A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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you please," and both went to an officer who was
down at the landing-place ; and with whom, in fact,
both the American and myself had come ashore.
He, having got rid of the seaman, somewhat con-
soled the outraged dignity of the American by
remarkinoj that the individual who had treated him
with such scant courtesy was an ass ; but my friend
had had quite enough of Ascension, and went on
board the mail steamer in a great rage ; in which
state I found him anathematising all Britishers when
I embarked an hour or two later. And it was not
until after many cocktails that he could at all view
the occurrence in a humorous lisjht.



Beautiful Scenery — Cocoa Plantation — A Tropical Forest — The
Boobies — Their Peculiarities — An Aboriginal Village — A
Trying Inspection — Irreclaimable Savages — Nature's Livery —
Port Clarence — A Spanish Legend— History of the Island —
Its Kesources — Political Prisoners — An Ingenious Escape —
Tropical Fruit — Padres — Tailed Men — Strange Specimens of
Humanity — The Strait — Cameroons Peak — Climate.

On the morning of Christmas Day, 1879, being on
board the indifferent ship Blank (I do not know why in
narratives the vessel under description should always
be termed the "good ship"), I went on deck, about
six o'clock, and saw before me at a distance of some
ten miles, a vast mountainous mass risino; out of
the sea. It was the island of Fernando Po, so
called from having been discovered by a Portuguese
named Fernas do Poo, in 1471. As we drew nearer,
one of the most lovely panoramas it has ever been
my lot to behold, and which it is utterly beyond


tlie power of words to describe, was gradually

The sun, low in the heavens, but gaining power
minute by minute, darted long rays of fire into
the bosom of the billowy sea of clouds which veiled
the summits of the mountains, and even trailed a
feathery canopy over the lower ridges. Minute by
minute the mist melted and melted till it became
a film of lace, rent here and there by spears of
flame ; then wreath by wreath it floated off into
a sky of cloudless blue, and at last the majestic
Clarence Peak, 10,190 feet in height, stood forth
unveiled to meet the day, its emerald slopes flecked
with gold and purple by sun and shadow.

The surf broke in long white lines upon a beach
of dark-red pebbles ; and, immediately above, their
feet almost laved by the salt sea, stood stately trees,
covered with wild vines and flowering parasites, the
advanced guard of the tropical forest which stretched
back in one unbroken mass of green undulations,
so far that the eye could not distinguish where the
forest ended and the grass slopes of the higher
ridges began. Nestling down on the beach, where
a slice had been cut out of the forest, were three
or four wooden negro huts — picturesque at a distance ;
but no other sign of life was to be seen as far as
the eye could range, and the primeval forest, un-


disturbed for countless ages, overshadowed and
seemed about to swallow up the pigmies who had
dared to raise their excrescences at its feet.

Steaming on, we rounded a reef of black and
shining rocks, which extended some distance into
the small bay, and finally dropped anchor off the
negro huts. It was George's Bay. The buildings
on shore resolved themselves on a closer inspection
into a clap-board dwelling-house and three sheds,
and the slice cut out of the forest into a cocoa
plantation. I heard that this clearing had been
made, the huts built, and the cocoa planted by a
Sierra Leone negro, who was now making a good
thing out of his plantation ; and, as I had never
seen such a paradox as an industrious Sierra Leone
negro, I went on shore to look at him.

From my inspection I acquired no data for
the formation of other industrious Africans. I saw
the usual accessories of native life, rum, tobacco,
fleas, dirt, hypocrisy, and female retainers, and
discovered that this black swan was after all nothing
more than a common domestic bird, that he kept
a store and traded goods to the natives at exorbitant
prices, hired Kroomen to work his plantation and
did nothing himself but eat, drink, smoke, sleep,
and lounge about. As if any Sierra Leone negro
would ever condescend to physical labour !


