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 9 of 57)
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"They have none of that austerity, that reserve, that
pertinacity, that perseverance, that strong-headed stubborn
determination, or that ferocious courage, which are the
common attributes of our sex. They have, on the other hand,
that delicate tact, that intuition, that nervous
imagination, that quick perception of character, which have
become the proverbial characteristics of cultivated women.
They know how to render themselves impenetrable; and if they
desire to be perfidious, they wear a mask which few eyes can
see through, while at the same time a certain sameness of
purpose models their character in similar moulds. Their
nature is an enigma: but solve it, and you have solved the
race. They are inordinately vain: they buy looking-glasses;
they will pass hours at their toilet, in which their wives
must act as _femmes de chambre_; they will spend all their
money on ornaments and dress, in which they can display a
charming taste. They are fond of music, of dancing, and are
not insensible to the beauties of nature. They are indolent,
and have little ambition except to be admired and well
spoken of. They are so sensitive that a harsh word will
rankle in then hearts, and make them unhappy for a length of
time; and they will strip themselves to pay the _grills_ for
their flattery, and to escape their satire. Though naturally
timid, and loath to shed blood, they witness without horror
the most revolting spectacles which their religion
sanctions; and, though awed by us their superiors, a real
injury will transform their natures, and they will take a
speedy and merciless revenge.

"According to popular belief, the Africans are treacherous
and hostile. The fact is, that all Africans are supposed to
be Negroes, and that which is criminal is ever associated
with that which is hideous. But, with the exception of some
Mohammedan tribes toward the north, one may travel all over
Africa without risking one's life. They may detain you, they
may rob you, if you are rich; they may insult you, and
refuse to let you enter their country, if you are poor: but
your life is always safe till you sacrifice it by some

"In ancient times the blacks were known to be so gentle to
strangers that many believed that the gods sprang from them.
Homer sings of the Ocean, father of the gods; and says that,
when Jupiter wishes to take a holiday, he visits the sea,
and goes to the banquets of the blacks, - a people humble,
courteous, and devout."[81]

We have quoted thus extensively from Mr. Reade because he has given a
fair account of the peoples he met. He is a good writer, but sometimes
gets real funny!

It is a fact that all uncivilized races are warlike. The tribes of
Africa are a vast standing army. Fighting seems to be their
employment. We went into this matter of armies so thoroughly in the
fourth chapter that we shall not have much to say here. The bow and
arrow, the spear and assagai were the primitive weapons of African
warriors; but they have learned the use of fire-arms within the last
quarter of a century. The shield and assagai are not, however, done
away with. The young Prince Napoleon, whose dreadful death the reader
may recall, was slain by an assagai. These armies are officered,
disciplined, and drilled to great perfection, as the French and
English troops have abundant reason to know.

"The Zulu tribes are remarkable for being the only people in
that part of Africa who have practised war in an European
sense of the word. The other tribes are very good at bush
fighting, and are exceedingly crafty at taking an enemy
unawares, and coming on him before he is prepared for them.
Guerilla warfare is, in fact, their only mode of waging
battle; and, as is necessarily the case in such warfare,
more depends on the exertion of individual combatants than
on the scientific combinations of masses. But the Zulu tribe
have, since the time of Dhaka, the great inventor of
military tactics, carried on war in a manner approaching the
notions of civilization.

"Their men are organized into regiments, each subdivided
into companies, and each commanded by its own chief, or
colonel; while the king, as commanding general, leads his
forces to war, disposes them in battle-array, and personally
directs their movements. They give an enemy notice that they
are about to match against him, and boldly meet him in the
open field. There is a military etiquette about them which
some of our own people have been slow to understand. They
once sent a message to the English commander that they would
'come and breakfast with him.' He thought it was only a
joke, and was very much surprised when the Kaffirs, true to
their promise, came pouring like a torrent over the hills,
leaving him barely time to get his men under arms before the
dark enemies arrived."[82]

And there are some legends told about African wars that would put the
"Arabian Nights" to the blush.[83]

In Africa, as in districts of Germany and Holland, woman is burdened
with agricultural duties. The soil of Africa is very rich,[84] and
consequently Nature furnishes her untutored children with much
spontaneous vegetation. It is a rather remarkable fact, that the
average African warrior thinks it a degradation for him to engage in
agriculture. He will fell trees, and help move a village, but _will
not_ go into the field to work. The women - generally the married
ones - do the gardening. They carry the seed on their heads in a large
basket, a hoe on their shoulder, and a baby slung on the back. They
scatter the seed over the ground, and then break up the earth to the
depth of three or four inches.

