A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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only about eight times the amount usually charged to

Next morning, soon after six o'clock, the boat
pulled alongside our vessel, for I had given up sleep-
ing on shore after the experience of my first night,
and I was preparing to go down to it when I
observed a bird of ill-omen sittinoj in the stern,
apparently as a passenger. I had no difficulty in
seeing at once that he was a missionary, and my
experience of such gentry had been so unfortunate
that I half thought of giving up my intended
journey ; but on second thoughts, thinking he might
be better than the representatives of his trade that I
had met in West Africa, I decided to jxo on. I
stepped into the boat, and sat down on a piece of
sacking near the missionary, whose face somehow
seemed to be familiar to me. Our men pushed off,
and we dropped down with the tide towards Bird
Island, at the entrance of the harbour. Our crew
consisted of four half-castes, who, when we were
clear of the land, hoisted a kind of lug- sail ; and with
a fresh breeze behind us, but the current against
us, we stood over towards the dark mass of San

The sea being rather choppy outside, and our
boat taking in more water than was pleasant, my
fellow - passcng'er, who till then had sat in solemn


silence, asked me ratlicr anxiously if I thought there
was any clanger. Strange to say, his voice seemed to
me as familiar as his face, and, after thinking the
matter over for a little time, I was able to remember
all about him. The last time that I had seen my
2:entleman he had been attired in a suit of livery, and
he had been in the habit of waiting at table and
opening the doors of a relative's house to me in
London, from which he disappeared suddenly, in
consequence, I was given to understand, of a
difficulty not altogether unconnected with silver
spoons. Without thinking of what I was about, I
at once said :

" I think I have seen you before."

Knowing he w\as recognised, he replied slowly and
unctuously :

" In my former carnal state of life, wlien I was
receivino- the wag^es of sin from brands who will not
be snatched from the burning, I have often admitted
vou to scenes of uno-odliness and wine-bibbing."

This required thought. Why should a domestic
servant's wao^es be described as " the wag-es of sin,"
my respectable, middle-aged female relative as " a
brand who would not be snatched from the burnincr ,"
and a quiet dinner party as " a scene of ungodliness
and wine-bibbing " ? It was not polite, to say the
least of it ; but then politeness is not to be expected


from this class of missionaiy. His tongue being now
unloosed he held forth iipori the error of his former
ways, informed me that he was a naturalised citizen
of the United States of America, and that he had a
call from on high to open the eyes of Papists to a
sense of their horrible sin.

This kind of thing went on till nearly noon, when,
being by that time close to San Antonio and the wind
having dropped, our crew took to their oars, and our
steersman made for a small village, which lay at the
entrance of a ravine with steep and rocky sides, and
which I learned was named Janella. Our proper
destination was San Paolo, a village a little further on,
but the crew said they would land at Janella and go
on to the former village when the tide turned ; for
the current between St. Vincent and San Antonio is
tidal, a fact which it seems was not generally known
to hydrographers until the exploring voyage of H.M.S.

As we neared the shore I saw several people, both
men and women, floating about on the tops of the
waves, and engaged in fishing. Every now and then
one or another of them would pull up a fish, which
was at once taken off the hook, and secured in a cleft
stick, or in a small basket hung between the shoulders.
This curious manner of fishing necessitated inquiries,
and the spokesman of the crew said that the people

L 3


who live on the sea-shore in this isLancl are such
expert swimmers, that they paddle and float about on
the waves thus for hours at a time. Beins: asked if
there were many sharks hereabouts, he replied that
there were a few, but that the people cared for them
so little that they did not even carry a knife or a
sharpened stick for defence ; and, if one came near,
they simply turned on their backs and splashed and
kicked till he was frightened away. This may be so,
but I am not personally acquainted with any variety
of shark that is so easily alarmed,

