James Keith Trotter.

The Niger sources and the borders of the new Sierra Leone protectorate online

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being the division between Sanda Lokko and
Biriwa Limba country.

The climate during this march was in all


respects that of the coast region. The air
was heavy and somewhat depressing, and the
difference between day and night temperature
was small. In this country a very little exer-
tion produces a great deal of moisture, and a
few miles of marching effected a saturation of
one's wearing apparel which was a little un-
comfortable. This is no doubt due to the
air being charged with moisture, a condition
which made the temperature very much less
supportable than that accompanying a dry
heat. We did not use a maximum and mini-
mum thermometer, but registering the tempera-
ture in the early morning, and again after
reaching our halting-place, i.e. between 10 A.M.
and noon, we found the lowest temperature
noted to be 70, and the mean of the early
morning readings to be 72.5. The highest
reading was 84, and the lowest of the day
readings 81. Exertion at this stage was not
an unmixed delight.

After crossing the Mabole, as we approached
Bumban, we became aware of a change in our
surroundings. Hills were visible ahead of us,


and the road we followed led us past huge
boulders of granite. We found Bumban to be
a large town lying on low ground, some 300
feet above sea level, and shut in by hills on
all sides but the west. It contains a police
barracks, occupied by a detachment of Frontier
Police, and is the seat of the Chief of the
Biriwa Limba, a man who appears to be held
in the greatest dread by his subjects, although
he rules them without the assistance of any
executive. Even our own followers had a
superstitious dread of his power to hurt them
so long as we continued in his country, which
was of some value as a means of preventing

Captain Tyler, our photographer, endeavoured
to obtain a photograph of the Chiefs wives,
but unfortunately his plates were not large
enough to include the whole establishment,
which is said to number 300, so he had to be
content with a small selection. The photo-
graph, however, failed ; but he succeeded in
developing one of the Chief feeding his pigeons,
which are even more numerous than his wives,


and which he treats with more devotion so far
as we observed.

We halted at Bumban on Christmas day,
and entertained our French comrades. A halt
indeed involved as much labour as a day's
march, with the observations to be taken,
calculations to be worked out, despatches for
the mail to be prepared, and other work to
be undertaken. There was, in addition to
the routine tasks, the discipline and adminis-
tration of our native establishment to be seen
to, and their commissariat requirements to be
provided for. Even now these matters pressed
upon us, and as we advanced further into the
interior they became a source of daily anxiety.

A part of our daily work, both on marching
and on halting days, was the palaver with the
Chief of the place and his people. These in-
terviews differed from each other only in the
varying degree of importance attached to the
occasion, the Chief on some occasions being
the paramount ruler of a country or district, in
others merely the head-man of a town or village.
But in all cases the procedure was the same, and


the following description, which applies in the
first instance to our palaver with the Chief of
Biriwa Limba, will serve as an example of the
way these meetings are conducted in West Africa.
An hour would be agreed upon, and the Chief
would send round to every part of his dominions
within reach and collect his people by beat of tom-
tom. At the given time they would assemble,
generally in some open space near the town, under
a cotton tree or round a conspicuous object
occasionally the people assembled in front of
the hut which we occupied, but the important
palavers were more frequently held outside
the town. A semicircle would be formed, the
Chief and his most important followers being in
front. Opposite to them we took our places,
our chairs having been previously placed for us.
Beside us stood our escort of Frontier Police,
and the clerk attached to the Commission, an
official from the department of Native Affairs.
The Chief then made a long address, which, as
translated by the interpreter into Sierra Leone
English, and with the assistance of our doctor
rendered into English as comprehended by us,


