I was now duly established with my books and instruments at Nkaye, and the inevitable delay was employed in studying the country and the people, and in making a botanical collection. But the season was wholly unpropitious. A naval officer, who was considered an authority upon the Coast, had advised me to travel in September, when a journey should never begin later than May. The vegetation was feeling the effect of the Cacimbo; most of the perennials were in seed, and the annuals were nearly dried up. The pictorial effects were those of
“Autumn laying here and there
A fiery finger on the leaves.”
Yet, with Factotum Selim’s assistance, I managed to collect some 490 specimens within the fortnight. We had not the good fortune of the late Dr. Welwitsch (Welwitschia mirabilis), but there is still a copious treasure left for those who visit the Congo River in the right season.
I was delighted with the country, a counterpart of the Usumbara Hills in Eastern Africa, disposed upon nearly the same parallel. The Cacimbo season corresponded with the Harmattan north of the Line; still, grey mornings, and covered, rainless noons, so distasteful to the Expedition, which complained that, from four to five days together, it could not obtain an altitude. The curious contrast in a region of evergreens was not wanting, the varied tintage of winter on one tree, and upon another the brightest hues of budding spring. The fair land of grass and flowers “rough but beautiful,” of shrubbery-path, and dense mottes or copse islets, with clear fountains bubbling from the rocks, adorned by noble glimpses of the lake-like river, and of a blue horizon, which suggested the ocean — ever one of the most attractive points in an African landscape — was easily invested by the eye of fancy with gold and emerald and steely azure from above, whilst the blue masses of bare mountain, thrown against a cloudless sky, towered over the black-green sea of vegetation at their base, like icebergs rising from the bosom of the Atlantic.
As in the Brazilian Rio de São Francisco, the few miles between the mouth and the hill-region cause a radical change of climate. Here the suns are never too hot, nor are the moons too cold; the nights fall soft and misty, the mornings bring the blessing of freshness; and I was never weary of enjoying the effects of dying and reviving day. The most delicate sharpness and purity of outline took the place of meridian reek and blur; trees, rocks, and chalets were picked out with an utter disregard to the perspective of distance, and the lowest sounds were distinctly heard in the hard, clear atmosphere. The damp and fetid vegetation of the Coast wholly disappeared. By the benefit of purest air and water, with long walks and abundant palm wine from the trees hung with calabashes, the traces of “Nanny Po” soon vanished; appetite and sleep returned, nightly cramps were things unknown, and a healthy glow overspread the clammy, corpse-like skin. When the Lower Congo shall become the emporium of lawful trade, the white face will find a sanatorium in these portals of the Sierra del Crystal — the vine will flourish, the soil will produce the cereals as well as the fruits and vegetables of Europe, and this region will become one of the “Paradises of Africa.”
The banzas of Congo-land show the constitution of native society, which, as in Syria, and indeed in most barbarous and semi-barbarous places, is drawn together less by reciprocal wants than by the ties of blood. Here families cannot disperse, and thus each hamlet is a single house, with its patriarch for president and judge. When the population outgrows certain limits, instead of being confounded with its neighbours, it adds a settlement upon neighbouring ground, and removal is the work of a single day. The towns are merely big villages, whose streets are labyrinths of narrow pathways, often grass-grown, because each man builds in his own way. Some translate the word “Banza” by city, unaware that Central African people do not build cities. Professor Smith rightly explains it “a village, which with them means a paterfamilias, and his private dependants.” So the maligned Douville (i. 159)—“On donne le nom de banza à la ville ou réside le chef d’une peuplade ou nation nègre. On l’attribue aussi à l’enceinte que le chef ou souverain habite avec les femmes et sa cour. Dans ce dernier sens le mot banza veut dire palais du chef.”
Our situation is charming, high enough to be wholesome, yet in a sheltered valley, an amphitheatre opening to the south-east or rainy quarter; the glorious trees, here scattered, there gathered in clumps and impenetrable bosquets, show the exuberant fertility of the soil. Behind and above the village rises a dwarf plateau, rich with plantains and manioc. After the deserted state of the river banks — the effect of kidnapping — we are surprised to find so populous a region. Within cannon-shot, there are not less than twelve villages, with a total, perhaps, of 2,400 souls.
Banza Nkaye, as usual uninclosed, contains some forty habitations, which may lodge two hundred head. The tenements are built upon platforms cut out of the hill slopes; and the make proves that, even during the rains, there is little to complain of climate. Ten of these huts belong to royalty, which lives upon the lowest plane; and each wife has her own abode, whilst the “senzallas” of the slaves cluster outside. The foundation is slightly raised, to prevent flooding. The superstructure strikes most travellers as having somewhat the look of a châlet, although Proyart compares it with a large basket turned upside down. Two strong uprights, firmly planted, support on their forked ends a long strut-beam, tightly secured; the eaves are broad to throw off the rain, and the neat thatch of grass, laid with points upwards in regular courses, and kept in site by bamboo strips, is renewed before the stormy season. The roof and walls are composed of six screens; they are made upon the ground, often occupying months, and they can be put together in a few minutes. The material, which an old traveller says is of “leaves interwoven not contemptibly with one another,” is a grass growing everywhere on the hills, plaited and attached to strips of cane or bamboo-palm (Raphia vinifera); the gable “walls” are often a cheque — pattern, produced by twining “tie-tie,” “monkey rope,” or creepers, stained black, round the dull-yellow groundwork; and one end is pierced for a doorway, that must not front the winds and rains. It is a small square hole, keeping the interior dark and cool; and the defence is a screen of cane-work, fastened with a rude wooden latch. The flooring is hard, tamped clay, in the centre of which the fire is laid; the cooking, however, is confined to the broad eaves, or to the compound which, surrounded with neat walls, backs the house. The interior is divided into the usual “but” and “ben.” The latter communicates with the former by a passage, masked with a reed screen; it is the sleeping-place and the store-room; and there is generally a second wicket for timely escape. The only furniture consists of mats, calabashes, and a standing bedstead of rude construction, or a bamboo cot like those built at Lagos — in fact, the four bare walls suggest penury. But in the “small countries,” as the “landward towns” are called, where the raid and the foray are not feared, the householder entrusts to some faithful slave large stores of cloth and rum, of arms and gunpowder.
