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

CHAPTER VIII

ADVENTURES BETWEEN KEMMOO AND JARRA

On the evening of the day of our departure from Kemmoo (the king’s eldest son and great part of the horsemen having returned) we reached a village called Marina, where we slept. During the night some thieves broke into the hut where I had deposited my baggage, and having cut open one of my bundles, stole a quantity of beads, part of my clothes, and some amber and gold, which happened to be in one of the pockets. I complained to my protectors, but without effect. The next day (February 14th) was far advanced before we departed from Marina, and we travelled slowly, on account of the excessive heat, until four o’clock in the afternoon, when two negroes were observed sitting among some thorny bushes, at a little distance from the road. The king’s people, taking it for granted that they were runaway slaves, cocked their muskets, and rode at full speed in different directions through the bushes, in order to surround them, and prevent their escaping. The negroes, however, waited with great composure until we came within bowshot of them, when each of them took from his quiver a handful of arrows, and putting two between his teeth and one in his bow, waved to us with his hand to keep at a distance; upon which one of the king’s people called out to the strangers to give some account of themselves. They said that “they were natives of Toorda, a neighbouring village, and had come to that place to gather tomberongs.” These are small farinaceous berries, of a yellow colour and delicious taste, which I knew to be the fruit of the rhamnus lotus of Linnaeus.

The lotus is very common in all the kingdoms which I visited; but is found in the greatest plenty on the sandy soil of Kaarta, Ludamar, and the northern parts of Bambarra, where it is one of the most common shrubs of the country. I had observed the same species at Gambia.

As this shrub is found in Tunis, and also in the negro kingdoms, and as it furnishes the natives of the latter with a food resembling bread, and also with a sweet liquor which is much relished by them, there can be little doubt of its being the lotus mentioned by Pliny as the food of the Libyan Lotophagi. An army may very well have been fed with the bread I have tasted, made of the meal of the fruit, as is said by Pliny to have been done in Libya; and as the taste of the bread is sweet and agreeable, it is not likely that the soldiers would complain of it.

We arrived in the evening at the village of Toorda; when all the rest of the king’s people turned back except two, who remained with me as guides to Jarra.

February 15. — I departed from Toorda, and about two o’clock came to a considerable town, called Funingkedy. As we approached the town the inhabitants were much alarmed; for, as one of my guides wore a turban, they mistook us for some Moorish banditti. This misapprehension was soon cleared up, and we were well received by a Gambia slatee, who resides at this town, and at whose house we lodged.

February 16. — We were informed that a number of people would go from this town to Jarra on the day following; and as the road was much infested by the Moors we resolved to stay and accompany the travellers.

About two o’clock, as I was lying asleep upon a bullock’s hide behind the door of the hut, I was awakened by the screams of women, and a general clamour and confusion among the inhabitants. At first I suspected that the Bambarrans had actually entered the town; but observing my boy upon the top of one of the huts, I called to him to know what was the matter. He informed me that the Moors were come a second time to steal the cattle, and that they were now close to the town. I mounted the roof of the hut, and observed a large herd of bullocks coming towards the town, followed by five Moors on horseback, who drove the cattle forward with their muskets. When they had reached the wells which are close to the town, the Moors selected from the herd sixteen of the finest beasts, and drove them off at full cell gallop. During this transaction the townspeople, to the number of five hundred, stood collected close to the walls of the town; and when the Moors drove the cattle away, though they passed within pistol-shot of them, the inhabitants scarcely made a show of resistance. I only saw four muskets fired, which, being loaded with gunpowder of the negroes’ own manufacture, did no execution. Shortly after this I observed a number of people supporting a young man on horseback, and conducting him slowly towards the town. This was one of the herdsmen, who, attempting to throw his spear, had been wounded by a shot from one of the Moors. His mother walked on before, quite frantic with grief, clapping her hands, and enumerating the good qualities of her son. “Ee maffo fenio!” (“He never told a lie!”) said the disconsolate mother as her wounded son was carried in at the gate —“Ee maffo fonio abada!” (“He never told a lie; no, never!”) When they had conveyed him to his hut, and laid him upon a mat, all the spectators joined in lamenting his fate, by screaming and howling in the most piteous manner.

After their grief had subsided a little, I was desired to examine the wound. I found that the ball had passed quite through his leg, having fractured both bones a little below the knee: the poor boy was faint from the loss of blood, and his situation withal so very precarious, that I could not console his relations with any great hopes of his recovery. However, to give him a possible chance, I observed to them that it was necessary to cut off his leg above the knee. This proposal made every one start with horror; they had never heard of such a method of cure, and would by no means give their consent to it; indeed, they evidently considered me a sort of cannibal for proposing so cruel and unheard-of an operation, which, in their opinion, would be attended with more pain and danger than the wound itself. The patient was therefore committed to the care of some old bashreens, who endeavoured to secure him a passage into paradise by whispering in his ear some Arabic sentences, and desiring him to repeat them. After many unsuccessful attempts, the poor heathen at last pronounced, “La illah el Allah, Mahamet rasowl allahi” (“There is but one God, and Mohammed is his Prophet”); and the disciples of the Prophet assured his mother that her son had given sufficient evidence of his faith, and would be happy in a future state. He died the same evening.

February 17. — My guides informed me that in order to avoid the Moorish banditti it was necessary to travel in the night; we accordingly departed from Funingkedy in the afternoon, accompanied by about thirty people, carrying their effects with them into Ludamar, for fear of the war. We travelled with great silence and expedition until midnight, when we stopped in a sort of enclosure, near a small village; but the thermometer being so low as 68 degrees, none of the negroes could sleep on account of the cold.

At daybreak on the 18th we resumed our journey, and at eight o’clock passed Simbing, the frontier village of Ludamar, situated on a narrow pass between two rocky hills, and surrounded with a high wall. From this village Major Houghton (being deserted by his negro servants, who refused to follow him into the Moorish country) wrote his last letter with a pencil to Dr. Laidley. This brave but unfortunate man, heaving surmounted many difficulties, had taken a northerly direction, had endeavoured to pass through the kingdom of Ludamar, where I afterwards learned the following particulars concerning his melancholy fate:— On his arrival at Jarra he got acquainted with certain Moorish merchants who were travelling to Tisheet (a place near the salt pits in the Great Desert, ten days’ journey to the northward) to purchase salt; and the Major, at the expense of a musket and some tobacco, engaged them to convey him thither. It is impossible to form any other opinion on this determination than that the Moors intentionally deceived him, either with regard to the route that he wished to pursue, or the state of the intermediate country between Jarra and Timbuctoo. Their intention probably was to rob and leave him in the desert. At the end of two days he suspected their treachery, and insisted on returning to Jarra. Finding him persist in this determination, the Moors robbed him of everything he possessed, and went off with their camels; the poor Major being thus deserted, returned on foot to a watering-place in possession of the Moors, called Tarra. He had been some days without food, and the unfeeling Moors refusing to give him any, he sank at last under his distresses. Whether he actually perished of hunger, or was murdered outright by the savage Mohammedans, is not certainly known; his body was dragged into the woods, and I was shown at a distance the spot where his remains were left to perish.

About four miles to the north of Simbing we came to a small stream of water, where we observed a number of wild horses they were all of one colour, and galloped away from us at an easy rate, frequently stopping and looking back. The negroes hunt them for food, and their flesh is much esteemed.

About noon we arrived at Jarra, a large town situated at the bottom of some rocky hills.

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