Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome/Chapter III
WE ENTER WHYDAH IN STATE.
THE necessity of sending on a messenger to the King, who was preparing for his own Customs, and for my re- ception at Kana, detained H.M.S. Antelope till Decem- ber 8th, when a special invitation returned to Whydah.
For some days the weather had been too dark to permit a fair view of a country so much extolled by old travellers, and which Captain Thomas Phillips 1 has described as the " pleasantest land in Guinea." But even under the clearest sky, with the present deadening influ- ences, when the hand of the destroyer has passed over its towns and villages and fields, the traveller must not ex- pect to find, like his brotherhood of the last and even the present century, the " champaigns and small ascending hills beautified with always green shady groves of lime, wild orange, and other trees, and irrigated with divers broad fresh rivers." And of the multitude of little vil- lages that belonged to Whydah in the days of her indepen- dence, it may be said that their ruins have perished.' 2
1 Journal of a Voyage to Africa and Barbadoes. By Thos. Phillips, Commander of the "Hannibal," of London, 1693-94. It is a quaint old log-book, and supplies a_good_account oHndependent Whydah.
2 Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 185) found fine farms, six to seven miles from Whydah, with clean and comfortable houses, chiefly the work of Foolah and Eya (Oyo ? ) captives returned from the Brazils. "This." says that traveller, " would seem to prove that to this country slavery is not without its good as well as bad effects."
VOL. I. 2
1 8 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
We landed as ceremoniously as I had embarked. The Commodore had dwelt long enough in Africa and amongst the Africans, properly to appreciate the efficacy of " apparatus " in the case of the first Government mission. Commander Ruxton, R.N., whose gun-vessel, the Pandora, still remained in the roads when H.M.S. Antelope, after firing her salute, departed, kindly accom- panied us. After a rough and stormy night we landed, at 10 A.M., in a fine surf-boat belonging to Mr. Dawson, of Cape Coast Castle, ex-missionary and actual merchant at Whydah ; its strong knees and the rising cusps of the stem and stern acting as weather-boards, are required in these heavy seas that dash upon the ill-famed Slave- coast. We remarked a little external bar, separated by a deep longitudinal line, the home of sharks, from the steep sandy beach ; it must act as a breakwater when the surf is not over-heavy. We landed amid song and shout, in the usual way ; shunning great waves, we watched a " smooth," paddled in violently upon the back of some curling breaker, till the boat's nose was thrown high and dry upon the beach ; were snatched out by men, so as not to be washed back by the receding water, and gained terra firma without suspicion of a wetting. Such, however, . was not the case with our boxes ; indeed baggage rarely 1 has such luck. On the beach we were met by the Rev. Peter W. Bernasko, native teacher, and Principal of the Wesleyan Mission, Whydah, and taking refuge from the sun in a hut-shed belonging to Mr. Dawson, the party waited half an hour, till all had formed in marching order. r~"The Hu-ta, 1 praya, or sea-beach of the " Liverpool of
i Except when absolutely necessary for explanation, I shall not use, in writing native vocables, accents or diacritical marks : these serve only to puzzle the reader, without enabling him to reproduce the sound of foreign words. In the future dictionaries, however, the words must be distinguished by accents, not as in English, by spell- ing, e.g., "boy" and "buoy," "thy" and "thigh," and so forth. 2 2
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 19
Dahome," is a sand-bank rising some 20 feet above sea level, and bright with the usual salsolaceous plants. There are no dwelling-houses, nor do the white merchants of the upper town often sleep here. Seven several establishments of mat roofs and mud walls (the French being incomparably the best), serve for storing cargo, and for transacting business during the day. There are usually three to four ships rolling in the roads, and the more sanguine declare that the great slave port might, if she pleased, export 10,000 tons of palm oil (^"340,000) per annum. J
Trie Whydah escort of twenty men having duly saluted us with muskets, began the march towards their town, shouting and firing, singing and dancing, Our party was headed by a Kruman from Commander Ruxton's ship, carrying the white and red-crossed flag of St. George, attached to a boarding pike ; followed five f hammocks with an interpreter, and my crew of six Krumen, armed, and brilliantly clad in " bargees'" red nightcaps, and variegated pocket-handkerchiefs, scanty as the old cale$on at once happy Biarritz. \Ye were exhorted to take and to keep patience, the task before us being a foretaste of what would sorely try us at the capital.
