1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/French Guinea

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FRENCH GUINEA, a French colony in West Africa, formerly known as Rivières du Sud. It is bounded W. by the Atlantic, N. by Portuguese Guinea and Senegal, E. by Upper Senegal and the Ivory Coast, and S. by Liberia and Sierra Leone. With a sea-board running N.N.W. and S.S.E. from 10° 50′ N. to 9° 2′ N., a distance, without reckoning the indentations, of 170 m., the colony extends eastward 450 m. in a straight line and attains a maximum width N. to S. of nearly 300 m., covering fully 100,000 sq. m., and containing a population estimated at 2,000,000 to 2,500,000.

Physical Features.—Though in one or two places rocky headlands jut into the sea, the coast is in general sandy, low, and much broken by rivers and deep estuaries, dotted with swampy islands, giving it the appearance of a vast delta. In about 9° 30′ N., off the promontory of Konakry, lie the Los Islands (q.v.), forming part of the colony. The coast plain, formed of alluvial deposits, is succeeded about 30 m. inland by a line of cliffs, the Susu Hills, which form the first step in the terrace-like formation of the interior, culminating in the massif of Futa Jallon, composed chiefly of Archean and granite rocks. While the coast lands are either densely forested or covered with savannas or park-like country, the Futa Jallon tableland is mainly covered with short herbage. This tableland, the hydrographic centre of West Africa, is most elevated in its southern parts, where heights of 5000 ft. are found. Near the Sierra Leone frontier this high land is continued westward to within 20 m. of the sea, where Mount Kakulima rises over 3300 ft. East and south of Futa Jallon the country slopes to the basin of the upper Niger, the greater part of which is included in French Guinea. The southern frontier is formed by the escarpments which separate the Niger basin from those of the coast rivers of Liberia. Besides the Niger, Gambia and Senegal, all separately noticed, a large number of streams running direct to the Atlantic rise in Futa Jallon. Among them are the Great and Little Scarcies, whose lower courses are in Sierra Leone, and the Rio Grande which enters the sea in Portuguese Guinea. Those whose courses are entirely in French Guinea include the Cogon (or Componi), the Rio Nuñez, the Fatalla (which reaches the sea through an estuary named Rio Pongo), the Konkure, whose estuary is named Rio Bramaya, the Forekaria and the Melakori. The Cogon, Fatallah and Konkure are all large rivers which descend from the plateaus through deep, narrow valleys in rapids and cataracts, and are only navigable for a few miles from their mouth.

Climate.—The climate of the coast district is hot, moist and unhealthy, with a season of heavy rain lasting from May to November, during which time variable winds, calms and tornadoes succeed one another. The mean temperature in the dry season, when the “harmattan” is frequent, is 62° Fahr., in the wet season 86°. Throughout the year the humidity of the air is very great. There is much rain in the Futa Jallon highlands, but the Niger basin is somewhat drier. In that region and in the highlands the climate is fairly healthy for Europeans and the heat somewhat less than on the coast.

Flora and Fauna.—The seashore and the river banks are lined with mangroves, but the most important tree of the coast belt is the oil-palm. The dense forests also contain many varieties of lianas or rubber vines, huge bombax and bamboos. Gum-producing and kola trees are abundant, and there are many fruit trees, the orange and citron growing well in the Susu and Futa Jallon districts. The cotton and coffee plants are indigenous; banana plantations surround the villages. The baobab and the karite (shea butter tree) are found only in the Niger districts. The fauna is not so varied as was formerly the case, large game having been to a great extent driven out of the coast regions. The elephant is rare save in the Niger regions. The lion is now only found in the northern parts of Futa Jallon; panthers, leopards, hyenas and wild cats are more common and the civet is found. Hippopotamus, otter and the wild boar are numerous; a species of wild ox of small size with black horns and very agile is also found. The forests contain many kinds of monkeys, including huge chimpanzees; antelope are widespread but rather rare. Serpents are very common, both venomous and non-venomous; the pythons attain a great size. Fights between these huge serpents and the crocodiles which infest all the rivers are said to be not uncommon. Turtles are abundant along the coasts and in the Los Islands. Oysters are found in large numbers in the estuaries and fixed to the submerged parts of the mangroves. Freshwater oysters, which attain a large size, are also found in the rivers, particularly in the Niger. Fish are abundant, one large-headed species, in the Susu tongue called khokon, is so numerous as to have given its name to a province, Kokunia. Birds are very numerous; they include various eagles, several kinds of heron, the egret, the marabout, the crane and the pelican; turacos or plantain-eaters, are common, as are other brilliantly plumaged birds. Green and grey parrots, ravens, swallows and magpies are also common.

