As I am under the impression that the trade of the West African Coast is its most important attribute, I hope I may be pardoned for entering into this subject. My chief excuse for so doing lies in the fact that independent travellers are rare in the Bights. The last one I remember hearing of was that unfortunate gentleman who went to the Coast for pleasure and lost a leg on Lagos Bar. Now I have not lost any portion of my anatomy anywhere on the Coast, and therefore have no personal prejudice against the place. I hold a brief for no party, and I beg the more experienced old coaster to remember that “a looker on sees the most of the game.”
First of all it should be remembered that Africa does not possess ready-made riches to the extent it is in many quarters regarded as possessing. It is not an India filled with the accumulated riches of ages, waiting for the adventurer to enter and shake the pagoda tree. The pagoda tree in Africa only grows over stores of buried ivory, and even then it is a stunted specimen to that which grew over the treasure-houses of Delhi, Seringapatam, and hundreds of others as rich as they in gems and gold. Africa has lots of stuff in it; structurally more than any other continent in the world, but it is very much in the structure, and it requires hard work to get it out, particularly out of one of its richest regions, the West Coast, where the gold, silver, copper, lead, and petroleum lie protected against the miner by African fever in its deadliest form, and the produce prepared by the natives for the trader is equally fever-guarded, and requires white men of a particular type to work and export it successfully — men endowed with great luck, pluck, patience, and tact.
The first things to be considered are the natural resources of the country. This subject may be divided into two sub-sections — (1) The means of working these resources as they at present stand; (2) The question of the possibility of increasing them by introducing new materials of trade-value in the shape of tea, coffee, cocoa, etc.
With regard to the first sub-division the most cheerful things that there are to say on the West Coast trade can be said; the means of transport being ahead of the trade in all districts save the Gold Coast. I know this is heresy, so I will attempt to explain the matter. First, as regards communication to Europe by sea, the West Coast is extremely well off, the two English lines of steamers managed by Messrs. Elder Dempster, the British African, and the Royal African, are most enterprisingly conducted, and their devotion to trade is absolutely pathetic. Let there be but the least vague rumour (sometimes I have thought they have not waited for the rumour, but “gone in” as an experiment) of a puncheon of oil, or a log of timber waiting for shipment at an out-of-the-world, one house port, one of these vessels will bear down on that port, and have that cargo. In addition to the English lines there is the Woermann line, equally devoted to cargo, I may almost say even more so, for it is currently reported that Woermann liners will lie off and wait for the stuff to grow. This I will not vouch for, but I know the time allowed to a Woermann captain by his owners between Cameroons and Big Batanga just round the corner is eight days.
These English and German lines, having come to a friendly understanding regarding freights, work the Bights of Benin, Biafra, and Panavia, without any rivals, save now and again the vessels chartered by the African Association to bring out a big cargo, and the four sailing vessels belonging to the Association which give an eighteenth-century look to the Rivers, and have great adventures on the bars of Opobo and Bonny. 34 The Bristol ships on the Half Jack Coast are not rivals, but a sort of floating factories, shipping their stuff home and getting it out by the regular lines of steamers. The English and German liners therefore carry the bulk of the trade from the whole Coast. Their services are complicated and frequent, but perfectly simple when you have grasped the fact that the English lines may be divided into two sub-divisions — Liverpool boats and Hamburg boats, either of which are liable when occasion demands to call at Havre. The Liverpool line is the mail line to the more important ports, the Hamburg line being almost entirely composed of cargo vessels calling at the smaller ports as well as the larger.
There is another classification that must be grasped. The English boats being divided into, firstly, a line having its terminus at Sierra Leone and calling at the Isles do Los; secondly, a line having its terminus at Akassa; thirdly, a line having its terminus at Old Calabar; fourthly, a line having its terminus at San Paul de Loanda, and in addition, a direct line from Antwerp to the Congo, chartered by the Congo Free State Government. Division 4, the South-westers, are the quickest vessels as far as Lagos, for they only call at the Canaries, Sierra Leone, off the Kru Coast, at Accra, and off Lagos; then they run straight from Lagos into Cameroons, without touching the Rivers, reaching Cameroons in twenty-seven days from Liverpool. After Cameroons they cross to Fernando Po and run into Victoria, and then work their way steadily down coast to their destination. Thence up again, doing all they know to extract cargo, but never succeeding as they would wish, and so being hungry in the hold when they get back to the Bight of Benin, they are liable to smell cargo and go in after it, and therefore are not necessarily the quickest boats home.
Two French companies run to the French possessions, subsidised by their Government (as the German line is, and as our lines are not) — the Chargeurs Reunis and the Fraissinet. The South-west Coast liners of these companies run to Gaboon and then to Koutonu, up near Lagos, then back to Gaboon, and down as far as Loango, calling on their way home at the other ports in Congo Francais. They are mainly carriers of import goods, because they run to time, and on the South-west Coast unless Time has an ameliorating touch of Eternity in it you cannot get export goods off.
Below the Congo the rivals of the English and German lines are the vessels of the Portuguese line, Empreza Nacional. These run from Lisbon to the Cape Verde Islands, thence to San Thome and Principe, then to the ports of Angola (Loanda, Benguella, Mossamedes, Ambrizette, etc.), and they carry the bulk of the Angola trade at present, because of the preferential dues on goods shipped in Portuguese bottoms.
The service of English vessels to the West Coast is weekly; to the Rivers fortnightly; to the South-west Coast monthly; and it is the chief thing in West Coast trade enterprise that England has to be proud of.
Any one of the English boats will go anywhere that mortal boat can go; and their captains’ local knowledge is a thing England at large should be proud of and the rest of the civilised world regard with awe-stricken admiration. That they leave no room for further development of ocean carriage has been several times demonstrated by the collapse of lines that have attempted to rival them — the Prince line and more recently the General Steam Navigation.
But although the West Coast trader has at his disposal these vessels, he has by no means an easy time, or cheap methods, of getting his stuff on board, save at Sierra Leone and in the Oil Rivers. Of the Gold Coast surf, and Lagos bar I have already spoken, and the Calemma as we call the South-west Coast surf is nearly, if not quite as bad as that on the Gold Coast. Indeed I hold it is worse, but then I have had more experience of it, and it has frequently to be worked in native dugouts, and not in the well-made surf boats used on the Gold Coast. But although these surf-boats are more safe they are also more expensive than canoes, as a fine 40 or 60 pounds surf-boat’s average duration of life is only two years in the Gold Coast surf, so there is little to choose from a commercial standpoint between the two surfs when all is done.
As regards interior transport, the difficulty is greater, but in the majority of the West Coast possessions of European powers there exist great facilities for transport in the network of waterways near the coast and the great rivers running far into the interior.
These waterways are utilised by the natives, being virtually roads; in many districts practically the only roads existing for the transport of goods in bulk, or in the present state of the trade required to exist. But there is room for more white enterprise in the matter of river navigation; and my own opinion is that if English capital were to be employed in the direction of small suitably-built river steamers, it would be found more repaying than lines of railway. Waterways that might be developed in this manner exist in the Cross River, the Volta, and the Ancobra. I do not say that there will be any immediate dividend on these river steamboat lines, but I do not think that there will be any dividend, immediate or remote, on railways in West Africa. This question of transport is at present regarded as a burning one throughout the Continent; and for the well-being of certain parts of the West Coast railways are essential, such as at Lagos, and on the Gold Coast. Of Lagos I do not pretend to speak. I have never been ashore there. Of the Gold Coast I have seen a little, and heard a great deal more, and I think I may safely say that railway making would not be difficult on it, for it is good hard land, not stretches of rotten swamp. The great difficulty in making railroads here will consist in landing the material through the surf. This difficulty cannot be got over, except at enormous expense, by making piers, but it might be surmounted by sending the plant ashore on small bar boats that could get up the Volta or Ancobra. When up the Volta it may be said, “it would be nowhere when any one wanted it,” but the cast-iron idea that goods must go ashore at places where there are Government headquarters like Accra and Cape Coast, places where the surf is about at its worst, seems to me an erroneous one. The landing place at Cape Coast might be made safe and easy by the expenditure of a few thousands in “developing” that rock which at present gives shelter WHEN you get round the lee side of it, but this would only make things safer for surf-boats. No other craft could work this bit of beach; and there is plenty of room for developing the Volta, as it is a waterway which a vessel drawing six feet can ascend fifty miles from July till November, and thirty miles during the rest of the year. The worst point about the Volta is the badness of its bar — a great semicircular sweep with heavy breakers — too bad a bar for boats to cross; but a steamer on the Lagos bar boat plan might manage it, as the Bull Frog reported in 1884 nineteen to twenty-one feet on it, one hour before high water. The absence of this bar boat, and the impossibility of sending goods out in surf-boats across the bar, causes the goods from Adda (Riverside), the chief town on the Volta, situated about six miles up the river from its mouth, to be carried across the spit of land to Beach Town, and then brought out through the shore surf — the worst bit of surf on the whole Gold Coast. The Ancobra is a river which penetrates the interior, through a district very rich in gold and timber and more than suspected of containing petroleum. It is from eighty to one hundred yards wide up as far as Akanko, and during the rains carries three and a half to four and a half fathoms, and boats are taken up to Tomento about forty miles from its mouth with goods to the Wassaw gold mines. But the bar of the Ancobra is shallow, only giving six feet, although it is firm and settled, not like that of the Volta and Lagos; and the Portuguese, in the sixteenth century, used to get up this river, and work the country to a better profit than we do nowadays.
The other chief Gold Coast river, the Bosum Prah, that enters the sea at Chama, is no use for navigation from the sea, being obstructed with rock and rapids, and its bar only carrying two feet; but whether these rivers are used or not for the landing of railroad plant, it is certain that that plant must be landed, and the railways made, for if ever a district required them the Gold Coast does. It is to be hoped it will soon enter into the phase of construction, for it is a return to the trade (from which it draws its entire revenue) that the local government owes, and owes heavily; and if our new acquisition of Ashantee is to be developed, it must have a railway bringing it in touch with the Coast trade, not necessarily running into Coomassie, but near enough to Coomassie to enable goods to be sold there at but a small advance on Coast prices.
It is an error, easily fallen into, to imagine that the natives in the interior are willing to give much higher prices than the sea-coast natives for goods. Be it granted that they are compelled now to give say on an average seventy-five per cent. higher prices to the sea-coast natives who at present act as middlemen between them and the white trader, but if the white trader goes into the interior, he has to face, first, the difficulty of getting his goods there safely; secondly, the opposition of the native traders who can, and will drive him out of the market, unless he is backed by easy and cheap means of transport. Take the case of Coomassie now. A merchant, let us say, wants to take up from the Coast to Coomassie 3,000 pounds worth of goods to trade with. To transport this he has to employ 1,300 carriers at one shilling and three pence per day a head. The time taken is eight days there, and eight days back, = sixteen days, which figures out at 1,300 pounds, without allowing for loss and damage. In order to buy produce with these goods that will cover this, and all shipping expenses, etc., he would have to sell at a far higher figure in Coomassie than he would on the sea-coast, and the native traders would easily oust him from the market. Moreover so long as a district is in the hands of native traders there is no advance made, and no development goes forward; and it would be a grave error to allow this to take place at Coomassie, now that we have at last done what we should have done in 1874 and taken actual possession, for Coomassie is a grand position that, if properly managed for a few years, will become a great interior market, attracting to itself the routes of interior trade. It is not now a great centre; because of the oppression and usury which the Kings of Ashantee have inflicted on all in their power, and which have caused Coomassie mainly to attract one form of trade, viz., slaves; who were used in their constant human sacrifices, and for whom a higher price was procurable here than from the Mohammedan tribes to the north under French sway. And as for the other trade stuffs, they have naturally for years drained into the markets of the French Soudan; instead of through such a country as Ashantee, into the markets of the English Gold Coast; and so unless we run a railroad up to encourage the white traders to go inland, and make a market that will attract these trade routes into Coomassie, we shall be a few years hence singing out “What’s the good of Ashantee?” and so forth, as is our foolish wont, never realising that the West Coast is not good unless it is made so by white effort.
