James Keith Trotter.

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

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side of the frontier, and the French officers
gave instructions to the Commandant at
Farana, in whose district it lies, to see
that the grave was respected. It is situated
in a spot probably never before visited by
white men, and not likely to be much fre-
quented in the future.

We were now on the northern side of the
Kolate range, in a country broken and difficult,
but less distinctly mountainous than that from
which we had just emerged. We marched
from Boria to Mussadugu, where Captain Tyler
took a lunar photograph, and thence we passed
by Kirimandugu and Konkekoro to Kiridugu,


where we arrived on 7th January, 1896. This
part of the country is the most populated of any
on the watershed in Kuranko, and contains
many fair-sized towns. Kiridugu, the capital
of Mangalia, is the largest town we passed in
the interior. It is strange that a prosperous
looking place like this can have flourished
without any connection with the trade centres
on the coast. As far as I could learn it
had rarely been visited by traders, and its
existence was unknown in Sierra Leone.

The interest taken by the inhabitants of
these Kuranko towns in our cotton goods,
tobacco, and other wares was great, and the
sensation produced by the uncovering and
display of our present was quite as great as,
and not unlike, that of a party of children
at the sudden unveiling of a Christmas tree.
Indeed, to witness the delight and excitement
of the natives was one of the chief pleasures
we experienced on our expedition. The best
proof of their appreciation of what they re-
ceived was the practical use to which they
put their presents. At Mussadugu, for ex-


ample, the Chief immediately after receiving
a present, set to work to pick out the threads
from a piece of cloth to make sewing cotton,
and then cut out and began to work at a suit
of clothes which would no doubt make the heart
of his nearest neighbour Chief burn with envy.
Every man in this land appears to be his
own tailor, and every man is more interested
in beautifying his own person than that of
his woman-kind. The ladies, if they hide in
their little-adorned breasts a taste for finery,
have few opportunities of gratifying it, for the
men invariably annexed and applied to their
own use the cottons, ornamented smoking
caps, looking glasses, etc., which we presented
to the Chiefs. With the exception of a few
beads, the women were clad in the plainest
way. This may be partly attributable to the
comparative poverty of the Kuranko, and I
certainly noticed that the women of other
people, in wealthier parts of the country, wore
more finery and brighter colours ; but I am
inclined to conclude from observation that the
adornment of the male is a necessity, that of


the female a luxury. The women, however,
card and spin the raw cotton grown in the
village farms, and we often spent an hour,
when waiting for our breakfast, in watching
them. The cotton is carded by being worked
up with two roughly made brushes, and it is
spun with a clumsy hand-loom, a specimen
of which may be seen in any village.

From Kiridugu, which lies in a low position
on the upper waters of the Bafi, we passed
to Benekoro, and thence to Farama, a town
in French territory at the foot of the large
isolated hill, Mount Kerne. Our route led us
round the southern and western sides of this
mountain and brought us into Mongo country,
a region becoming still less mountainous
but no less difficult, covered as it is with
dense vegetation. We found ourselves on the
north-west of Mount Kerne in a camp at
some distance from habitations, and whilst laid
up with fever here, I was suddenly told by
the native clerk that the natives had eaten
up all the rice that remained to us and that
no more could be obtained in the neighbour-


hood. Immediate measures were therefore
necessary. Every man we could do without
for the moment was sent off with his load
towards Falaba under the native clerk, whom
I instructed to collect and send food to us
at once. We had a depot at Falaba, and
rice had been collected there for us. Reduced
now to a small party we marched to old
Karafaia, a beautiful spot hedged round with
trees, whose varied and luxuriant foliage made
a most picturesque background to our camp,
which was pitched on the ruins of a destroyed
town. From there we marched to Morifinia
on the Bandolo river. The Chief showed
great sympathy with our difficulties and anxiety
to relieve them ; but he told us that the rice
crops in the country round had failed, and
that his own people had been brought face
to face with starvation. Yet such was his
anxiety to serve us, that he hastened to bring
forth two fowls and a handful of rice, vowing
that he would share with us his last meal
and cruse. Although we were now in serious
difficulties, we could not withhold our admir-


