James Keith Trotter.

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

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A few days of rain in the bush would probably
have occasioned us serious loss. As it was,
bronchitis was prevalent amongst them, and,
in the first day or two of camping in the
open, we lost a man from this disease. It
is hardly to be wondered at that in their
thin cotton clothing they were so susceptible


to cold and wet. When in a village, crowded
into the huts with a wood fire burning and
smoking in the middle, they were in the lap
of luxury, but in the bush their case was very
different. Being naturally predisposed to pul-
monary diseases, a life in the bush, with
changeable weather, is always likely to occasion
sickness amongst West Africans.



A T Kambaia, where we arrived on February
24th, we found ourselves in a compara-
tively populous and cultivated district lying
between the two great frontier stations of
Falaba and Heremakono. A great trade route,
running via Berea Futambu, connects these
two towns ; a second trade route runs from
Falaba to Simitia, and good roads, as the term
is understood in this country, connect Falaba
with Kalieri, Berea Futambu with Kalieri,
Heremakono with Kalieri, and Simitia with
Parana and the French posts on the Middle
Niger. A good road also runs from Falaba
by Berea Timbako and Kombili, passing just
south of Salamaia, to Songoia Tintarba.


Heremakono is a large town, the main gate
of entry from Sierra Leone to the French
Sudan, and large caravans pass through the
place, trading between Freetown and the
Middle Niger. It contains a customs post,
and a French garrison under a white under-
officer. Formerly a French officer was
stationed here, but now the only officer in
the district is the Circle Commandant, a lieu-
tenant stationed at Farana.

Simitia has also been a point of entry into
the French Sudan, and was garrisoned by
French native soldiers ; but these have now
been withdrawn in accordance with the agree-
ment between the Commissioners which I
shall refer to later.

Falaba is a large town, the headquarters of
a division of the Sierra Leone Frontier Police
under a British officer. It is situated in a
position unusually bare for West Africa, and
about 1600 feet above the sea, and has the
reputation of being, for West Africa, a healthy
place. Almost all British trade with the
French Sudan passes through Falaba, entering


by Heremakono or Simitia. On the road
joining Falaba and Heremakono we met cara-
vans with ivory, gold, rubber, and calabashes,
and on our march up country, in December
1895, we met daily, west of Bumban, numbers
of natives from the Middle Niger travelling
to Freetown with their produce.

From Kambaia we passed along the water-
shed, which was very difficult to trace in this
part, to Berea Futambu, a large town just
within British territory, where we arrived on
the 26th February. The 27th saw us at
Kalieri, a fairly large town on an affluent of
the Koka, with a terribly tainted water supply,
from which we suffered during our stay of six
days. There is a police barrack here, occupied
by a detachment from Falaba. The road from
Heremakono to Simitia skirts the eastern and
northern sides of the town.

We spent some days at Kalieri making
arrangements for the second section of the
boundary delimitation, which started on the
loth parallel, a couple of miles north of the

place. Having fixed the latitude, we knew



that we were close to the termination of the
watershed section, and that a short march
would bring us to the point where we must
turn our faces westwards. Having, therefore,
examined the country and roads around, and
beaconed the boundary, we dispatched the
depot of supplies, which had been originally
fixed at Falaba, and which we had drawn to
us at Kalieri, to Kondita, near to which place
we expected to be in a month. As it was
reported that the country along the zoth
parallel was uninhabited, we reduced our
establishment to the smallest number we could
do with. It was necessary to take a certain
number of men to carry rice for the followers,
but as it took more than three men to carry
a full day's ration for the party, we could not
bring with us more than seven days' full rations.
To secure us from starvation I dispatched a
police non-commissioned officer to collect rice
in the towns west of Falaba, and to meet us
on the Mongo river.

