James Keith Trotter.

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

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steep ascent to Kamindu, a little village,
where we halted. On the i3th we continued
our ascent, and gradually rose till we stood
on the crest of a long ridge running across


the track we were following, and having an
altitude, on the road, of 3300 feet. Our
guide now told us that the valley in front of
us was that of the Tembi, the longest
tributary of the Niger, and we knew then that
we were standing upon the boundary line
between British and French territory, the
watershed dividing the streams flowing into
the Niger from those running westwards into
Sierra Leone. Of the valley in front of us
little could be seen. The country was
clothed with the cane brake, which grows to
10 feet high, and which is such a complete
obstacle, both to movement and to observa-
tion. Still, we could discern the green foliage,
which indicated that a watercourse was there.
Our guides pointed out to us the valley, but
neither threats nor persuasion would induce
them to lead us to the head. Any attempt
to force them would only have ended in their
lying to us, leading us astray, and escaping
at the first opportunity. As a matter of fact,
they both disappeared before we reached the
valley. In such a country nothing is easier


than to step aside into the bush when out
of observation for a moment, and to dis-
appear beyond all danger of pursuit. The
natives of this country have the greatest
dread of the Niger source. They regard
it as the seat of the devil, who is the only
supreme being they worship, and they believe
that to look upon it is to meet certain death
within the year. Our visit to the place was
regarded as very likely to provoke the evil
one into an undesirable form of activity in
the neighbourhood, and, in order to prevent
this, the inhabitants of the nearest village
sacrificed, some days later, a white fowl, and
sprinkled its blood on the trees near the
upper slope of the Tembi valley.

Deserted by our guides, we forced our
way through the cane brake which covered
the slope of the ridge. We were now in
the Tembi basin, but the actual valley in which
the stream ran lay still some way in front of
us. At length we reached the green foliage,
and, having done so, turned immediately south-
ward and followed the valley till we turned


its head. We knew then that we were close
to the object of our search. Accompanied
by Captain Cayrade of the French Commis-
sion, we struck into the valley on the eastern
side, and cut our way down to the bottom.
This valley, like almost every watercourse in
that part of the country, consists of a deep
ravine with steeply sloping sides covered with
trees, creepers, and bush, and very difficult
to penetrate. Cutting our way through the
undergrowth, we crept and clambered down
the slippery slopes till we reached the bottom,
and came to a moss-covered rock from which
a tiny spring issues and has made a pool
below. The foliage at this spot is green,
most luxuriant, and beautiful, and, as one
looks on the birthplace of the Niger, it is
easy to imagine oneself at a dripping well
in some wood in England. The spot is shady,
too shady indeed, for sun, light, and air are
in the one case altogether, and in the other
too much, excluded. The darkness is charac-
teristic of the valleys of this land. The foliage
is so dense, and the creepers are so abundant,


that the sun cannot penetrate them, and it
is probably owing to this, and to the immense
quantity of decaying vegetation, that malaria
is to be found even in the higher regions of
the interior.

In the pool which receives the first waters
of the Niger we found a bottle with a note
inserted, announcing that Captain Brouet, a
French officer, had visited the place in 1895,
and on the rock his initials, G. B., were cut.
That the bottle was allowed to remain un-
touched is a proof that no native approaches
the place, for in this country a bottle is a
highly valued article of trade. A few days
later we found some natives with fruit, of
which there is very little in this particular
neighbourhood, and we brought out all our
trade goods to offer them a selection in ex-
change for their bananas and papaws. After
examining everything carefully, and after look-
ing with longing eyes on our cottons and
our beads, they eventually fixed their affections
on an empty pint champagne bottle, and for
this they gave us all the fruit they had. Our


personal attendants and hammock-boys made
no small profit out of the local demand for
empty bottles, which were their perquisites,
and which they quickly converted into rice,
cassava, fowls, or native tobacco.