ation for this generous act in giving away
almost all the food in the village. Next day
however, our doctor, when shooting for the pot
a few miles from this village, came suddenly
upon a rice farm, on which were stacks of rice
containing enough grain to feed a large force
for weeks. He inquired from the Chief of
Morifinia who the owner of this grain was,
and was told that it belonged to a Chief
living at some distance away. The doctor
retorted that under these circumstances he
should take the liberty of helping himself to
some of the rice and of compensating the dis-
tant Chief. He of Morifinia appeared to regard
this as an undesirable proceeding, and a little
argument elicited the information that the rice
was the property of himself and his starving
people. This being the case the doctor had
no compunction in annexing a quantity suffi-
cient to supply our expedition for a week,
and he set the carriers to work to beat it,
the rice being in the husk, and they set to
work on the most congenial task they had
to perform during the expedition. The Chief


was informed that he would be paid, if he
came to me at the next camp, whither I had
preceded the remainder of the party. He
sent two of his men the following day, and
I told them that I would only pay the Chief
if he came in person. They said he feared
to come lest he should be made to suffer for
his sins, but I sent them back to tell the
Chief to come, and I would give him the
value of the rice. But with him the desire
of reward, which was not small, was less than
fear of the consequences of his deception ;
he never came, and we left his country with
a greatly modified belief in his generosity
and liberality. On several other occasions
we noticed similar attempts on the part of
the natives to conceal their grain stores from
us. Their attitude in this respect was a
little difficult to reconcile with their evident
desire to bargain with us, and to obtain our
articles of trade. It may be that they feared
we should seize their food supply without
payment ; it may be that they produce only
just enough to satisfy the requirements of


their own people. I am. inclined, however,
to believe that life in constant dread of being
attacked by powerful enemies has produced
in them a preference for secrecy and for
devious ways. They are, so to speak, always
on the defensive, and always anxious to throw
inquirers off the scent.

Armed with the rice we had thus obtained,
we escaped a serious difficulty. Our main
body of carriers, which had been dispatched
to Falaba, and which had contributed nothing
to our support, was recalled, and we were
able to keep them supplied till we reached
a better populated region.

After leaving Morifinia, we passed through
a gap in a range of hills which crosses the
watershed, and halted at the little village of
Bonbonkoro. We now emerged on a country
which was very little accidented, and which
boasted of but a few isolated hills of any size.
Small elevations and gentle undulations are
the common features of this part, and the
watershed is most effectually concealed by a
sea of dense foliage. No more difficult


country for our particular task of survey and
delimitation can be conceived. The absence
of conspicuous marks made it impossible to
recognize, when we reached their neighbour-
hood, points observed from a distance, and
time after time we had to face disappointment
and failure in this particular. Nor did we get
any help towards tracing the watershed line
by means either of an absence of vegetation
or of any peculiarity of the foliage, such as is
frequently to be observed in other districts.
The whole country was clothed in bush of
such a height that it was impossible to say a
few yards away whether the ground was
rising or falling, and we constantly crossed
waterlines without knowing it, and when at
last the false direction was discovered, we
had to try back and begin again from the
nearest point where we could recognize the
watershed. Hitherto we had prohibited the
native Chiefs from setting the bush on fire on
account of the effect on survey work of the
dense smoke, but now our only chance of
seeing the ground was to burn the bush,


which we accordingly did as we advanced.
If the wind was in a favourable direction,
after a bush fire had been burning some time,
it was possible to get some idea of the
drainage of the country, but it was necessary
to wait for a day or more to get rid of the
intense heat and the heavy smoke occasioned
by the fire.