Before leaving Kalieri a large assembly of
all the Chiefs in the country round, from


Falaba, Kalieri, Berea Futambu, Berea Tim-
bako, Mussaia, Singunia, Kamba, Sogaria,
Kalia, and Sumbaia, came to pay their respects
to us, and we held a great palaver under a
large cotton tree outside the town. The
speeches were of the usual inflated style, and
presents were made to us of a ring of gold,
one or two cows, sheep, fowls, and rice, which
greatly assisted us in the difficult matter of
supply. The gold ring was a piece of the
ordinary trade gold, which is always beaten
into the form of a ring. Twice during our
expedition we received a similar present of a
gold ring. These Chiefs, living so near to
the great trade routes and frontier stations,
were used to white faces, and had no dread
of us. They looked on our return offering
with less of the childish delight of the Kuranko,
and more of the trading spirit of the merchant,
and I have no doubt made a pretty shrewd
guess of the proportionate value of our gift
to theirs.

Our observations at Kalieri showed us that
we were in latitude 9 58' north, and therefore


little more than two miles from the loth
parallel, where our first section of delimitation
ended. On 3rd March we encamped as near
as we could to the spot where we judged the
loth parallel met the watershed, and com-
menced to observe the latitude. The French
Commission arrived on the 6th, and we spent
several days in observing, calculating, and
working out independently each other's ob-
servations, before we could agree upon the
exact spot where we were to turn to the west.
The point eventually agreed upon is in a low
position covered with bush, and the beacon
erected there being difficult to find, we put up
an auxiliary mark on the top of the nearest hill
to direct attention to this hidden mark.

We were now in a country differing entirely
from that south of Kalieri, where the ground
is little broken and covered everywhere with
thick bush. From south of Dakolofe to
Kalieri the watershed follows hardly perceptible
undulations, and the ground east of it descends
very gently to the valley of the Tintarba,
which passes east of Heremakono, running


nearly due north. Some ten miles or so west
of the watershed a line of hills is visible, with a
generally north and south direction. But as
soon as one ascends any of the hills which
rise directly north of Kalieri, and within a mile
of the town, a different country is seen. As far
as the eye can reach in any direction north of a
due east and west line, nothing can be seen but
hills, rounded and saddle-backed, having an
elevation of not more than from 500 to 800 feet
above the intervening valleys, and all covered
with vegetation, and showing no bare rock.
The hills are small and close together, and as
one looks at them, they appear innumerable,
and quite unconnected with each other. Their
sides are steep and slippery, and beneath the
vegetation is a rich friable loam. Bush fires
had been lighted before our arrival, and the
cane brake had been burned down, so that
a good view of the surrounding country could
be obtained from the summits. During our
passage through this country we saw many
such fires, the effect of which was very fine,
the whole surrounding country being illumin-


ated at night, and the roar and crackle being
audible for miles. It was interesting to watch
a fire surround a fine tree, to see the leaves
shiver and tremble as the flames penetrated its
heart, and to note its shrivelled, miserable
appearance when the fire passed on, leaving
a smouldering ash in the core of the tree,
which continued to burn for days, eventually
reducing it to tinder, and leaving nothing but a
short, blackened stump, the upper part of the
stem being traceable only by the shape and
colour of the ash left on the ground.

There is little danger about these fires, as
although the heat and the fierceness of the
flames are great, their rate of progress is not
sufficient to make it difficult to avoid them.
On one occasion, however, a tent in which
we were breakfasting narrowly escaped being
consumed, and we only got it down just in
time, the only casualty being a hole in the

The natives require no matches in the
interior of West Africa, as the amount of
wood available for burning being without limit,


some is always kept smouldering, and can be
fanned into flame at any time.

So far we had met with little game, and our
daily work, from which we could afford to take
no relaxation, gave us no opportunity for seek-
ing it. In the cultivated country bush fowl
were plentiful, but difficult to get on the wing
unless one set oneself regularly to work to
surround and beat them. Pigeons were also
fairly numerous in the fields, and antelope were
now and then put up. On the mountains of
the watershed line we saw and heard large
apes, but they were timid and would not let us
approach them. Monkeys were numerous
around the villages. It is quite possible that
other kinds of animal life are to be found in
this country, for in such dense bush one might
pass close to anything without disturbing it.