rA few yards of loose sand led out of the factory site to the Lagoon, a river-like but semi-stagnant stream, dotted with little ^reen aits, running parallel with and close to the shore. Its breadth was 300 yards, and it wetted the hips, being deeper in December of the " dries," than I had seen it in June. For this reason some have suspected that it comes from the far North, where the rains which have now ended on the coast are still heavy. It is a boon to the people, who, finding all their wants in
Amongst the kindred Egbas the native etymology of English words has run wild, e.g., "Tamahana" for Thompson, "Wiremu,"as in New Zealand, for Williams, and "Piripi" for Philip.
20 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
its quiet waters, are not driven to tempt the ravenous sharks and the boisterous seas outside. The Lagoon fish is excellent ; there is a trout-like species with a very deli- cate flavour, and here, as on the Gold Coast, many prefer the lighter lenten diet to meat. (, Its oysters are good enough when cooked ; before being eaten raw, their insipidity should be corrected by keeping for some time in salt water, 1 and by feeding with oatmeal. We saw piles of shells large enough for a thousand "grottos," and were told that this is the only lime and whitewash in the land.
From the Lagoon we issued upon the De-nun, 2 or custom-house, also called Je-sin-nun, "Salt water side." The dirty clump of ragged mat-huts stands on a little sandy oasis, garnished with full and empty barrels, with whole and broken canoes and fishing nets, with porters at work, and with a few women sitting for sale before their little heaps of eatables, in fact, with all the paraphernalia of an African fishing village, including noise and "Billingsgate."
I i The Lagoon is salt only when the sea flows into it at high water. The people then wait till the tide has ebbed, and find on the mud- surface an efflorescence of salt, like hoar-frost, the work of rapid evaporation. It is scraped together, and packed in log huts for im- portation inland : most people prefer it in its original dirty and muddy
state, others clean and whiten it by boiling.^ j
2 "De-nun," which Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 282) writes "Dtheno," and evidently thinks to be a proper name, e.g., "the small kroom (a Gold Coast word) of Dtheno," is the" Bode " of the Egbas or Akus. The word "De" means custom-house dues; "nun," properly " mouth," or "side," is a monosyllable of many significations. De- gan is the custom-house "captain," who, as well as his guards, is locally called Decimero, from the Portuguese. The reader will observe that the terminal n in Dahoman words, is invariably a pure nasal, and sounds like the French "raisow." In "Je-sin-nun," the first word signifies "salt," the second "water," and the nasal is so little defined, that an English ear would distinguish only "see," or
II I. We Enter Whydah in State. 21
The two direct miles of swamp and sand between the De-nun and the town is a facsimile in miniature of the fifty miles between Whydah and Agbome. It is a "duver," a false coast : not a pebble the size of a pea is to be found, which fact suffices to prove the land to be the gift of the sea, not a sweep from the northern rocky mountains by rivers, rain, or gradual degradation. As in lower Yoruba generally, the sandy soil would be very unproductive but for the violent rains. The surface is a succession of "small downes," dorses and gentle ridges running parallel with the shore from East to West, not unlike the wrinkles or landwaves behind S. Paul de Loanda. Each rise is bounded north and south by low ground, almost on the Lagoon's level, with deep water during the rains, rarely quite dry, and at all times a fetid and malarious formation. These features in the upper country are often of considerable size, and three of them, as will be seen, were the natural frontiers of independent principalities. After the last water, a steady but almost imperceptible rise, like that from Kana to Agbome, leads to the town of Whydah. The road is detestable, and absolutely requires hammock men ; the slave-dealers have persuaded the authorities that whilst it is in this state, their town will be less liable to unfriendly visits.
