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



We no sooner found ourselves safe in Kasson than Demba Sego told me that we were now in his uncle’s dominions, and he hoped I would consider, being now out of danger, the obligation I owed to him, and make him a suitable return for the trouble he had taken on my account by a handsome present. This, as he knew how much had been pilfered from me at Joag, was rather an unexpected proposition, and I began to fear that I had not much improved my condition by crossing the water; but as it would have been folly to complain I made no observation upon his conduct, and gave him seven bars of amber and some tobacco, with which he seemed to be content.

After a long day’s journey, in the course of which I observed a number of large loose nodules of white granite, we arrived at Teesee on the evening of December 29th, and were accommodated in Demba Sego’s hut. The next morning he introduced me to his father, Tiggity Sego, brother to the king of Kasson, chief of Teesee. The old man viewed me with great earnestness, having never, he said, beheld but one white man before, whom by his description I immediately knew to be Major Houghton.

In the afternoon one of his slaves eloped; and a general alarm being given, every person that had a horse rode into the woods, in the hopes of apprehending him, and Demba Sego begged the use of my horse for the same purpose. I readily consented; and in about an hour they all returned with the slave, who was severely flogged, and afterwards put in irons. On the day following (December 31st) Demba Sego was ordered to go with twenty horsemen to a town in Gedumah, to adjust some dispute with the Moors, a party of whom were supposed to have stolen three horses from Teesee. Demba begged a second the time use of my horse, adding that the sight of my bridle and saddle would give him consequence among the Moors. This request also I readily granted, and he promised to return at the end of three days. During his absence I amused myself with walking about the town, and conversing with the natives, who attended me everywhere with great kindness and curiosity, and supplied me with milk, eggs, and what other provisions I wanted, on very easy terms.

Teesee is a large unwalled town, having no security against the attack of an enemy except a sort of citadel in which Tiggity and his family constantly reside. This town, according to the report of the natives, was formerly inhabited only by a few Foulah shepherds, who lived in considerable affluence by means of the excellent meadows in the neighbourhood, in which they reared great herds of cattle. But their prosperity attracting the envy of some Mandingoes, the latter drove out the shepherds, and took possession of their lands.

The present inhabitants, though they possess both cattle and corn in abundance, are not over nice in articles of diet; rats, moles, squirrels, snakes, locusts, are eaten without scruple by the highest and lowest. My people were one evening invited to a feast given by some of the townsmen, where, after making a hearty meal of what they thought fish and kouskous, one of them found a piece of hard skin in the dish, and brought it along with him to show me what sort of fish they had been eating. On examining the skin I found they had been feasting on a large snake. Another custom still more extraordinary is that no woman is allowed to eat an egg. This prohibition, whether arising from ancient superstition or from the craftiness of some old bushreen who loved eggs himself, is rigidly adhered to, and nothing will more affront a woman of Teesee than to offer her an egg. The custom is the more singular, as the men eat eggs without scruple in the presence of their wives, and I never observed the same prohibition in any other of the Mandingo countries.

The third day after his son’s departure, Tiggity Sego held a palaver on a very extraordinary occasion, which I attended; and the debates on both sides of the question displayed much ingenuity. The case was this:— A young man, a kafir of considerable affluence, who had recently married a young and handsome wife, applied to a very devout bushreen, or Mussalman priest, of his acquaintance, to procure him saphies for his protection during the approaching war. The bushreen complied with the request; and in order, as he pretended, to render the saphies more efficacious, enjoined the young man to avoid any nuptial intercourse with his bride for the space of six weeks. Severe as the injunction was, the kafir strictly obeyed; and, without telling his wife the real cause, absented himself from her company. In the meantime, it began to be whispered at Teesee that the bushreen, who always performed his evening devotions at the door of the kafir’s hut, was more intimate with the young wife than he ought to be. At first the good husband was unwilling to suspect the honour of his sanctified friend, and one whole month elapsed before any jealousy rose in his mind, but hearing the charge repeated, he at last interrogated his wife on the subject, who frankly confessed that the bushreen had seduced her. Hereupon the kafir put her into confinement, and called a palaver upon the bushreen’s conduct. The fact was clearly proved against him; and he was sentenced to be sold into slavery, or to find two slaves for his redemption, according to the pleasure of the complainant. The injured husband, however, was unwilling to proceed against his friend to such extremity, and desired rather to have him publicly flogged before Tiggity Sego’s gate. This was agreed to, and the sentence was immediately executed. The culprit was tied by the hands to a strong stake; and a long black rod being brought forth, the executioner, after flourishing it round his head for some time, applied it with such force and dexterity to the bushreen’s back as to make him roar until the woods resounded with his screams. The surrounding multitude, by their hooting and laughing, manifested how much they enjoyed the punishment of this old gallant; and it is worthy of remark that the number of stripes was precisely the same as are enjoined by the Mosaic law, FORTY, SAVE ONE.

