A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

West African islands online

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were removed, the Sierra Leone settlers remained in


Clarence, and they were protected from interference
on the part of other nations by the vessels of war on
the station. This state of affairs continued until
1844, when Great Britain at length acknowledged the
right of Spain to the island, and offered to purchase
it for the sum of £60,000. This proposal was
rejected by the Cortes, and the Spaniards resumed
possession, bringing over a staff of officers from Cuba.
They changed the name of Port Clarence to Puerto
de Isabel, and that of Clarence Peak to Santa Isabel,
but as all the inhabitants of the island were, with the
exception of the Aduyahs, English- speaking negroes,
and no Spanish colonists were introduced, the older
names survived, and by them both the town and the
peak are still generally known.

Fernando Po is an island with great possibilities
before it, for, apart from the wonderful fertility of its
soil and its mountainous character, which provides
different elevations for the growth of different pro-
ductions, whenever the Niger is thoroughly opened
for trade it will become the great emporium of the
Delta, for which its position off the low-lying and
swampy shore of the mainland admirably suits it.
The Spaniards have made no attempt to develop its
great natural resources, and though during the short
period of the British occupation,' coffee, sugar, and
cotton were produced, these industries became extinct


shortly after Spain resumed control of the island.
The island is about forty-three miles in length and
twenty in breadth, and gradually rises from the sea-
shore to a central ridge of mountains some 8,000 feet
in height. This central ridge is terminated at each
extremity by a peak, Clarence Peak being the one to
the north. There are, of course, no navigable rivers,
and the principal stream is the Rio Consul which
flows into Clarence Cove. Besides George's Bay and
Clarence Cove the island possesses a good anchorage
at Melville Bay on the east side of the island, where
there is a small tradino- establishment of the same
kind as that of the Sierra Leone trader at George's
Bay, but there is no cultivation at this spot, and the
trade is confined to the palm-oil which is obtained
from the numerous oil-palms with which the sur-
rounding forest is dotted. At the southern extremity
of the island the land rises more abruptly from the
sea than at other parts, and there are several pre-
cipitous mountains nearly 3,000 feet high.

The Spaniards seem to use Fernando Po princi-
pally as a place of exile for political prisoners.
Amongst others, those professors who had a slight
difierence of opinion with their Government as to
what subjects it was advisable to have taught in
Universities were located here. They were not in
the least grateful for being afi'ordcd this unrivalled


opportunity of studying natural history free of
expense, and, after a sojourn of one or two months in
the island, they arranged with an English trader and
the captain of a mail steamer an ingenious plan of

They were allowed full liberty within the island,
but were not permitted to leave it, so, one morning,
when the homeward-bound steamer was lying at
anchor in the cove, they quietly sauntered into the
trader's house. Then, when there were no inquisitive
strangers about, they were taken down into a back
yard, placed each inside a palm-oil puncheon and
headed up. Thence they were taken down to
the beach under the very eyes of the Govern-
ment officials, rolled into boats, and hoisted on
board the steamer. History does not inform us
whether the puncheons containing these wily pro-
fessors were rolled down the steep incline from the
cliff to the beach, as is usually done, or were
carried down in a truck. If the former, they
must have performed many involuntary acrobatic
feats during the descent.

Some hours after the steamer had sailed the
fugitives were missed, and as no other vessel had
left Clarence that day, a gunboat was despatched
to overhaul and search the mail. The British ship
was soon overtaken, and the professors wrung their


hands and talked of resisting to the last extremity,
but the English captain was equal to the occasion.
He ordered them all into their casks again, had
them headed up, and then stowed them in the
hold under a tier of others filled with palm-oil.
This had just been completed when a Spanish officer
with an armed boat's crew boarded the steamer
and demanded the immediate surrender of the
escaped prisoners. He was of course told that
there were no such persons on board, and, after
vainly searching throughout the ship, was compelled
to go away baffled.