Janella was a pretty little place embowered in
trees, and was a pleasing change from the barren
St. Vincent. As the steep sides of the ravine
gradually approached each other behind the village,
the gorge seemed to be filled up with banana, orange,
and cocoa-nut trees ; while, where it widened near the
sea, rose terrace-garden over terrace-garden of sugar-
cane, corn, and vines, and in the centre the little Rio
Janella rippled and babbled over the shelves of rock
on its way to the sea. Fruit and vegetables were
here to be had in abundance, and at the house of a
vem.rable negro lady, who had some strapping black-
eyed daughters not much burdened with apparel, I
managed to secure a luncheon of fresh fish and fried
plantains ; to which, as he had not made any arrange-
ments for himself, I was obliged to ask the ex-fiunkey


missionary. Before sitting down lie commenced a
lengthy exhortation upon the evils of Eoman Catho-
licism, as a grace, but, seeing that I was falling to
without any further ceremony, and that the good
things were rapidly disappearing, he suddenly cut it
short, and handled his knife and fork like a Japanese

There were no white residents in the village ;
from their colour the inhabitants did not seem to
be much contaminated by any Portuguese strain of
blood, and were, consequently, good-humoured, hos-
pitable, and fairly honest people. About five in the
afternoon we re-embarked in our boat, carrjdng with
us the good wishes of all the Janellites, who crowded
down on the beach to see us depart, and reached
Paolo, which was about seven miles distant, shortly
before dark. There was no hotel in the place,! was
glad to learn, and I engaged a night's lodging in a
decently-built house in the upper part of the town.
As for the missionary, he had disappeared directly
after landing, and I hoped f. had seen the last of

At Paolo a stranger can generally obtain a
quadruped of some description, either horse, mule, or
ass, to carry him to Ribeira Grande, the capital of
the island ; a journey which, though tiring and, in
a measure, dangerous, is well worth undertaking on


account of the beauty of the mountain scenery
through which the road passes. I made my arrange-
ments over-night, and, having engaged the services of
a guide and a mule, started for Eibeira Grande, which
lies on the north-western side of the island, soon after
daybreak next morning. San Paolo is the place of
residence of the few so-called PortuQ-uese families in
the island, and their houses, surrounded by gardens,
plantations, and vineyards, covered the nearer slopes
of the hills. Before we were clear of the town my
guide was overtaken and stopped by a ragged youth
with a small donkey ; some conversation ensued, and
on my inquiring the cause of the delay I learned that
another Engrlishman was o-oins: to Eibeira Grande,
and that my guide was going to call for him. Know-
ing that an Englishman, or indeed any European, was
an exceedingly ra?Yt avis in terris in this island, I
wondered what kind of person my companion for the
journey would be.

We turned aside, and passing up a narrow lane
between vineyards, and enclosed by walls of loose
stones, we stopped before a house of rather j^reten-
tious appearance, which was surrounded by a luxu-
riant growth of oranges, bananas, olives, acacias, and
laurels. This was the residence of a certain Senhor
Manuel, who, I was informed, was one of the lead-
ing men of the place ; and, while I was looking about.


I was surprised to see my acquaintance the mis-
sionary, leaving the house and coming towards us.
He then was the other " Englishman " who was going
to Eibeira Grande. It appeared that he had been
enjoying the hospitality of this half-bred Portuguese
grandee, with whom he had, somewhat strangely, con-
sidering his mission in the island, scraped an ac-
quaintance ; and he had disappeared so mysteriously
on landing at Paolo, for fear I should want to accom-
pany him, and perhaps spoil his comfortable quarters
by revealing something of his antecedents. He got
astride of the little donkey, and after settling down
in his seat v/ith some difficulty and much adjustment
of stirrups, we finally started.

We ascended by a narrow pathway cut out with
incredible labour from the precipitous face of a cliff,
which in many places overhung the road, so that the
latter was cut out like a gallery ten or eleven feet in
height. The scenery was wild and barren ; immense
rocks which had fallen from above were piled up in
chaotic confusion, and except where an occasional
landslip afforded a roothold to a few shrubs, no vege-
tation was to be seen but the lichen-like orchilla
clinging to the bare rocks, and a few ferns and
grasses springing from their interstices and crevices.
Wherever the general elevation of the road was
broken by a dip in the ground, in some instances


a bold ravine and in others the bed of a mountain
torrent, the road was continued across the gap on a
causeway built up of loose stones, about four feet
broad at the summit, and with nothing on either
side to prevent one falling headlong upon the
boulders beneath. In this manner also the path
Avas built up along the steeply-sloping sides of the
mountain spurs round which we had to wind ; and
both on these and on the causeways the slipping of
a single loose stone might be fatal, and precipitate
one down a height which, in one or two places, was
at least 2,000 feet.

