George W. Williams.

History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens online

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Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 10 of 57)
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verbs will illustrate. _Kba_, carry; _la_, kill; _ya_, bring; _mu_,
go; _wa_, walk; _ni_, do; and so on. This is true of objects, or
nouns. _Ge_, farm; _bro_, earth; _w[)e]nh_, sun; _tu_, tree; _gi_,
leopard; _na_, fire; _yi_, eye; _bo_, leg; _lu_, head; _nu_, rain;
_kai_, house. The Grebo people seem to have no idea of syllabication.
They do not punctuate; but, speaking with the rapidity with which they
move, run their words together until a whole sentence might be taken
for one word. If any thing has angered a Grebo he will say, "_E ya mu
kra wudi_;" being interpreted, "It has raised a great bone in my
throat." But he says it so quickly that he pronounces it in this
manner, _yamukroure_. There are phrases in this language that are
beyond the ability of a foreigner to pronounce. It has no
contractions, and often changes the first and second person of the
personal pronoun, and the first and second person plural, by lowering
or pitching the voice. The orthography remains the same, though the
significations of those words are radically different.

The Mpongwe language is largely polysyllabic. It is burdened with
personal pronouns, and its adjectives have numerous changes in
addition to their degrees of comparison. We find no inflections to
suggest case or gender. The adjective _mpolo_, which means "large,"
carries seven or eight forms. While it is impossible to tell whether a
noun is masculine, feminine, or neuter, they use one adjective for all
four declensions, changing its form to suit each.

The following form of declensions will serve to impart a clearer idea
of the arbitrary changes in the use of the adjective:

First Declension. (Singular, _nyare mpolu_, a large cow.
(Plural, _inyare impolu_, large cows.

Second Declension. (Singular, _egara evolu_, a large chest.
(Plural, _gara volu_, large chests.

Third Declension. (Singular, _idâmbe ivolu_, a large sheep.
(Plural, _idâmbe ampolu_, large sheep.

Fourth Declension. (Singular, _omamba ompolu_, a large snake.
(Plural, _imamba impolu_, large snakes.[91]

We presume it would be a difficult task for a Mpongwe to explain the
arbitrary law by which such changes are made. And yet he is as uniform
and strict in his obedience to this law as if it were written out in
an Mpongwe grammar, and taught in every village.

His verb has four moods; viz., indicative, imperative, conditional,
and subjunctive. The auxiliary particle gives the indicative mood its
grammatical being. The imperative is formed from the present of the
indicative by changing its initial consonant into its reciprocal
consonant as follows: -

_tonda_, to love.
_ronda_, love thou.
_denda_, to do.
_lenda_, do thou.

The conditional mood has a form of its own; but the conjunctive
particles are used as auxiliaries at the same time, and different
conjunctive particles are used with different tenses. The subjunctive,
having but one form, in a sentence where there are two verbs is used
as the second verb.[92] So by the use of the auxiliary particles the
verb can form the infinitive and potential mood. The Mpongwe verb
carries four tenses, - present, past or historical, perfect past, and
future. Upon the principle of alliteration the perfect past tense,
representing an action as completed, is formed from the present tense
by prefixing _a_, and by changing _a_-final into _i_: for example,
_t[)o]nda_, "to love;" _at[)o]ndi_, "did love." The past or historical
tense is derived from the imperative by prefixing _a_, and by changing
_a_-final into _i_. Thus _r[)o]nda_, "love;" _ar[)o]ndi_, "have
loved." The future tense is constructed by the aid of the auxiliary
particle _be_, as follows: _mi be t[)o]nda_," I am going to love."

We have not been able to find a Mandingo grammar, except Mr.
MacBrair's, which is, as far as we know, the only one in existence.
We have had but little opportunity to study the structure of that
language. But what scanty material we have at hand leads us to the
conclusion that it is quite loosely put together. The saving element
in its verb is the minuteness with which it defines the time of an
action. The causative form is made by the use of a suffix. It does not
use the verb "to go" or "come" in order to express a future tense.
Numerous particles are used in the substantive verb sense. The
Mandingo language is rather smooth. The letters _v_ and _z_ are not in
it. About one-fifth of the verbs and nouns commence with vowels, and
the noun always terminates in the letter _o_.

