Josiah Tyler.

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Along the Grain Coast, BO called from the cardamon seed


which grow here abundantly, live the Krnmen, a very ath-
letic race, who take naturally to the water and manage their
frail canoes with remarkable skill and daring. They dash
boldly out to an approaching ship, and make themselves very
useful to both trading and government vessels.

The Krumen are said to be arrant liars and confirmed
thieves, without the slightest notion of morality ; yet they
are a cheerful, lively set of fellows, possessing to the full the
negro's love of singing, drumming and dancing. Any
kind of work that they do is aided by a song, and an expe-
rienced traveler who is paddled by Krumen always takes
with him a drum of some sort, knowing that it will make the
difference of a quarter of the time occupied in the journey.
Even after a hard day's work, they will come to their master,
ask permission to " make play," and will keep up their sing-
ing and dancing until after midnight.

The Gold Coast, so called from the gold-dust here found,
is inhabited by two tribes, the Fanti and the Ashanti, who
are never on peaceable terms. The Fanti are good canoe-men,
but their boats are much larger than those used by the Kru-
men. Mr. Duncan, a traveler, describes them as the lowest
and laziest of Africans.

They are very superstitious, and have fetishes, or charms,
scattered thickly around. Anything answers for a fetish,
but a bundle of rags tied together like a rag-doll is a great
favorite. A little clay image sometimes takes the place of
the rags.

The Ashanti much resemble the Fanti, but are generally
the victors in the wars carried on between them. The dress
and accoutrements of the Ashanti captains are most fantastic,
consisting in part of feathers, horns, horse-tails, bits of leather,
red boots, etc. The common soldiers are destitute of uni-
forms and almost of clothing, and carry any weapons which
they may be able to procure. The caboceers are important
personages, and are allowed the privilege of sitting on stools
when in the presence of the king. They also command the
soldiery, and ride at their head on a horse whose trap-




pings are wonderful to behold. But the caboceers are poor
riders, and are generally held on their horses by two men
one on each side.

The women are the chief gold-washers, and the quantity
of gold annually found is large, and it is used by the rich
natives in barbaric profusion. The great nobles, on state
occasions, wear golden bracelets of such weight that they
have to rest their arms on little slave boys who stand in front
of them for that purpose.

In Ashanti, as in other parts of Africa, the royal succession
never lies in the direct line, but passes to the brother or
nephew of the deceased monarch, the nephew in question
being the son of the king's sister, and not his brother. The
reason for this arrangement is, that the people are sure that
their future king has some royal blood in his veins, whereas,
according to their ideas, no one can be quite certain that the
son of the queen is also the son of the king, and, as the
king's wives are never of royal blood, they might have a
mere plebeian claimant to the throne. Therefore the son of
the king's sister is always chosen ; and it is a curious fact that
the sister in question need not be married, provided that the
father of her child be strong, good-looking, and of tolerable
position in life.

The king is restricted in the number of his wives. But, as
the prohibition fixes the magic number of three thousand
three hundred and thirty -three, he has not much to complain
of with regard to the stringency of the law.

The natives have their legend about gold. They say that
when the Great Spirit first created man, he made one black
man and one white one, and gave them their choice of two
gifts. One contained all the treasures of the tropics the
fruitful trees, the fertile soil, the warm sun, and a calabash
of gold dust. The other gift was simply a quantity of white
paper, ink, and pens.

The Ashanti are very jealous of their own rights, and
resent all attempts of foreigners to work their mines. They
will rather allow the precious metal to be wasted than permit


the white man to procure it. As to the mulatto, they have
the most intense contempt for him who is a " white-black
man, silver and copper, and not gold."

Dahomey, a kingdom founded in blood and cruelty, has
maintained its existence for over two centuries in spite of
terrible scenes continually enacted there scenes which would
drive almost any other people to rebellion. Biit the fearful
human sacrifices for which Dahomey has long been infamous,
are fully sanctioned, and often forced upon the king, by his

Dahomey is situated west of Ashanti, on the Slave Coast.
The two celebrated ports, Lagos and Whydah, have long been
the outlets where slaves, captured in the interior, were put
on board vessels. Lagos, however, has been recently ceded
to the English.