Passing up a marigot, or branch channel, worn down by porters' feet to a deep wet ditch, we soon reached the half-way place, a second sandy oasis, the site of the village of Zumgboji. 1 It is a poor place an enlarged edition of the De-nun containing a few thatched mat- huts, with "compounds," or bartons, of the same material, and outlying fields of grain and vegetables, where Fetish
i The Ffon, or Dahoman, a dialect of the great Yoruba family, has, like the Egba, or Abeokutan language, a G and a Gb, the latter at first inaudible to our ears, and difficult to articulate without long practice. On the other hand, it has a P (e.g., in Po-su), as well as a Kp (for instance, kpakpa, a duck), whereas the Egba possesses only the latter.
22 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
cords acted hedges. We all descended from our hammocks, despite the heat, to greet the head Fetish- man, a dignitary fat and cosy as ever was the f rate or the parson of the good old times. He stood with dignity under a white "Kwe-ho," the tent-umbrella, which here marks the caboceer ; it was somewhat tattered, because these spiritual men care not to make a show of splendour. He snapped fingers with us, after " Country custom," palm never being applied to palm except by the Europeanised ; as throughout Yoruba the thumb and mid-index are sharply withdrawn on both sides after the mutual clasp, and this is repeated twice to four times, the former being the general number. After the greeting, he sat down upon what is called a Gold-Coast stool, cut out of .a single block of wood, 1 whilst two young if not pretty wives handed to us drinking water in small wine-glasses. This appears to be a thorough Dahoman peculiarity, which extends even to the Court. When pure 2 the element is considered a luxury, it serves to prepare the mouth for something more genial, and it is a sign that treachery is not intended. We were then regaled with rum Brazilian Caxa$a too sour even for Ruxton's Kruman, who regarded the proceedings of the day with the goguenard air of a Parisian diminutif at a rustic Main's ball. Three toasts are demanded by ceremony, and they must be drunk standing. You bow, you choquez the glasses in continental style, and you exclaim, "Sin diyye!" "This is water ! " when it is not and your compotator responds
1 When last in England, I saw sundry of these articles at the Turkish Bath in Jermyn Street, and very much out of place they looked.
2 At Whydah the wells are about thirty feet deep, and the water is bad: they want a lining of lime and charcoal at the bottom. In the English fort, according to Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 120), after digging twenty feet deep, the soil was the same as at the top ; at twelve feet they came upon a family sepulchre, decomposed human bones, and rusty anklets and armlets.
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 23
"Sin ko 1 " "(May the) Water (cool your) throat !" In former days the spirits used to be poured from one glass into all the others, showing that they did not contain poison. The custom is now obsolete. Happily it is unnecessary to swallow all the trade stuff to which hospitality is here reduced ; you touch it with the lips, and hand it to a neighbour, who is certain to leave no heel-taps. If he be a common fellow, and you wish to be peculiarly countrified, you sign to him to kneel : he opens his gape like a fledgling to its parent, without touching the cup or glass, and you toss the contents into his mouth, taking care that half of it should deluge his beard, if he has any. 2
After again snapping fingers, which, barbarous as it is, I infinitely prefer, near the Line, to hand-shaking, we remounted hammocks, and crossed the 400 yards of Zumgboji's sandy islet. At the further end we again alighted to receive the compliments of the village captain 3 here all are captains a thin, and almost black old man, the type of a Dahoman Caboceer. He presented us with kola nut (Sterculia acuminata) and Malaguetta pepper (Amomum granum paradisi), which eaten together greatly resemble the Pan supari or areca nut and betel leaf of the East Indians. 4 After a few minutes we were once more allowed to advance. Another brownish-yellow water,
i The o in this word, as in Po-su, is sounded much like aw in the English "yawn."
2 Some of the waggish kings have made their servants lie flat on the ground, and swallow, in that position, a bottle of rum at a draught.
3 The Dahoman word is "gan" : our caboceer is a corruption of the Lusitano- African "caboceiro," a head man.
4 The Preface to the History of Dahome, written by some un- known hand, and unworthy of the rest of the book, confuses them, informing us that the kola grows on lofty trees, and seemed to Bosman to be a species of the " areka or beetle." p. 9.