Here is a wide and interesting field for philologists: it should be

The African's nature is as sunny as the climate he lives in. He is not
brutal, as many advocates of slavery have asserted. It is the
unanimous testimony of all explorers of, and travellers through, the
Dark Continent, that the element of gentleness predominates among the
more considerable tribes; that they have a keen sense of the
beautiful, and are susceptible of whatever culture is brought within
their reach. The Negro nature is not sluggish, but joyous and
vivacious. In his songs he celebrates victories, and laughs at death
with the complacency of the Greek Stoics.

"Rich man and poor fellow, all men must die:
Bodies are only shadows. Why should I be sad?"[93]

He can be deeply wrought upon by acts of kindness; and bears a
friendship to those who show him favor, worthy of a better state of
society. When Henry M. Stanley (God bless him! noble, brave soul!) was
about emerging from the Dark Continent, he made a halt at Kabinda
before he ended his miraculous journey at Zanzibar on the Pacific
Ocean. He had been accompanied in his perilous journey by
stout-hearted, brave, and faithful natives. Their mission almost
completed, they began to sink into that listlessness which is often
the precursor of death. They had been true to their master, and were
now ready to die as bravely as they had lived. Read Mr. Stanley's
account without emotion if you can: -

"'Do you wish to see Zanzibar, boys?' I asked.

"'Ah, it is far. Nay, speak not, master. We shall never see
it,' they replied.

"'But you will die if you go on in this way. Wake up - shake
yourselves - show yourselves to be men.'

"'Can a man contend with God? Who fears death? Let us die
undisturbed, and be at rest forever,' they answered.

"Brave, faithful, loyal souls! They were, poor fellows,
surrendering themselves to the benumbing influences of a
listlessness and fatal indifference to life! Four of them
died in consequence of this strange malady at Loanda, three
more on board her Majesty's ship Industry, and one woman
breathed her last the day after we arrived at Zanzibar. But
in their sad death they had one consolation, in the words
which they kept constantly repeating to themselves -

"'We have brought our master to the great sea, and he has
seen his white brothers. La il Allah, il Allah! There is no
God but God!' they said - and died.

"It is not without an overwhelming sense of grief, a choking
in the throat, and swimming eyes, that I write of those
days; for my memory is still busy with the worth and virtues
of the dead. In a thousand fields of incident, adventure,
and bitter trials, they had proved their stanch heroism and
their fortitude; they had lived and endured nobly. I
remember the enthusiasm with which they responded to my
appeals; I remember their bold bearing during the darkest
days; I remember the Spartan pluck, the indomitable courage,
with which they suffered in the days of our adversity. Their
voices again loyally answer me, and again I hear them
address each other upon the necessity of standing by the
'master.' Their boat-song, which contained sentiments
similar to the following: -

'The pale-faced stranger, lonely here,
In cities afar, where his name is dear,
Your Arab truth and strength shall show;
He trusts in us, row, Arabs, row' -

despite all the sounds which now surround me, still charms
my listening ear.[94] ...

"They were sweet and sad moments, those of parting. What a
long, long, and true friendship was here sundered! Through
what strange vicissitudes of life had they not followed me!
What wild and varied scenes had we not seen together! What a
noble fidelity these untutored souls had exhibited! The
chiefs were those who had followed me to Ujiji in 1871; they
had been witnesses of the joy of Livingstone at the sight of
me; they were the men to whom I intrusted the safe-guard of
Livingstone on his last and fatal journey, who had mourned
by his corpse at Muilala, and borne the illustrious dead to
the Indian Ocean.

"And in a flood of sudden recollection, all the stormy
period here ended rushed in upon my mind; the whole panorama
of danger and tempest through which these gallant fellows
had so stanchly stood by me - these gallant fellows now
parting from me. Rapidly, as in some apocalyptic vision,
every scene of strife with Man and Nature, through which
these poor men and women had borne me company, and solaced
me by the simple sympathy of common suffering, came
hurrying across my memory; for each face before me was
associated with some adventure or some peril, reminded me of
some triumph or of some loss. What a wild, weird retrospect
it was, - that mind's flash over the troubled past! so like a
troublous dream!

