Joseph H. (Joseph Hankinson) Reading.

A voyage along the western coast, or, Newest Africa : a description of newest Africa, or the Africa of to-day and the immediate future online

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Online LibraryJoseph H. (Joseph Hankinson) ReadingA voyage along the western coast, or, Newest Africa : a description of newest Africa, or the Africa of to-day and the immediate future → online text (page 6 of 17)
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that he has taken the first step toward a standing of re-
spectability in the community. In the course of another
month he is prepared for another voyage and on his return,
if he bring a sufficient amount of goods, he is rewarded
with a second wife. He keeps this up until perhaps he is
forty years of age, when he settles down permanently with
his wives and is ever afterward regarded as one of the for-
tunate men of his town. He not only has the wives he has
earned by honest labor, but he has by this time inherited a
number by the death of father, uncles or brothers, and has
the enviable prospect of leaving behind him when he dies,
many wives, and a great name.

The Kru people cultivate the ground, raising quite a
number of articles of food, the most important of which is
rice. The kind most commonly planted is a variety of up-
land rice, with a small grain and slightly streaked with
brown. It is sweeter than the East India rice and much
preferred by the Krus. In Liberia there is one long rainy
and one long dry season each year ; and as the rice can
grow on the upland only in the rainy season, the people
can raise but one crop a year. Toward the middle of the
dry season a piece of fresh ground is selected, and all the
trees, underbrush and grass is cut and allowed to lie on the
ground so as to become thoroughly dry. At the first inti-
mation of the coming rains this mass of dry leaves and



branches is set on fire and all consumed but the stumps and
larger tree trunks. By this process the ground is covered
with a good coating of ashes which is one of the best fer-
tilizers for this crop, but the farm, with the blackened
stumps and trees looks like desolation itself. The soil is
now scratched with a small iron instrument, the seed
deposited, and the work is done. The rice sprouts with
the first rain, and usually there are few or no weeds the
first season. When the grain begins to head, myriads of
small birds come to join in the feast, and the field needs to
be constantly guarded throughout the day to prevent them
from taking more than their share. This is done by sta-
tioning boys in different parts of the field who scare the
birds as best they can with stones, beating brass pans, and
screaming at the birds in an energetic manner.

In four months from the planting the rice is readv to
be harvested. Each head of rice is cut separately making the
task a slow and laborious one ; the heads of grain are then
tied into snug, neat bundles and carried home to be kept
for future use. These bundles of rice are suspended from
the rafters of the house, and the smoke passing up around
them keeps all insects away. It is husked only as needed ;
this is done by putting the grain in a mortar and pounding
it with long pestles until the chaff is loosened from the
grain, when it is winnowed by pouring from one pan to
another while the wind blows the chaff away. The Kru
matron prides herself upon her skill in boiling rice, and
there is no doubt the art is carried to a high degree of per-
fection, each grain standing out clear and distinct, and yet
soft and mealy. A good dish of such rice, covered with
fresh, fragrant palm oil, a few red peppers mashed in salt,
and a nice piece of broiled monkey, or boiled corn beef, is
as good a meal as any man need desire.

It is a mistake to plant rice on the up-lands when from
two to three crops might be raised on the lowlands of the

v 65


deltas of the rivers, but to make these lands sure for culti-
vation they need to be dyked and ditched like the rice
lands of Georgia and the Carol inas, but as the Krus do not
know how to do this they are obliged to plant on the up-
lands and get but one crop a year. ' The work of cutting
the jungle is performed by the men, but nearly all the cul-
tivation and harvesting is done by the women and boys.
In settling the country and opening up sugar and coffee
estates, as well as other branches of agricultural industry,
the women and boys could be depended on for labor as
well as the men. In Java rice is raised on the hillsides by
building terraces, making the enclosed ground level, and
then turning on water that has been collected in large res-
ervoirs during the rains ; the water is drawn from the upper
level to the next lower, and so is made to do duty several
times over. This is no doubt an excellent plan, as it gives
the cultivator complete control of the necessary physical
conditions, but it is expensive and will hardly pay in Africa
until the country becomes much more thickly settled.

