably the last supply that I should obtain. I therefore determined to wait for the return of the messengers from Kaarta.

In the interim it began to be whispered abroad that I had received plenty of gold from Salim Daucari, and, on the morning of the 23rd, Sambo Sego paid me a visit, with a party of horsemen. He insisted upon knowing the exact amount of the money I had obtained, declaring that whatever the sum was, one-half of it must go to the king; besides which he intimated that he expected a handsome present for himself, as being the king’s son, and for his attendants, as being the king’s relations. I prepared to submit; and if Salim Daucari had not interposed all my endeavours to mitigate this oppressive claim would have been of no avail. Salim at last prevailed upon Sambo to accept sixteen bars of European merchandise, and some powder and ball, as a complete payment of every demand that could be made upon me in the kingdom of Kasson.

January 26. — In the forenoon I went to the top of a high hill to the southward of Soolo, where I had a most enchanting prospect of the country. The number of towns and villages, and the extensive cultivation around them, surpassed everything I had yet seen in Africa. A gross calculation may be formed of the number of inhabitants in this delightful plain by considering that the king of Kasson can raise four thousand fighting men by the sound of his war-drum. In traversing the rocky eminences of this hill, which are almost destitute of vegetation, I observed a number of large holes in the crevasses and fissures of the rocks, where the wolves and hyaenas take refuge during the day.

February 1. — The messengers arrived from Kaarta, and brought intelligence that the war had not yet commenced between Bambarra and Kaarta, and that I might probably pass through Kaarta before the Bambarra army invaded that country.

February 3. — Early in the morning two guides on horseback came from Kooniakary to conduct me to the frontiers of Kaarta. I accordingly took leave of Salim Daucari, and parted for the last time from my fellow-traveller the blacksmith, whose kind solicitude for my welfare had been so conspicuous, and about ten o’clock departed from Soolo. We travelled this day through a rocky and hilly country, along the banks of the river Krieko, and at sunset came to the village of Soomo, where we slept.

February 4. — We departed from Soomo, and continued our route along the banks of the Krieko, which are everywhere well cultivated, and swarm with inhabitants. At this time they were increased by the number of people that had flown thither from Kaarta on account of the Bambarra war. In the afternoon we reached Kimo, a large village, the residence of Madi Konko, governor of the hilly country of Kasson, which is called Sorroma. From hence the guides appointed by the king of Kasson returned, to join in the expedition against Kajaaga; and I waited until the 6th before I could prevail on Madi Konko to appoint me a guide to Kaarta.

February 7. — Departing from Kimo, with Madi Konko’s son as a guide, we continued our course along the banks of the Krieko until the afternoon, when we arrived at Kangee, a considerable town. The Krieko is here but a small rivulet. This beautiful stream takes its rise a little to the eastward of this town, and descends with a rapid and noisy current until it reaches the bottom of the high hill called Tappa, where it becomes more placid, and winds gently through the lovely plains of Kooniakary; after which, having received an additional branch from the north, it is lost in the Senegal, somewhere near the falls of Felow.

February 8. — This day we travelled over a rough stony country, and having passed Seimpo and a number of other villages, arrived in the afternoon at Lackarago, a small village which stands upon the ridge of hills that separates the kingdoms of Kasson and Kaarta. In the course of the day we passed many hundreds of people flying from Kaarta with their families and effects.

February 9. — Early in the morning we departed from Lackarago, and a little to the eastward came to the brow of a hill from whence we had an extensive view of the country. Towards the south-east were perceived some very distant hills, which our guide told us were the mountains of Fooladoo. We travelled with great difficulty down a stony and abrupt precipice, and continued our way in the bed of a dry river course, where the trees, meeting overhead, made the place dark and cool. In a little time we reached the bottom of this romantic glen, and about ten o’clock emerged from between two rocky hills, and found ourselves on the level and sandy plains of Kaarta. At noon we arrived at a korree, or watering place, where for a few strings of beads I purchased as much milk and corn-meal as we could eat; indeed, provisions are here so cheap, and the shepherds live in such affluence, that they seldom ask any return for what refreshments a traveller receives from them. From this korree we reached Feesurah at sunset, where we took up our lodging for the night.

February 10. — We continued at Feesurah all this day, to have a few clothes washed, and learn more exactly the situation of affairs before we ventured towards the capital.

February 11 — Our landlord, taking advantage of the unsettled state of the country, demanded so extravagant a sum for our lodging that, suspecting he wished for an opportunity to quarrel with us, I refused to submit to his exorbitant demand; but my attendants were so much frightened at the reports of approaching war that they refused to proceed any farther unless I could settle matters with him, and induce him to accompany us to Kemoo, for our protection on the road. This I accomplished with some difficulty; and by a present of a blanket which I had brought with me to sleep in, and for which our landlord had conceived a very great liking, matters were at length amicably adjusted, and he mounted his horse and led the way. He was one of those negroes who, together with the ceremonial part of the Mohammedan religion, retain all their ancient superstitions, and even drink strong liquors. They are called Johars, or Jowars, and in this kingdom form a very numerous and powerful tribe. We had no sooner got into a dark need lonely part of the first wood than he made a sign for us to stop, and, taking hold of a hollow piece of bamboo that hung as an amulet round his neck, whistled very loud there times. I confess I was somewhat startled, thinking it was a signal for some of his companions to come and attack us; but he assured me that it was done merely with a view to ascertain what success we were likely to meet with on our present journey. He then dismounted, laid his spear across the road, and having said a number of short prayers, concluded with three loud whistles; after which he listened for some time, as if in expectation of an answer, and receiving none, told us we might proceed without fear, for there was no danger. About noon we passed a number of large villages quite deserted, the inhabitants having fled into Kasson to avoid the horrors of war. We reached Karankalla at sunset. This formerly was a large town, but having been plundered by the Bambarrans about four years ago, nearly one-half of it is still in ruins.