At the turning-point of the road before the
descent commences, the bridle-path is cut midway
along the face of a cliff about 1,000 feet high ;
the wall-like mountain rising abruptly 500 feet
above the head on the one hand, and falling
perpendicularly the same distance to the beach
on the other. This, the most dangerous portion
of the road, is protected on the outer edge by
a low wall of loose stones ; but the protection
of this barrier, although it gives confidence to
the rider, is more apparent than real ; for the
stumble of a horse or the hick of a vicious mule
would cause the downfall of several feet of the
flimsy structure. Casualties on these mountain
roads, even among the sure-footed natives, are not


by any means uncommon, as the numerous wooden
crosses that we passed on our way testified ; and
a proverb of the Cape Verde Islands says that, at
San Antonio, to be dashed to pieces on the rocks
is a natural death. The descent towards Ribeira
Grande was very bad, the road being in some places
so steep that the animals slid down on their haunches,
and I can never forget the agonised expression of the
missionary's face as his donkey slid rapidly down
on an inclined rock towards a bend in the road
which overhung a cliff, and he vainly strove to
extricate his feet from the stirrups and throw him-
self off. At the distance of about a mile from
Ribeira Grande the path quits the mountains, and
follows the sinuosities of the sandy beach until the
town is reached.

The road from San Paolo is said to have been
made at the instance of one of the former bishops
of Santiago, who, considering it his duty to visit
every portion of his see, once came to San Antonio.
He landed at Paolo, and, instead of proceeding to
Ribeira Grande by sea, he attempted to reach that
place by land, although there was then no path
even of the rudest description ; and the natives,
on the few occasions upon which they found it
necessary to cross the mountains, were obliged to
ascend and descend the cliffs and broken heisfhts


by means of ropes. When about lialf the journey
had been accomplished, and the bishop had been
hauled up a tremendous cliff, his heart failed him
at the sight of an equally stupendous one which
he would be compelled to descend if he continued
in his determination to proceed, and he decided to
return. The precipice which now separated him from
San Paolo, however, seemed equally terrifying when
viewed from above, and he emphatically declined
to danHe in mid-air over it as^ain. Beinsj thus
unable to advance or recede without risking his
valuable neck, he made up his mind to remain
where he was. Nothing could shake this deter-
mination when once formed ; and the mountaineers
who had accompanied him left him what food they
had with them and went on to Ribeira Grande.
The faithful in San Antonio, on learnino: the awk-
ward predicament in which their spiritual head now
was, sent him supplies, clothing, and a tent, which
were dragged over the heights by the less timorous
peasants, and tlie ecclesiastical brethren of the
bishop at once collected funds and commenced
having a road made for his rescue. This was a
worlv wliicli necessarily occupied some years, and
before it was completed the timid bishop died ; but
the inhabitants of San Antonio, findinir the road


useful, and more than half of it having already
been made, carried on the work on their own account
until it was finished.

We reached Eibeira Grande about 11 a.m., and
the missionary and I went to the only hotel which
the capital of the island boasts, and where we
experienced the combined bad fare, exorbitant
charges, and discomfort which are typical of Portu-
guese hostelries in the Cape Verde Islands. The
town of Eibeira Grande, which has a population
of some 6,000 souls, is poor and dirty, with
insignificant houses, or rather hovels, and narrow
and tortuous streets. It is situated in a broad
valley, watered by a mountain stream, and the
country in the vicinity is richly cultivated. The
suo;ar-cane, from which the coarse suo-ar of the
island is manufactured, is principally grown here,
out maize-fields and vineyards are also common
enough, and the whole breadth of the valley is
like a vast garden, rising on terraces at each side
till the height is reached at which tlie earth becomes
too sterile to be cultivated profitably. The softness
of this valley, with its cultivated plots of varied
hues, its groves of plantains, clumps of orange-
trees and guava bushes, bounded by the ranges of
mountains, glowing purple-red where near and


fiidiug into opal and gray where they recede, is a
stranfje contrast to the savao-c grandeur of the
scenery on the road from San Paolo.