As there appeared great probability that Teesee, from its being a frontier town, would be much exposed during the war to the predatory incursions of the Moors of Gedumah, Tiggity Sego had, before my arrival, sent round to the neighbouring villages to beg or to purchase as much provisions as would afford subsistence to the inhabitants for one whole year, independently of the crop on the ground, which the Moors might destroy. This project was well received by the country people, and they fixed a day on which to bring all the provisions they could spare to Teesee; and as my horse was not yet returned, I went, in the afternoon of January 4th, 1796, to meet the escort with the provisions.

It was composed of about 400 men, marching in good order, with corn and ground nuts in large calabashes upon their heads. They were preceded by a strong guard of bowmen, and followed by eight musicians or singing men. As soon as they approached the town the latter began a song, every verse of which was answered by the company, and succeeded by a few strokes on the large drums. In this manner they proceeded, amidst the acclamations of the populace, till they reached the house of Tiggity Sego, where the loads were deposited; and in the evening they all assembled under the bentang tree, and spent the night in dancing and merriment.

On the 5th of January an embassy of ten people belonging to Almami Abdulkader, king of Foota–Torra, a country to the west of Bondou, arrived at Teesee; and desiring Tiggity to call an assembly of the inhabitants, announced publicly their king’s determination to this effect:— ‘That unless all the people of Kasson would embrace the Mohammedan religion, and evince their conversion by saying eleven public prayers, he, the king of Foota–Torra, could not possibly stand neuter in the present contest, but would certainly join his arms to those of Kajaaga.’ A message of this nature from so powerful a prince could not fail to create great alarm; and the inhabitants of Teesee, after a long consultation, agreed to conform to his good pleasure, humiliating as it was to them. Accordingly, one and all publicly offered up eleven prayers, which were considered a sufficient testimony of their having renounced paganism, and embraced the doctrines of the prophet.

It was time 8th of January before Demba Sego returned with my horse; and being quite wearied out with the delay, I went immediately to inform his father that I should set out for Kooniakary early the next day. The old man made many frivolous objections, and at length gave me to understand that I must not think of departing without first paying him the same duties he was entitled to receive from all travellers; besides which he expected, he said, some acknowledgment for his kindness towards use. Accordingly, on the morning of the 9th, my friend Demba, with a number of people, came to me, and said that they were sent by Tiggity Sego for my present, and wished to see what goods I had appropriated for that purpose. I knew that resistance was hopeless, and complaint unavailing: and being in some measure prepared by the intimation I had received the night before, I quietly offered him seven bars of amber and five of tobacco. After surveying these articles for some time very coolly, Demba laid them down, and told me that this was not a present for a man of Tiggity Sego’s consequence, who had it in his power to take whatever he pleased from me. He added, that if I did not consent to make him a larger offering he would carry all my baggage to his father, and let him choose for himself. I had no time for reply, for Demba and his attendants immediately began to open my bundles, and spread the different articles upon the floor, where they underwent a more strict examination than they had done at Joag. Everything that pleased them they took without scruple: and amongst other things, Demba seized the tin box that had so much attracted his attention in crossing the river. Upon collecting the scattered remains of my little fortune after these people had left me, I found that, as at Joag I had been plundered of half, so here, without even the shadow of accusation, I was deprived of half the remainder. The blacksmith himself, though a native of Kasson, had also been compelled to open his bundles, and take an oath that the different articles they contained were his own exclusive property. There was, however, no remedy, and having been under some obligation to Demba Sego for his attention towards me in the journey from Joag, I did not reproach him for his rapacity, but determined to quit Teesee, at all events, the next morning. In the meanwhile, in order to raise the drooping spirits of my attendants, I purchased a fat sheep, and had it dressed for our dinner.

