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Mungo Park was born on the 10th of September, 1771, the son of a
farmer at Fowlshiels, near Selkirk. After studying medicine in
Edinburgh, he went out, at the age of twenty-one, assistant-surgeon
in a ship bound for the East Indies. When he came back the African
Society was in want of an explorer, to take the place of Major
Houghton, who had died. Mungo Park volunteered, was accepted, and
in his twenty-fourth year, on the 22nd of May, 1795, he sailed for
the coasts of Senegal, where he arrived in June.

Thence he proceeded on the travels of which this book is the record.
He was absent from England for a little more than two years and a
half; returned a few days before Christmas, 1797. He was then
twenty-six years old. The African Association published the first
edition of his travels as "Travels in the Interior Districts of
Africa, 1795-7, by Mungo Park, with an Appendix containing
Geographical Illustrations of Africa, by Major Rennell."

Park married, and settled at Peebles in medical practice, but was
persuaded by the Government to go out again. He sailed from
Portsmouth on the 30th of January, 1805, resolved to trace the Niger
to its source or perish in the attempt. He perished. The natives
attacked him while passing through a narrow strait of the river at
Boussa, and killed him, with all that remained of his party, except
one slave. The record of this fatal voyage, partly gathered from
his journals, and closed by evidences of the manner of his death,
was first published in 1815, as "The Journal of a Mission to the
Interior of Africa in 1805, by Mungo Park, together with other
Documents, Official and Private, relating to the same Mission. To
which is prefixed an Account of the Life of Mr. Park."

H. M.


Soon after my return from the East Indies in 1793, having learned
that the noblemen and gentlemen associated for the purpose of
prosecuting discoveries in the interior of Africa were desirous of
engaging a person to explore that continent, by the way of the
Gambia river, I took occasion, through means of the President of the
Royal Society, to whom I had the honour to be known, of offering
myself for that service. I had been informed that a gentleman of
the name of Houghton, a captain in the army, and formerly fort-major
at Goree, had already sailed to the Gambia, under the direction of
the Association, and that there was reason to apprehend he had
fallen a sacrifice to the climate, or perished in some contest with
the natives. But this intelligence, instead of deterring me from my
purpose, animated me to persist in the offer of my services with the
greater solicitude. I had a passionate desire to examine into the
productions of a country so little known, and to become
experimentally acquainted with the modes of life and character of
the natives. I knew that I was able to bear fatigue, and I relied
on my youth and the strength of my constitution to preserve me from
the effects of the climate. The salary which the committee allowed
was sufficiently large, and I made no stipulation for future reward.
If I should perish in my journey, I was willing that my hopes and
expectations should perish with me; and if I should succeed in
rendering the geography of Africa more familiar to my countrymen,
and in opening to their ambition and industry new sources of wealth
and new channels of commerce, I knew that I was in the hands of men
of honour, who would not fail to bestow that remuneration which my
successful services should appear to them to merit. The committee
of the Association having made such inquiries as they thought
necessary, declared themselves satisfied with the qualifications
that I possessed, and accepted me for the service; and, with that
liberality which on all occasions distinguishes their conduct, gave
me every encouragement which it was in their power to grant, or
which I could with propriety ask.

It was at first proposed that I should accompany Mr. James Willis,
who was then recently appointed consul at Senegambia, and whose
countenance in that capacity, it was thought, might have served and
protected me; but Government afterwards rescinded his appointment,
and I lost that advantage. The kindness of the committee, however,
supplied all that was necessary. Being favoured by the secretary of
the Association, the late Henry Beaufoy, Esq., with a recommendation
to Dr. John Laidley (a gentleman who had resided many years at an
English factory on the banks of the Gambia), and furnished with a
letter of credit on him for 200 pounds, I took my passage in the
brig Endeavour - a small vessel trading to the Gambia for beeswax and
ivory, commanded by Captain Richard Wyatt - and I became impatient
for my departure.