The wine made here, like that of the other
islands of the group, is very poor stuff, and vinegary
to the taste. It is said that when a wine-grower
has a vintage for the first time, it is the custom
for him to send invitations to all his acquaintances
in the island, asking them to come and taste his
wine. They all invariably come, gnawing pieces
of salt-fish to create a thirst; and they do this so
successfully that, notwithstanding the uninviting
character of the beverasfe, the whole viutao-e is
not unfrequently drunk in the orgie which ensues.
When this occurs it must be some consolation to
the unfortunate grower to know that his wine was
so bad that all his guests must have been very
ill after it, and this absurd custom would be quite
sufficient to account for a first vintage being alwa3^s
very thin and sour.

Nearly all the inhabitants of Ribeira Grande
are people of colour. There arc a good many
families who like to be considered white, but the
"touch of tho tar-brush" in them is plain to
any one who is accustomed to see people of mixed
blood, and almost the only pure whites are some
of the Portuguese officials, among them being the


Governor and the Military Commandant. Tliere is
a small detachment of troops here, consisting of
negro soldiers commanded by white ojfficers.
Although badly clothed and worse armed and
accoutred, the men seemed made of soldier-like
material enough, but their weapons were past
absurdity, and to call such troops an armed force
is the merest farce. Some of the men I saw had
old flint-lock muskets witliout locks; others carried
muskets the barrels of which were bound to the
stocks with twine, and two proudly shouldered
stocks which boasted of no barrels at all. Either
the Portuguese Government must be shamefully
swindled by its local officials, and all such have a
strong tendency to peculation, or the exchequer of
the mother country must be in a most consumptive

The part played by the stick in drill instruction
seems stranofe to Ena-lish eyes. Whenever an evolu-
tion is not jDcrformed to the satisfaction of the
drill instructor, he thinks nothing of rushing forward
with a volley of choice Portuguese oaths, dragging
in succession the awkward or inattentive men from
the ranks, and applying his stick vigorously to their
heads and shoulders in the presence of the whole
squad. No negro born and bred in a British colony
would stand such treatment for a moment, but these


men seem to take their chastisement as a matter
of course, merely trying to avoid the rapid succession
of blows, and then rubbing their heads sheepishly
and falling in again in their places.

Tradition says that a . soldier of the Cape Verde
Islands wears nothino* but a cocked hat. I did not
myself see any attired in so primitive and inex-
pensive a uniform ; but, though all the soldiers I
saw at Ribeira Grande were provided with kepis,
some had no coats or shirts, their belts being slung
over their naked shoulders, and none had any boots.
The missionary said he had seen men on parade
without trowsers, and, as usual, attributed this
horrible scandal to the incubus of the Papacy, but
I saw nothing so shocking myself. The troops are
not often paid, but they are patient and long-
suffering, and, it is said, eke out an existence by
plundering the gardens and plantations at night, and
sometimes by combining the profession of house-
breaker with that of soldier. After a garrison has
been some two or three years without receiving any
pay it generally mutinies, considering that it has
exhibited sufficient patience ; and, if the local
Government does not compromise the matter or come
to terms, the Governor and his officers, who have
probably robbed the men of their pay, have to seek
a rcfu2;c in another island, till a Portu2;uese war-


vessel comes to their assistance. One or two of
the ringleaders are then hanged, the rest of the
mutineers are told that through their misconduct
they have now forfeited any arrears of pay that might
have been due to them, and they return to their
duty, and all goes on well till the next military
strike takes place. The manner in which Portuguese
colonies are managed may well excite the derision
of the whole civilised world ; but there is a certain
method in their madness, and these periodical
mutinies in the Cape Verdes, since they furnish
the Government with a pretext for withholding the
pay of the negro troops, are economical.