The abodes suggest those of our semi-barbarous ancestors, as described by Holingshed, where earth mixed with lime formed the floor; where the fire was laid to the wall; where the smoke, which, besides hardening timber, was “expected to keep the good man and his family from quake and fever, curled from the door; and where the bed was a straw pallet, with a log of wood for a pillow. But the Congoese is better lodged than we were before the days of Queen Elizabeth; what are luxuries in the north, broad beds and deep arm-chairs, would here be far less comfortable than the mats, which serve for all purposes. I soon civilized my hut with a divan, the Hindostani chabutarah, the Spanish estrada, the “mud bank” or “bunting” of Sierra Leone, a cool earth-bench running round the room, which then wanted only a glass window. But no domestic splendour was required; life in the open air is the life for the tropics: even in England a greater proportion of it would do away with much neuralgia and similar complaints. And, if the establishment be simple, it is also neat and clean: we never suffered from the cimex and pulex of which Captain Tuckey complains so bitterly, and the fourmis voyageuses (drivers), mosquitoes, scorpions, and centipedes were unknown to us.
The people much resemble those of the Gaboon. The figure is well formed, except the bosom, whose shape prolonged lactation, probably upon the principle called Malthusian, soon destroys; hence the first child is said to “make the breasts fall.” The face is somewhat broad and flat, the jowl wide, deep, and strong, and the cerebellum is highly developed as in the Slav. The eye is well opened, with thick and curly lashes, but the tunica conjunctiva is rarely of a pure white; the large teeth are of good shape and colour. Extensive tattoos appear on breasts, backs, and shoulders; the wearers are generally slaves, also known by scantier clothing, by darker skins, and by a wilder expression of countenance. During their “country nursing,” the children run about wholly nude, except the coating of red wood applied by the mothers, or the dust gathered from the ground. I could not hear of the weaning custom mentioned by Merolla, the father lifting the child by the arm, and holding him for a time hanging in the air, “falsely believing that by those means he will become more strong and robust.” Whilst the men affect caps, the women go bare-headed, either shaving the whole scalp, or leaving a calotte of curly hair on the poll; it resembles the Shúshah of Western Arabia and East Africa, but it is carried to the fore like a toucan’s crest. Some, by way of coquetterie, trace upon the scalp a complicated network, showing the finest and narrowest lines of black wool and pale skin: so the old traveller tells us “the heads of those who aspire to glory in apparel resemble a parterre, you see alleys and figures traced on them with a great deal of ingenuity.” The bosom, elaborately bound downwards, is covered with a square bit of stuff, or a calico pagne — most ungraceful of raiment-wrapped under the arms, and extending to the knees:
“In longitude’tis sorely scanty,
But ‘tis their best, and they are vaunty.”
The poor and the slaves content themselves with grass cloth. The ornaments are brass earrings, beads and imitation coral; heavy bangles and manillas of brass and copper, zinc and iron, loading the ankles, and giving a dainty elephantine gait; the weight also produces stout mollets, which are set off by bead-garters below the knees. The leg, as amongst hill people generally, is finely developed, especially amongst the lower orders: the “lady’s” being often lank and spindled, as in Paris and Naples, where the carriage shrinks the muscles as bandages cramp Chinese feet.
In these hamlets women are far more numerous than men. Marriage being expensive amongst the “Mfumo” or gentry, the houses are stocked with Hagars, and the children inherit their father’s rank as Mwana Mfumos, opposed to Mwanangambe, labouring people, or Wantu, slaves.
The missionaries found a regular system of “hand-fasting.” Their neophytes did not approve of marriage in facie ecclesiæ, “for they must first be satisfied whether their wife will have children; whether she will be diligent in her daily labour, and, lastly, whether she will prove obedient, before they will marry her. If they find her faulty in any of these points, they immediately send her back again to her parents.” The woman, not being looked upon the worse for being returned into stores, soon afterwards underwent another trial, perhaps with success. Converts were fined nine crowns for such irregularities. “But, oh!” exclaims a good father, “what pains do we take to bring them to marry the lover, and how many ridiculous arguments and reasons do they bring to excuse themselves from this duty and restraint.” He tells us how he refused absolution to a dying woman, unless she compelled her daughter to marry a man with whom she was “living upon trial.” The mother answered wisely enough, “Father, I will never give my daughter cause to curse me after I am dead, by obliging her to wedlock where she does not fancy.” Whereupon the priest replied, “What! do you not stand more in awe of a temporal than an eternal curse?” and, working upon the feelings of the girl, who began to tremble and to weep, extorted from her a promise to accept the “feigned husband.” He adds, “Notwithstanding this, some obstinate mothers have rather chosen to die unconfessed, than to concern themselves with the marriage of their daughters.” Being obliged to attend Communion at Easter, these temporary couples would part on the first day of Lent; obtain absolution and, a week afterwards, either cohabit once more or find otherpartners. The “indiscreet method of courtship,” popularly known as “bundling,” here existed, and was found by Caillié amongst the southern Moors: “When everybody is at rest, the man creeps into his intended’s tent, and remains with her till daybreak.”