The new regime on the Gold Coast is undoubtedly more active than the old — more alive to the importance of pushing inland and so forth — and a road is going to be made twenty-five feet wide all the way to Coomassie, and then beyond it, which is an excellent thing in its way. But it will not do much for trade, because the pacification of the country, and the greater security of personal property to the native, which our rule will afford will aid him in bringing his goods to the coast, but not so greatly aid our taking our goods inland, for the carriers will require just as much for carrying goods along a road, as they do for carrying goods along a bush path, and rightly too, for it is quite as heavy work for them, and heavier, as I know from my experience of the governmental road in Cameroon. In such a country as West Africa there can be no doubt that a soft bush path with a thick coating of moss and leaves on it, and shaded from the sun above by the interlacing branches, is far and away better going than a hard, sunny wide road. This road will be valuable for military expeditions possibly, but military expeditions are not everyday affairs on the Gold Coast; and it cannot be of use for draught animals, because of the horse-sickness and tsetse fly which occur as soon as you get into the forest behind the littoral region: so it must not be regarded as an equivalent for steam transport, as it will only serve to bring down the little trickle of native trade, and possibly not increase that trickle much.
The question of transport of course is not confined to the Gold Coast. Below Lagos there is the great river system, towards which the trade slowly drains through native hands to the white man’s factories on the river banks, but this trade being in the hands of native traders is not a fraction of what it would become in the hands of white men; and any mineral wealth there may be in the heavily-forested stretches of country remains unworked and unknown. The difficulty of transport here greatly hampers the exploitation of the timber wealth, it being utterly useless for the natives to fell even a fine tree, unless it is so close to a waterway that it can be floated down to the factory. This it is which causes the ebony, bar, and cam wood to be cut up by them into small billets which a man can carry. The French and Germans are both now following the plan of getting as far as possible into the interior by the waterways, and then constructing railways. The construction of these railways is fairly easy, as regards gradients, and absence of dense forest, when your waterway takes you up to the great park-like plateau lands which extend, as a general rule, behind the forest belt, and the inevitable mountain range. The most important of these railways will be that of M. de Brazza up the Sanga valley in the direction of the Chad. When this railway is constructed, it will be the death of the Cameroon and Oil River trade, more particularly of the latter, for in the Cameroons the Germans have broken down the monopoly of the coast tribes, which we in our possessions under the Niger Coast Protectorate have not. The Niger Company has broken through, and taken full possession of a great interior, doing a bit of work of which every Englishman should feel proud, for it is the only thing in West Africa that places us on a level with the French and Germans in courage and enterprise in penetrating the interior, and fortunately the regions taken over by the Company are rich and not like the Senegal “made of sand and savage savages.” Where in West Africa outside the Company will you find men worthy as explorers to be named in the same breath with de Brazza, Captain Binger, and Zintgraff?
Some day, I fear when it will be too late, we shall realise the foolishness of sticking down on the sea coast, tidying up our settlements, establishing schools, and drains, and we shall find our possessions in the Rivers and along the Gold Coast valueless, particularly in the Rivers, for the trade will surely drain towards the markets along the line of the French railroad behind them, for the middlemen tribe that we foster exact a toll of seventy-five per cent. on the trade that comes through their hands, and the English Government is showing great signs of an inclination to impose such duties on the only stuff the native cares much for — alcohol — that he will take his goods to the market where he can get his alcohol; even if he pays a toll to these markets of fifty per cent. But of this I will speak later, and we will return to the question of transport. Mr. Scott Elliot, 35 speaking on this subject as regarding East African regions, has given us a most interesting contribution based on his personal experience, and official figures. As many of his observations and figures are equally applicable to the West Coast, I hope I may be forgiven for quoting him. His criticism is in favour of the utilisation of every mile of waterway available. He says, regarding the Victoria Nyanza, that “it is possible to place on it a steamer at the cost of 12,677 pounds. Taking the cost of maintenance, fuel and working expenses at 1,200 pounds a year (a large estimate) a capital expenditure of 53,000 pounds, (13,000 pounds for the steamer and 40,000 pounds to yield three per cent. interest) would enable this steamer to convey, say thirty tons at the rate of five to ten miles an hour for 1,600 pounds a year. This makes it possible to convey a ton at the rate of a halfpenny a mile, while it would require about 53,000 pounds to build a railway only eighteen miles long.”
The Congo Free State railway I am informed, has cost, at a rate per mile, something like eight times this. Further on Mr. Elliot says: “In America the surplus population of Europe, and the markets in the Eastern States have made railway development profitable on the whole, but in Africa, until pioneer work has been done, and the prospects of colonisation and plantation are sufficiently definite and settled to induce colonists to go out in considerable numbers, it will be ruinous to build a long railway line.”
I do not quote these figures to discourage the West Coaster from his railway, but only to induce him to get his Government to make it in the proper direction, namely, into the interior, where further development of trade is possible. Judging from other things in English colonies, I should expect, if left to the spirit of English (West Coast) enterprise, it would run in a line that would enable the engine drivers to keep an eye on the Atlantic Ocean instead of the direction in which it is high time our eyes should be turned. I confess I am not an enthusiast on civilising the African. My idea is that the French method of dealing with Africa is the best at present. Get as much of the continent as possible down on the map as yours, make your flag wherever you go a sacred thing to the native — a thing he dare not attack. Then, when you have done this, you may abandon the French plan, and gradually develop the trade in an English manner, but not in the English manner a la Sierra Leone. But do your pioneer work first. There is a very excellent substratum for English pioneer work on our Coasts in the trading community, for trade is the great key to the African’s heart, and everywhere the English trader and his goods stand high in West African esteem. This pioneer work must be undertaken, or subsidised by the Government as it has been in the French possessions, for the West Coast does not offer those inducements to the ordinary traveller that, let us say, East Africa with its magnificent herds of big game, or the northern frontier of India, with its mountains and its interesting forms, relics, and monuments of a high culture, offer. Travel in West Africa is very hard work, and very unhealthy. There are many men who would not hesitate for a moment to go there, were the dangers of the native savagery the chief drawback; but they hesitate before a trip which means, in all probability, month after month of tramping through wet gloomy forests with a swamp here and there for a change, 36 and which will, the chances are 100 to 1, end in their dying ignominiously of fever in some wretched squalid village.
Reckless expenditure of money in attempts to open up the country is to be deprecated, for this hampers its future terribly, even if attended with partial success, the mortgage being too heavy for the estate, as the Congo Free State finances show; and if it is attended with failure it discourages further efforts. What we want at present in West Africa are three or four Bingers and Zintgraffs to extend our possessions northwards, eastwards, and south-eastwards, until they command the interior trade routes. And there is no reason that these men should enter from the West Coast, getting themselves killed, or half killed, with fever, before they reach their work. Uganda, if half one hears of it is true, would be a very suitable base for them to start from, and then travelling west they might come down to the present limit of our West Coast possessions. This belt of territory across the continent would give us control of, and place us in touch with, the whole of the interior trade. A belt from north to south in Africa — thanks to our supineness and folly — we can now never have.
I will now briefly deal with the second sub-division I spoke of some pages back — the possibility of introducing new trade exports by means of cultivating plantations. The soil of West Africa is extremely rich in places, but by no means so in all, for vast tracts of it are mangrove swamps, and other vast tracts of it are miserably poor, sour, sandy clay. It is impossible in the space at my disposal to enter into a full description of the localities where these unprofitable districts occur, but you will find them here and there all along the Coast after leaving Sierra Leone. The sour clay seems to be new soil recently promoted into the mainland from dried-up mangrove swamps, and a good rough rule is, do not start a plantation on soil that is not growing hard-wood forest. Considerable areas on the Gold Coast, even though the soil is good, are now useless for cultivation, on account of their having been deforested by the natives’ wasteful way of making their farms, coupled with the harmattan and the long dry season.
The regions of richest soil are not in our possessions, but in those of Germany, France, Spain, and Portugal, namely, the Cameroons and its volcanic island series, Fernando Po, Principe, and San Thome.
The rich volcanic earths of these places will enable them to compete in the matter of plantations with any part of the known world. Cameroons is undoubtedly the best of these, because of its superior river supply, and although not in the region of the double seasons it is just on the northern limit of them, and the height of the Peak — 13,760 feet — condenses the water-laden air from its surrounding swamps and the Atlantic, so that rain is pretty frequent throughout the year. When within the region of the double seasons just south of Cameroons you have a rainfall no heavier than that of the Rivers, yet better distributed, an essential point for the prosperity of such plantations as those of tea and tobacco, which require showers once a month. To the north of Cameroons there is no prospect of either of these well-paying articles being produced in a quantity, or quality, that would compete with South America, India, or the Malayan regions, and they will have to depend in the matter of plantations on coffee and cacao. Below Cameroons, Congo Francais possesses the richest soil and an excellently arranged climate. The lower Congo soil is bad and poor close to the river. Kacongo, the bit of Portuguese territory to the north of the Congo banks, and that part of Angola as far as the River Bingo, are pretty much the same make of country as Congo Francais, only less heavily forested. The whole of Angola is an immensely rich region, save just round Loanda where the land is sand-logged for about fifty square miles, and those regions to the extreme south and south-east, which are in the Kalahari desert regions.
Coffee grows wild throughout Angola in those districts removed from the dry coast-lands — in the districts of Golongo Alto and Cassengo in great profusion, and you can go through utterly uncultivated stretches of it, thirty miles of it at a time. The natives, now the merchants have taught them its value, are collecting this wild berry and bringing it in in quantities, and in addition the English firm of Newton and Carnegie have started plantations up at Cassengo. The greater part of these plantations consist of clearing and taking care of the wild coffee, but in addition regularly planting and cultivating young trees, as it is found that the yield per tree is immensely increased by cultivation.
Six hundred to eight hundred bags a month were shipped from Ambrizette alone when I was there in 1893, and the amount has since increased and will still further increase when that leisurely, but very worthy little railroad line, which proudly calls itself the Royal Trans–African, shall have got its sections made up into the coffee district. It was about thirty miles off at Ambaca when I was in Angola, but by now it may have got further. However, I do not think it is very likely to have gone far, and I have a persuasion that that railroad will not become trans-African in my day; still it has an “immediate future” compared with that which any other West Coast railway can expect; for besides the coffee, Angola is rich in malachite and gum of high quality, and its superior government will attract the rubber from the Kassai region of the Congo Free State.
In our own possessions the making of plantations is being carried on with much energy by Messrs. Miller Brothers on the Gold Coast, 37 by several private capitalists, including Mr. A. L. Jones of Liverpool, at Lagos; by the Royal Niger Company in their territory, and by several head Agents in the Niger Coast Protectorate. Sir Claude MacDonald offered every inducement to this trade development, and gave great material help by founding a botanical station at Old Calabar, where plants could be obtained. He did his utmost to try and get the natives to embark on plantation-making, ably seconded by Mr. Billington, the botanist in charge of the botanical station, who wrote an essay in Effik on coffee growing and cultivation at large for their special help and guidance. A few chiefs, to oblige, took coffee plants, but they are not enthusiastic, for the slaves that would be required to tend coffee and keep it clean, in this vigorous forest region, are more profitably employed now in preparing palm oil.
Of the coffee plantation at Man o’ War Bay I have already spoken, and of those in Congo Francais, which, although not at present shipping like the German plantation, will soon be doing so. In addition to coffee and cacao attempts are being made in Congo Francais to introduce the Para rubber tree, a large plantation of which I frequently visited near Libreville, and found to be doing well. This would be an excellent tree to plant in among coffee, for it is very clean and tidy, and seems as if it would take to West Africa like a duck to water, but it is not a quick cropper, and I am informed must be left at least three or four years before it is tapped at all, so, as the gardening books would say, it should be planted early.
It is very possible many other trees producing tropical products valuable in commerce might be introduced successfully into West Africa. The cultivation of cloves and nutmegs would repay here well, for allied species of trees and shrubs are indigenous, but the first of these trees takes a long time before coming into bearing and the cultivation of the second is a speculative affair. Allspice I have found growing wild in several districts, but in no large quantity. Cotton with a fine long staple grows wild in quantities wherever there is open ground, but it is not cultivated by the natives; and when attempts have been made to get them to collect it they do so, but bring it in very dirty, and the traders having no machinery to compress it like that used in America, it does not pay to ship. Indigo is common everywhere along the Coast and used by the natives for dyeing, as is also a teazle, which gives a very fine permanent maroon; and besides these there are many other dyes and drugs used by them — colocynth, datura soap bark, cardamom, ginger, peppers, strophanthus, nux vomica, etc., etc., but the difficulty of getting these things brought in to the traders in sufficient quantities prevents their being exported to any considerable extent. Tea has not been tried, and is barely worth trying, though there is little doubt it would grow in Cameroons and Congo Francais where it would have an excellent climate and pretty nearly any elevation it liked. But I believe tea has of late years been discovered to be like coffee, not such a stickler for elevation as it used to be thought, merely requiring not to have its roots in standing water.