24 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
with a black miry sole which called loudly for quinine, formed the path:! then we issued upon a hot open sandy and grass-cleared road, fifteen feet broad, and leading \ with gradual up-slope to the town. In the middle of itis a dwarf ficus, called the ' '.Captain's Tree," because here the first reception ceremony of merchant skippers has been from days of old, and is still performed. jThe place around is named Agonji the "Gonnegee" offhe History where enemies have so often encamped when attacking Whydah. Under the friendly shade we saw a table spread with a bit of white calico cloth, and around it the Mission boys had ranged chairs. Whilst expecting the town caboceers we had an opportunity of glancing at Whydah land.
The country now wears an unwholesome aspect, and the smell reminds me of the Campagna di Roma, threaten- ing fever and dysentery. The tall grass is not yet ripe for burning; in two months it will disappear, rendering an ambuscade impossible, and allowing a pretty view of Whydah. Not a tenth of the land is cultivated ; the fallow system is universal, and when a man wants fresh ground he merely brings a little dash to the caboceer. The cultivators will begin in February to fire the stubbles, and the women will turn up the earth with hoes, and let the charred stalks and roots decay into manure. The seed is sown by two sowers ; one precedes, and drills the ground with a bushman's stick or a hoe handle ; the second puts in the grain and covers it with the heel, an operation left to a third person if there be more than two. The seeds are not mixed. From three to four grains of maize, six to ten of Guinea corn, and two of beans, are deposited, against risk of loss, in the same hole. The first harvest takes place in Sep- tember. The people will then at once burn, hoe, and sow again, getting in the second crop about December. In the interior the winter yield often does not ripen till January or February, and if the light showers of the
III. We EnttY Whydah in State. 25
season are deficient, it is burned by the sun. The produce, though not counted, is said to be a hundredfold. This should satisfy the agriculturist, however covetous. Truly it is said that whilst the poor man in the North is the son of a pauper, the poor man in the Tropics is the son of a prince.
We were not kept waiting long ; at that time no great men lingered in Whydah. As usual the junior ranks preceded. Each party, distinct like our regiment, advanced under its own flag, closely followed by its band, composed of four kinds of instruments, which can hardly be called musical. The rattle is a bottle-shaped gourd covered with a netting of fine twine, to which are attached snake's vertebrae ; it is held in the right, with the neck downwards, and tapped against a thin strip of wood in the other hand. There are also decanter-shaped rattles of woven fibre, containing cowries, but these are not common. The drums are of many varieties, and all of unequal sizes, to vary the sounds : that which takes the lead is the hollowed log, described by all travellers from Jamaica to Zanzibar, and to African ears it is full of meaning as a telegram. The horn is a small scrivello with a large oblong hole near the point, so as to act as a speaking-trumpet, and pierced at the top, where the left thumb, by opening or closing it, converts it into a two- noted bugle. Mungo Park commends it for its resem- blance to the human voice ; an older traveller describes it as "making a grating bellowing noise, like a company of bulls or ass-negros." The panigan, 1 or African cymbaf, as it is unaptly called, is generally a single unbrazed tongueless bell, about a foot long, including the handle, which is either of solid iron or brass, and sometimes silver knobbed, or of pierced metal-work ; a thin bit of bamboo, some ten to eleven inches long, causes the tube
i The performer is called Pani-gan (gong-gong), ho (beat or strike), and to (he who does).