was boiled down through a few meaningless
platitudes into the information that he was very
glad to see us, repeated many times, and into
the prayer that we would accept the present
prepared for us, which was laid out before us.
This consisted in general of some bowls of rice,
perhaps a few kola nuts, which are of consider-
able value in this country, and are the emblem
of friendship and welcome, with the addition,
according to the wealth of the Chief, of a
couple of fowls, a sheep, or perhaps a bullock.
Whilst this performance was going on, the
clerk, who was a past master in the etiquette of
these proceedings, made a hurried estimate of
the value of the Chiefs present and disap-
peared. The proper course, I believe, is that
the receiver of the present, i.e. the visitor,
should always, to use a vulgarism, go one
better, but I am not sure that this principle is
rigidly adhered to in parts of the country where
the value of trade goods is little understood.
To pay for presents received we had with us a
large stock of wares, many being of no value
except at places near the coast. The principal


articles of trade were Manchester cottons, fancy
smoking caps, penny looking-glasses, tobacco
leaves, Florida water, much appreciated by the
natives when mixed with tobacco ; hair-oil,
used to anoint the face ; salt, beads, threepenny
pieces for making necklaces, and other small
things of a portable nature. Whilst our return
present was being prepared, I replied to the
Chiefs address. I was not master of the
elocution (and circumlocution) he employed,
but I merely said I was glad to see him, I
thanked him for his present, and I begged his
acceptance of ours. I explained also the
business we were engaged upon. Many of the
Chiefs would hardly believe that we were not,
to use the expressive phrase of the country,
bringing a war with us. In the boundary
districts I always explained the run of the
frontier, and dwelt on the enormity of inter-
fering with the landmarks we had set up. I
also impressed on the Chief that he was to
" clean " or " brush " his roads, as it is
expressed, and to increase his farm lands.
By the time these words had passed through


the interpreter, our present had arrived, and it
was interesting, especially in the remoter parts
of the country, to observe the childish delight
with which the natives examined the cottons,
the looking-glasses, and the tobacco. Men
who had probably never before had an oppor-
tunity of studying their own personal attrac-
tions gazed solemnly for many minutes on
their features as reflected by a very inferior
glass. Tobacco is grown everywhere, but it
is of poor quality, and the trade article is
greatly appreciated. It is mixed with Florida
water, when this luxury is obtainable, and made
into snuff, which is carried in a small cylindrical
box, and administered to the expectant nostril,
by those of high rank, with an ivory spoon.
Cottons are also highly valued. Cotton is
grown everywhere, and the native women card
and weave it, producing a strong cloth, which
is generally dyed by being dipped in the
juice of the leaves of the indigo plant ; but the
process is very slow and costly, and I imagine
that for any one but the Chief to get a new suit
of clothes is a rare event.


Occasionally, especially in Kuranko country,
music was introduced on these occasions, the
instrument in common use being composed of
a series of strips of wood of graduated length,
fastened over gourds. The performer, who
wears iron bracelets to add to the sound, plays
this instrument with a stick shod with rubber.
The music consists of a chant of half a dozen
chords, repeated ad lid., and accompanying a
vocal performance of a monotonous description.

As soon as the palaver was over we were
able to bargain with the Chief for rice or fowls,
or whatever we required, but etiquette forbids
that any negotiations of a commercial nature
should be entered into until the presents have
been exchanged.

From Bumban our next objective was Kruto
(or Kru) in Kuranko country. This town lay,
so far as we knew, nearly due east of Bumban,
but the intervening country was densely
covered with bush and untracked. Every
inquiry was made, but we were informed that
no direct roads existed. The only known
route was that of the Falaba road to Lenge-


koro, and thence to Koinadugu. This involved
an enormous circuit, and, as time was of the
greatest importance to us, I endeavoured to
find some way of shortening the distance. We
started on 26th December along the Falaba
road, and as we were now in less well-known
country, we commenced a regular road traverse,
using compass and plane table, taking our
distances by perambulator, and making nightly
observations for latitude.

As soon as we left Bumban we began to
ascend the hills, and before the day was over
we found ourselves in a country differing
entirely from the coast region. These hills are
formed of granite, and are covered with thick
bush except on their summits, which take
curious shapes, dome-like and columnar. The
road is difficult and narrow, and the gradients
are so steep that an unencumbered man can
only negotiate them by holding on to trees and
roots. How the laden carrier manages I
cannot understand.