The second section of our delimitation was
to take us westward along the loth parallel
of north latitude to the point where it cuts
the Kaba or Little Skarsies river, a distance
of about forty-five miles. Time was now
becoming a matter of great importance to us.


We could not calculate upon more than six
weeks of fine weather, and we had still a
large piece of work to be done. Our numbers
had been reduced from seven to five Euro-
peans, though we were temporarily reinforced
by Captain Blakeney, and sickness might at
any moment still further weaken us, or for
the time stop our work. The French also
had suffered, and their European sergeant had
to be dispatched to the coast. In addition
to the boundary line, which ended near Wellia
on the Great Skarsies, there remained also
the Samu frontier, from Kiragba on the
Atlantic coast to the Mola river, to demarcate,
and on the Qth March Captain Millot left
the French camp near Kalieri to meet Captain
Sharpe of the Frontier Police at Kiragba on
ist April, and to carry out with him the
beaconing of this section of the frontier.

On the 1 2th of March, having beaconed
the starting point of the second section of
our boundary line, and having observed a
true east and west line, we set off to follow
this line in a westerly direction. The advan-


tage of demarcating a boundary along a parallel
is that every step you take carries you in
the direction of your terminal point, and that
there is no doubling back or breaking away
to right or left, as in the case of following
a watershed. But, on the other hand, the
drawback is that you must follow the boundary
very closely, and that being a purely arbitrary
line, having no relation to natural features, it
is certain to take you over some very difficult
ground, and you can count on no assistance
from roads. Every step we took we had to
cut or force our way, and at the elevated
positions, where we had to fix and verify our
line, much clearing and cutting had to be
done. Our advance was always preceded by
a party of natives with axes and cutlasses ;
and when a road was crossed, all our carriers
had to lay down their loads and help to build
a beacon. Our progress was thus exceedingly
slow, the distance covered in the day being
from two and a half to four miles. We worked
from daylight till dark, only halting for break-
fast in the middle of the day. The water in


the country we now were passing through
flows generally north and south, and cuts our
route at right angles. The hills follow more
or less the same direction, and we crossed
them at their narrowest parts, so our progress
was one constant climbing up and down steep

Our first day's march brought us to Simitia,
where, though it took us much out of our
road, we halted to find shelter for one of our
sappers who was overcome with the sun and
a long fast. It is a fair-sized, clean, and
well-built town, lying to the south of the
loth parallel. The town and a small piece
of country round it were declared neutral for
the present, the French having raised a claim
to them under former agreements. We spent
a day in beaconing off the reserved area, and
one or two days in camp at Bibia, to the
north of Simitia, where we again observed
the latitude and corrected our line. Through
Bibia a very good road runs to Sankaran on
the east and to Tagania on the north-west.
This road is part of the main trade route from


Konakri on the Atlantic, the main port in
French Guinea, to the Middle Niger. It is
a broad road, and is kept in good condition.
We moved on again on the i7th March,
passing through a country which is partly
under the Chief of Tagania and partly under
the Chief of Simitia. We crossed the Koka
river this day, a water of no consequence as
an obstacle, which runs northward to join the
Mongo. West of this stream the boundary
passes through a nest of villages dependent
on Tagania or Simitia, cutting them into
French or English territory with complete
impartiality. Leaving these villages on the
2oth, we found ourselves in a country deserted
by human beings and given up to large game.

We took with us, according to our ordinary
plan, guides from the last villages we had
passed, but they deserted during the first day's
march, possibly from conscientious motives,
as their ignorance of the country was unsur-
passable, and we had no rice to spare for
useless mouths.

