At 5 a.m. on the next day, after a night with the gnats and rats, I sallied forth in the thick “smokes,” and cast a nearer look upon my cannibal hosts. And first of the tribal name. The Mpongwe call their wild neighbours Mpángwe; the Europeans affect such corruptions as Fánwe, Panwe, the F and P being very similar, Phaouin and Paouen (Pawen). They call themselves Fán, meaning “man;” in the plural, Bafan. The n is highly nasalized: the missionaries proposed to express it by “nh” which, however, wrongly conveys the idea of aspiration; and “Fan,” pronounced after the English fashion, would be unintelligible to them.
The village contains some 400 souls, and throughout the country the maximum would be about 500 spears, or 4,000 of both sexes, whilst the minimum is a couple of dozen. It is pleasantly situated on the left bank of the Mbokwe River, a streamlet here some 50 feet broad, whose water rises 6 feet 10 inches under the tidal influence. The single street, about half a mile long, is formed by two parallel rows of huts, looking upon a cleared line of yellow clay, and provided with three larger sheds — the palaver houses. The Fán houses resemble those of the Mpongwe; in fact, the tribes, beginning at the Camarones River, build in much the same style, but all are by no means so neat and clean as those of the seaboard. A thatch, whose projecting eaves form deep shady verandahs, surmounts walls of split bamboo, supported by raised platforms of tamped earth, windows being absent and chimneys unknown; the ceiling is painted like coal tar by oily soot, and two opposite doors make the home a passage through which no one hesitates to pass. The walls are garnished with weapons and nets, both skilfully made, and the furniture consists of cooking utensils and water-pots, mats for bedding, logs of wood for seats and pillows, and lumps of timber or dwarf stools, neatly cut out of a single block. Their only night-light — that grand test of civilization — is the Mpongwe torch, a yard of hard, black gum, mixed with and tightly bound up in dried banana leaves. According to some it is acacia; others declare it to be the “blood” of the bombax, which is also used for caulking. They gather it in the forest, especially during the dries, collect it in hollow bamboos, and prepare it by heating in the neptune, or brass pan. The odour is pleasant, but fragments of falling fire endanger the hut, and trimming must be repeated every ten minutes. The sexes are not separated; as throughout intertropical Africa, the men are fond of idling at their clubs; and the women, who must fetch water and cook, clean the hut, and nurse the baby, are seldom allowed to waste time. They are naturally a more prolific race than those inhabiting the damp, unhealthy lowlands, and the number of the children contrasts pleasantly with the “bleak house” of the debauched Mpongwe, who puts no question when his wife presents him with issue.
In the cool of the morning Fitevanga, king of Mayyán, lectured me upon the short and simple annals of the Fán. In 1842 the first stragglers who had crossed the Sierra del Crystal are said to have been seen upon the head waters of the Gaboon. I cannot, however, but suspect that they are the “Paämways” of whom Bowdich (“Sketch of Gaboon,” p. 429) wrote in the beginning of the century, “All the natives on this route are said to be cannibals, the Paämways not so voraciously as the others, because they cultivate a large breed of dogs for their eating.” Mr. W. Winwood Reade suspects them to be an offshoot of the great Fulah race, and there is nothing in point of dialect to disprove what we must at present consider a pure conjecture. “The Fulah pronouns have striking analogies with those of the Yoruba, Accra, Ashantee, and Timmanee, and even of the great Kaffir class of dialects, which reaches from the equator to the Cape,” wrote the late learned E. Norris, in his “Introduction to the Grammar of the Fulah Language” (London: Harrison, 1854).
According to the people of the upper river the Fán were expelled by the Bati or Batti — not “Bari” as it has been written-from their ancient seats; and they are still pushing them seawards. The bushmen are said to live seven to ten short marches (seventy to a hundred miles) to the east, and are described by Mr. Tippet, whom they have visited, as a fine, tall, slender, and light-skinned people, who dress like the Fán, but without so much clothing, and who sharped the teeth of both sexes. Dr. Barth heard of the Bati, and Herr Petermann’s map describes them1 as “Pagans, reported to be of a white colour, and of beautiful shape, to live in houses made of clay, to wear cloth of their own making, and to hold a country from which a mountain is visible to the south-west, and close to the sea.” The range in question may be the Long Qua (Kwa), which continues the Camarones block to the north-east, and the Batis may have passed south-westward from Southern Adamáwa.