At the end of the first day's march we
found ourselves at Kawana, 825 feet above


the sea. Continuing to ascend daily we found
ourselves, three days later, at Lengekoro,
1500 feet high. The difference in climate
now experienced was very noticeable. We
had a greater range of temperature ; the
nights were cooler, the air fresher, and the
labour of climbing the hills was more than
compensated for by the feeling of increased
ability to support fatigue. Within two days
of leaving Bumban we recorded an early
morning temperature of 66, and we began to
clamour for extra covering at night.

At Kafogo, a village north of Katimbo,
three marches from Bumban, we learned that
a route existed to Kruto, via Sandia and
Kundembaia, which would save us the circuit
to Koinadugu. The head-man of Kafogo,
however, said that the road thence to Sandia
had not been cleaned, and was impracticable,
so we marched on to Lengekoro. At this
place a guide offered to lead us to Kundem-
baia by another route which would save us
much, so, on the 3Oth December, we en-
trusted ourselves to him, and turned east-


ward out of the Falaba road. We found
ourselves now passing out of the Limba
country into a hitherto untraversed part of
Kuranko territory. The road we followed
was barely tracked, and led us through almost
continuous swamp, and across an affluent of
the Seli spanned by a rough trestle bridge,
to Kundembaia, a new, clean, and well-built
town, where roads from Koinadugu, Lenge-
koro, Kruto, and Kafogo converge, some
of which, however, were not in a practicable
condition. The chief and people had never
seen white men before, and all the active
members of the community disappeared into
the bush, leaving the women and the decrepit
to face the unknown dangers. As soon as
they learned that no harm was done to
their belongings, they came in and became
very friendly. With little variation this pro-
gramme was carried out in every town of
Kuranko country, except in those near trade
routes, where white people had previously
been. But the Kuranko were highly de-
lighted with the trade goods we brought,


and much edified at the prospect of being pro-
tected from their enemies by the white people.
The road we were now following led us
into the basin of the Seli river. East of
Kundembaia it is in good condition, and fol-
lowing it we reached the river, a fine water,
about 60 yards wide and deep, with a rocky
bottom and swift current. A most ingenious
hammock bridge was constructed here, made
entirely of creepers. Three stout creepers,
attached to the trunk of a tree on either
bank, acted as roadway and handrails, and
the space between the handrail and roadway
on either side was enclosed by a network of
small creepers. The roadway was covered
with battens of dried grass, and the bridge
was suspended by creepers fastened to the
tops of trees. It bore four carriers with their
loads at a time. The existence of this very
civilized form of crossing at this point is very
remarkable, for, as far as we could learn,
little or no trade passes through the country,
and the towns are only now being rebuilt
since their destruction by the Sofas.


From the village of Isala, near the east
bank of the Seli, we ascended the watershed
between that river and the Bagwe. The road
was bad and the marching very difficult, and
when we reached Yerembo, on New Year's
day, 1896, our carriers were lying about on
the road in varying stages of exhaustion. We
got them all in at last, but one was so over-
come that he lost his reason and disappeared
the next night. From Yerembo we descended
next day into the basin of the Bagwe, and
halted at Alkallia, a small village, the popu-
lation of which fled before our arrival, with
the exception of an old blind man, who was
physically incapable of following their example ;
but even he succeeded, when we sent for him
to question him on the country, in hiding
himself. Next day, a very difficult march
through more or less continuous swamp,
brought us to the Bagwe. The swamps met
with in this part of Africa are unlike anything
I have met with elsewhere. They consist of
heavy stagnant mud, produced, no doubt, by
the immense quantities of decaying vegetation,


and following the course of the drainage lines
which feed the streams and rivers. Where
there is a good flow of water, very little
swamp is found, and the rivers and large
streams had, we observed, almost universally
rocky bottoms. The worst swamps are found
where there is no water on the surface, and,
naturally, no drainage except after heavy rain.
The mud is from three to four feet deep,
sometimes more, and is often as offensive as
if it was the sewage of a city. A hammock-
boy carried us over the swampy ground, and
as it required great strength and skill to pilot
one safely through the heavy mud, each of
us selected the most able of his team. In
spite, however, of threats and encouragement,
we did not pass all the obstacles without some
amusing casualties, our doctor in particular,
who was no light weight, being on one or
two occasions landed by his bearer in a choice
position. As soon as the hammock-boy had
produced a casualty, he invariably fled to avoid
vengeance, and the extrication of the victim
was always the worst part of the disaster.


