Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome/Chapter I
I FALL IN LOVE WITH FERNANDO PO.
This fertile soil, which enjoys a perpetual spring, is considered a strong prison, as the land of spectres, the seat of disease, and the mansion of death.
Said of Bengal by its Moslem conquerors.
A Ilka Formosa, the lovely island of Fernando Po, has, like most beauties, two different, indeed two oppo- site, aspects.
About Christmas time she is in a state deeper than rest,
A kind of sleepy Venus seemed Dudu.
Everything, in fact, appears enwrapped in the rapture of repose. As the ship glides from the rolling, blustering Bights into that wonderfully still water, men come on deck feeling they know not what ; $ela porte a Vamour, as the typical Frenchman remarks. The oil-like swell is too lazy to break upon the silent shore, the wind has hardly enough energy to sigh, the tallest trees nod and bend drowsily downwards, even the grass is, from idle- ness, averse to wave : the sluggish clouds bask in the VOL. i. i
2 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
soft light of the sky, while the veiled sun seems in no hurry to run his course. Here no one would dream, as does our modern poet, of calling nature " sternly fair." If such be the day, conceive the cloister-like stillness of a night spent in the bosom of Clarence Cove. Briefly, Fernando Po, in the dry weather, is a Castle of Indolence, a Land of the Lotophagi, a City of the Living-Dead.
But as I saw her in November, 1863, and as she had been for the six months preceding, the charmer was not to be recognised by that portrait. A change had come over her Madonna-like face as is sometimes wit- nessed in the " human organism." The rainy season had set in earlier than usual ; it had opened in May, and in November it was not ended. A heavy arch of nimbus, either from the north-east or the north-west, gathered like a frown on the forehead of the dull grey firmament. Presently the storm came down, raving like a jealous wife. In a few moments it burst with a flood of tears, a sheet of " solid water," rent and blown about by raging, roaring gusts, that seemed to hurry from every quarter in the very ecstasy of passion. Baleful gleams of red thready lightning flashed like the glances of fury in weeping eyes, and deafening peals of thunder crashed overhead, not with the steady rumble of a European tempest, but sharp, sudden, and incisive as claps of feminine objurgation between fits of sobbing. These lively scenes were enacted during half the day, and often throughout the night : they passed off in lady-like sulks, a windless fog or a brown -blue veil of cloud settling hope- lessly over the face of heaven and earth, till the un- appeased elements gathered strength for a fresh outburst.
Amidst this caprice, these coquetries of the " Beau- tiful Island," man found it hard to live, but uncommonly easy to die. Presently all that was altered, and the history of the metamorphosis deserves, I think, to be recorded.
/. / Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 3
The shrew was tamed by an inch and a half of barometric altitude. The dictum of the learned Dr. Waitz, the Anthropologist, no longer holds good. 1
When I first landed on this island (September, 1861), Sta. Isabel, nee Clarence, the lowland town and harbour, was the only locality inhabited by the new Spanish colony. Pallid men were to be seen sitting or lolling languid in their verandahs, and occasionally crawling about the grass-grown streets, each with a cigarette hanging to his lower lip. They persistently disappeared in the dry season, whilst their example was followed by the coloured " liberateds " and the colonists during the " balance" of the year. H.B.M.'s Consulate is situated unpleasantly near a military hospital : breakfast and dinner were frequently enlivened by the spectacle of a something covered with a blanket being carried in, and after due time a something within a deal box being borne out on four ghastly men's shoulders. And strangers fled the place like a pestilence : sailors even from the monotonous " south coast," felt the ennui of Fernando Po to be deadly gravelike.
At length Yellow Fever, the gift of the "Grand Bonny," which was well-nigh depopulated, stalked over the main in March, 1862, and in two months he swept off 78 out of a grand total of 250 white men. 2
1 "There are many districts in Africa where strangers, and es- pecially Europeans, can neither live nor become acclimated, whilst the natives enjoy good health. Such is the case in some parts of the Darfur, the greater portion of Kordofan, Fernando Po, and Zanzibar." Anthropology of Primitive Peoples, vol. i., excellently translated by J. Frederick Collingwood, Esq., F.A.S. (London : Triibner & Co., 1863.)