We found ourselves now, as we approached


the valley of the Mongo, in a country swarming
with game. The tracks of buffalo were every-
where, and their lairs were frequently passed
in the bush of the valleys. Elephant tracks
were also numerous and unmistakable, and
they and the buffalo, which evidently travel
like the natives in single file, had made roads
at least as good as those made by human
beings. In many instances it was impossible
to say whether the roads we crossed were
game tracks, hunters' paths, or possibly native
roads from and to distant towns. The experts
amongst our own native followers could not
decide this question, so, when in doubt, we
beaconed the roads in order to be on the
safe side.

The elephant tracks we found generally
following the course of the rivers and large
streams. These animals move southwards
into Sierra Leone country in the rainy season,
about May, and return northward when the
dry weather sets in in November. At the
time we passed through this district they had
gone into French territory. From the foot-


prints we saw they must traverse the country
in large numbers. Traces of antelope also
are to be seen everywhere, and we remarked
also those of panther, and, in one case, of a
lion. But in the dense bush it is not often
that one gets a fair view of any game. We
often heard the crashing of branches, but only
now and again were able to see what was in
front of us. The first time we viewed a herd
of buffalo was from a ridge overlooking the
valley of the Mongo. The herd had been dis-
turbed by our natives, and Captain Tyler
was able to get a distant shot at them, after
which they broke away and disappeared,
some of them charging through the camp
where our breakfast was being prepared, and
putting to flight our followers.

The Mongo is a river of about 30 yards'
width, deep, but fordable, with a clear rocky
bottom, running in an open valley. By the
side of this river elephant and buffalo tracks
are most numerous, and the bush and cane
brake are broken down and cut up with
wallowing places and lairs of these huge


beasts. This river seems a favourite haunt
of large game. It is an affluent of the Kaba
or Little Skarsies, which it joins in Limba

We crossed the Mongo and encamped on
a knoll on the right bank. We had hoped
to have met here the police corporal who
had been sent south-west from Falaba to
collect rice for the followers, but no signs of
him were visible. Our position was becoming
somewhat critical ; the halts at Bibia had
resulted in our arriving at the Mongo later
than I had anticipated, and with much less
food in hand. Nothing could be looked for
from local sources till we reached the Kaba
river ; our sole hope lay in our meeting the
policeman and his supplies. It was out of
the question to wait on the Mongo ; every
day's delay made our situation worse. We
therefore pushed on, giving the men half a
pound of rice daily. It would have given us
great relief if we could have killed a buffalo,
but, although we had an occasional shot at
longish ranges, we did not succeed in bringing


one down. Had time been available for
shooting purposes, we could hardly have failed
to secure some game ; but all shooting had to
be done whilst delimiting, and we could not
attempt to follow the herds we met with,
when they left the line we had to follow.
The effect of the severe exertion in the heat
of the day began to tell on us, and our corporal
of Engineers was attacked with sun fever on
the Mongo river, and partially paralyzed for
some days.

Our day's work was now of a rather mono-
tonous kind ; the only change we experienced
was that of uphill work succeeding downhill,
and downhill uphill. We saw no human beings
but our own party, and met with no traces of
houses or cultivation. Our expectations were,
however, frequently excited by seeing, from
the crest of one hill, on another distant crest
in front of us, a number of black figures in
every conceivable attitude, some standing,
some sitting down or crouching, some pointing
with outstretched arm, some apparently
beckoning to us. As we approached the hill


where they were, the attitudes continued
always the same, the outstretched arms, the
beckoning hands remained just as we had
first observed them. The effect was curious
and weird ; we seemed to be looking upon a
dead city, the population of which had been
petrified in attitudes which they had once
taken up. The explanation of this phenomenon
was, however, not long delayed, and was of
a much less romantic kind than that supplied
by the imagination : the figures were the
blackened and blasted stumps of trees which
had been burned by bush fires. These fires
seem to have travelled far, and we met their
traces when at the greatest distance from
native dwellings.