Vanilla grows with great luxuriance in Cameroons. In Victoria a grove of gigantic cacao trees is heavily overgrown with this lovely orchid in a most perfect way. It does not seem to injure the cacaos in the least, and there are other kinds of trees it will take equally well to. I saw it growing happily and luxuriantly under the direction of the Roman Catholic Mission at Landana; but it requires a continuously damp climate. Vanilla when once started gives little or no trouble, and its pods do not require any very careful manipulation before sending to Europe, and this is a very important point, for a great hindrance — THE great hindrance to plantation enterprise on the Coast — is the difficulty of getting neat-handed labourers. I had once the pleasure of meeting a Dutch gentleman — a plantation expert, who had been sent down the West Coast by a firm trading there, and also in the Malay Archipelago — prospecting, at a heavy fee, to see whether it would pay the firm to open up plantations there better than in Malaysia. I believe his final judgment was adverse to the West African plan, because of the difficulty of getting skilful natives to tend young plants, and prepare the products. Tea he regarded as quite hopeless from this difficulty, and he said he did not think you would ever get Africans at as cheap a rate, or so deftly fingered to roll tea, as you can get Asiatics. No one knows until they have tried it the trouble it is to get an African to do things carefully; but it is a trouble, not an impossibility. If you don’t go off with fever from sheer worry and vexation the thing can be done, but in the meantime he is maddening. I have had many a day’s work on plantations instructing cheerful, willing, apparently intelligent Ethiopians of various sexes and sizes on the mortal crime of hoeing up young coffee plants. They have quite seen it. “Oh, Lor! massa, I no fit to do dem thing.” Aren’t they! You go along tomorrow morning, and you’ll find your most promising pupils laying around them with their hoes, talking about the disgraceful way their dearest friends go on, and destroying young coffee right and left. They are just as bad, if not slightly worse, particularly the ladies, when it comes to picking coffee. As soon as your eye is off them, the bough is off the tree. I know one planter who leads the life of the Surprise Captain in W. H. S. Gilbert’s ballad, lurking among his groves, and suddenly appearing among his pickers. This, he says, has given them a feeling of uncertainty as to when and where he may appear, kassengo and all, that has done much to preserve his plantation; but it is a wearying life, not what he expected from his book on coffee-plantations, which had a frontispiece depicting a planter seated in his verandah, with a tumblerful of something cool at his right hand, and a pipe in his mouth, contemplating a large plantation full of industrious natives picking berries into baskets on all sides.
LABOUR. — The labour problem is one that must be studied and solved before West Africa can advance much further than its present culture condition, because the climate is such that the country cannot be worked by white labourers; and that this state of affairs will remain as it is until some true specific is discovered for malaria, something important happens to the angle of the earth’s axis, or some radical change takes place in the nature of the sun, is the opinion of all acquainted with the region. The West African climate shows no signs of improving whatsoever. If it shows any sign of alteration it is for the worse, for of late years two extremely deadly forms of fever have come into notice here, malarial typhoid and blackwater. The malarial typhoid seems confined to districts where a good deal of European attention has been given to drainage systems, which is in itself discouraging.
The labour problem has been imported with European civilisation. The civilisation has not got on to any considerable extent, but the labour problem has; for, being a malignant nuisance, it has taken to West Africa as a duck to water, and it is now flourishing. It has not yet, however, attained its zenith; it is just waiting for the abolition of domestic slavery for that — and then! Meanwhile it grows with the demand for hands to carry on plantation work, and public works. On the West Coast — that is to say, from Sierra Leone to Cameroon — it is worse than on the South West Coast from Cameroon to Benguella.
The Kruman, the Accra, and the Sierra Leonian are at present on the West Coast the only solution available. The first is as fine a ship-and-beach-man as you could reasonably wish for, but no good for plantation work. The second is, thanks to the practical training he has received from the Basel Mission, a very fair artisan, cook, or clerk, but also no good for plantation work, except as an overseer. The third is a poor artisan, an excellent clerk, or subordinate official, but so unreliable in the matter of honesty as to be nearly reliable to swindle any employer. Lagos turns out a large quantity of educated natives, but owing to the growing prosperity of the colony, these are nearly all engaged in Lagos itself.
An important but somewhat neglected factor in the problem is the nature of the West African native, and as I think a calm and unbiassed study of this factor would give us the satisfactory solution to the problem, I venture to give my own observations on it.
The Kruboys, as the natives of the Grain Coast are called, irrespective of the age of the individual, by the white men — the Menekussi as the Effiks call them — are the most important people of West Africa; for without their help the working of the Coast would cost more lives than it already does, and would be in fact practically impossible. Ever since vessels have regularly frequented the Bights, the Kruman has had the helpful habit of shipping himself off on board, and doing all the heavy work. Their first tutors were the slavers, who initiated them into the habit, and instructed them in ship’s work, that they might have the benefit of their services in working their vessels along the Slave Coast. And in order to prevent any Kruboy being carried off as a slave by mistake, which would have prejudiced these useful allies, the slavers persuaded them always to tattoo a band of basket-work pattern down their foreheads and out on to the tip of their broad noses: this is the most extensive bit of real tattoo that I know of in West Africa, and the Kruboys still keep the fashion. Their next tutors were the traders, who have taught and still teach them beach work; how to handle cargo, try oil, and make themselves generally useful in a factory, — “learn sense,” as the Kruboy himself puts it. To religious teaching the Kruboy seems for an African singularly impervious, but the two lessons he has learnt — ship and shore work — are the best that the white has so far taught the black, because unattended with the evil consequences that have followed the other lessons. Unfortunately, the Kruman of the Grain Coast and the Cabinda of the South West Coast, are the only two tribes that have had the benefit of this kind of education, but there are many other tribes who, had circumstances led the trader and the slaver to turn their attention to them, would have done their tutors quite as much credit. But circumstances did not, and so nowadays, just as a hundred years ago, you must get the Kruboy to help you if you are going to do any work, missionary or mercantile, from Sierra Leone to Cameroon. Below Cameroon the Kruboy does not like to go, except to the beach of an English or German house, for he has suffered much from the Congo Free State, and from Spaniards and Portuguese, who have not respected his feelings in the matter of wanting to return every year, or every two years at the most, to his own country, and his rooted aversion to agricultural work and carrying loads about the bush.
The pay of the Kruboy averages 1 pounds a month. There are modifications in the way in which this sum is reached; for example, some missionaries pay each man 20 pounds a year, but then he has to find his own chop. Some South–West Coast traders pay 8 pounds a year, but they find their boys entirely, and well, in food, and give them a cloth a week. English men-of-war on the West African Station have, like other vessels to take them on to save the white crew, and they pay the Kruboys the same as they pay the white men, i.e., 4 pounds 10s. a month with rations. Needless to say, men-of-war are popular, although service on board them cuts our friend off from almost every chance of stealing chickens and other things of which I may not speak, as Herodotus would say. I do not know the manner in which men-of-war pay off the Kruboy, but I think in hard cash. In the circles of society I most mix with on the Coast — the mercantile marine and the trading — he is always paid in goods, in cloth, gin, guns, tobacco, gunpowder, etc., with little concessions to his individual fancy in the matter, for each of these articles has a known value, and just as one of our coins can be changed, so you can get here change for a gun or any other trade article.
The Kruboy much prefers being paid off in goods. I well remember an exquisite scene between Captain —— and King Koffee of the Kru Coast when the subject of engaging boys was being shouted over one voyage out. The Captain at that time thought I was a W.W.T.A.A. and ostentatiously wanted Koffee to let him pay off the boys he was engaging to work the ship in money, and not in gin and gunpowder. King Koffee’s face was a study. If Captain — -, whom he knew of old, had stood on his head and turned bright blue all over with yellow spots, before his eyes, it would not have been anything like such a shock to his Majesty. “What for good him ting, Cappy?” he said, interrogation and astonishment ringing in every word. “What for good him ting for We country, Cappy? I suppose you gib gin, tobacco, gun he be fit for trade, but money — ” Here his Majesty’s feelings flew ahead of the Royal command of language, great as that was, and he expectorated with profound feeling and expression. Captain — -‘s expressive countenance was the battle ground of despair and grief at being thus forced to have anything to do with a traffic unpopular in missionary circles. He however controlled his feelings sufficiently to carefully arrange the due amount of each article to be paid, and the affair was settled.
The somewhat cumbrous wage the Kruboy gets at the end of his term of service, minus those things he has had on account and plus those things he has “found,” is certainly a source of great worry to our friend. He obtains a box from the carpenter of the factory, or buys a tin one, and puts therein his tobacco and small things, and then he buys a padlock and locks his box of treasure up, hanging the key with his other ju-jus round his neck, and then he has peace regarding this section of his belongings. Peace at present, for the day must some time dawn when an experimental genius shall arise among his fellow countrymen, who will try and see if one key will not open two locks. When this possibility becomes known I can foresee nothing for the Kruboy but nervous breakdown; for even now, with his mind at rest regarding the things in his box, he lives in a state of constant anxiety about those out of it, which have to lie on the deck during the return voyage to his home. He has to keep a vigilant eye on them by day, and sleep spread out over them by night, for fear of his companions stealing them. Why he should take all this trouble about his things on his voyage home I can’t make out, if what is currently reported is true, that all the wages earned by the working boys become the property of the Elders of his tribe when he returns to them. I myself rather doubt if this is the case, but expect there is a very heavy tax levied on them, for your Kruboy is very much a married man, and the Elders of his tribe have to support and protect his wives and families when he is away at work, and I should not wonder if the law was that these said wives and families “revert to the State” if the boy fails to return within something like his appointed time. There must be something besides nostalgia to account for the dreadful worry and apprehension shown by a detained Kruboy. I am sure the tax is heavily taken in cloth, for the boys told me that if it were made up into garments for themselves they did not have to part with it on their return. Needless to say, this makes our friend turn his attention to needlework during his return voyage and many a time I have seen the main deck looking as if it had been taken possession of by a demoniacal Dorcas working party.
Strangely little is known of the laws and language of these Krumen, considering how close the association is between them and the whites. This arises, I think, not from the difficulty of learning their language, but from the ease and fluency with which they speak their version of our own — Kru–English, or “trade English,” as it is called, and it is therefore unnecessary for a hot and wearied white man to learn “Kru mouth.” What particularly makes me think this is the case is, that I have picked up a little of it, and I found that I could make a Kruman understand what I was driving at with this and my small stock of Bassa mouth and Timneh, on occasions when I wished to say something to him I did not want generally understood. But the main points regarding Krumen are well enough known by old Coasters — their willingness to work if well fed, and their habit of engaging for twelve-month terms of work and then returning to “We country.” A trader who is satisfied with a boy gives him, when he leaves, a bit of paper telling the captain of any vessel that he will pay the boy’s passage to his factory again, when he is willing to come. The period that a boy remains in his beloved “We country” seems to be until his allowance of his own earnings is expended. One can picture to one’s self some sad partings in that far-away dark land. “My loves,” says the Kruboy to his families, his voice heavy with tears, “I must go. There is no more cloth, I have nothing between me and an easily shocked world but this decayed filament of cotton.” And then his families weep with him, or, what is more likely, but not so literary, expectorate with emotion, and he tears himself away from them and comes on board the passing steamer in the uniform of Gunga Din — “nothing much before and rather less than half of that behind,” and goes down Coast on the strength of the little bit of paper from his white master which he has carefully treasured, and works like a nigger in the good sense of the term for another spell, to earn more goods for his home-folk.