The Fán were accompanied in their seaward movement by the Osheba or ‘Sheba, the Moshebo and Moshobo of M. du Chaillu’s map. They are said to be a tribe of kindred blood and warlike tastes, speaking a remarkably guttural tongue, but intelligible to the Mpángwe. They too were doubtless pressed forward by the Inner Bati, who are.also affected by the Okáná, the Yefá, and the Sensobá. The latter are the innermost known to my negro informants, and their sheep and goats have found their way to the Gaboon: they are doughty elephant-hunters, and they attack the Njína, although they have no fire-arms. The Mpangwe deride the savagery of these races, who have never heard of a man riding a horse or an ass, which the Mpongwes call Cavala and Buro burro). The names of these three races, which are described as brave, warlike, and hospitable to strangers, will not be found on any map; indeed the regions east of the Gaboon belong to the great white blot of inter-tropical Africa, extending from north latitude 7 degrees to south latitude 5 degrees. Major de Ruvignes heard also of a tribe called Lachaize (Osheba?) which excels the Fán in strength and courage as much as the latter do the coast tribes: a detachment of them had settled near one of the chief Mpángwe towns, “Mboma.” Some days after his arrival he saw several of these people, and describes them as giants, compared with the negro races to which his eye was accustomed. The general stature varied from six feet to six feet four inches; their complexion was a light café au lait; their hair was ornamented with cowries, strung so thickly as to suggest a skull-cup, whilst long streamers of elephants’ tails, threaded with the Cypraea and brass rings, hung down from the head behind the ears, covering the nape of the neck. All these, we may observe, are Congo customs. In their manufacture of iron, dug by themselves, they resemble the cannibals.
The Fán have now lodged themselves amongst the less warlike, maritime, and sub-maritime tribes, as the (Ashantis) Asiante lately did in Fante-land; now they visit the factories on the estuary, and wander as far as the Ogobe. In course of time, they will infallibly “eat up” the Bákele, as the latter are eating up the Mpongwe and Shekyani. They have their own names for neighbouring tribes: the Mpongwe, according to Bowdich, called the Shekyani, and the inner tribes “Boolas, a synonym of Dunko in Ashantee;” hence, probably, the “Bulous” of Mr. Hutchinson (p. 253), “a tribe on the Guergay Creek, who speak a different language from the Mpongwes.” The Fán call the Mpongwes, Báyok; the Bákele, Ngon; the Shekyani, Besek; and the Gaboon River, Aboka. The sub-tribes of cannibals, living near my line of march, were named to me as follows:— 1. The Lálá (Oshebas?), whose chief settlement, Sánkwí, is up the Mbokwe River; 2. their neighbours, the Esánvímá; 3. the Sánikiya, a bush tribe; 4. the Sákulá, near Mayyán; 5. the Esobá, about Fakanjok; 6. the Esonzel of the Ute, or Autá village; 7. the Okola, whose chief settlement is Esámási; and 8. the Ashemvon, with Asya for a capital.
From M. du Chaillu’s illustrations (pp. 74, 77) I fully expected to see a large-limbed, black-skinned, and ferocious-looking race, with huge mustachios and plaited beards. A finely made, light-coloured people, of regular features and decidedly mild aspect, met my sight.