Between Lengekoro and the Bagwe river
we experienced every morning a dew-fall so
intense, that after five minutes' marching we
were as saturated as if we had been exposed
to heavy rain. The air was so filled with
mist that nothing was visible more than a
few yards away. The dew lasted till the sun
had been up some time, and it was particularly
noticeable during this stage of our march,
though there was at all times a considerable
mist in the early morning.

We crossed the Bagwe partly in canoes
and partly by a ford. It is a fine river, the
foliage of the trees on the banks being very
beautiful. Its width opposite Kilela, our halting
place, is about seventy yards. Kilela is a
new town, under a brother of the Chief of
Kruto, lying a mile east of the river and a
mile or two west of the Falaba- Kruto road.
From this place we marched to Kruto, a
large town in a low position, with a bad water
supply. It is a comparatively civilized place,
and has a police barrack occupied by a small
detachment of Frontier Police from Falaba,


to which place there is a fair road by Koina-
dugu. The Chief received us with much
ceremony, and presented us with a bullock
and a considerable amount of rice. His
authority extends over a large district and
he brought in all his people to welcome us,
and executed a dance with them. As I was
working outside my hut, taking little notice
of the proceedings, I suddenly realized that
the mass of singers and dancers, led by the
Chief, was bearing down upon me. Retreat
was impossible, so I had to resign myself to
the situation. The Chief, continuing his song
and dance, seized me by the hand and waved
it backwards and forwards for some time. I
appreciated the honour, but was very glad
to escape from the ceremony, and not a little
thankful that Captain Tyler, being laid up
with fever, could not immortalize me in a
humiliating position. The ceremony being
over, the Chief sent to me asking for some
medicine. I offered him a selection of
Burroughes and Welcome's tabloids, but he
sent a messenger back to say that what he


wanted was medicine out of a bottle, the
same as consumed by white people, or, in
other words, alchohol. It was evident that
this Chief was far in advance of his country-
men in civilization, but I thought it prudent
to check his aspirations in this direction.
This was the only occasion on which we
were asked for drink during our expedition,
from which it may be gathered that there is
either no trade with the part of the interior
visited by us, or that the craving for drink,
as it exists in other parts of West Africa, is
unknown in these regions.

We observed here first, and afterwards at
many other places in Kuranko country, a
custom corresponding to that of burying the
hatchet in North America. In the centre of
the village two guns were half buried in the
ground to signify that the war, i.e. the Sofa
war, was over, and on these various charms
were suspended.

The second stage of our march ended at
Kruto. The distance recorded by the peram-
bulator from Bumban was ninety-three miles,


but the route being very difficult and the
country hilly, it took us ten days to cover it.
I had intended to halt here one day, but the
deep swamp we had recently passed through
now began to tell its tale, and several of the
Europeans were down with fever. Out of the
seven with the British Commission five were
attacked within a day or two after we crossed
the Bagwe. We were, therefore, reluctantly
compelled to remain two days at Kruto, and
it was only on the morning of 7th January,
1896, that we were able to start on the last
section of our march to the Niger sources.
The country we now entered upon becomes
more distinctly mountainous than that west
of the Bagwe river ; the features are larger
and the ascents more continuous. In front
of us lay a high range terminating in the
Kintiballia Hill, on the top of which the Chief
of Kruto had his town till it was removed to
its present position by order of the Governor.
Our route brought us past this range, which
we skirted, passing to the south of it. We
were now once more off the known routes,