An energetic attempt was made to abolish polygamy, which, instead of diminishing population as some sciolists pretend, caused the country to swarm like maritime China. Father Carli, who also dilates upon the evil practice of the sexes living together on trial, ca. didly owns that his main difficulty lay in “bringing the multitude to keep to one wife, they being wholly averse to that law.” Yet old travellers declare that when the missionaries succeeded, the people “lived so Christian-like and lovingly together, that the wife would suffer herself to be cut to pieces rather than deceive her husband.” Merolla, indeed, enlarges on the constancy of women, whether white or black, when lawfully married to their mates; and praises them for living together in all manner of love and amity. “Hence may be learned what a propensity the women have to chastity in these parts, many of whom meet together on the first day of Lent, and oblige themselves, under pain of severe penance, to a strict continence till Easter.” In case of adultery the husband could divorce the wife; he was generally satisfied by her begging his pardon, and by taking a slave from the lover. Widowed “countesses,” proved guilty of “immorality,” suffered death by fire or sword. On the other hand, the “princess” had a right to choose her husband; but, as in Persia, the day of his splendid wedding was the last of his liberty. He became a prisoner and a slave; he was surrounded by spies; he was preceded by guards out of doors, and at the least “écart” his head was chopped off and his paramour was sold. These ladies amply revenged the servitude of their sex —
“Asperius nihil est humili cum surgit in altum.”
Rich women were allowed to support quasihusbands until they became mothers; and the slaves of course lived together without marriage. Since the days of the Expedition a change for the better has come over the gentil sesso. The traveller is no longer in the “dilemma of Frère Jean,” and, except at the river-mouth and at the adjacent villages, there is none of that officious complaisance which characterizes every hamlet in the Gaboon country. The men appear peculiarly jealous, and the women fearful of the white face. Whenever we approached a feminine group, it would start up and run away; if cooking ground-nuts, the boldest would place a little heap upon the bottom of an upturned basket, push it towards us and wave us off. The lowest orders will submit to a kind of marriage for four fathoms of cloth; exactly double the tariff paid in Tuckey’s time (pp. 171–181); and this ratio will apply to all other articles of living. Amongst themselves nubile girls are not remarkably strict; but as matrons they are rigid. The adulterer is now punished by a heavy fine, and, if he cannot pay, his death, as on many parts of the Southern Coast, is lawful to the husband.
The life is regular, and society is simple and patriarchal, as amongst the Iroquois and Mohawks, or in the Shetlands two centuries ago. The only excitement, a fight or a slave hunt, is now become very rare. Yet I can hardly lay down the “curriculum vitae” as longer than fifty-five years, and there are few signs of great age. Merolla declares the women to be longer-lived than the men. Gidi Mavunga, who told me that the Congo Expedition visited their Banza when his mother was a child, can hardly be forty-five, as his eldest son shows, and yet he looks sixty. The people rise at dawn and, stirring up the fire, light the cachimbos or large clay pipes which are rarely out of their mouths. Tobacco (nsunza) grows everywhere and, when rudely cured, it is sold in ringlets or twisted leaves; it is never snuffed, and the only chaw is the Mákázo or Kola nut which grows all over these hills; of these I bought 200 for 100 coloured porcelain beads, probably paying treble the usual price. No food is eaten at dawn, a bad practice, which has extended to the Brazil and the Argentine Republic; but if a dram be procurable it is taken “por la manana.” The slave-women, often escorted by one of the wives, and accompanied by the small girls, who must learn to work whilst their brothers are idling with their rattles, set out with water-pots balanced on their Astrachan wool, or with baskets for grain and firewood slung by a head-strap to the back The free-born remain at home, bathing and anointing with palm-oil, which renders the skin smooth and supple, but leaves a peculiar aroma; they are mostly cross enough till they have thoroughly shaken off sleep, and the morning generally begins with scolding the slaves or a family wrangle. I have seen something of the kind in Europe.
Visiting, chatting, and strolling from place to place, lead to the substantial breakfast or first dinner between 9 and 10 A.M. Meat rarely appears; river fish, fresh or sun-dried, is the usual “kitchen,” eaten with manioc, toasted maize, and peeled, roasted, and scraped plantain: vegetables and palm-oil obtained by squeezing the nut in the hands, are the staple dish, and beans are looked upon rather as slaves’ food. They have no rice and no form of “daily bread:” I happened to take with me a few boxes of “twice-baked,” and this Mbolo was the object of every chiefs ambition. “Coleworts” are noticed by Merolla as a missionary importation; he tells us that they produce no seed; and are propagated by planting the sprouts, which grow to a great height. The greens, cabbages, spinach, and French beans, mentioned by Tuckey, have been allowed to die out. Tea, coffee, sugar, and all such exotics, are unappreciated, if not unknown; chillies, which grow wild, enter into every dish, and the salt of native manufacture, brown and earthy, is bought in little baskets.
Between breakfast and midday there is a mighty drink. The palm-wine, here called “Msámbá,” and on the lower river “Manjewa,” is not brought in at dawn, or it would be better. The endogen in general use is the elai’s, which is considered to supply a better and more delicate liquor than the raphia. The people do not fell the tree like the Kru-men, but prefer the hoop of “supple-jack” affected by the natives of Fernando Po and Camarones. A leaf folded funnel-wise, and inserted as usual in the lowest part of the frond before the fruit forms, conveys the juice into the calabashes, often three, which hang below the crown; and the daily produce may be ten quarts. On the first day of tapping, the sap is too sweet; it is best during the following week and, when it becomes tart, no more must be drawn or the tree will be injured. It cannot be kept; acetous fermentation sets in at once, and presently it coagulates and corrupts. At Banana and Boma it is particularly good; at Porto da Lenha it is half water, but the agents dare not complain, for the reason which prevents them offering “spliced grog” to the prepotent negro. Europeans enjoy the taste, but dislike the smell of palm-wine; those in whom it causes flatulence should avoid it, but where it agrees it is a pleasant stimulant, pectoral, refreshing, and clearing the primæ vice. Mixed with wine or spirits, it becomes highly intoxicating. The rude beers, called by Merolla Guallo and by Tuckey (p. 120) Baamboo, the Oualo of Douville, and the Pombeof East Africa, mentioned by almost every traveller, are not now found on the lower river.
