“Allí o mui grande reino está de Congo,
Por nós ja convertido à fé de Christo,
Por onde o Zaire passa claro e longo,
Rio pelos antiguos nunca visto.”
“Here lies the Congo kingdom, great and strong,
Already led by us to Christian ways;
Where flows Zaïre, the river clear and long,
A stream unseen by men of olden days.”
The Lusiada, V. 13.
During the hot season of 1863, “Nanny Po,” as the civilized African calls this “lofty and beautiful island,” had become a charnel-house, a “dark and dismal tomb of Europeans.” The yellow fever of the last year, which wiped out in two months one-third of the white colony—more exactly, 78 out of 250—had not reappeared, but the conditions for its re-appearance were highly favourable. The earth was all water, the vegetation all slime, the air half steam, and the difference between wet and dry bulbs almost nil. Thoroughly dispirited for the first time, I was meditating how to escape, when H. M. Steamship “Torch” steamed into Clarence Cove, and Commander Smith hospitably offered me a passage down south. To hear was to accept. Two days afterwards (July 29, 1863) I bade a temporary “adios” to the enemy.
The bitterness of death remained behind as we passed out of the baneful Bights. Wind and wave were dead against us, yet I greatly enjoyed the gradual emerging of the sun through his shroud of “smokes;” the increasing consciousness that a moon and stars really exist; the soft blue haze of the sky, and the coolness of 73° F. at 6 A.M. in the captain’s cabin. I had also time to enjoy these charms. The “Torch” was not provided with “despatch-boilers:” she was profoundly worm-eaten, and a yard of copper, occasionally clapped on, did not prevent her making some four feet of water a day. So we rolled leisurely along the well-known Gaboon shore, and faintly sighted from afar Capes Lopez and St. Catherine, and the fringing ranges of Mayumba-land, a blue line of heights based upon gently rising banks, ruddy and white, probably of shaly clay. The seventh day (August 5) placed us off the well-known “red hills” of Loango-land.
The country looks high and bold after the desperate flatness of the Bights, and we note with pleasure that we have left behind us the “impervious luxuriance of vegetation which crowns the lowlands, covers the sides of the rises, and caps their summits.” During the rains after October the grass, now showing yellow stubble upon the ruddy, rusty plain, becomes a cane fence, ten to twelve feet tall; but instead of matted, felted jungle, knitted together by creepers of cable size, we have scattered clumps of dark, lofty, and broad-topped trees. A nearer view shows great cliffs, weather-worked into ravines and basins, ribs and ridges, towers and pinnacles. Above them is a joyful open land, apparently disposed in two successive dorsa or steps, with bright green tiers and terraces between, and these are pitted with the crater-like sinks locally called “holes,” so frequent in the Gaboon country. Southwards the beauty of eternal verdure will end, and the land will become drier, and therefore better fitted for Europeans, the nearer it approaches Mossamedes Bay. South of “Little Fish,” again, a barren tract of white sand will show the “Last Tree,” an inhospitable region, waterless, and bulwarked by a raging sea.
Loango is a “pool harbour,” like the ancient Portus Lemanus (Hythe), a spit of shingle, whose bay, north-east and south-west, forms an inner lagoon, bounded landwards by conspicuous and weather-tarnished red cliffs. This “lingula” rests upon a base of terra firma whose westernmost projection is Indian Point. From the latter runs northwards the “infamous” Indian Bar, compared by old sailors with a lengthened Bill of Portland; a reef some three miles long, which the waves assault with prodigious fury; a terror to slavers, especially in our autumn, when the squalls and storms begin. The light sandy soil of the mainland rests upon compact clay, and malaria rises only where the little drains, which should feed the lagoon, evaporate in swamps. Here and there are clumps of tall cocoas, a capot, pullom or wild cotton-tree, and a neat village upon prairie land, where stone is rare as on the Pampas. Southwards the dry tract falls into low and wooded ground.
The natural basin, entered by the north-east, is upwards of a mile in length, and the narrow, ever-shifting mouth is garnished with rocks, the sea breaking right across. Gunboats have floated over during the rains, but at dead low water in the dry season we would not risk the gig. Guided by a hut upon the beach fronting French Factory and under lee of the breakers off Indian Bar, I landed near a tree-motte, in a covelet smoothed by a succession of sandpits. The land sharks flocked down to drag the boat over the breakwater of shingle. They appeared small and effeminate after the burly negroes of the Bights, and their black but not comely persons were clad in red and white raiment. It is a tribe of bumboat men, speaking a few words of English, French, and Portuguese, and dealing in mats and pumpkins, parrots, and poultry, cages, and Fetish dolls called “idols.”
Half a mile of good sandy path led to the English Factory, built upon a hill giving a charming view. To the south-east, and some three miles inland from the centre of the bay, we were shown “Looboo Wood,” a thick motte conspicuously crowning a ridge, and forming a first-rate landmark. Its shades once sheltered the nyáre, locally called buffalo, the gorilla, and perhaps the more monstrous “impungu” (mpongo). Eastward of the Factory appears Chomfuku, the village of Jim Potter, with a tree-clad sink, compared by old voyagers with “the large chalkpit on Portsdown Hill,” and still much affected by picnickers. At Loanghili, or Loanguilli, south of Looboo Wood, and upon the right bank of a streamlet which trickles to the sea, is the cemetery, where the kings are buried in gun-boxes.