From Bonbonkoro we forced our way with
great difficulty through the bush to the ruined
village of Boala Karafaia, which the natives
were just beginning to rebuild, and from there
we came on February 2oth to Dakolofe, a
good-sized town in Mongo country. The
Chief of the country, who lives at Kombili,
some distance north of Dakolofe, sent to ask
us if we were coming through his town. I
told him No, and asked him to come to see
us at Dakolofe. He arrived the next day,
February 2ist, and brought all his people
with him and three or four horses, an unusual
sight in this country. These animals, which
were about 14 hands high and of very poor
quality, with a view to creating an impression,


he galloped round the hut where we were
working till they were all at death's door.
After this entertainment he performed a dance
in a ring surrounded by his women folk, who
clapped their hands, keeping time with his

At Dakolofe our party, which had been
reduced to six Europeans by the death of
Captain M'Kee, was further weakened by
the invaliding of the senior of the sappers,
who had suffered greatly from fever, and was
quite unequal to the exertions required for
survey work. I took the opportunity of
reaching the neighbourhood of Falaba to
send him with our doctor to that place, from
whence a main trade route leads to Free-
town. Dr. Paris took him off, and dispatched
him thence with a native dispenser, and he
reached Freetown, and eventually England,
without mishap.

We left Dakolofe on January 22nd. As
the three sappers, who passed through the
town some time after the rest of the party
had left it, were some distance clear of the


place, they were followed by a woman, who
fell at their feet and implored them to rescue
her. She told them, through their interpreter,
that she was a Mendi woman, and had been
captured and enslaved by a Dakolofe man.
The position was a little embarrassing, for the
sappers had no precedent for dealing with
such a case, and the outraged owner was
following his lost property, and came soon on
the scene. The corporal in charge was,
however, equal to the occasion, and he
insisted on the woman and her master accom-
panying them to the next camp in order
that the case might be adjudicated on there.
The woman was eventually released and sent
to Freetown. It is rather remarkable that
the slaves whom we set free were all Mendis
from the south-west coast region of Sierra
Leone. How they were enslaved and how
they came into Kuranko or Susu country I
never could make out. When asked about
this, the invariable reply was that they were
taken during the war. The war referred to
always meant the Sofa and Konno invasions.


These wars had nothing whatever to do with
the Mendis, who live quite out of the sphere
devastated by the Sofas. I can only imagine
that the Sofas, having carried off as slaves
all whom they did not kill, the Kuranko, by
way of making up their deficiencies, had taken
every opportunity of filling vacancies in their
establishments by carrying off, whenever they
had the chance, women of the Mendi tribe,
the least warlike of the Sierra Leone natives.
When we arrived at Salamaia, the next
halting place, our survey work received a
serious check from the simultaneous collapse
of all three sappers with fever. Hitherto,
we had each of us gone down by roster,
and not more than two at most had been
disabled at the same time. It was observed
that the period elapsing between the first
two attacks of fever generally represented
the time during which we could count on
immunity, so that if, for example, the second
attack came three weeks after the first, at
each recurrence of this period special pre-
cautions were needed.


Being left to ourselves, Captain Tyler and
I marched on the 23rd February from
Salamaia to Songoia Tintarba, sketching the
road. From there on the 24th we followed
the boundary to the neighbourhood of Kam-
baia, where we rejoined our main body,
and found Captain Blakeney, the officer
commanding the Frontier Police at Falaba,
who remained with us so long as we con-
tinued in his district.

Kambaia is in Sulima territory, and we
now at last found ourselves out of Kuranko
country. This country has no paramount
Chief, but is broken up into many districts,
each of which has its own Chief. Some of
the districts along the watershed lie across
the frontier, and are now cut in two by
the delimitation ; the main part of them,
however, is on the British side. The
districts referred to are Mongo, of which
the Chief of Kombili is the ruler ; Mangalia,
under the Chief of Kiridugu ; Daldu, under
the Chief of Samaindu.