One of the sights in the neighbourhood of
Clarence is the avenue of mango trees which is
said to be five miles in length. I walked along
it for more than two miles, with a canopy of
green leaves overhead, and the golden fruit hanging
down invitingly within reach. But the African
mango is not a very tempting fruit. Take a very
stringy turnip and let it soak in turpentine and
furniture polish for forty-eight hours, then eat it,
and nothino- will be left for the imas^ination to
picture but the colour and the stone of the real

It appears to me that most travellers delight
in describing to the untravelled reader the luscious-
ness and delicacies of tropical fruits, and give


highly coloured descriptions of bananas, gnavas,
pine-apples, passion fruit, paw-paws, mangoes, etc.,
that make the mouth of the unhappy novice water,
and cause him to curse the hard fate which has
restricted him to the well-known, and consequently
only half-appreciated, fruits of England. Yet there
is no tropical fruit at all to be compared with
the ordinary fruits of England, except the pine-
apple, and the English hot-house pine is far
superior to any tropical one, exce^Dt perhaps the
black pine of Cape Coast Castle. What are all
the rest ?^ Fill a gigantic bean-pod with sweetened
soap, and you have the banana. Scoop out an
apple, fill the hollow with raisin pips and pour in
raspberry vinegar, and you have the pomegranate ;
substitute sugar and water, and there is the passion
fruit, or diluted essence of almonds and you have
the guava. Colour a vegetable marrow with saffron,
sweeten it with sugar, and behold the paw-paw.
What amongst all these things is there to compare
with the greengage, or the nectarine, or the Kentish
cherry *? Tropical fruit is a delusion and a snare.

As Fernando Po belongs to Spain, Eoman
Catholicism is naturally the dominant religion
there. There are some Protestant missionaries in
Clarence, but they are only there on sufierance,
are not allowed to have bells rung for their services,


and, if they made themselves too obnoxious to
the j9ac?r^5, would soon be expelled altogether.
Since there are already more Roman Catholic
priests in the island than are required for the
proselytisation of the natives, it may be wondered
why these British and American missionaries do
not go to some of the places on the mainland,
where there are no teachers of any denomination
at all. But the fact is that they do not care so
very much for merely christianising the natives ;
what they want to do is to make them Methodists
first and Christians afterwards.

As is usual with rival teachers of conflicting
doctrines there is no love lost between these gentry,
and the missionaries gladly pour into the willing
ear of the Protestant visitor all kinds of scandalous
stories concerning the priests, which may, or may
not, be true. For my part I received great polite-
ness and kindness at their hands. Most of them
are well-educated gentlemen, which cannot be said
of the Protestant missionaries, and some of them
are men of science. I met one who evidently had
a leaning towards the Darwinian theory. He told
me that the Aduyahs cannot understand each other
in the dark, owing to their language being helped
out so copiously by gestures, and this would be
indicative of a long past age when man had not


language, but communicatecl his ideas by inarticulate
sounds and signs. I have heard of a tribe on the
Kroo coast the members of which are in a similar
predicament, and, when there is no moon, have to
go to bed early to avoid the confusion arising from
misinterpreted sentences.

The priest also said that in the Gaboon lie had
seen three men with short tails. I suppose our
remote ancestors all had tails, otherwise the os
coccygis becomes incomprehensible, and many tribes
in West Africa have a way of squatting down on
their heels which looks as if it were a relic of old
times when it would have hurt them to have sat
on their tails. But the belief that tailed-men exist
in West Africa is one of very ancient date, and
many travellers have testified to their existence.
Horneman mentions some, and says they formed
a separate tribe which was called Niam-niam. De
Castelnau gives us the exact measurement of their
tails, and says that the Niam-niams were almost
exterminated by the Houssa tribes, because they
considered them to be the offspring of an unholy
alliance of men and apes. In 1852, also. Doctor
Hutsch, physician to the hospital at Constantinople,
saw and examined a negress having a tail about
two inches in length, smooth and hairless, and
terminating in a point. He was informed that she


had been brought from Central Africa, and belonged
to a tribe named Niam-niam, all the members of
which bore the same caudal appendage.