Inhabitants.—On the banks of the Cogon dwell the Tendas and Iolas, primitive Negro tribes allied to those of Portuguese Guinea (q.v.). All other inhabitants of French Guinea are regarded as comparatively late arrivals from the interior who have displaced the aborigines.[1] Among the earliest of the new comers are the Baga, the Nalu, the Landuman and the Timni, regarded as typical Negroes (q.v.). This migration southward appears to have taken place before the 17th century. To-day the Baga occupy the coast land between the Cogon and the Rio Pongo, and the Landuman the country immediately behind that of the Baga. The other tribes named are but sparsely represented in French Guinea, the coast region south of the Nuñez and all the interior up to Futa Jallon being occupied by the Susu, a tribe belonging to the great Mandingan race, which forced its way seaward about the beginning of the 18th century and pressed back the Timni into Sierra Leone. Futa Jallon is peopled principally by Fula (q.v.), and the rest of the country by Malinké and other tribes of Mandingo (q.v.). The Mandingo, the Fula and the Susu are Mahommedans, though the Susu retain many of their ancient rites and beliefs—those associated with spirit worship and fetish, still the religion of the Baga and other tribes. In the north-west part of Futa Jallon are found remnants of the aborigines, such as the Tiapi, Koniagui and the Bassari, all typical Negro tribes. The white inhabitants number a few hundreds only and are mainly French. Many of the coast peoples show, however, distinct traces of white blood, the result chiefly of the former presence of European slave traders. Thus at the Rio Pongo there are numerous mulattos. South of that river the coast tribes speak largely pidgin English.

Towns.—The principal towns are Konakry the capital, Boké, on the Rio Nuñez, Dubreka, on the coast, a little north of Konakry, Benty, on the Melakori, Timbo and Labe, the chief towns of Futa Jallon, Heremakono and Kindia, on the main road to the Niger, Kurussa and Siguiri, on a navigable stretch of that river, and Bissandugu, formerly Samory’s capital, an important military station east of the Niger. Konakry, in 9° 30′ N., 13° 46′ W., population about 20,000, is the one port of entry on the coast. It is built on the little island of Tombo which lies off the promontory of Konakry, the town being joined to the mainland by an iron bridge. During the administration of Noël Ballay (1848–1902), governor of the colony 1890–1900, Konakry was transformed from a place of small importance to one of the chief ports on the west coast of Africa and a serious rival to Freetown, Sierra Leone. It has since grown considerably, and is provided with wharves and docks and a jetty 1066 ft. long. There is an ample supply of good water, and a large public garden in the centre of the town. In front of Government House is a statue of M. Ballay. Konakry is a port of call for French, British and German steamship companies, and is in telegraphic communication with Europe. It is the starting-point of a railway to the Niger (see below). The retail trade is in the hands of Syrians. The town is governed by a municipality.

Products and Industry.—French Guinea possesses a fertile soil, and is rich in tropical produce. The chief products are rubber, brought from the interior, and palm oil and palm kernels, obtained in the coast regions. Cotton is cultivated in the Niger basin. Gum copal, ground-nuts and sesame are largely cultivated, partly for export. Among minor products are coffee, wax and ivory. Large herds of cattle and flocks of sheep are raised in Futa Jallon; these are sent in considerable numbers to Sierra Leone, Liberia and French Congo. The trade in hides is also of considerable value. The chief grain raised is millet, the staple food of the people. The rubber is mainly exported to England, the palm products to Germany, and the ground-nuts to France.

The principal imports are cotton goods, of which 80% come from Great Britain, rice, kola nuts, chiefly from Liberia, spirits, tobacco, building material, and arms and ammunition, chiefly “trade guns.” The average annual value of the trade for the period 1900–1907 was about £1,250,000, the annual export of rubber alone being worth £400,000 or more. The great bulk of the trade of the colony is with France and Great Britain, the last-named country taking about 45% of the total; Germany comes third. Since April 1905 a surtax of 7% has been imposed on all goods of other than French origin.