"Four or five gardens are often to be seen round a kraal,
each situated so as to suit some particular plant. Various
kinds of crops are cultivated by the Kaffirs, the principal
being maize, millet, pumpkins, and a kind of spurious
sugar-cane in great use throughout Southern Africa, and
popularly known by the name of 'sweet-reed.' The two former
constitute, however, the necessaries of life, the latter
belonging rather to the class of luxuries. The maize, or, as
it is popularly called when the pods are severed from the
stem, 'mealies,' is the very staff of life to a Kaffir; as
it is from the mealies that is made the thick porridge on
which the Kaffir chiefly lives. If a European hires a
Kaffir, whether as guide, servant, or hunter, he is obliged
to supply him with a stipulated quantity of food, of which
the maize forms the chief ingredient. Indeed, so long as the
native of Southern Africa can get plenty of porridge and
sour milk, he is perfectly satisfied with his lot. When
ripe, the ears of maize are removed from the stem, the leafy
envelope is stripped off, and they are hung in pairs over
sticks until they are dry enough to be taken to the

The cattle are cared for by the men, and women are not allowed to
engage in the hunt for wild animals. The cattle among the mountain and
sandstone tribes are of a fine stock, but those of the tribes in the
alluvia, like their owners, are small and sickly.

The African pays more attention to his weapons of offensive warfare
than he does to his wives; but in many instances he is quite skilful
in the handicrafts.

"The Ishogo people are noted throughout the neighboring
tribes for the superior quality and fineness of the
_bongos_, or pieces of grass-cloth, which they manufacture.
They are industrious and skilful weavers. In walking down
the main street of Mokenga, a number of _ouandjas_, or
houses without walls are seen, each containing four or five
looms, with the weavers seated before them weaving the
cloth. In the middle of the floor of the _ouandjay_ a
wood-fire is seen burning; and the weavers, as you pass by,
are sure to be seen smoking their pipes, and chatting to one
another whilst going on with their work. The weavers are all
men, and it is men also who stitch the _bongos_ together to
make _denguis_ or robes of them; the stitches are not very
close together, nor is the thread very fine, but the work is
very neat and regular, and the needles are of their own
manufacture. The _bongos_ are very often striped, and
sometimes made even in check patterns; this is done by their
dyeing some of the threads of the warp, or of both warp and
woof, with various simple colors; the dyes are all made of
decoctions of different kinds of wood, except for black,
when a kind of iron ore is used. The _bongos_ are employed
as money in this put of Africa. Although called grass-cloth
by me, the material is not made of grass, but of the
delicate and firm cuticle of palm leaflets, stripped off in
a dexterous manner with the fingers."[86]

Nearly all his mechanical genius seems to be exhausted in the
perfection of his implements of war, and Dr. Livingstone is of the
opinion, that when a certain perfection in the arts is reached, the
natives pause. This, we think, is owing to their far remove from other
nations. Livingstone says, -

"The races of this continent seem to have advanced to a
certain point and no farther; their progress in the arts of
working iron and copper, in pottery, basket-making,
spinning, weaving, making nets, fish-hooks, spears, axes,
knives, needles, and other things, whether originally
invented by this people or communicated by another
instructor, appears to have remained in the same rude state
for a great number of centuries. This apparent stagnation of
mind in certain nations we cannot understand, but, since we
have in the latter ages of the world made what we consider
great progress in the arts, we have unconsciously got into
the way of speaking of some other races in much the same
tone as that used by the Celestials in the Flowery Land.
These same Chinese anticipated us in several most important
discoveries, by as many centuries as we may have preceded
others. In the knowledge of the properties of the magnet,
the composition of gunpowder, the invention of printing, the
manufacture of porcelain, of silk, and in the progress of
literature, they were before us. But then the power of
making further discoveries was arrested, and a stagnation of
the intellect prevented their advancing in the path of
improvement or invention."

