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



On the 7th of May we departed from Malacotta, and having crossed the Ba Lee (Honey River), a branch of the Senegal, we arrived in the evening at a walled town called Bintingala, where we rested two days. From thence, in one day more, we proceeded to Dindikoo, a small town situated at the bottom of a high ridge of hills, from which this district is named Konkodoo (the country of mountains). These hills are very productive of gold. I was shown a small quantity of this metal which had been lately collected: the grains were about the usual size, but much flatter than those of Manding, and were found in white quartz, which had been broken to pieces by hammers. At this town I met with a negro whose hair and skin were of a dull white colour. He was of that sort which are called in the Spanish West Indies albinos, or white negroes. The skin is cadaverous and unsightly, and the natives considered this complexion (I believe truly) as the effect of disease.

May 11. — At daybreak we departed from Dindikoo, and, after a toilsome day’s travel, arrived in the evening at Satadoo, the capital of a district of the same name. This town was formerly of considerable extent, but many families had left it in consequence of the predatory incursions of the Foulahs of Foota–Jalla, who made it a practice to come secretly through the woods and carry off people from the cornfields and even from the wells near the town. In the afternoon of the 12th we crossed the Faleme River, the same which I had formerly crossed at Bondou in my journey eastward. This river, at this season of the year, is easily forded at this place, the stream being only about two feet deep. The water is very pure, and flows rapidly over a bed of sand and gravel. We lodged for the night at a small village called Medina, the sole property of a Mandingo merchant who, by a long intercourse with Europeans, has been induced to adopt some of their customs. His victuals were served up in pewter dishes, and even his houses were built after the fashion of the English houses on the Gambia.

May 13. — In the morning, as we were preparing to depart, a coffle of slaves belonging to some Serawoolli traders crossed the river, and agreed to proceed with us to Baniserile, the capital of Dentila — a very long day’s journey from this place. We accordingly set out together, and travelled with great expedition through the woods until noon, when one of the Serawoolli slaves dropped the load from his head, for which he was smartly whipped. The load was replaced, but he had not proceeded above a mile before he let it fall a second time, for which he received the same punishment. After this he travelled in great pain until about two o’clock, when we stopped to breathe a little by a pool of water, the day being remarkably hot. The poor slave was now so completely exhausted that his master was obliged to release him from the rope, for he lay motionless on the ground. A Serawoolli, therefore, undertook to remain with him and endeavour to bring him to the town during the cool of the night; in the meanwhile we continued our route, and after a very hard day’s travel, arrived at Baniserile late in the evening.

One of our slatees was a native of this place, from which he had been absent three years. This man invited me to go with him to his house, at the gate of which his friends met him with many expressions of joy, shaking hands with him, embracing him, and singing and dancing before him. As soon as he had seated himself upon a mat by the threshold of his door, a young woman (his intended bride) brought a little water in a calabash, and, kneeling down before him, desired him to wash his hands; when he had done this the girl, with a tear of joy sparkling in her eyes, drank the water — this being considered as the greatest proof she could possibly give him of her fidelity and attachment. About eight o’clock the same evening the Serawoolli who had been left in the woods to take care of the fatigued slave returned and told us that he was dead; the general opinion, however, was that he himself had killed him or left him to perish on the road, for the Serawoollies are said to be infinitely more cruel in their treatment of slaves than the Mandingoes. We remained at Baniserile two days, in order to purchase native iron, shea-butter, and some other articles for sale on the Gambia; and here the slatee who had invited me to his house, and who possessed three slaves, part of the coffle, having obtained information that the price on the coast was very low, determined to separate from us and remain with his slaves where he was until an opportunity should offer of disposing of them to advantage — giving us to understand that he should complete his nuptials with the young woman before mentioned in the meantime.