2 On August 28, 1859, 155 white soldiers, young and picked men, who had shipped at Cadiz, July 16, 1859, arrived at Fernando Po, under H.E the Governor de la Gandara, who is now fighting his country's battles in Santo Domingo. On July 16, 1863, after con- cluding their three years' service, forty-seven of these men returned
A A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
The " Beautiful Island " was now going too far. Seeing that the fever did not abate, H.E. the Governor de la Gandara determined to try the effects of altitude. A kind of " quart elillo "infirmerie orbaraque was hastily run up in twelve days, beginning from June 22nd, 1862, by M. Tejero, Commandent of Military Engineers. The site, a kind of shelf over the village of Basile, about 400 metres above sea-level, received the name of Sta. Cecilia. On the day after its completion, July 6th, nineteen penitentiaires, or political prisoners, the survivors of some thirty men that had died of yellow fever in the hulks, were transferred to the new quarters ; two were lost by attacks of the same disease contracted on the seaboard, the rest of those condemned to travaux forces kept their health, and were returned to their homes in November, 1862.
This old bavaque is now nearly always empty, being converted into a kind of lodging-house. Its dimensions are 11-50 metres long, by 6 broad, and raised on piles 1-50 high ; the rooms are three in number, one large, of 6 metres by 4-25, and the other two of 4-25 metres by 3.
Seeing the excellent result of that experiment, H.E. Sr. D. Lopez de Ayllon, the present Governor, to whom these pages are respectfully inscribed, determined to in- crease operations. Major Osorio, of the Engineers, was directed to build a maison caserne, intended to accommo- date white soldiers not wanted for duty at Sta. Isabel. It was begun March 22nd, finished September 5th, and opened November 3oth, 1863. The rez de chaussee lodges forty men, the second story as many more, whilst the first stage has rooms for the Governor, his aide-de-camp,
to Spain. I have been unable to procure statistics of their health or sickness since that period Of the 108 casualties, or more than two- thirds of the original number, thirty-five men died, mostly during the first eighteen months ; the other seventy-three were sent home in- valided.
/. I Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 5
and four officers. Besides these two lumber houses, there are tolerable stables for horses and mules, good roads well bridged, and a channel of mountain water, which the white soldiers, who can work in the sun with the thinnest of caps, have derived from the upper levels. About thirty men were sent here. Their number has varied but little. During the five months from December, 1863, to April, 1864, though there have been sporadic local cases of simple intermittent fever March, 1864, shows only one and though dangerous diseases have been brought up from the lowlands, not a death has occurred.
Thus, then, the first sanitarium in Western Africa owes its existence to the Spanish Colony, that dates only from the middle of 1859. As far back as 1848, the late Captain Wm. Allen and Dr. Thompson, of the Niger Expedition, proposed a sanitary settlement at Victoria, on the seaboard below the Camaroons Mountain, a site far superior to Fernando Po. Since their time, the measure has been constantly advocated by the late Mr. M. Laird. Eppur non si muove Britannia. She allows her " senti- mental squadron " to droop and to die without opposing the least obstacle between it and climate. A few thousands spent at Camaroons or at Fernando Po would, calculating merely the market value of seamen's lives, repay themselves in as many years. Yet not a word from the Great Mother !
When I compare St. Louis of Senegal with Sierra Leone, or Lagos with Fernando Po, it is my conviction that a temporary something is going wrong with the popular constitution at home. If not, whence this want of energy, this new-born apathy ? Dr. Watson assures us that disease in England has now assumed an asthenic and adynamic type. The French said of us in the Crimea that Jean Boide had shattered his nerves with too much tea. The Registrar-General suggests the filthy malaria of the overcrowded hodiernal English town as the fames
6 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
malorum. The vulgar opinion is, that since the days of the cholera the Englishman (physical) has become a different being from his prototype of those fighting times when dinner-pills were necessary. And we all know that
C'est la constipation que rend 1'homme rigoureux. Whatever the cause may be, an Englishman's lot is at present not enviable, and his children have a Herculean task "cut and dry" before them.