The complexion is, as a rule, chocolate, the distinctive colour of the African mountaineer and of the inner tribes; there are dark men, as there would be in England, but the very black are of servile origin. Few had any signs of skin-disease; I saw only one hand spotted with white, like the incipient Morphetico (leper) of the Brazil. Many, if bleached, might pass for Europeans, so “Caucasian” are their features; few are negro in type as the Mpongwe, and none are purely “nigger” like the blacks of maritime Guinea and the lower Congoese. And they bear the aspect of a people fresh from the bush, the backwoods; their teeth are pointed, and there is generally a look of grotesqueness and surprise. When I drank tea, they asked what was the good of putting sugar in tobacco water. The hair is not kinky, peppercorn-like, and crisply woolly, like that of the Coast tribes; in men, as well as in women, it falls in a thick curtain, nearly to the shoulders, and it is finer than the usual elliptical fuzz. The variety of their perruquerie can be rivalled only by that of the dress and ornament. The males affect plaits, knobs, and horns, stiff twists and upright tufts, suddenly projecting some two inches from the scalp; and, that analogies with Europe might not be wanting, one gentleman wore a queue, zopf, or pigtail, bound at the shoulders, not by a ribbon, but by the neck of a claret bottle. Other heads are adorned with single feathers, or bunches and circles of plumes, especially the red tail-plumes of the parrot and the crimson coat of the Touraco (Corythrix), an African jay; these blood-coloured spoils are a sign of war. The Brazilian traveller will be surprised to find the coronals of feathers, the Kennitare (Acangátara) of the Tupí- Guarani race, which one always associates with the New World. The skull-caps of plaited and blackened palm leaf, though common in the interior, are here rare; an imitation is produced by tressing the hair longitudinally from occiput to sinciput, making the head a system of ridges, divided by scalp-lines, and a fan-shaped tuft of scarlet-stained palm frond surmounts the poll. I noticed a fashion of crinal decoration quite new to me.
A few hairs, either from the temples, the sides or the back of the head, are lengthened with tree-fibres, and threaded with red and white pound-beads, so called by Europeans because the lb. fetches a dollar. These decorations fall upon the breast or back; the same is done to the thin beard, which sprouts tufty from both rami of the chin, as in the purely nervous temperament of Europe; and doubtless the mustachios, if the latter were not mostly wanting, would be similarly treated. Whatever absurdity in hair may be demanded by the trichotomists and philopogons of Europe, I can at once supply it to any extent from Africa — gratis. Gentlemen remarkable by a raie, which as in the Scotch terrier begins above the eyes and runs down the back, should be grateful to me for this sporting offer.
Nothing simpler than the Fán toilette. Thongs and plaits of goat, wild cat, or leopard skin gird the waist, and cloth, which is rare, is supplied by the spoils of the black monkey or some other “beef.” The main part of the national costume, and certainly the most remarkable, is a fan of palm frond redolent of grease and ruddled with ochre, thrust through the waist belt; while new and stiff the upper half stands bolt upright and depends only when old. It suggests the “Enduap” (rondache) of ostrich-plumes worn by the Tupi–Guarani barbarians of the Brazil, the bunchy caudal appendages which made the missionaries compare them with pigeons. The fore part of the body is here decked with a similar fan, the outspread portion worn the wrong way, like that behind. The ornaments are seed-beads, green or white, and Loangos (red porcelain). The “bunch” here contains 100 to 120 strings, and up country 200, worth one dollar; each will weigh from one to three, and a wealthy Fán may carry fifteen to forty-five pounds. The seed-bead was till lately unknown; fifteen to twenty strings make the “bunch.” There is not much tattooing amongst the men, except on the shoulders, whilst the women prefer the stomach; the gandin, however, disfigures himself with powdered cam-wood, mixed with butter-nut, grease, or palm oil — a custom evidently derived from the coast-tribes. Each has his “Ndese,” garters and armlets of plaited palm fibre, and tightened by little cross-bars of brass; they are the “Hibás” which the Bedawin wear under their lower articulations as preservatives against cramp. Lastly, a Fetish horn hangs from the breast, and heavy copper rings encumber the wrists and ankles. Though unskilful in managing canoes — an art to be learned, like riding and dancing, only in childhood — many villagers affect to walk about with a paddle, like the semi-aquatic Kru-men. Up country it is said they make rafts which are towed across the stream by ropes, when the swiftness of the current demands a ferry. The women are still afraid of the canoe.