The soil is wonderfully fertile and the cocoa is
said to pay here a year sooner than elsewhere,
but there were not more than two acres of ground
under cultivation, and the whole of that area was
not available for planting, the ground being en-
cumbered with tree-stumps and decaying limbs and
branches. I crossed a small stream of beautifully
clear water, rippling over a ledge of rock at the back
of the plantation, and went with the doctor of the
steamer along a narrow path into the forest. Leaving
the hot glare of the plantation and plunging into
the cool umbrageous depths of the forest was like
taking a new lease of life, and here indeed were
vegetable giants. One silk-cotton tree (Bombax) that
I observed was 210 feet high, the first branch
springing out at a height of 149 feet above the
ground ; while ebony, yellow logwood, lignura vitw
and a species of mahogany towered aloft over a
dense mass of underwood and feathery bamboo ;
the whole being matted and bound together by
llianas and parasitical plants, covered with masses
of gorgeous flowers, so as to be quite impassable.
Kare blossoms were crushed under foot, splendid
orchids reared their banners from the forks of
branches and the hollows of gigantic buttresses,
and butterflies, measuring from four to six inches
across the wings, and of the most brilliant hues,


hovered around. It was the beau ideal of a tropical

After walking along the path for about an hour,
finding fresh surprises and beauties every minute,
we observed several copper-coloured individuals
coming towards us. There were some of each sex,
both attired in the costume usually attributed to
our ancestral relatives Adam and Eve, with this
difi"erence, that they wore necklaces of Birmingham
beads, and had discarded the fig-leaves. The
women, strange to say, in a part of the world
where women are usually the only beasts of burden,
and transport everything portable upon their heads,
were carrying nothing, while one of the men had
a bundle of skins balanced on the top of his
wool. Two others of the men were armed with
those trade-muskets which are supplied by the
British trader to the unsophisticated African, and
are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. These
ones were of that pattern known as " long Danes,"
and which stand some six feet high from butt-
plate to muzzle : the barrels seemed to be long-
pieces of burnished gas-pipe (in any case they
were mere cast-iron tubes) placed upon stocks sawn
out of deal and painted a brilliant vermilion. The
warriors handled these unquestionably deadly
weapons with manifest pride, and the trumpery


lock of each, a flint action, was carefully protected
from wet by a deer-skin cover. Being unprovided
with pockets, through the primitive nature of
their costume, each man had a ligature tied tightly
round the biceps, and under this was slipped the
blade of the knife, the stem of the pipe, or any
other small article that it was convenient to carry
about. Both sexes had their chests, arms, and
stomachs covered with patterns of wonderful in-
tricacy, and which had all been made by cuts and
gashes with a knife or sharpened stone, for the
custom of tattooing, that is, making mere punctures
in the skin and squeezing some staining fluid into
them, is unknown in AVest Africa. One or two
of the helles of the party had their wool and faces
daubed with streaks of red ochreous earth, which,
though perhaps just as reasonable as the use of
rouge, did not, in our eyes, enhance their charms.
As is usually the case with savage nations, their
figures were all undeniably good.

These gentry were the aborigines of the island,
called by the uninquiring British trader " Boobies,"
on account of their word of salutation, *' Buhe,"
meaning " stranger." It is now generally accepted
that they belong to a race named Aduyah, though
according to some authorities Aduyah or Adiya is
only the native name for the town of Clarence;


the capital of Fernando Po. These Adnyahs
differ both in language and in physical charac-
teristics from the tribes of the mainland, and
they are the remnant of a once powerful race,
which centuries ago, being driven out of its own terri-
tory by the more robust peoples of the Cameroons,
took refuge in this mountainous island. They
are not of the cigar-colour of the ordinary negro,
but of a more red and coppery hue. In the matter
of streaking themselves with ochre, plastering their
hair with red clay, and in the use of the javelin or
assegai, they resemble some of the Kaffirs of South
Africa ; while in colour and features they approach
more nearly the Hottentot type than any other with
which I am acquainted. Their language has some
slight affinities with one or two South African lan-
guages, and, like the Hottentots proper, they are as
a rule rather short in stature.