My instructions were very plain and concise. I was directed, on my
arrival in Africa, "to pass on to the river Niger, either by way of
Bambouk, or by such other route as should be found most convenient.
That I should ascertain the course, and, if possible, the rise and
termination of that river. That I should use my utmost exertions to
visit the principal towns or cities in its neighbourhood,
particularly Timbuctoo and Houssa; and that I should be afterwards
at liberty to return to Europe, either by the way of the Gambia, or
by such other route as, under all the then existing circumstances of
my situation and prospects, should appear to me to be most

We sailed from Portsmouth on the 22nd day of May, 1795. On the 4th
of June we saw the mountains over Mogadore, on the coast of Africa;
and on the 21st of the same month, after a pleasant voyage of thirty
days, we anchored at Jillifrey, a town on the northern bank of the
river Gambia, opposite to James's Island, where the English had
formerly a small fort.

The kingdom of Barra, in which the town of Jillifrey is situated,
produces great plenty of the necessaries of life; but the chief
trade of the inhabitants is in salt, which commodity they carry up
the river in canoes as high as Barraconda, and bring down in return
Indian corn, cotton cloths, elephants' teeth, small quantities of
gold dust, &c. The number of canoes and people constantly employed
in this trade makes the king of Barra more formidable to Europeans
than any other chieftain on the river; and this circumstance
probably encouraged him to establish those exorbitant duties which
traders of all nations are obliged to pay at entry, amounting to
nearly 20 pounds on every vessel, great and small. These duties or
customs are generally collected in person by the alkaid, or governor
of Jillifrey, and he is attended on these occasions by a numerous
train of dependants, among whom are found many who, by their
frequent intercourse with the English, have acquired a smattering of
our language: but they are commonly very noisy and very
troublesome, begging for everything they fancy with such earnestness
and importunity, that traders, in order to get quit of them, are
frequently obliged to grant their requests.

On the 23rd we departed from Jillifrey, and proceeded to Vintain, a
town situated about two miles up a creek on the southern side of the
river. This place is much resorted to by Europeans on account of
the great quantities of beeswax which are brought hither for sale;
the wax is collected in the woods by the Feloops, a wild and
unsociable race of people. Their country, which is of considerable
extent, abounds in rice; and the natives supply the traders, both on
the Gambia and Cassamansa rivers, with that article, and also with
goats and poultry, on very reasonable terms. The honey which they
collect is chiefly used by themselves in making a strong
intoxicating liquor, much the same as the mead which is produced
from honey in Great Britain.

In their traffic with Europeans, the Feloops generally employ a
factor or agent of the Mandingo nation, who speaks a little English,
and is acquainted with the trade of the river. This broker makes
the bargain; and, with the connivance of the European, receives a
certain part only of the payment, which he gives to his employer as
the whole; the remainder (which is very truly called the cheating
money) he receives when the Feloop is gone, and appropriates to
himself as a reward for his trouble.

The language of the Feloops is appropriate and peculiar; and as
their trade is chiefly conducted, as hath been observed, by
Mandingoes, the Europeans have no inducement to learn it.

On the 26th we left Vintain, and continued our course up the river,
anchoring whenever the tide failed us, and frequently towing the
vessel with the boat. The river is deep and muddy; the banks are
covered with impenetrable thickets of mangrove; and the whole of the
adjacent country appears to be flat and swampy.

The Gambia abounds with fish, some species of which are excellent
food; but none of them that I recollect are known in Europe. At the
entrance from the sea sharks are found in great abundance, and,
higher up, alligators and the hippopotamus (or river-horse) are very

In six days after leaving Vintain we reached Jonkakonda, a place of
considerable trade, where our vessel was to take in part of her
lading. The next morning the several European traders came from
their different factories to receive their letters, and learn the
nature and amount of her cargo; and the captain despatched a
messenger to Dr. Laidley to inform him of my arrival. He came to
Jonkakonda the morning following, when I delivered him Mr. Beaufoy's
letter, and he gave me a kind invitation to spend my time at his
house until an opportunity should offer of prosecuting my journey.
This invitation was too acceptable to be refused, and being
furnished by the Doctor with a horse and guide, I set out from
Jonkakonda at daybreak on the 5th of July, and at eleven o'clock
arrived at Pisania, where I was accommodated with a room and other
conveniences in the Doctor's house.

