Abeokuta and the Camaroons Mountains. An Exploration.

by Richard Francis Burton.

First edition of 1863 in two volumes.
Tinsley Brothers: London.

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Volume 2 PDF Page Images


IT is an explorer's duty to record as well as to receive impressions of what appears novel to him. Amongst the English, Robert Bruce and Mungo Park ; Adan- son and the Abbé Rochon amongst the French ; and amongst the Germans, Humboldt, the ' Prince of Travellers,' were so mindful of this obligation, that they spent long years in polishing their journals ; and they owe at least as much—if not more—of their enduring celebrity to their admirable descriptions as to the extent of their discoveries and the accuracy of their observations. Let us follow—however humbly—in their wake without repining. Such, however, is by no means the case with contemporaries: in these days every little leader of an expedition, forgetting that scribere est agere? finds a ready salve for sore vanity by writing as it were under protest, and by assuming the superiority of one who boasts that it is his peculiar province to do—not to write.

But, quorsum hcec tarn putida tendunt ? Abeokuta - Understone—the present capital of the Egba or Aku race, and without comparison the most important position in the broad lands which we know by the name of Yoruba, is, as might be expected, a ' trita via.' Four volumes upon the subject have been alluded to in the following pages. Two of these are by the weaker sex; and the authoresses, who are not travellers, have produced neat little drawing-room sketches, all couleur de rose; the African as you see him upon the walls of the Royal Academy, now dressed up and musqué, now subjected to the old stock horrors—slave-driving, for instance—which he is made to endure with all the gestures of a Briton : it is, in fact, Ethiopia viewed through European eyes — Africa by the ' own artist ' of the ' Illustrated News.' The other two are in the missionary-African line ; they, of course, run in a well-known groove. Without quoting the old saw, 'semper aliquid noci ex Africa,' there is still much to say upon the well- worn subject of Abeokuta. And the tale of an unenthusiastic traveller, who tells the truth as far as truth lies in him, cannot fail, even when treating of Yoruba, to convey some novel facts.

The land which for fifteen years has interested us by its rumoured progress—the reverend and learned author of ' Westward Ho !' speaks of the blood-stained its of Dahome being rolled back by 'Christian Abeokuta ' at a time when there was about one convert, or ' professor,' to one thousand of the heathenry — and by the equally fanciful reports that it will supply our idle looms with cotton, has now entered into fresh and closer relations with the British empire. Lagos, distant about sixty miles from the head-quarters of the Egbas, has become an English colony, and will necessarily influence, for weal or for woe, all adjacent countries. It may extend its moral force throughout Yoruba, and become valuable, not only as a depot of, and an outlet for, trade, but also, by aiding to abolish slave exportation, and by causing human sacrifice and petty wars to cease, it may save our country a considerable portion of the million sterling annually expended upon the West African ' coffin-squadron.' As yet, however, our steps have not been in the right direction. It will presently appear that we have petted our bantling Abeokuta, and that the spoiled child has waxed fat and kicked—as the proverb says—against the foreign pricks. We have aroused the ever wakeful suspicions of the barbarian, and he has not been slow in entering upon energetic measures : of this, however, more hereafter. I have attempted to point out in these pages the simple measures—our West African policy has hitherto erred rather by commission than by omission—which, in my humble opinion, will secure our influence upon the sea-board of Yoruba.

The Second Part of this work has been made a pendant to the First, and the reader will readily perceive the reason. The Camaroons Mountains, partially familiar to geographers for the last four hundred years, have remained, as far as exploration is concerned, virgin ground with a virgin flora, a virgin climate ; in fact, virginal all. Captain John Adams (p. 178, ' Remarks on the Country extending from Cape Palmas to the River Congo.' London : 1823) may be quoted to prove this : ' A few leagues to the southward of Del Key there are some moderately high hills, called the high land of Camaroons, the altitudes of which have been much magnified by some travellers, who were probably deceived in consequence of the surrounding country being a few feet only above the level of the sea, which gave them, in their eyes, a degree of consequence they would not have merited had they been placed in an elevated country.' Of late, two stout-hearted attempts have been made to scale these glorious heights, but by force of circumstances neither of them proved successful. I could not but break a lance with a foe so formidable ; and fate willed the trial not to end in failure. It was hardly, however, the mere ambition of leaving my mark, to faire époque on Western Africa, that impelled me to the task. The desire of adventure was subsidiary to higher views. I need not now here enlarge upon the movement lately set on foot in British India ; suffice it to say, there will not be, we progressists fondly believe, a single European regiment stationed permanently, twenty years hence, on the plains. If it be found advisable in comparatively salubrious Hindostán to establish, hill sanitaria, it becomes a necessity for the yellow- fever haunted coast of Western Africa. And I hope to make it evident that the Camaroons Mountains tract is admirably adapted, not only for a sanitarium, but for a convict station, where those expecting tickets of leave can undergo a fair trial, and where the incurables can be employed in expiating, by useful labour, the outrages which they have committed upon society. And, finally, a colony, selected from the 45,000 negroes, who, instead of loafing about Canada—a Canadian once told me that if anything could reconcile him to slavery it was the presence of these fugitives—might here do valuable work in lumber cutting, cacao growing, exporting the fibre and meal of the plaintain, and expressing cocoa-nut and palm oil.