26 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
to give out a small dead sound. It is the Chingufu of the South Coast, and my ears still tingle with its infliction on the lake Tanganyika. Sometimes this "gong-gong" is double, a shorter appendage being lashed or soldered to the larger instrument at the apices by an angle of 45, or a pair of similar-sized bells are connected by an arched iron bar. The player strikes first the long, then the short, tube, thus ting ! tang ! or in double sets, one, two ! one, two ! This renders the sound different (similar to our public clocks in England when striking the quarters), and two notes become evident. Nor is the band complete without the voice accompaniment of fierce shouting and singing which would almost drown the organ of Haarlem. After each band came a shabby white umbrella, 1 of which there were five, denoting the number of colonels or soldier chiefs. They were distinguished by a superior dress ; one man wore a dwarf pair of polished silver horns fastened to a lanyard fillet, and projecting above the organ of "Causality. 2 " They were followed each by a highlander's "tail," and the total may have amounted to 250 men. The greater number wore the uniform of the English or Blue Company, here called " Bru," indigo- dyed tunics or kilts extending to the knee and loosely closed over the breast, and cotton caps or white fillets, with sprawling crocodiles of azure hue sewn on to them, one on each side of the head. No two costumes were quite alike ; some had bark strips in their hair, round their waists, and fastened to their billy-cock hats ; others
1 Throughout Africa, like Asia, it is a sign of dignity. Here it is figuratively used for the dignitary himself. ' ^Seven jjmbrellas have fallen," means as many commanding officers have beenTnflecL _
2 M. Wallon, Lieutenant de Vaisseau, who twice visited Agbonne, in 1856 and 1858, says that these horns are a sign of eunuchry, but they are not so. Le Royaume de Dahomey (Revue Maritime et Coloniale, Aout, 1861 : a second part, containing that officer's journey to Agbonne, was promised, but has never, I believe, appeared).
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 27
wore felts and straws ; whilst all had their Fetishes or charms birds' claws and small wooden dolls smeared red as though with blood. The " Ffon Chokoto," the Egban Shokoto, and the East Indian Janghirs, femoralia, or short drawers, hardly reaching to the knee, must, by imperial order, be worn under the war tunic by all the soldiery, male and female ; sometimes long calico tights, in Moslem fashion, are seen. Their arms are tolerable muskets, kept in very good order, but of course invariably flint ; useless horse pistols, short swords, and African battle-axes with blades three fingers broad and the tangs set in the hafts. Their ammunition was supposed to be contained in home-made cartridge-boxes of European pattern or in bandoleers, which acted for waist-belts, and comprised about a dozen wooden cylinders, like needle- cases, containing at least four times the amount of powder that would be used by us.
The style of parade is one throughout the kingdom. Each several party advanced at a pas de charge, bending low, and simulating an attack. This is here, as in Uganda, and amongst sundry tribes of Kafirs proper, an acknowledgment of greatness. Then the chief of each peloton came forward, snapped fingers with us as we sat on our chairs under the tree, our guards ranged on the right, a mob of gazers women scratching and boys pulling on the left, and an open space in front. This personal greeting over, he at once returned to his men. Afterwards forming a rude close column, the only known manoeuvre, the several parties perambulated us three times from right to left, and ended by halting in front. 1 There, with a hideous outcry, hopeless to describe, cap- tain and men, with outstretched right arms, raised their
i In this cii cumambulation they showed us the left shoulder, and I afterwards observed that the right side is always presented to the king. So Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 223) was told that on horseback he must not form circle to the right, that being a royal privilege.
2 8 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
sticks, bill-hooks, or muskets to an angle of forty-five degrees, the muzzle in the air, like a band of conspirators on the English stage. This is the normal salute, the " present arms" of Dahome.
Right soon, fatigued with these serious manoeuvres, our warriors fell to singing and dancing, a passion amongst these people ; all are fanatici per la musica here. Ruxton, fresh from Canada, could not help remarking what a contrast a pow-wow of redskins would have presented. The chorus had a queer ballet appearance, and a civilised composer might have borrowed a motive or two from the recitative. It became even more theatrical when the largest corps advanced, singing, and upholding in their left hands leafy branches, palm boughs, and long grasses, which were afterwards thrown upon and trampled to the ground. An tnerguntene, with a horse-tail, the symbol of a professional singer or drummer, first shrieked extem- pore praises of the king and of his guests, pointing the compliment by shaking the forefinger, as is done to naughty boys in England, and then the whole rout joined in the response. At times a chief or a warrior would plunge into the ring and perform a pas seul. The prin- cipal dances were two. The bravery dance consisted in grounding the musket, sword, or tomahawk, to show that the foe had fallen. The performer, whose face must be blackened with gunpowder, like a musical and itinerant Ethiopian, then took a billhook with a broad blade ending in almost a circle, and with the tang let into the wood, a weapon more for show than for use ; or he preferred a crooked stick, like a short-cut houlette, or the third of an East Indian " latti," garnished with rows of square- headed nails, or strengthened with a ring-like twist of iron. Thus armed, he went through the process of decapitation. It was conventional rather than an imita- tion of reality : the left hand was held with the edge upwards, and parallel to the body, moving in concert
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 29
with the weaponed right, which made a number of short drawing cuts, about two feet from the ground, whilst the legs and feet performed ecarts, which are here in- describable.