Nothing can be more genial and healthful than the place where I am writing these lines, the frame or plank- house built by D. Pellon, of the Woods and Forests, now absent on private affairs in Spain. The aneroid shows 29 instead of 30-1 30-4 inches, and the altitude does not exceed 800 feet. Yet after sunrise the ft*ermometer (F.) often stands at 68, reddening the hands and cheeks of the white man. We can take exercise mentally and bodily without that burst of perspiration which follows every movement in the lowlands, and we can repose with- out the sensation which the " Beebee " in India defined as "feeling like a boiled cabbage." The view from the balcony facing north is charming. On the right are the remnants of a palm orchard ; to the left, an avenue of bananas leads to a clump of tropical forest ; and on both sides tumbles adown the basaltic rocks and stones a rivulet of pure cold mountain water most delightful of baths over which the birds sing loudly through the live- long day. In front is a narrow ledge of cleared ground bearing rose-trees two years old and fifteen feet high, a pair of coffee shrubs, bowed with scarlet berries, sundry cotton plants, by no means despicable, and a cacao, showing what the island would have been but for the curse of free labour. 1 Beyond the immediate foreground
i "Without slaves," says Koeler (Notizen iiber Bonny), "the fertile tropical valleys would be unproductive and deserted, as white men cannot labour there in the open air." The question is, whether the world has been sufficiently cleared to enable men to dispense
/. / Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 7
there is a slope, hollowed in the centre, and densely covered with leek-green and yellow-green grasses of the Holcus kind now finding favour in England, and even here fragrant, when cut, as northern hay. The drop is sufficiently abrupt below to fall without imperceptible gradation into the rolling plain, thick and dark with domed and white-boled trees, which separate the moun- tain from the Ethiopic main. The white houses of Sta. Isabel glisten brightly on the marge ; beyond it the milky- blue expanse of streaked waters stretches to the bent bow of the horizon ; and on the right towers, in solitary majesty, a pyramid of Nature's handiwork, " Mongo ma Lobah," the Mount of Heaven, 1 now capped with indis- tinct cloud, then gemmed with snow,' 2 and reflecting from its golden head the gorgeous tropical sunshine ; whilst over all of earth and sea and sky there is that halo of atmosphere which is to landscape what the light of youth is to human loveliness.
And as night first glooms in the East, the view borrows fresh beauties from indistinctness. The varied tints make way for the different shades of the same colour that mark the several distances, and hardly can the eye distinguish in the offing land from sea. Broken lines of mist-rack rise amongst the trees of the basal plain, follow- ing the course of some streamlet, like a string of giant birds flushed from their roosts. The moon sleeps sweetly
with forced labour ? At Fernando Po, the hire of a Kruman, who does about one-fifth of an Englishman's work, amounts, all things included, to thirty shillings a week. The expression in the text is not too strong. Mr. Lee, Professor of Agricultural Chemistry in the University of Georgia, estimates the manual requirements of the Southern States at one million of men for twenty years, and regards it as " providential that there should be so much unemployed power in human muscles in Western Africa."
1 The topmost peak of the Camaroons Mountain, so called by the natives.
2 To talk of snow so near the line! The erudite Mr. Cooley will certainly swear it is dolomite.
8 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
upon the rolling banks of foliage, and from under the shadowing trees issue weird fantastic figures, set off by the emerald light above. In the growing silence the tinkle of the two rivulets becomes an audible bass, the treble being the merry cricket and the frog praying lustily for rain, whilst the palms whisper mysterious things in their hoarse baritone. The stars shine bright, twinkling as if frost were in the air ; we have eliminated the thick stratum of atmosphere that overhangs the lowlands, and behind us, in shadowy grandeur, neither blue nor brown nor pink, but with a blending of the three, and some- times enwrapped in snowy woolpack so dense as to ap- pear solid against the deep azure, the Pico Santa Isabel, the highest crater in the island, rises softly detached from the cirrus-flecked nocturnal sky.