All adult males carry arms, and would be held womanish if they were seen unweaponed. These are generally battle-axes, spears cruelly and fantastically jagged, hooked and barbed, and curious leaf-shaped knives of archaic aspect; some of the latter have blades broader than they are long, a shape also preserved by the Mpongwe. The sheaths of fibre or leather are elaborately decorated, and it is chic for the scabbard to fit so tight that the weapon cannot be drawn for five minutes; I have seen the same amongst the Somal. There are some trade-muskets, but the “hot-mouthed weapon” has not become the national weapon of the Fán. Bows and arrows are unknown; the Náyin or cross-bow peculiar to this people, and probably a native invention, not borrowed, as might be supposed, from Europe, is carried only when hunting or fighting: a specimen was exhibited in London with the gorillas. The people are said sometimes to bend it with the foot or feet like the Tupí Guaranís, the Jivaros, and other South Americans. Suffice it to remark of this weapon, with which, by the by, I never saw a decent shot made, that the détente is simple and ingenious, and that the “Ebe” or dwarf bolt is always poisoned with the boiled root of a wild shrub. It is believed that a graze is fatal, and that the death is exceedingly painful: I doubt both assertions. Most men also carry a pliable basket full of bamboo caltrops, thin splints, pointed and poisoned. Placed upon the path of a bare-footed enemy, this rude contrivance, combined with the scratching of the thorns, and the gashing cuts of the grass, must somewhat discourage pursuit. The shields of elephant hide are large, square, and ponderous. The “terrible war-axe” is the usual poor little tomahawk, more like a toy than a tool.
After a bathe in the muddy Mbokwe, I returned to the village, and found it in a state of ferment. The Fán, like all inner African tribes, with whom fighting is our fox-hunting, live in a chronic state of ten days’ war, and can never hold themselves safe; this is the case especially where the slave trade has never been heard of. Similarly the Ghazwah (“Razzia”) of the Bedawin is for plunder, not for captives. Surprises are rare, because they will not march in the dark. Battles are not bloody; after two or three warriors have fallen their corpses are dragged away to be devoured, their friends save themselves by flight, and the weaker side secures peace by paying sheep and goats. On this occasion the sister of a young “brave” had just now been killed and “chopped” by the king of Sánkwí, a neighbouring settlement of Oshebas, and the bereaved brother was urging his comrades with vociferous speeches to “up and arm.” Usually when a man wants “war,” he rushes naked through his own village, cursing it as he goes. Moreover, during the last war Mayyán lost five men to three of the enemy; which is not fair, said the women, who appeared most eager for the fray. All the youths seized their weapons; the huge war-drums, the hollowed bole of a tree fringed with Nyáre hide, was set up in the middle of the street; preparations for the week of singing and dancing which precedes a campaign were already in hand, and one war-man gave earnest of blood-shed by spearing a goat the property of Mr. Tippet. It being our interest that the peace should be kept till after my proposed trip into the interior, I repaired to the palaver-house and lent weight to the advice of my host, who urged the heroes to collect ivory, ebony, and rubber, and not to fight till his stores were filled. We concluded by carrying off the goat. After great excitement the warriors subsided to a calm; it was broken, however, two days afterwards by the murder of a villager, the suspected lover of a woman whose house was higher up the Mbokwe River; he went to visit her, and was incontinently speared in the breast by the “injured husband.” If he die and no fine be paid, there will be another “war.”
I made careful inquiry about anthropophagy amongst the Fán, and my account must differ greatly from that of M. du Chaillu. The reader, however, will remember that Mayyán is held by a comparatively civilized race, who have probably learned to conceal a custom so distasteful to all their neighbours, white and black; in the remoter districts cannibalism may yet assume far more hideous proportions. Since the Fán have encouraged traders to settle amongst them, the interest as well as the terrors of the Coast tribes, who would deter foreigners from direct dealings, has added new horrors to the tale; and yet nothing can exceed the reports of older travellers.
During my peregrinations I did not see a single skull. The chiefs, stretched at full length, and wrapped in mats, are buried secretly, the object being to prevent some strong Fetish medicine being made by enemies from various parts of the body. In some villages the head men of the same tribe are interred near one another; the commonalty are put singly and decently under ground, and only the slave (Máká) is thrown as usual into the bush. Mr. Tippet, who had lived three years with this people, knew only three cases of cannibalism; and the Rev. Mr. Walker agreed with other excellent authorities, that it is a rare incident even in the wildest parts — perhaps opportunity only is wanted. As will appear from the Fán’s bill of fare, anthropophagy can hardly be caused by necessity, and the way in which it is conducted shows that it is a quasi-religious rite practised upon foes slain in battle, evidently an equivalent of human sacrifice. If the whole body cannot be carried off, a limb or two is removed for the purpose of a roast. The corpse is carried to a hut built expressly on the outskirts of the settlement; it is eaten secretly by the warriors, women and children not being allowed to be present, or even to look upon man’s flesh; and the cooking pots used for the banquet must all be broken. A joint of “black brother” is never seen in the villages: “smoked human flesh” does not hang from the rafters, and the leather knife-sheaths are of wild cow; tanned man’s skin suggests only the tannerie de Meudon, an advanced “institution.” Yet Dr. Schweinfurth’s valuable travels on the Western Nile prove that public anthropophagy can co-exist with a considerable amount of comfort and, so to speak, civilization — witness the Nyam–Nyam and Mombattu (Mimbuttoo). The sick and the dead are uneaten by the Fán, and the people shouted with laughter when I asked a certain question.