In AVest Africa one sees many strange specimens
of humanitT. There is said to be a tribe, living
to the north of Ashanti, who have short horns
growing out of their foreheads ; I have, however,
seen two individuals of this tribe and the so-called
horns do not grow out of the forehead, but out of
the cheek-bone, under the eye. The excrescence is
not really a horn, but a blunt and bony lump,
projecting about one inch from the face. Some
missionaries endeavoured to explain away this
phenomenon by saying that the projections were
due to vegetable matter having been placed in cuts
made on the cheek-bone, as a native cure for
infantile complaints ; but both of the men to whom
I am referring were carefully examined by five
medical men (army and colonial surgeons), and these
latter were unanimously of opinion that no incisions
had ever been made, and that the excrescences were
purely osseous. The old fable of the satyrs was
then perhaps not so far-fetched as it is generally
supposed to be.

Spotted people are so common in West Africa
that one thinks nothing of seeing them. By spotted
people I do not mean those who have recovered


from a species of leprosy, and who are covered with
white blotches, but those whose skins consist of
patches of different shades, such as copper-coloured
and brown, yellow and brown, or light and dark
brown, more than two shades of colour rarely being
found in the same individual. What with these,
men with horns, albino negroes, people with
elephantiasis, one of the Doko dwarfs which are
said to be found in the neighbourhood of the Jeba
Eiver, and a boy I have seen about Accra with
two stomachs, one might stock a kind of Barnum's
museum that ought to pay well. I knew a colonial
officer who induced a " horned " man to promise
to go to England with him to be exhibited, and
actually got him on board the steamer ; but directly
the phenomenon had received a portion of the money
that had been promised him, a want of moral
rectitude, of which his unusual excrescences were
indicative, exhibited itself, and he hurriedly left the
ship in a canoe without waiting to take leave of

Nineteen miles from Fernando Po is the Peak of
Cameroons on the mainland, 13,760 feet high; and
this part of Africa presents one of the most remark-
able undulations on the surface of the globe, the sea
between the two mountains of Clarence and Came-
roons being forty fathoms deep. Cameroons Peak,


wHch is supposed to be the Currus Deorum of Hanno
tlie Carthaginian, descends abruptly to the water's
edge, and is covered with forest almost to the
summit, though there is one bare brown ridge ex-
tending from the eastern side towards the sea. It is
impossible to conceive a more magnificent sight
than that ofi"ered from the deck of a vessel passing
through the strait, with these two verdure- covered
giants towering one on each side. Cameroons Peak,
called by the natives Mongo-ma-Labah, stands up
so boldly from the sea that the descent appears
unbroken, and the mountain looks like one vast
mass rising into a solitary culminating point from
a base the diameter of which is nearly twenty miles.
There is, however, a lesser peak, 5,820 feet high,
about two miles inland, and called Little Cameroon,
or Mongo-ma-Etindeh.

The rainy season in Fernando Po lasts from June
to November, and the Harmattan season, when the
dry wind from the Sahara prevails, from December
to the end of February. The lower parts of the
island are particularly unhealthy, especially towards
the termination of the rains, when the sun, in-
creasing daily in power, draws up the moisture
which has been pouring down on the earth for
months, and stews up the decaying and sodden
vegetation into exhalations of malaria. The higher


ridges and shoulders of the mountains should from
their altitude be healthy enough, but as they are
unexplored, the suggestion that has often been put
forward in West Africa that a sanitarium should be
established somewhere on Clarence Peak, is in
nuhibus in more senses than one.

The British Consul for the Bights of Benin and
Biafra, who resides in a pretty little house on the
cliff overlooking the cove, when he is not away
settling some trade dispute in the Niger delta, is an
official who has well exemplified the deadliness of
the climate. Since 1873 I have met four consuls,
and the average duration of life is only some three
or four years. There is a story to the effect that an
individual, who had recently been appointed to this
post, applied to the Foreign Office for information
as to what pension or retiring allowance was granted
to superannuated consuls for the Bights, and was
told in reply, that since the establishment of the
consulate, no consul had held the appointment
sufficiently long to be eligible for a pension, and
that the prospect of anyone being tough enough to
last out was so remote, that they did not propose
taking the subject into consideration till a case
actually occurred.

The pay of the consul is only about £600 a year,
with travelling allowances, yet, directly a vacancy



occurs, there are dozens of applicants for the post ;
each one of whom implicitly believes that although
all his predecessors have succumbed to the climate
in a very few years, he himself will be sufficiently
robust or sufficiently fortunate to escape and live
to a green old age.