The Aduyahs regard the Spaniards with such
hatred and suspicion, the result of years of ill-
treatment, and so few persons of other nations have
had an opportunity of studying them, that nothing is
known concerning their religious belief, and but very
little about their manners, customs, and form of
government. With regard to the last-named, it has
been' ascertained that there is no king or supreme
ruler of the nation as a whole, and it is supposed that


each village is an independent community, governed
by a headman who is called the " Cocaroco," and who
is elected by the male inhabitants. They are said to
have many peculiar customs, and one, not the least
singular, requires that a bride shall remain in her
hut for twelve months after marriage, or longer than
that period if she does not show any intention of
soon increasing the population. When dressing their
heads with the red clay, which is mixed to the
required consistency with palm oil, they plaster the
material on and smooth it down until it becomes a
smooth and solid mass ; in which state it remains
until accident, exposure to rain, or wear and tear has
damaged the fabric and rendered a new dressing

One of the Aduyahs whom we met could speak a
little English, which he had picked up from the Sierra
Leone trader and his Kroomen, and we learned from
him that the party was going to the store to buy
rum. Without much difficulty we persuaded him to
give up his intended journey for strong waters, and
to guide us to his village, which, he said, was not
far distant ; and away we went up the mountain
slope, by a devious path some eighteen inches broad.
Presen.tly our new acquaintance, who was leading,
crouched down, held out his brilliantly coloured
musket at arm's length, and discharged it into a tree


covered with dense foliage that overhung the path.
The tremendous report of the piece rolled away in
echoes from ridge to ridge of the mountains, until it
died away in a kind of sob in the distance ; and
when the smoke had cleared away we saw a shattered
monkey lying in the path, while a swaying of
branches and a loud chattering announced the rapid
retreat of its terrified but more fortunate companions.
The Aduyah turned to us for applause, with a smile
breaking out all over his face ; and he seemed so
elated that I fancy he was not accustomed to make
such good shots.

We had ascended for some four miles, and were
beginning to feel rather warm, when suddenly the
forest on the right hand seemed to be cut away, and
we found ourselves upon the brink of a circular hollow,
about one hundred yards in diameter, and from two to
three hundred feet deep. This crater was doubtless an
offshoot of the great parent volcano which had reared
the immense cone of Clarence Peak, and had lonof
been dormant, as the sides and bottom were covered
with a dense wood, some of the trees in which were
evidently centuries old. The path skirted the brink
for some distance, and then again plunged into the

After about another mile and a half of a steeper
incline the forest grew less dense, then it ceased


altogether, and, emerging from it, we found ourselves
upon a broad and level shoulder of the mountain,
which was covered with grass and dotted with
immense boulders of rock. Clustering under the
shelter of one of these, about the size of an ordinary
cottage, were fifteen or twenty huts. This was the
Aduyah village.

Our guide heralded our approach by a series of
ear-splitting screeches, and the whole population
turned out to inspect us. We seated ourselves upon
a flat rock, and the people sat down, forming a semi-
circle in front of us. It was a very trying moment.
There were we two Europeans, clad in the garments
of civilisation, and imbued with the prejudices
inherent to our bringing-up, placed face to face
with some seventy or eighty persons, men, women,
and children, of all ages, and all absolutely unclothed
— even with a blush. However, I made up so much
for them in that respect that the doctor thought
I v/as going to have an apoplectic fit ; and I could
have furnished each individual in the crowd with
a complete suit of blushes, and then have had plenty
to spare.

In deep silence the conclave gazed upon us for
some five minutes, taking in the minutest details
of our clothing and appearance with astonishment
and awe. Then a young girl, thirteen or fourteen


years of age, approached shyly, and with trepidation
stroked my knee, to feel what kind of unknown
skin it was that I had. Next she touched my hand,
and finding a radical difference between the trowsers
and my flesh, fairly retreated in a fright. As she
did so I observed that her left arm, which she had
been holding behind her, had the hand wanting.

Presently I saw that a second woman had had
her left hand amputated, then another and another,
until at last, out of the thirty-five or forty women
present, I counted eight who had been maimed in
this way. I learned afterwards that infidelity in a
wife is, amongst these people, punished by lopping
off the left hand ; so those I saw were, I suppose, the
victims of this barbarous custom. From the large
proportion who had thus suffered it seems that
physical pain is, with the Aduyahs, just as
inefficacious in checking this favourite female method
of resenting the restraints and subordinate position
imposed by the male animal upon woman, as is
the exposure of the Divorce Court and the disfavour
of the omnipotent Mrs. Grundy with us.