At four o'clock the same afternoon the Kisanga
anchored in the Bay of Cape Palmas. It was a delightful
afternoon. As it was the very close of the rainy season for
this part of the coast, nature was wearing her brightest garb
of green, and the warm afternoon sun filled the landscape
with light and beauty ; it was indeed a lovely picture that
lay spread out before the travelers as they sat upon the
deck in their comfortable chairs and gazed shoreward.
Cape Palmas is a long, low, rocky headland extending
into the Atlantic from the southwest corner of Africa. It
has a good lighthouse, and as it is exposed so thoroughly
to the sea breezes, it ought to be a favorite resort for those
who love the sea air.

The town is built on the cape and on the high land
to the eastward and presents a most pleasing appearance
from the sea. The houses are mostly of stone, some of



them two stories, and are protected from the sun by num-
bers of cocoanut palms beneath whose grateful shade they
are built. The country near Cape Palmas is higher and
more open than the coast-line to the north, and gives signs
of a higher state of cultivation, and a larger population.
Cape Palmas Bay is a fair harbor, although not a large
one. There are a few -sunken rocks that need to be
removed and then the anchorage will be both good and
safe. The coast-line to the eastward is much troubled with
heavy surf, but the long point of rocks that extends from
the Cape protects the Bay and there is nothing to prevent ves-
sels from coming alongside piers when these shall have been
built. Cape Palmas would be a good terminus for a rail-
way, as the open character of the country would make rail-
way building easier than the heavy wooded lands to the
north. Lying as it does in the steamer track, it might
soon build up a large trade in steamer supplies, especially
every kind of fresh provisions ; indeed it is a wonder that
this has not been done before. It would be an excellent
place, too, for a coaling station, and the railway might
receive much traffic from coal brought down from the
mountains for use on ocean steamers. As our friends looked
shorewards for some reason or other they fell to talking
about breadfruit — perhaps the sight of some of the trees
brought the subject to their minds.

" I wish," said Mr. Sinclair, " that breadfruit could be
carried to England ; they would be a novelty in our

" There is no use of you wishing that," responded Mr.
Schiff, " for you know well enough a green breadfruit is
not good, and a ripe one goes to squash in three or four

"I know they will not save long," replied Mr. Sin-
clair, "but what is to hinder drying them much as we desiccate



potatoes, and then not only exporting them to other coun-
tries, but also using them upon ships during long
voyages? "

" There is no good reason that I can see," answered
Mr. King. " Some of the patent evaporators made in our
country would do the work admirably. The breadfruit is
sweeter than the potato and contains a greater quantity of
nutritious matter. It seems to me it might become a com-
mon article of food in almost even' land."

" How many breadfruits do you think could be raised
on an acre?" inquired Captain Thompson.

" The breadfruit tree," replied Mr. King, " spreads its
lower limbs over a wide surface and should be planted fully
forty feet apart, which will give twenty-seven trees to the
acre. I do not know how it may be here, but at Gaboon,
while the trees have some on nearly all the time, yet they
bear two main crops a year ; a hundred ripe fruits to a tree
a year is a fair average, although many trees will exceed
that ; each fruit will equal half a peck of the best Irish
potatoes, so that the product of one tree may be set down
as equal to twelve and a half bushels of potatoes, or three
hundred and thirty-seven bushels to the acre. I think the
yield of my trees at Gaboon was fully equal to this."

" A native family with a few breadfruit trees about
their little home need never want for food," observed Mr.

" Indeed they need not," responded Mr. King, " these
breadfruits are not only very good eating for man, but they
are relished by goats, pigs and chickens when boiled and
fed to them, and much cheaper and more easily raised than
grain. I think they are well worth raising for feeding pur-
poses alone. If grown in orchards cocoanuts should be
grown with them, for the lower branches of the breadfruit
take up so much room, but the space above is largely
vacant, and this can be profitably filled by the waving tops



of the cocoanuts ; it seems to me the two were made to grow
together. This is the way I have planted them at Gaboon,
and I find the plan to work nicely."

The Kisanga did not remain long at Cape Palmas, for
there is at present but little trade there, although under a
wise and able government it might become a city and a
valuable commercial port. As has already been observed,
the openness of the country indicates that a railway might
easily be built up to the hills, and even through the moun-
tains to the plains of the Soudan. By sundown the ship
had rounded the shoal off the point of the Cape and turned
her head due east for Cape Three Points, and when our
friends came on deck after dinner to enjoy their evening
smoke and have their usual chat together, Cape Palmas had
been lost to view behind them.