Dahomey is the strangest of countries, and the stories of its
wild superstitions and savage idolatry have been the ground
work for the general belief in the universal natural cruelty
of the natives of Africa. Deeds worthy of fiends are openly
committed by this people; hundreds of human beings are
yearly executed, in the carrying out of their fetish customs
and ceremonies and no feast day passes over but blood flows
freely before the people, while loud shouts and frantic gestures
add horror to their beastly orgies. Here also the female race
loses all its characteristics of gentleness and becomes more sav-
age and fierce than the other sex. Here we find the " Ama-
zons " or female soldiers of whose cruelties and savage acts all
have heard. "No nation has more disgusting superstitions and
beliefs, and none more ready to carry them into practice.

Snakes are highly venerated throughout Dahomey, and
are protected by the severest laws. The turkey-buzzard is
also considered holy, and is always supplied with an abundance
of food.

Dahomey has two kings, one the Bush King who regulates
agriculture and commerce, the other the City King who rules
over cities and the slave-trade. The City King is the most
punctilious with regard to etiquette, and preserves the small-
est traditions with a minute rigidity worthy of the court of


Louis XIY. Although he may be sitting on a mere earthen
bench, and smoking a clumsy and very plain pipe, all his
court wait upon him with a reverence that seems to regard
him as a demi-god rather than a man. Should the heat, from
which he is sheltered as much as possible by the royal
umbrella, produce a few drops on his brow, they are del-
icately wiped off by one of his wives with a fine cloth ; if the
tobacco prove rather too potent, a brass or even a gold spit-
toon is placed before the royal lips. If he sneezes, the whole
assembled company burst into a shout of benedictions. The
chief ceremony takes place when he drinks. As soon as he
raises a cup to his lips, two of his wives spread a white cloth
in front of him, while others hold a number of gaudy
umbrellas so as to shield him from view. Every one who
has a gun fires it, those who have bells beat them, rattles are
shaken, and all the courtiers bend to the ground, clapping
their hands. As to the commoners, they turn their backs if
sitting, if standing they dance like bears, paddling with their
hands as if they were paws, bawling " Poo-oo-oo " at the top
of their voices.

If he sends a message, he first delivers it to the Dakro, a
woman attached to the court. She takes it to the Meu, and
the Meu passes it on to the Mingan, and the Mingan delivers
it to the intended recipient. When the message is sent to
the king, the order is reversed, and, as each officer has to
speak to a superior, a salutation is used, neatly graduated
according to rank. "When the message at last reacheP the
Dakro, she goes down on all-fours, and whispers the message
into the royal ears.

" At Kana is seen the first intimation of royalty. A small
stream runs by it, which supplies Kana with water. At day-
break the women-slaves of the palace are released from the
durance in which they are kept during the night, and sent off
to bring water for the palace. They are not fighting women,
or Amazons as they are generally called, but the slaves of
the Amazons, each of these women having at least one female
slave, and some as many as fifty.

" No man is allowed to look at these slaves, much less to


address them, and in consequence, when the women go to
bring water, they are headed by one of their number carrying
a rude bell suspended to the neck. When the leader sees a
man in the distance, she shakes the bell vigorously, and calls
out, ' Gan-ja,' i.e. ' the bell comes.' As soon as the tinkle of
the bell or the cry reach the ears of any men who happen to
be on the road, they immediately run to the nearest f ootpath,
of which a number are considerately made, leading into the
woods, turn their backs, and wait patiently until the long file
of women has passed.

