* Home * Loney home * Life & career * Documents * Album * Ships * Portrait * Uniform * Background * * Search this site * 
William Loney RN - Background

Home-Loney-Background-Niger expedition-Book Chapter VII * Chapter IX

A NARRATIVE
OF THE
EXPEDITION TO THE RIVER NIGER
.

VOLUME II, CHAPTER VIII.


Cameroons - King Bell - The free Egbos - The palace - Native dwellings - Physical characteristics of the Duallas - Mode of arranging the hair - Human sacrifices - The Jibareh creek - Excursion up the Madiba ma Dualla - Pilot Glasgow - Appearance of the river - Prince Beppo - Wuri Island - Andámako - Wana Makembi - A welcome - Curiosity of the natives - Coffin applied to a singular purpose - A supper party - Opposition of the natives - Scenery - Fishing nets - Yabiàng river - Village of Kokki - An African wake - Names of the rivers - Geological features - Trade in palm oil - Causes operating against its advancement - Manufacture of grass cloths - King Aqua - Dangerous shallows.


May 5th.- As Captain Vidal in his survey of this part of the coast of Africa, did not carry his operations far beyond the entrance of this large estuary of the Camaroons, into which several rivers are said to empty themselves, Captain Allen thought it would be a profitable employment of the time we had to wait, and be in obedience to the instructions of the Lords of the Admiralty {See Appendix}, if he could lay down the channel in such a manner as might be useful to the ships trading in the river. We got under weigh with a rising tide, and as we had neither pilot nor marks to guide us, we proceeded cautiously, feeling our way with the lead over the long flats, and anchored off King Bell's town. He sent a messenger to say that he was coining on board the 'Wilberforce,' and immediately after, this petty chief,- great trader and greater rogue,- bounded into Captain Allen's cabin calling out loudly for brandy. He was speedily ordered out to wait till he was sent for, which had manifestly a good effect. It was a lesson which he had never before received, and which produced an equally disgusting amount of fawning humility.

'Soudan' only arrived in the afternoon, having been detained by the defective working of the engine. One of her officers, Mr. Anderson, second master, was in a very debilitated state; the consequence of a violent secondary attack of remittent fever, which had nearly carried him off, resisting almost every means used, and only yielding to large quantities of quinine, in six and eight-grain doses. That vessel was therefore ordered to repair to the bay of Amboises.

[illustration: King Bell's House, Cameroons]

We landed in the afternoon to return King Bell's visit, and found him in front of his house, seated in a large arm-chair, with no other dress than an ample cotton cloth folded round the loins, and an English black beaver hat on. He was surrounded by a number of his people, who had devoted this cooler portion of the day to recreation. The principal performers were the Egbo men, who, with painted faces, were enacting a rude sort of dance ; sometimes pirouetting in a manner which caused the loose grass kilt to fly out in their gyrations, something like the dress of our ballet-dancers. The "free Ebos or Egbos" are a privileged class, said to have a language and customs of their own. They are employed in all palavers; and may pass unmolested into hostile countries, which, if true, would establish the fact of a sort of free-masonry existing throughout that portion of West Africa.

They wear no other covering than a kilt or fringe made of grass, about fourteen inches broad, round their loins; and a marabout feather in the hair. A sort of rattle is carried in each hand,- very like those for the amusement of infants,- made of wickerwork, which they shake at one another in the dance. We purchased some of these articles from an old man, who disposed of them with great reluctance; and in order to ease his conscience, he affected to consider us as belonging to the "Free Egbo," a privilege which we did not consider as at all flattering, if certain rites are performed at initiation which rumour has delicately hinted at. This is however contradictory, inasmuch as the society- which is under the direction of the priesthood- is in such repute, that nearly all the men of any distinction consider it to be an honour to belong to it.

King Bell's house is very well built, with a raised story, surrounded by a verandah. A spacious saloon occupies the whole front, and is filled with European goods in chests; piles of crockery; figures and looking-glasses in abundance adorning the walls. Nor was the room devoid of useful furniture, as there were several tables, chairs, sofas, &c.

Like most African potentates, his wealth was to be guessed at by the number of his wives; of which both he and his neighbour Aqua are said to have each upwards of one hundred. These extensive harems do not seem to give rise to the jealous feelings which obtain in eastern countries; on the contrary, we had frequent reason to be disgusted at the open and unblushing manner in which their "liege lords" proffered the women, as if they had been mere articles of household furniture.