Mr. Wood says, -

"The natives of Southern Africa are wonderful proficients in
forging iron; and, indeed, a decided capability for the
blacksmith's art seems to be inherent in the natives of
Africa, from north to south, and from east to west. None of
the tribes can do very much with the iron, but the little
which they require is worked in perfection. As in the case
with all uncivilized beings, the whole treasures of the art
are lavished on their weapons; and so, if we wish to see
what an African savage can do with iron, we must look at his
spears, knives, and arrows - the latter, indeed, being but
spears in miniature."

The blacksmith, then, is a person of some consequence in his village.
He gives shape and point to the weapons by which game is to be secured
and battles won. All seek his favor.

"Among the Kaffirs, a blacksmith is a man of considerable
importance, and is much respected by the tribe. He will not
profane the mystery of his craft by allowing uninitiated
eyes to inspect his various processes, and therefore carries
on his operations at some distance from the kraal. His first
care is to prepare the bellows. The form which he uses
prevails over a very large portion of Africa, and is seen,
with some few modifications, even among the many islands of
Polynesia. It consists of two leathern sacks, at the upper
end of which is a handle. To the lower end of each sack is
attached the hollow horns of some animal, that of the cow or
eland being most commonly used; and when the bags are
alternately inflated and compressed, the air passes out
through the two horns.

"Of course the heat of the fire would destroy the horns if
they were allowed to come in contact with it; and they are
therefore inserted, not into the fire, but into an
earthenware tube which communicates with the fire. The use
of valves is unknown; but as the two horns do not open into
the fire, but into the tube, the fire is not drawn into the
bellows as would otherwise be the case. This arrangement,
however, causes considerable waste of air, so that the
bellows-blower is obliged to work much harder than would be
the case if he were provided with an instrument that could
conduct the blast directly to its destination. The ancient
Egyptians used a bellows of precisely similar construction,
except that they did not work them entirely by hand. They
stood with one foot on each sack, and blew the fire by
alternately pressing on them with the feet, and raising them
by means of a cord fastened to their upper ends.

"When the blacksmith is about to set to work, he digs a hole
in the ground, in which the fire is placed; and then sinks
the earthenware tube in a sloping direction, so that the
lower end opens at the bottom of the hole, while the upper
end projects above the level of the ground. The two horns
are next inserted into the upper end of the earthenware
tube; and the bellows are then fastened in their places, so
that the sacks are conveniently disposed for the hands of
the operator, who sits between them. A charcoal-fire is then
laid in the hole, and is soon brought to a powerful heat by
means of the bellows. A larger stone serves the purpose of
an anvil, and a smaller stone does duty for a hammer.
Sometimes the hammer is made of a conical piece of iron, but
in most cases a stone is considered sufficient. The rough
work of hammering the iron into shape is generally done by
the chief blacksmith's assistants, of whom he has several,
all of whom will pound away at the iron in regular
succession. The shaping and finishing the article is
reserved by the smith for himself. The other tools are few
and simple, and consist of punches and rude pinchers made of
two rods of iron.

"With these instruments the Kaffir smith can cast brass into
various ornaments, Sometimes he pours it into a cylindrical
mould, so as to make a bar from which bracelets and similar
ornaments can be hammered, and sometimes he makes studs and
knobs by forming their shape in clay moulds."[87]

Verily, the day will come when these warlike tribes shall beat their
spears into pruning-hooks, and their assagais into ploughshares, and
shall learn war no more! The skill and cunning of their artificers
shall be consecrated to the higher and nobler ends of civilization,
and the noise of battle shall die amid the music of a varied


[68] Livingstone's Expedition to the Zambesi, pp. 216, 217.