Early in the morning of January 10th, therefore, I left Teesee, and about mid-day ascended a ridge, from whence we had a distant view of the hills round Kooniakary. In the evening we reached a small village, where we slept, and, departing from thence the next morning, crossed in a few hours a narrow but deep stream called Krieko, a branch of the Senegal. About two miles farther to the eastward we passed a large town called Madina, and at two o’clock came in sight of Jumbo, the blacksmith’s native town, from whence he had been absent more than four years. Soon after this, his brother, who had by some means been apprised of his coming, came out to meet him, accompanied by a singing man. He brought a horse for the blacksmith, that he might enter his native town in a dignified manner; and he desired each of us to put a good charge of powder into our guns. The singing man now led the way, followed by the two brothers, and we were presently joined by a number of people from the town, all of whom demonstrated great joy at seeing their old acquaintance the blacksmith by the most extravagant jumping and singing. On entering the town the singing man began an extempore song in praise of the blacksmith, extolling his courage in having overcome so many difficulties, and concluding with a strict injunction to his friends to dress him plenty of victuals.

When we arrived at the blacksmith’s place of residence we dismounted, and fired our muskets. The meeting between him and his relations was very tender; for these rude children of nature, free from restraint, display their emotions in the strongest and most expressive manner. Amidst these transports the blacksmith’s aged mother was led forth, leaning upon a staff. Every one made way for her, and she stretched out her hand to bid her son welcome. Being totally blind, she stroked his hands, arms, and face with great care, and seemed highly delighted that her latter days were blessed by his return, and that her ears once more heard the music of his voice.

During the tumult of these congratulations I had seated myself apart by the side of one of the huts, being unwilling to interrupt the flow of filial and parental tenderness; and the attention of the company was so entirely taken up with the blacksmith that I believe none of his friends had observed me. When all the people present had seated themselves the blacksmith was desired by his father to give them some account of his adventures; and silence being commanded, he began, and after repeatedly thanking God for the success that had attended him, related every material occurrence that had happened to him from his leasing Kasson to his arrival at the Gambia, his employment and success in those parts, and the dangers he had escaped in returning to his native country. In the latter part of his narration he had frequently occasion to mention me; and after many strong expressions concerning my kindness to him he pointed to the place where I sat, and exclaimed, “Affille ibi siring!”—(“See him sitting there!”) In a moment all eyes were turned upon me; I appeared like a being dropped from the clouds; every one was surprised that they had not observed me before; and a few women and children expressed great uneasiness at being so near a man of such an uncommon appearance.

By degrees, however, their apprehensions subsided, and when the blacksmith assured them that I was perfectly inoffensive, and would hurt nobody, some of them ventured so far as to examine the texture of my clothes; but many of them were still very suspicious; and when by accident I happened to move myself, or look at the young children, their mothers would scamper off with them with the greatest precipitations. In a few hours, however, they all because reconciled to me.

With these worthy people I spent the remainder of that and the whole of the ensuing day, in feasting and merriment; and the blacksmith declared he would not quit me during my stay at Kooniakary — for which place we set out early on the morning of the 14th of January, and arrived about the middle of the day at Soolo, a small village three miles to the south of it.

As this place was somewhat out of the direct road, it is necessary to observe that I went thither to visit a slatee or Gambia trader, of great note and reputation, named Salim Daucari. He was well known to Dr. Laidley, who had trusted him with effects to the value of five slaves, and had given me an order for the whole of the debt. We luckily found him at home, and he received me with great kindness and attention.

It is remarkable, however, that the king of Kasson was by some means immediately apprised of my motions; for I had been at Soolo but a few hours before Sambo Sego, his second son, came thither with a party of horse, to inquire what had prevented me from proceeding to Kooniakary, and waiting immediately upon the king, who, he said, was impatient to see me. Salim Daucari made my apology, and promised to accompany me to Kooniakary the same evening. We accordingly departed from Soolo at sunset, and in about an hour entered Kooniakary. But as the king had gone to sleep we deferred the interview till next morning, and slept at the hut of Sambo Sego.

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