Pisania is a small village in the king of Yany's dominions,
established by British subjects as a factory for trade, and
inhabited solely by them and their black servants. It is situated
on the banks of the Gambia, sixteen miles above Jonkakonda. The
white residents, at the time of may arrival there, consisted only of
Dr. Laidley, and two gentlemen who were brothers, of the name of
Ainsley; but their domestics were numerous. They enjoyed perfect
security under the king's protection, and being highly esteemed and
respected by the natives at large, wanted no accommodation or
comfort which the country could supply, and the greatest part of the
trade in slaves, ivory, and gold was in their hands.

Being now settled for some time at my ease, my first object was to
learn the Mandingo tongue, being the language in almost general use
throughout this part of Africa, and without which I was fully
convinced that I never could acquire an extensive knowledge of the
country or its inhabitants. In this pursuit I was greatly assisted
by Dr. Laidley.

In researches of this kind, and in observing the manners and customs
of the natives, in a country so little known to the nations of
Europe, and furnished with so many striking and uncommon objects of
nature, my time passed not unpleasantly, and I began to flatter
myself that I had escaped the fever, or seasoning, to which
Europeans, on their first arrival in hot climates, are generally
subject. But on the 31st of July I imprudently exposed myself to
the night-dew in observing an eclipse of the moon, with a view to
determine the longitude of the place; the next day I found myself
attacked with a smart fever and delirium, and such an illness
followed as confined me to the house during the greatest part of
August. My recovery was very slow, but I embraced every short
interval of convalescence to walk out, and make myself acquainted
with the productions of the country.

In one of those excursions, having rambled farther than usual, on a
hot day, I brought on a return of my fever, and on the 10th of
September I was again confined to my bed. The fever, however, was
not so violent as before; and in the course of three weeks I was
able, when the weather would permit, to renew my botanical
excursions; and when it rained, I amused myself with drawing plants,
&c., in my chamber. The care and attention of Dr. Laidley
contributed greatly to alleviate my sufferings; his company and
conversation beguiled the tedious hours during that gloomy season,
when the rain falls in torrents; when suffocating heats oppress by
day, and when the night is spent by the terrified travellers in
listening to the croaking of frogs (of which the numbers are beyond
imagination), the shrill cry of the jackal, and the deep howling of
the hyaena, a dismal concert, interrupted only by the roar of such
tremendous thunder as no person can form a conception of but those
who have heard it.

The country itself being an immense level, and very generally
covered with wood, presents a tiresome and gloomy uniformity to the
eye; but although Nature has denied to the inhabitants the beauties
of romantic landscapes, she has bestowed on them, with a liberal
hand, the more important blessings of fertility and abundance. A
little attention to cultivation procures a sufficiency of corn, the
fields afford a rich pasturage for cattle, and the natives are
plentifully supplied with excellent fish, both from the Gambia river
and the Walli creek.

The grains which are chiefly cultivated are - Indian corn (zea mays);
two kinds of holcus spicatus, called by the natives soono and sanio;
holcus niger, and holcus bicolor, the former of which they have
named bassi woolima, and the latter bassiqui. These, together with
rice, are raised in considerable quantities; besides which, the
inhabitants in the vicinity of the towns and villages have gardens
which produce onions, calavances, yams, cassavi, ground nuts,
pompions, gourds, water-melons, and some other esculent plants.

I observed likewise, near the towns, small patches of cotton and
indigo. The former of these articles supplies them with clothing,
and with the latter they dye their cloth of an excellent blue
colour, in a manner that will hereafter be described.