The other was the regular Dahoman dance. It is a tremendous display of agility, Terpsichore becoming more terrible than Mars. One month of such performance would make the European look forward to a campaign as to a time of rest. The jig and the hornpipe are repose compared with it. It is grotesque as the Danse Chinoise, in which the French dancing-master of one's youth, of course an ancien militaire, used gravely to superintend the upturning of thumbs and toes. The arms are held in the position preferred by the professional runner, the hands paddle like a swimming dog's paws, the feet shuffle or stamp as if treading water, the elbows are jerked so as nearly to meet behind the back with a wonderful "jeti des omoplates," and the trunk joins in the play, the posteriors moving forwards and backwards to the pedal beat-time. The body is not, as in Asia, divided, as it were into two, the upper half steady, and the lower taking violent exer- cise. Here, there is a general agitation of the frame, jerked in extreme movement to front and rear. As all these several actions, varied by wonderful shakings, joltings, grimaces, and contortions, must be performed rapidly, simultaneously, and in perfect measure to the music, it is not only a violent, it is also a very difficult performance, exceeding even the Hindu Nautch, or the Egyptian Alimeh's feats. As a calisthenic exercise, it is invaluable. The children begin as soon as they can toddle. It is, perhaps, the most amusing thing in Dahome to see them apeing their elders. 1
i Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 292) compares the shoulder motion with the gymnastic exercise used to expand the chest of the British soldier, but much quicker. The rest of the dance is a " rotatory movement of the hips, changing to a backward and forward motion
30 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
The dancing was relieved at times by a little firing. Ammunition did not seem to superabound, and I detected several warmen privily borrowing from their neighbours, which showed that the defaulters had been making away with government stores. The parade ended with the normal drinking, after which we were allowed to remount and proceed.
A few yards from the " Captain's tree " led us to the southern extremity of the town. It is entered by a trivia ; the path to the right leads to the Portuguese fort, to the left is the French factory ; whilst we pursued our way straight in front, through the Ajudo Akhi-men, or Whydah market. Crowds were collected to see the king's " new strangers," who were bringing tribute to Dahome. The men bared their shoulders, doffing their caps and large umbrella hats, whilst the women waved a welcome, and cried " Oku," to which we replied " Oku de 'u 1 " and " Atyan," the normal salutations of the country. Followed by an ever-increasing train, we passed a long gaunt structure, called the Brazilian Fort. In the open space before it, on civilised chairs, clad in white turbands, in loose blue dresses, and in snowy chemisettes, allowed to expose at least half the walnut-coloured back, and emitting, with the jauntiest air, volumes of cigar smoke, sat a number of " yaller " ladies. Conspicuous amongst them by her chevelure, which looked like a
of a most disgusting description." The Lifeguardsman was marvel- lous "nice" and "proper."
i In the Egba tongue, Oku, or Aiku (hence the trivial name, "Akoo people"), is a noun, "immortality," and an adjective, "not able to die, alive." Oku de 'u is the normal Dahoman salutation, Oku being understood to signify, "I compliment you," or "thanks"; whilst de 'uis explained by " still doing," or " still making." Various shortenings of the word are exchanged, e.g., oku de 'u, de 'u, 'u, 'u.till both saluter and salutee have had enough. At an early hour they say, " Oku de 'u Afwan," good morning ; or " Afwan dagbwe a ? " is it a good morning? In the evening, "Oku de 'u baddan ! " good evening ! Atyan means " Are you well? "
III. We Enter Why dak in State. 31
closely-fitting cap of Astrachan wool, ceasing abruptly without diminishing towards the neck or temples, 1 was the Bride of Whydah, the fair Sabina, of whom many have had cauSe to sing,
Nee fidum fcemina nomen Ah, pereat ! didicit fallere siqua virum.
