Page:Africa (Volume I).djvu/46

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22
NORTH-EAST AFRICA.

Nubia, in Abyssinia, and even in Sudan. The smelting and working of iron, most useful of all metallurgic discoveries, has been attributed to the Negroes as well as to the Chalybes of Asia Minor; and the Bongos of the White Nile, as well as some other African tribes, have constructed furnaces of a very ingenious type. Their smelters and forgers are, for the most part, satisfied with rude and primitive implements, in the use of which they, however, display marvellous skill. The Fans of the Ogowe basin produce excellent iron, whose quality is scarcely equalled by Europeans themselves. In most of the native tribes the smiths constitute a special caste, much respected and even dreaded for their reputed knowledge of the magic arts. In Abyssinia and Senaar they are accused of changing themselves at night into hyajnas and other wild beasts, which prowl about the villages and disinter the bodies of the dead.

In agriculture and industry the Africans so far co-operated in the development of human culture. But their direct influence in the trade of the world was felt only through Egypt and Mauritania along the Mediterranean seaboard. Commercial intercourse was doubtless carried on throughout the whole continent, but very slowly, and through a thousand intermediary tribes. The produce of Central Africa reached Europe long after all trace of its source had disappeared. In the same way the riverain populations along the banks of the Niger received their Manchester cottons and hardware from Birmingham without suspecting that their river flowed into the sea, or that there are other great divisions of the globe beyond the Dark Continent. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that for thousands of years an active trade has been carried on with the interior. Down to a recent epoch caravans were regarded as sacred, passing fearlessly through contending armies and across disturbed regions. The spirit of traffic prevails amongst numerous tribes in Mauritania, the Upper Nile, and Sudan, as amongst the Jews and Armenians elsewhere, and their dealers display all the shrewdness, tenacity, and inexhaustible obsequiousness everywhere characteristic of the mercantile classes.

From time immemorial the cowries of the Maldive Islands (cypræa moneta), gradually replacing other small objects, such as grains of durra and various seeds, have penetrated as a symbol of exchange as far as West Africa. Through the Calcutta, London, or Zanzibar routes, they are still imported to the Bight of Benin, whence they are forwarded to the markets of Lake Tsad.[1] But the natives now use them chiefly as ornaments. European travellers find that the Turkish piastres and Maria Theresa crowns have already preceded them in most of the unknown regions of the interior. The Bongo tribe was even acquainted with the art of minting, and current coins are also the bits of iron four inches long which are in common use amongst the Ogowé Fans.

But in maritime commerce the Africans scarcely take any part. With the exception of Alexandria, which, thanks to its position on the route between Europe and India is an essentially international point, Carthage was the only continental city that rose to power by its trade. But Carthage was itself a Phœnician colony, founded on a headland projecting into the Mediterranean in the direction of