May 16. — We departed from Baniserile and travelled through thick woods until noon, when we saw at a distance the town of Julifunda, but did not approach it, as we proposed to rest for the night at a large town called Kirwani, which we reached about four o’clock in the afternoon. This town stands in a valley, and the country for more than a mile round it is cleared of wood and well cultivated. The inhabitants appear to be very active and industrious, and seem to have carried the system of agriculture to some degree of perfection, for they collect the dung of their cattle into large heaps during the dry season for the purpose of manuring their land with it at the proper time. I saw nothing like this in any other part of Africa. Near the town are several smelting furnaces, from which the natives obtain very good iron. They afterwards hammer the metal into small bars, about a foot in length and two inches in breadth, one of which bars is sufficient to make two Mandingo corn-hoes. On the morning after our arrival we were visited by a slatee of this place, who informed Karfa that among some slaves he had lately purchased was a native of Foota–Jalla, and as that country was at no great distance he could not safely employ him in the labours of the field, lest he should effect his escape. The slatee was therefore desirous of exchanging this slave for one of Karfa’s, and offered some cloth and shea-butter to induce Karfa to comply with the proposal, which was accepted. The slatee thereupon sent a boy to order the slave in question to bring him a few ground-nuts. The poor creature soon afterwards entered the court in which we were sitting, having no suspicion of what was negotiating, until the master caused the gate to be shut, and told him to sit down. The slave now saw his danger, and, perceiving the gate to be shut upon him, threw down the nuts and jumped over the fence. He was immediately pursued and overtaken by the slatees, who brought him back and secured him in irons, after which one of Karfa’s slaves was released and delivered in exchange. The unfortunate captive was at first very much dejected, but in the course of a few days his melancholy gradually subsided, and he became at length as cheerful as any of his companions.

Departing from Kirwani on the morning of the 20th we entered the Tenda Wilderness, of two days’ journey. The woods were very thick, and the country shelved towards the south-west. About ten o’clock we met a coffle of twenty-six people and seven loaded asses returning from the Gambia. Most of the men were armed with muskets, and had broad belts of scarlet cloth over their shoulders and European hats upon their heads. They informed us that there was very little demand for slaves on the coast, as no vessel had arrived for some months past. On hearing this the Serawoollies, who had travelled with us from the Faleme River, separated themselves and their slaves from the coffle. They had not, they said, the means of maintaining their slaves in Gambia until a vessel should arrive, and were unwilling to sell them to disadvantage; they therefore departed to the northward for Kajaaga. We continued our route through the wilderness, and travelled all day through a rugged country covered with extensive thickets of bamboo. At sunset, to our great joy, we arrived at a pool of water near a large tabba-tree, whence the place is called Tabbagee, and here we rested a few hours. The water at this season of the year is by no means plentiful in these woods, and as the days were insufferably hot Karfa proposed to travel in the night. Accordingly about eleven o’clock the slaves were taken out of their irons, and the people of the coffle received orders to keep close together, as well to prevent the slaves from attempting to escape as on account of the wild beasts. We travelled with great alacrity until daybreak, when it was discovered that a free woman had parted from the coffle in the night; her name was called until the woods resounded, but, no answer being given, we conjectured that she had either mistaken the road or that a lion had seized her unperceived. At length it was agreed that four people should go back a few miles to a small rivulet, where some of the coffle had stopped to drink as we passed it in the night, and that the coffle should wait for their return. The sun was about an hour high before the people came back with the woman, whom they found lying fast asleep by the stream. We now resumed our journey, and about eleven o’clock reached a walled town called Tambacunda, where we were well received. Here we remained four days on account of a palaver which was held on the following occasion:— Modi Lemina, one of the slatees belonging to the coffle, had formerly married a woman of this town, who had borne him two children; he afterwards went to Manding, and remained there eight years without sending any account of himself during all that time to his deserted wife, who, seeing no prospect of his return, at the end of three years had married another man, to whom she had likewise borne two children. Lemina now claimed his wife; but the second husband refused to deliver her up, insisting that by the laws of Africa when a man has been three years absent from his wife, without giving her notice of his being alive, the woman is at liberty to marry again. After all the circumstances had been fully investigated in an assembly of the chief men, it was determined that the wife should make her choice, and be at liberty either to return to the first husband, or continue with the second, as she alone should think proper. Favourable as this determination was to the lady, she found it a difficult matter to make up her mind, and requested time for consideration; but I think I could perceive that first love would carry the day. Lemina was indeed somewhat older than his rival, but he was also much richer. What weight this circumstance had in the scale of his wife’s affections I pretend not to say.

On the morning of the 26th, as we departed from Tambacunda, Karfa observed to me that there were no shea-trees farther to the westward than this town. I had collected and brought with me from Manding the leaves and flowers of this tree, but they were so greatly bruised on the road that I thought it best to gather another specimen at this place. The appearance of the fruit evidently places the shea-tree in the natural order of Sapotae, and it has some resemblance to the mudhuca tree described by Lieutenant Charles Hamilton in the “Asiatic Researches,” vol. i., p. 300.