The population of this place is large, though no possible estimate could be formed of its amount by us, as the town being laid out in wide streets or alleys, with plantations surrounding the houses, extends to a very great distance from the river. The natives affect to speak of it as interminable, and the population to be beyond all powers of calculation, though they have not settled here many years. The houses are built of wood, with a great deal of taste, and are very clean, as are also the streets, which are bordered with palms, cocoa-nuts, bananas ,&c., affording an agreeable shade as well as abundance of fruit. The people are superior to most of the Africans we have met with on the coast. The men are well made, muscular, and of fair stature; the skin is soft, and in many of them of a yellowish brown tinge. Though the features are not good,- the nose being often rather expanded and the lips thick,- still the countenance is open and agreeable, and quite a pleasing contrast to that of their neighbours the Bimbians. Some of the women are pretty, but inclined to be fat. Both sexes appear to give themselves up to enjoyment, dress, and the "dolce far niente" induced by the climate, which also regulates the amount of clothing on the very narrowest scale consistent with decency ; although their profitable intercourse with the palm-oil traders, has furnished them with ample supplies of European articles of dress, they prefer the simple country cloth, or at most, dandyism does not go beyond an English silk handkerchief, worn round the loins. Their persons however look dressy, from their great cleanliness, and the glossiness of the skin produced by frequent embrocations of palm-oil. The chief wears a chain of a number of little negro bells over his shoulders, hanging in a graceful curve down his spacious chest. The women pass hours in dressing the hair for one another, combing, and with little pointed sticks, separating each hair, giving it an opportunity of asserting its individual propensity to frizzle. They finish the toilet by attaching strings of large beads, and a pretty sort of rosette made of goat's fat and the pounded skins of limes; which, though fragrant at first, must rather heighten the natural rancid odour of their persons at the end of a month, until which time the preparation is said to last good. There is, in fact, an air of gentility and fete about the whole population.
"Gaily they dance the night away,
And just do nothing all the day."

Captain Allen having had reason in a conversation with King Bell, to think that human sacrifices were still in some degree practised,- as the ceremonies for his deceased father were incomplete till the chief had killed "a bushman," he addressed the assembled head men on the enormity and sinfulness of the practice, which they readily admitted, but said it was of very long standing among them. However, on proposing to make a regular agreement to abolish the inhuman custom, Bell and all his head men readily assented to it. A Treaty to that effect was therefore drawn up, and duly signed by Captain Allen, being the only one of Her Majesty's Commissioners present, and by A'Lobah- the native name of King Bell- and his witnesses {This was transmitted to the Colonial Office, and ratified by Her Majesty}.

As several rivers fall into the capacious estuary, we wished to examine, if possible, the principal one flowing past Bell's Town, which has long been frequented by our palm-oil traders, and is called by them the Camaroons river, but by the natives Màdiba ma Dualla. King Bell was invited to accompany us on the excursion. This at first he strongly objected to, on the score of the jealousy and opposition of the natives of the interior: and he said the river would take twelve moons to explore; nevertheless, after an animated discussion, he consented to go with us in the 'Wilberforce.'

We got under weigh accordingly, in the hope of being able to gain the main branch of the river above the mangroves; and with the assistance of Mr. Lilly, King Bell, and Glasgow a native pilot, proceeded up the Jìbareh creek, which the latter declared to be- though a circuitous route- the safest channel in the river. It was found, however, not to be deep enough to warrant our taking the vessel more than seven or eight miles from the anchorage; but prior to returning, the Bòmano, another creek, was explored as far as could be done with safety. This stream, at the highest point visited, had diminished very much, both in breadth and depth, and Glasgow the pilot said it terminated about a mile and a-half further up, towards the mountains. It doubtless receives some of the drainage of the eastern portion of a range of mountains, behind the lofty Cameroons, or Mongo-ma-Lobah, which were visible in the distance.

Having failed in the intention of penetrating by these creeks, we were induced to try the direct channel, which lies close to the actual left bank of the river; but it was ascertained to be so narrow and shallow, that considering the fearful consequences of being left aground at the spring tide, in such a locality, it was necessary to abandon the idea of passing in the vessel, the Mangrove Islands, which conceal the true nature of the river, and to accomplish if possible the survey by a short boat excursion.

A large forty-foot galley, which had been intended for a trip to Bussah on the Niger, was hastily fitted with double awnings, a swivel placed in the bow, small arms, and provisions for several days, with a crew of nine black men, under Jack Smoke, the faithful head Kruman. Three officers, Lieutenant Sidney, Terry{Acting Secretary to the Commissioners}, and Stirling{Assistant-Surgeon}, accompanied Captain Allen, as also Mr. Lilly, agent to Messrs. Hamilton and Jackson, who had kindly proffered his services, being not only somewhat acquainted with the river, but perfectly so with the character of the rude people about to be visited. We started soon after noon, on the 7th, with beautiful clear weather and an agreeable temperature.

As a matter of courtesy, or more probably, from anxiety respecting our proceedings, King Bell and his son Prince Beppo in their large state canoes, formed an escort. Old Glasgow, a pilot, who spoke English very well, took the helm, not a little proud to be entrusted with the "war canoe of Queen Victoria's ship," and soon after leaving the 'Wilberforce,' we entered a narrow and direct channel on the left bank. King Bell took the lead, but was soon out of sight, as with our heavily laden boat and few paddles, we could not keep pace with him. We soon found ourselves involved in a labyrinth of creeks, formed by numerous mud islands thickly overgrown with mangroves.

The pilot, however, appeared to know his way quite well, and he attended to Captain Allen's instructions to follow the windings of the channel, which frequently led us close to the bushes; a leadsman in the bow called out continually the soundings, and Lieutenant Sidney laid down the course of the river as we proceeded.