[69] Ashango Land, pp. 288, 289, 291, 292.

[70] Western Africa, p. 257 _sq._

[71] Through the Dark Continent, vol. i. p. 489.

[72] Uncivilized Races of Men, vol. i. chap, vii.

[73] Equatorial Africa, pp. 377, 378.

[74] Savage Africa, p. 216.

[75] Expedition to Zambesi, pp. 626, 627.

[76] Livingstone's Expedition to the Zambesi, pp. 307, 308.

[77] Savage Africa, p. 219.

[78] See Savage Africa, p. 207. Livingstone's Life-Work, pp. 47, 48.
Uncivilized Races of Men, vol. 1. pp. 71-86; also Du Chaillu and
Denham and Clappterton.

[79] Savage Africa, pp. 424, 425.

[80] Livingstone's Expedition to the Zambesi, pp 625, 626.

[81] Savage Africa, pp 426, 427.

[82] Uncivilized Races of Men, vol. i. p. 94.

[83] Through the Dark Continent, vol. i. p. 344 _sq._; also vol. ii.
pp. 87, 88.

[84] Livingstone's Zambesi, pp. 613-617.

[85] Uncivilized Races of Men, vol. i. p. 146.

[86] Ashango Land, pp 290, 291.

[87] Uncivilized Races of Men, vol. i. pp. 97, 98.




Philologically the inhabitants of Africa are divided into two distinct
families. The dividing line that Nature drew across the continent is
about two degrees north of the equator. Thus far science has not
pushed her investigations into Northern Africa; and, therefore, little
is known of the dialects of that section. But from what travellers
have learned of portions of different tribes that have crossed the
line, and made their way as far as the Cape of Good Hope, we infer,
that, while there are many dialects in that region, they all belong to
one common family. During the Saracen movement, in the second century
of the Christian era, the Arab turned his face toward Central Africa.
Everywhere traces of his language and religion are to be found. He
transformed whole tribes of savages. He built cities, and planted
fields; he tended flocks, and became trader. He poured new blood into
crumbling principalities, and taught the fingers of the untutored
savage to war. His religion, in many places, put out the ineffectual
fires of the fetich-house, and lifted the grovelling thoughts of
idolaters heavenward. His language, like the new juice of the vine,
made its way to the very roots of Negro dialects, and gave them method
and tone. In the song and narrative, in the prayer and precept, of the
heathen, the Arabic comes careering across each sentence, giving
cadence and beauty to all.

On the heels of the Mohammedan followed the Portuguese, the tried and
true servants of Rome, bearing the double swords and keys. Not so
extensive as the Arab, the influence of the Portuguese, nevertheless,
has been quite considerable.

[Transcriber's Note: A breve diacritical mark, a u-shaped symbol above
a letter used to indicate special pronunciation, is found on several
words in the original text. These letters are indicated here by the
coding [)x] for a breve above any letter x. For example, the word
"tonda" with a breve above the letter "o" will appear as "t[)o]nda" in
the following text.]

All along the coast of Northern Guinea, a distance of nearly fifteen
hundred miles, - from Cape Mesurado to the mouth of the Niger, - the
Kree, Grebo, and Basa form one general family, and speak the Mandu
language. On the Ivory Coast another language is spoken between Frisco
and Dick's Cove. It is designated as the Av[)e]kw[)o]m language, and
in its verbal and inflective character is not closely related to the
Mandu. The dialects of Popo, Dahomey, Ashantee, and Akra are
resolvable into a family or language called the _Fantyipin_. All these
dialects, to a greater or less extent, have incorporated many foreign
words, - Dutch, French, Spanish, English, Portuguese, and even many
words from Madagascar. The language of the Gold and Ivory Coasts we
find much fuller than those on the Grain Coast. Wherever commerce or
mechanical enterprise imparts a quickening touch, we find the
vocabulary of the African amplified. Susceptible, apt, and cunning,
the coast tribes, on account of their intercourse with the outside
world, have been greatly changed. We are sorry that the change has not
always been for the better. Uncivilized sailors, and brainless and
heartless speculators, have sown the rankest seeds of an effete
Caucasian civilization in the hearts of the unsuspecting Africans.
These poor people have learned to cheat, lie, steal; are capable of
remarkable diplomacy and treachery; have learned well the art of
flattery and extreme cruelty. Mr. Wilson says, -

"The Sooahelee, or Swahere language, spoken by the
aboriginal inhabitants of Zanzibar, is very nearly allied to
the Mpongwe, which is spoken on the western coast in very
nearly the same parallel of latitude. _One-fifth of the
words of these two dialects are either the same, or so
nearly so that they may easily be traced to the same root_."