About one o’clock on the morning of the 26th we reached Sibikillin, a walled village; but the inhabitants having the character of inhospitality towards strangers, and of being much addicted to theft, we did not think proper to enter the gate. We rested a short time under a tree, and then continued our route until it was dark, when we halted for the night by a small stream running towards the Gambia. Next day the road led over a wild and rocky country, everywhere rising into hills and abounding with monkeys and wild beasts. In the rivulets among the hills we found great plenty of fish. This was a very hard day’s journey; and it was not until sunset that we reached the village of Koomboo, near to which are the ruins of a large town formerly destroyed by war. The inhabitants of Koomboo, like those of Sibikillin, have so bad a reputation that strangers seldom lodge in the village; we accordingly rested for the night in the fields, where we erected temporary huts for our protection, there being great appearance of rain.

May 28. — We departed from Koomboo, and slept at a Foulah town, about seven miles to the westward; from which, on the day following, having crossed a considerable branch of the Gambia, called Neola Koba, we reached a well-inhabited part of the country. Here are several towns within sight of each other, collectively called Tenda, but each is distinguished also by its particular name. We lodged at one of them, called Koba Tenda, where we remained the day following, in order to procure provisions for our support in crossing the Simbani woods. On the 30th we reached Jallacotta, a considerable town, but much infested by Foulah banditti, who come through the woods from Bondou and steal everything they can lay their hands on. A few days before our arrival they had stolen twenty head of cattle, and on the day following made a second attempt, but were beaten off and one of them was taken prisoner. Here one of the slaves belonging to the coffle, who had travelled with great difficulty for the last three days, was found unable to proceed any farther: his master (a singing man) proposed therefore to exchange him for a young slave girl belonging to one of the townspeople. The poor girl was ignorant of her fate until the bundles were all tied up in the morning, and the coffle ready to depart, when, coming with some other young women to see the coffle set out, her master took her by the hand, and delivered her to the singing man. Never was a face of serenity more suddenly changed into one of the deepest distress; the terror she manifested on having the load put upon her head and the rope fastened round her neck, and the sorrow with which she bade adieu to her companions, were truly affecting. About nine o’clock we crossed a large plain covered with ciboa-trees (a species of palm), and came to the river Nerico, a branch of the Gambia. This was but a small river at this time, but in the rainy season it is often dangerous to travellers. As soon as we had crossed this river, the singing men began to vociferate a particular song, expressive of their joy at having got safe into the west country, or, as they expressed it, the land of the setting sun. The country was found to be very level, and the soil a mixture of clay and sand. In the afternoon it rained hard, and we had recourse to the common negro umbrella, a large ciboa-leaf, which, being placed upon the head, completely defends the whole body from the rain. We lodged for the night under the shade of a large tabba-tree, near the ruins of a village. On the morning following we crossed a stream called Noulico, and about two o’clock, to my infinite joy, I saw myself once more on the banks of the Gambia, which at this place, being deep and smooth, is navigable; but the people told me that a little lower down the stream is so shallow that the coffles frequently cross it on foot.

June 2. — We departed from Seesukunda and passed a number of villages, at none of which was the coffle permitted to stop, although we were all very much fatigued. It was four o’clock in the afternoon before we reached Baraconda, where we rested one day. Departing from Baraconda on the morning of the 4th, we reached in a few hours Medina, the capital of the king of Woolli’s dominions, from whom the reader may recollect I received an hospitable reception in the beginning of December, 1795, in my journey eastward. I immediately inquired concerning the health of my good old benefactor, and learned with great concern that he was dangerously ill. As Karfa would not allow the coffle to stop, I could not present my respects to the king in person, but I sent him word by the officer to whom we paid customs that his prayers for my safety had not been unavailing. We continued our route until sunset, when we lodged at a small village a little to the westward of Kootacunda, and on the day following arrived at Jindey, where, eighteen months before, I had parted from my friend Dr. Laidley — an interval during which I had not beheld the face of a Christian, nor once heard the delightful sound of my native language.

