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guide, I set out from Jonkakonda at day-break on the 5th of July, and at eleven o'clock arrived at Pisania, where I was accommodated with a room, and other conveniencies in the Doctor's house.
Pisania is a small village in the King of Yany's dominions, established by British subjects as a factory for trade, and inhabited solely by them and their black servants. It is situated on the banks of the Gambia, sixteen miles above Jonkakonda. The white residents, at the time of my arrival there, consisted only of Dr. Laidley, and two gentlemen who were brothers, of the name of Ainsley; but their domestics were numerous. They enjoyed perfect security under the king's protection, and being highly esteemed and respected by the natives at large, wanted no accommodation or comfort which the country could supply; and the greatest part of the trade in slaves, ivory, and gold, was in their hands.
Being now settled for some time at my ease, my first object was to learn the Mandingo tongue, being the language in almost general use throughout this part of Africa ; and without which I was fully convinced that I never could acquire an extensive knowledge of the country or its inhabitants. In this pursuit I was greatly assisted by Dr. Laidley, who, by a long residence in the country, and constant intercourse with the natives, had made himself completely master of it. Next to the language, my great object was to collect information concerning the countries I intended to visit. On this occasion I was referred to certain traders called Slatees. These are free black merchants, of great consideration in this part of Africa, who come down from the interior countries chiefly with enslaved Negroes for sale ; but I soon discovered that very little dependance could be placed on the accounts they gave; for they contradicted each other in the most important particulars, and all of them seemed extremely unwilling that I should prosecute my journey. These circumstances increased my anxiety to ascertain the truth from my own personal observations.
In researches of this kind, and in observing the manners and customs of the natives, in a country so little known to the nations of Europe, and furnished with so many striking and uncommon objects of nature, my time passed not unpleasantly; and I began to flatter myself that I had escaped the fever, or seasoning, to which Europeans, on their first arrival in hot climates, are generally subject. But, on the 31st of July, I imprudently exposed myself to the night dew, in observing an eclipse of the moon, with a view to determine the longitude of the place; the next day I found myself attacked with a smart fever and delirium ; and such an illness followed, as confined me to the house during the greatest part of August. My recovery was very slow: but I embraced every short interval of convalescence to walk out, and make myself acquainted with the productions of the country. In one of those excursions, having rambled farther than usual, in a hot day, I brought on a return of my fever, and on the 10th of September I was again confined to my bed. The fever, however, was not so violent as before ; and in the course of three weeks I was able, when the weather would permit, to renew my botanical excursions; and when it rained, I amused myself with drawing plants, &c. in my chamber. The care and attention of Dr. Laidley contributed greatly to alleviate my sufferings; his company and conversation beguiled the tedious hours during that gloomy season, when the rain falls in torrents; when suffocating heats oppress by day, and when the night is spent by the terrified traveller in listening to the croaking of frogs (of which the numbers are beyond imagination,) the shrill cry of the jackall, and the deep howling of the hyæna ; a dismal concert, interrupted only by the roar of such tremendous thunder as no person can form a conception of but those who have heard it.
The country itself being an immense level, and very generally covered with woods, presents a tiresome and gloomy uniformity to the eye ; but although nature has denied to the inhabitants the beauties of romantic landscapes, she has bestowed on them, with a liberal hand, the more important blessings of fertility and abundance. A little attention to cultivation procures a sufficiency of corn ; the fields afford a rich pasturage for cattle ; and the natives are plentifully supplied with excellent fish, both from the Gambia river and the Walli creek.
The grains which are chiefly cultivated are Indian corn, (zea mays); two kinds of holcus spicatus, called by the natives soono and sanio: holcus niger, and holcus bicolor; the former of which they have named bassi woolima, and the latter bassi qui. These, together with rice, are raised in considerable quantities : besides which the inhabitants, in the vicinity of the towns and villages, have gardens which produce onions, calavances, yams, cassavi, ground-nuts, pompions, gourds, water melons, and some other esculent plants.
I observed, likewise, near the towns, small patches of cotton and indigo. The former of these articles supplies them with clothing, and with the latter they die their cloth
of an excellent blue colour, in a manner that will hereafter be described.
In preparing their corn for food, the natives use a large wooden mortar called a paloon, in which they bruise the seed until it parts with the outer covering or husk, which is then separated from the clean corn, by exposing it to the wind; nearly in the same manner as wheat is cleared from the chaff in England. The corn thus freed from the husk, is returned to the mortar, and beaten into meal; which is dressed variously in different countries ; but the most common preparation of it among the nations of the Gambia, is a sort of pudding, which they call kouskous. It is made by first moistening the flour with water, and then stirring and shaking it about in a large calabash, or gourd, till it adheres together in small granules, resembling sago. It is then put into an earthen pot, whose bottom is perforated with a number of small holes ; and this pot being placed upon another, the two vessels are luted together, either with a paste of meal and water, or with cow's dung, and placed upon the fire. In the lower vessel is commonly some animal food and water, the steam or vapour of which ascends through the perforations in the bottom of the upper vessel, and softens and prepares the kouskous, which is very much esteemed throughout all the countries that I visited. I am informed, that the same manner of preparing flour, is very generally used on the Barbary coast, and that the dish so prepared, is there called by the same name. It is therefore, probable, that the Negroes borrowed the practice from the Moors.
For gratifying a taste for variety, another sort of pudding, called nealing, is sometimes prepared from the meal of corn; and they have also adopted two or three different modes of dressing their rice. Of vegetable food, therefore, the natives have no want; and although the common class of people are but sparingly supplied with animal food, yet this article is not wholly withheld from them.
Their domestic animals are nearly the same as in Europe. Swine are found in the woods, but their flesh is not esteemed : probably the marked abhorrence in which this animal is held by the votaries of Mahomet has spread itself among
the Pagans. Poultry of all kinds (the turkey excepted) is every where to be had. The Guinea fowl and red partridge abound in the fields; and the woods furnish a small species of antelope, of which the venison is highly and deservedly prized.
Of the other wild animals in the Mandingo countries, the most common are the hyæna, the panther, and the elephant. Considering the use that is made of the latter in the East Indies, it may be thought extraordinary, that the natives of Africa have not, in any part of this immense continent, acquired the skill of taming this powerful and docile creature, and applying his strength and faculties to the service of man. When I told some of the natives that this was actually done in the countries of the East, my auditors laughed me to scorn, and exclaimed, Tobaubo fonnio! (a white inan's lie). The Negroes frequently find means to destroy the elephant by fire-arms; they hunt it principally for the sake of the teeth, which they transfer in barter to those who sell them again to the Europeans. The flesh they eat, and consider it as a great delicacy.
The usual beast of burtben in all the Negro territories is the ass. The application of animal labour to the purposes of