About noon the slaves return from handling their trowel-shaped iron hoes, and the “gentleman” takes a siesta proportioned to his drink. The poorer classes sit at home weaving, spinning, or threading beads, whilst the wives attend to household work, prepare the meals, buy and sell, dig and delve. Europeans often pity the sex thus “doomed to perform the most laborious drudgery;” but it is a waste of sentiment. The women are more accustomed to labour in all senses of the word, and the result is that they equal their mates in strength and stature; they enjoy robust health, and their children, born without difficulty, are sturdy and vigorous. The same was the case amongst the primitive tribes of Europe; Zamacola (Anthrop. Mem. ii. 38), assures us that the Basque women were physically powerful as the men, with whom they engaged in prize-fights.
The master awakes about 3 P.M. and smokes, visits, plays with his children, and dawdles away his time till the cool sunset, when a second edition of the first meal is served up. If there be neither dance nor festival, all then retire to their bens, light the fire, and sit smoking tobacco or bhang, with frequent interruptions of palm wine or rum, till joined by their partners. Douville (ii. 113), says that the Pangué or chanvre, “croît naturellement dans lepays” I believe the questions to be still sub judice, whether the intoxicating cannabis be or be not indigenous to Africa as well as to Asia; and whether smoking was not known in the Old World, as it certainly was in the New, before tobacco was introduced. The cannabis Indica was the original anæsthetic known to the Arabs and to civilized Orientals many centuries before the West invented ether and chloroform.
Our landlord has two wives, but one is a mother and will not rejoin him till her child can carry a calabash of water unaided. To avoid exciting jealousy he lives in a hut apart, surrounded by seven or eight slaves, almost all of them young girls. This regular life is varied by a little extra exertion at seed-time and harvest, by attending the various quitandas or markets of the country side, and by an occasional trip to “town” (Boma). When the bush is burning, all sally out with guns, clubs, and dogs, to bring home “beef.” And thus they dwell in the presence of their brethren, thinking little of today, and literally following the precept, “Take no thought for the morrow.” As the old missioners testify, they have happy memories, their tempers are mild, and quarrels rarely lead to blows; they are covetous, but not miserly; they share what they have, and they apply the term “close-fist” to the European who gives “nuffin for nuffin.”
The most superstitious of men, they combine the two extremes of belief and unbelief; they have the firmest conviction in their own tenets, whilst those of others flow off their minds like water from a greased surface. The Catholic missioners laboured amongst them for nearly two hundred years; some of these ecclesiastics were ignorant and bigoted as those whom we still meet on the West African Coast, but not a few were earnest and energetic, scrupulous and conscientious, able and learned as the best of our modern day. All did not hurry over their superficial tasks like the Neapolitan father Jerome da Montesarchio, who baptized 100,000 souls; and others, who sprinkled children till their arms were tired. Many lived for years in the country, learning the language and identifying themselves with their flocks. Yet the most they ever effected was to make their acolytes resemble the Assyrians whom Shalmaneser transplanted to Assyria, who “feared the Lord and served their graven images” (2 Kings, xvii. 33–41). Their only traces are the word “Deus,” foully perverted like the Chinese “joss;” and an occasional crucifix which is called cousa de branco — white man’s thing. Tuckey was justified in observing at Nokki that the crucifixes, left by missioners, were strangely mixed with native fetishes, and that the people seemed by no means improved by the muddle of Christian and Pagan idolatry.
The system is at once complicated and unsettled. There is, apparently, the sensus numinis; the vague deity being known as Nzambi or Njambi, which the missionaries translated into God, as Nganna Zambi — Lord Zambi. Merolla uses Zambiabungù, and in the vocabulary, Zabiambunco, for the “Spirit above” (Zambi-a-npungo): Battel tells us that the King of Loango was called “Sambee and Pango, which mean God.” The Abbé Proyart terms the Supreme “Zambi,” and applies Zambi-a-n-pongou to a species of malady brought on by perjury. He also notices the Manichæan idea of Zambi-a-Nbi, or bad-God, drawing the fine distinction of European belief in a deity supremely good, who permits evil without participating in it. But the dualism of moral light and darkness, noticed by all travellers,1 is a bonâ fide existence with Africans, and the missionaries converted the Angolan “Cariapemba” into the Aryo–Semitic Devil.
Zambi is the Anyambia of the Gaboon country, a vox et præterea nihil. Dr. Livingstone (“First Expedition,” p. 641), finds the word general amongst the Balonda, or people of Lunda: with the “Cazembes” the word is “Pambi,” or “Liza,” and “O Muata Cazembe” (p. 297) mentions the proverb, “Ao Pambi e ao Mambi (the King) nada iguala.” In the “Vocabulario da lingua Cafrial” we see (p. 469) that “Murungo” means God or thunder. It is the rudimental idea of the great Zeus, which the Greeks worked out, the God of Æther, the eternal, omnipotent, and omniscient, “who was, who is, and who is to come,” the Unknown and Unknowable, concerning whom St. Paul quoted Aristæus on Mars’ Hill. But the African brain naturally confused it with a something gross and material: thus Nzambi-a-Npungu is especially the lightning god. Cariambemba is, properly, Kadi Mpemba or Ntangwa, the being that slays mankind: Merolla describes it as an “abominable idol;” and the word is also applied to the owl, here as in Dahome the object of superstition. I could trace no sign of worship paid to the sun (Tangwa or Muinyi), but there are multitudes of minor gods, probably deified ghosts, haunting particular places. Thus, “Simbi” presides over villages and the “Tadi Nzazhi,” or Lightning Rock, near Boma; whilst the Yellala is the abode of an evil being which must be propitiated by offerings. As usual amongst Fetish worshippers, the only trace of belief in a future state is faith in revenants — returning men or ghosts.
