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at large into their character, until a fitter occasion occurs, which will present itself when I come to Bondou.
The Mandingoes, of whom it remains to speak, constitute in truth, the bulk of the inhabitants in all those districts of Africa which I visited; and their language, with a few exceptions, is universally understood, and very generally spoken, in that part of the continent. Their numerals are these:*
They are called Mandingoes, I conceive, as having, originally, migrated from the interior state of Manding, of which some account will hereafter be given; but, contrary to the present constitution of their parent country, which is republican, it appeared to me that the government in all the Mandingo states, near the Gambia, is monarchical. The power of the sovereign is, however, by no means unlimited. In all affairs of importance, the king calls an assembly of the principal men, or elders, by whose councils he is directed,
* In the Travels of Francis Moore, the reader will find a pretty copious vocabulary of the Mandingo language, which in general is correct.
and without whose advice he can neither declare war, nor
In every considerable town there is a chief magistrate, called the Alkaid, whose office is hereditary, and whose business it is to preserve order, to levy duties on travellers, and to preside at all conferences in the exercise of local jurisdiction and the administration of justice. These courts. are composed of the elders of the town (of free condition), and are termed palavers; and their proceedings are conducted in the open air with sufficient solemnity. Both sides of a question are freely canvassed, witnesses are publicly examined, and the decisions which follow generally meet with the approbation of the surrounding audience.
As the Negroes have no written language of their own, the general rule of decision is an appeal to ancient custom; but since the system of Mahomet has made so great progress among them, the converts to that faith have gradually introduced, with the religious tenets, many of the civil institutions of the Prophet; and where the Koran is not found sufficiently explicit, recourse is had to a commentary called Al Sharra, containing, as I was told, a complete exposition or digest of the Mahomedan laws, both civil and criminal, properly arranged and illustrated.
This frequency of appeal to written laws, with which the Pagan natives are necessarily unacquainted, has given rise in their palavers to (what I little expected to find in Africa) professional advocates, or expounders of the law, who are allowed to appear and to plead for plaintiff or defendant, much in the same manner as council in the law courts of Great Britain. They are Mahomedan Negroes, who have
made, or affect to have made, the laws of the Prophet their peculiar study; and if I may judge from their harangues, which I frequently attended, I believe that in the forensic qualifications of procrastination and cavil, and the arts of confounding and perplexing a cause, they are not always surpassed by the ablest pleaders in Europe. While I was at Pisania a cause was heard which furnished the Mahomedan lawyers with an admirable opportunity of displaying their professional dexterity. The case was this: an ass belonging to a Serawoolli Negro (a native of an interior country near the river Senegal) had broke into a field of corn belonging to one of the Mandingo inhabitants, and destroyed great part of it. The Mandingo having caught the animal in his field, immediately drew his knife and cut its throat. The Serawoolli thereupon called a palaver (or in European terms, brought an action) to recover damages for the loss of his beast, on which he set a high value. The defendant confessed he had killed the ass, but pleaded a set off, insisting that the loss he had sustained by the ravage in his corn, was equal to the sum demanded for the animal. To ascertain this fact was the point at issue, and the learned advocates contrived to puzzle the cause in such a manner, that after a hearing of three days, the court broke up without coming to any determination upon it; and a second palaver was, I suppose, thought necessary.
The Mandingoes, generally speaking, are of a mild, sociable, and obliging disposition. The men are commonly above the middle size, well shaped, strong, and capable of enduring great labour; the women are good-natured, sprightly and agreeable. The dress of both sexes is composed
of cotton cloth, of their own manufacture; that of the men is a loose frock, not unlike a surplice, with drawers which reach half way down the leg; and they wear sandals on their feet, and white cotton caps on their heads. The women's dress consists of two pieces of cloth, each of which they wrap round the waist, which hanging down to the ancles answers the purpose of a petticoat: the other is thrown negligently over the bosom and shoulders.
This account of their clothing is indeed nearly applicable to the natives of all the different countries in this part of Africa; a peculiar national mode is observable only in the head dresses of the women.
Thus, in the countries of the Gambia, the females wear a sort of bandage, which they call Jalla. It is a narrow stripe of cotton cloth, wrapped many times round, immediately over the forehead. In Bondou the head is encircled with strings of white beads, and a small plate of gold is worn in the middle of the forehead. In Kasson, the ladies decorate their heads in a very tasteful and elegant manner, with white sea-shells. In Kaarta and Ludamar, the women raise their hair to a great height by the addition of a pad (as the ladies did formerly in Great Britain), which they decorate with a species of coral, brought from the Red sea by pilgrims returning from Mecca, and sold at a great price.
In the construction of their dwelling houses, the Mandingoes also conform to the general practice of the African nations on this part of the continent, contenting themselves with small and incommodious hovels. A circular mud wall about four feet high, upon which is placed a conical roof, composed of the bamboo cane, and thatched with grass,
forms alike the palace of the king, and the hovel of the slave. Their household furniture is equally simple. A hurdle of canes placed upon upright stakes, about two feet from the ground, upon which is spread a mat or bullock's hide, answers the purpose of a bed: a water jar, some earthen pots for dressing their food, a few wooden bowls and calabashes, and one or two low stools, compose the rest.
As every man of free condition has a plurality of wives, it is found necessary (to prevent, I suppose, matrimonial dispute,) that each of the ladies should be accommodated with a hut to herself; and all the huts belonging to the same family are surrounded by a fence, constructed of bamboo canes split and formed into a sort of wickerwork. The whole inclosure is called a sirk, or surk. A number of these inclosures, with narrow passages between them, form what is called a town; but the huts are generally placed without any regularity, according to the caprice of the owner. The only rule that seems to be attended to, is placing the door towards the south-west, in order to admit the sea breeze.
In each town is a large stage called the Bentang, which answers the purpose of a public hall or town-house; it is composed of interwoven canes, and is generally sheltered from the sun by being erected in the shade of some large tree. It is here that all public affairs are transacted and trials conducted: and here the lazy and indolent meet to smoke their pipes, and hear the news of the day. In most of the towns the Mahomedans have also a missura, or mosque, in which they assemble and offer up their daily prayers, according to the rules of the Koran.
In the account which I have thus given of the natives,