In these parts we had in some places ten feet water, but suddenly shoaling to two or three as we approached the skirts of the numerous sand-banks, which at that season, sometimes extend nearly across the stream, leaving but a narrow passage, even for a boat, under the overhanging boughs of the trees.

The aspect of these little islands exited anything but pleasurable emotions; reminding us of the Niger; for the decaying vegetable matter with which they were covered, and the slimy roots of the Mangrove, emitted a highly offensive odour, and our progress was in frequent danger of interruption from snags, the trunks and branches of broken trees.

After an hour's paddling we got clear of the islets, and came upon a sheet of water about two thousand yards wide, from which the vessel,- anchored off Bell's Town, about five miles distant,- could be distinctly seen. We soon afterwards entered another narrow channel, between two islands, which presented features of much more agreeable character: the mangroves disappeared at the upper end, where the pilot said the tide ceases. By this expression he meant that the water is no longer salt - a circumstance indicated only by the change in the nature of the vegetation, as the tidal influence was felt at the farthest point reached on this occasion.

The first trees, as in the Niger, were low palms, with immense arching leaves or branches - erroneously called bamboo,- from which the natives extract the best palm-wine, called nimba. The long ribs of these are used for the roofs of huts. With these trees are intermixed ferns, the pandanus, and a variety of bushes and shrubs of small growth. The foliage appeared of a healthier hue; the banks, though still low, were firm; and the richness of the vegetable kingdom increased rapidly as we advanced, especially when on leaving the narrow channel before mentioned, and passing the upper end of the Jìbareh Creek, we attained the principal object of our little excursion - the main undivided river - a broad and magnificent stream, resembling some of the reaches of the Niger below Abòh, and about four or five hundred yards wide. The banks at the margin of the water were thickly covered with the long grass peculiar to African rivers; immediately behind came ferns, patches of plantains, and bushes of endless variety of form and foliage; many in full flower, and nearly all thickly matted with innumerable graceful creepers, among which some pretty convolvuli displayed their many-tinted blossoms. Behind these rose the slender palm, the cocoa nut, and the gigantic bombax, the strength of whose buttresses enables it to defy the rage of the tornado, and to afford shelter and protection to the numerous forest trees that group around it. This part of the river was said to be a favourite haunt of hippopotami and alligators, though none of them presented their mail-clad carcases to the inquisitive eyes of our sportsmen.

The afternoon continued very fine, with a refreshing breeze from seaward, reducing the temperature of the air to 84° Fahrenheit; that of the water was 83°. The gorgeous rays of a declining sun, added a tone of gaiety to the surrounding scenery. Some distance ahead, discernible only by the British red ensign and the sparkling of the dripping paddles, King Bell's canoe glided rapidly along the left bank, his men keeping time to the wild notes of the singing boy, which were distinctly returned by the echo of the opposite bank. Far behind, in the long reach, came the canoe of Prince Beppo, also decked with a gay flag, while frequently on either side of us little barques, containing each but one crouching native, darted across the stream, or along the dark banks, seeking shelter among the long grass, alarmed at the novel appearance of white men in their hitherto unexplored waters. Soon some large huts were seen on the banks, the property of domestic slaves or freedmen belonging to Bell or Aqua, having spacious clearings around them, cultivated with bananas, plantains, cocoas, &c., all denoting plenty; and the cleanliness of the houses and the platforms in front far surpassed the miserable hovels of the lean and dirty "gentlemen" on the lower parts of the Niger. As we advanced, villages became numerous, and all had a comfortable aspect, being built in the neat style of the Cameroons towns. As most of the principal natives were in the habit of trading with the ships, they frequently recognised Mr. Lilly; and the inquiries they made would hardly give the idea that we were going among an uncivilized people.

About three miles from the apex of the Delta we passed a tributary stream; Glasgow said it was navigable as far as a place called Abo, which could be reached by sunset.

Near this, on the left bank, was a farm belonging to one of Aqua's domestic slaves, Takoh Ma-Kumboh, which struck us as being placed in a very favourable situation, for the bank is high, and the soil, though light, apparently productive.

The opposite or right bank was also gradually more elevated, and the scenery diversified. Three miles further up we arrived at what is said to be the shallowest part of the river: it was there a broad sheet of water, six hundred yards wide, but very deficient in depth all over. However, in two moons, according to Glasgow's statement, there would be plenty of water. He pointed to some grass, at least fifteen feet high, on the right bank, over which he said canoes paddle with ease in the last of the rainy season, at which time a great portion of the low lands must be under water.

A little above this the river becomes much narrower, being not more than three hundred and fifty yards wide, with a depth, though rarely, of eighteen or twenty feet. The stream is, in fact, divided by the Wuri Island, which is also the commencement of the country of that name, in which a different dialect is spoken from that used by the Cameroons or Dualla nation lower down. The Wuri country is celebrated for its yams, which are taken down the river in large quantities for sale.