The “unnatural” practice, which, by the by, has at different ages extended over the whole world, now continues to be most prevalent in places where, as in New Zealand, animal food is wanting; and everywhere pork readily takes the place of “long pig.” The damp and depressing atmosphere of equatorial Africa renders the stimulus of flesh diet necessary. The Isángú, or Ingwánba, the craving felt after a short abstinence from animal food, does not spare the white traveller more than it does his dark guides; and, though the moral courage of the former may resist the “gastronomic practice” of breaking fast upon a fat young slave, one does not expect so much from the untutored appetite of the noble savage. On the eastern parts of the continent there are two cannibal tribes, the Wadoe and the Wabembe; and it is curious to find the former occupying the position assigned by Ptolemy (iv. 8) to his anthropophagi of the Barbaricus Sinus: according to their own account, however, the practice is modern. When weakened by the attacks of their Wákámbá neighbours, they began to roast and eat slices from the bodies of the slain in presence of the foe. The latter, as often happens amongst barbarians, and even amongst civilized men, could dare to die, but were unable to face the horrors of becoming food after death: the great Cortez knew this feeling when he made his soldiers pretend anthropophagy. Many of the Wadoe negroids are tall, well made, and light complexioned, though inhabiting the low and humid coast regions — a proof, if any were wanted, that there is nothing unwholesome in man’s flesh. Some of our old accounts of shipwrecked seamen, driven to the dire necessity of eating one another, insinuate that the impious food causes raging insanity. The Wabembe tribe, occupying a strip of land on the western shore of the Tanganyika Lake, are “Menschenfresser,” as they were rightly called by the authors of the “Mombas Mission Map.” These miserables have abandoned to wild growth a most prolific soil; too lazy and unenergetic to hunt or to fish, they devour all manner of carrion, grubs, insects, and even the corpses of their deceased friends. The Midgán, or slave-caste of the semi-Semitic Somal, are sometimes reduced to the same extremity; but they are ever held, like the Wendigo, or man-eaters, amongst the North American Indians, impure and detestable. On the other hand, the Tupi–Guaranís of the Brazil, a country abounding in game, fish, wild fruits, and vegetables, ate one another with a surprising relish. This subject is too extensive even to be outlined here: the reader is referred to the translation of Hans Stade: old travellers attribute the cannibalism of the Brazilian races to “gulosity” rather than superstition; moreover, these barbarians had certain abominable practices, supposed to be known only to the most advanced races.
Anthropophagy without apparent cause was not unknown in Southern Africa. Mr. Layland found a tribe of “cave cannibals” amongst the mountains beyond Thaba Bosigo in the Trans–Gariep Country.2 He remarks with some surprise, “Horrible as all this may appear, there might be some excuse made for savages, driven by famine to extreme hunger, for capturing and devouring their enemies. But with these people it was totally different, for they were inhabiting a fine agricultural tract of country, which also abounded in game. Notwithstanding this, they were not contented with hunting and feeding upon their enemies, but preyed much upon each other also, for many of their captures were made from amongst the people of their own tribe, and, even worse than this, in times of scarcity, many of their own wives and children became the victims of this horrible practice.”