In the conclusion to Vol. II., I have attempted to suggest the readiest and most efficient method of attaining a result so truly advisable. The personnel of our ' international expedition,' we called it, numbered six members, D. Calvo Atilano Iturburu, of Fernando Po; Messrs. Saker and Smith, of the 'Camaroons Mission ;' M. Gustav Mann, Government botanist in West Africa; my factotum Selini Aga, and myself. We assumed the right, concessible only in a ' no man's land,' of christening the several peaks: the loftiest was honoured with the name of our Most Gracious Sovereign, and, from the highest Lady in the kingdom, we gradually descended to friends and relatives.

The brief and popular notices of the vegetation upon the Camaroons Mountains are exclusively the work of M. Mann. To the kindness of Sir William Hooker I owe the list of specimens collected during our visit to that interesting region ; and Dr. Gray has obliged me with the names of the small animals that were stuffed by Selim Aga. These important additions are inserted in the Appendix, and I here record my gratitude for all favours received.

The daily thermometric observations were registered by M. Mann, and during his illness by Selim Aga under my inspection. Many of the bearings taken for the map, which was protracted by Mr. George, of the Royal Geographical Society, are the work of the Rev. A. Saker, whose energetic assistance was one of the main causes of our success. Without the aid of that gentleman, and of Messrs. Johnson and Pinnock, of Victoria, our progress would indeed have been slow. Unfortunately we were badly provided with instruments ; neither chronometer, anemometer, sympiesometer, nor mercurial barometer for correcting aneroids were in the camp : I had applied for them, but they had not arrived. As in the Hydrographie Office chart the main points visible from the sea have been laid down by a satisfactory triangulation, we confined ourselves to the prismatic compass ; and I taped the road with a line supplied by Lieut. Stokes, E.N., H.M.S. ' Bloodhound.' A pathway up the mountains is now, we may say, permanently opened ; Victoria Bay is within a few hours' sail of Fernando Po ; and I may venture to promise that, if any questions of interest are forwarded to me from Europe, they shall be answered to the best of my power—life and health enduring— in the course of the next dry season.

I assume nothing on this occasion beyond the modest character of a reconnoitrer. A writer in the 'Times' has lately given to my last African explorations in Harar and the Lake Eegions the title of reconnaissances. C'est bien le mot. I accept it as the best description of my scanty contributions towards the extension of geographical knowledge in the ' dark continent,' and accordingly it is prefixed to the Second Part of this work.

It may be satisfactory to my friends to know that, on this occasion, favoured by his own good fortune, or rather by the misfortunes of others, an Englishman was the first who, standing upon Victoria Mountain, gazed into the gigantic black chasm that yawned at his feet. And—here I speak for my companions—it is also pleasant to reflect that the name of Europeans will hereafter be respected in the region through which we travelled. The Appendices are—

1st. A description of the Ambozes, or Camaroons Country, by M. J. Grazilhier, who in 1699 made a voyage to Old Calabar—extracted from Barbot.

2nd. The journal of the late Mr. Merrick, of the Camaroons Mission, who, as far as is known, first attempted to ascend the mountain : it is borrowed from the ' Baptist Missionary Herald.'

3rd. Sir William Hooker's list of the botanical specimens collected upon the Camaroons Mountains by M. Gustav Mann.

4th. Dr. Gray's descriptions of the animals forwarded to the British Museum, at the end of the Camaroons explorations.

5th. Letters, official reports, and memorandum, on the high land of Camaroons, by the late Mr. M'Gregor Laird and the Rev. A. Sakcr ( reprinted from the Blue Book of 1857).

6th. Meteorological observations, by M. Gustav Mann and Selim Aga.

7th. Hypsometrical table.

With the firm expectation of seeing, quamprimum, a sanitarium for the feverish denizens of Lagos, the Oil Rivers, and Fernando Po, established in this region of health and future plenty, and hoping that the public will honour my labours with its approval, I relieve the reader from the tedium of a longer preface.

Fernando Po, 1863.