" They had need to escape as fast as they can, for if even
one of the water-pots should happen to be broken, the near-
est man would inevitably be accused of having frightened
the woman who carried it, and would almost certainly be sold
into slavery, together with his wife and family-"

The palace walls, which are of great extent, are surrounded
by a cheerful adornment in the shape of human skulls, which
are placed on the top at intervals of thirty feet or so, and
strike the key-note to the Dahomian character. In no place
in the world is human life sacrificed with such prodigality and

The celebrated force known as the Amazons are all women,
officers as well as privates, and are not allowed to become
wives ; and although the king does sometimes take a fancy
to one of them, she may not take the position of a regular

About one-third of the Amazons have been married, but
rest are unmarried maidens. The spinster soldiers are
women who have been selected by the king from the families
of his subjects, he having the choice of them when they arrive
at marriageable age ; and the once married soldiers are women
who have been detected in infidelity, and are enlisted instead
of executed, or wives who are vixenish towards their hus-

Blood-thirsty and savage as are the Dahomians naturally, the
Amazons take the lead in both qualities, seeming to avenge
themselves, as it were, for the privations to which they are



doomed. As a rule, they are more masculine in appearance
than the male soldiers, and possessed of unflinching cour^:
and ruthless cruelty, and they are fond of boasting that t
are not women, but men.

Of course it is needful that such a body should obs e
strict celibacy, if their efficiency is to be maintained,^ nd
especial pains are taken to secure this object. In the first
place, the strictest possible watch is kept over them, and, in
the second, the power of superstition is invoked. At one
of the palace gates, called significantly Agbo-dewe, i.e. the
Discovery Gate, is placed a potent fetish, who watches over
the conduct of the Amazons, and invariably discovers the
soldier who breaks the most important of the military laws.
The Amazons are so afraid of this fetish, that when one of
them has transgressed, she has been known to confess her
fault, and to give up the name of her partner in crime, even
with the knowledge that he will die a cruel death, and that
she will be severely punished, and probably executed by
her fellow-soldiers.

At a review witnessed by Mr. Duncan, model forts were
constructed of acacia thorns, which were heaped up into walls
of some sixty or seventy feet in thickness, and eight in height,
which would seem to be simply impregnable to a barefooted
soldiery. "Within the forts were built strong pens seven feet
in height, inside of which were cooped up a vast number of
male and female slaves belonging to the king.

The review began by the Amazons forming with shouldered
arms about two hundred feet in front of the strong fort, and
waiting for the word of command. As soon as it was given,
they rushed forward, charged the solid fence as though thorns
were powerless against their bare feet, dashed over it, tore
down the fence, and returned to the king in triumph, leading
with them the captured slaves, and exhibiting also the scalps
of warriors who had fallen in previous battles, but who were
conventionally supposed to have perished on the present
occasion. So rapid and fierce was the attack, that scarcely a


minute had elapsed after the word of command was given,
before the women were seen returning with their captives.

A portion of the Amazons are called the Razor-women.
This curious body is intended for striking terror into the
euemy, being armed with a large razor that looks exactly as
if it had been made for the clown in a pantomime. The
number of the Amazonian army is said to be about five

When any one presents himself before the king, he ap-
proaches on his hands and knees, or wriggling like a snake,
and prostrates himself flat on his face, kissing the ground,
and throwing dust all over his person. When the king holds
his court, several skulls of powerful chiefs whom he has slain
are set before him. Their exhibition is considered a mark
of honor to their former owners.

A procession which escorted the king at Agabome, the real
capital, at the commencement of a public celebration lasting
several days, has been described as follows :

" First came a long line of chiefs, distinguished by their
flags and umbrellas, and after marching once round the large
space or square, they crossed over and formed a line of um-
brellas opposite the gateway. Then came the royal proces-
sion itself, headed by skirmishers, and led by a man carrying
one of the skull-topped banners. After these came some five
hundred musketeers, and behind them marched two men car-
rying leathern shields painted white, and decorated with a
pattern in black. These are highly valued, as remnants of
the old times when shields were used in warfare, and were
accompanied by a guard of tall negroes, wearing brass helmets
and black horse-tails.

" Next came the kafo, or emblem of royalty, namely, an
iron fetish-stick enclosed in a white linen case, topped with a
white plume ; and after the kafo came the king, riding under
the shadow of four white umbrellas, and further sheltered
from the sun by three parasols, yellow, purple, and bluish-red.
These were waved over him so as to act as fans."

On a subsequent day there was a procession of hunchbacks,


who are assembled in troops of both sexes at the palace. The
chief of them wielded a formidable whip, and, having arms
of great length and muscular power, easily cut a way for his
followers through the dense crowd.

