Travels in Africa - Park Denham, Clapperton, Lander, and Others
Proceeding from north to south, let us briefly notice the various countries of the western coast, with the tribes which inhabit them. The most northerly is Senegambia, the name applied to the district watered by the two rivers Senegal and Gambia, commencing from the Desert, and extending as far as the Grain Coast. According to Mango Park, this territory is inhabited by four tribes the Feloops, the Jaloffs, the Foulahs, and the Mandingoes. In all these tribes, part are Mohammedans by profession; but the great body of the people are Pagans, called by their Mohammedan brethren Kafirs, or infidels, and practicing the Fetish form of worship; that is, the worship of inanimate objects. The Feloops were described by Park as a gloomy and revengeful race, but honorable and faithful in their dealings with friends; the Jaloffs as an active and warlike people, with jet-black skins, but among the most handsome of the negroes, divided into several principalities, and excelling in the manufacture of cotton cloth. The Foulahs - a race of more importance in Africa than Park imagined - as of a tawny complexion, with soft silky hair and pleasing features, much attached to a pastoral life; and the Mandingoes, who are by far the most numerous people in this part of Africa, as of a mild, sociable, and obliging disposition, the men commonly above the middle-size, well-shaped, strong, and capable of enduring great labor, the women good-natured, sprightly and agreeable.
The tract of country adjoining Senegambia on the south, and stretching along the Gulf of Guinea, from the Grain Coast to the Bight of Biafra, has been named Upper Guinea, and includes, besides the colonies of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory and Gold Coasts, so noted for their unhealthiness, three native states namely, Ashantee, Dahomey, and Benin. Our information respecting these negro kingdoms is derived from the discoveries of various travelers, among whom may be mentioned Mr. Norris, who undertook a journey to the court of the king of Dahomey in 1772, with the hope of making arrangements beneficial to English trade; Mr. Bowditch, who took part in a mission for a similar purpose to the king of Ashantee in 1817; and Captain Adams, who visited Benin at a later period.
Ashantee is described as a hilly country, well watered by numerous streams, and covered almost entirely with that rich vegetable luxuriance, the labor of removing which, it has been observed, is as severe for the agriculturist as the opposite labor of fertilizing barren lands. The Ashantee negro clears the land by means of fire thus both removing the rank vegetation, and spreading the soil with a rich manure, which yields two crops a year. Besides innumerable kinds of fruit and flowers, and all the giant trees of the tropics, the productions are sugar, tobacco, maize, rice, yams, and potatoes. All kinds of tropical animals likewise swarm in Ashantee. The human inhabitants of the whole region or empire are estimated at three millions, and though possessing, in a marked degree, some of the worst negro characteristics, they are, upon the whole, more advanced than most of the African tribes, not only practicing a regular and tolerably skilled agriculture, but showing considerable ingenuity in several mechanical arts - as dyeing, tanning, pottery, weaving, and the manufacture of instruments and ornaments out of gold, iron, etc. They are also cleanly, and well clad, and pay some attention to the building and decoration of their houses. Their government is an absolute monarchy, or nearly so; the classes of society under the monarch being cabocees or nobles, gentry, traders, and slaves. Polygamy is allowed, but no one but the king possesses many wives. The royal number of wives is said to be precisely 3333, who, however, act also in other capacities; as bodyguards, etc. The most horrible of the Ashantee customs is that of sacrificing a number of persons on the death of every man of rank, the number of victims being regarded not only as indicating the dignity of the deceased in this world, but as determining his rank in the next. The belief in a future state is one of the strongest of their religious ideas. Regarding the origin of mankind, they, as well as other negro tribes of the Guinea Coast, have the following singular tradition: - The Great Spirit, they say, having created three white men and women, and as many black, offered the blacks the first choice of two articles which he held in his hand, one of which was a calabash, the other a sealed paper. The blacks chose the calabash, which contained gold, iron, and all the choice products of the earth; in consequence of which the negro race to this day possess these blessings in abundance: while the sealed paper falling to the share of the whites, has conferred on them a higher gift of knowledge, wherewith the contents of the calabash may be turned to account. This admission of the superiority of the whites on the part of the Ashantees appears also in their belief that the good negroes become white in the future state. No part of Africa, or even of the world, is believed to be richer in gold than Ashantee.