Arrived at the English Fort, we dismounted at the place where the drawbridge has been, and, accompanied by the military chiefs, we repaired to a shady arbour in the middle of the enceinte, a normal feature in the Euro- pean habitations of Whydah. There we found a table thickly covered with bottles of water, sherry, gin, rum, and other chief-like delicacies. We drank with the visitors, as the custom is, to the health of Her Majesty of England, to the King of Dahome, and to our own " bonally." Half stifled with heat and with human atmos- phere, we were allowed, by ceremony, to retire at three P.M., five mortal hours spent in accomplishing the work of forty-five minutes ! The reception concluded with a salute. The chief fired in our honour forty muskets, powder-crammed to half way up the barrel, and we gave them seventeen cannonades in return. The style of load- ing great guns quite satisfied me why so many eyes and hands are missing at Whydah. The Sikhs, under Runjit Singh, used to astonish the weak mind of the British artillerist by the rapidity of their fire, sponging being dispensed with, and the powder baled into the muzzle from an open tumbril near the carriage. But Asiatic recklessness is not to be compared with that of the negro.
The landing rites concluded on the next day. About noon the troops marched up in loose column to the cleared space before the English Fort, and were formed, with
i In marking this as a characteristic difference between the hair growth of the negro and of the white man, it must be remembered that in these regions, as in Asia, all manner of pile is removed either by the razor or by the tweezers.
32 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
abundant pushing, objurgation and retort, into the half of a square. They repeated the scene of yesterday : single braves advancing crouched to the combat, making violent improvise speeches, pointing forefingers, tossing heads, and spitting out their words, so that a stranger would suppose he was being by them grossly insulted. There was the usual decapitation, singing and dancing, chorus and ballet ; even the small boys sprang into the arena, displaying admirable activity, and stamping with the grace and vigour of young bears.
The preliminary concluded, all flocked into the com- pound, and the civilian chiefs crowded the large room. The old Ka-wo, 1 whose jurisdiction extends to the Ahwan-gan or war captains of all the maritime regions, preferred, after salutation, to sit on his stool of state, in a white night-cap, under an umbrella in the court-yard. The Viceroy and the Chacha, or commercial chief, being absent at the capital, their places were occupied by three dignitaries. The first mandarin was the Ainadu, 2 acting- viceroy for Gelele, the present king, a short, dark, pock- marked man, with very little clothing. The second magistrate, who, if white-washed, might pass muster for
1 The word must not be confounded with " Gau," the commander- in-chief of the Dahoman army. The " Ka-wo " is the " Caukaow or General of Whydah," mentioned in the History, and spoken of as the " Cakawo amongst the Dahomans." The tradition is, that it was an honourable name given, long before the days of Agaja, the conqueror of Whydah, to a brave chief, who pursued the enemy over the Wo (pronounced Waw) River, which divides Whydah from the Nago, or Agoni (i.e., Egbado, or lower Egba) country. Etymologically, the word is explained by Ka (for ka-ka, i.e., very much, or) long (i.e., fol- lowing the foe till the) Wo (river). It has, since the conquest, been continued by the Dahoman kings.
2 This is the title of office ; the personal name in Dahome can hardly be said to exist ; it changes with every rank of the holder. The dignities seem to be interminable ; except amongst the slaves and the canaille, "handles" are the rule, not the exception, and most of them are hereditary.
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 33
a very ugly European, 1 was Nyan-kpe (the Lesser), who represented the acting-viceroy for Gezo, the last king. I must observe here, without entering into details, that Dahoman officials, male and female, high and low, are always in pairs, a system, methinks, which might be adopted by more civilized nations settled in Western Africa. Duplicates are required by climate, and whilst the invalid is at home on sick leave the convalescent might act for him. Here, however, the objects of the double tenure are twofold ; the new king does not wish hastily to degrade his father's old and unfaithful servants ; knowing their misdeeds, he neutralises their influence by appointing as their aids younger men, of higher rank in the empire, and he ousts them when he reasonably can. Meanwhile, he supposes the aspirant to represent his own as distinguished from his sire's rule. The other motive is to keep the elder in check, and perhaps to give the younger, as candidate for the better appointment, an opportunity of mastering the really complicated details of office.