Anthropophagy, either as a necessity, a sentiment, or a superstition, is known to sundry, though by no means to all, the tribes dwelling between the Nun (Niger) and the Congo rivers; how much farther south it extends I cannot at present say. On the Lower Niger, and its branch the Brass River, the people hardly take the trouble to conceal it. On the Bonny and New Calabar, perhaps the most advanced of the so-called Oil Rivers, cannibalism, based upon a desire of revenge, and perhaps, its sentimental side, the object of imbibing the valour of an enemy slain in battle, has caused many scandals of late years. The practice, on the other hand, is execrated by the Efiks of Old Calabar, who punish any attempts of the kind with extreme severity. During 1862 the slaves of Creek-town attempted it, and were killed. At Duke-town an Ibo woman also cut up a man, sun-dried the flesh, and sold it for monkey’s meat — she took sanctuary at the mission house. Yet it is in full vigour amongst their Ibo neighbours to the north-west, and the Duallas of the Camarones River also number it amongst their “country customs.” The Mpongwe, as has been said, will not eat a chimpanzee; the Fán devour their dead enemies.
The Fán character has its ferocious side, or it would not be African: prisoners are tortured with all the horrible barbarity of that human wild beast which is happily being extirpated, the North American Indian; and children may be seen greedily licking the blood from the ground. It is a curious ethnological study, this peculiar development of destructiveness in the African brain. Cruelty seems to be with him a necessary of life, and all his highest enjoyments are connected with causing pain and inflicting death. His religious rites — a strong contrast to those of the modern Hindoo — are ever causelessly bloody. Take as an instance, the Efik race, or people of Old Calabar, some 6,000 wretched remnants of a once-powerful tribe. For 200 years they have had intercourse with Europeans, who, though slavers, would certainly neither enjoy nor encourage these profitless horrors; yet no savages show more brutality in torture, more frenzied delight in bloodshed, than they do. A few of their pleasant practices are —
The administration of Esere, or poison-bean;
“Egbo floggings” of the utmost severity, equalling the knout;
Substitution of an innocent pauper for a rich criminal;
Infanticide of twins; and
And it must be remembered that this tribe has had the benefit of a resident mission for the last generation. I can hardly believe this abnormal cruelty to be the mere result of uncivilization; it appears to me the effect of an arrested development, which leaves to the man all the ferocity of the carnivor, the unreflecting cruelty of the child.
The dietary of these “wild men of the woods” would astonish the starveling sons of civilization. When will the poor man realize the fact that his comfort and happiness will result not from workhouses and almshouses, hospitals and private charities, but from that organized and efficient emigration, so long advocated by the seer Carlyle? Only the crassest ignorance and the listlessness born of misery and want prevent the able-bodied pauper, the frozen-out mechanic, or the weary and ill-clad, the over-worked and under-fed agricultural labourer, from quitting the scenes of his purgatory, and from finding, scattered over earth’s surface, spots where he may enjoy a comparative paradise, heightened by the memory of privations endured in the wretched hole which he pleases to call his home. But nostalgia is a more common disease than men suppose, and it affects none more severely than those that are remarkable for their physical powers. A national system of emigration, to be perfect, must not be confined to solitary and individual hands, who, however numerous, are ever pining for the past. The future will organize the exodus of whole villages, which, like those of the Hebrides in the last century, will bear with them to new worlds their Lares and Penates, their wives, families, and friends, who will lay out the church and the churchyard after the old fashion familiar to their youth, and who will not forget the palaver-house, vulgarly called pothouse or pub.
Few of these Lestrigons lack fish, which they catch in weirs, fowl, flesh of dogs, goats, or sheep; cattle is a luxury yet unknown, but the woods supply an abundance of Nyáre and other “bush-beef.” They also have their special word for the meat-yearning. Still in the semi-nomadic stage, they till the ground, and yet depend greatly upon the chase. They break their fast (kidiashe) at 6 A.M., eat a mid-day meal (amos), and sup (gogáshe) at sunset, besides “snacks” all through the day when they can find material. They are good huntsmen, who fear neither the elephant (nyok), the hippopotamus (nyok á mádzim), frequent in the rivers of the interior, the crocodile, nor the gorilla (njí). It is generally asserted — and the unfortunate Douville re-echoed the assertion — that the river-horse and the crocodile will not live together; the reason is, simply, that upon the seaboard, where these animals were first observed, the crocodile prefers the fresh water of the river, the hippopotamus the brackish water at its mouth. In the interior, of course, they dwell together in amity, because there is nothing for them to quarrel about.