For a little while no one spoke, as each seemed to be
absorbed in the beauties of the night. Mr. Alexander was
the first to break the silence. " I have been thinking,"
said he, " what a country this would be for raising rice and
other tropical products by companies possessed of large
capital. I have been in Japan and from what I saw of rice-
growing there, I am sure it can be successfully grown here.
If these Kru-boys in their imperfect way can produce
enough of it to keep their families, what might not be done
when its cultivation is carried on with exactness and skill.
In Japan two crops are raised on the same ground each
year, and the product is from thirty to fifty bushels per

" Yes, but it has to be irrigated," interrupted Mr.

" That is true," replied Mr. Alexander, " but why not
irrigate it here ? Suppose when the railway is built from
Cape Palmas an English company should purchase a large
estate among the foothills of the Kong mountains. Upon
the top of one of these hills or near the top, let large res-



ervoirs be built to collect water during the long rainy
season. Then let the gentler slopes be terraced and rice
planted on the terraces ; I have seen it grown in this man-
ner in Japan, and the yield was very large. The first crop
could be planted at the beginning of the rains just as the
Kru-boys do, and then another crop planted and carried
through the dry season by irrigation."

" Do you think it would pay ? " inquired Captain

" It pays in Japan, in China, in Java and other coun-
tries," answered Mr. Alexander, " and why not here ? Take
the minimum yield of thirty bushels per acre ; the first
crop would pay for the labor bestowed on both crops, and
the second crop could go for interest on investment, and
profit. Thirty bushels per acre is eighteen hundred
pounds, and at three cents a pound would be fifty-four dol-
lars, which is ten per cent, on five hundred and fort}' dol-
lars an acre, and it is not likely that the cost of preparing
the ground would exceed that."

" Such beds would be just the place to raise these large
Spanish onions," said Mr. King. " In the Island of Ber-
muda large quantities of onions are raised for early ship-
ment to New York, and they always bring high prices ; if
planted on your terraced fields at the beginning of the dry
season, say October first, they would be ready to harvest in
February, and reach England and the continent in March
when the market is bare of onions and the prices high. In
America when onions are raised in a commercial way, the
yield is from four to five hundred bushels per acre ; this
would bring you in from five to ten times as much as your
second crop of rice, and in a few years would pay for the
farm. Indeed, there is almost no end to what might be
done here in the way of farming where ample capital is
used, provided there was a strong, able government, and
the country properly opened up by good roads and railways,


for the markets of the densely populated countries of
Europe are within reach even for perishable products,
while India and the East Indies are too far away to send
such things as fruits and onions to Europe."

" And then," said Mr. Schiff, " ducks could be raised
on the ponds and sent down to Cape Palmas to sell to the
steamers." Mr. Schiff liked plenty of good things to eat ;
a failing common to a great many very excellent men. " I
do not live to eat," he would sometimes say, " but since I
must eat to live, I think I might just as well eat something

For the next two days the Kisanga steamed steadily
along past what used to be called the Ivory Coast, or
Drewin Coast. There are few foreign settlements on this
coast and no nation has as yet appropriated it, except that
the French have a small settlement at Grand Bassam. This
entire coast as far as the Assinee river should by rights be-
long to Liberia, and the United States States Government
should at once claim it. There is a lagoon running the
entire length of the coast parallel with the beach, and only
separated from the sea by a narrow strip of sand a few
hundred yards wide. Into this lagoon the rivers empty,
and it forms an excellent waterway for inland navigation.
The view from the deck of a passing steamer presents a
low line of dense jungle with numerous villages almost
buried among the thick cocoanut groves. Along the lagoon
the forest growth is of the richest and most exuberant that
can be conceived, the trees being fairly covered with vines
and all kinds of creepers, and every plant struggling for a
share of the brilliant sunlig-ht. Bevond the lagoon, and
back from the rivers, the country rises to a table-land of
moderate height, and so- continues up to the foothills of the
Coast Range.

