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- Travels in the Interior of Africa - Volume 2 - 1/22 -

Transcribed from the 1887 Cassell & Company edition by David Price, email



The first of the two volumes which contain Mungo Park's "Travels in the Interior of Africa" brought him through many perils to the first sight of the Niger, and left him sick and solitary, stripped of nearly all that he possessed, a half-starved white man on a half- starved horse. He was helped on by a bag of cowries from a kindly chief; but in this volume he has not advanced far before he is stripped of all.

There is not in the range of English literature a more interesting traveller's tale than was given to the world in this book which this volume completes. It took the deeper hold upon its readers, because it appeared at a time when English hearts began to be stirred by the wrongs of slavery. But at any time there would be strong human interest in the unconscious painting of the writer's character, as he makes his way over far regions in which no white man had before been seen, with firm resolve and with good temper as well as courage and prudence, which bring him safe through many a hair-breadth escape. There was a true kindness in Mungo Park that found answering kindness and brought out the spirit of humanity in those upon whose goodwill his life depends; in the negroes often, although never in the Moors. There was no flinching in the man, who, when robbed of his horse, stripped to the shirt in a forest and left upon a lion's track, looked down with a botanist's eye on the beauty of a tiny moss at his feet, drew comfort from it, and laboured on with quiet faith in God. The same eye was as quick to recognise the diverse characters of men. In Mungo Park shrewd humour and right feeling went together. Whatever he had to say he said clearly and simply; and it went straight home. He had the good fortune to be born before "picturesque writing" was invented. When we return to the Gambia with Mungo Park under the same escort with a coffle of slaves on their way to be shipped for the use of Christians, from the strength of his unlaboured narrative we get clear knowledge unclouded by a rainbow mist of words. He is of one blood with the sailors in whom Hakluyt delighted.


Being, in the manner that has been related, compelled to leave Sego, I was conducted the same evening to a village about seven miles to the eastward, with some of the inhabitants of which my guide was acquainted, and by whom we were well received. {1} He was very friendly and communicative, and spoke highly of the hospitality of his countrymen, but withal told me that if Jenne was the place of my destination, which he seemed to have hitherto doubted, I had undertaken an enterprise of greater danger than probably I was apprised of; for, although the town of Jenne was nominally a part of the king of Bambarra's dominions, it was in fact, he said, a city of the Moors--the leading part of the inhabitants being bushreens, and even the governor himself, though appointed by Mansong, of the same sect. Thus was I in danger of falling a second time into the hands of men who would consider it not only justifiable, but meritorious, to destroy me, and this reflection was aggravated by the circumstance that the danger increased as I advanced in my journey, for I learned that the places beyond Jenne were under the Moorish influence in a still greater degree than Jenne itself, and Timbuctoo, the great object of my search, altogether in possession of that savage and merciless people, who allow no Christian to live there. But I had now advanced too far to think of returning to the westward on such vague and uncertain information, and determined to proceed; and being accompanied by the guide, I departed from the village on the morning of the 24th. About eight o'clock we passed a large town called Kabba, situated in the midst of a beautiful and highly cultivated country, bearing a greater resemblance to the centre of England than to what I should have supposed had been the middle of Africa. The people were everywhere employed in collecting the fruit of shea trees, from which they prepare the vegetable butter mentioned in former parts of this work. These trees grow in great abundance all over this part of Bambarra. They are not planted by the natives, but are found growing naturally in the woods; and in clearing woodland for cultivation every tree is cut down but the shea. The tree itself very much resembles the American oak, and the fruit--from the kernel of which, being first dried in the sun, the butter is prepared by boiling the kernel in water--has somewhat the appearance of a Spanish olive. The kernel is enveloped in a sweet pulp, under a thin green rind; and the butter produced from it, besides the advantage of its keeping the whole year without salt, is whiter, firmer, and, to my palate, of a richer flavour, than the best butter I ever tasted made from cow's milk. The growth and preparation of this commodity seem to be among the first objects of African industry in this and the neighbouring states, and it constitutes a main article of their inland commerce.

We passed, in the course of the day, a great many villages inhabited chiefly by fishermen, and in the evening about five o'clock arrived at Sansanding, a very large town, containing, as I was told, from eight to ten thousand inhabitants. This place is much resorted to by the Moors, who bring salt from Berroo, and beads and coral from the Mediterranean, to exchange here for gold dust and cotton cloth. This cloth they sell to great advantage in Berroo, and other Moorish countries, where, on account of the want of rain, no cotton is cultivated.