Those boys who are first starting on travelling to work, and those without books, have no difficulty in getting passages on the steamers, for a captain is glad to get as many on board as he can, being sure to get their passage money and a premium for them, so great is the demand for Kru labour. But even this help to working the West Coast has been much interfered with of late years by the action of the French Government in imposing a tax per head on all labourers leaving their ports on the Ivory Coast. This tax, I believe, is now removed or much reduced; but as for the Liberian Republic, it simply gets its revenue in an utterly unjustifiable way out of taxing the Krumen who ship as labourers. The Krumen are no property of theirs, and they dare not interfere with them on shore; but owing to that little transaction in the celebrated Rubber Monopoly, the Liberians became possessed of some ready cash, which, with great foresight, they invested in two little gun-boats which enabled them to enforce their tax on the Krumen in their small canoes. I do not feel so sympathetic with the Krumen or their employers in this matter as I should, for the Krumen are silly hens not to go and wipe out Liberia on shore, and the white men are silly hens not to — but I had better leave that opinion unexpressed.
The power of managing Kruboys is a great accomplishment for any one working the West Coast. One man will get 20 per cent. more work out of his staff, and always have them cheerful, fit, and ready; while another will get very little out of the same set of men except vexation to himself, and accidents to his goods; but this very necessary and important factor in trade is not to be taught with ink. Some men fall into the proper way of managing the boys very quickly, others may have years of experience and yet fail to learn it. The rule is, make them respect you, and make them like you, and then the thing is done; but first dealing with the Kruboy, with all his good points, is very trying work, and they give the new hand an awful time of it while they are experimenting on him to see how far they can do him. They do this very cleverly, but shortsightedly, more Africano, for they spoil the tempers of half the white men whom they have to deal with. It is not necessary to treat them brutally, in fact it does not pay to do so, but it is necessary to treat them severely, to keep a steady hand over them. Never let them become familiar, never let them see you have made a mistake. When you make a mistake in giving them an order let it be understood that that way of doing a thing is a peculiarly artful dodge of your own, and if it fails, that it is their fault. They will quite realise this if it is properly managed. I speak from experience; for example, once, owing to the superior sex being on its back with fever and sending its temperature up with worrying about getting some ebony logs off to a bothering wretch of a river steamer that must needs come yelling along for cargo just then, I said, “You leave it to me, I’ll get it shipped all right,” and proceeded, with the help of three Kruboys, to raft that ebony off. I saw as soon as I had embarked on the affair, from the Kruboys’ manner, I was down the wrong path, but how, or why, I did not see until a neat arrangement of ebony billets tied together with tie-tie was in the water. Then I saw that I had constructed an excellent sounding apparatus for finding out the depth of water in the river; and that ebony had an affinity for the bottom of water, not for the top. The situation was a trying one and the way the captain of the vessel kept dancing about his deck saying things in a foreign tongue, but quite comprehensible, was distracting; but I did not devote myself to giving him the information he asked for, as to what PARTICULAR kind of idiot I was, because he was neither a mad doctor nor an ethnologist and had no right to the information; but I put a raft on the line of a very light wood we had a big store of, and this held up the ebony, and the current carried it down to the steamer all right. Then we hauled the line home and sent him some more on the patent plan, but, just to hurry up, you understand, and not delay the ship, a deadly crime, SOME of that ebony went off in a canoe and all ended happily, and the Kruboys regarded themselves as having been the spectators of another manifestation of white intelligence. In defence of the captain’s observations, I must say he could not see me because I was deploying behind a woodstack; nevertheless, I do not mean to say this method of shipping ebony is a good one. I shall not try it again in a hurry, and the situation cannot be pulled through unless you have, as Allah gave me, a very swift current; and although, when the thing went well, I DID say things from behind the woodstack to the captain, I did not feel justified in accepting his apologetic invitation to come on board and have a drink.
My experiences with Kruboys would, if written in full, make an excellent manual for a new-comer, but they are too lengthy for this chapter. My first experience with them on a small bush journey aged me very much; and ever since I have shirked chaperoning Kruboys about the West African bush among ticklish-tempered native gentlemen and their forward hussies of wives.
I have always admired men for their strength, their courage, their enterprise, their unceasing struggle for the beyond — the something else, but not until I had to deal with Krumen did I realise the vastness to which this latter characteristic of theirs could attain. One might have been excused for thinking that a man without rates and taxes, without pockets, and without the manifold, want-creating culture of modern European civilisation and education would necessarily have been bounded, to some extent, in his desires. But one would have been wrong, profoundly wrong, in so thinking, for the Kruman yearns after, and duns for, as many things for his body as the lamented Faustus did for his soul, and away among the apes this interesting creature would have to go, at once, if the wanting of little were a crucial test for the determination of the family termed by the scientific world the Hominidae. Later, when I got to know the Krumen well, I learnt that they desired not only the vast majority of the articles that they saw, but did more — obtained them--at all events some of them, without asking me for them; such commodities, for example, as fowls, palm wine, old tins and bottles, and other gentlemen’s wives were never safe. One of that first gang of boys showed self-help to such a remarkable degree that I christened him Smiles. His name — You-be-d — d — being both protracted and improper, called for change of some sort, but even this brought no comfort to one still hampered with conventional ideas regarding property, and frequent roll-calls were found necessary, so that the crimes of my friend Smiles and his fellows might not accumulate to an unmanageable extent.
This used to be the sort of thing — “Where them Nettlerash lib?” “He lib for drunk, Massa.” “Where them Smiles?” “He lib for town, for steal, Massa.” “Where them Black Man Misery?” But I draw a veil over the confessional, for there is simply no artistic reticence about your Kruman when he is telling the truth, or otherwise, regarding a fellow creature.
After accumulating with this gang enough experience to fill a hat (remembering always “one of the worst things you can do in West Africa is to worry yourself”) I bethought me of the advice I had received from my cousin Rose Kingsley, who had successfully ridden through Mexico when Mexico was having a rather worse revolution than usual, “to always preserve a firm manner.” I thought I would try this on those Kruboys and said “NO” in place of “I wish you would not do that, please.” I can’t say it was an immediate success. During this period we came across a trader’s lonely store wherein he had a consignment of red parasols. After these appalling objects the souls of my Krumen hungered with a great desire. “NO,” said I, in my severest tone, and after buying other things, we passed on. Imagine my horror, therefore, hours afterwards and miles away, to find my precious crew had got a red parasol apiece. Previous experience quite justified me in thinking that these had been stolen; and I pictured to myself my Portuguese friends, whose territory I was then in, commenting upon the incident, and reviling me as another instance of how the brutal English go looting through the land. I found, however, I was wrong, for the parasols had been “dashed” my rapacious rascals “for top,” and the last one connected with the affair who deserved pity was the trader from whom I had believed them stolen. It was I, not he, who suffered, for it was the wet season in West Africa and those red parasols ran. To this day my scientific soul has never been able to account for the vast body of crimson dye those miserable cotton things poured out, plentifully drenching myself and their owners, the Kruboys, and everything we associated with that day. I am quite prepared to hear that some subsequent wanderer has found a red trail in Africa itself like that one so often sees upon the maps. When they do, I hereby claim that real red trail as mine.
I confess I like the African on the whole, a thing I never expected to do when I went to the Coast with the idea that he was a degraded, savage, cruel brute; but that is a trifling error you soon get rid of when you know him. The Kruboy is decidedly the most likeable of all Africans that I know. Wherein his charm lies is difficult to describe, and you certainly want the patience of Job, and a conscience made of stretching leather to deal with the Kruboy in the African climate, and live. In his better manifestations he reminds me of that charming personality, the Irish peasant, for though he lacks the sparkle, he is full of humour, and is the laziest and the most industrious of mankind. He lies and tells the truth in such a hopelessly uncertain manner that you cannot rely on him for either. He is ungrateful and faithful to the death, honest and thievish, all in one and the same specimen of him.
Ingratitude is a crime laid very frequently to the score of all Africans, but I think unfairly; certainly I have never had to complain of it, and the Krumen often show gratitude for good treatment in a grand way. The way those Kruboys of gallant Captain Lane helped him work Lagos Bar and save lives by the dozen from the stranded ships on it and hauled their “Massa” out from among the sharkey foam every time he went into it, on the lifeboat upsetting, would have done credit to Deal or Norfolk lifeboat men, but the secret of their devotion is their personal attachment. They do not save people out of surf on abstract moral principles. The African at large is not an enthusiast on moral principles, and one and all they’ll let nature take its course if they don’t feel keen on a man surviving.
Half the African’s ingratitude, although it may look very bad on paper, is really not so very bad; for half the time you have been asking him to be grateful to you for doing to, or giving him things he does not care a row of pins about. I have quite his feelings, for example, for half the things in civilised countries I am expected to be glad to get. “Oh, how nice it must be to be able to get about in cars, omnibuses and railway trains again!” Is it? Well I don’t think so, and I do not feel glad over it. Similarly, we will take an African case of ingratitude. A white friend of mine put himself to an awful lot of trouble to save the life of one of his sub-traders who had had an accident, and succeeded. It had been the custom of the man’s wife to bring the trader little presents of fowls, etc., from time to time, and some time after the accident he met the lady and told her he had noticed a falling off in her offerings and he thought her very ungrateful after what he had done for her husband. She grunted and the next morning she brings in as a present the most forlorn, skinny, one-and-a-half-feathered chicken you ever laid eye on, and in answer to the trader’s comments she said: “Massa, fo sure them der chicken no be ‘ticularly good chicken, but fo sure dem der man no be ‘ticularly good man. They go” (they match each other).
I have referred at great length to the Krumen because of their importance, and also because they are the natives the white men have more to do with as servants than any other; but methods of getting on with them are not necessarily applicable to dealing with other forms of African labourers, such as plantation hands in the Congo Francais, Angola, and Cameroon. In Cameroon the Germans are now using largely the Batanga natives on the plantations; the Duallas, the great trading tribe in Cameroon River, being too lazy to do any heavy work; and they have also tried to import labourers from Togo Land, but this attempt was not a success, ending in the revolt of 1894, which lost several white lives. The public work is carried on, as it is in our own colonies, by the criminals in the chain-gang. The Germans have had many accusations hurled against them by people of their own nationality, but on the whole these “atrocities” have been much exaggerated and only half understood; and certainly have not amounted to anything like the things that have gone on in the “philanthropic” Congo Free State. The food given out by the German Government is the best Government rations given on the whole West Coast. When they have allowed me to have some of their native employes, as when I was up Cameroon Mountain, for example, I bought rations from the Government stores for them, and was much struck by the soundness and good quality of both rice and beef, and the rations they gave out to those Dahomeyans or Togolanders who revolted was so much more than they could, or cared to eat, that they used to sell much of it to the Duallas in Bell Town. This is not open to the criticism that the stuff was too bad for the Togolanders to eat, as was once said to me by a philanthropic German who had never been to the Coast, because the Duallas are a rich tribe, perfectly free traders in the matter, able to go to the river factories and buy provisions there had they wished to, and so would not have bought the Government rations unless they were worth having. The great point that has brought the Germans into disrepute with the natives employed by them is their military spirit, which gives rise to a desire to regulate everything; and that other attribute of the military spirit, nagging. You should never nag an African, it only makes him bothered and then sulky, and when he’s sulky he’ll lie down and die to spite you. But in spite of the Germans being over-given to this unpleasant habit of military regularity and so on, the natives from the Kru Coast and from Bassa and the French Ivory Coast return to them time after time for spells of work, so there must be grave exaggeration regarding their bad treatment, for these natives are perfectly free in the matter.
The French use Loango boys for factory hands, and these people are very bright and intelligent, but as a M’pongwe, who knew them well, said: “They are much too likely to be devils to be good too much” and are undoubtedly given to poisoning, which is an unpleasant habit in a house servant. Their military force are composed of Senegalese Laptot, very fine, fierce fellows, superior, I believe, as fighting men to our Hausas, and very devoted to, and well treated by, their French officers.