At present there is little or no ivory sent from this part
of the coast, that trade having drifted gradually away to the



south ; the principal exports are palm-oil, cam-wood and
gold-dust. The gold comes mostly from the interior, and
there is little doubt that large stores of it will be found in
the mountains when these shall come to be thoroughly
explored. The natives do not dig for it but wash the river
sands in wooden bowls or calabashes and thus obtain
enough to purchase what few goods they need.

Cam-wood produces a beautiful red dye. This tree is
found scattered through the forest much in the same man-
ner as the ebony ; it is more abundant among the hills than
near the coast. The most valuable part is the stump and
roots ; its value is from eight}- to one hundred dollars a ton.
Besides cam-wood there are many valuable woods in the
forest ; some of these are well suited for cabinet work, and
others excellent for building purposes. These trees, how-
ever, grow very differently from what they do in a northern
forest ; at the north the woods frequently contain not more
than one or two varieties of trees, or at most six or seven ;
here in the tropics there may be twenty or thirty kinds on
a single acre, and these will be bound together with a per-
fect net-work of vines which makes the work of timber cut-
ting more expensive than in a pine or hemlock forest. On
the contrary, when a large tree of some fine-grained cabinet
wood is cut and cleared of the underbrush, it is worth
twenty pine logs, so that notwithstanding the additional
expense and difficulty of cutting, it may pay a larger per
cent, of profit.

Palm oil is the most important of the three articles of
export. When fresh it is of a transparent orange color,
and is extensively used in England and on the Continent
in the manufacture of the finer kinds of soap, in candles of
an excellent quality, by the apothecary for various purposes,
and as a lubricant for the more delicate parts of steam ma-
chinery. It is quite likely, too, that it is used to adulterate
many kinds of food. It can be refined until it becomes as



transparent as water, and is then excellent to use instead of
lard or other fat -for cooking purposes. It usually sells on
arrival for from ninety to one hundred dollars a ton, and is
not likely ever to be much lower.

The oil palm is a beautiful tree, having as many
fronds as a cocoanut and of a deeper green ; and as its
fringed-like leaves wave and rustle in the breeze, it forms a
striking feature in the African landscape. It extends in a
belt of from fifty to one hundred miles in width from the
Sahara to the Benguela ; it also follows the river valleys in
some cases to a considerable distance inland, but as a rule it
is not found in the interior of the country.

The nuts grow in clusters containing from a peck to a
half bushel, and are of a deep orange color at one end, and
a brilliant scarlet at the other ; anything more beautiful
than a heap of fresh palm nuts it would be hard to find.
They are about the size of a guinea's egg } and taper at both
ends. The oil is contained in a fibrous pulp, inside of
which is a hard black stone or pit enclosing a pure white
kernel the size of a filbert. These kernels are in great
request in France, where a fine table oil is made from them,
and they are sent from the Coast by the ship-load. In
gathering the nuts the natives climb the trees by means of
a loop, or hoop, made of a vine. This hoop is about three
feet in diameter and encloses the tree ; the climber then
puts it over his head and lets it rest in the hollow of the
back, being obliged to lean backwards a little from the tree
to make it keep its place ; he then takes hold of each side
of the hoop with his hands and leaning forward for a mo-
ment, he hitches it up a little where it goes around the
tree ; this makes it slant upward from his body to the tree ;
he then clasps the tree firmly with his feet and steps one
step upward carefully pressing back against the hoop ; then
he hitches it up a little way again, takes another step
upward, hitches it again, and so walks up the tallest tree



without difficulty or fear. Of course, if the hoop should
break he would fall backward into space, and if he failed to
press against it sufficiently, he would fall through to the
ground ; but he does not stop to consider the chances and
will walk up the tallest palm tree as unconcernedly as a
dude will promenade the avenue. Arriving at the top, this
ingenious arrangement permits him the free use of his
hands, and he soon cuts the coveted cluster of nuts, which
falls heavily to the ground.