As the evening was now fast drawing on, and the current very strong against us, we made the best of our way to reach the town belonging to a friend of Mr. Lilly, where we proposed to sleep. The news of our approach had been spread by King Bell and his men, who frequently stopped at the farms and villages on their way up; so that the banks were thronged with natives, who saluted us as we passed, with deafening shouts, screams, and laughter; the women, of course, evincing the greatest surprise and delight at the novelty of our appearance. With the exception of some little eminences of a friable sort of sandstone, the country seemed here to be level. When the low lands are overflowed the inhabitants are obliged to retreat to these higher grounds, which they reach in their canoes, paddling, in fact, over their former plantations. They prepare for this periodical emergency by laying in a stock of smoked fish, and yams cut in slices and baked, which form a convenient provision for migration. Thus secured against absolute want, they live in temporary huts until the waters subside, and allow them to return to their former residences, to plant and reap for the next season. At six p.m. we arrived at Bona-pia, the landing-place or wharf of a town called Andàmako.

Here we found King Bell and his son Beppo waiting for us, having made up their minds not to go any further; and they used every argument to prevail on us to pass the night there, in which the chief of the town also joined, by offering a very cordial invitation. Captain Allen was, however, anxious to profit by the remaining daylight to reach the next town, as it would shorten the work of the following day. After a sufficient explanation, which was almost unheard amidst the noise and squabbling, we pushed on to the town of Wana Makembi, which we reached at dark, but found that the chief, Mr. Lilly's friend, was absent, having been summoned to a palaver at a town higher up the river, and that his people dared not entertain us without his sanction. King Bell was unwilling to land under these circumstances, as he said he could not be received in a manner becoming his dignity. We found him, nevertheless, enjoying the hospitality of the inferior people, by drinking largely of their palm-wine.

The sight of the miserable huts, which we saw from the boat, close to the muddy bank, and the attacks of myriads of musquitos and sand-flies, made us think better of King Bell's advice, and regret not having accepted the friendly invitation of the chief of Andàmako. We knew not how we should fare if we tried for a lodging further up the river. The men were tired, having pulled all day without resting, we were therefore unwilling, by pushing them too hard on the first day, to weaken them for the second ; King Bell, however, settled the matter, by assuring us there was no town within two hours' pull able to afford us decent accommodation. We accordingly turned back, and glided rapidly down with the current to Bona-pia, where we were received by King Bell and his friends, amid a storm of unintelligible welcome.

After the long confinement in a cramped position in the boat we were glad to land; and having provided ourselves with such necessaries from our stores as might conduce in some degree to our comfort - where so little was to be expected - we began our march along a well-beaten path, at first rising abruptly from the bank of the river, and afterwards preserving a gradual ascent for about half a mile. The dew fell heavily, yet, fatigued as we were, we could not but enjoy the gratification of stretching our limbs on terrâ firma.

Overhead flitted innumerable fireflies, and every bush was illuminated by their brilliant coruscations. A few straggling roots across the path, which caused us now and then to stumble, were the only obstacles to our progress; and an easy walk of less than half an hour, brought us to the residence of the chief, or "gentleman," of Andàmako. An immense concourse of people awaited our arrival, and no sooner had we reached our destination than we found ourselves enclosed in a dense mass of men, women, and children; even the branches of the old tree in the middle of the street, and in front of the chief's house, were loaded with dark urchins; yet, eager as they were to have a glimpse of the Europeans in this inland African village, no annoying act or insulting jest was indulged in at our expense. We could not help thinking of the difference in this respect between these untutored savages and the mobocracy of civilized lands.

When the ceremonial for our reception was completed, the crowd gave way, and the chief, a powerfully-built old man, whose grey wool "told of many a scorching summer's sun," came forward and conducted us to seats in front of his own door; a chair was placed for Captain Allen in the centre, Mr. Lilly and King Bell being provided with stools on each side; the rest of the party had to accommodate themselves on a long piece of timber, taking precedence of the sable warriors who formed the escort. By this arrangement we had the advantage of keeping the crowd in front, and at an agreeable distance, considering the peculiarly strong odour which emanates from masses of coloured people. The red glare of a large palm-oil lamp, fixed to the wall immediately behind us, played upon the moving assemblage of black skins, causing the deep shades of night to fall in still deeper tone in the back-ground, and producing, by the lurid glow it shed on all in its immediate neighbourhood, a picture of the most unique description.

After waiting a considerable time,- during which the good-natured people endeavoured to amuse us by playing sundry tricks with a poor idiot,- a substantial repast was served up on a long chest, the utility of which was undeniable, as, according to native custom, after having been the "custos" of its owner's riches during his life, it was destined to be the depository of his mortal remains, when obliged by the universal enemy to relinquish his "grip on this world's gear." Whether this particular coffer had as yet figured in the capacity either of a treasury or a coffin, it would be impossible to say, but it served perfectly well as a table; nor did the state of our appetite permit us to enter into the inquiry.

The supper was composed principally of stews of goat's flesh, mutton, fowls, plantains, yams, and other viands, some prepared with palm-oil, and others without,- at our express desire; though it must be confessed that the pure fresh oil, which is a constant ingredient in native cookery, is much more palatable than its appearance would indicate, and it is said moreover to be extremely wholesome.

King Bell took merely a glass of grog to keep us company, refusing to sup until we had finished, out of compliment to white men; but when he began, he rapidly made up for lost time, by a well-directed attack on an ample calabash of stew prepared for his especial appetite. In appeasing his hunger, however, he showed himself mindful of the wants of his faithful attendants, by pitching to them, from time to time, a bone or a morsel of meat, which "largesse" coming direct from the royal hand, was the more acceptable.

