THE EXPLORATION AND COLONIZATION OF AFRICA, II
"We were suddenly surprised by the sight of Moors, who afforded the first general diversity of dress. There were seventeen superiors, arrayed in large cloaks of white satin, richly trimmed with spangled embroidery; their shirts and trousers were of silk; and a very large turban of white muslin was studded with a border of different coloured stones; their attendants wore red caps and turbans, and long white shirts, which hung over their trousers; those of the inferiors were of dark blue cloth. They slowly raised their eyes from the ground as we passed, and with a most malignant scowl.
"The prolonged flourishes of the horns, a deafening tumult of drums, and the fuller concert at the intervals, announced that we were approaching the king. We were already passing the principal officers of his household. The chamberlain, the gold horn blower, the captain of the messengers, the captain for royal executions, the captain of the market, the keeper of the royal burying-ground, and the master of the bands, sat surrounded by a retinue and splendour which bespoke the dignity and importance of their offices. The cook had a number of small services, covered with leopard's skin, held behind him, and a large quantity of massy silver plate was displayed before him—punch-bowls, waiters, coffee-pots, tankards, and a very large vessel with heavy handles and clawed feet, which seemed to have been made to hold incense. I observed a Portuguese inscription on one piece, and they seemed generally of that manufacture. The executioner, a man of immense size, wore a massy gold hatchet on his breast; and the execution stool was held before him, clotted in blood, and partly covered with a cawl of fat. The king's four linguists were encircled by a splendour inferior to none, and their peculiar insignia, gold canes, were elevated in all directions, tied in bundles like fasces. The keeper of the treasury added to his own magnificence by the ostentatious display of his service; the blow pan, boxes, scales and weights, were of solid gold.
"A delay of some minutes whilst we severally approached to receive the king's hand, afforded us a thorough view of him. His deportment first excited my attention; native dignity in princes we are pleased to call barbarous was a curious spectacle; his manners were majestic, yet courteous, and he did not allow his surprise to beguile him for a moment of the composure of the monarch. He appeared to be about thirty-eight years of age, inclined to corpulence, and of a benevolent countenance."
This account is followed by a description, extending over several pages, of the costume of the king, the filing past of the chiefs and troops, the dispersing of the crowd, and the ceremonies of reception, which lasted far on into the night.
Reading Bowditch's extraordinary narrative, we are tempted to ask if it be not the outcome of the traveller's imagination, for we can scarcely credit what he says of the wonderful luxury of this barbarous court, the sacrifice of thousands of persons at certain seasons of the year, the curious customs of this warlike and cruel people, this mixture of barbarism and civilization hitherto unknown in Africa. We could not acquit Bowditch of great exaggeration, had not later travellers as well as contemporary explorers confirmed his statements. We can therefore only express our astonishment that such a government, founded on terror alone, could have endured so long.
It is a pleasure to us Frenchmen when we can quote the name of a fellow-countryman amongst the many travellers who have risked their lives in the cause of geographical science. Without abating our critical acumen, we feel our pulse quicken when we read of the dangers and struggles of such travellers as Mollien, Caillié, De Cailliaud, and Letorzec.
Gaspar Mollien was nephew to Napoleon's Minister of the Treasury. He was on board the Medusa, but was fortunate enough to escape when that vessel was shipwrecked, and to reach the coast of the Sahara in a boat, whence he made his way to Senegal.
The dangers from which Mollien had just escaped would have destroyed the love of adventure and exploration in a less ardent spirit. They had no such effect upon him. He left St. Louis as soon as ever he obtained the assent of the Governor, Fleuriau, to his proposal to explore the sources of the great rivers of Senegambia, and especially those of the Djoliba.
Mollien started from Djeddeh on the 29th January, 1818, and taking an easterly course between the 15th and 16th parallels of north latitude, crossed the kingdom of Domel, and entered the districts peopled by the Yaloofs. Unable to go by way of Woolli, he decided in favour of the Fouta Toro route, and in spite of the jealousy of the natives and their love of pillage, he reached Bondou without accident. It took him three days to traverse the desert between Bondou and the districts beyond the Gambia, after which he penetrated into Niokolo, a mountainous country, inhabited by the all but wild Peuls and Djallons.
Leaving Bandeia, Mollien entered Fouta Djallon, and reached the sources of the Gambia and the Rio Grande, which are in close proximity. A few days later he came to those of the Falemé; and, in spite of the repugnance and fear of his guide, he made his way into Timbo, the capital of Fouta. The absence of the king and most of the inhabitants probably spared him from a long captivity abbreviated only by torture. Fouta is a fortified town, the king owns houses, with mud walls between three and four feet thick and fifteen high.
At a short distance from Timbo, Mollien discovered the sources of the Senegal—at least what were pointed out to him as such by the blacks; but it was impossible for him to take astronomical observations.