… in Equatorial Africa. I’ve come upon a travel book, published in 1861 by Paul B. Du Chaillu. This delightfully illustrated volume describes his travels in the interior of Africa, its fauna and native peoples. I believe there is much to glean from this old book just from a historical perspective – so let this be the beginning of a series based upon it. Each post will include an interesting quote from the book (one that might enlighten us in some way) and an illustration.
This first excerpt introduces us to the author and to the natives of the West coast of Africa. It also explains why we might treat tales of the horrors of the interior parts of Africa with a certain amount of skepticism (pg. 3):
When I returned now, after an absence of some years, my arrival was hailed with joy by my former acquaintances among the blacks, who thought that I had come back to trade. The negroes of the West Coast are the most eager and the shrewdest traders I have ever met; and they were overjoyed at the prospect of dealing with, and perhaps cheating, an old friend like myself. Their disappointment was great, therefore, when I was obliged to inform them that I had come with no goods to sell, but with the purpose to explore the country, of which I had heard so many wonderful stories from them, and to hunt wild birds and beasts.
At first they believed I was joking. When they saw landed from the vessel which brought me no “trade”, but only an outfit of all things necessary for a hunter’s life in the African wilds, they began perforce to believe in my stated purpose. Then their amazement and perplexity knew no bounds.
Some thought I was out of my senses, and pitied my father, whom they all knew, for being troubled with such a good-for-nothing son.
Some thought I had ulterior objects, and were alarmed lest I should secretly try to wrest the trade of the interior out of their hands.
Those Mpongwes, or Coast tribes, hold in their hands, as will be explained farther on, the trade with the back country of the Gaboon River; and the slightest suspicion that I was about to interfere with this profitable monopoly sufficed to create great terror in their trade-loving souls. They surrounded me, each with his tale of the horrors and dangers of a voyage “up the country,” asserting that I should be eaten up by cannibals, drowned in rivers, devoured by tigers and crocodiles, crushed by elephants, upset by hippopatami, or waylaid and torn to pieces by the gorilla.
But when I convinced them that I had no designs upon their trade, and that my purposed travels and hunts would not affect their interests, all but a few stedfast old friends left me to my fate.
This is not to say there were no dangers or that the natives were all of the “noble” sort. Though he heaps praise upon the native children within the mission where he stayed on the coast, the adults are “dull, lazy, and distrustful. They adhere to their vile superstitions, and are with difficulty influenced…” Of course, when he says “influenced”, what he probably means is “influenced to convert to Christianity”.