Each village has an idol under a little wall-less roof, apparently an earthern pot of grease and feathers, called Mavunga. This may be the Ovengwa of the “Camma people,” a “terrible catcher and eater of men, a vampire of the dead; personal, whilst the Ibamba are indistinct; tall as a tree; wandering through the woods, ever winking; whereas the Greek immortals were known by their motionless eyelids. “Ngolo Wanga” is a man-shaped figure of unpainted wood, kept in the hut. Every house is stuck inside and outside with idols and fetishes, interpreters of the Deity, each having its own jurisdiction over lightning, wind, and rain; some act as scarecrows; others teach magic, avert evils, preserve health and sight, protect cattle, and command fish in the sea or river. They are in all manner of shapes, strings of mucuna and poison-beans; carved images stuck over with feathers and tassels; padlocks with a cowrie or a mirror set in them; horns full of mysterious “medicine;” iron-tipped poles; bones; birds’ beaks and talons; skins of snakes and leopards, and so forth. We shall meet them again upon our travels.
No man walks abroad without his protecting charms, Nkisi or Nkizi, the Monda of the Gaboon, slung en baudrier, or hanging from his shoulder. The portable fetish of our host is named “Báká chyá Mázínga: Professor Smith (p. 323) makes “Mázengá” to be “fetishes for the detection of theft.” These magicæ vanitates are prophylactics against every evil to which man’s frailty is heir. The missioners were careful not to let their Congo converts have anything from their bodies, like hair or nail parings, for fear lest it be turned to superstitious use; and a beard (the price of conversion) was refused to the “King of Micocco.” Like the idols, these talismans avert ill luck, bachelorhood, childlessness, poverty, and ill health; they are equally powerful against the machinations of foes, natural or supernatural; against wild beasts, the crocodile, the snake, and the leopard; and against wounds of lead and steel. They can produce transformation; destroy enemies; cause rain or drought, fine or foul weather; raise and humble, enrich and impoverish countries; and, above all things, they are sovereign to make man brave in battle. Shortly before we entered Banza Nkaye a propitiation of the tutelary gods took place: Coxswain Deane had fired an Enfield, and the report throughout the settlement was that our guns would kill from the river-bank.
The Nganga of Congo-land, the Mganga of the Wasawahili and the Uganga of the Gaboon, exactly corresponds with M. Michelet’s Sorcière of the Middle Ages, “physicienne,” that is doctor for the people and poisoner; we cannot, however, apply in Africa the adage of Louis XIII.‘s day, “To one wizard ten thousand witches.” In the “Muata Cazembe” (pp. 57, et passim) we read “O Ganga or O Surjão;” the magician is there called “Muroi,” which, like “Fite,” is also applied to magic. The Abbé Proyart opines of his professional brother, “he is ignorant as the rest of the people, but a greater rogue,”— a pregnant saying. Yet here “the man of two worlds” is not l’homme de révolution, and he suffices for the small “spiritual wants” of his flock. He has charge of the “Kizila,” the “Chigella” of Merolla and the “Quistilla” of James Barbot — Anglicè putting things in fetish, which corresponds with the Tahitian tapu or taboo. The African idea is, that he who touches the article, for instance, gold on the eastern coast of Guinea, will inevitably come to grief. When “fetish is taken off,” as by the seller of palm wine who tastes it in presence of the buyer, the precaution is evidently against poison. Many of these “Kizila” are self-imposed, for instance a water melon may never enter Banza Nokki, and, though slaves may eat bananas upon a journey, the master may not. Others refuse the flesh of a fowl until it has been tasted by a woman. These rules are delivered to the young, either by the fetishman or the parents, and, when broken, they lead to death, doubtless often the consequence of strong belief. The Nganga superintends, as grand inquisitor, the witch-ordeal, by causing the accused to chew red-wood and other drugs in this land ferax venenorum. Park was right: “By witchcraft is meant pretended magic, affecting the lives and healths of persons, in other words it is the administering of poison.” European “Narratives of Sorcery and Magic” exactly explain the African idea, except in one point: there the witch “only suffered from not being able to prove to Satan how much she burned to suffer for his sake;” here she has no Satan. Both European and African are the firmest believers in their own powers; they often confess, although knowing that the confession leads directly to torture and death, with all the diabolical ingenuity of which either race was capable. In Tuckey’s time a bargain was concluded by breaking a leaf or a blade of grass, and this rite it was “found necessary to perform with the seller of every fowl:” apparently it is now obsolete. Finally, although the Fetish man may be wrong, the fetish cannot err. If a contretemps occur, a reason will surely be found; and, should the “doctor” die, he has fallen a victim to a rival or an enemy more powerful than himself.