The Ma–Loango (for mwani, “lord” of Loango), the great despot who ruled as far as the Congo River, who used to eat in one house, drink in another, and put to death man or beast that saw him feeding, is a thing of the past. Yet five miles to the eastward (here held to be a day’s march) King Monoyambi governs “big Loango town,” whose modern native name, I was told, is Mangamwár. He shows his power chiefly by forbidding strangers to enter the interior.
The Factory (Messrs. Hatton and Cookson) was a poor affair of bamboos and mats, with partition-walls of the same material, and made pestilent by swamps to landward. Little work was then doing in palm oil, and the copper mines of the interior had ceased to send supplies. We borrowed hammocks to cross the swamps, and we found French Factory a contrast not very satisfactory to our insular pride. M. Charles de Gourlet, of the Maison Régis, was living, not in a native hut lacking all the necessaries of civilized man, but in a double-storied stone house, with barracoons, hospital, public room, orchestra, and so forth, intended for the “emigrants.” Instead of water, the employés had excellent cognac and vermouth, and a succulent cuisine replaced the poor Britishers’ two barrels of flour and biscuit. No wonder that in our half-starved fellow countrymen we saw little of the “national failing, a love of extravagant adventure.” The Frenchmen shoot, or at least go out shooting, twice a week, they walk to picnics, learn something of the language, and see something of the country. They had heard a native tradition of Mr. Gorilla’s “big brother,” but they could give no details.
I will conclude this chapter with a notice of what has taken place on the Loango Coast a decade after my departure. Although Africa has changed but little, Europe has, and we can hardly envy the German nation its eminence and unexpected triumphs in war when we see the energy and persistency with which they are applying themselves to the arts of peace—especially of exploration. And nowhere have they been more active than in this part of the world, where their old rivals, the English, are apparently contented to sit at home in ease, working their factories and counting out their money.
To begin with the beginning. The year 1872 found the Berlin Geographical Society intent upon “planting a lance in Africa,” and upon extending and connecting the discoveries of Livingstone, Du Chaillu, Schweinfurth, and other travellers. Delegates from the various associations of Germany met in congress, and organized (April 19, 1873) the Germanic “Afrikanische Gesellschaft.” Ex–President Dr. Adolf Bastian, a well-known traveller in Siam, Cambodia, China, and the Indian Archipelago, and who, moreover, had visited Ambassi or Salvador do Congo, the old missionary capital, in 1857, was at once sent out as pioneer and vanguard to prospect the coast for a suitable station and a point de départ into the interior—a scientific step dictated by trained and organized common sense. The choice of leader fell upon Dr. Gussfeldt, Herr von Hattorf being his second in command, and with them were associated Dr. Falkenstein as zoologist, and Dr. Soyaux as botanist. A geologist, Dr. Lenz, of Hamburg, was sent to connect the Ogobe and Okanda rivers with, the Loango coast, unless he found a likely northeastern route. In this case, the Society would take measures to supply him with the necessary equipment.
The expedition began unfortunately, by the loss of outfit and instruments in the “Nigritia,” wrecked off Sierra Leone: it persevered, however, and presently met Dr. Bastian and Professor von Gorschen at Cabinda. The former had collected much information about the coast. He had learned from slaves that the old kingdoms of Loango, Mahango, and Angay are bounded eastwards, or inland, by Mayombe, a belt of forest, the threshold of the unknown interior. It begins the up-slope to the great Ghat ridge, which, visible after a day’s journey, separates the coast from the central basin. A fortnight or three weeks’ march leads to an open country, a land of metalliferous hills, where the people barter their goods against gunpowder and weapons, brought by traders from the east. These “Orientals” are now heard of almost all along the West African coast, and doubtless, in several places, the report will prove true. The prospector had also visited, in search of a depôt, Futila in Cabinda-land; the Tschiluango (Chiloango), or Cacongo River, a fine navigable stream, where the people float down their palm oil; Landana; “Chinsonso” (Chinxoxo, pronounced Chinshosho), Chicambo, Loango, and the Quillu (Kwillu) stream, the latter breaking through the coast range, disemboguing near Loango Bay, and reported to be connected with the great Congo. He found the old despotism of Loango to be insignificant, reduced, in fact, to the strip of coast between the Quillu and the Luema–Lukallo Rivers. The slave trade, once a monopoly of kings, princes, and chiefs, is now no more; legitimate commerce has levelled ranks, and the real power is in the hands of the wealthiest merchants.
From the Abbé Durand, librarian of the Paris Geographical Society, we learn: 1. That Loango is in the Province of Cacongo; 2. That Cacongo is considered a province of Loango; 3. That Cacongo forms a kingdom of itself, with a capital, Ringwele. The name of the late king was “Dom João, Capitão Mempolo,” and, though he had died some years ago, he was not buried, for the usual reasons, in early 1874. Meanwhile his nephew and successor, Mwátá Bona, was acting regent until the obsequies shall take place.