Being now arrived within a short distance of Pisania, from whence my journey originally commenced, and learning that my friend Karfa was not likely to meet with an immediate opportunity of selling his slaves on the Gambia, it occurred to me to suggest to him that he would find it for his interest to leave them at Jindey until a market should offer. Karfa agreed with me in this opinion, and hired from the chief man of the town huts for their accommodation, and a piece of land on which to employ them in raising corn and other provisions for their maintenance. With regard to himself, he declared that he would not quit me until my departure from Africa. We set out accordingly — Karfa, myself, and one of the Foulahs belonging to the coffle — early on the morning of the 9th; but although I was now approaching the end of my tedious and toilsome journey, and expected in another day to meet with countrymen and friends, I could not part for the last time with my unfortunate fellow-travellers — doomed, as I knew most of them to be, to a life of captivity and slavery in a foreign land — without great emotion. During a wearisome peregrination of more than five hundred British miles, exposed to the burning rays of a tropical sun, these poor slaves, amidst their own infinitely greater sufferings, would commiserate mine, and, frequently of their own accord, bring water to quench my thirst, and at night collect branches and leaves to prepare me a bed in the wilderness. We parted with reciprocal expressions of regret and benediction. My good wishes and prayers were all I could bestow upon them, and it afforded me some consolation to be told that they were sensible I had no more to give.

My anxiety to get forward admitting of no delay on the road, we reached Tendacunda in the evening, and were hospitably received at the house of an aged black female called Seniora Camilla, a person who resided many years at the English factory and spoke our language. I was known to her before I had left the Gambia at the outset of my journey, but my dress and figure were now so different from the usual appearance of a European that she was very excusable in mistaking me for a Moor. When I told her my name and country she surveyed me with great astonishment, and seemed unwilling to give credit to the testimony of her senses. She assured me that none of the traders on the Gambia ever expected to see me again, having been informed long ago that the Moors of Ludamar had murdered me, as they had murdered Major Houghton. I inquired for my two attendants, Johnson and Demba, and learnt with great sorrow that neither of them was returned. Karfa, who had never before heard people converse in English, listened to us with great attention. Everything he saw seemed wonderful. The furniture of the house, the chairs, &c., and particularly beds with curtains, were objects of his great admiration, and he asked me a thousand questions concerning the utility and necessity of different articles, to some of which I found it difficult to give satisfactory answers.

On the morning of the 10th Mr. Robert Ainsley, having learned that I was at Tendacunda, came to meet me, and politely offered me the use of his horse. He informed me that Dr. Laidley had removed all his property to a place called Kayee, a little farther down the river, and that he was then gone to Doomasansa with his vessel to purchase rice, but would return in a day or two. He therefore invited me to stay with him at Pisania until the doctor’s return. I accepted the invitation, and being accompanied by my friend Karfa, reached Pisania about ten o’clock. Mr. Ainsley’s schooner was lying at anchor before the place. This was the most surprising object which Karfa had yet seen. He could not easily comprehend the use of the masts, sails, and rigging; nor did he conceive that it was possible, by any sort of contrivance, to make so large a body move forwards by the common force of the wind. The manner of fastening together the different planks which composed the vessel, and filling up the seams so as to exclude the water, was perfectly new to him; and I found that the schooner, with her cable and anchor, kept Karfa in deep meditation the greater part of the day.

About noon on the 12th Dr. Laidley returned from Doomasansa and received me with great joy and satisfaction, as one risen from the dead. Finding that the wearing apparel which I had left under his care was not sold or sent to England, I lost no time in resuming the English dress and disrobing my chin of its venerable encumbrance. Karfa surveyed me in my British apparel with great delight, but regretted exceedingly that I had taken off my beard, the loss of which, he said, had converted me from a man into a boy. Dr. Laidley readily undertook to discharge all the pecuniary engagements which I had entered into since my departure from the Gambia, and took my draft upon the association for the amount. My agreement with Karfa (as I have already related) was to pay him the value of one prime slave, for which I had given him my bill upon Dr. Laidley before we departed from Kamalia; for in case of my death on the road I was unwilling that my benefactor should be a loser. But this good creature had continued to manifest towards me so much kindness that I thought I made him but an inadequate recompense when I told him that he was now to receive double the sum I had originally promised; and Dr. Laidley assured him that he was ready to deliver the goods to that amount whenever he thought proper to send for them. Karfa was overpowered by this unexpected token of my gratitude, and still more so when he heard that I intended to send a handsome present to the good old schoolmaster, Fankooma, at Malacotta. He promised to carry up the goods along with his own; and Dr. Laidley assured him that he would exert himself in assisting him to dispose of his slaves to the best advantage the moment a slave vessel should arrive. These and other instances of attention and kindness shown him by Dr. Laidley were not lost upon Karfa. He would often say to me, “My journey has indeed been prosperous!” But observing the improved state of our manufactures and our manifest superiority in the arts of civilised life, he would sometimes appear pensive, and exclaim, with an involuntary sigh, Fato fing inta feng (“Black men are nothing”)! At other times he would ask me, with great seriousness, what could possibly have induced me, who was no trader, to think of exploring so miserable a country as Africa. He meant by this to signify that, after what I must have witnessed in my own country, nothing in Africa could in his opinion deserve a moment’s attention. I have preserved these little traits of character in this worthy negro, not only from regard to the man, but also because they appear to me to demonstrate that he possessed a mind ABOVE HIS CONDITION. And to such of my readers as love to contemplate human nature in all its varieties, and to trace its progress from rudeness to refinement, I hope the account I have given of this poor African will not be unacceptable.