"And for years and years to come, in many homes in Zanzibar,
there will be told the great story of our journey, and the
actors in it will be heroes among their kilt and kin. For me
too they are heroes, these poor, ignorant children of
Africa, for, from the first deadly struggle in savage Ituru
to the last staggering rush into Embomma, they had rallied
to my voice like veterans, and in the hour of need they had
never failed me. And thus, aided by their willing hands and
by their loyal hearts, the expedition had been successful,
and the three great problems of the Dark Continent's
geography had been fairly settled."[95]

How many times we have read this marvellous narrative of Stanley's
march through the Dark Continent, we do not know; but we do know that
every time we have read it with tears and emotion, have blessed the
noble Stanley, and thanked God for the grand character of his black
followers! There is no romance equal to these two volumes. The trip
was one awful tragedy from beginning to end, and the immortal deeds of
his untutored guards are worthy of the famous _Light Brigade_.

On the fourth day of August, 1877, Henry M. Stanley arrived at the
village of Nsanda on his way to the ocean. He had in his command one
hundred and fifteen souls. Foot-sore, travel-soiled, and hungry, his
people sank down exhausted. He tried to buy food from the natives; but
they, with an indifference that was painful, told them to wait until
market-day. A foraging party scoured the district for food, but found
none. Starvation was imminent. The feeble travellers lay upon the
ground in the camp, with death pictured on their dusky features.
Stanley called his boat-captains to his tent, and explained the
situation. He knew that he was within a few days march of Embomma, and
that here were located one Englishman, one Frenchman, one Spaniard,
and one Portuguese. He told the captains that he had addressed a
letter to these persons for aid; and that resolute, swift, and
courageous volunteers were needed to go for the relief, - without which
the whole camp would be transformed into a common graveyard. We will
now quote from Mr. Stanley again in proof of the noble nature of the
Negro: -

"The response was not long coming; for Uledi sprang up and
said, 'O master, don't talk more! I am ready now. See, I
will only buckle on my belt, and I shall start at once, and
nothing will stop me. I will follow on the track like a

"'And I am one,' said Kachéché. 'Leave us alone, master. If
there are white men at Embomma, we will find them out. We
will walk and walk, and when we cannot walk we will crawl.'

"'Leave off talking men,' said Muini Pembé, 'and allow
others to speak, won't you? Hear me, my master. I am your
servant. I will outwalk the two. I will carry the letter,
and plant it before the eyes of the white men.'

"'I will go too, sir,' said Robert.

"'Good! It is just as I should wish it; but, Robert, you
cannot follow these three men. You will break down, my boy.'

"'Oh, we will carry him if he breaks down,' said Uledi.
'Won't we, Kachéché?"

"'_Inshallah_!' responded Kachéché decisively. 'We must have
Robert along with us, otherwise the white men won't
understand us.'"

What wonderful devotion! What sublime self-forgetfulness! The world
has wept over such stories as Bianca and Héloise, and has built
monuments that will stand, -

"_While Fame her record keeps,
Or Homer paints the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps_," -

and yet these black heroes are unremembered. "I will follow the track
like a leopard," gives but a faint idea of the strong will of Uledi;
and Kachéché's brave words are endowed with all the attributes of that
heroic _abandon_ with which a devoted general hurls the last fragment
of wasting strength against a stubborn enemy. And besides, there is
something so tender in these words that they seem to melt the heart.
"We will walk and walk, and when we cannot walk we will crawl!" We
have never read but one story that approaches this narrative of Mr.
Stanley, and that was the tender devotion of Ruth to her
mother-in-law. We read it in the Hebrew to Dr. O.S. Stearns of Newton,
Mass.; and confess that, though it has been many years since, the
blessed impression still remains, and our confidence in humanity is
strengthened thereby.