The station finally chosen by the German explorers was Chinxoxo, or, as Herr Kiepert uncompromisingly writes it, “Tschinschonkscho.” It is within easy distance of the Chiloango or “Luiza Loango” River; and its port, Landana in Cabindaland, has become a thoroughly Europeanized settlement, with five trading stations up stream. An empty Dutch factory was repaired, and the house, containing a parlour, three small bed rooms, and the usual offices, was ready for habitation by the second week in October.
On October 26th, Dr. Güssfeldt, after shaking off the “seasoning fever” at Ponta Negra, proceeded to make a trial trip, and a route survey with compass and chronometer, up the important Quillu River. As usual, it has a bar; within the last few years the right bank has been carried away by the floods, and some of the old factories are under water. The average breadth is 400 paces, which diminishes to 25 at the rocky “gates” near Kama–Chitoma, Manyamatal and Gotu. At 29 direct miles from the mouth lies “Chimbak,” a trading station, where Dr. Güssfeldt rested and recruited strength for a month. Thence he went leisurely up stream to the Bumina Rapids, and found the easterly rhumb of the river bending to the N.E. and the N.N.E.; its channel did not exceed 50 yards in width, and precipitous rock-walls rose on either hand. At Bumina as at Gotu the Quillu breaks through the parallel lines of Ghats, whose trend is from N.W. to S.E.; in fact, these “Katarakten” are the Yellalas of the Congo. A march of four hours brought him to the Mayombe country (circ. S. Lat. 4°), which must not be confounded with the Ma-yumba or northernmost possession of the Congo kingdom; the latter word properly means “King of Yumba,” as Ma–Loango is Mwani–Loango. The Mayombe chief proved friendly, and assisted Dr. Güssfeldt to hire bearers (November 7) for Yangela, where his excursion ended. The boundary-line is marked by a large gate, like the two openings in the wooden wall denoting the Loango frontier between the Quillu and Luema rivers. The character of the country changed to the normal park-like aspect of Africa above the Ghats; the dense forests waxed thin; picturesque views presented themselves, reminding the wayfarer of Switzerland; and bare, dome-shaped mountains formed the background. At Nsunsi, about 2,100 feet above sea-level, the eye ranged over the Yangela country, as far as the land of the Batetye, whose grassy plains are traversed by ranges trending to the W.S.W., and apparently culminating to the south. At the Tondo village the skull of a gorilla was remarked. The upper Quillu, after its great bend, proved to be 350 to 400 paces broad; and the traveller ascertained that, instead of being connected with the great artery, it rises in a lake nearly due north of Nsundi (Sundi), near the country of the Babongo and the Babum. Dr. Güssfeldt returned to the coast on December 2, and prepared for the great march into the interior.
Dr. Falkenstein, the medicus and zoologist, in November 1873 reported favourably of Chinxoxo. The station is situated on a hilly ridge commanding a view of the sea. “It looks imposing enough, but it would produce more effect if we could hoist the German flag, as the other establishments here do those of their respective nations. German ships would then take home news of the progress of our undertaking, and the natives would see at a distance this token of the enterprising spirit of the German nation, and come to us with provisions and other natural products.” He adds, “In Fernando Po, an island which I would recommend as a sanatorium for wealthy hypochondriacs, we found an extraordinary abundance of fruit, cocoa-nuts, bananas, mangoes, delicious oranges, and pine-apples...The ivory trade on the Gaboon is very flourishing. A German firm which I visited exports, £10,000 worth per annum, the value of total exports being, £26,000. The tusks are very large; one weighed about 80 lbs., and some have ranged to 120 lbs. The other articles exported are gum and ebony, which are brought by the natives, especially the Fans and Mpangwes (sic) from the interior. The slave trade is said still to be carried on by Europeans, though it is not known where the slaves go to “ (of course to São Thomé and Prince’s Island). “In the immediate vicinity of our station the chief trade is in palm oil and ground nuts..... Rings, chains, crosses, watches, &c., are readily taken by the savages in exchange for native goods, and I obtained a valuable fetish for a chain and a cross worth a silbergroschen.”
After three months spent upon the coast, and much suffering from fever, the energetic Dr. Bastian was welcomed home on December 13, 1873. His present book25 makes only one instalment of the work, the other being the “Correspondenzblätter der Afrikanischen Gesellschaft.” Briefly, everything has been done to lay the foundation for success and to advertise the undertaking. Finally, not satisfied with these steps, the German Society for the Exploration of equatorial Africa organized in September, 1874, a second expedition. Captain Alexander von Homeyer, a well-known ornithologist, will lead it viâ S. Paulo de Loanda and Cassange (Kasanji) to the mysterious lands of the Mwata ya Nvo, and thus supplement the labours of Portuguese travellers. This fine undertaking set out early in 1875.
25 “Die Deutsche Expedition an der Loango Küuste, nebst älteren Nachrichten über die zu erforschenden Länder.” Von Adolf Bastian. Jena and London (Trübner and Co.), 1874.