Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin Adolf Friedrich.

From the Congo to the Niger and the Nile; an account of the German Central African Expedition of 1910-1911 (Volume 2) online

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Po in 1886, at the conclusion of his researches with
the Austrian expedition in the Congo State. He
marched from Santa Isabella along the west coast
of the island to San Carlos, climbed the Cordillera,
crossed over to Concepcion Bay, and finally, in the
face of many difficulties, reached the village of Mokas,
the residence of the head chief of the Bubis. His
book entitled " Fernando Po and the Bubis " (Vienna,
1888), is most interesting, and contains much valuable
ethnographical information.

In 1894 the Portuguese naturalist, Newton, paid a
flying visit to the island, during which he climbed
the Peak.

Of late years the Spanish missionaries have added
considerably to our knowledge of the geography of
the island ; for example, they discovered the crater
lakes, Lago de Moka and Lago Loreto in the South,
and Lago Claret in the South- West on a terrace of the
Peak, as well as some springs containing carbonic
acid gas ; they have also done excellent work re-
garding the ethnography of the Bubis and their lan-
guage. The " Segunda Memoria de las Misiones de
Fernando Poo " written by Bishop Armengol Coll
(Madrid, 1899) contains a great deal of valuable

One fact needs to be emphasised : even though the
island lias been repeatedly visited by scientific


travellers, none of them remained more than a short
time, and it has never yet been thoroughly explored.
Not even the most important topographical and geo-
logical data are forthcoming, and the exploration of
Fernando Po is an interesting but still unsolved pro-
blem, as is also that of the other Guinea Islands. For
this purpose a special expedition is required, and it
would furnish far more important results, at a far
less expenditure of time and money than more exten-
sive travels on the mainland.

On the 7th of August we proceeded in the Cameroon
Government steamer " Duchess Elizabeth " from
Kribi to Duala. Here we transhipped to the Woer-
mann steamer " Konig," hoping to join at Victoria
the little Spanish steamer that fetches the mails on
the 9th of every month. But as the departure of
the " Konig " seemed likely to be delayed we applied
to the officials at Buea, who willingly placed the
" Duchess Elizabeth " at our disposal for the crossing
to Fernando Po.

In the afternoon of the 10th of August we steamed
into the Bay of Santa Isabella just as a smart looking
Spanish vessel left the harbour. We learned later
that this was the " Corisco " conveying the Governor
to Spanish Guinea, over which he also has jurisdiction.

Santa Isabella, the oldest of the British settlements,
and the capital of Fernando Po, enjoys a position as
advantageous as it is beautiful. Anyone accustomed
to the inaccessible ports along the coast of the West
African mainland, will be agreeably surprised on
entering the harbour of Santa Isabella. The semi-
circle of smooth water is enclosed by rocks a hundred
feet in height, whose precipitous surface is clothed
with luxuriant vegetation. In the background rises


the steep slope of the plateau on which the town stands ;
on the left, towards the East, the narrow, over-hang-
ing prominence of Punta Fernanda juts out into the
sea (illus. 198), with a little lighthouse on its summit,
whilst on the right is another similar headland, form-
ing part of two small islands. The whole prospect
almost gives the stranger the idea of a crater filled
with water, and its inner margin is scarcely higher
than the flat country which gradually slopes up
towards the interior, where it culminates in the Peak.

From the landing-stage the road leads straight up
the steep slope, at the top of which is a " plaza "
laid out in gardens filled with flowers. It is sur-
rounded on three sides by houses, whilst towards
the sea the edge of the slope is safeguarded by a low
stone balustrade. The roads, some of which are
provided with a footpath, radiate from the " plaza."
Few of the houses possess front gardens, and they
are crowded together into so small a space that
they resemble the continuous frontage of a town

Most of the buildings are simple, comprising as a
rule only two stories, and are built either entirely of
wood, or with a stone foundation and a superstructure
of wood. They nearly all boast of a verandah.

The uniformity of the houses, grouped as they are
round a common centre, the plaza, however modest
they may seem on a closer investigation, makes Santa
Isabella appear much more " townlike " than many
another larger and more important place on the West
Coast, for example the scattered and straggling Duala.