The banana, planted with a careless hand, supplies the staff of life, besides thatch, fuel, and fibre for nets and lines: when they want cereals, maize, holcus, and panicum will grow almost spontaneously. The various palm-trees give building materials, oil, wine, and other requisites too numerous to mention. The “five products of the cow” are ignored, as in the western hemisphere of yore: one of the most useful, however, is produced by the Nje or Njeve, a towering butyraceous tree, differing from that which bears the Shea butternut. Its produce is sun-dried, toasted over a fire, pounded and pressed in a bag between two boards, when it is ready for use. The bush, cut at the end, is fired before the beginning, of the rains, leaving the land ready for yams and sweet potatoes almost without using the hoe. In the middle dries, from June to September, the villagers sally forth en masse for a battue of elephants, whose spoils bring various luxuries from the coast. Lately, before my arrival, they had turned out to gather the Aba, or wild mango, for Odika sauce; and during this season they will do nothing else. The Fán plant their own tobacco, which is described as a low, spreading plant, and despise the imported weed; they neither snuff nor chew. All manufacture their own pipe-bowls, and they are not ignorant of the use of Lyamba or Hashish. They care little for sugar, contrary to the rule of Africa in general, but they over-salt all their food; and they will suck the condiment as children do lollipops. Their palm oil is very poor, as if they had only just learned the art of making it.
After the daily siesta, which lasted till 3 P. M., Mr. Tippet asked me to put in an appearance at a solemn dance which, led by the king’s eldest daughter, was being performed in honour of the white visitor. A chair was placed in the verandah, the street being the ballroom. Received with the usual salutation, “Mboláne,” to which the reply is “An,” I proceeded to the external study of Fán womanhood. Whilst the men are tall and élancés, their partners are usually short and stout, and,
“Her stature tall, I hate a dumpy woman,”
is a matter of taste upon which most of us agree with his lordship. This peculiar breadth of face and person probably result from hard work and good fare, developing adipose tissue. I could not bring myself to admire Gondebiza, the princess royal — what is grotesque in one sex becomes unsightly in the other. Fat, thirty, and perhaps once fair, her charms had seen their prime, and the system of circles and circlets which composed her personnel had assumed a tremulous and gravitating tendency. She was habited in the height of Fán fashion. Her body was modestly invested in a thin pattern of tattoo, and a gauze-work of oil and camwood; the rest of the toilette was a dwarf pigeon-tail of fan-palm, like that of the men, and a manner of apron, white beads, and tree bark, greasy and reddened: the latter was tucked under and over the five lines of cowries, which acted as cestus to the portly middle, “big as a budget.” The horns of hair, not unlike the rays of light in Michael Angelo’s “Moses,” were covered with a cap of leaves, and they were balanced behind by a pigtail lashed with brass wire. Her ornaments were sundry necklaces of various beads, large red and white, and small blue and pink porcelains; a leaf, probably by way of amulet, was bound to a string round the upper arm; and wrists and ankles were laden with heavy rings of brass and copper, the parure of the great in Fán-land. The other ballerine were, of course, less brilliantly attired, but all had rings on their arms, legs, and ankles, fingers, and toes. A common decoration was a bunch of seven or eight long ringlets, not unlike the queues de rat, still affected by the old-fashioned Englishwoman; these, however, as in the men, were prolonged to the bosom by strings of alternate red and white beads. Others limited the decoration to two rats’ tails depending from the temples, where phrenologists localize our “causality.” Many had faces of sufficient piquancy; the figures, though full, wanted firmness, and I noticed only one well-formed bosom. The men wore red feathers, but none carried arms.