That the Frenchman does not know how to push trade in his possessions, the trade returns, with the balance all on the wrong side, clearly show; still he does know how to get possession of Africa better than we do, and this means he knows how to deal with the natives. The building up of Congo Francais, for example, has not cost one-third of the human lives, black or white, that an equivalent quantity of Congo Belge has, nor one-third of the expense of Uganda or Sierra Leone. It is customary in England to dwell on the commercial failure, and deduce from it the erroneous conclusion that France will soon leave it off when she finds it does not pay. This is an error, because commercial success — the making the thing pay — is not the French ideal in the affair. It is our own, and I am the last person to say our ideal is wrong; but it is not the French ideal, and I am the last person to say France is wrong either. There may exist half a hundred or more right reasons for doing anything, and the reasons France has for her energetic policy in Africa are sound ones; for they are the employment of her martial spirits where their activity will not endanger the State, the stowing of these spirits in Paris having been found to be about as advisable as stowing over-proof spirits and gunpowder in a living-room with plenty of lighted lucifers blazing round; and her other reason is the opportunity African enterprise affords for sound military training. You will often hear in England regarding French annexation in Africa, “Oh! let her have the deadly hole, and much good may it do her.” France knows very well what good it will do her, and she will cheerfully take all she is allowed to get quietly, as a sop for her quietness regarding Egypt, and she will cheerfully fight you for the rest — small blame to her. She knows Africa is a superb training ground for her officers. Sham fights and autumn manoeuvres have a certain value in the formation of a fighting army, but the whole of these parlour-games, put together in a ten-year lump, are not to be compared to one month’s work at real war, to fit an army for its real work, and France knows well the real work will come again some day — not far off — for her army. How soon it comes she little cares, for she has no ideal of Peace before her, never has had, never will have, and the next time she tries conclusions with one of us Teutonic nations, she will be armed with men who have learned their trade well on the burning sands of Senegal, and they will take a lot of beating. We do not require Africa as a training ground for our army; India is as magnificent a military academy as any nation requires; but we do require all the Africa we can get, West, East, and South, for a market, and it is here we clash with France; for France not only does not develop the trade of her colonies for her own profit, but stamps trade at large out by her preferential tariffs, etc.; so that we cannot go into her colonies and trade freely as she and Germany can come into ours. We can go into her colonies and do business with French goods, and this is done; but French goods are not so suitable, from their make, nor capable of being sold at a sufficient profit to make a big trade. But France throws few obstacles, if any, in the matter of plantation enterprise. Still this enterprise being so hampered by the dearth of good labour is not at the present time highly remunerative in Africa.
FOREIGN LABOUR. — Several important authorities have advocated the importation of foreign labour into Africa. This seems to me to be a fatal error, for several reasons. For one thing, experience has by now fully demonstrated that the West Coast climate is bad for men not native to it, whether those men be white, black, or yellow. The United Presbyterian Mission who work in Old Calabar was founded with the intention of inaugurating a mission which, after the white men had established it, was to be carried on by educated Christian blacks from Jamaica, where this mission had long been established and flourished. But it was found that these men, although primarily Africans, had by their deportation from Africa in the course, in some cases, of only one generation, lost the power of resistance to the deadly malarial climate their forefathers possessed, and so the mission is now carried on by whites; not that these good people have a greater resistance to the fever than the Jamaica Christians, but because they are more devoted to the evangelisation of the African; and what black assistance they receive comes, with the exception of Mrs. Fuller, from a few educated Effiks of Calabar.
The Congo Free State have imported as labourers both West Indian negroes — principally Barbadians — and Chinamen. In both cases the mortality has been terrible — more than the white mortality, which competent authorities put down for the Congo at 77 per cent., and the experiment has therefore failed. It may be said that much of this mortality has arisen from the way in which these labourers have been treated in the Free State, but that this is not entirely the case is demonstrated by the case of the Annamese in Congo Francais, who are well treated. These Annamese are the political prisoners arising from the French occupation of Tong-kin; and the mortality among one gang of 100 of them who were employed to make the path through swampy ground from Glass to Libreville — a distance of two and a half miles — was seventy, and this although the swamp was nothing particularly bad as swamps go, and was swept by sea-air the whole way.
Even had the experiment of imported labour been successful for the time being, I hold it would be a grave error to import labour into Africa. For this reason, that Africa possesses in herself the most magnificent mass of labour material in the whole world, and surely if her children could build up, as they have, the prosperity and trade of the Americas, she should, under proper guidance and good management, be able to build up her own. But good guidance and proper management are the things that are wanted — and are wanting. It is impossible to go into this complicated question fully here, and I will merely ask unprejudiced people who do not agree with me, whether they do not think that as so much has been done with one African tribe, the Krumen — a tribe possessing no material difference in make of mind or body from hundreds of other tribes, but which have merely been trained by white men in a different way from other tribes — that there is room for great hope in the native labour supply? And would not a very hopeful outlook for West Africa regarding the labour question be possible, if a regime of common sense were substituted for our present one?
This is of course the missionary question — a question which I feel it is hopeless to attempt to speak of without being gravely misunderstood, and which I therefore would willingly shirk mentioning, but I am convinced that the future of Africa is not to be dissociated from the future of its natives by the importation of yellow races or Hindoos; and the missionary question is not to be dissociated from the future of the African natives; and so the subject must be touched on; and I preface my remarks by stating that I have a profound personal esteem for several missionaries, naturally, for it is impossible to know such men and women as Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Kemp, of the Gold Coast, Mme. and M. Jacot, and Mme. and M. Forget, and M. Gacon, and Dr. Nassau, of Gaboon, and many others without recognising at once the beauty of their natures, and the nobility of their intentions. Indeed, taken as a whole, the missionaries must be regarded as superbly brave, noble-minded men who go and risk their own lives, and often those of their wives and children, and definitely sacrifice their personal comfort and safety to do what, from their point of view, is their simple duty; but it is their methods of working that have produced in West Africa the results which all truly interested in West Africa must deplore; and one is bound to make an admission that goes against one’s insular prejudice — that the Protestant English missionaries have had most to do with rendering the African useless.
The bad effects that have arisen from their teaching have come primarily from the failure of the missionary to recognise the difference between the African and themselves as being a difference not of degree but of kind. I am aware that they are supported in this idea by several eminent ethnologists; but still there are a large number of anatomical facts that point the other way, and a far larger number still relating to mental attributes, and I feel certain that a black man is no more an undeveloped white man than a rabbit is an undeveloped hare; and the mental difference between the two races is very similar to that between men and women among ourselves. A great woman, either mentally or physically, will excel an indifferent man, but no woman ever equals a really great man. The missionary to the African has done what my father found them doing to the Polynesians — “regarding the native minds as so many jugs only requiring to be emptied of the stuff which is in them and refilled with the particular form of dogma he is engaged in teaching, in order to make them the equals of the white races.” This form of procedure works in very various ways. It eliminates those parts of the native fetish that were a wholesome restraint on the African. The children in the mission school are, be it granted, better than the children outside it in some ways; they display great aptitude for learning anything that comes in their way — but there is a great difference between white and black children. The black child is a very solemn thing. It comes into the world in large quantities and looks upon it with its great sad eyes as if it were weighing carefully the question whether or no it is a fit place for a respectable soul to abide in. Four times in ten it decides that it is not, and dies. If, however, it decides to stay, it passes between two and three years in a grim and profound study — occasionally emitting howls which end suddenly in a sob — whine it never does. At the end of this period it takes to spoon food, walks about and makes itself handy to its mother or goes into the mission school. If it remains in the native state it has no toys of a frivolous nature, a little hoe or a little calabash are considered better training; if it goes into the school, it picks up, with astonishing rapidity, the lessons taught it there — giving rise to hopes for its future which are only too frequently disappointed in a few years’ time. It is not until he reaches years of indiscretion that the African becomes joyful; but, when he attains this age he always does cheer up considerably, and then, whatever his previous training may have been, he takes to what Mr. Kipling calls “boot” with great avidity — and of this he consumes an enormous quantity. For the next sixteen years, barring accidents, he “rips”; he rips carefully, terrified by his many fetish restrictions, if he is a pagan; but if he is in that partially converted state you usually find him in when trouble has been taken with his soul — then he rips unrestrained.
It is most unfair to describe Africans in this state as “converted,” either in missionary reports or in attacks on them. They are not converted in the least. A really converted African is a very beautiful form of Christian; but those Africans who are the chief mainstay of missionary reports and who afford such material for the scoffer thereat, have merely had the restraint of fear removed from their minds in the mission schools without the greater restraint of love being put in its place.
The missionary-made man is the curse of the Coast, and you find him in European clothes and without, all the way down from Sierra Leone to Loanda. The pagans despise him, the whites hate him, still he thinks enough of himself to keep him comfortable. His conceit is marvellous, nothing equals it except perhaps that of the individual rife among us which the Saturday Review once aptly described as “the suburban agnostic”; and the “missionary man” is very much like the suburban agnostic in his religious method. After a period of mission-school life he returns to his country-fashion, and deals with the fetish connected with it very much in the same way as the suburban agnostic deals with his religion, i.e. he removes from it all the inconvenient portions. “Shouldn’t wonder if there might be something in the idea of the immortality of the soul, and a future Heaven, you know — but as for Hell, my dear sir, that’s rank superstition, no one believes in it now, and as for Sabbath-keeping and food-restrictions — what utter rubbish for enlightened people!” So the backsliding African deals with his country-fashion ideas: he eliminates from them the idea of immediate retribution, etc., and keeps the polygamy and the dances, and all the lazy, hazy-minded native ways. The education he has received at the mission school in reading and writing fits him for a commercial career, and as every African is a born trader he embarks on it, and there are pretty goings on! On the West Coast he frequently sets up in business for himself; on the South–West Coast he usually becomes a sub-trader to one of the great English, French, or German firms. On both Coasts he gets himself disliked, and brings down opprobrium on all black traders, expressed in language more powerful than select. This wholesale denunciation of black traders is unfair, because there are many perfectly straight trading natives; still the majority are recruited from missionary school failures, and are utterly bad.
“Post hoc non propter hoc” is an excellent maxim, but one that never seems to enter the missionary head down here. Highly disgusted and pained at his pupils’ goings-on, but absolutely convinced of the excellence of his own methods of instruction, and the spiritual equality, irrespective of colour, of Christians; the missionary rises up, and says things one can understand him saying about the bad influence of the white traders; stating that they lure the pupils from the fold to destruction. These things are nevertheless not true. Then the white trader hears them, and gets his back up and says things about the effect of missionary training on the African, which are true, but harsh, because it is not the missionaries’ intent to turn out skilful forgers, and unmitigated liars, although they practically do so. My share when I drop in on this state of mutual recrimination is to get myself into hot water with both parties. The missionary thinks me misguided for regarding the African’s goings-on as part of the make of the man, and the trader regards me as a soft-headed idiot when I state that it is not the missionary’s individual blame that a lamb recently acquired from the fold has gone down the primrose path with the trust, or the rum. Shade of Sir John Falstaff! what a life this is!
The two things to which the missionary himself ascribes his want of success are polygamy and the liquor traffic. Now polygamy is, like most other subjects, a difficult thing to form a just opinion on, if before forming the opinion you make a careful study of the facts bearing on the case. It is therefore advisable, if you wish to produce an opinion generally acceptable in civilised circles, to follow the usual recipe for making opinions — just take a prejudice of your own, and fix it up with the so-called opinion of that class of people who go in for that sort of prejudice too. I have got myself so entangled with facts that I cannot follow this plan, and therefore am compelled to think polygamy for the African is not an unmixed evil; and that at the present culture-level of the African it is not to be eradicated. This arises from two reasons; the first is that it is perfectly impossible for one African woman to do the work of the house, prepare the food, fetch water, cultivate the plantations, and look after the children attributive to one man. She might do it if she had the work in her of an English or Irish charwoman, but she has not, and a whole villageful of African women do not do the work in a week that one of these will do in a day. Then, too, the African lady is quite indifferent as to what extent her good man may flirt with other ladies so long only as he does not go and give them more cloth and beads than he gives her; and the second reason for polygamy lies in the custom well-known to ethnologists, and so widely diffused that one might say it was constant throughout all African tribes, only there are so many of them whose domestic relationships have not been carefully observed.