We were hospitably entertained in the German
house of Moritz, where we renewed our acquaintance
with Herr Krull, and with the other gentlemen whom


we had met during our short visit on the way out.
One of the owners, too, Herr Edgar Moritz of Hamburg,
happened to be staying there, and welcomed us with
the utmost cordiality. We owe him our hearty thanks,
for without his co-operation and that of his friends
we should have had to depart without having effected
our object. For there were much greater difficulties
to be faced than we had anticipated. The time of
year was most unfavourable owing to the heavy rain,
and bearers could not be obtained at any price on
account of the shortage of labourers, which made
itself doubly felt at this the harvesting time on the
cocoa farms. But for Herr Moritz placing some of
his men temporarily at our disposal, we should never
have got beyond the coast.

We visited first the Deputy-Governor and military
commandant, Julio Pantoga. He gave us a letter
of recommendation to the Government officials, and
allowed us to bring in the greater part of our weapons
and ammunition which were essential to us for collect-
ing purposes. The duties on these things is exceed-
ingly heavy. In one matter, however, he declared
himself unable to meet our wishes, assuring us that
the Governor alone had the power to do so. As the
rainy season lasts until the end of November, we were
anxious to visit the other Guinea Islands first. The
only service connecting them is that of a little Spanish
steamer, which conveys the mails twice a month to
Prince's Isle. Every alternate month the steamer
touches at Annobon on the way, but there is no
regular service to St Thomas. Our request was that
the Governor should let the steamer that started
for Prince's Isle on the 18th of September proceed
to Annobon, so that it might pick us up there and


convey us to St Thomas. Thence we could easily
have travelled to Prince's Isle in a Portuguese vessel.
We assured Don Julio Pantoga that we were quite
prepared to defray any extra expense entailed by this
change of route, but he refused to incur the responsi-
bility of making any alteration in the steamer's time-
table. We came to the conclusion that the Governor,
Angel Barrera, must be a very stern gentleman, and
in any case his absence seriously disturbed our plans.

Our next visit was paid to the spiritual head of the
Spanish possessions in the Gulf of Guinea : the grey-
haired Bishop P. Armengol Coll. He received us
most kindly, and gave us introductions to the heads
of the various mission stations in Fernando Po and

We arrived on the 10th of August, and the first
steamer for Annobon left on the 2nd of September.
I determined to occupy the intervening time in
collecting botanical specimens. In the immediate
neighbourhood of Santa Isabella the original vegeta-
tion has everywhere given way to cocoa plantations,
so I decided to explore the virgin forest above the
mission station of Basile, about four miles inland,
and fifteen hundred feet above the foot of the Peak.
Thither, on the 14th of August, I removed my camp,
with the help of some of Herr Moritz' workmen. The
road was for some distance flat, and led through
cocoa plantations, being shaded by beautiful mango
trees. Some railway lines attracted my attention,
but they were overgrown with grass and evidently
no longer used. Here and there, too, were broken
pieces of telephone wire.

Some of the cocoa plantations were apparently
well kept, but some were overgrown with weeds, and




202. Ravine in the mountain forest on the peak of Santa Isabel.


much of the fruit showed signs of brown rot. This
disease seemed to me to be induced by too much
shade, for in a moist climate like that of Fernando
Po the cocoa plant thrives best in the open, and
on a slight incline where a gentle breeze provides
ventilation. Violent winds from the sea are of course
undesirable, and must be excluded by means of a forest

The road rose gradually, until within a short distance
of Basile it became fairly steep. Here the cocoa tree
obviously ceases to flourish. At any altitude above
1300 feet it will not grow, the fresh mountain air being
too cold for this product of the warm jungle. Here,
on the other hand, the elephant grass (Pennisetum cf.
Benthami) finds conditions favourable to its growth,
and shoots up luxuriantly wherever the primeval
forest has been disturbed. Since the natives usually
build their villages at an altitude of from one to two
thousand feet, it follows that in many places a belt
of this giant grass encircles the mountains, and this
is correctly described by Oskar Baumann as a specia
" grass zone." But it must not be forgotten that
these zones are originally due to man's encroachment,
and they are quite different in character to the in-
digenous prairies, the grassy slopes near the summit
of the Peak, or the " grasslands " of Moka.