The form of saltation suggested Mr. Catlin’s drawings. A circular procession of children, as well as adults, first promenaded round the princess, who danced with all her might in the centre, her countenance preserving the grand sérieux. The performers in this “ging-a-ring” then clapped hands with prolonged ejaculations of o-o-o-oh, stamped and shuffled forwards, moving the body from the hips downwards, whilst H. R. H. alone stood stationary and smileless as a French demoiselle of the last century, who came to the ball not to causer but to danser. At times, when King Fitevanga condescended to show his agility, the uproar of applause became deafening. The orchestra consisted of two men sitting opposite each other — one performed on a caisson, a log of hollowed wood, four feet high, skin-covered, and fancifully carved; the other on the national Anjyá, a rude “Marimba,” the prototype of the pianoforte. It is made of seven or eight hard-wood slats, pinned with bamboo tacks to transverse banana trunks lying on the ground: like the grande caisse, it is played upon with sticks, plectra like tent-pegs. Mr. W. Winwood Reade (“Savage Africa,” chap, xiii.) says: “The instrument is also described by Froebel as being used by the Indians of Central America, where, which is still more curious, it is known by the same name —‘marimba.’” Of course they borrowed the article and the name from the negroes: most tribes in Africa have their own terms for this universal instrument, but it is everywhere recognized by the African who knows Europeans as “marimba.” Thus Owen tells us (p. 308) “that at the mouth of the Zambesi it is called ‘Tabbelah,’” evidently the Arabic “Tablah” Another favourite instrument is a clapper, made of two bamboos some five feet long, and thick as capstan bars — it is truly the castanet en grand.
Highly gratified by the honour, but somewhat overpowered by the presence and by that vile scourge the sandfly, I retired after the first review, leaving the song, the drum, and the dance to continue till midnight. Accustomed to the frantic noises of African village-life in general, my ears here recognized an excess of bawl and shout, and subsequent experience did not efface the impression. But, in the savage and the barbarian, noise, like curiosity, is a healthy sign; the lowest tribes are moping and apathetic as sick children; they will hardly look at anything, however strange to them.
The rest of my day and week was devoted to the study of this quaint people, and the following are the results. Those who have dealings with the Fán universally prefer them in point of honesty and manliness to the Mpongwe and Coast races; they have not had time to become thoroughly corrupt, to lose all the lesser without gaining anything of the greater virtues. They boast, like John Tod, that they ne’er feared the French, and have scant respect for (white) persons; indeed, their independence sometimes takes the form of insolence. We were obliged to release by force the boy Nyongo, and two of Mr. Tippet’s women who had been put “in log”— Anglicè, in the stocks. They were wanted as hostages during the coming war, and this rude contrivance was adopted to insure their presence.
Chastity is still known amongst the Fán. The marriage tie has some significance, the women will not go astray except with the husband’s leave, which is not often granted. The men wax wroth if their mothers be abused. It is an insult to call one of them a liar or a coward; the coast-tribes would merely smile at the soft impeachment; and assure you that none but fools — yourself included by implication — are anything else. Their bravery is the bravery of the savage, whose first object in battle is to preserve his only good, his life: to the civilized man, therefore, they appear but moderately courageous. They are fond of intoxication, but are not yet broken to ardent spirits: I have seen a single glass of trade rum cause a man to roll upon the ground and convulsively bite the yellow clay like one in the agonies of the death-thirst. They would do wisely to decline intercourse with Europeans; but this, of course, is impossible — there is a manifest destiny for them as for their predecessors. The vile practice of the white or West Coast is to supply savages with alcohol, arms, and ammunition; to live upon the lives of those they serve. The more honourable Moslems of the eastern shores do not disgrace themselves by such greed of gain.
The Fán are cunning workers in iron, which is their wealth. Their money is composed of Ikíá, dwarf bars shaped like horse-fleams, a coinage familiar to old travellers in West Africa, and of this Spartan currency a bundle of ten represents sixpence. “White man’s Ikíá” would be silver, for which the more advanced Mpongwe have corrupted the English to “solove.” An idea exists on the Lower River that our hardware is broken up for the purpose of being made into spear-heads and other weapons. Such is not generally the case. The Wamasai, the Somal and the Cape Kafirs — indeed, all the metal-working African barbarians — call our best Sheffield blades “rotten iron.” They despise a material that chips and snaps, and they prefer with ample cause their native produce, charcoal-smelted, and tempered by many successive heatings and hammerings, without quenching in water. Nor will they readily part with it when worked. The usual trade medium is a metal rod; two of these are worth a franc if of brass, while three of copper represent two francs. There is a great demand for beads and salt, the latter especially throughout the interior.
Thus ended my “first impressions” amongst the Fán cannibals.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06