Here are a few white men in the wilds of Africa, surrounded by the
uncivilized children of the desert. They have money and valuable
instruments, a large variety of gewgaws that possessed the power of
charming the fancy of the average savage; and therefore the whites
would have been a tempting prey to the blacks. But not a hair of their
head was harmed. The white men had geographical fame to encourage them
in the struggle, - friends and loved ones far away beyond the
beautiful blue sea. These poor savages had nothing to steady their
purposes save a paltry sum of money as day-wages, - no home, no
friends; and yet they were as loyal as if a throne were awaiting them.
No, no! nothing waited on their heroic devotion to a magnificent cause
but a lonely death when they had brought the "master" to the sea. When
their stomachs, pinched by hunger; when their limbs, stiff from
travel; when their eyes, dim with the mists of death; when every vital
force was slain by an heroic ambition to serve the great Stanley; when
the fires of endeavor were burnt to feeble embers, - then, and only
then, would these faithful Negroes fail in the fulfilment of their
mission, so full of peril, and yet so grateful to them, because it was
in the line of _duty_.

Cicero urged virtue as necessary to effective oratory. The great
majority of Negroes in Africa are both orators and logicians. A people
who have such noble qualities as this race seems to possess has, as a
logical necessity, the poetic element in a large degree.

In speaking of Negro poetry, we shall do so under three different
heads; viz., the _Epic_, _Idyllic_, _Religious_, or miscellaneous.

_The epic poetry_ of Africa, so far as known, is certainly worthy of
careful study. The child must babble before it can talk, and all
barbarians have a sense of the sublime in speech. Mr. Taine, in his
"History of English Literature," speaking of early Saxon poetry,
says, -

"One poem nearly whole, and two or three fragments, are all
that remain of this lay-poetry of England. The rest of the
pagan current, German and barbarian, was arrested or
overwhelmed, first by the influx of the Christian religion,
then by the conquest of the Norman-French. But what remains
more than suffices to show the strange and powerful poetic
genius of the race, and to exhibit beforehand the flower in
the bud.

"If there has ever been anywhere a deep and serious poetic
sentiment, it is here. They do not speak: they sing, or
rather they shout. Each little verse is an acclamation,
which breaks forth like a growl; their strong breasts heave
with a groan of anger or enthusiasm, and a vehement or
indistinct phrase or expression rises suddenly, almost in
spite of them, to their lips. There is no art, no natural
talent, for describing, singly and in order, the different
parts of an object or an event. The fifty rays of light
which every phenomenon emits in succession to a regular and
well-directed intellect, come to them at once in a glowing
and confused mass, disabling them by their force and
convergence. Listen to their genuine war-chants, unchecked
and violent, as became their terrible voices! To this day,
at this distance of time, separated as they are by manners,
speech, ten centuries, we seem to hear them still."[96]

This glowing description of the poetry of the primitive and hardy
Saxon gives the reader an excellent idea of the vigorous, earnest, and
gorgeous effusions of the African. Panda was king of the Kaffirs. He
was considered quite a great warrior. It took a great many
_isi-bongas_ to describe his virtues. His chief _isi-bongas_ was
"O-Elephant." This was chosen to describe his strength and greatness.
Mr. Wood gives an account of the song in honor of Panda: -

"1. Thou brother of the Tchaks, _considerate forder_,
2. A _swallow which fled in the sky_;
3. A swallow with a whiskered breast;
4. Whose cattle was ever in so huddled a crowd,
5. They stumble for room when they ran.
6. Thou false adorer of the valor of another,
7. That valor thou tookest at the battle of Makonko.
8. Of the stock of N'dabazita, _ramrod of brass_,
9. _Survivor alone of all other rods_;
10. Others they broke and left this in the soot,
11. Thinking to burn at some rainy cold day.
12. _Thigh of the bullock of Inkakavini_,
13. Always delicious if only 'tis roasted,
14. It will always be tasteless if boiled.
15. The woman from Mankeba is delighted;
16. She has seen the leopards of Jama,
17. Fighting together between the Makonko.
18. He passed between the Jutuma and Ihliza,
19. The Celestial who thundered between the Makonko.
20. I praisethee, O King! son of Jokwane, the son of Undaba,
21. The merciless opponent of every conspiracy.
22. Thou art an _elephant_, an _elephant_, an _elephant_.
23. All glory to thee, thou _monarch who art black_."