Owing to its healthy, bracing climate, Basile was
selected in 1892 as the site for a settlement of
Spanish colonists. A mission station was founded and
some Spanish Marine Infantry barracks were erected.
Later on a Governor added a summer residence for
himself. I could not help drawing a comparison
between this place and the mountain residence of the
Cameroon Governor at Buea, in which the German


settlement did not appear to advantage. Even during
the rainy season Basile is almost always below the
level of the clouds, and the view over Santa Isabella
and the sea remains clear, whereas Buea, which is
3000 feet high, often remains wrapped in dripping
clouds for many months at a time. It is scarcely
necessary to add that such an atmosphere is most
depressing to the spirits of the residents.

I pitched my tent in the neighbourhood of the
barracks. This is a large square building resting on
piles, and surrounded by a verandah. At present
the only inhabitant is a married Spanish non-com-
missioned officer, who supervises a few black soldiers
and a great many children. The fate of this
building recalled that of the unfortunate Musola
" sanatorium."

Before we had finished pitching the tents, a steamer,
the " Cameroon " of the Woermann line, was seen
entering the bay of Santa Isabella. The bearers
consequently hurried off, as Herr Moritz would re-
quire them for unloading the vessel, and I was left
alone with my " boys." I collected several botanical
specimens in the forest above Basile, although I was
considerably hampered in my work by the incessant
rain. I came to the conclusion that the flora here
was very similar to that of the Cameroons, and sliowed
few distinctive features.

We had planned to make the ascent of the Peak,
even if we had to postpone it until our return from
Annobon, so I made up my mind to reconnoitre the
path, and to climb as far at all events as the corru-
gated iron hut erected some years ago as a shoot-
ing box on the higher wooded slopes of the mountain.
It was used, too, by travellers as a shelter on their way


to the summit, and was built, I believe, by Don
Victoriano Calatayud and the Governor de Vera.

One of the brothers belonging to the Basile mission,
with whom I conversed laboriously in nigger English,
and one or two Bubi pupils, accompanied me as guides.
The path led upwards through some fields belonging
to the mission, and over a stream across which a fairly
solid bridge had been erected. The strong walled-
up buttresses were still intact, but the planking was
almost worn away, and the girders were partly eaten
away with rust.

We also passed a wall enclosing a square plot of
elephant grass, longer and thicker than the most
luxuriant reeds. At a subsequent visit, I noticed
that the grass had been cut, and lo and behold, the
place was a cemetery ! After crossing the bridge,
we climbed to a cocoa farm, which was situated
too high, and was consequently almost barren of
fruit. The path was so slippery that we had to catch
hold of the branches of the cocoa trees. After this
we came to a virgin forest, through which a narrow,
overgrown path sloped gently upwards.

With the cocoa plantations we had left behind us
the moist, warm, tropical jungle region. The Daniellia
oblonga grows scarcely as high as Basil^ ; this is a
favourite tree for shading the plantations, its smooth,
grey, pillar-like stems rising to a height of about a
hundred feet and then spreading out into a mass of
foliage. During the rainy season it is leafless, and
at the beginning of the dry season, before the appear-
ance of the new foliage, it is covered with a profusion
of pale mauve blossoms. The Allanblackia floribunda
grows above Basile, forming about three-quarters
of the whole forest. This is an unusual number for


a tropical jungle, and is probably due to some local
peculiarity of the soil. The underwood is not so
dense as to seriously impede the progress of the
traveller, who can leave the path without being obliged
to use his axe.

At an altitude of about 2500 feet a gradual change
is noticeable in the character of the vegetation.
Allanblackia still predominates, but here and there
other trees are to be seen, which really belong to a
higher region : e.g. Polyscias fulva (Hiern.) Harms,
and also mosses and ferns, which begin to clothe the
branches, and betray the influence of fog, which is
an important climatic factor. A very moist atmo-
sphere combined with a moderate temperature form
the most favourable conditions for the growth of these
delicate cryptogamic epiphytes. Numerous flowering
plants, especially begonias and acanthacias, mingle
with the ferns, so that many of the branches form
veritable gardens in miniature. (Illus. 199, 200.)