The natives, amongst their other supersti-
tions, have a great dread of drinking the water
of the Niger. Not having any superstitions,
we drank it freely, when we visited the source,
and not long afterwards were fain to admit that
the natives were wiser than we. Indeed, judg-
ing from its effects, there is some ground for
believing that the river is indeed haunted.
Having quenched our thirst, and having at-
tempted to photograph the scene, in vain as
it turned out, the light being too bad for our
artist, Captain Tyler, we retraced our steps
and climbed the side of the ravine. We
pitched our camp outside the ravine and west
of it, the French being south of us, and the
Niger source approximately opposite to the
east of the interval between us. Our natives
built us a shelter, a square hut covered with
banana and other leaves, which was much


cooler during the daytime than the tents.
They were very expert at this work, and in
such a country, where wood to form supports,
grass for string, and foliage for covering are so
abundant, it is easy to rig up a very decent hut
in an hour's time. These shelters, being made
with flat roofs, afford no protection against rain,
but they are useful against the sun and con-
venient for working purposes. In the West
African climate no one sleeps in the open air ;
the heavy dew-fall makes protection in some
shape necessary. The Europeans of our party
used tents, of which the colonial pattern, a
double-fly tent, was the most comfortable ; the
natives improvised shelters, or crept under the
low boughs of a shady tree, or slung hammocks
in the higher branches. When halting in
villages, we usually sent on a head-man to select
huts for ourselves, which the owners tempo-
rarily evacuated. The native huts are built
almost universally on one plan, the only differ-
ence being in size, finish, and comparative
cleanliness. They are circular in shape, the
wall of mud being built up till it reaches the


high pitched roof, which is supported by a
central pole. The roof is of grass, bound to a
framework of sticks, and it projects beyond the
wall so as to form a verandah, the ground of
which is raised about a foot above that of the
interior. There are two doorways to the hut,
opposite to each other, and they give the only
light to it. The inside therefore is very dark,
smoky from the smouldering 1 fire which is
always burning, and not too clean. We found
it best to quarter our servants in the hut, and
ourselves to occupy the verandah, where we
could sleep undisturbed even by the hornets
and rats which dwelt in the roofs. Later on,
when we had accustomed ourselves to our
tents, we much preferred them to the huts, and
seldom occupied a native dwelling again.

Our camp at Tembi Kunda was found to be
2800 feet above sea level. The highest alti-
tude we recorded was on the watershed just
west of the camp, which was 3300 feet above
the sea. This point was considerably lower
than the tops of the mountains in the neigh-
bourhood, but I think it is improbable that any


of these are much more than 5000 feet high.
The country as seen from any of the eminences
about is decidedly mountainous, much more so
than that we had passed through. In every
direction masses of upturned granite are to be
seen in the form of peaks, columns, and ridges.
Toward the south a series of peaks are visible
at ranges of from eight to twelve miles ; in the
neighbourhood of Tembi Kunda, the Konkon-
ante mountain, and the Sulu peaks, two conical
mountains side by side, called the brother and
sister, are most conspicuous ; to the west lies
Mount Kenna, and to the north the Kolate
range, ending in the Kula peak, a massive
column of red granite. The tops, and occasion-
ally part of the slopes of the mountains are
bare, but these bare spots are patches amongst
the universal high, stiff cane brake aud bush
which clothes the whole country. The cane
brake and dry bush distinguish the spurs and
slopes from the valleys and waterlines, which
are easily recognized by the dense green
foliage and creepers. The valleys are all
deeply eroded, and have steep, rugged sides.


Near the Niger sources there are very few
inhabitants, and there is hardly a track or road
to be seen. The ruins of a village called
Tembi Kunda lie some little way north of
the source, and at Konkonante there is a
small village, but otherwise there is no sign
of human life. In this solitude, however,
nature is carrying out a great work. Three
tiny streams, all destined to become mighty
rivers, commence their journey within sight of
each other. Close to the head of the Tembi
ravine, and within a very few yards of the
spot where our first beacon was built, the
Mantili rises and runs away southwards. Its
evolution has not yet been traced, but there
is no doubt that it is the origin of one of
the great rivers which flow into the Atlantic
in the south-west corner of Sierra Leone.
Half a mile west of its source rises the
Bagwe, which we had crossed near Kruto,
where it is a fine river. Lower down, after
being joined by the Bafi, it becomes the Sewa,
a large river, which reaches the Atlantic in
the southern part of Sierra Leone.