" The evening of the fourth day is the dreaded Evil Night,
on which the king walks in solemn procession to the market-
place, where the chief executioner with his own hand puts to
death those victims who have been reserved. The precise
nature of the proceedings is not known, as none are allowed
to leave their houses except the king and his retinue ; and
any one who is foolish enough to break this law is carried off
at once to swell the list of victims. It is said that the king
speaks to the men, charging them with messages to his dead
father, telling him that his memory is revered, and that a
number of new attendants have been sent to him, and with
his own hand striking the first blow, the others being slain
by the regular executioner."

A fearful series of ceremonies, called the Grand Customs,
and occupying several days, take place at the decease of a
king, during which some five hundred victims of both sexes
are said to be sacrificed.

These victims are not simple subjects of the king, selected
for the sacrifice, but are generally criminals or prisoners of
war, who are reserved for this and other similar occasions.

Being intended as attendants of the late king, they are well
treated as prisoners, as it would be considered bad policy for
a king to send to his father a messenger who was ill-disposed
toward him, for fear he would give bad reports to the dead
sovereign. In spite of their impending fate, the victims are
said to be cheerful and contented, and to look upon the pre-
ceding ceremonies with manifest curiosity.

" On the day of the Grand Custom the king appears on a
platform, decorated according to Dahomian ideas in a most
gorgeous manner. Around him are his favorite wives and
his principal officers, each of the latter being distinguished
by his great umbrella. Below is a vast and surging crowd of
both sexes, wild with excitement and rum, and rending the


air with their yells of welcome to their sovereign. The cries
and yells gradually resolve themselves into praises of the king,
and appeals to his bounty :

" ' We are hungry, O King,' they cry. ( Feed us, O King,
for we are hungry !'

" This ominous demand is repeated .with increasing fury,
until the vast crowd have lashed themselves to a pitch of
savage fury, which nothing but blood can appease. And
blood they have in plenty. The victims are now brought
forward, each being gagged in order to prevent him from
crying out to the king for mercy, in which case he must be
immediately released, and they are firmly secured by being
lashed inside baskets, so that they can move neither head,
hand, nor foot. At the sight of the victims the yells of the
crowd below redouble, and the air is rent with the cry,

" ' "We are hungry ! Feed us, O King.'

" Presently the deafening yells are hushed into a death-like
.silence, as the king rises, and with his own hand or foot
pushes one of the victims off the platform into the midst of
the crowd below. The helpless wretch falls into the out-
stretched arms of the eager crowd. Sometimes a tower
higher than the platform is built, from which the victims are
hurled to the crowd below."

The whole population of Dahomey proper has been esti-
mated at two hundred thousand, and the kingdom is said to
be rapidly on the wane.

Easterly of Dahomey, and between that kingdom and the
Niger, are the countries of Yoruba and Benin, which, with
Dahomey, occupy all the sea front known as the Slave Coast
so called from the great number of slaves who have been
shipped from this section.

Yoruba, which adjoins Dahomey, is of large area, and was
once united under one sovereign ; subsequently it was divided
into several petty tribes and governments. Its predominating
inhabitants are now the Egbas, who, worried and threatened
by slave hunters, established themselves, some forty-five years
ago, at a place distant from the sea coast, which was afterwards



called Understone, or Abeokuta, from a cavern where they
found shelter from the slave-hunters. In 1853 the population
was estimated at 100,000.

Abeokuta, the capital of the Egbas, was watched with a
jealous eye "by the king of Dahomey, and in March 1851, at
the head of fifteen thousand Dahomian soldiers, he made a
desperate assault upon the place, but was met with an unex-
pected and spirited resistance.

A fierce fight ensued, and the Dahomians were obliged to
retreat with a loss of about two thousand. The Amazons
fought as usual with great fury, and desperately defended
the king when he was in imminent danger of being taken
prisoner. The Egba loss was comparatively small, as the
place was surrounded with several lines of fortifications. In
their emergency, they were trained to defend the place by an
American missionary who was residing there at the time.