A striking institution of the Congo region is that of the Jinkemba, which, curious to say, is unnoticed by Tuckey. It is not, however, peculiar to the Congo; it is the “Semo” of the Susus or Soosoos of the Windward Coast, and the “Purrah” of the Sherbro–Balloms or Bulloms, rendered Anglicè by “free-masonry.” The novitiate there lasts for seven or eight years, and whilst the boys live in the woods food is placed for them by their relations: the initiation, indeed, appears to be especially severe. Here all the free-born males are subjected to the wrongly called “Mosaic rite.” Merolla tells us that the wizards circumcise children on the eighth day (like the Jews), not out of regard for the law, but with some wicked end and purpose of their own. At any time between the ages of five and fifteen (eight to ten being generally preferred), boys are taken from their parents (which must be an exceeding comfort to the latter), and for a native year, which is half of ours, they must dwell in the Vivála ya Ankimba, or Casa de Feitiço, like that which we passed before reaching Banza Nokki. They are now instructed by the Nganga in the practices of their intricate creed; they are taught the mysteries under solemn oaths, and, in fine, they are prepared for marriage. Upon the Congo they must eat no cooked food, living wholly upon roots and edibles; but they are allowed to enter the villages for provisions, and here they often appear armed with matchets, bayonets, and wooden swords. Their faces and necks, bodies and arms, are ghastly white with chalk or ashes; the hair is left in its original jet, and the dingy lower limbs contrast violently with the ghostlike absence of colour above. The dress is a crinoline of palm-fronds, some fresh and green, others sere and brown; a band of strong mid-rib like a yellow hoop passed round the waist spreads out the petticoat like a farthingale, and the ragged ends depend to the knees; sometimes it is worn under the axillae, but in all cases the chalked arms must be outside. The favourite attitude is that of the Rhodian Colossus, with the elbows bent to the fore and the hands clasped behind the head. To increase their prestige of terror, the Jinkomba abjure the use of human language, and, meeting a stranger, ejaculate with all their might, “Hár-rr-rr-rr-rr!” and “Jojolo! Jojolo!” words mystic and meaningless. When walking in procession, they warn the profane out of the way by striking one slip of wood upon another. They are wilder in appearance than the Hindu Jogi or Sanyasi, who also affects the use of ashes, but neglects that of the palm-thatch. It is certainly enough to startle a man of impressible nerves — one, for instance, who cannot enter a room without a side-long glance at an unexpected coffin — to see these hideous beings starting with their savage cry from the depths of an African forest. Evidently, also, such is the intention of the costume.
Contrasting the Congoese with the Goanese, we obtain a measure of difference between the African and the Asiatic. Both were Portuguese colonies founded about the same time, and under very similar circumstances; both were catechized and Christianized in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; both had governors and palaces, bishops and cathedrals, educational establishments and a large staff of missioners. But Asia was not so inimical, mentally or bodily, to the European frame as Africa; the Goanese throve after a fashion, the mixed breed became the staple population, and thus it continues till this day. On the other hand the Hamitic element so completely asserted its superiority over insititious Japheth, that almost every trace has disappeared in a couple of centuries. There lingers, it is true, amongst the Congoese of the coast-regions a something derived from the olden age, still distinguishing them from the wild people of the interior, and at times they break out naturally in the tongue of their conquerors. But it requires a practised eye to mark these minutiae.
The Congoese are passably brave amongst themselves; crafty and confined in their views, they carry “knowledge of life” as far as it is required, and their ceremonious intercourse is remarkable and complicated. They have relapsed into the analphabetic state of their ancestors; they are great at eloquence; and, though without our poetical forms, they have a variety of songs upon all subjects and they improvise panegyrics in honour of chiefs and guests. Their dances have been copied in Europe. Without ever inventing the modes of the Greeks, which are still preserved by the Hindoos, they have an original music, dealing in harmony rather than in tune, and there are motives, of course all in the minor key, which might be utilized by advanced peoples; these sons of nature would especially supply material for that recitative which Verdi first made something better than a vehicle for dialogue. Hence the old missioners are divided in opinion; whilst some find the sound of the “little guitar,” with strings of palm-thread and played with the thumbs of both hands, “very low, but not ungrateful,” others speak of the “hellish harmony” of their neophytes’ bands. The instrument alluded to is the nsambi or nchambi; four strings are attached to bent sticks springing from the box; it is the wambi of the Shekyanis (Du Chaillu, chap. xii), but the bridge, like that of our violin, gives it an evident superiority, and great care and labour are required in the maker.
This form of the universal marimba is a sounding-board of light wood, measuring eight inches by five; some eight to eleven iron keys, flat strips of thin metal, pass over an upright bamboo bridge, fixed by thongs to the body, and rest at the further end upon a piece of skin which prevents “twanging.” The tocador or performer brings out soft and pleasing tones with the sides of the thumbs and fingers. They have drums and the bell-like cymbals called chingufu: M. Valdez (ii. 221 et passim), writes “Clincufo,” which he has taken from a misprint in Monteiro and Gamitto. The chingufu of East Africa is a hollow box performed upon with a drum-stick of caoutchouc. The pipes are wooden tubes with sundry holes and a bridge below the mouth-piece; they are played over edge like our flutes. The “hellish harmonies” mostly result from an improvised band, one strumming the guitar, another clapping the sticks, and the third beating the bell-shaped irons that act as castanets.
The language of the people on and near the Congo River is called “Fiote,” a term used by old travellers to denote a black man as opposed to Mundele (white), and also applied to things, as Bondefiote or black baft. James Barbot (p. 512) gives specimens of some thirty-three words and the numerals in the “Angoy language, spoken at Cabinde,” which proves to be that of the River. Of these many are erroneous: for instance, “nova,” to sleep (ku-núa); “sursu,” a hen (nsusu): while “fina,” scarlet; “bayeta,” baize; and “fumu,” tobacco, are corrupted Portuguese. A young lad, “muleche” (moleque), Father Merolla’s “molecchas, a general name among the negroes,” for which Douville prefers “moleke” (masc.) and “molecka” (fem.), is applied only to a slave, and in this sense it has extended west of the Atlantic. In the numerals, “wale” (2) should be “kwále,” “quina” (4) “kúyá,” and “evona” (9) “iowá.” We may remark the pentenary system of the Windward Coast and the Gaboon negroes; e.g., 6 is “sambano” (“mose” and “tano” 1 + 5), and 7 is “sambwale” (“mose” and “kwale”) and so forth, whilst “kumi” (10), possibly derived from neighbouring races, belongs to the decimal system.