I desired my guide to conduct me to the house in which we were to lodge by the most private way possible. We accordingly rode along between the town and the river, passing by a creek or harbour, in which I observed twenty large canoes, most of them fully loaded, and covered with mats to prevent the rain from injuring the goods. As we proceeded, three other canoes arrived, two with passengers and one with goods. I was happy to find that all the negro inhabitants took me for a Moor, under which character I should probably have passed unmolested, had not a Moor, who was sitting by the river- side, discovered the mistake, and, setting up a loud exclamation, brought together a number of his countrymen.

When I arrived at the house of Counti Mamadi, the dooty of the town, I was surrounded with hundreds of people speaking a variety of different dialects, all equally unintelligible to me. At length, by the assistance of my guide, who acted as interpreter, I understood that one of the spectators pretended to have seen me at one place, and another at some other place; and a Moorish woman absolutely swore that she had kept my house three years at Gallam, on the river Senegal. It was plain that they mistook me for some other person, and I desired two of the most confident to point towards the place where they had seen me. They pointed due south; hence I think it probable that they came from Cape Coast, where they might have seen many white men. Their language was different from any I had yet heard. The Moors now assembled in great number, with their usual arrogance, compelling the negroes to stand at a distance. They immediately began to question me concerning my religion, but finding that I was not master of Arabic, they sent for two men, whom they call Ilhuidi (Jews), in hopes that they might be able to converse with me. These Jews, in dress and appearance, very much resemble the Arabs; but though they so far conform to the religion of Mohammed as to recite in public prayers from the Koran, they are but little respected by the negroes; and even the Moors themselves allowed that, though I was a Christian, I was a better man than a Jew. They however insisted that, like the Jews, I must conform so far as to repeat the Mohammedan prayers; and when I attempted to waive the subject by telling them that I could not speak Arabic, one of them, a shereef from Tuat, in the Great Desert, started up and swore by the Prophet that if I refused to go to the mosque, he would be one that would assist in carrying me thither; and there is no doubt that this threat would have been immediately executed had not my landlord interposed on my behalf. He told them that I was the king's stranger, and he could not see me ill-treated whilst I was under his protection. He therefore advised them to let me alone for the night, assuring them that in the morning I should be sent about my business. This somewhat appeased their clamour, but they compelled me to ascend a high seat by the door of the mosque, in order that everybody might see me, for the people had assembled in such numbers as to be quite ungovernable, climbing upon the houses, and squeezing each other, like the spectators at an execution. Upon this seat I remained until sunset, when I was conducted into a neat little hut, with a small court before it, the door of which Counti Mamadi shut, to prevent any person from disturbing me. But this precaution could not exclude the Moors. They climbed over the top of the mud wall, and came in crowds into the court, "in order," they said, "to see me PERFORM MY EVENING DEVOTIONS, AND EAT EGGS." The former of these ceremonies I did not think proper to comply with, but I told them I had no objection to eat eggs, provided they would bring me eggs to eat. My landlord immediately brought me seven hen's eggs, and was much surprised to find that I could not eat them raw; for it seems to be a prevalent opinion among the inhabitants of the interior that Europeans subsist almost entirely on this diet. When I had succeeded in persuading my landlord that this opinion was without foundation, and that I would gladly partake of any victuals which he might think proper to send me, he ordered a sheep to be killed, and part of it to be dressed for my supper. About midnight, when the Moors had left me, he paid me a visit, and with much earnestness desired me to write him a saphie. "If a Moor's saphie is good," said this hospitable old man, "a white man's must needs be better." I readily furnished him with one, possessed of all the virtues I could concentrate, for it contained the Lord's Prayer. The pen with which it was written was made of a reed; a little charcoal and gum-water made very tolerable ink, and a thin board answered the purpose of paper.

July 25.--Early in the morning, before the Moors were assembled, I departed from Sansanding, and slept the ensuing night at a small town called Sibili, from whence on the day following I reached Nyara, a large town at some distance from the river, where I halted the 27th, to have my clothes washed, and recruit my horse. The dooty there has a very commodious house, flat-roofed, and two storeys high. He showed me some gunpowder of his own manufacturing; and pointed out, as a great curiosity, a little brown monkey that

Travels in the Interior of Africa - Volume 2 - 1/22

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