As regards the drink traffic — no one seems inclined to speak the truth about it in West Africa; and what I say I must be understood to say only about West Africa, because I do not like to form opinions without having had opportunities for personal observation, and the only part of Africa I have had these opportunities in has been from Sierra Leone to Angola; and the reports from South Africa show that an entirely different, and a most unhealthy state of affairs exists there from its invasion by mixed European nationalities, with individuals of a low type, greedy for wealth. West African conditions are no more like South African conditions than they are like Indian. The missionary party on the whole have gravely exaggerated both the evil and the extent of the liquor traffic in West Africa. I make an exception in favour of the late superintendent of the Wesleyan mission on the Gold Coast, the Rev. Dennis Kemp, who had enough courage and truth in him to stand up at a public meeting in Liverpool, on July 2nd, 1896, and record it as his opinion that, “the natives of the Gold Coast were remarkably abstemious; but spirits were, ‘he believed,’ of no benefit to the natives, and they would be better without them.” I have quoted the whole of the remark, as it is never fair to quote half a man says on any subject, but I do not agree with the latter half of it, and the Gold Coast natives are not any more abstemious, if so much so, as other tribes on the Coast. I have elsewhere 38 attempted to show that the drink-traffic is by no means the most important factor in the mission failure on the West Coast, but that it has been used in an unjustifiable way by the missionary party, because they know the cry against alcohol is at present a popular one in England, and it has also the advantage of making the subscribers at home regard the African as an innocent creature who is led away by bad white men, and therefore still more interesting and more worthy, and in more need of subscriptions than ever. I should rather like to see the African lady or gentleman who could be “led away” — all the leading away I have seen on the Coast has been the other way about.
I do not say every missionary on the West Coast who makes untrue statements on this subject is an original liar; he is usually only following his leaders and repeating their observations without going into the evidence around him; and the missionary public in England and Scotland are largely to blame for their perpetual thirst for thrilling details of the amount of Baptisms and Experiences among the people they pay other people to risk their lives to convert, or for thrilling details of the difficulties these said emissaries have to contend with. As for the general public who swallow the statements, I think they are prone, from the evidence of the evils they see round them directly arising from drink, to accept as true — without bothering themselves with calm investigation — statements of a like effect regarding other people. I have no hesitation in saying that in the whole of West Africa, in one week, there is not one-quarter the amount of drunkenness you can see any Saturday night you choose in a couple of hours in the Vauxhall Road; and you will not find in a whole year’s investigation on the Coast, one-seventieth part of the evil, degradation, and premature decay you can see any afternoon you choose to take a walk in the more densely-populated parts of any of our own towns. I own the whole affair is no business of mine; for I have no financial interest in the liquor traffic whatsoever. But I hate the preying upon emotional sympathy by misrepresentation, and I grieve to see thousands of pounds wasted that are bitterly needed by our own cold, starving poor. I do not regard the money as wasted because it goes to the African, but because such an immense percentage of it does no good and much harm to him.
It is customary to refer to the spirit sent out to West Africa as “poisonous” and as raw alcohol. It is neither. I give an analysis of a bottle of Van Hoytima’s trade-gin, which I obtained to satisfy my own curiosity on the point.
“ANALYSIS OF SAMPLE OF TRADE-GIN.
“With reference to the bottle of the above I have the honour to
report as follows:—
It contains-- Per cent. Absolute alcohol . . . . . 39.35 Acidity expressed as acetic acid . 0.0068 Ethers expressed as acetic acid . 0.021 Aldehydes. . . . Present in small quantity. Furfural . . . . Ditto ditto Higher alcohols . . Ditto ditto
“The only alcohol that can be estimated quantitatively is Ethyl Alcohol.
“There is no methyl, and the higher alcohols, as shown by Savalie’s method, only exist in traces. The spirit is flavoured by more than one essential oil, and apparently oil of juniper is one of these oils.
“The liquid contains no sugar, and leaves but a small extract. In my opinion the liquid essentially consists of a pure distilled spirit flavoured with essential oils.
“Of course no attempt to identify these oils in the quantity sent, viz., 632 c.c. (one bottle) was made. The ethers are returned as ethyl acetate, but from fractional distillation amyl acetate was found to be present.
“I have the honour to be, etc.,
(Signed) “G. H. ROBERTSON.
“Fellow of the Chemical Society,
“Associate of the Institute of Chemistry.”
In a subsequent letter Mr. Robertson observed that he had been “assisted in making the above analysis by an expert in the chemistry of alcohols, who said that the present sample differed in no material particulars from, and was neither more nor less deleterious to health than, gin purchased in different parts of London and submitted to analysis.”
In addition to this analysis I have also one of Messrs. Peters’ gin, equally satisfactory, and as Van Hoytima and Peters are the two great suppliers of the gin that goes to West Africa, I think the above is an answer to the “poison” statements, and should be sufficient evidence against it for all people who are not themselves absolute teetotalers. Absolute teetotalers are definite-minded people, and one respects them more than one does those who do not hold with teetotalism for themselves, but think it a good thing for other people, and moreover it is of no use arguing with them because they say all alcohol is poison, and won’t appreciate any evidence to the contrary, so “palaver done set”; but a large majority of those who attack, or believe in the rectitude of the attack on, the African liquor traffic are not teetotalers and so should be capable of forming a just opinion.
My personal knowledge of the district where most of the liquor goes in — the Oil Rivers — has been gained in Duke Town, Old Calabar. I have been there four separate times, and last year stayed there continuously for some months during a period in which if Duke Town had felt inclined to go on the bust, it certainly could have done so; for the police and most of the Government officials were away at Brass in consequence of the Akassa palaver, and those few who were left behind and the white traders were down with an epidemic of malarial typhoid. But Duke Town did nothing of the kind. I used to be down in the heart of the town, at Eyambas market by Prince Archebongs’s house, night after night alone, watching the devil-makings that were going on there, and the amount of drunkenness I saw was exceedingly small. I did the same thing at the adjacent town of Qwa. My knowledge of Bonny, Bell, and Akkwa towns, Libreville, Lembarene, Kabinda, Boma, Banana, Nkoi, Loanda, etc., is extensive and peculiar, and I have spent hours in them when the whole of the missionary and Government people have been safe in their distant houses; so had the evils of the liquor traffic been anything like half what it is made out to be I must have come across it in appalling forms, and I have not.
The figures of the case I will not here quote because they are easily obtainable from Government reports by any one interested in the matter. I regard their value as being small unless combined with a knowledge of the West Coast trade. The liquor goes in at a few ports on the West Coast, and into the hands of those tribes who act as middlemen between the white trader and the interior trade-stuff-producing tribes; and is thereby diffused over an enormous extent of thickly inhabited country. We English are directly in touch with none of the interior trade — save in the territory of the Royal Niger Company, and the Delta tribes with whom we deal in the Oil Rivers subsist on this trade between the interior and the Coast, and they prefer to use spirits as a buying medium because they get the highest percentage of profit from it, and the lowest percentage of loss by damage when dealing with it. It does not get spoilt by damp, like tobacco and cloth do; indeed, in addition to the amount of moisture supplied by their reeking climate, they superadd a large quantity of river water to the spirit before it leaves their hands, while with the other articles of trade it is one perpetual grind to keep them free from moisture and mildew. In their Coast towns there are immense stores of gin in cases, which they would as soon think of drinking themselves as we, if we were butchers, would think of eating up the stock in the shop. A certain percentage of spirit is consumed in the Delta, and if spirits are wanted anywhere they are wanted in the Niger Delta region; and about one-eighth part of that used here is used for fetish-worship, poured out on the ground and mixed with other things to hang in bottles over fish-traps, and so on to make residences for guardian spirits who are expected to come and take up their abode in them. Spirits to the spirits, on the sweets to the sweet principle is universal in West Africa; and those photographs you are often shown of dead chiefs’ graves with bottles on them merely demonstrate that the deceased was taking down with him a little liquor for his own use in the under-world — which he holds to be possessed of a chilly and damp climate — and a little over to give a propitiatory peg to one of the ruling authorities there — or any old friend he may come across in the Elysian fields. This is possibly a misguided heathen thing of him to do, and it is generally held in European circles that the under-world such an individual as he will go to is neither damp, nor chilly. But granting this, no one can contest but that the world he spends his life here in is damp, and that the natives of the Niger Delta live in a saturated forest swamp region that reeks with malaria. Their damp mud-walled houses frequently flooded, they themselves spend the greater part of their time dabbling about in the stinking mangrove swamps, and then, for five months in the year, they are wrapped in the almost continuous torrential downpour of the West African wet season, followed in the Delta by the so-called “dry” season, with its thick morning and evening mists, and the air rarely above dew-point. Then their food is of poor quality and insufficient quantity, and in districts near the coast noticeably deficient in meat of any kind. I think the desire for spirits and tobacco, given these conditions, is quite reasonable, and that when they are taken in moderation, as they usually are, they are anything but deleterious. The African himself has not a shadow of a doubt on the point, and some form of alcohol he will have. When he cannot get white man’s spirit — min makara, as he calls it in Calabar — he takes black man’s spirit min effik. This is palm wine, and although it has escaped the abuse heaped on rum and gin, it is worse for the native than either of the others, for he has to drink a disgusting quantity of it, because from the palm wine he does not get the stimulating effect quickly as from gin or rum, and the enormous quantity consumed at one sitting will distribute its effects over a week. You can always tell whether a native has had a glass too much rum, or half a gallon or so too much palm wine; the first he soon recovers from, while the palm wine keeps him a disgusting nuisance for days, and the constitutional effects of it are worse, for it produces a definite type of renal disease which, if it does not cut short the life of the sufferer in a paroxysm, kills him gradually with dropsy. There is another native drink which works a bitter woe on the African in the form of intoxication combined with a brilliant bilious attack. It is made from honey flavoured with the bark of a certain tree, and as it is very popular I had better not spread it further by giving the recipe. The imported gin keeps the African off these abominations which he has to derange his internal works with before he gets the stimulus that enables him to resist this vile climate; particularly will it keep him from his worst intoxicant lhiamba (Cannabis sativa), a plant which grows wild on the South–West Coast and on the West for all I know, as well as the African or bowstring hemp (Sanseviera guiniensis). The plant that produces the lhiamba is a nettle-like plant growing six to ten feet high, and the natives collect the tops of the stems, with the seed on, in little bundles and dry them. It is evidently the seeds which are regarded by them as being the important part, although they do not collect these separately; but you hear great rows among them when buying and selling a little bundle, on the point of the seeds being shaken out, “Chi! Chi! Chi!” says A., “this is worthless, there are no seeds.” “Ai, Ai,” says B., “never were there so many seeds in a bunch of lhiamba,” etc. It is used smoked, like the ganja of India, not like the preparation bhang, and the way the Africans in the Congo used it was a very quaint one. They would hollow out a little hole in the ground, making a little dome over it; then in went a few hemp-tops; and on to them a few stones made red hot in a fire. Then the dome was closed up and a reed stuck through it. Then one man after another would go and draw up into his lungs as much smoke as he could with one prolonged deep inspiration; and then go apart and cough in a hard, hacking distressing way for ten minutes at a time, and then back to the reed for another pull. In addition to the worry of hearing their coughs, the lhiamba gives you trouble with the men, for it spoils their tempers, making them moody and fractious, and prone to quarrel with each other; and when they get an excessive dose of it their society is more terrifying than tolerable. I once came across three men who had got into this state and a fourth man who had not, but was of the party. They fought with him, and broke his head, and then we proceeded on our way, one gentleman taking flying leaps at some places, climbing up trees now and again, and embedding himself in the bush alongside the path “because of the pools of moving blood on it.” (“If they had not kept moving,” he said as he sat where he fell — “he could have managed it”) — the others having grand times with various creatures, which, judging from their description of them, I was truly thankful were not there. The men’s state of mind, however, soon cleared; and I must say this was the only time I came across this lhiamba giving such strong effects; usually the men just cough with that racking cough that lets you know what they have been up to, and quarrel for a short time. When, however, a whiff of lhiamba is taken by them in the morning before starting on a march, the effect seems to be good, enabling them to get over the ground easily and to endure a long march without being exhausted. But a small tot of rum is better for them by far. Many other intoxicants made from bush are known to and used by the witch doctors.
You may say:— Well! if it is not the polygamy and not the drink that makes the West African as useless as he now is as a developer, or a means of developing the country, what is it? In my opinion, it is the sort of instruction he has received, not that this instruction is necessarily bad in itself, but bad from being unsuited to the sort of man to whom it has been given. It has the tendency to develop his emotionalism, his sloth, and his vanity, and it has no tendency to develop those parts of his character which are in a rudimentary state and much want it; thereby throwing the whole character of the man out of gear.