Life, as an American missionary remarked, is some- what primitive at Buena Vista, but it is not the less pleasant. An hour of work in my garden at sunrise and sunset, when the scenery is equally beautiful, hard read- ing during the day, and after dark a pipe and a new book of travels, this is the " fallentis semita vita" which makes one shudder before plunging once more into the cold and swirling waters of society of civilization. My "niggers" are, as Krumen should be, employed all the day long in clearing, cutting, and planting it is quite the counter- part of a landowner's existence in the Southern States. Nothing will prevent them calling themselves my " children," that is to say, my slaves ; and indeed no white man who has lived long in the outer tropics can prevent feeling that he is pro tempore the lord, the master, and the proprietor of the black humanity placed under him. It is true that the fellows have no overseer, conse- quently there is no whip ; punishment resolves itself into retrenching rum and tobacco ; moreover, they come and go as they please. But if a little "moral influence" were not applied to their lives, they would be dozing or quarrel-
/. / Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 9
ling all day in their quarters, and twanging a native guitar half the night, much to their own discomfort and more to their owner's. Consequently I keep them to their work.
At certain hours the bugle-call from Santa Cecilia intimates that all about me is not savagery. And below where the smoke rises " a-twisten blue" from the dense plantation of palms, lies a rich study for an ethnologist Basile, the Bube village. No white man has lived long enough amongst this exceptional race of Fernandians to describe them minutely, and, as a rule, they have been grossly and unjustly abused. 1 A few lines will show the peculiarities which distinguish them from other African tribes.
The Bube who, as may be proved by language, is an aborigine of the mainland has forgotten his origin, and he wisely gives himself no trouble about it. If you ask him whence he comes, he replies " from his mother" ; whither he goes, and he answers " to Drikhatta ra Busala 'be 2 if a bad man," and "to Lubakko 'pwa (the
1 Bosman (A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea, translated into English, 1705) seems to have led the way, and others have repeated him. " The island of Fernando Po is in- habited by a savage and cruel sort of people, which he that deals with ought not to trust. I neither can nor will say more of them." It is hard to discover whence was derived the word Adiyah or Eediyah, which all writers have copied from the Niger Expedition of Messrs. Allen and Thompson, and have applied to the Bube race. The fact is, the Fernandian, as might be expected, has no national name, for "adiyah" is probably derived from adios, arios, aros, the salutation borrowed from the old Spanish colony long extinct. Bube (not "bubi," or "booby,") means, not "friend," but "man," a frequent address as the Castilian hombre, and thus assumed by strangers as the popular appellation. In " High Bube," " adyah " means "the moon," which in the vulgar is "ballepo."
2 Literally, kingdom (drikhatta) of the devil (bad ghost). So, the sky or heaven is also called Drikhatta ra Rupe, i.e.. Kingdom of God. Possibly these are European ideas grafted upon the African mind.
A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
sky) if he has been a good Bube." He has a conception of and a name for the Creator, Rupe or Erupe, but he does not perplex himself with questions of essence and attribute, personality and visibility. Perhaps in this point too he shows good sense. He is also, you may be sure, not without an evil principle, Busala 'be, who acts as it were chief of police.
Coming down from the things of heaven to those of earth, the Fernandian is " aristocratic," an out-and-out conservative ; no oldest Tory of the old school can pre- tend to rival him. But in many points his attachment to ancient ways results not from prejudice, but from a tradition founded upon sound instinct. He will not live near the sea for fear of being kidnapped, also because the over-soft air effeminates his frame. He refuses to build higher up the mountains than 2000 to 3000 feet, as his staff of life, the palm and the plantain, will not flourish in the raw air and in the rugged ground. He confines him- self therefore to the exact zone in which the medical geographer of the present age would place him above the fatal fever level, and below the line of dysentery and pneumonia. His farm is at a distance from his cottage, to prevent domestic animals finding their way into it ; his yam fields, which supply the finest crops, are as pretty and as neatly kept as vineyards in Burgundy, and he makes the best " topi " or palm toddy in Western Africa. His habitation is a mere shed without walls : he is a Spartan in these matters. Nothing will persuade him to wear, beyond the absolute requirements of decency, any- thing warmer than a thin coat of palm oil : near the summit of the mountain, 10,000 feet above sea-level, I have offered him a blanket, and he has preferred the fire. His only remarkable, somewhat " fashionable "- looking article of dress is an extensive wicker hat covered with a monkey skin, but this is useful to prevent tree snakes falling upon his head. He insists upon his wife
/. / Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 1 1
preserving the same toilette, minus the hat oh, how wise ! If she does not come up to his beau ideal of fidelity, he cuts off, first her left hand, then her right, lastly, her throat ; a very just sequence. 1 He is not a slave nor will he keep slaves ; he holds them to be a vanity, and justly, because he can work for himself. He is no idler ; after labouring at his farm, he will toil for days to shoot a monkey, a " philantomba " (alias " fri- tamba"), or a flying squirrel. Besides being a sports- man, he has his manly games, and I should not advise every one to tackle him with quarter-staff; his alpenstock is a powerful and a well-wielded weapon. Though so highly conservative, he is not, as some might imagine, greatly destitute of intelligence : he pronounces our harsh and difficult English less incorrectly that any West African tribe, including the Sierra Leonite. Brightest of all is his moral character : you may safely deposit rum and tobacco that is to say, gold and silver in his street, and he will pay his debt as surely as the Bank of England. 2 And what caps his worldly wisdom, is his perfect and perpetual suspiciousness. He never will tell you his name, he never receives you as a friend, he never trusts you, even when you bring gifts ; he will turn out armed if you enter his village at an unseasonable hour, and if you are fond of collecting vocabularies, may the god of speech direct you ! The fact is, that the plunderings
i In Northern Europe and in America the injured husband kills the lover ; in Asia and in Southern Europe he kills the wife. Which pro- ceeding is the more sensible ? Can any man in his senses believe in the seduction of a married woman ? Credat Cresu'dl Cresu'ell I
2, I allude of course to the Bube in his natural and unsophisti- cated state, not to him as corrupted by Europeans and by Krumen. Mr. Winwood Reade, the author of an amusing and picturesque book, "Savage Africa," unfortunately visited only "Banapa," one of the worst specimens of a Bube village. As a rule, the Fernandian has little of the ignoble appearance that characterizes the true Negro.
12 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
and the kidnappings of bygone days are burned into his memory : he knows that such things have been, and he knows not when they may again be. So he confines himself to the society of his native hamlet, and he makes no other intimacies, even with the fellowmen whose village smoke he sees curling up from the neighbouring
... * # * * *
After two years of constant quarrelling the beautiful
i Some of the kidnapping tales that still linger on this coast, show the straits into which, at times, men were driven for a cargo. At Annobom, where the people are Negro-Portuguese, they are ever looking forward to hearing mass from the mouth of a priest. A Spaniard learning this, dressed up a pair of ecclesiastics, landed them, and whilst the function was proceeding, seized the whole con- gregation, and carried them triumphantly to market. The following communication will show the value of Fernandian cotton. But, alas ! labour is at 303. per week :
"COTTON SUPPLY ASSOCIATION.
"Offices: No. i, Newall's Buildings,
" Manchester, February, 1864. " Captain R. F. Burton, H.B.M. Consul,
" Fernando Po.
" Sir, Your communication, with the two samples of cotton, had the due attention of the Committee, and I have now to hand you their report upon the latter.
" ist. Fernando Po. Dull in colour, clean, staple fine, and fair length;
value 28d. per Ib. " 2nd. Congo. Dull brown colour, staple coarse and weak; value 27d.
Middling Orleans Cotton being worth 28Jd. per Ib. "The Committee would be glad to learn that such cotton as your sam- ples, especially the first, could be sent from Fernando Po in large quantities to this district, where trade is languishing, and our population so severely suffering for want of a supply of such cotton.
" We shall be glad to have any further particulars respecting the pro- duction of your immediate neighbourhood, and the price at which such as your sample No. i can be collected, and any other information you may be kindly disposed to furnish.
" I am, Sir,
" Yours respectfully, (Signed) " ISAAC WATTS, Secretary."
7. I Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 13
island and I are now " fast friends." It is perhaps as well to " begin with a little aversion. 1 "
i The following sick list is taken from official documents compiled
at Fernando Po. Of thirty invalids, sent up from the lowlands in November, 1863, there suffered from
Dec. Jan. Feb. March.
Fever (simple and intermittent) 14 16 n i
(remittent malignant) ... 3 2 20
(intermittent malignant) o o i o
Dysentery 3 l 20
Various ....... 2 3 20
Total ... 22 22 18 i
It must be observed that in all cases, except those of simple inter- mittents, the disease was contracted in the lowlands ; moreover, that of sixty-three, the grand total, not a patient died.