The Kuranko are rather a down-trodden


race, in the main timid and not aggressively
truthful. Their character has been moulded
by the events of the past decade, in which
they have been interested but most un-
willing actors. The wave of the Sofa
invasion, the great Mohammedan crusade
of the Western Sudan, corresponding to the
Mahdi's crusade in the Eastern Sudan, has
swept their country from end to end,
sparing neither age nor sex, cattle nor
dwelling. Every one whom the Sofas con-
sidered to be suitable for their purposes was
carried off as a slave ; the remainder, so
many at least as could be captured, were
slaughtered. Hardly a town in the whole
country escaped destruction ; except Kuru-
bundo, every town we saw had been built
within the last year or two by Kuranko
who had escaped from the Sofas, hidden in
the bush, and returned when the country
was clear. The bones of those slaughtered
can be seen at the entry to the large
destroyed towns, and even now many natives
bear marks of the wounds they received,


some having lost limbs, others showing the
traces of terrible gashes. But when the
Sofas had left the country, the unfortunate
Kuranko were not permitted to enjoy in
peace the little that they had succeeded in
hiding ; for the Konno, their neighbours on
the east, a people vastly inferior to the
Sofas, but a little more powerful than them-
selves, made night raids upon them, and
carried off their movable goods and their
women. Having been in this way the prey
to their more powerful neighbours for many
years past, it is not altogether surprising
that the Kuranko hear of the arrival of
strangers in their country with feelings of not
unmixed satisfaction, and that their first
welcome to us was conveyed through the
medium of the women and the aged, the men
meanwhile lying low in the bush to await
developments. When these perceived that
robbery and murder were not our trade, and
that we were not bringing a war against
them, they came forth, and tried to explain
their absence on business grounds. A great


laugh was invariably raised against them when
they were at last compelled to admit that
they ran away because they were afraid we
should eat them up, and in this the runaways
always joined most heartily.

The energetic measures adopted by the
Sofas to proselytize the Western Sudan have
borne little fruit amongst the Kuranko, for
the great mass of the people remain pagans
and fetish worshippers of the lowest type.
So far as I could learn, their religion is one
of pessimism ; influenced, perhaps, by the life
they have led amongst enemies more powerful
than themselves, their highest aspirations are
limited to remaining in undisturbed possess-
ion of the little they produce for their own
use. They have no ideal beyond this, and
the object of fetish devices is to keep off
the devil from their persons and property.
The weapons with which they endeavour to
combat the evil one consist of necklaces of
beads, small white flags on their houses and
haystacks, and various hieroglyphics in their
huts, Some one or two of their towns,


however, profess the Mohammedan faith,
amongst which are Kiridugu, Kurubundo,
and Bali. It is very remarkable how far
these places are in advance of the pagan
towns. Probably their Moslemism is of a
low type, yet each Mohammedan place has a
school, and all the trade and the prosperity
to be seen in the country is in the hands
of Mohammedans, who, in moral tone and
cohesion, are vastly superior to the pagans.
In this country missionary enterprise has
done little as yet. The Church Missionary
Society works only amongst the people of
Sierra Leone proper, but American mission-
aries have invaded the western part of
Kuranko country, and have established a
post at Tibabadugu on the Falaba-Kruto
road, where they are training the natives as
carpenters, masons, gardeners, etc.

The Kuranko are fond of music, and it
was seldom that our palavers were not
enlivened by some form of concert. The
instrument in general use is made of gradu-
ated bits of wood fastened by grass strings


to gourds. The performer strikes the wood
with two drum sticks shod with rubber, and
he wears bracelets of iron, which act as
cymbals. A sort of chant made up of two
or three chords is played, accompanying one
or more singers, and is repeated until the
audience is more than satisfied.

We did not succeed in collecting many
articles of interest of native manufacture. A
few musical instruments, bows and arrows,
snuff boxes, daggers, and leather whips (used
for keeping the women in order), were the
principal curiosities we brought back. Other
things we saw more particularly in parts of
the country traversed by trade routes, but
experience taught us that it was cheaper not
to burden ourselves with them, but to pur-
chase them first-hand in Birmingham.

In Kuranko country there is very little
pastoral property. The Sofas cleared the
country of its live stock, and since their
departure little has been accumulated. We
found a few sheep, and here and there one
or two cows. Horses we very rarely saw,


but the people told us everywhere that they
did not keep horses on account of their
poverty, and not because they would not
thrive in any part of the country. The
French mules never suffered in health, and
I believe that there is no reason why horses
and cattle should not do well everywhere.
There is no appearance of fly in any part
of the country we traversed.