A day or two after leaving the Mongo I
dispatched a party of three selected natives to
push on to Yomaia on the Kaba, to seek for
our missing provisions, and to send food to us
as soon as possible. They were supplied with
rations for three days, and struck off through
the bush towards the Kaba. I hoped that
they would be able to cover the distance in


a couple of days, especially as, not being tied
to the boundary, they could use any tracks they
might find, and that they would rejoin us in
four or five days' time. We kept pushing on
daily, but we could now only afford a small
cupful of rice to each man. But though receiv-
ing merely enough to keep life in them, the
carriers behaved very well. They struggled
on under their heavy loads, till they could
stand up no longer. Many lay down with
their burdens beside them, and got through
the day's march, resting and walking alter-
nately. Our column under these circumstances
was a very straggling one, but it was death
to any man to halt too long, or to stray from
the track, and so all came on during the day.
They suffered much from cuts and ulcers on the
feet, but they were far more manageable at this
time than when receiving full rations and doing
less work.

We continued our monotonous march in this
way for a day or two, and at last, after a long
day's march, we were cheered by the appear-
ance of mail runners from Freetown. They


had been wandering about for some time, had
passed through Yomaia, and had struck north-
wards into French territory, and had travelled
in a north-easterly direction till they struck a
route crossing the frontier, which by great good
fortune brought them close to our camp shortly
after it was pitched. Our connection with the
inhabited world was now re-established, and we
knew we could not be far from native dwell-
ings, and must be approaching Yomaia, about
the exact position of which we had been

The mail carriers also brought us informa-
tion that our lost supplies were at Yomaia,
where the corporal of Frontier Police was
awaiting our arrival. As we had hardly any
food left, I sent off two men to order him to
meet us at once.

Two more marches completely exhausted
our supplies, and on the second day we had
nothing to give the natives. Fortunately
locust beans were found growing on our route,
and with these hunger was staved off. A
beautifully marked boa constrictor was killed


this day, and was eaten by the carriers after
being cooked. Some other snakes, together
with a few rats and squirrels, formed an appe-
tizing addition to their menu. Wild honey also
was found almost daily during our passage
through this country, and was eaten greedily.
It seemed to have the almost inevitable effect
of giving the natives toothache, as we always
had a large number of them with heads tied up
and groaning with pain, and our doctor had an
active time with extractions. It also caused
other forms of aches for which castor oil was
the remedy, a medicine which the natives
regarded with quite a civilized distaste.

We now were coming into a country which
showed signs of being inhabited, and we had
passed a farm village and one or two routes
crossing the boundary. A long march the day
after our direst necessity brought us at last on
28th March close to Yomaia, where we found
our supplies, and were once more in the midst
of comparative plenty. The native corporal, it
appeared, had so little confidence in his ability
to find us in the bush, that he preferred to


sit still with his provisions in a safe place,
and to wait there in peace for those who should
survive the march through the bush, rather
than to risk himself in a rescue expedition.
Fortunately we got through this section of our
work without losing a man, which is more than
might have been expected. The party I had
sent on to seek for our supplies got lost in the
bush, and the men strayed in different direc-
tions, and were nearly starved. All, however,
eventually rejoined us.

Yomaia is a good-sized town, made up of
three separate villages. It lies about half a
mile on the French side of the boundary, and
about two miles east of the Kaba river, which
we struck the next day, March 29th. We
fixed our camp on the high ground overlooking
the river valley, and spent a day or two in
astronomical observations, and in preparations
for our next move. Our police officer, Captain
Blakeney, left us here and returned to his
station at Falaba.

This second stage of our delimitation had
brought us through the Sulima and Kamuke


countries, which are now cut in two by the
boundary. We also just touched a small
piece of Hure country, near the little village
of Herako, where a few fields are cut into
British territory. The exact division of these
countries in the part we passed through it is
impossible to define, for we had no guides for
the greater part of our march, and when we
obtained natives to show us the way, their
ignorance of the country was complete. The
district is traversed by hunters, it seems, but by
no one else. What the hunters get it is difficult
to learn. To tackle elephants with trade guns
must require considerable courage and great
faith, and we could not hear of any ivory
passing to Sierra Leone from this neighbour-
hood. But there is no doubt that hunters go

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