There was no unseemly scrambling for his Majesty's favour, every one appeared to know for whom the mouthful was intended, by the direction it took, in its progress over their heads.

Supper being ended, every thing was cleared away, spirits of various kinds were assembled on the coffin; and although we all felt weary and sleepy, we were obliged to submit to some potations, and a long palaver on the subject of our visit to that part of the river, as well as to listen with patience to the evidently mutilated translation of the eloquence and lengthy arguments of the noisy council, whose loquacity was not at all restricted by the libations consequent on the reception of white visitors.

At last, after an hour's hard battle - in words - between King Bell and the "gentleman" of the town, and one or two of the most notable wiseheads, it was resolved that a fetiche should determine whether it was proper for our party to continue the investigation up the river, or return by the same route:- without any reference to the wishes of those most interested.

The ceremony - over which we could exert no influence - having been duly performed, it seemed to have been decided, without possibility of appeal, that the excursion was at an end. Captain Allen quietly ventured to express an opposite determination; but as it was thought the wiser course would be, not to waste the precious hours of sleep in useless dispute, he deferred till the morrow should enable him to execute his purpose, in despite of the sacred fetiche.

In the meantime, to divert their attention, and cut short the discussion, a rocket was ordered to be fired, which produced the mingled effect of admiration and fear, on brains already bewildered by potions long and deep.

After strolling up and down the clean street for some time, to obtain a little fresh air, Captain Allen turned into the chiefs hut, which had been specially vacated for his reception; and was large, and apparently clean; but it was in vain to try and sleep; the continual noise of the lingering gossips outside, the scampering of the rats overhead and around, the buzzing and tickling of innumerable sand-flies and musquitos, and the many salient points of the bamboo frame, which, covered by a mat, formed the couch: all these were sufficient to banish sleep, and make us long for the morning, to enable us to proceed on our little voyage. Other quarters were prepared for Mr. Lilly, Terry, and Stirling; but the two latter after a short trial, preferred sleeping in a tree.

When daylight at length arrived, we proposed to King Bell, to start before the sun should attain much power; but he declared that his people could not pull without breakfast, and the preparations of this meal was delayed by a variety of untoward circumstances; among which, not the least important was the perversity of the devoted goat, which required to be, caught three or four times before it would allow itself to be killed, skinned, and stewed; so that by the time this very important affair was dispatched, and we had taken leave of the kind host, it was nine o'clock.

On our way to the boat, we were met by a number of men armed with muskets, who saluted us very civilly in passing, but previously to our embarkation they surrounded Mr. Lilly, and King Bell, whom they engaged in a very animated discussion, on the subject of our further advance. At times the palaver seemed to go on smoothly enough, at others the interlocutors broke out into passionate exclamations and the wildest gestures, which being simultaneously responded to on the part of the bystanders, showed them to be unanimous in their unreasonable stipulations. Our apprehensions for Mr. Lilly's safety, were allayed by his perfectly composed demeanour, as he stood in the centre of this, apparently, angry group.

On reaching the boat, he explained that these people had come from the towns above, to inform us that if we proceeded on our voyage, we should meet with a very bad and savage set of men, from whom our lives would be in the greatest danger. The orator added, that since the white men had come to their country, they considered their honour pledged for our safety, and therefore they could not suffer us to expose ourselves to such peril; but that if we were obstinate, and would not take warning of our best and warmest friends, they would be reduced to the disagreeable necessity of shooting us themselves, in order to save us and them, from the disgrace and mortification of our being killed by bushmen.

The sum and substance of all this, was a jealousy of our becoming acquainted with the river; and dread, that if they allowed us to penetrate beyond their territory, their neighbours would participate in the advantages of intercourse with the white men. It was quite evident, that if they were determined to carry their merciful intentions into effect, we had not sufficient grounds to justify our objection. However, Captain Allen thought it better to treat the affair in a cavalier manner; so, laughed at their fears for our safety, and said that our present object was merely to go as far as the upper end of Wuri Island, which we were resolved to do, but that we might possibly return with the fire-ship, and then we would see who would dare to stop a white man, and the Queen of England's ship. The people assembled on the bank, then gave three loud shouts, whether in acquiescence or defiance we could not learn; but they suffered us to pass on unmolested. The men on Wuri Island likewise expressed anxiety about our intentions, and all asked if we were going to the Budiman's country. Some appeared satisfied with our answers, others endeavoured to stop us by remonstrances and angry gesticulations. Amid all this hubbub, we were much amused with the nonchalance of our pilot "Massa Glasgow," who steered on our course steadily, without condescending to repeat his answers.