Our guide was the only native present who knew
any English, though one or two of the elders spoke
a few words of Spanish, and we gathered from his
disjointed sentences that we were the only white
men who had ever visited the village, that many of


the people before us had never before seen a white
face, and that the children had not, as a rule, even
seen clothes. This village was one of the largest
on that side of the island, and boasted, I should say,
of some 110 inhabitants. The houses were very-
primitive, and consisted merely of four uprights,
filled in with a rough matting of palm-leaves.

Directly the first feeling of timidity wore off, and
they had ascertained that we were not carnivorous
devils (for the dark-skinned races always describe
their demons as being white in colour), the children
came pawing us all over to examine us. One small
boy, in particular, wanted to know if wc were
the same colour all over; and when the doctor
pulled up his sleeve and showed him the differ-
ence between sun-burned and fair skin, his curiosity
rose to boiling point, and he could scarcely be
restrained from undressing us. In fact I had
to take the guide aside and tell him to explain
to the elders that it was against our fetish
to expose ourselves uncovered in public, and that
if they made us do so, some dire calamity would
befall them. This had the desired effect, and the
inquisitive boy was smacked and led away.

Our Aduyah hosts were so hospitable that they
insisted upon our partaking of some dark mystery,
Avhich was stewing in an earthen pot over a fire.


As far as we could ascertain, it contained rock-rabbit,
monkey, guana, grasshoppers, snails, lizards, frogs,
red-peppers, and palm nuts, and we tasted it with
fear and trembling ; but it was not worse than most
made dishes. Then two lads displayed their skill
in throwing their spears ; having as a target a peeled
stake, which they stuck in the earth about twelve
yards off. Sometimes they hit it, but more frequently
they did not, and the practice did not strike us
as being very deadly. Before leaving we distributed
a few shillings, and the whole village sang a paean
in our praise ; while some of the women were so
impressed with our generosity and personal charms
that they wanted to go away with us, and stay
with us altogether ; but the men objected. A large
party escorted us for some three miles along the path,
and then bid us adieu with much sorrow.

So these were the ferocious Boobies, who are
described as being the most irreclaimable savages
in West Africa. Probably they are not very friendly
with Spaniards, because the Spaniards, until very
recently, used to indulge in the. pastime of hunting
them with bloodhounds ; and the child of nature
is a good hater, and knows how to nurse a grievance ;
but I think they are the most inoffensive barbarians
I have ever met. They are certainly much lower
in the scale of civilisation than most West African


tribes, but then people who are always being hunted
about by savage clogs, and shot down in hattues,
have not much time to spare for self-culture. The
missionaries are now taking them in hand, and trying
to make them give up their primitive costume and
habits, so I expect they will soon become as great
scoundrels as the inhabitants of the mainland.

I had particularly noticed that day the horror
and disgust with which those Aduyah children, who
had never before seen Europeans, regarded our faces.
Often before I have seen little children scream and
run away in an agony of fright at sight of a white
man, but these were too old for that. Accustomed
as they are to the warm brown tints with which
nature clothes man in the tropics, our pale faces
must at first appear to them horrible and ghastly
in the extreme. Certainly if nature intended man
to go about innocent of wearing apparel, a dark
skin is absolutely necessary, and I know nothing
which seems to outrage the general fitness of things
so much as an albino nes^ro walkinof about unclothed
like his compatriots. If the ancient Britons were of
the same colour as we are now they were quite right
to tint themselves with some dye, though blue is
hardly the colour that I should choose. Still on the
other hand a naked European does not more ofi'end
the eye than docs a negro attired in European


garments ; for, by adopting such, the latter trans-
forms himself from a bronze statue into a shuffling
and grinning ape.

Before oroinoj on board the steamer again I
wandered along the sea-shore over a beach of pumice
and volcanic ash. The hard black rocks which
cropped up here and there were covered with curious
grooves, about three inches broad, from six to nine
inches long, and half an inch deep, the concave
surfaces being quite smooth and looking as if they
had been recently highly polished with black-lead.
I should like to know the cause of these.