We crossed a clear rivulet, and on the tree trunks
thrown across it grew tree ferns with their slim black
stalks and bright green fronds, truly the most charm-
ing sight in the whole jungle. In one place we tra-
versed a narrow ridge, with deep ravines on each

The forest gradually changed, and the beautiful
trees gave place to gnarled varieties with wide tops ;
in the undergrowth the bushes became fewer, and
were mingled with flowering plants with soft herba-
ceous stems. We had reached the home of the acan-
thaciae, of which one specially beautiful variety with
crimson blossoms might at a little distance be mistaken
for a rhododendron.

We climbed slowly upwards in a dripping fog,

203. Pasture region of the peak with a secondary crater to the north
of the main summit.

204. View of the "Cordillera" from the north across the Day

of San Carlos. x

205. In the grass-land of Moka.

206. Ravine in the grass-land of Moka, with tree ferns and


through a gloomy forest, in which the trees were
thickly covered with moss. And yet it was here
that the animal world was specially plentiful. We
roused troops of various kinds of meer-cats, and some
little silver-grey dwarf antelopes made off on hearing
our approach.

This explained why the shooting box had been built
so high up, in a most dreary situation at all events
in the rainy season. Shortly before reaching it, we
entered upon a new zone of plant life.

Up till now the tree tops had formed an almost
continuous screen, but now there were occasional
gaps, and in the clearances a herbaceous plant grew
with indescribable luxuriance in the black, spongy
soil. In places it was replaced by a little forest of
tree ferns. (Illus. 201.) My heart sank at the pros-
pect, and I had less hope of reaching the summit of
the Peak. I was familiar with this kind of wilder-
ness on the Cameroon Mountain, the Central African
Mountains, the volcanoes near Lake Kiwu, and the
Ruwenzori. If the shoots grew vertically, it would
not be so difficult to make a way through them, for
the longest and thickest elephant grass or the worst
undergrowth of the jungle yields eventually to a clear-
ing knife wielded by the negro's powerful wrist. But
it is a much more laborious undertaking to bore one's
way through a " loofah-sponge," each of whose fibres
consists of strong, woody branches of the thickness
of one's thumb. No single plant can be distinguished,
for the branching stems grow along the ground in every
direction, mingling and intertwining till they form a
compact mass, which, with the fresh shoots, may attain
a height of twelve feet. Even a buffalo or an elephant
would have difficulty in making his way through.


The shooting box is situated at the lower border
of this belt of trees with its formidable thicket, 4750
feet above the sea level. It is a corrugated iron hut,
about twenty feet by twelve, with a door and one
window, and contains a rough table and a few bed-
steads, that is to say, shelves supported on posts and
covered with sacking. It has been used for several
years by the Bubi hunters of the mission, and is in
a very neglected state. A fire was lighted, but the
damp wood created a suffocating smoke, and I did
not envy the mission Brother and his pupils, who
intended to spend the night there.

I descended to Basile in pouring rain, having given
up all idea of reaching the summit in view of the
difficulties arising from the lack of men and the for-
midable jungle. I had, however, found a mountain
forest such as probably exists nowhere else in Africa, or
indeed in the world, and I made up my mind to
transfer my camp to a spot where I could collect
specimens. I chose a site about 2800 feet above the
sea, near a little stream with beautiful tree ferns,
where, at the edge of a deep ravine, there was a flat
shelf on which the tents could be pitched.

On the 17th of August I left Basile accompanied
by five croo-boys, whom Schultze had with great
difficulty secured in Santa Isabella, and a number
of Bubi boys from the mission. The latter caused
me much annoyance, for though most of the loads
were light, and the boys were sturdy, they insisted
on having only one load between two of them, so
that they could carry it in turn. Intervals of rest
ought to have been sufficient, but I was thankful to
get any bearers at all. In this way I did not get all
my possessions transferred until the third day.


After the first night Schultze's five croo-boys ran
away. So I was left alone with my old Bule head-
man Ekomeno, the two Togo " pearls," and the little
tent boy from Bamenda, in a country which they
described as " bad too much," with which I heartily

The view from my tent across the deep ravine, on
the other side of which the lichen-covered forest giants
reared their mighty heads, was certainly most beauti-
ful ; so was the rippling torrent bordered with tree
ferns, begonias, and balsamines, whilst the little water-
fall below my camp, in its frame of exotic foliage
would have sent a painter into ecstacies. (Illus.
202.) But my enthusiasm for the beauties of nature
was sensibly diminished owing to my being every day
drenched to the skin, and enveloped in a wet, cold
fog which covered the tent ropes with mould. We
suffered enough from the cold and wet on the volcanoes
near Lake Kiwu, but never anything like what I went
through in Fernando Po. As a matter of fact the
thermometer never fell below 54 F., but even this
was a great contrast to the temperature of the West

