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



The kingdom of Kajaaga, in which I was now arrived, is called by the French Gallam, but the name that I have adopted is universally used by the natives. This country is bounded on the south-east and south by Bambouk, on the west by Bondou and Foota–Torra, and on the north by the river Senegal.

The air and climate are, I believe, more pure and salubrious than at any of the settlements towards the coast; the face of the country is everywhere interspersed with a pleasing variety of hills and valleys; and the windings of the Senegal river, which descends from the rocky hills of the interior, make the scenery on its banks very picturesque and beautiful.

The inhabitants are called Serawoollies, or (as the French write it) Seracolets. Their complexion is a jet black: they are not to be distinguished in this respect from the Jaloffs.

The government is monarchical, and the regal authority, from what I experienced of it, seems to be sufficiently formidable. The people themselves, however, complain of no oppression, and seemed all very anxious to support the king in a contest he was going to enter into with the sovereign of Kasson. The Serawoollies are habitually a trading people; they formerly carried on a great commerce with the French in gold and slaves, and still maintain some traffic in slaves with the British factories on the Gambia. They are reckoned tolerably fair and just in their dealings, but are indefatigable in their exertions to acquire wealth, and they derive considerable profits by the sale of salt and cotton cloth in distant countries. When a Serawoolli merchant returns home from a trading expedition the neighbours immediately assemble to congratulate him upon his arrival. On these occasions the traveller displays his wealth and liberality by making a few presents to his friends; but if he has been unsuccessful his levee is soon over, and every one looks upon him as a man of no understanding, who could perform a long journey, and (at they express it) “bring back nothing but the hair upon his head.”

Their language abounds much in gutturals, and is not so harmonious as that spoken by the Foulahs. It is, however, well worth acquiring by those who travel through this part of the African continent, it being very generally understood in the kingdoms of Kasson, Kaarta, Ludamar, and the northern parts of Bambarra. In all these countries the Serawoollies are the chief traders. Their numerals are:—

One, Bani.
Two, Fillo.
Three, Sicco.
Four, Narrato.
Five, Karrago.
Six, Toomo.
Seven, Nero.
Eight, Sego.
Nine, Kabbo.
Ten, Tamo.
Twenty, Tamo di Fillo.

We arrived at Joag, the frontier town of this kingdom, on the 24th of December, and took up our residence at the house of the chief man, who is here no longer known by the title of alkaid, but is called the dooty. He was a rigid Mohammedan, but distinguished for his hospitality. This town may be supposed, on a gross computation, to contain two thousand inhabitants. It is surrounded by a high wall, in which are a number of port-holes, for musketry to fire through, in case of an attack. Every man’s possession is likewise surrounded by a wall, the whole forming so many distinct citadels; and amongst a people unacquainted with the use of artillery these walls answer all the purposes of stronger fortifications. To the westward of the town is a small river, on the banks of which the natives raise great plenty of tobacco and onions.

The same evening Madiboo, the bushreen, who had accompanied me from Pisania, went to pay a visit to his father and mother, who dwelt at a neighbouring town called Dramanet. He was joined by my other attendant, the blacksmith. As soon as it was dark I was invited to see the sports of the inhabitants, it being their custom, on the arrival of strangers, to welcome them by diversions of different kinds. I found a great crowd surrounding a party who were dancing, by the light of some large fires, to the music of four drums, which were beat with great exactness and uniformity. The dances, however, consisted more in wanton gestures than in muscular exertion or graceful attitudes. The ladies vied with each other in displaying the most voluptuous movements imaginable.

December 25. — About two o’clock in the morning a number of horsemen came into the town, and, having awakened my landlord, talked to him for some time in the Serawoolli tongue; after which they dismounted and came to the bentang, on which I had made my bed. One of them, thinking that I was asleep, attempted to steal the musket that lay by me on the mat, but finding that he could not effect his purpose undiscovered, he desisted, and the strangers sat down by me till daylight.

I could now easily perceive, by the countenance of my interpreter, Johnson, that something very unpleasant was in agitation. I was likewise surprised to see Madiboo and the blacksmith so soon returned. On inquiring the reason, Madiboo informed me that, as they were dancing at Dramanet, ten horsemen belonging to Batcheri, king of the country, with his second son at their head, had arrived there, inquiring if the white man had passed, and, on being told that I was at Joag, they rode off without stopping. Madiboo added that on hearing this he and the blacksmith hastened back to give me notice of their coming. Whilst I was listening to this narrative the ten horsemen mentioned by Madiboo arrived, and coming to the bentang, dismounted and seated themselves with those who had come before — the whole being about twenty in number — forming a circle round me, and each man holding his musket in his hand. I took this opportunity to observe to my landlord that, as I did not understand the Serawoolli tongue, I hoped whatever the men had to say they would speak in Mandingo. To this they agreed; and a short man, loaded with a remarkable number of saphies, opened the business in a very long harangue, informing me that I had entered the king’s town without having first paid the duties, or giving any present to the king; and that, according to the laws of the country, my people, cattle, and baggage were forfeited. He added that they had received orders from the king to conduct me to Maana, 2 the place of his residence, and if I refused to come with them their orders were to bring me by force; upon his saying which all of them rose up and asked me if I was ready. It would have been equally vain and imprudent in me to have resisted or irritated such a body of men; I therefore affected to comply with their commands, and begged them only to stop a little until I had given my horse a feed of corn, and settled matters with my landlord. The poor blacksmith, who was a native of Kasson, mistook this feigned compliance for a real intention, and taking me away from the company, told me that he had always behaved towards me as if I had been his father and master, and he hoped I would not entirely ruin him by going to Maana, adding that as there was every reason to believe a war would soon take place between Kasson and Kajaaga, he should not only lose his little property, the savings of four years’ industry, but should certainly be detained and sold as a slave, unless his friends had an opportunity of paying two slaves for his redemption. I saw this reasoning in its full force, and determined to do my utmost to preserve the blacksmith from so dreadful a fate. I therefore told the king’s son that I was ready to go with him, upon condition that, the blacksmith, who was an inhabitant of a distant kingdom, and entirely unconnected with me, should be allowed to stay at Joag till my return. To this they all objected, and insisted that, as we had all acted contrary to the laws, we were all equally answerable for our conduct.