It was January i3th when we reached the
Niger source, and we spent six days in our
camp there, busied with observations and sur-
vey work. A triangulation was begun, and
a base line measured, not without much diffi-
culty, as flat ground does not exist, and the
chaining had to be done on broken, hilly,
bush-covered country. From the time of our
arrival at this place we said good-bye to
roads, and worked through the bush, defining
the boundary as we went. This was difficult
for ourselves, but even more so for the natives,
whose unprotected feet and legs suffered much
from the strong cane brake and thorny bush.
A way had to be cut through the under-
growth, and for this purpose a party of natives
was detailed each day to precede us with
large knives, or cutlasses as they are called,
and to cut or press down the bush to make a
way. Our progress in this way was terribly
slow, so slow, indeed, as to baffle all calcula-
tion. We would spend an hour in climbing
a small elevation, which appeared to be within
five minutes' distance, in order to view the


country ; and in surmounting the high ridges
and summits where we had observing stations
an entire day was taken up in doing what
was estimated as a couple of hours' task.

The climate, during the months of December,
January, and February, in the elevated country,
was by no means insupportable. The differ-
ence between the air of this country and that
of the coast is marked, and one is undoubtedly
able to undergo greater fatigue, and to do
more active work in the interior than on the
coast. The nights at this time were cold,
one blanket at least being necessary, and in
the early morning our thermometer several
times was as low as 58. But strangely
enough the weather was very inconsistent,
the coldest night being followed by a close,
hot one, and it frequently occurred that the
highest reading of the month was on the
day following that on which the lowest reading
had been recorded. This, I imagine, was
due to change of wind. The harmattan, a
hot dry wind from the Sudan, brought the
fresher air and cooler nights, whilst a westerly


wind from the coast accompanied the close,
hot weather. The harmattan is disliked by
the natives, its effect being to dry up the skin
and congest the membranes, but to Europeans
it is much preferable to moist winds from
the coast. In the daytime the heat was
considerable, but not unbearable, and we found
it possible to work all day during these mid-
winter months. On the top of the mountains
we always found the air to be decidedly cool.
This sometimes produced a feeling of chilli-
ness, probably from the action of the dry
wind on the moist skin. In West Africa the
skin is always moist when the body is at
rest, except during fever. When one takes
violent exercise, the moisture is not limited
to the surface of the body but pervades one's
clothing from head to foot, and from inside
to outside, giving one the appearance of having
emerged from a bath.

Whether the interior is less malarious than
the coast is a vexed question. All our party
of Europeans suffered from fever at more or
less regular intervals, but whether the malaria


was absorbed during our passage through the
swampy coast region or in the higher country
I cannot pretend to say. Of swamp as under-
stood on the coast, i.e. three or four feet of
poisonous smelling mud, there is not much
in the high country ; but there is marshy
ground in abundance, and the valleys are
filled with decaying vegetation from which
sun and air are excluded. But I must not
be led astray into discussing here the always
absorbing question of the climate of the West
Coast. It will be sufficient to say that our
lowest early morning reading between Bumban
and Kruto was 58, the highest 73, and the
mean 68. The lowest day reading was 68,
and the highest 84. From Kruto to the end
of January the lowest early morning reading
was 58, and the highest 75, the mean being
69. The lowest day reading was 67, and
the highest 86.


had now been a month in the
interior, but our real work was only
just about to begin. We had reached the
point where the delimitation was to com-
mence, and we set up on the ground at the
head of the valley, directly south of the
Niger sources, our first beacon, made like
almost all those subsequently erected, of a
pile of stones in the shape of a sugar loaf.
The second beacon was raised on a high
ridge north-west of the sources, the ridge
forming the watershed, and the third on the
same ridge at the point from which we had
first looked down on the Niger valley. We
placed a beacon at every point where a
road or track crossed the frontier.