Three or four days after this visit to the little-
frequented George's Bay, we steamed round the
island, and dropped anchor in Clarence Cove, off the
capital of Fernando Po. The cove is circular in
form, being evidently the crater of an extinct
volcano ; and on the shore it is walled in by rocky
cliffs, from 100 to 200 feet high. On the summit of
these stands the town, and the white-washed and
green-jalousied houses, crowning the red cliffs, stand
out picturesquely against the background of green
and purple mountain clothed with forest.

I rather like the town of Clarence. It is a pretty
little place, each house nestling in a piece of garden,
the streets at right angles with each other, and
planted with trees. Most of the best houses stand

V 2


on the cliff overlooking the bay, and there is Govern-
ment House, which is frequently unoccupied, the
governorship of the island being vested in the
captain of the Spanish gunboat on the station, who
is often absent on cruises. Clarence even possesses a
theatre, though one would imagine that no dramatic
company would ever be insane enough to visit
Fernando Po ; but performances are sometimes got
up by the men-of-war's men. The place was evi-
dently well looked after by the local authorities, and
the neatness and order contrasted painfully with the
ruin and neglect which are so conspicuous in our
own West African colonies. The streets were so
clean that the wretched Turkey Buzzards could
scarcely find enough to keep body and soul together,
and were perched about on the tops of trees and
the gables of houses, looking hungry and melancholy.

These scavengers, as no doubt the reader knows,
are bald-headed, and the Spaniards have invented
a little legend to account for it. They say, that
when the waters subsided after the Deluge, and
Noah opened the main-hatch of the Ark to let out
the passengers, the ancient mariner thought that
he would give a parting word of advice to his
fellow-voyagers, and, commencing with the birds,
said :

" My children, when you see a man stoop down


as he is coming towards yon, fly away from him,
for he is picking up a stone to throw at you."

" That's all very well," exclaimed the Turkey
Buzzard, " but suppose he has already got one in his
pocket ? "

At this the early explorer, being non-plussed,
became angry ; and he decreed that from that mo-
ment the Turkey Buzzard should go bald-headed, in
token of its unnatural sharpness.

The history of Fernando Po is rather curious.
After its discovery in 1471 by the Portuguese, it
remained uncolonised till the commencement of the
eighteenth century, when a few settlers from the
neighbouring Portuguese island of St. Thomas esta-
blished themselves on the north side. This settle-
ment was, it appears, not sanctioned or recognised
by the Portuguese government; for, in 1778, they
ceded the island to Spain. The first Spanish officials
who were sent to take possession were repulsed by
the Portuguese colonists, who refused to acknow-
ledge the right of the mother country to transfer
them to another power; but, in 1779, the Spaniards
returned in force, and the Portuguese fled to St.
Thomas. The climate of Fernando Po proved so
unhealthy for the new-comers that more than half
of them died in the first year of the Spanish
occupation; next the garrison mutinied, and, in


1781, fioally left the island with the few remaining
settlers ; and, no fresh expedition being sent out
from Spain, it remained in the hands of its original
owners, the Aduyahs, from that date.

In 1827 the English took possession of the island,
and in that year established the town of Port
Clarence, which was regularly garrisoned by a detach-
ment of the Koyal African Colonial Corps. One of
the principal reasons of this occupation was that the
slave trade which was carried on in the numerous
outfalls of the river Niger could be more efiectually
checked from Fernando Po than from any other place
suitable for refitting the vessels engaged in the
suppression of the trade ; and in spite of the protests
of Spain, who asserted her claim to the island,
negro settlers were obtained from Sierra Leone, and
Clarence became a regular station for the debarkation
of slaves from captured slavers. In 1834, however,
the British officials were withdrawn and the colony
abandoned, the Government, though they still dis-
puted the Spanish claims, being induced to take this
step by persons who were interested in the settlement
of Sierra Leone, from which great things were then
expected, and who, seeing in Fernando Po a possible
formidable rival for the growth of tropical produce,
feared competition. Although the officials and troops

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 4 of 22)