To extract the oil the nuts are boiled to soften the
pulp, and then thrown in a large trough and pounded until
the pulp is separated from the hard inside pits ; the trough
is then filled with clean water and as soon as the mass at
the bottom ferments, the oil rises to the surface and is
skimmed off. The hard pits are then taken out and cracked
and the kernels put into baskets for sale. As there is no
such thing as lard or butter in the country, large quantities
of the fresh palm oil is used for food. It has a peculiar
flavor quite unlike anything produced at the North, but one
nevertheless that all foreigners soon become fond of, and a
good palm-oil chop is justly esteemed one of the delicacies
of the country.


Chapter IV


AT three o'clock on Friday afternoon the Kisanga
anchored off Cape Coast Castle, the principal
port of entry on the Gold Coast. Eight miles to
the westward was Elmina, an old Dutch settle-
ment, founded some years before the discovery of America,
and for a long time an important centre for the trade in
slaves and gold dust. At present it belongs to England, as
does indeed the greater part of the Gold Coast. Cape Coast
Castle is well known to the present generation of readers
as the starting point of the expedition of Sir Garnet Wolse-
ley in 1873 for the capture of Coomasie, the capital of
Ashanti. It is a fair sized town, with some well built
streets, and with the large fortress on a commanding bluff
jutting into the sea, it presents an inviting appearance from
the deck of an incoming vessel.

The town of Cape Coast is the natural outlet for the
commerce of the great negro kingdom of Ashanti, and by
a moderate amount of effort on the part of the British
Government it might become an important seaport, as well
as a large and flourishing city. The greatest natural draw-
back to its prosperity is the heavy surf, but this should not
be an insurmountable difficulty ; the surf is no heavier



than at Madras, nor the anchorage more exposed than at
Colombo in Ceylon, and even as it is the army of Sir Garnet,
as well as all the stores needed for the campaign, were
landed here, and a reasonable expenditure would make the
landing a fairly good one. The town has the reputation
for being very hot in the dry season, but the same is true
of Madras and several other commercial centres of the East,
and perhaps Cape Coast is not hotter than Calcutta, certainly
not hotter than Aden. The site of the town is quite hilly,
and it is very likely the heat is only great in the low places
between the hills where the houses are sheltered from the
breeze. On the hillsides facing the sea, and especially along
the sea beach toward Elmina, there is abundant room for
cool and comfortable dwellings through which the sea
breeze would sweep finely.

The Gold Coast has this great advantage that it is only
half the distance from England that India and Burmah are,
and it is not complicated with any " Eastern question."
There is no Russia to sweep down upon it from the north,
and no narrow seas nor canals to pass through in order to
get to it ; the whole broad Atlantic extends from one country
to the other, and no dispute with Continental nations can
close so wide a path. The distance from Plymouth is about
four thousand three hundred nautical miles, and an eighteen
knot boat could cover the course in ten days. This near-
ness to the mother country, and wide, free path, are import-
ant factors in the future development of the country.

The scenery along the Gold Coast is quite different
from that on the Liberian and Ivory Coasts ; the shore-line
is no longer low and densely wooded with palms and other
forest trees, but high ridges rise gently from the water's
edge and stretch back into the country ; hills of variable
form and outline ; verdant fields with graceful undulations,
and a variety and richness of color and form, charm the eye
as the swiftly moving steamer unfolds the beauteous land-



scape to the delighted voyager. The character of the
native population also changes ; there are no more circular
huts with high-pointed roofs, but rectangular houses made
of clay ; no more bright-faced, manly, well-developed Kru-
men, but tall, very slim, very dark colored men, with a
grave cast of countenance. These are mechanics rather
than agriculturalists, and readily learn every kind of
handicraft. Most of them have been somewhat educated
and can read and write in their own language and very
often in English too. They are willing to work, but do not
go from home so constantly and persistently as do the
Kru-men, although single adventurers are found on nearly
every steamer going to some other part of the Coast to try
their fortune. Nearly all the coopers found in the factories,
and many of the carpenters, masons and cooks are Cape

The face of the country after leaving the immediate
sea-coast region consists of wave-like undulations for eighty
to one hundred miles, after which there are low hills, and
these gradually increase in height until the Kong mountains
are reached at a distance of two hundred and fifty miles.

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Online LibraryJoseph H. (Joseph Hankinson) ReadingA voyage along the western coast, or, Newest Africa : a description of newest Africa, or the Africa of to-day and the immediate future → online text (page 6 of 17)