"Ali," says Mungo Park, "was sitting upon a black morocco cushion, clipping a few hairs on his upper lip—a female attendant holding a looking-glass before him. He was an old man of Arab race, with a long white beard, and he looked sullen and angry. He surveyed me with attention, and inquired of the Moors if I could speak Arabic. Being answered in the negative, he appeared surprised, and continued silent. The surrounding attendants, and especially ladies, were much more inquisitive. They asked a thousand questions, inspected every part of my apparel, searched my pockets, and obliged me to unbutton my waistcoat to display the whiteness of my skin. They even counted my toes and fingers, as if they doubted whether I was in truth a human being."
An unprotected stranger, a Christian, and accounted a spy, Mungo Park was a victim to the insolence, ferocity, and fanaticism of the Moors. He was spared neither insults, outrages, nor blows. They attempted to make a barber of him, but his awkwardness in cutting the hairy face of the king's son exempted him from this degrading occupation. During his captivity he collected many particulars regarding Timbuctoo, which is so difficult of access to Europeans, and was the bourne of all early African explorers.
"Houssa," a scherif told him, "is the largest town I have ever seen. Walet is larger than Timbuctoo, but as it is farther from the Niger, and its principal trade is in salt, few strangers are met there. From Benown to Walet is a distance of six days' journey. No important town is passed between the two, and the traveller depends for sustenance upon the milk procurable from Arabs, whose flocks and herds graze about the wells and springs. The road leads for two days through a sandy desert, where not a drop of water is to be had."
It takes eleven days to go from Walet to Timbuctoo, but water is not so scarce on this journey, which is generally made upon oxen. At Timbuctoo there are a number of Jews who speak Arabic, and use the same forms of prayer as the Moors.
The events of the war decided Ali to proceed to Jarra. Mungo Park, who had succeeded in making friends with the sultan's favourite, Fatima, obtained permission to accompany the king. The traveller hoped, by nearing the scene of action, to manage to escape. As it happened, the King of Kaarta, Daisy Kourabari, soon after marched against the town of Jarra. The larger number of inhabitants fled, and Mungo Park did the same.
He soon found means to get away, but his interpreter refused to accompany him. He was forced to start for Bambara alone, and destitute of resources.
The first town he came to was Wawra, which properly belongs to Kaarta, but was then paying tribute to Mansong, King of Bambara. Mungo Park says,—
"Upon the morning of the 7th of July, as I was about to depart, my landlord, with a great deal of diffidence, begged me to give him a lock of my hair. He had been told, he said, that white men's hair made a saphic (talisman) that would give the possessor all the knowledge of the white man. I had never before heard of so simple a mode of education, but I at once complied with the request; and my landlord's thirst for learning was so great that he cut and pulled at my hair till he had cropped one side of my head pretty closely, and would have done the same with the other had I not signified my disapprobation, assuring him that I wished to reserve some of this precious material for a future occasion."
First Gallon and then Mourja, a large town, famous for its trade in salt, were passed, after fatigues and incredible privations. Upon nearing Sego, Mungo Park at last perceived the Djoliba. "Looking forward," he says, "I saw, with infinite pleasure, the great object of my mission—the long-sought-for, majestic Niger, glittering in the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at Westminster, and flowing slowly to the eastward. I hastened to the brink, and, having drunk of the water, lifted up my fervent thanks in prayer to the Great Ruler of all things for having thus far crowned my endeavours with success.
"The fact of the Niger flowing towards the east did not, however, excite my surprise; for, although I had left Europe in great hesitation on this subject, and rather believed it ran in the contrary direction, I had made frequent inquiries during my progress, and had received from negroes of different nations such clear and decisive assurances that its course was towards the rising sun as scarce left any doubt in my mind, more especially as I knew that Major Houghton had collected similar information in a similar manner.