At Eibeira Grande I learned that Santa Cruz,
the principal seaport of the island, was only three
miles distant, and as I should have to return to
San Paolo early next morning, and wanted to see
as much as possible of this little-known island, I
went on to it about four in the afternoon. Directly
the valley of Eibeira Grande was lost sight of, all
vegetation seemed to come to an end, and the road
led over a barren, rocky, and mountainous tract
which produced nothing. The village of Santa Cruz
is situated on Punto do Sol, or North Point, a low,
sandy- cape extending from the lofty cliffs which
here fringe the shore. A¥ith the exception of a
church, a custom-house, and three stores, there are


110 houses, properly so called, in Santa Cruz, but
there are numerous huts, built of stones uncemented
together with lime or mud, and thatched with palm-
branches. These are inhabited by fishermen, for
fishing is the chief industry of this " seaport ; " and
the sea abounds with fish of all descriptions, while
turtle frequent the shores. I doubt if many whalers
call in at this port during the course of the year,
for water is scarce, and food supplies cannot be
obtained at any price, the inhabitants themselves
having to obtain everything edible, except fish, from
Eibeira Grande, and the post of customs officer here
must be almost a sinecure. I was shown at this
place a species of pink coral, which I was told was
found off the island. It was not of a very good
quality, and red coral is much more common. The
fishermen find it entangled in their nets, and sell
it to the peasant girls to be worn in the shape of
ornaments, but beyond this haphazard method of
obtaining it there is no coral fishery in these

I got back to the hotel at Eibeira Grande just
at dusk, and was changing my clothes after my
hot ride, when somebody tapped at my door.
In a moment of thoughtlessness I said, "Come in,"
and a good-looking brown girl, with a tray full of
strings of coral, sidled into the room. I said :


" "What do you want ? Go out. Don't you see
Fm not dressed ? "

She only replied : " You want buy zis ? " and .
then sat down, with a winning smile, which ex-
hibited her white teeth to the best advantage, upon
some of my clothes which were lying on a chair.
I said :

" Will you go out, please ? I don't want to
buy any of your rubbish."

"No compran, senhor."

" "Will you go out ? I want those clothes you
are sitting on."

"No compran, senhor."

While I was in this painful dilemma, and did
not know how to get rid of this intrusive person
without violence, I heard the voice of the missionary
outside in the passage, and knowing that he would
put the worst possible construction upon the presence
of this female in my room, I pulled her off the chair
and ran her towards the door, which she had left
open on coming in. It was, however, too late to
put her outside without throwing her into the
missionary's arms ; so I pushed her behind the door,
put my finger to my lips, and transfixed her with
a hideous grimace to enforce silence.

The missionary came in and looked around sus-
piciously, for there was a strong smell of the pungent




scent, musk or whatever it may be, which the coloured
people in these islands habitually use ; and I could see
that he was prepared to work himself up into a state of
moral indignation at the smallest provocation, and read
me a homily, which, perhaps, I should not have been
able to listen to patiently, knowing what I did about
him. He snififed distrustfully, but seeing nothing
which would afford the pretext he was seeking, he
came to business, which was to invite me to subscribe
towards the good work w^hich he had undertaken,
and, indirectly of course, furnish him wdth the means
of purchasing the good things of this life for a few

I was in the act of explaining that I had scarcely
enough money with me to carry mc back to St.
Vincent, when the w^oman behind the door uttered
an unmistakable cough. The missionary started and
looked at me w^ith a lowering brow, w^iile the absur-
dity of the situation sent all the colour up into my
face. With a countenance expressive of a legion of
texts, the missionary sighed, shook his head sorrow-
fully, and turned his eyes up to the roof, and then
walking tow^ards the door, pulled it forward and dis-
covered the w^oman with the coral, who laughed in
my face. I thought to myself, " Now I am in for it,"
when to my surprise the missionary recoiled, while
the woman suddenly exclaimed :


" All ! my nice little mans — you come back ? "
and tried to impress an amorous kiss upon his
pious cheek.

This was too much for me, I never saw the
tables turned more completely, and I burst into a
fit of uncontrollable laughter, while the missionary,
without fiuding a word to say, hurriedly disappeared.

Leaving Eibeira Grande next morning at day-
break I reached San Paolo before noon, and sent my
guide to tell the boatmen that I wanted to start at
once. He presently came back with them, and the

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 9 of 22)