The Kuranko are not an energetic people.
They cultivate very little, and produce only
what is sufficient, or little more than sufficient,
for their own requirements from season to
season. They have, however, no motive for
increasing their production, for traders have
hardly been amongst them, and they have
had no opportunity of learning what they
should turn their attention to in order to
obtain the trade goods which they undoubtedly
require. In their country the rubber vine is
found especially in the valleys of the water-
shed ; but the natives are ignorant of the
way of treating it, and do no business with
it. The ordinary articles of production are


rice, which is the staple food throughout the
country, cassava, guinea-corn, tobacco, cotton,
and kola nuts. The last are of great value
for purposes of export, and there is a great
demand for them in the French Sudan.
Cultivation is carried on in the most primitive
form. A farm is commenced by cutting down
the trees and bush to a height of about three
feet. This is left to dry, and then set on
fire. Cassava is then planted in the ground,
the tree stumps and roots remaining undis-
turbed, and rice is sown over the top. Two
crops are produced annually in this way
without any irrigation being necessary.

The Kuranko wear their hair in a short
tightly twisted pig-tail on each side of the
face. Their dress is a form of toga, worn
quite loose, with a pocket in the middle, over
the stomach. It is generally of native cotton,
dyed blue with the juice of the indigo plant,
and short trousers of the same material
complete it. The weapons generally carried
are trade guns and Birmingham swords in
those parts where they can be obtained ; in


other parts, bows and arrows. They seem to
make little use of fire-arms, possibly on
account of the expense of ammunition, and
we rarely heard them discharge their guns.
They have a lively fear of the white man's
weapons. When I offered to show them the
action of a revolver and gun on one occasion,
the whole village cleared out.

The people have now a reasonable prospect
of living in security from external foes. The
Sofas, who under Samory have given such
serious trouble to the French for so many
years past, and whom our troops under
Colonel Ellis met in 1894 to tne south of the
area of our delimitation, have been driven
from the country, and are now in the hinter-
land of the Gold Coast. The Konno will be
kept in order by the frontier troops. The
Kuranko, if instructed what to produce, will
have an opportunity of acquiring the trade
goods they want, and of enjoying them without
fear of molestation.

In February the weather was at first not
much hotter than that in January, but towards


the latter part of the month the sun became
more powerful in the daytime. We had three
clinical thermometers with us, reading to 1 1 2,
and these, though carried inside boxes, and
protected as far as possible from the sun,
burst, one after the other, during the month
of February. Owing to our ordinary ther-
mometer being carried in a box, which was
exposed to the sun on the march, and having
round it no free circulation of air, the day
temperatures we read cannot be regarded as
recording the true height of the thermometer
in the shade. We noticed that the highest
readings were in the evening about 5 P.M.
This was due, no doubt, to the box in which
the thermometer was carried being exposed
to the sun, and to the inside of the box be-
coming hotter the longer it remained exposed.
We made an arbitrary reduction in all day
temperatures in recording them, and they are
therefore of no great value. Our lowest
early morning reading this month was 58, the
highest 74, and the mean 68. The highest
day reading was 96, and the lowest 70.


It is a little remarkable that our highest
and lowest early morning readings were almost
always recorded on consecutive days. This
is probably merely a coincidence, but if the
itinerary be examined, it will be seen that in
almost every instance a very low early reading
was followed or preceded by a comparatively
high one. During the months of January and
February we had rain on six occasions, generally
at night, and in the form of tornadoes, with
thunder. We did not ourselves suffer any
serious inconvenience from this rain, which
our tents withstood well, but our natives
were in a much worse case. Their shelters
of leaves and branches were useless against
the wet, and after a stormy night they pre-
sented a miserable appearance in the morning.

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Online LibraryJames Keith TrotterThe Niger sources and the borders of the new Sierra Leone protectorate → online text (page 4 of 14)