The third chief then and there present was the Atakpa-loto, alias Podoji 2 : he is spy, or to use a more delicate term, " second in command " and assistant to Prince Chyudaton, the sub-viceroy, of whom more pre-
i I may as well state at once, that amongst the pure negroes I have never seen the " purely Caucasian features" alluded to by young African travellers : amongst the negroids, or noble race, sometimes, but rarely.
z The words mean literally, Podo-ji (he who steps in), No-to (the interior court of any royal house or palace-yard). The more common expression is Legede. It denotes a spy or reporter, with whom every official in Dahome is provided. The " miching malecho" system is here perfect : if a captain is sent to prison, he must be accompanied by his Legede, who prevents the wives sending food, and who is answerable for the sentence being carried out in its strict- ness. Dr. M'Leod (p. 86) quotes a native saying, " The su'ish walls can speak in this country." VOL. I. 3
34 A Mission to Geleh, King of Dahome.
sently. He acts as assessor to the other dignitaries in supervising the custom-takers and the royal store-keepers, and in settling small causes, such as petty debts and the disobedience of wives and slaves.
The chiefs at once took high ground, gruffly declaring that they brought the King's word, that is to say, a royal message, and directed us to stand up. I refused so to do till the royal cane, the symbol of the owner's presence, was brought into the assembly, and was prostrated to by all in the room. They then welcomed me, saying that the monarch had sent as reception gift, a goat, a pig, a pair of fowls, and forty yams. Of course the offering came from themselves, and required a suitable return, that is to say, anything between twice and twenty times its value. Having despatched them, we descended into the court, and presented a case of gin (= five dollars) to the Ka-wo. After a long speech he perorated by offering to fight for me. My reply was, that as a commandant of Amazons, a dignity conferred upon me during my last visit, I could fight for myself. Under the cover of loud applause excited by this mildest of retorts, we made our escape and withdrew into the fort.
The same chiefs did not fail, after my return from Dahome, to call and beg another present. I refused them peremptorily, thinking it unadvisable to establish such a precedent. The African, like the Jew to whom you have paid only twice too much, is miserable if he fancies that you escape from htm with a farthing.
The first night surprised me by the contrast of the din of voices inside the house, and the dead silence beyond its walls. The streets are empty at dusk, as in the days of the Norman curfew ; few venture out after dark without a lantern, though the use is not, as in Cairo and most parts of Asia, imperative. The constabulary is admirable ; two men squat in forms like hares, and startle the stranger by suddenly rising and by flashing
HI. We Enter Whydah in State. 35
their torches to scan his features : if he has lost his way they will escort him with all the politeness of a policeman. At times the Ka-wo, who is the local Sir R. Mayne, goes his rounds, and the stick falls heavily upon those caught napping. Hence, even in this head-quarters of the demoralising slave-trade, and where every man is a finished rascal, 1 crimes of violence are, among the natives, exceedingly rare. Murder at Whydah is unknown, except en cachette ; housebreaking, save after a fire, is almost im- possible ; and a man will leave with impunity clothes hanging up in his courtyard, he would not do it twice at Lagos. Mr. Bernasko, who has lived here eight years, never hesitates to walk out at night armed with nothing but a walking-stick. Theft is reduced to petty larceny, which, however, is universal ; there is nothing that these people will not pilfer, and they will keep up the character given by all travellers to their forefathers. In out- stations, like Godome, there is of course much more of open crime, and the discipline of the subject is exceed- ingly lax. Whydah is a " white man's town," and under 4hd- direct supervision of the King/ who rarely interferes with the administration ; hence the frequent small abuses. If any evil report reaches the capital, a royal messenger comes down, and the authorities tremble.
i Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 113) says, " The natives of Whydah are the most depraved and unprincipled villains in all Africa, or perhaps in the world. Were it not for M. de Suza and his friends, indeed, there would be no safety for white men."