No European vessel had arrived at Gambia for many months previous to my return from the interior, and as the rainy season was now setting in I persuaded Karfa to return to his people at Jindey. He parted with me on the 14th with great tenderness; but as I had little hopes of being able to quit Africa for the remainder of the year, I told him, as the fact was, that I expected to see him again before my departure. In this, however, I was luckily disappointed, and my narrative now hastens to its conclusion; for on the 15th, the ship Charlestown, an American vessel, commanded by Mr. Charles Harris, entered the river. She came for slaves, intending to touch at Goree to fill up, and to proceed from thence to South Carolina. As the European merchants on the Gambia had at this time a great many slaves on hand, they agreed with the captain to purchase the whole of his cargo, consisting chiefly of rum and tobacco, and deliver him slaves to the amount in the course of two days. This afforded me such an opportunity of returning, though by a circuitous route, to my native country as I thought was not to be neglected. I therefore immediately engaged my passage in this vessel for America; and having taken leave of Dr. Laidley, to whose kindness I was so largely indebted, and my other friends on the river, I embarked at Kayee on the 17th day of June.

Our passage down the river was tedious and fatiguing; and the weather was so hot, moist, and unhealthy, that before our arrival at Goree four of the seamen, the surgeon, and three of the slaves had died of fevers. At Goree we were detained, for want of provisions, until the beginning of October.

The number of slaves received on board this vessel, both on the Gambia and at Goree, was one hundred and thirty, of whom about twenty-five had been, I suppose, of free condition in Africa, as most of those, being bushreens, could write a little Arabic. Nine of them had become captives in the religious war between Abdulkader and Damel, mentioned in the latter part of the preceding chapter. Two of the others had seen me as I passed through Bondou, and many of them had heard of me in the interior countries. My conversation with them, in their native language, gave them great comfort; and as the surgeon was dead I consented to act in a medical capacity in his room for the remainder of the voyage. They had in truth need of every consolation in my power to bestow; not that I observed any wanton acts of cruelty practised either by the master or the seamen towards them, but the mode of confining and securing negroes in the American slave-ships (owing chiefly to the weakness of their crews) being abundantly more rigid and severe than in British vessels employed in the same traffic, made these poor creatures to suffer greatly, and a general sickness prevailed amongst them. Besides the three who died on the Gambia, and six or eight while we remained at Goree, eleven perished at sea, and many of the survivors were reduced to a very weak and emaciated condition.

In the midst of these distresses the vessel, after having been three weeks at sea, became so extremely leaky as to require constant exertion at the pumps. It was found necessary therefore to take some of the ablest of the negro men out of irons and employ them in this labour, in which they were often worked beyond their strength. This produced a complication of miseries not easily to be described. We were, however, relieved much sooner than I expected, for, the leak continuing to gain upon us, notwithstanding our utmost exertions to clear the vessel, the seamen insisted on bearing away for the West Indies, as affording the only chance of saving our lives. Accordingly, after some objections on the part of the master, we directed our course for Antigua, and fortunately made that island in about thirty-five days after our departure from Goree. Yet even at this juncture we narrowly escaped destruction, for on approaching the north-west side of the island we struck on the Diamond Rock and got into St. John’s Harbour with great difficulty. The vessel was afterwards condemned as unfit for sea, and the slaves, as I have heard, were ordered to be sold for the benefit of the owners.

At this island I remained ten days, when the Chesterfield packet, homeward bound from the Leeward Islands, touching at St. John’s for the Antigua mail, I took my passage in that vessel. We sailed on the 24th of November, and after a short but tempestuous voyage arrived at Falmouth on the 22nd of December, from whence I immediately set out for London; having been absent from England two years and seven months.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59