2 Maana is within a short distance of the ruins of Fort St. Joseph, on the Senegal river, formerly a French factory.

I now took my landlord aside, and giving him a small present of gunpowder, asked his advice in such critical a situation. He was decidedly of opinion that I ought not to go to the king: he was fully convinced, he said, that if the king should discover anything valuable in my possession, he would not be over scrupulous about the means of obtaining it.

Towards the evening, as I was sitting upon the bentang chewing straws, an old female slave, passing by with a basket upon her head, asked me IF HAD GOT MY DINNER. As I thought she only laughed at me, I gave her no answer; but my boy, who was sitting close by, answered for me, and told her that the king’s people had robbed me of all my money. On hearing this, the good old woman, with a look of unaffected benevolence, immediately took the basket from her head, and showing me that it contained ground nuts, asked me if I could eat them. Being answered in the affirmative, she presented me with a few handfuls, and walked away before I had time to thank her for this seasonable supply.

The old woman had scarcely left me when I received information that a nephew of Demba Sego Jalla, the Mandingo king of Kasson, was coming to pay me a visit. He had been sent on an embassy to Batcheri, King of Kajaaga, to endeavour to settle the disputes which had arisen between his uncle and the latter; but after debating the matter four days without success, he was now on his return, and hearing that a white man was at Joag, on his way to Kasson, curiosity brought in to see me. I represented to him my situation and distresses, when he frankly offered me his protection, and said he would be my guide to Kasson (provided I would set out the next morning), and be answerable for my safety. I readily and gratefully accepted his offer, and was ready with my attendants by daylight on the morning of the 27th of December.

My protector, whose name was Demba Sego, probably after his uncle, had a numerous retinue. Our company, at leaving Joag, consisted of thirty persons and six loaded asses; and we rode on cheerfully enough for some hours, without any remarkable occurrence until we came to a species of tree for which my interpreter Johnson had made frequent inquiry. On finding it, he desired us to stop, and producing a white chicken, which he had purchased at Joag for the purpose, he tied it by the leg to one of the branches, and then told us we might now safely proceed, for that our journey would be prosperous.

At noon we had reached Gungadi, a large town where we stopped about an hour, until some of the asses that had fallen behind came up. Here I observed a number of date-trees, and a mosque built of clay, with six turrets, on the pinnacles of which were placed six ostrich eggs. A little before sunset we arrived at the town of Samee, on the banks of the Senegal, which is here a beautiful but shallow river, moving slowly over a bed of sand and gravel. The banks are high, and covered with verdure — the country is open and cultivated — and the rocky hills of Fellow and Bambouk add much to the beauty of the landscape.

December 28. — We departed from Samee, and arrived in the afternoon at Kayee, a large village, part of which is situated on the north and part on the south side of the river.

The ferryman then taking hold of the most steady of the horses by a rope, led him into the water, and paddled the canoe a little from the brink; upon which a general attack commenced upon the other horses, who, finding themselves pelted and kicked on all sides, unanimously plunged into the river, and followed their companion. A few boys swam in after them; and, by laving water upon them when they attempted to return, urged them onwards; and we had the satisfaction in about fifteen minutes to see them all safe on the other side. It was a matter of greater difficulty to manage the asses; their natural stubbornness of disposition made them endure a great deal of pelting and shoving before they would venture into the water; and when they had reached the middle of the stream, four of them turned back, in spite of every exertion to get them forwards. Two hours were spent in getting the whole of them over; an hour more was employed in transporting the baggage; and it was near sunset before the canoe returned, when Demba Sego and myself embarked in this dangerous passage-boat, which the least motion was like to overset. The king’s nephew thought this a proper time to have a peep into a tin box of mine that stood in the fore part of the canoe; and in stretching out his band for it, he unfortunately destroyed the equilibrium, and overset the canoe. Luckily we were not far advanced, and got back to the shore without much difficulty; from whence, after wringing the water from our clothes, we took a fresh departure, and were soon afterwards safely landed in Kasson.

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