Factory Life — Turning the Tables on a Port-officer — Plague Ships —
Unsesthetic Traders — Animal Life in the Bush — A Domestic
Tragedy — Unadulterated Heathen — The Pioneers of Civilisa-
tion — The Trader and the Missionary — How we Colonise —
Domestic Slavery — Amelia and Arethuse.

The Isles cle Los, or, as they are sometimes called

in old charts, the Idolos Islands, are a group of three

small islands on the west coast of Africa, about

eighty miles to the north of Sierra Leone. Two of

these islands are crescent-shaped, and lie with the

horns pointing towards each other, so as almost

to enclose, like an atoll, an inner basin, in the

centre of which lies the third island. The western

island is called Tamara, or Footabar, and is the

most lofty of the three, rising in the centre to

a knoll some 450 feet high. The eastern is

known as Factory Island, and is rather peculiarly

shaped, being four and a half miles long but

G 2


averaging only a quarter of a mile in breadth.
Crawford Island, the middle one, is about a mile

The view from the sea as the end of Tamara is
passed, and the inner basin, with the rocky headland
of Crawford Island in the centre, is opened up, is
very striking. All three islands are covered, down
to the rocky barrier against which the swell of the
Atlantic breaks in long lines of surf, with a dense
forest of palms and flowering underwood ; the tufted
heads of the former standing out against the pale
azure of the tropical sky like a canopy of immense
ferns ; and the three islands together look not unlike
a necklace of emeralds with a large emerald pendant
lying in its midst.

Kounding the extreme point of Factory Island,
which, as its name denotes, is the one inhabited
by Europeans, we steam along the shore towards
a hulk which is moored off the centre of the island ;
and presently the red-tiled roofs and white walls
of the factory buildings appear peeping out from
the foliage of a group of silk-cotton trees which
surrounds them.

The name factory as applied to these trading
establishments in West Africa is rather a misnomer,
and suggests to the English niiud a hideous brick
builJiiig of several stories, with probably three or


four tall chimneys belching forth volumes of black
smoke. Nothing could be more unlike the reality.
The West African factory consists usually of a one-
storied house, surrounded by a verandah, or piazza,
and standinof in the midst of an enclosure. Nothinsf
is manufactured in these places ; and they are, when
all is said, shops, in which cotton-prints, rum, gin,
powder, beads, and cheap muskets are bartered for
native produce, and, sometimes, sold. The traders
however speak of themselves as merchants, and
though they will sell anything down to a pennyworth
of rum, would consider themselves greatly insulted
if called shopkeepers. The ground floor of the
building contains the shop and stock-in-trade, the
agent and his clerks live above, and the casks of
palm-oil, and bags of palm-kernels, are stored up
in sheds in the yard ready for shipment. There
is no busy hum of workpeople. Perhaps a native
will arrive at the factory with a canoe full of keo-s
of palm-oil ; he saunters up to the house, has rum
lavished upon him by the agent to create a generous
spirit, and, after a time, for he does nothing in a
hurry, he mentions that he has got so much oil
to dispose of, provided that he can get in exchanfre
so many cutlasses, so much powder, and so on. Then
a couple of Kroomen lazily roll the kegs up from the
beach, gauge them, examine the quality of the oil, and,


in the course of an hour or so, report progress to their
employer, the agent. After this a little haggling, such
as the climate has left the trader sufficient energy to
indulge in, takes place ; with the result that the
native hands over his oil at a nominal price per
gallon, which is about half w^hat it is really worth,
and gets paid in goods which are rated and exchanged
at about 200 per cent, above their value ; so that, in
one way and another, the trader makes rather a good
thing out of it. In fact, the iDrofits are so large that
the firm, in England, can afford to pay its agents
and clerks salaries ranging from £300 to XI 00 per
annum, give them the run of their teeth, pay for
their washing, and allow them to drink as much
alcohol as they please — a liberty of which they not
uncommonly take advantage — besides paying all the
ordinary expenses of the factory. They even run
the risk of keeping running accounts with natives,
giving them goods on credit, and trusting entirely
to their good faith for payment ; as there is nothing
to prevent the debtor gracefully retiring to some
other part of the country, and returning no more.
The profits may be calculated thus : you have some
goods, worth, say, £10, and a native has some palm-
oil, worth, say, £50 ; you tell him you will give him
£25 for his oil, and in payment you give him your
£10 worth of goods, which you call to him £25