The first attempt at a regular vocabulary was made by Douville, (vol. iii. p. 261): “Vocabidaire de la Langue Mogialoua, et des deux dialectcs principaux Abunda (Angolan) et Congo” (Fiote); it is also very incorrect. The best is that published in Appendix No. I. to the Congo Expedition, under the name of “Embomma;” we may quote the author’s final remark: “This vocabulary I do not consider to be free from mistakes which I cannot now find time to discover. All the objects of the senses are, however, correct.” M. Parrot showed me a MS. left at Banana Point by a French medical officer, but little could be said in its praise. Monteiro and Gamitto (pp. 479–480) give seventeen “Conguez” words, and the Congo numerals as opposed to the “Bundo.”
The Fiote is a member of the great South African family; some missionaries argued, from its beauty and richness, that it had formerly been written, but of this there is no proof. M. Malte–Brun supposes the Congoese dialects to indicate “a meditative genius foreign to the habitual condition of these people,” ignoring the fact that the most complicated and laborious tongues are those of barbarous nations, whilst modern civilization in variably labours to simplify. It is copious; every place, tree, shrub, or plant used by the people has its proper name; it is harmonious and pleasing, abounding in vowels and liquids, destitute of gutturals, and sparing in aspirates and other harsh consonants. At the same time, like the rest of the family, it is clumsy and unwieldy, whilst immense prolixity and frequent repetition must develope the finer shades of meaning. Its peculiarity is a greater resemblance to the Zanzibarian Kisawahili than any tongue known to me on the Western Coast: often a question asked by the guide, as “Njia hápá?” (Is this the road?) and “Jina lako nani?” (What’s your name?) was perfectly intelligible to me.The latter is a fair specimen of the peculiar euphony which I have noticed in “Zanzibar” (vol. i. chap. x.). We should expect “Jina jako,” whereas this would offend the native ear. It requires a scholar-like knowledge of the tongue to apply the curious process correctly, and the self-sufficient critic should beware how he attempts to correct quotations from the native languages.
I need hardly say that the speakers are foul-mouthed as the Anglo–African of S’a Leone and the “English” Coast; they borrow the vilest words from foreign tongues; a spade is called a spade with a witness, and feminine relatives are ever the subject of abuse; a practice which, beginning in Europe with the Slav race, extends more or less throughout the Old World. I specify the Old World, because the so-called “Indians” of North and South America apparently ignore the habit except where they have learned it from Southern Europe. Finally, cursing takes the place of swearing, the latter being confined, I believe, to the Scandinavians, the Teutons, and their allied races.
Nothing can be more unpleasant than the Portuguese spoken by the Congoman. He transposes the letters lacking the proper sounds in his own tongue; for instance, “sinholo” (sinyolo) is “senhor;” “munyele” or “minyele” is “mulher;” “O luo” stands in lieu of “O rio,” (the river); “rua” of “lua” (luna), and so forth. For tomorrow you must use “cedo” as “manhaa” would not be understood, and the prolixity of the native language is transferred to the foreign idiom. For instance, if you ask, “What do you call this thing?” the paraphrase to be intelligible would be, “The white man calls this thing so-and-so; what does the Fiote call this thing?” sixteen words for six. I have elsewhere remarked how Englishmen make themselves unintelligible by transferring to Hindostani and other Asiatic tongues the conciseness of their own idiom, in which as much is understood as is expressed. We can well understand the outraged feelings with which poor Father Cannecattim heard his sermons travestied by the Abundo negroes do Paiz or linguists, the effect of which was to make him compose his laborious dictionary in Angolan, Latin, and Portuguese. His wrath in reflecting upon “estos homems ou estos brutos” drives the ecclesiastic to imitate the ill-conditioned layman who habitually addresses his slave as “O bruto! O burro! O bicho! O diabo!” when he does not apply the more injurious native terms as “Konongwako” and “Vendengwandi.” It is only fair to confess that no race is harsher in its language and manners to its “black brethren,” than the liberated Africans of the English settlements.
At Banza Nokki I saw the first specimen of a Mundongo slave girl. The tribe is confounded with the Mandingo (Mandenga) Moslems by the author of the “Introduction to Tuckey’s Journey” (p. Ixxxi.); by Tuckey (p. 141), who also calls them Mandonzo (p. 135), and by Prof. Smith (p. 315); but not by the accurate Marsden (p. 389). She described her tribe as living inland to the east and north-east of the Congo peoples, distant two moons — a detail, of course, not to be depended upon. I afterwards met many of these “captives,” who declared that they had been sold after defeats: a fine, tall race, one is equal to two Congo men, and the boldness of demeanour in both sexes distinguishes them from other serviles. Apparently under this name there are several tribes inhabiting lands of various elevations; some are coloured café au lait, as if born in a high and healthy region; others are almost jet black with the hair frightfully “wispy,” like a mop. Generally the head is bullet-shaped, the face round, the features negroid, not negro, and the hands and feet large but not ill-shaped. Some again have the Hausa mark, thread-like perpendicular cuts from the zygomatic arches running parallel with the chin; in other cases the stigmata are broad beauty-slashes drawn transversely across the cheeks to the jawbone, and forming with the vertical axis an angle of 45°. All are exceedingly fond of meat, and, like the Kru-men, will devour it semi-putrified. The Congoese declare them to be “papagentes” (cannibals), a term generally applied by the more advanced to the bushmen living beyond their frontier, and useful to deter travellers and runaways. They themselves declare that they eat the slain only after a battle — the sentimental form of anthropophagy. The slave-girl produced on this occasion was told to sing; after receiving some beads, without which she would not open her lips, we were treated to a “criard” performance which reminded me of the “heavenly muse” in the Lake Regions of Central Africa.