In preparing their corn for food, the natives use a large wooden
mortar called a paloon, in which they bruise the seed until it parts
with the outer covering, or husk, which is then separated from the
clean corn by exposing it to the wind, nearly in the same manner as
wheat is cleared from the chaff in England. The corn thus freed
from the husk is returned to the mortar and beaten into meal, which
is dressed variously in different countries; but the most common
preparation of it among the nations of the Gambia is a sort of
pudding which they call kouskous. It is made by first moistening
the flour with water, and then stirring and shaking it about in a
large calabash, or gourd, till it adheres together in small granules
resembling sago. It is then put into an earthen pot, whose bottom
is perforated with a number of small holes; and this pot being
placed upon another, the two vessels are luted together either with
a paste of meal and water, or with cows' dung, and placed upon the
fire. In the lower vessel is commonly some animal food and water,
the steam or vapour of which ascends through the perforations in the
bottom of the upper vessel, and softens and the kouskous, which is
very much esteemed throughout all the countries that I visited. I
am informed that the same manner of preparing flour is very
generally used on the Barbary coast, and that the dish so prepared
is there called by the same name. It is therefore probable that the
negroes borrowed the practice from the Moors.

Their domestic animals are nearly the same as in Europe. Swine are
found in the woods, but their flesh is not esteemed. Probably the
marked abhorrence in which this animal is held by the votaries of
Mohammed has spread itself among the pagans. Poultry of all kinds,
the turkey excepted, is everywhere to be had. The guinea-fowl and
red partridge abound in the fields, and the woods furnish a small
species of antelope, of which the venison is highly and deservedly

Of the other wild animals in the Mandingo countries, the most common
are the hyaena, the panther, and the elephant. Considering the use
that is made of the latter in the East Indies, it may be thought
extraordinary that the natives of Africa have not, in any part of
this immense continent, acquired the skill of taming this powerful
and docile creature, and applying his strength and faculties to the
service of man. When I told some of the natives that this was
actually done in the countries of the East, my auditors laughed me
to scorn, and exclaimed, "Tobaubo fonnio!" ("A white man's lie!")
The negroes frequently find means to destroy the elephant by
firearms; they hunt it principally for the sake of the teeth, which
they transfer in barter to those who sell them again to the
Europeans. The flesh they eat, and consider it as a great delicacy.

On the 6th of October the waters of the Gambia were at the greatest
height, being fifteen feet above the high-water mark of the tide,
after which they began to subside, at first slowly, but afterwards
very rapidly, sometimes sinking more than a foot in twenty-four
hours. By the beginning of November the river had sunk to its
former level, and the tide ebbed and flowed as usual. When the
river had subsided, and the atmosphere grew dry, I recovered apace,
and began to think of my departure, for this is reckoned the most
proper season for travelling. The natives had completed their
harvest, and provisions were everywhere cheap and plentiful.

Dr. Laidley was at this time employed in a trading voyage at
Jonkakonda. I wrote to him to desire that he would use his interest
with the slatees, or slave-merchants, to procure me the company and
protection of the first coffle (or caravan) that might leave Gambia
for the interior country; and, in the meantime, I requested him to
purchase for me a horse and two asses. A few days afterwards the
Doctor returned to Pisania, and informed me that a coffle would
certainly go for the interior in the course of the dry season; but
that, as many of the merchants belonging to it had not yet completed
their assortment of goods, he could not say at what time they would
set out.

As the characters and dispositions of the slatees, and people that
composed the caravan, were entirely unknown to me - and as they
seemed rather averse to my purpose, and unwilling to enter into any
positive engagements on my account - and the time of their departure
being withal very uncertain, I resolved, on further deliberation, to
avail myself of the dry season, and proceed without them.

Dr. Laidley approved my determination, and promised me every
assistance in his power to enable me to prosecute my journey with
comfort and safety.

This resolution having been formed, I made preparations accordingly.

And now, being about to take leave of my hospitable friend (whose
kindness and solicitude continued to the moment of my departure),
and to quit for many months the countries bordering on the Gambia,
it seems proper, before I proceed with my narrative, that I should
in this place give some account of the several negro nations which
inhabit the banks of this celebrated river, and the commercial
intercourse that subsists between them, and such of the nations of
Europe as find their advantage in trading to this part of Africa.
The observations which have occurred to me on both these subjects
will be found in the following chapter.