wortli. It is very simple, ■provided you have an
elastic conscience and have got a confiding native at
hand ; but in places where there is much trade com-
petition, things are not quite so easy. There bribes
are offered in the shape of a " dash," anglice " tip,"
to be given over and above the stipulated price for
the oil ; and touts are sent out to lie in wait on the
beach, or prowl along the roads by which the natives
bring in the produce, to extract a jDromise of their
custom. Sometimes the competition is carried much
further, and I have seen two white men rush up to
their knees into a lagoon to get at the owner of a
canoe full of palm-oil, each hungering to be the
one to swindle the unsophisticated negro.

As soon as we had dropped anchor, a boat, re-
splendent with white paint and brass fittings, shot
out from the little bay, propelled by four brawny
Kroomen ; while languidly reclining in the stern,
with the tiller-ropes in his hands, was a Sierra Leone
negro, splendidly arrayed in shiny blue cloth and
gold lace. This magnificent creature, who was the
port-oflicer, or supervisor of customs, boarded us ;
and sitting down in the most comfortable chair on
deck, he shot his coloured shirt-cuffs over his ebon
fingers, and called the purser and the doctor of the
ship to his awful presence.

When he learned that we had called at Goree,


where small-pox happened to be raging at the time,
he immediately became anxious about his health, and
demanded camphor ; and then, with much pomposity,
announced that he feared his duty to the Government
would compel him to refuse the steamer pratique.
The captain protested, but it was of no avail. Even
the ardent rays diffused from two tumblers of brandy
failed to dispel the mists of doubt and apprehension ;
the sable official was inflexible, and said that there
must be no communication with the shore. A chorus
of groans and murmurs of disappointment broke
from the passengers at this announcement, but some
of us were comforted on observing the skipper close
his left eye in a peculiar manner when the port-
officer was not looking, and smile a sweet smile to
himself expressive of secret satisfaction. Then he
shouted to the officer of the watch :

" Mr. So-and-so, who are those Krooboys
forward ? "

" B'long to the port-officer's gig, sir."
" Bless my soul, have that boat at the gang-
way hoisted in at once."

The black guardian of the Customs interposed
hastily : " No, no, I say, cappen, dat's my boat."
" Well, Mr. Customs, I know that."
" Well, cappen, you mustn't hoist him up."
" Oh ! very well. Just as you like, Mr. Customs.


I only thought it might get dalnaged towing
alongside to Sierra Leone."

"To Sierra Leone!" This with a jaunty air,
as if he were kindly humouring some joke which
the captain would soon unfold.

"Yes, Mr. Customs, to Sierra Leone. That's
my next port."

"But I'm not goin' to Sierra Leone, cappen.
I'm goin' ashore, just now, one time, in dat

The captain turned on him with his face lighted
up with a beautiful glow of virtuous indignation,
and, shaking his head slowly from side to side,
said : " What, Mr. Customs ? are you trying to
indooce me to neglect my dooty ? Didn't you say
as how there was to be no communication between
this ship and the shore ? "

"Yes, cappen, but of course I'm goin' ashore
when you leave here."

" I couldn't allow it, Mr. Customs, I couldn't
really. It would be as much as my certificate's
worth to do it. I shall be sorry to disoblige you,
but I'm afraid I shall have to take you on to Sierra

" Oh, very good, cappen, I shall report your
conduct to my friend His Excellency, the Governor,
when I get dere. You can't insult a member of


Her Majesty's Government with impunity, and tear
him away from his station Uke this ; " and the
port-officer blew himself out so with rage that I quite
trembled for the seams of his blue cloth clothes.

The captain still came up smiling.

" I can't help that, Mr. Customs, I can't help
that. P'raps when you get there the Governor '11
want to know why you came aboard this ship at all,
and let your men run about all over the deck catching
the infection. In most ports with which I am
acquainted, the health officer lies alongside the

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 5 of 22)