"The first _isi-bonga_, in line 1, alludes to the ingenuity
with which Panda succeeded in crossing the river so as to
escape out of the district where Dingan exercised authority.
In the second line, 'swallow which fled in the sky' is
another allusion to the secrecy with which he managed his
flight, which left no more track than the passage of a
swallow through the air. Lines 4 and 5 allude to the wealth,
i.e., the abundance of cattle, possessed by Panda. Line 6
asserts that Panda was too humble minded, and thought more
of the power of Dingan than it deserved; while line 7 offers
as proof of this assertion, that, when they came to fight,
Panda conquered Dingan. Lines 8 to 11 all relate to the
custom of seasoning sticks by hanging them over the
fireplaces in Kaffir huts. Line 14 alludes to the fact that
meat is very seldom roasted by the Kaffirs, but is almost
invariably boiled, or rather stewed, in closed vessels. In
line 15 the 'woman from Mankebe' is Panda's favorite wife.
In line 19 'The Celestial' alludes to the name of the great
Zulu tribe over which Panda reigned; the word 'Zulu' meaning
celestial, and having much the same import as the same word
when employed by the Chinese to denote their origin. Line 21
refers to the attempts of Panda's rivals to dethrone him,
and the ingenious manner in which he contrived to defeat
their plans by forming judicious alliances."

There is a daring insolence, morbid vanity, and huge description in
this song of Panda, that make one feel like admitting that the sable
bard did his work of flattery quite cleverly. It should not be
forgotten by the reader, that, in the translation of these songs, much
is lost of their original beauty and perspicuity. The following song
was composed to celebrate the war triumphs of Dinga, and is, withal,
exciting, and possessed of good movement. It is, in some instances,
much like the one quoted above: -

"Thou needy offspring of Umpikazi,
Eyer of the cattle of men;
Bird of Maube, fleet as a bullet,
Sleek, erect, of beautiful parts;
Thy cattle like the comb of the bees;
O head too large, too huddled to move;
Devourer of Moselekatze, son of Machobana;
Devourer of 'Swazi, son of Sobuza;
Breaker of the gates of Machobana;
Devourer of Gundave of Machobana;
A monster in size, of mighty power;
Devourer of Ungwati of ancient race;
Devourer of the kingly Uomape;
Like heaven above, raining and shining."

The poet has seen fit to refer to the early life of his hero, to call
attention to his boundless riches, and, finally, to celebrate his war
achievements. It is highly descriptive, and in the Kaffir language is
quite beautiful.

Tchaka sings a song himself, the ambitious sentiments of which would
have been worthy of Alexander the Great or Napoleon Bonaparte. He had
carried victory on his spear throughout all Kaffir-land. Everywhere
the tribes had bowed their submissive necks to his yoke; everywhere he
was hailed as king. But out of employment he was not happy. He sighed
for more tribes to conquer, and thus delivered himself: -

"Thou hast finished, finished the nations!
Where will you go out to battle now?
Hey! where will you go out to battle now?
Thou hast conquered kings!
Where are you going to battle now?
Thou hast finished, finished the nations!
Where are you going to battle now?
Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!
Where are you going to battle now?"

There is really something modern in this deep lament of the noble

The following war song of the Wollof, though it lacks the sonorous and
metrical elements of real poetry, contains true military
aggressiveness, mixed with the theology of the fatalist.


"I go in front. I fear not death. I am not afraid. If I die,
I will take my blood to bathe my head.

"The man who fears nothing marches always in front, and is
never hit by the murderous ball. The coward hides himself
behind a bush, and is killed.

"Go to the battle. It is not lead that kills. It is Fate
which strikes us, and which makes us die."

Mr. Reade says of the musicians he met up the Senegal, -

"There are three classes of these public minstrels, - 1,
those who play such vulgar instruments as the flute and
drum; 2, those who play on the ballafond, which is the
marimba of Angola and South America, and on the harp; 3,
those who sing the legends and battle-songs of their
country, or who improvise satires or panegyrics. This last
class are dreaded, though despised. They are richly rewarded
in their lifetime, but after death they are not even given a
decent burial. If they were buried in the ground, it would
become barren; if in the river, the water would be poisoned,
and the fish would die: so they are buried in hollow trees.

_The idyllic poetry_ of Africa is very beautiful in its gorgeous
native dress. It requires some knowledge of their mythology in order
to thoroughly understand all their figures of speech. The following
song is descriptive of the white man, and is the production of a

"_In the blue palace of the deep sea
Dwells a strange creature:

Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 10 of 57)