Wuri Island is about five and a half miles in length, by about three in width. It is beautifully wooded with a great variety of trees, among which the magnificent bombax stands forth the monarch of all. The banks are steep and high on the immediate border of the river, but the ground within is very low and swampy. This enables the natives to catch fish in a very simple manner, by cutting wide trenches through the bank, so that when the water rises in the river, it flows by these channels to the low ground behind, forming large basins, into which great quantities of fish find their way, and are retained by means of the sluices. When the river falls the water is let off again, a net having previously been placed across the aperture, by which means the exit of the finny prisoners is effectually prevented. Another method of fishing is practised on this river as well as on the Lower Niger. A large wicker enclosure is laid out close to the bank, having a sliding door at the outer side, and bait within: a person watches from a stage or little hut, built close to the basket or enclosure, and when he sees that a fish has entered, and is fairly engaged with the bait, he lets fall the sliding-door, and prevents the retreat of his prey. The island seemed to be very thickly populated, but chiefly on the banks; the huts forming a continuous town for nearly half of its circuit, at the upper end. The people gathered in crowds at every landing-place, inviting us to come on shore; and the young women and children, accompanied us for some distance, running along the banks.

We noticed some girls who were beautifully formed - the graceful action of their limbs in running, being unimpeded by any garment; though they appeared to appreciate the value of ornament, from the tasteful way in which their heads were decorated with large beads, &c. On reaching the upper end of Wuri Island we turned into the Ebonjeh Creek, which separates it from the main land on the left bank. This creek or branch is much narrower than the other. The banks were here also crowded with the inquisitive natives, who ran along shouting and waving for us to land. Passing rapidly down with the current, we soon rejoined the main stream.

The pilot having asserted that the town of Abo - at the source of the Yabiàg River - the little affluent we had passed in going up, was at a distance of only six hours, and navigable for canoes, it was considered advisable to examine it, especially as we had the benefit of a little flood-tide. This stream is not so broad as the other, being only about one hundred and twenty yards wide; and at a distance of six miles, it is divided by a low woody island. We were obliged to take the narrowest channel, the other being blocked up by large trees thrown across, to impede the progress of hostile canoes. The branch we entered was so straightened, that in some places, had we been using oars instead of paddles, they would have touched the boughs of the trees, which stretch out a very considerable distance from the banks on the east side. It was full of snags, or trunks of trees, against one of which our boat struck so violently, we thought there must be a hole knocked in the bottom, as the water rushed in very fast, but it proved only to have been the plug forced out. The smell in this creek was very offensive, from the quantity of decayed vegetable matter on the banks, that in some parts were thickly matted with creeping plants: these afforded hiding-places for canoes, which were drawn into their leafy retreat by a small aperture among the tangled underwood, like the opening to a nest. We were very happy to get to the main stream above the island, but had not proceeded far, when a heavy shower of rain obliged us to take shelter in a hut at the foot of a hill. As there seemed to be little prospect of its clearing up, a man was sent to reconnoitre a village called Kokki, which Glasgow said was at a short distance; and having ascertained that we could be accommodated, we resolved on passing the night there, with the view, if possible, of going forward to Abo in the morning.

The walk up to the village, lay through a beautiful and well-cultivated country, in which partial clearings had left some fine groups of trees. We found the chief in great distress at the loss of one of his wives, who had died that morning while he was out shooting. We saw a very large and rare antelope which he had brought home, Ant. Eurycerus. During the intervals of his wailing, he drove a hard bargain for the hoofs and horns of the animal, which were all he could be prevailed on to part with. This village was, like the others, composed of neat huts on each side of a tolerably wide and straight street, which had also the advantage of being clean swept. The cooking-houses were all detached, and being open at the side, we preferred sleeping in them, rather than suffer the confinement of the close huts; and we should probably have enjoyed a good night's rest, after the substantial repast prepared for us, had it not been for the incessant howling of the women, who, "à l'Irlandaise," were holding a wake over the dead body of the chief's wife.

The following morning proved cold and foggy, and as the river had become very narrow, with rank vegetation on its banks, from which a noxious vapour was rising, it was not thought prudent to venture any further, and we commenced our return to the 'Wilberforce.' The town of Abo, which we had wished to reach, was said to be about four hours' passage higher up, and to be situated near some rocks, over which the river Yabiàng falls about fifty feet, as well as we could understand from the imperfect description of the natives. We were informed of a mountain at the distance of four hours overland, in a direction W.N.W., called Wahpaki, with a town of the same name, which is doubtless at the back of the Cameroons, where the Bimbia people also said they were acquainted with a place of that name. A man in a canoe overtook us with a message from its chief, who wished us to pay him a visit; he said that he had started before "the first cock speak," i.e., before daylight, which agrees in distance with the account given at Kokki. The messenger pressed us very much to return, as his master would be greatly disappointed at the white man coming so near his town, and not visiting him. We sent him, however, a small present, which was the object of his solicitude, and the emissary went away quite contented. We rapidly descended the river, passing through Jìbareh Creek, which we had in vain attempted to go through in the 'Wilberforce,' and reached our vessel soon after ten o'clock. Although, on this little voyage, we did not reach a greater distance from the sea than forty miles, the object Captain Allen had in view was attained - viz., to ascertain the nature and magnitude of the river, by arriving at the main undivided trunk, which is only eight miles above Bell's Town, and little less than twenty from the sea. Indeed the real left bank of the river comes down as far as that settlement, which is on an elevation of fifty feet above the river.