The great inferiority of the African to the European lies in the matter of mechanical idea. I own I regard not only the African, but all coloured races, as inferior — inferior in kind not in degree — to the white races, although I know it is unscientific to lump all Africans together and then generalise over them, because the difference between various tribes is very great. But nevertheless there are certain constant quantities in their character, let the tribe be what it may, that enable us to do this for practical purposes, making merely the distinction between Negroes and Bantu, and on the subject of this division I may remark that the Negro is superior to the Bantu. He is both physically and intellectually the more powerful man, and although he does not christianise well, he does often civilise well. The native officials cited by Mr. Hodgson in his letter to the Times of January 4, 1895, as having satisfactorily carried on all the postal and the governmental printing work of the Gold Coast Colony, as well as all the subordinate custom-house officials in the Niger Coast Protectorate — in fact I may say all of them in the whole of the British possessions on the West Coast — are educated Negroes. I am aware that all sea-captains regard this latter class as poisonous nuisances, but then every properly constituted sea-captain regards custom-house officials, let their colour be what it may, as poisonous nuisances anywhere. In addition to these, you will find, notably in Lagos, excellent pure-blooded Negroes in European clothes, and with European culture. The best men among these are lawyers, doctors, and merchants, and I have known many ladies of Africa who have risen to an equal culture level with their lords. On the West African seaboard you do not find the Bantu equally advanced, except among the M’pongwe, and I am persuaded that this tribe is not pure Bantu but of Negro origin. The educated blacks that are not M’pongwe on the Bantu coast (from Cameroons to Benguela), you will find are Negroes, who have gone down there to make money, but this class of African is the clerk class, and we are now concerned with the labourer. The African’s own way of doing anything mechanical is the simplest way, not the easiest, certainly not the quickest: he has all the chuckle-headedness of that overrated creature the ant, for his head never saves his heels. Watch a gang of boat-boys getting a surf boat down a sandy beach. They turn it broadside on to the direction in which they wish it to go, and then turn it bodily over and over, with structure-straining bumps to the boat, and any amount of advice and recriminatory observations to each other. Unless under white direction they will not make a slip, nor will they put rollers under her. Watch again a gang of natives trying to get a log of timber down into the river from the bank, and you will see the same sort of thing — no idea of a lever, or any thing of that sort — and remember that, unless under white direction, the African has never made an even fourteenth-rate piece of cloth or pottery, or a machine, tool, picture, sculpture, and that he has never even risen to the level of picture-writing. I am aware of his ingenious devices for transmitting messages, such as the cowrie shells, strung diversely on strings, in use among the Yoruba, but even these do not equal the picture-writing of the South American Indians, nor the picture the Red Indian does on a raw elk hide; they are far and away inferior to the graphic sporting sketches left us of mammoth hunts by the prehistoric cave men.
This absence of mechanical aptitude is very interesting, though it most likely has the very simple underlying reason that the conditions under which the African has been living have been such as to make no call for a higher mechanical culture. In his native state he does not want to get heavy surf-boats into the sea; his own light dug-out is easily slid down, he does not want to cut down heavy timber trees, and get them into the river, and so on; but this state is now getting disturbed by the influx of white enterprise, and not only disturbed, but destroyed, and so he must alter his ways or there will be grave trouble; but it is encouraging to remark that the African is almost as teachable and as willing to learn handicrafts as he is to assimilate other things, provided his mind has not been poisoned by fallacious ideas, and the results already obtained from the Krumen and the Accras are good. The Accras are not such good workmen as they might be, because they are to a certain extent spoilt by getting, owing to the dearth of labour, higher wages and more toleration for indifferent bits of work than they deserve, or their work is worth; but they have not yet fallen under that deadly spell worked by so many of the white men on so many of the black — the idea that it is the correct and proper thing not to work with your own hands but to get some underling to do all that sort of thing for you, while you read and write. This false ideal formed by the native from his empirical observations of some of the white men around him, has been the cause of great mischief. He sees the white man is his ruling man, rich, powerful, and honoured, and so he imitates him, and goes to the mission-school classes to read and write, and as soon as an African learns to read and write he turns into a clerk. Now there is no immediate use for clerks in Africa, certainly no room for further development in this line of goods. What Africa wants at present, and will want for the next 200 years at least, are workers, planters, plantation hands, miners, and seamen; and there are no schools in Africa to teach these things or the doctrine of the nobility of labour save the technical mission-schools. Almost every mission on the Coast has now a technical school just started or having collections made at home to start one; but in the majority of these crafts such as bookbinding, printing, tailoring, etc., are being taught which are not at present wanted. Still any technical school is better than none, and apart from lay considerations, is of great religious value to the mission indirectly, for there are many instances in mission annals of a missionary receiving great encouragement from the natives when he first starts in a district. At first the converts flock in, get baptised in batches, go to church, attend school, and adopt European clothes with an alacrity and enthusiasm that frequently turns their devoted pastor’s head, but after the lapse of a few months their conduct is enough to break his heart. Dressing up in European clothes amuses the ladies and some of the young men for a long time, in some cases permanently, but the older men and the bolder youths soon get bored, and when an African is bored — and he easily is so — he goes utterly to the bad. It is in these places that an industrial mission would be so valuable to the spiritual cause, for by employing and amusing the largely preponderating lower faculties of the African’s mind, it would give the higher faculties time to develop. I have frequently been told when advocating technical instruction, that there are objections against it from spiritual standpoints, which, as my own views do not enable me to understand them, I will not enter into. Also several authorities, not mission authorities alone, state with ethnologists that the African is incapable of learning, except during the period of childhood.
Prof A. H. Keane says — “their inherent mental inferiority, almost more marked than their physical characters, depends on physiological causes by which the intellectual faculties seem to be arrested before attaining their normal development”; and further on, “We must necessarily infer that the development of the negro and white proceeds on different lines. While with the latter the volume of the brain grows with the expansion of the brain-pan; in the former the growth of the brain is on the contrary arrested by the premature closing of the cranial sutures, and lateral pressure of the frontal bone.” 39 You will frequently meet with the statement that the negro child is as intelligent, or more so, than the white child, but that as soon as it passes beyond childhood it makes no further mental advance. Burton says: “His mental development is arrested, and thenceforth he grows backwards instead of forwards.” Now it is nervous work contradicting these statements, but with all due respect to the makers of them I must do so, and I have the comfort of knowing that many men with a larger personal experience of the African than these authorities have, agree with me, although at the same time we utterly disclaim holding the opinion that the African is a man and a brother. A man he is, but not of the same species; and his cranial sutures do, I agree, close early; indeed I have seen them almost obliterated in skulls of men who have died quite young; but I think most anthropologists are nowadays beginning to see that the immense value they a few years since set upon skull measurements and cranial capacity, etc., has been excessive and not to have so great a bearing on the intelligence as they thought. There has been an enormous amount of material carefully collected, mainly by Frenchmen, on craniology, which is exceedingly interesting, but full of difficulty, and giving very diverse indications. Take the weights of brain given by Topinard:—
1 Annamite . . . . 1233 grammes 7 African negroes . . 1238 " 8 African negroes . . 1289 " 1 Hottentot . . . . 1417 "
and I think you will see for practical purposes such considerations as weight of brain, or closure of sutures, etc., are negligible, and so we need not get paralysed with respect for “physiological causes.” Moreover I may remark that the top-weight, the Hottentot, was a lady, and that M. Broca weighed one negro’s brain which scaled 1,500 grammes, while 105 English and Scotchmen only gave an average of 1,427.
So I think we may make our minds easy on the safety of sticking to outside facts, and say that after all it does not much affect the question of capacity for industrial training in the African if he does choose to close up the top of his head early, and that the whole attempt to make out that the African is a child-form, “an arrested development,” is — well, not supported by facts. The very comparison between white and black children’s intelligence to the disadvantage of the former is all wrong. The white child is not his inferior; he is not so quick in picking up parlour tricks; but then where are either of the children at that alongside a French poodle? What happens to the African from my observations is just what happens to the European, namely, when he passes out of childhood, he goes into a period of hobbledehoyhood. During this period, his skull might just as well be filled inside with wool as covered outside with it. But after a time, during which he has succeeded in distracting and discouraging the white men who hoped so much of him when he was a child, his mind clears up again and goes ahead all right. It is utter rubbish to say “You cannot teach an adult African,” and that “he grows backwards”; for even without white interference he gets more and more cunning as the time goes on. Does any one who knows them feel inclined to tell me that those old palm-oil chiefs have not learnt a thing or two during their lives? or that a well-matured bush trader has not? Go down to West Africa yourself, if you doubt this, and carry on a series of experiments with them in subjects they know of — trade subjects — try and get the best of a whole series of matured adults, male or female, and I can promise you you will return a wiser and a poorer man, but with a joyful heart regarding the capacity of the African to grow up. Whether he does this by adding convolutions or piling on his gray matter we will leave for the present. All that I wish to urge regarding the African at large is that he has been mismanaged of late years by the white races. The study of this question is a very interesting one, but I have no space to enter into it here in detail. In my opinion — I say my own, I beg you to remark, only when I am uttering heresy — this mismanagement has been a by-product of the wave of hysterical emotionalism that has run through white culture and for which I have an instinctive hatred.
I have briefly pointed out the evil worked by misdirected missionary effort on the native mind, but it is not the missionary alone that is doing harm. The Government does nearly as much. Whether it does this because of the fear of Exeter Hall as representing a big voting interest, or whether just from the tendency to get everything into the hands of a Council, or an Office, to be everlastingly nagging and legislating and inspecting, matters little; the result is bad, and it fills me with the greatest admiration for my country to see how in spite of this she keeps the lead. That she will always keep it I believe, because I believe that it is impossible that this phase of emotionalism — no, it is not hypocrisy, my French friends, it is only a sort of fit — will last, and we shall soon be back in our clear senses again and say to the world, “We do this thing because we think it is right; because we think it is best for those we do it to and for ourselves, not because of the wickedness of war, the brotherhood of man, or any other notion bred of fear.”
The way in which the present ideas acting through the Government do harm in Africa are many. English Government officials have very little and very poor encouragement given them if they push inland and attempt to enlarge the sphere of influence, which their knowledge of local conditions teaches them requires enlarging, because the authorities at home are afraid other nations will say we are rapacious landgrabbers. Well, we always have been, and they will say it anyhow; and where after all is the harm in it? We have acted in unison with the nations who for good sound reasons of their own have cut down Portuguese possessions in Africa because we were afraid of being thought to support a nation who went in for slavery. I always admire a good move in a game or a brilliant bit of strategy, and that was a beauty; and on our head now lie the affairs of the Congo Free State, while France and Germany smile sweetly, knowing that these affairs will soon be such that they will be able to step in and divide that territory up between themselves without a stain on their character — in the interests of humanity — the whole of that rich region, which by the name of Livingstone, Speke, Grant, Burton, and Cameron, should now be ours.
Then again in commercial competition our attitude seems to me very lacking in dignity. We are now just beginning to know it is a fight, and this commercial war has been going on since 1880 — since, in fact, France and Germany have recovered from their war of 1870.
And if we are to carry on this commercial war with any hope of success, we must abandon our “Oh! that’s not fair; I won’t play” attitude — and above all we must have no more Government restrictions on our foreign trade. In West Africa governmental restriction settles, like dew in autumn, on the liquor traffic. It is a case of give a dog a bad name and hang him. Moreover, raising the import dues on liquor may bring into the Government a good revenue; but it is a short-sighted policy — for the liquor is the thing there is the best market for in West Africa. The natives have no enthusiasm about cotton-goods, as they seem from some accounts to have in East Central, and the supply of them they now get, and get cheap and good, is as much as they require. And if the question of the abstract morality of introducing clothes, or introducing liquor, to native races, were fairly gone into, the results would be interesting — for clothing native races in European clothes works badly for them and kills them off. Indeed the whole of this question of trade with the lower races is full of curious and unexpected points. Speaking at large, the introduction of European culture — governmental, religious, or mercantile — has a destructive action on all the lower races; many of them the governmental and religious sections have stamped right out; but trade has never stamped a race out when dissociated from the other two, and it certainly has had no bad effect in tropical Africa. With regard to the liquor traffic, try and put yourself in the West African’s place. Imagine, for example, that you want a pair of boots. You go into a shop, prepared to pay for them, but the man who keeps the shop says, “My good friend, you must not have boots, they are immoral. You can have a tin of sardines, or a pocket-handkerchief, they are much better for you.” Would you take the sardines or the pocket-handkerchiefs? more particularly would you feel inclined to take them instead of your desired boots if you knew there was a shop in a neighbouring street where boots are to be had? And there is a neighbouring shop-street to all our West Coast possessions which is in the hands of either France or Germany.