but had no difficulty in finding our way to
Kurubundo, our next point. Halting at Nyedu
and Sogurella, we reached this place three
days after leaving Kruto. It is situated on
the upper slope of a densely wooded hill in
a very picturesque position. A narrow, steep
path leads to a war fence, consisting of two
massive timber gates, one behind the other,
with a very narrow difficult approach con-
necting them and forming the only way of
entering the town. The bush surrounding the
town is so dense as to be practically impene-
trable, except by this narrow path. The top
of the hill is covered with massive granite
boulders, and between these the huts are built.
The place is a good example of a mountain
fastness, where any one inclined to give trouble
could take refuge without fear of being dis-
lodged except by a well-organized expedition.
It has the reputation of being the only Kur-
anko town which was proof against the attacks
of the Sofas.

The influence of the place was very apparent
in the appearance and bearing of the people.


In physique they are decidedly superior to
the Kuranko we had met hitherto, whilst it
was very evident from their manners that
they never forgot the strength of their position.
We were met on arrival by the Chief with
his people, all of them armed with trade guns
and swords. I pointed out to the Chief that
his town was situated within the British sphere,
and later on I got the French Commissioner
to confirm my statement. A flag was given
to him and the usual presents were exchanged.
I then directed him to remove his war fence.
In the meantime one of our carriers had dis-
covered his sister, a Mendi woman, in the
town. She was a slave to one of the chief
men. I therefore arranged for her release,
giving the owner compensation in trade goods
to the value of about 2. The woman and
her brother were dispatched to Freetown at
the first opportunity.

The Chief of Kurubundo, about whom I
had some doubts at first, accepted his new
position loyally, and proved of great assistance
to us later on. We had now arrived at the


end of our tether as regards the direction of
our further advance. We had no information
in which direction the Niger sources lay, or
how distant they were from us. We elicited
here that there was no road to Tembi Kunda,
but the Chief undertook to cut a road for us
to the town of Porpor, whence we should
probably be able to find a way. All night
long his men worked with knives and cut-
lasses, and in the morning we were able to
proceed, and to reach Porpor without any
serious difficulty.

As the country adjoining the Niger water-
shed was believed to be very scantily peopled,
it was urgently necessary to reduce our native
establishment, which had to live on the country,
within the narrowest possible limits. Taking
with us a month's supply for the Europeans,
and only the stores actually required, all re-
maining loads were directed on Falaba, to
which place also the depot which had been
established at a village near Kurubundo was
removed. Head-men and Frontier Police were
detailed to supervise these operations, on the


completion of which the natives were to
return to Freetown and to be paid off there.
By this means we reduced our native estab-
lishment to 270 men, but it was impossible to
get it lower than this, for the carriage of our
instruments, tents, and clothing, as well as
our food supplies, took up the services of a
large number of men, and the servants and
hammock-boys added to the number.

At Porpor, one of our natives, who had
been sent on to explore the country, returned
to us, having discovered a route to Tembi
Kunda. But the Chief of the place, who
appeared anxious to do his best for us, told
us he knew of a more direct way than that
which our man had followed, and provided
guides for us the next day. The people of
this country have a system of keeping secret
from strangers the most direct route between
towns, and of sending them round by a
circuitous road. Their object appears to be
to keep to themselves the most direct means
by which they can escape if attacked. To
assist them in doing this, the road is often


not cut through to their towns, and they
reach it by passing through the bush for
some distance. We met with many instances
of this practice, and it was a sign of the
favourable disposition towards us of the
Kuranko that we were so often introduced to
their private roads. In this case a specially
selected head-man of carriers, noted for his
walking powers, had been sent to find a way
to Tembi Kunda, and the natives had guided
him by a road which made him cover twice
the distance necessary. Guided by the Chief's
men we marched by a different road, and
reached Buria on January nth, where we
found ourselves just above the valley of the
Bafin river. The Chief of Buria provided us
with guides, who next day led us across the
Bafin river, which here is a rapid mountain
stream about 30 feet wide, and forming no
obstacle. We then commenced a regular and

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