Communications.—The railway from Konakry to the Niger at Kurussa, by the route chosen a distance of 342 m., was begun in 1900, and from 1902 has been built directly by the colony. The first section to Kindia, 93 m., was opened in 1904. The second section, to near Timbo in Futa Jallon, was completed in 1907, and the rails reached Kurussa in 1910. From Kurussa the Niger is navigable at high water all the way to Bamako in Upper Senegal, whence there is communication by rail and river with St Louis and Timbuktu. Besides the railway there is an excellent road, about 390 m. long, from Konakry to Kurussa, the road in its lower part being close to the Sierra Leone frontier, with the object of diverting trade from that British colony. Several other main roads have been built by the French, and there is a very complete telegraphic system, the lines having been connected with those of Senegal in 1899.

History.—This part of the Guinea coast was made known by the Portuguese voyagers of the 15th century. In consequence, largely, of the dangers attending its navigation, it was not visited by the European traders of the 16th-18th centuries so frequently as other regions north and east, but in the Rio Pongo, at Matakong (a diminutive island near the mouth of the Forekaria), and elsewhere, slave traders established themselves, and ruins of the strongholds they built, and defended with cannon, still exist. When driven from other parts of Guinea the slavers made this difficult and little known coast one of their last resorts, and many barracoons were built in the late years of the 18th century. It was not until after the restoration of Goree to her at the close of the Napoleonic wars that France evinced any marked interest in this region. At that time the British, from their bases at the Gambia and Sierra Leone, were devoting considerable attention to these Rivières du Sud (i.e. south of Senegal) and also to Futa Jallon. René Caillié, who started his journey to Timbuktu from Boké in 1827, did much to quicken French interest in the district, and from 1838 onward French naval officers, Bouët-Willaumez and his successors, made detailed studies of the coast. About the time that the British government became wearied of its efforts to open up the interior of West Africa, General Faidherbe was appointed governor of Senegal (1854), and under his direction vigorous efforts were made to consolidate French influence. Already in 1848 treaty relations had been entered into with the Nalu, and between that date and 1865 treaties of protectorate were signed with several of the coast tribes. During 1876–1880 new treaties were concluded with the chief tribes, and in 1881 the almany (or emir) of Futa Jallon placed his country under French protection, the French thus effectually preventing the junction, behind the coast lands, of the British colonies of the Gambia and Sierra Leone. The right of France to the littoral as far south as the basin of the Melakori was recognized by Great Britain in 1882; Germany (which had made some attempt to acquire a protectorate at Konakry) abandoned its claims in 1885, while in 1886 the northern frontier was settled in agreement with Portugal, which had ancient settlements in the same region (see Portuguese Guinea). In 1899 the limits of the colony were extended, on the dismemberment of the French Sudan, to include the upper Niger districts. In 1904 the Los Islands were ceded by Great Britain to France, in part return for the abandonment of French fishing rights in Newfoundland waters. (See also Senegal: History.)

French Guinea was made a colony independent of Senegal in 1891, but in 1895 came under the supreme authority of the newly constituted governor-generalship of French West Africa. Guinea has a considerable measure of autonomy and a separate budget. It is administered by a lieutenant-governor, assisted by a nominated council. Revenue is raised principally from customs and a capitation tax, which has replaced a hut tax. The local budget for 1907 balanced at £205,000. Over the greater part of the country the native princes retain their sovereignty under the superintendence of French officials. The development of agriculture and education are objects of special solicitude to the French authorities. In general the natives are friendly towards their white masters.

See M. Famechon, Notice sur la Guinée française (Paris, 1900); J. Chautard, Étude géophysique et géologique sur le Fouta-Djallon (Paris, 1905); André Arcin, La Guinée française (Paris, 1906), a valuable monograph; J. Machat, Les Rivières du Sud et la Fouta-Diallon (Paris, 1906), another valuable work, containing exhaustive bibliographies. Consult also F. Rouget, La Guinée (Paris, 1908), an official publication, the annual Reports on French West Africa, published by the British Foreign Office, and the Carte de la Guinée française by A. Méunier in 4 sheets on the scale 1:500,000 (Paris, 1902).

  1. Numerous remains of a stone age have been discovered, both on the coast and in the hinterland. See L. Desplagnes, “L’Archéologie préhistorique en Guinée française,” in Bull. Soc. Géog. Comm. de Bordeaux, March 1907, and the authorities there cited.