I do not for a moment deny that the liquor traffic requires regulation, but it requires more regulation in Europe than it does in Africa, because Europe is more given to intoxication. In Africa all that is wanted is that the spirit sent in should be wholesome, and not sold at a strength over 45 degrees below proof. These requirements are fairly well fulfilled already on the West Coast, and I can see no reason for any further restriction or additional impost. If further restrictions in the sale of it are wanted, it is not for interior trade where the natives are not given to excess, but in the larger Coast towns, where there is a body of natives who are the debris of the disintegrating process of white culture. But even in those towns like Sierra Leone and Lagos these men are a very small percentage of the population. 40 If things are even made no worse for him than they are at present, the English trader may be trusted to hold the greater part of the trade of West Africa for the benefit of the English manufacturers; if he is more heavily hampered, the English trade will die out, the English trader remain, because he is the best trader with the natives; but it will be small profit to the English manufacturers because the trader will be dealing in foreign-made stuff, as he is now in the possessions of France and Germany. English manufacturers, I may remark, have succeeded in turning out the cloth goods best suited for the African markets, but there has of late years been an increase in the quantity of other goods made by foreigners used in the West Coast trade. The imports from France and Germany and the United States to the Gold Coast for 1894 (published 1896) were 217,388 pounds 0s. 1d., the exports 212,320 pounds 1s. 3d.; and the Consular Report (158) for the Gold Coast says that while the trade with the United Kingdom has increased from 1,054,336 pounds 17s. 6d. in 1893 to 1,190,532 pounds 1s. 3d in 1894, or roughly 13 per cent., the trade with foreign countries has increased upwards of 22 per cent., namely, from 350,387 pounds 3s. 5d to 429,708 pounds 1s. 4d. In the Lagos Consular Report (No. 150) similar comparative statistics are not given, but the increase at that place is probably greater than on the Gold Coast, as a heavy percentage of the Lagos trade goes through the hands of two German firms; but this increase in foreign trade in our colonies seems to be even greater in other parts of Africa, for in a Foreign Office Report from Mozambique it is stated, regarding Cape Colony, that “while British imports show an otherwise satisfactory increase, German trade has more than trebled.” 41
There is a certain school of philanthropists in Europe who say that it is not advisable to spread white trade in Africa, that the native is provided by the Bountiful Earth with all that he really requires, and that therefore he should be allowed to live his simple life, and not be compelled or urged to work for the white man’s gain. I have a sneaking sympathy with these good people, because I like the African in his bush state best; and one can understand any truly human being being horrified at the extinction of native races in the Polynesian, Melanesian, and American regions. But still their view is full of error as regards Africa, for one thing I am glad to say the African does not die off as do those weaker races under white control, but increases; and herein lies the impossibility of accepting this plan as within the sphere of practical politics, most certainly in regard to all districts under white control, for the Bountiful Earth does not amount to much in Africa with native methods of agriculture. It sufficed when a percentage of the population were shipped to America as slaves; now it suffices only to help to keep the natives in their low state of culture — a state that is only kept up even to its present level by trade. The condition of the African native will be a very dreadful one if this trade is not maintained; indeed, I may say if it is not increased proportionately to the increase of white Government control — for this governmental control does many things that are good in themselves, and glorious on paper. It prevents the export slave trade; it suppresses human sacrifice; it stops internecine war among the natives — in short, it does everything save suppress the terrible infant mortality (why it does not do this I need not discuss) to increase the native population, without in itself doing anything to increase the means of supporting this population; nay, it even wants to decrease these by importing Asiatics to do its work, in making roads, etc.
It may be said there is no fear of the trade, which keeps the native, disappearing from the West Coast, but it is well to remember that the stuff that this trade is dependent on, the stuff brought into the traders’ factory by the native, is mainly — indeed, save for the South–West Coast coffee and cacao, we may say, entirely — bush stuff, uncultivated, merely collected and roughly prepared, and it is so wastefully collected by the native that it cannot last indefinitely. Take rubber, for example, one of the main exports. Owing to the wasteful methods employed in its collection it gets stamped out of districts. The trade in it starts on a bit of coast; for some years so rich is the supply, that it can be collected almost at the native’s back door, but owing to his cutting down the vine, he clears it off, and every year he has to go further and further afield for a load. But his ability to go further than a certain point is prevented by the savage interior tribes not under white control; and also on its paying him to go on these long journeys, for the price at home takes little notice of his difficulties because of the more carefully collected supply of rubber sent into the home markets by South America and India; therefore the native loses, and when he has cleared the districts reachable by him, the trade is finished there, and he has no longer the wherewithal to buy those things which in the days of his prosperity he has acquired a taste for. The Oil Rivers, which send out the greatest quantity of trade on the West Coast possessions, subsist entirely on palm oil for it. Were anything to happen to the oil palms in the way of blight, or were a cheap substitute to be found for palm oil at home, the population of the Oil Rivers, even at its present density, would starve. The development of trade is a necessary condition for the existence of the natives, and the discovery of products in the forests that will be marketable in Europe, and the making of plantations whose products will help to take the place of those he so recklessly now destroys, will give him a safer future than can any amount of abolitions of domestic slavery, or institutions of trial by jury, etc. If white control advances and plantations are not made and trade with the interior is not expanded, the condition of the West African will be a very wretched one, far worse than it was before the export slave-trade was suppressed. In the more healthy districts the population will increase to a state of congestion and will starve. The Coast region’s malaria will always keep the black, as well as the white, population thinned down, but if deserted by the trader, and left to the Government official and the missionary, without any longer the incentive of trade to make the native exert himself, or the resulting comforts which assist him in resisting the climate, which the trade now enables him to procure, the Coast native will sink, via vice and degradation, to extinction, and most likely have this process made all the more rapid and unpleasant for him by incursions of the wild tribes from the congested interior.
I do not cite this as an immediate future for the West African, but “a little more and how much it is, a little less and how far away.” Remember human beings are under the same rule as other creatures; if you destroy the things that prey on them, they are liable to overswarm the food-producing power of their locality. It may be said this is not the case; look at the Polynesians, the South American Indians, and so on. You may look at them as much as you choose, but what you see there will not enable you to judge the African. The African does not fade away like a flower before the white man — not in the least. Look at the increase of the native in the Cape territory; look at what he has stood on the West Coast. Christopher Columbus visited him before he discovered the American Indians. Whaling captains, and seamen of all sorts and nationalities have dropped in on him “frequent and free.” He has absorbed all sorts of doctrine from religious sects; cotton goods, patent medicines, foreign spirits, and — as the man who draws up the Lagos Annual Colonial Report poetically observes — twine, whisky, wine, and woollen goods. Yet the West Coast African is here with us by the million — playing on his tom-tom, paddling his dug-out canoe, living in his palm leaf or mud hut, ready and able to stand more “white man stuff.” Save for an occasional habit of going raving or melancholy mad when educated for the ministry, and dying when he, and more particularly she, is shut up in the broiling hot, corrugated-iron school-room with too many clothes on, and too much headwork to do, he survives in a way which I think you will own is interesting, and which commands my admiration and respect. But there is nowadays a new factor in his relationship with the white races — the factor of domestic control. I do not think the African will survive this and flourish, if it is to be of the nature that the present white ideas aim to make it. But, on the other hand, I do not believe that he will be called upon to try, for under the present conditions white control will not become very thorough; and in the event of an European war, governmental attention will be distracted from West Africa, and the African will then do what he has done several times before when the white eye has been off him for a decade or so, — sink back to his old level as he has in Congo after the Jesuits tidied him up, and as he must have done after his intercourse with the Phoenicians and Egyptians. The travellers of a remote future will find him, I think, still with his tom-tom and his dug-out canoe — just as willing to sell as “big curios” the debris of our importations to his ancestors at a high price. Exactly how much he will ask for a Devos patent paraffin oil tin or a Morton’s tin, I cannot imagine, but it will be something stiff — such as he asks nowadays for the Phoenician “Aggry” beads. There will be then as there is now, and as there was in the past, individual Africans who will rise to a high level of culture, but that will be all for a very long period. To say that the African race will never advance beyond its present culture-level, is saying too much, in spite of the mass of evidence supporting this view, but I am certain they will never advance above it in the line of European culture. The country he lives in is unfitted for it, and the nature of the man himself is all against it — the truth is the West Coast mind has got a great deal too much superstition about it, and too little of anything else. Our own methods of instruction have not been of any real help to the African, because what he wants teaching is how to work. Bishop Ingram would have been able to write a more cheerful and hopeful book than his Sierra Leone after 100 Years, if the Sierra Leonians had had a thorough grounding in technical culture, suited to the requirements of their country, instead of the ruinous instruction they have been given, at the cost of millions of money, and hundreds of good, if ill-advised, white men’s lives. For it is possible for a West African native to be made by European culture into a very good sort of man, not the same sort of man that a white man is, but a man a white man can shake hands with and associate with without any loss of self-respect. It is by no means necessary, however, that the African should have any white culture at all to become a decent member of society at large. Quite the other way about, for the percentage of honourable and reliable men among the bushmen is higher than among the educated men.
I do not believe that the white race will ever drag the black up to their own particular summit in the mountain range of civilisation. Both polygamy and slavery 42 are, for divers reasons, essential to the well-being of Africa — at any rate for those vast regions of it which are agricultural, and these two institutions will necessitate the African having a summit to himself. Only — alas! for the energetic reformer — the African is not keen on mountaineering in the civilisation range. He prefers remaining down below and being comfortable. He is not conceited about this; he admires the higher culture very much, and the people who inconvenience themselves by going in for it — but do it himself? NO. And if he is dragged up into the higher regions of a self-abnegatory religion, six times in ten he falls back damaged, a morally maimed man, into his old swampy country fashion valley.
34 The African Association now own two steamers. Alexander Miller Brothers and Co. also charter steamers.
35 A Naturalist in Mid Africa, 1896.
36 The accounts given by the various members of the Stanley Emin Relief Expedition well describe the usual sort of West African hinterland work, but the forests of the Congo are less relieved by open park-like country than those of the rivers to the north or south. Still the Congo, in spite of this disadvantage, has greater facilities for transport in the way of waterways than is found east of the Cross or Cameroon.
37 Export of coffee from the Gold Coast, 1894, given in the Colonial Report on that year published in 1896, was of the value of 1,265 pounds 3s. 4d.; cocoa, 546 pounds 17s. 4d. The greater part of this coffee goes to Germany.
Export of coffee from Lagos, given in Colonial Report for 1892, published in 1893, was of the value of 12 pounds. No figures on this subject are given in the 1894 report, published in 1896, but I cite these figures to show the delay in publishing these reports by the Colonial Office and the difficulty of getting reliable statistics on West African trade.
38 “The Development of Dodos.” National Review, March, 1896.
39 Ethnology, p. 266. A. H. Keane, Cambridge, 1896.
40 Lagos Annual Consular Report (150, p.6), 1894: “There were only three cases of drunkenness. Considering that in the Island of Lagos alone the population is over 33,300, this clearly proves that drunkenness in this part of Africa is uncommon, and that there is insufficient evidence for the contention which is advanced that the native is being ruined by what is so often spoken of as the heinous gin traffic; it is a well-known fact by those in a position best able to judge by long residence that the inhabitants of this country have a natural repugnance to intemperance.”
41 Board of Trade Journal, August 1896.
42 By slavery, I mean the quasi-feudal system you find existing among the true negroes. I do not mean either the form of domestic slavery of Egypt, or the system of labour existing in the Congo Free State; although I am of opinion that the suppression of his export slave trade to the Americas was a grave mistake. It has been fraught with untold suffering to the African, which would have been avoided by altering the slave trade into a coolie system.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52