The neighbours of the Mundonoros are the Mubangos, the Muyanji (Muyanzi?), and the Mijolo, by some called Mijere. Possibly Tuckey alludes to the Mijolos when he tells us (p. 141), that the “Mandingo” slave whom he bought on the Upper River, called his country “M’intolo.” I have seen specimens of the three, who are so similar in appearance that a stranger distinguishes them only by the tattoo. No. 1 gashes a line from the root of the hair to the commissure of the nose: No. 2 has a patch of cuts, five in length and three in depth, extending from the bend of the eye-brow across the zygomata to the ear, and No. 3 wears cuts across the forehead. I was shown a sword belonging to the Mijolo: all declared that it is of native make; yet it irresistibly suggested the old two-handed weapon of Europe, preserved by the Bedawin and the Eastern Arabs, who now mostly derive it from Sollingen. The long, straight, flexible, and double-edged blade is neatly mounted by the tang in a handle with a pommel, or terminating knob, of ivory; others prefer wood. The guard is very peculiar, a thin bar of iron springing from the junction of blade and grip, forming an open oval below, and prolonged upwards and downwards in two branches parallel with the handle, and protecting the hand. They dance, brandishing this weapon, according to the slaves, in the presence of their princes.
I inquired vainly about the Anzicos, Anzichi, Anzigui, Anzigi, or Anziki, whose king, Makoko, the ruler of thirteen kingdoms, was placed by Dapper north-west of Monemugi (Unyamwezi), and whom Pigafetta (p. 79) located close to the Congo, and near his northern Lake. “It is true that there are two lakes, not, however, lying east and west (Ptolemy’s system), but north and south of each other, and about 400 miles asunder. The first is in south latitude 12°. The Nile, issuing from it, does not, according to Odoardo (Duarte Lopez), sink in the earth nor conceal itself, but, after flowing northwards, it enters the second lake, which is 220 miles in extent, and is called by the natives a sea.” If the Tanganyika shall be found to connect with the Luta Nzige or Mwutan Lake, this passage will be found wonderfully truthful. The Tanganyika’s southern versant is now placed in south latitude 8° 46’ 54”, or in round numbers 9°, and the other figures are nearly as correct. James Barbot causes these Anzikos to wander “almost through all Africa,” from Nubia to the Congo, like negro Bedawin or Scythians; the common food was man’s flesh fattened for the market and eaten by the relatives, even of those who died diseased. Their “capital,” Monsol, was built by D’Anville, close to the equator in the very centre of Africa (east longitude Greenwich, 26° 20’) hard by Douville’s “Yanvo;” and the “Opener of Inner Africa in 1852” (pp. 3, 4, 69), with equal correctness, caused them to “occupy the hills opposite to Sundi, and extending downwards to Emboma below the Falls.”
Mr. Cooley (“Ocean Highways,” June, 1873), now explains the word as A-nzi-co, “people not of the country,” barbarians, bushmen. This kind of information, derived from a superficial knowledge of an Angolan vocabulary, is peculiarly valueless. I doubt that a negative can thus be suffixed to a genitive. The name may simply have been A-nziko (man) of the back-settlement. In 1832, Mr. Cooley writes: “the nation of the Anziko (or Ngeco):” in 1845, “the Anziki, north of Congo:” in 1852, “the Micoco or king of the Anziko”— und so weiter. What can we make of this geographical Proteus? The first Congo Expedition who covered all the ground where the Creator of the Great Central Sea places the Anzikos, never heard of them — nor will the second.
Not being then so well convinced of the nonexistence of the Giaghi, Giagas, Gagas, or Jagas as a nation, I inquired as vainly for those terrible cannibals who had gone the way of all the Anzikos. According to Lopez, Battel, Merolla, and others, they “consider human flesh as the most delicious food, and goblets of warm blood as the most exquisite beverage.” This act on the part of savage warriors might have been a show of mere bravado. But I cannot agree with the editor of Tuckey’s “Narrative,” “From the character and disposition of the native African, it may fairly be doubted whether, throughout the whole of this great continent, a negro cannibal has any existence.” The year 1816 was the Augustan age of outrageous negrophilism and equally extreme anti-Napoleonism. “If a French general” (Introduction, p. i), “brutally seized the person and papers of a British naval officer, on his return from a voyage of discovery,” who, I would ask, plundered and destroyed the fine botanical collection made at risk of health and life, during fifteen months of hard labour, by the learned Palisot de Beauvois, author of the “Flore d’Oware?” The “Reviewer” of Douville (p. 177) as sensibly declares that cannibalism “has hitherto continually retired before the investigation of sober-minded, enlightened men,” when, after a century or two of intercourse with white traders, it still flourishes on the Bonny and New Calabar Rivers.
We are glad to be rid of the Jagas, a subject which has a small literature of its own; the savage race appeared everywhere like a “deus ex machina,” and it became to Intertropical Africa what the “Lost Tribes” were and even now are in some cases, to Asia and not rarely to Europe. Even the sensible Mr. Wilson (“West Africa,” p. 238) has “no doubt of the Jagas being the same people with the more modernly discovered Pangwes” (Fans); and this is duly copied by M. du Chaillu (chap. viii.). M. Valdez (ii. 150) more sensibly records that the first Jaga established in Portuguese territory was called Colaxingo (Kolashingo), and that his descendants were named “Jagas,” like the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Roman Ceesars, the Austrian Kaisers, and the Russian Czars: he also reminds us (p. 150) that the chief of the Bangalas inhabiting Cassange (= Kasanjí) was the Jaga or ruler par excellence.
Early on the morning of September 11, I was aroused by a “bob” in the open before us. We started up, fearing that some death by accident had taken place: the occasion proved, on the contrary, to be one of ushering into life. The women were assembled in a ring round the mother, and each howled with all the might of her lungs, either to keep off some evil spirit or to drown the sufferer’s cries. In some parts of Africa, the Gold Coast for instance, it is considered infamous for a woman thus to betray her pain, but here we are amongst a softer race.
1 Tuckey (p. 214), and the General Observations prefixed to the Diaries.
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