The Italics are our own. The above was written just a quarter of a
century ago.

"The language of Uyanzi seemed to us to be a mixture of
almost all Central African dialects. Our great stock of
native words, in all dialects, proved of immense use to me;
and in three days I discovered, after classifying and
comparing the words heard from the Wy-anzi with other
African words, that I was tolerably proficient, at least for
all practical purposes, in the Kiyanzi dialect."[88]

Mr. Stanley wrote the above in Africa in March, 1877. It was but a
repetition of the experiences of Drs. Livingstone and Kirk, that,
while the dialects west and south-west of the Mountains of the Moon
are numerous, and apparently distinct, they are referable to one
common parent. The Swahere language has held its place from the
beginning. Closely allied to the Mpongwe, it is certainly one of great
strength and beauty.

"This great family of languages - if the Mpongwe dialect may
be taken as a specimen - is remarkable for its beauty,
elegance, and perfectly philosophical arrangements, as well
as for its almost indefinite expansibility. In these
respects it not only differs essentially and radically from
all the dialects north of the Mountains of the Moon, but
they are such as may well challenge a comparison with any
known language in the world."[89]

The dialects of Northern Africa are rough, irregular in structure, and
unpleasant to the ear. The Mpongwe we are inclined to regard as the
best of all the dialects we have examined. It is spoken, with but
slight variations, among the Mpongwe, Ayomba, Oroungou, Rembo, Camma,
Ogobay, Anenga, and Ngaloi tribes. A careful examination of several
other dialects leads us to suspect that they, too, sustain a distant
relationship to the Mpongwe.

Next to this remarkable language comes the Bakalai, with its numerous
dialectic offspring, scattered amongst the following tribes: the
Balengue, Mebenga, Bapoukow, Kombe, Mbiki, Mbousha, Mbondemo, Mbisho,
Shekiani, Apingi, Evili, with other tribes of the interior.

The two families of languages we have just mentioned - the Mpongwe and
the Bakalai - are distinguished for their system and grammatical
structure. It is surprising that these unwritten languages should hold
their place among roving, barbarous tribes through so many years. In
the Mpongwe language and its dialects, the liquid and semi-vowel _r_
is rolled with a fulness and richness harmonious to the ear. The
Bakalai and its branches have no _r_; and it is no less true that all
tribes that exclude this letter from their dialects are warlike,
nomadic, and much inferior to the tribes that use it freely.

The Mpongwe language is spoken on each side of the Gabun, at Cape
Lopez, and at Cape St. Catharin in Southern Guinea; the Mandingo,
between Senegal and the Gambia; and the Grebo language, in and about
Cape Palmas. It is about twelve hundred miles from Gabun to Cape
Palmas, about two thousand miles from Gabun to Senegambia, and about
six hundred miles from Cape Palmas to Gambia. It is fair to presume
that these tribes are sufficiently distant from each other to be
called strangers. An examination of their languages may not fail to

It has been remarked somewhere, that a people's homes are the surest
indications of the degree of civilization they have attained. It is
certainly true, that deportment has much to do with the polish of
language. The disposition, temperament, and morals of a people who
have no written language go far toward giving their language its
leading characteristics. The Grebo people are a well-made, quick, and
commanding-looking people. In their intercourse with one another,
however, they are unpolished, of sudden temper, and revengeful
disposition.[90] Their language is consequently _monosyllabic_. A
great proportion of Grebo words are of the character indicated. A few

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 9 of 57)