On Sunday, the 19th of August, Schultze came up
from Santa Isabella with the intention of ascending
the Peak. Herr Moritz had succeeded in finding
some more bearers to come as far as my camp, which
was to serve as a depot, as well as five men to accom-
pany him on this expedition. An educated Bubi,
speaking excellent Spanish and a little pigeon English,
had also consented to act as guide at a high remunera-
tion. Schultze was ready to start the following day,
taking with him his large tent and two smaller ones,
together with provisions for six days. He climbed as


far as the corrugated iron hut, where he spent the
night, and the next day he began his struggle with
the thorn thicket. He describes his experiences in
his diary in the following words :

" Cutting our way through this thorn hedge was
a herculean task. On the way up it took me eight
hours to cover a distance which was accomplished
on the return journey in fifty minutes. Meanwhile
it was pouring with rain, and in spite of thick boots
and a waterproof, I was drenched to the skin within
an hour. The worst of all was that I could not see
twenty yards ahead of me, and in the level places
the work was most exhausting, the thicket being
well-nigh impenetrable. My men were soon quite
tired out, and I myself found it hard to exhibit any
hope of ultimate success.

" To-day (the 22nd of August) was even worse
than yesterday. We hewed a way desperately through
the same impenetrable jungle, but to-day a great
many fallen trees lay in the road, so that we lost much
time in avoiding them. To-day's stage, over which
I returned in fifteen minutes, necessitated seven
hours' hard work by my frozen and dispirited men.
Although I gave them rum at intervals, they suffered
greatly from the cold, coughing, and showing all the
premonitory signs of fever. At times they refused
to proceed any further, and I had great difficulty in
keeping up their flagging spirits. I myself was
soaked to the skin and bitterly cold. There seemed
little hope of success, and the pitiless rain shut out
all view of our surroundings. I was tired to death
when at four o'clock we turned back, having reached
an altitude of 5600 feet."

For two days Schultze continued to hew his way


through the thicket under these trying conditions,
but when, after attaining a height of 6600 feet, he
found the thicket becoming if possible worse, with
no signs of the grassy slopes of the summit, he gave
up in despair.

He decided to relinquish the attempt, partly on
account of the exhausted state of his men, and partly
because Herr Moritz had promised to send bearers
on the 27th of August to fetch our baggage, so that
we might start for Annobon on the 2nd of September.
Schultze returned to my camp on the 25th of August,
and on the 27th he went back to Santa Isabella, where
I rejoined him a few days later.

He was, however, determined not to give up the
struggle with the Peak, and on our return from
Annobon on the 31st of October, he renewed the
attack whilst I was still in San Carlos. This time
the weather was more favourable, and he succeeded
after a hard struggle in reaching the grassy slopes
above the thorn thicket. But he was fated not to
reach the summit. He had still an hour's climb
before him when a violent thunderstorm, accompanied
by torrents of ice-cold rain, forced him to retrace his
steps. Exhaustion combined with a dearth of pro-
visions obliged him to give up the attempt and
descend the mountain. He describes his experiences
as follows :

" This intolerable situation, in the midst of violent
electrical discharges, had lasted for about half an
hour when on looking round at my men, I realised
that they seemed to be almost at their last gasp ;
they were rolling on the ground benumbed with the
cold, with chattering teeth. I felt sure that they
could save themselves only by walking, and I en-


deavoured to rouse them. Persuasion and threats
were of no avail ; at length I brought them to their
senses with violent blows, and induced them to return
to camp, leaving the baggage behind."

On the way down Schultze found one of the men
quite benumbed, and it was only by kicking and beat-
ing him that he succeeded in forcing him to get up.
Every time he stumbled he wanted to be left to
die in peace, and two others were in a similar

" Was this fatalism, or boundless indolence ? Even

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Online LibraryDuke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin Adolf FriedrichFrom the Congo to the Niger and the Nile; an account of the German Central African Expedition of 1910-1911 (Volume 2) → online text (page 17 of 20)