The opposite shore has a ledge of rocks, visible at low water, corresponding with the compact sandstone at the base of the cliffs, which would lead to the supposition that the original banks of the river reached as far as this on both sides. It is now, however, low and covered with mangrove trees, as are all the islands within twenty miles of the sea.

They seem, indeed, to be in process of forming a little delta, which may fill up the estuary, and thus regain from the encroachments of the sea, what may have been submerged by some convulsion, of volcanic agency, in the neighbouring mountain range.

The fine estuary of the Cameroons is the common receptacle of several streams; and owes it names to the Portuguese, who called the extreme point Cape Camerones, from the vast quantity of small shrimps found there. This name has been extended to the principal river which falls into it, but the natives, as is usually the case, give to it that of the countries through which it flows. Thus at Bell's Town, it is called the Màdiba ma Dualla; higher up it is the Màdiba ma Wuri, &c.,

Although a beautiful river, it is not to be compared with the Niger. Its average breadth above the mangroves is about four hundred yards, as far as we reached. In the dry season, this portion of the river varies in depth from two to twenty feet, though we rarely had more than eight feet; but when flooded there would be water enough for vessels of any draught. From the accounts, however, of several intelligent natives, the navigation is obstructed by rocks at Banem, about fifty miles from the furthest point we reached, or ninety miles from the sea; but beyond these rocks the river "goes on" for many days, according to the pilot Glasgow's statement, though he could give no further information about it.

The Cameroons River has two tributaries on the right bank; one the Yabiàng, which we explored a short way up, and another, about twenty-five miles above Wana Makembi's Town. They are both said to have their source in, or to fall over, rocks about fifty feet high. There is also a small stream which falls into Ebonjeh Creek, said to come from Duka-bakin, about four hours' voyage up it.

It had been supposed, that besides the so-called Cameroons, a large river,- the Malimba, fell into this estuary; but all the natives agreed in saying, that it is but a divergent creek from the Qua-qua river, which comes from the eastward. Our pilot, Massa Glasgow, asserted that though the latter has more mangroves, it is of less magnitude than the Wuri or Dualla. It is also obstructed by rocks, at about the same distance from the sea. He told us the king of all the Qua-qua country resides at a place called Longassi, about eighty miles up the river. Thus it would appear from all the accounts we received, that there is a range of hills extending from the Cameroons mountains to the eastward ; or that there is a high table-land at about one hundred miles from the sea-coast, since the natives said of the four streams, that they all fall over rocks about fifty feet high. Circumstances prevented our exploring the Qua-qua.

Besides the two rivers just mentioned - the Dualla and the Qua-qua - some creeks empty themselves into the estuary, viz. the Bòmano, Mongo, and Bimbia, which are merely the drains of the high mountain range bounding the western side of the estuary.

With one exception, all the natives declared that there is no water communication from the estuary of the Cameroons round the mountain, to the Rio del Rey, or Rumby River. Young Naka alone said, "If you slave for twenty days in a canoe, you can go round to Balondo on the Rumby River;" but on confronting him with all the principal traders, he acknowledged, that being only "a little boy" - about twenty-five years old,- he could not speak from experience; he had only heard it from others. These traders - chief men - all asserted that the water stops at Balùng, about thirty miles up the Bimbia River, where there are high hills, rocks, and springs of water. There are plenty of elephants in the woods. The Mongo and Balùng people go over the hills by way of Ekombah and Ebonjeh, to Balondo on the Rumby River; or by taking another route from Ebonjeh to Bamboko, on the western base of the mountain. The communication is very difficult, on account of the hilly and woody nature of the country ; and it must be lofty, as they said it was very cold. Some of them stated that the River Rumby terminates at Balondo.

May 10th.- We went on shore to take angles for the survey of the channel, and a set of magnetical observations. The latter were made on the cliff near Lilly's palm-tree; but the operations were interrupted by a tornado.

{The geological character of each bank of the Cameroons river - more properly the Màdiba ma Dualla - is quite distinct. While the right is uniformly low swampy land for several miles towards the base of the mountain, covered in most parts with mangroves, and intersected by numerous creeks1, the left bank rises at once from the waterside to the height of about fifty feet. It is conglomerate of recent age, containing particles of quartz, about the size of a walnut; small fragments of whitish mica, and of masses of red sandstone, some of which measured four feet; the whole, held in combination, by a light brown clay. The stratification is horizontal, the thickness of the beds varying from a few inches to several feet, in which I could not detect any fossil remains.

These fragments of sandstone are composed of particles of quartz held together by oxide of iron. The iron ore is also found in small fissures of the mass, which are about 0.5 of an inch in thickness, intersecting it in every direction. It is not uncommon to see the iron ore chemically combined with clay, in compact masses of the size of several square inches.

The influence of this abundance of iron ore on the magnetic needle would be greatest at the base of the cliff; yet it was found to be so strong on the surface, as to produce different results in observations made only a few yards apart. - M. Roscher's Geological M.S.}

1 The opposite bank has a ledge of rocks visible only at low water, corresponding in appearance with the compact masses of sandstone at the base of the cliff on the left bank. This may lead to the supposition that the real or diluvial right bank has formerly reached equally far as its opposite, but has been submerged by some convulsion of its anciently unquiet neighbour, the mountain. The river seems now in process of reconstructing its bank - so ruthlessly destroyed - by the formation of a delta.— W. A.