After completing our preparations for sur-
veying the frontier country, we moved off
from our camp at Tembi Kunda on January
1 9th, following the watershed in a northerly
direction. But our progress was slow, and
we moved our camp only every alternate
day, and then but a few miles. The deserted
country lasted for several marches, and then
we entered a district fairly well populated,
and from that time were never far from
habitation as long as we followed the water-

Upon the difficulty of following a water-
shed I need not dwell here in detail ; it is
well known to those who have had such a
task in boundary delimitation to perform.
Our difficulty at this stage was not to find
the watershed, but to predict its course with
sufficient accuracy to judge where our next
halting place was to be. I can safely affirm
that we did not once succeed in fixing on a
good position for our next camp. It was a
matter of great importance to us to know
in what direction our next move would take


us, for we could not naturally drag with us
to the top of mountains and to other places
which it was necessary to visit for survey
purposes, our whole army of carriers and
servants, and our whole camp equipage. The
wiser course appeared to be to select by
eye the position for the day's halting place,
to point this out carefully to the most intelli-
gent head-man, and to send on the natives
(except those required to cut roads, build
beacons, and carry instruments) to pitch our
camp and prepare for our reception.

This course had the merit that we were
sustained throughout our day's work by the
belief that we should find on our arrival
in camp our tents pitched, and food, rest,
and refreshment prepared for us. But we
calculated without allowing for two very im-
portant conditions the one, the vagaries of
the watershed; the other, the vagaries of the
native mind. The watershed was never
where it ought to have been according to
our finite judgment. If we expected to find
it leading us straight to the front, when


we came to follow it, it doubled back and
brought us to the rear of our previous
position ; if it ought to have struck off to
the left, it, in fact, took an early opportunity
of running away to the right, and led us
miles in an unexpected direction. Thus, we
generally found ourselves at the end of our
day's work far away from the place which
we had selected for camping out, and we
had the additional task of going there in the
afternoon, and of returning next day to take
up the work where we had left off. No
doubt the proper course in such a case is
to examine the ground first before com-
mencing the survey and delimitation, but in
our case time was the important consideration,
and we could not count on finishing the
work before the rainy season set in, unless
we pushed on every day, and kept our whole
party at the delimitation and survey.

But when we arrived at our camping
ground, our dreams of rest and refreshment
were rudely shattered. Our eyes vainly
searched for tents, baths, clean clothes, food,


and drink. Not a sign of them was visible.
And yet the spot had been pointed out with
great care to the most intelligent of head-
men. This happened not once, nor twice,
but systematically. We were slow to believe
at first that it was not a pure accident which
would not recur, but experience of a most
unpleasant nature taught us at length that
the causes lay beyond our control. It is,
perhaps, not to be wondered at that natives,
unprovided with shoe leather, find it pleasanter
to follow a beaten track than to march
through the bush, and it is still less remark-
able that they should prefer the shelter of
a village to a bivouac in the bush. But
whilst admitting these points, we took some
time to learn that, unless led by a European,
a body of natives moving across country, as
soon as they strike a track will follow it
utterly regardless of its direction with re-
ference to the line they are ordered to
follow, till they reach a village, where they
will settle. Ignorance of these principles
cost us our breakfast on many occasions.


Starting early after light refreshment, we
frequently got no solid food till three, four,
or five o'clock in the afternoon. The French
officers, more experienced with the natives,
and having a smaller and handier following,
never let their carriers leave them.