February 12. — At daylight we departed from Karankalla, and as it was but a short day’s journey to Kemmoo, we travelled slower than usual, and amused ourselves by collecting such eatable fruits as grew near the road-side. About noon we saw at a distance the capital of Kaarta, situated in the middle of an open plain — the country for two miles round being cleared of wood, by the great consumption of that article for building and fuel — and we entered the town about two o’clock in the afternoon.

We proceeded without stopping to the court before the king’s residence; but I was so completely surrounded by the gazing multitude that I did not attempt to dismount, but sent in the landlord and Madi Konki’s son, to acquaint the king of my arrival. In a little time they returned, accompanied by a messenger from the king, signifying that he would see me in the evening; and in the meantime the messenger had orders to procure me a lodging and see that the crowd did not molest me. He conducted me into a court, at the door of which he stationed a man with a stick in his hand to keep off the mob, and then showed me a large hut in which I was to lodge. I had scarcely seated myself in this spacious apartment when the mob entered; it was found impossible to keep them out, and I was surrounded by as many as the hut could contain. When the first party, however, had seen me, and asked a few questions, they retired to make room for another company; and in this manner the hut was filled and emptied thirteen different times.

A little before sunset the king sent to inform me that he was at leisure, and wished to see me. I followed the messenger through a number of courts surrounded with high walls, where I observed plenty of dry grass, bundled up like hay, to fodder the horses, in case the town should be invested. On entering the court in which the king was sitting I was astonished at the number of his attendants, and at the good order that seemed to prevail among them; they were all seated — the fighting men on the king’s right hand and the women and children on the left, leaving a space between them for my passage. The king, whose name was Daisy Koorabarri, was not to be distinguished from his subjects by any superiority in point of dress; a bank of earth, about two feet high, upon which was spread a leopard’s skin, constituted the only mark of royal dignity. When I had seated myself upon the ground before him, and related the various circumstances that had induced me to pass through his country, and my reasons for soliciting his protections, he appeared perfectly satisfied; but said it was not in his power at present to afford me much assistance, for that all sort of communication between Kaarta and Bambarra had been interrupted for some time past; and as Mansong, the king of Bambarra, with his army, had entered Fooladoo in his way to Kaarta, there was but little hope of my reaching Bambarra by any of the usual routes, inasmuch as, coming from an enemy’s country, I should certainly be plundered, or taken for a spy. If his country had been at peace, he said, I might have remained with him until a more favourable opportunity offered; but, as matters stood at present, he did not wish me to continue in Kaarta, for fear some accident should befall me, in which case my countrymen might say that he had murdered a white man. He would therefore advise me to return into Kasson, and remain there until the war should terminate, which would probably happen in the course of three or four months, after which, if he was alive, he said, he would be glad to see me, and if he was dead his sons would take care of me.

This advice was certainly well meant on the part of the king, and perhaps I was to blame in not following it; but I reflected that the hot months were approaching, and I dreaded the thoughts of spending the rainy season in the interior of Africa. These considerations, and the aversion I felt at the idea of returning without having made a greater progress in discovery, made sue determine to go forward; and though the king could not give me a guide to Bambarra, I begged that he would allow a man to accompany me as near the frontiers of his kingdom as was consistent with safety. Finding that I was determined to proceed, the king told me that one route still remained, but that, he said, was by no means free from danger — which was to go from Kaarta into the Moorish kingdom of Ludamar, from whence I might pass by a circuitous route into Bambarra. If I wished to follow this route he would appoint people to conduct me to Jarra, the frontier town of Ludamar. He then inquired very particularly how I had been treated since I had left the Gambia, and asked, in a jocular way, how many slaves I expected to carry home with me on my return. He was about to proceed when a man mounted on a fine Moorish horse, which was covered with sweat and foam, entered the court, and signifying that he had something of importance to communicate, the king immediately took up his sandals, which is the signal to strangers to retire. I accordingly took leave, but desired my boy to stay about the place, in order to learn something of the intelligence that this messenger had brought. In about an hour the boy returned, and informed me that the Bambarra army had left Fooladoo, and was on its march towards Kaarta; that the man I had seen, who had brought this intelligence, was one of the scouts, or watchmen, employed by the king, each of whom has his particular station (commonly on some rising ground) from whence he has the best view of the country, and watches the motions of the enemy.

February 13. — At daylight I sent my horse-pistols and holsters as a present to the king, and being very desirous to get away from a place which was likely soon to become the seat of war, I begged the messenger to inform the king that I wished to depart from Kemmoo as soon as he should find it convenient to appoint me a guide. In about an hour the king sent his messenger to thank me for the present, and eight horsemen to conduct me to Jarra. They told me that the king wished me to proceed to Jarra with all possible expedition, that they might return before anything decisive should happen between the armies of Bambarra need Kaarta. We accordingly departed forthwith from Kemmoo, accompanied by three of Daisy’s sons, and about two hundred horsemen, who kindly undertook to see me a little way on my journey.

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