On the suppression of the Slave Trade, the Camaroons towns rose rapidly into importance by the export of palm-oil; and for some years there was a flourishing trade, which might be increased to any amount, if the energies of the people were equal to the resources of the country, and the favourable position of the place. It had, however, recently been on the decline, owing to the listlessness and rapacity of the people and chiefs, who are as insolent as they are exacting. This is probably the result of, to them, a useless prosperity, since they appear to be gorged with wealth, of which they neither feel the want nor comprehend the use. The naturally dilatory transactions of the native traders, are prolonged with a fraudulent intention. Thus the practice appears to be, on the arrival of a ship, to trust the goods in advance to purchase a cargo, originally with the view of forestalling other ships; but as this becomes general there is occasionally a regular scramble for the palm-oil as it is brought down the river in canoes. The delay is most injurious, and sometimes the captain falls a sacrifice to the climate or to disappointment, when his death is considered by the natives to absolve them from all obligations. The mate not being able to procure his cargo, takes away an empty ship. This gives rise to arbitrary and summary proceedings on the part of the whites, and continual disputes;- "bad bobs." Some of these Captain Allen had to settle; but in one case his decision was reversed by a fight on shore, in which there was gain to both parties of numerous broken heads.

In a position so advantageous for commerce, it is very desirable that it should be put on a better footing by the interference of our Government, by establishing some authority to enforce such "simple regulations, as without throwing an impediment in the way of trade, might afford protection to the merchants against the extortion of the natives, and enable them to recover their just debts; while, on the other hand, it should secure the natives against arbitrary proceedings on the part of the whites, by preventing the necessity of having recourse to them." {Captain W. Allen's dispatch to Lord Stanley, 19th May, 1842}.

The inhabitants have made some advance towards civilization, but they now appear to be stationary, and without some fresh stimulus will retrograde. Missionaries would probably find this a promising field for their labours; and A'Lobah,- King Bell - assured us that he would afford a kind reception and assistance, if any would settle at his town and teach his people.

The women appear to be more industrious than the men, and employ themselves in weaving very fine and beautifully-coloured grass cloths, about three-quarters of a yard wide. They have dye-woods which produce the richest shades of red, crimson, yellow, and blue, and would form most important articles of export, could the people be induced to collect them on a large scale.

There are here two rival towns almost adjoining, being separated only by a little ravine. The lower is King Bell's town, the other is governed by "King Aqua," who likewise can boast of a large and well-built house, with the name "King Aqua" on a board hung upside-down over the door, which was generally kept locked. He resides in a hut on the beach, which also is kept clean, and in very nice order.

This potentate came on board to see us. He was a fine old man, more dignified in his manners than his younger rival Bell, and less importunate. He wore a scarlet great-coat, and a regal crown made of tinsel, the globe and cross of which, having been broken off, were lashed on with ropeyarn. We made a similar treaty with him to suppress the practice of human sacrifice, though Aqua frankly told us that the "Chop head bob was set, long time 'go." It did not take place on his father's death, and he believed it never would again. However, it was better to bind him and his headmen by a regular agreement, which cost only a very trifling present. He seemed to know exactly the articles which had been given to Bell, and stipulated for the same. The first thing he showed anxiety to possess, was the magnetic toy, of ducks and fish; which excited never-ending wonder and admiration. Some of his slaves said they came from a country where there are white or yellow men, and horses: others from a forest district where their neighbours make a battue, and catch the poor natives, in crowds.

Since we last saw Bell he had been up to Makimbo to buy goats. He met the chief of Bùdiman, with a great many of his bushmen, who made a "bad bob" with him, for having taken the white men away without letting him see them. They had an angry "palaver," which, however, was "set" amicably by the distribution of sundry bottles of rum and a few yards of cloth.

May 11th.- Some slight cases of fever made us anxious to return to our healthy Bay of Amboises. Weighed at daylight, and having previously surveyed the channel in the real river, we continued it over the flats in the estuary, until we had connected it with Captain Vidal's excellent survey. Mr. Lilley, who was coming away at the same time with a palm-oil ship and a schooner, kindly anchored them wherever we wished, to serve as stations for our operations.

The swell, or tumultuous heaving of the water, is here sometimes very great. The day the 'Soudan' passed out, over the shallows, although there was scarce a breath of wind stirring, the long rolling swell was greater than we have almost any where else seen; and Nako, the pilot, said, if ships are suddenly becalmed here, they are in great danger, unless well provided with anchors and cables.

May 13th.- We anchored in the Bay of Amboises, near the island Mòndoleh. Found the 'Soudan' lying here all well; Mr. Anderson, second master, had recovered, under the refreshing influence of the sea-breeze and cool land-wind, which are hardly ever failing in this beautiful bay; our few cases of fever rapidly gave way to their bracing effect.


Top Chapter VII * Chapter IX

 * Home * Loney home * Life & career * Documents * Album * Ships * Portrait * Uniform * Background *
Valid HTML 5.0