Some fifteen years later another Dahomian army attacked
Abeokuta, and was repulsed with a loss of four thousand
killed, and fifteen hundred as prisoners. They also left behind
them their cannon and other weapons, and the Dahomian
king lost several of his wives and daughters, his horse, ward-
robe, and worst of all his carriages. The Egba loss was
very small.

In the prime of life the Egba men are remarkable for their
fine forms, and the extreme ugliness of their features. They
have thick lips, and receding chins ; they tatto themselves
profusely, and when in the fashion, dye their hands and feet
with redwood. Every man carries in his hand a club or knob-
kerry, which is sometimes bound with wire arid studded with
nails. Rings of metal are worn on the legs, ankles, arms,
etc., and around the neck are strings of beads, and other

The forms of salutation at meeting are varied and minute.
" If an inferior meet a superior, a son meet his mother, a
younger brother meet his elder, and so on, an elaborate cer-
emony is performed. Any burden that may be carried is
placed on the ground, and the bearer proceeds first to kneel


on all fours, then to prostrate himself fiat in the dust, rubbing
the earth with the forehead and each cheek alternately. The
next process is to kiss the ground, and this ceremony is fol-
lowed by passing each hand down the opposite arm. The
dust is again kissed, and not until then does the saluter resume
his feet.

" This salutation is only perf ormed once daily to the same
person; but as almost every one knows every one whom he
meets, and as one of them must of necessity be inferior to the
other, a vast amount of salutation has to be got through in
the course of a day. Sometimes two men meet who are nearly
equal, and in such a case both squat on the ground, and snap
their fingers."

The houses in Abeokuta are of tempered mud covered
with roofs of thatch. The rooms are windowless, and kept
dark to keep out the sun. The furniture consists of rude
cots, benches, earthen pots, plates, old weapons, and some-
times an old musket. There is generally but one outside
door, and that has charms suspended over it.

In human sacrifice it is believed the Egbas follow the prac-
tices of the Dahomians, though on a much smaller scale ; and
they are more reticent on the subject. Yictims are sacrificed
when a great man dies, and are supposed to become his attend-
ants in the spirit world.

" The chief of the Egbas is known by the name of the
Alake. He does not reign supreme, like the King of Da-
home or Ashanti, before whom the highest in the realm pros-
trate themselves and roll humbly in the dust. He is tram-
meled with a number of counselors and officers, and with a
sort of parliament called the Bale, which is composed of the
head men or chiefs of the various towns.

" Okekunu, the Alake at the time when Captain Burton
lived in Abeokuta, was an ill-favored, petulent, and cunning
old ruler. In his way, he was fond of state, and delighted to
exhibit his power.

" If he goes to pay a visit, he must needs do so under a
huge pink umbrella, at the end of a motley procession. At


the head is carried the sacred emblem of royalty, a wooden
stool covered with coarse red serge, which is surrounded by
a number of chiefs, who pay the greatest attention to it. A
long train of ragged swordsmen followed ; and last came the
Alake, clothed in a " Guinea-fowl " shirt a spotted article
of some value and a great red velvet robe under which he
tottered along with much difficulty. He wears trousers of
good purple velvet with a stripe of gold tinsel, and on his
feet are huge slippers, edged with monkey skin.

" On his head he wears a sort of fez cap of crimson velvet,
the effect of which is ruined by a number of blue beads hung
fringe-wise round the top. The string of red coral beads hangs
round the neck, and a double bracelet of the same material is
wound upon each wrist.

" When he receives a visitor, he displays his grandeur by
making his visitors wait for a time proportionate to their
rank ; but in case they should be of great consequence, he
alleviates the tediousness of the time by sending them rum
and gin, both of the very worst quality.

" To a stranger, the palace presents a mean and ugly appear-
ance. It is a tumble-down, long and rambling, and has
several courts. The veranda, or antechamber, is filled with
the great men of Abeokuta, and they are the most villanous-
looking set of men that can well be conceived.

"Their skulls were depressed in front, and projecting

Online LibraryJosiah TylerLivingstone lost and found → online text (page 4 of 51)