Survey operations were rendered difficult
by the impossibility of seeing far in this
country. In the morning the dew-fall made
the air thick, and in the daytime the haze
was very great. Distances, we found, are
most deceiving in such an atmosphere.
Mountains which appeared to be fifty miles
away were barely a quarter of the distance,
and our trigonometrical points, which we
marked with flags, could not be seen at a
greater distance than three or four miles under
ordinary circumstances, and the utmost range
we ever fixed a point at through the
theodolite telescope was probably under seven
miles, and in the afternoon. The effect of
this haziness was to prevent us from bring-
ing into our survey distant points to our
right and left, and from connecting it with


known positions in the interior of Sierra

On January 24th, having made a more
than ordinarily false move in search of the
watershed, we found ourselves at Bali, a
fine town in an interesting hilly position.
This place is under the Chief of Kurubundo,
and we were pleased to recognize on the
lower limbs of the head-man some cotton
which had formed part of our present to
his master a fortnight earlier. From this
town we worked backwards to the watershed,
passing several native villages, and finding
ourselves in a populated district, of which the
principal towns are Kulakoia, Samaindu, and
Dandafarra. From Samaindu one day was
spent in ascending the high Kula peak,
where a cruel disappointment met us, for
the haze prevented us from picking up the
back station. Next day another mountain
was ascended with the same result. Opera-
tions at this time were also interfered with
by the swarms of locusts which had invaded
the country. When they were in flight, a


dull red cloud, through which nothing could
be seen, obscured the view. When they
settled they covered everything, and the
ground took a reddish tint from them instead
of wearing the ordinary yellow and green
of cane brake and bush. We heard them
bringing down branches of trees with a
crash by their weight. Some scepticism was
at first betrayed by some of our party on
this point. It required some faith to believe
that the breaking of boughs, which often
was audible within a short distance of us,
was the work of these insects, but we all
came eventually to have no doubt about it.
Curiously enough, the natives appear to
have no great objection to the locusts in
this country. It may be that the amount of
cultivation is so very small in comparison
with the vast extent of bush, that the crops
escape comparatively cheaply. But they have
another reason ; for, if the locusts eat their
crops, they have their revenge by eating
the locusts. They catch and preserve as
many as they can, and the dried insects


form the only meat diet the majority of them
enjoy from year to year. We met the locusts
from time to time, the last occasion being by
the Kita river, where they were being pur-
sued by a large flock of cranes which were
dealing with them very effectively, though
without reducing their apparent numbers.

The work throughout the delimitation of
the watershed boundary was very severe, and
during the first ten days its effects were
most apparent on our shoe leather. The
hard red granite of the mountains played
such havoc with our boots that we were
soon reduced to extremities, and had to face
the prospect of being reduced to go barefoot.
Special messages were sent to Freetown
for such boots as could be obtained there,
but our demands were not supplied till many
weeks later, and then the only boots of local
construction we obtained were reduced to
pulp in two days.

After leaving Bali some days of the
severest exertion we underwent during the
expedition brought us to Kulakoia, and


thence to Samaindu, a place situated in very
difficult mountainous country, whence we
crossed the Kolate range to Dandafarra,
situated on the northern slope. From this
place we moved on January 3ist to Boria
(or Bogoria). As we were finishing a hard
morning's work and entering this place,
Captain M'Kee, our officer of the Frontier
Police, was attacked with heat apoplexy, and
in spite of everything that the skill and
devotion of Dr. Paris could do, he never
recovered consciousness, and died within half
an hour of the seizure. Captain M'Kee,
who was quite a young officer, only landed
in the country a few weeks before the
arrival of the expedition, and this was his first
trip up country. He was a man of magnifi-
cent physique and great personal strength,
but the climate seemed to poison him from
the first. He had suffered a good deal
from fever, and the severe work, in spite of
his brave efforts, was more than he could
support. We laid him to rest the same
evening beneath some cotton trees on the


outskirts of the place, and we fenced in his
grave with stakes, and placed a cross at
the head rudely fashioned from two poles
covered with the tin from cases of preserved
meat. The French Commissioners, who were
at Dandafarra, heard of the sad event too
late to reach Boria in time for the funeral,
but they came over the moment the news
reached them, anxious to be present at the
last rites. Boria is situated on the French

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Online LibraryJames Keith TrotterThe Niger sources and the borders of the new Sierra Leone protectorate → online text (page 3 of 14)