The natives of the countries bordering on the Gambia, though
distributed into a great many distinct governments, may, I think, be
divided into four great classes - the Feloops, the Jaloffs, the
Foulahs, and the Mandingoes. Among all these nations, the religion
of Mohammed has made, and continues to make, considerable progress;
but in most of them the body of the people, both free and enslaved,
persevere in maintaining the blind but harmless superstitions of
their ancestors, and are called by the Mohammedans kafirs, or

Of the Feloops, I have little to add to what has been observed
concerning them in the former chapter. They are of a gloomy
disposition, and are supposed never to forgive an injury. They are
even said to transmit their quarrels as deadly feuds to their
posterity, insomuch that a son considers it as incumbent on him,
from a just sense of filial obligation, to become the avenger of his
deceased father's wrongs. If a man loses his life in one of these
sudden quarrels which perpetually occur at their feasts, when the
whole party is intoxicated with mead, his son, or the eldest of his
sons (if he has more than one), endeavours to procure his father's
sandals, which he wears ONCE A YEAR, on the anniversary of his
father's death, until a fit opportunity offers of revenging his
fate, when the object of his resentment seldom escapes his pursuit.
This fierce and unrelenting disposition is, however, counterbalanced
by many good qualities: they display the utmost gratitude and
affection towards their benefactors, and the fidelity with which
they preserve whatever is entrusted to them is remarkable. During
the present war, they have more than once taken up arms to defend
our merchant vessels from French privateers; and English property of
considerable value has frequently been left at Vintain for a long
time entirely under the care of the Feloops, who have uniformly
manifested on such occasions the strictest honesty and punctuality.
How greatly is it to be wished that the minds of a people so
determined and faithful could be softened and civilised by the mild
and benevolent spirit of Christianity!

The Jaloffs (or Yaloffs) are an active, powerful, and warlike race,
inhabiting great part of that tract which lies between the river
Senegal and the Mandingo states on the Gambia; yet they differ from
the Mandingoes not only in language, but likewise in complexion and
features. The noses of the Jaloffs are not so much depressed, nor
the lips so protuberant, as among the generality of Africans; and
although their skin is of the deepest black, they are considered by
the white traders as the most sightly negroes on this part of the

Their language is said to be copious and significant, and is often
learnt by Europeans trading to Senegal.

The Foulahs (or Pholeys), such of them at least as reside near the
Gambia, are chiefly of a tawny complexion, with soft silky hair, and
pleasing features. They are much attached to a pastoral life, and
have introduced themselves into all the kingdoms on the windward
coast as herdsmen and husbandmen, paying a tribute to the sovereign
of the country for the lands which they hold. Not having many
opportunities, however, during my residence at Pisania, of improving
my acquaintance with these people, I defer entering at large into
their character until a fitter occasion occurs, which will present
itself when I come to Bondou.

The Mandingoes, of whom it remains to speak, constitute, in truth,
the bulk of the inhabitants in all those districts of Africa which I
visited; and their language, with a few exceptions, is universally
understood and very generally spoken in that part of the continent.

They are called Mandingoes, I conceive, as having originally
migrated from the interior state of Manding, of which some account
will hereafter be given.

In every considerable town there is a chief magistrate, called the
alkaid, whose office is hereditary, and whose business it is to
preserve order, to levy duties on travellers, and to preside at all
conferences in the exercise of local jurisdiction and the
administration of justice. These courts are composed of the elders
of the town (of free condition), and are termed palavers; and their
proceedings are conducted in the open air with sufficient solemnity.
Both sides of a question are freely canvassed, witnesses are
publicly examined, and the decisions which follow generally meet
with the approbation of the surrounding audience.

As the negroes have no written language of their own, the general
rule of decision is an appeal to ANCIENT CUSTOM; but since the
system of Mohammed has made so great progress among them, the
converts to that faith have gradually introduced, with the religious
tenets, many of the civil institutions of the prophet; and where the

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