Chapter VIII. A Visit to Banza Chisalla,
Boma, at the head of the Congo delta, the great depot between the interior and the coast, owes its existence wholly to
"the cruel trade
Which spoils unhappy Afric of her sons."
Father Merolla (1682), who visited it from "Angoij," our "Cabinda," speaks of it as a pretty large island, tributary to the Mani-Congo, extremely populous, well supplied with provisions, and outlaid by islets belonging to the Count of Sonho. Tuckey's Embomma was an inland banza or town, and the site of the factories was called Market Point; the Expedition map and the hydrographic chart term it Loombee, the latter being properly the name of a large quitanda (market) lying two miles to the north-west. Early in the present century it is described as a village of a hundred huts, opposite which trading vessels anchored under charge of the "Fuka or king's merchant;" no market was held there, lest, in case of dispute, the royal person might suffer. Although the main features of our maps are still correct, there have been great changes in the river-bed between Porto da Lenha and Boma, especially about the latter place, which should be transferred from its present site to Lumbi. The broad Chisalla Creek, which Mr. Maxwell calls Logan, between the northern bank and the island "Booka Embomma," is now an arm only 200 feet wide. In fact all the bank about Boma, like the lower delta, urgently calls for re-surveying.
This part of the river belongs to the "Rei dos Reis," Nessalla, under whom are some ten chief officers called "kings," who buy and sell; indeed, Africa knows no other. The title is prostituted throughout the West Coast, but it is nowhere so degraded as in the Congo regions; the whites abuse it to flatter the vanity of the astute negro, who accepts it with a view to results - a "king- dash" must, of course, be greater than that of a subject. Every fellow with one black coat becomes a "preese" (prince), and if he has two he styles himself a "king." Without permission of the "King of Kings" we could obtain neither interpreter, canoe, nor crew; a visit to Banza Chisalal was therefore necessary and, as it would have been vain to ask anything empty-handed, I took with me a fine spangled cloak, a piece of chintz, and a case of ship's rum, the whole worth L9.
At 6.30 A.M. on September 5th we set out up stream in a fine canoe, wall-sided and rather crank, but allowing the comfort of chairs. She was of Mayumba make, superior to anything built on the river, and the six men that drove her stood up to pole, and paddle. Above Boma the hills, which are the outlines of the west African Ghats, form a graceful semicircle, separated from the water by a flat terrace garnished with little villages and tree- islets. On the north bank are many of the crater-like sinks which dot the coast from the Gaboon to Loango. We hugged the right side to avoid the rapid swirl; there was no backwater at the points, and hard work was required to prevent our being swept against the boulders of gneiss, schiste, and pudding-stone edging the shores and stretching into the stream. Here the fish is excellent as at Porto cla Lenha, and we found the people catching it in large spoon-shaped basins: I enquired about the Peixe mulher (woman- fish), the French sirene, which old missioners describe as an African mermaid, not exactly as she appeared to the "lovely lord of Colonsay," and which Barbot figures with "two strutting breasts." He makes the flesh taste like pork, and tells us that the small bones of the hand were good for gravel, whilst bracelets made of the left rib were worn near the heart, to stop bleeding. This manatus, like the elephant and the hippopotamus, has long disappeared before the gun.
After some three quarters of an hour we reached the entrance of Chisalla Creek, which is the northernmost branch of the main stream. On the left (north) was a plain showing traces of a large village, and we sighted our first grass-island - a compact mass of fibrous, earth-washed roots and reedy vegetation, inhabited by serpents and ardeine birds. To the right, or southward, rises the tall island of Boma, rocky and wooded, which a narrow channel separates from its eastern neighbour, Chisalla Islet. The latter is the royal Pere la Chaise, the graves being kept carefully concealed; white men who have visited the ground to shoot antelope have had reason to regret the step. Here also lie three officers of the Congo Expedition - Messrs. Galwey, Tudor, and Cranch - forgotten, as Gamboa and Reitz at Mombasah.
The banks of the winding creek were beautified with the malaguetta pepper, the ipomsea, the hibiscus, and a yellow flower growing upon an aquatic plant like a magnified water-cress. Animal life became somewhat less rare; we saw sandpipers, hawks, white and black fish-eagles, and long-legged water-hens, here supposed to give excellent sport. An embryo rapid, formed by a gneiss-band connecting the north bank with the islet, delayed us, and the rocks on the right showed pot-holes dug by the poling- staves; during the rains canoes from Boma avoid this place, and seek fuel down stream. After a total of two hours and a quarter we reached Banza Chisalla: it is a "small country," in African parlance, a succursal of Boma proper, the Banza on the hills beyond the reedy, grassy plain. The site is charming - a flat palm-orchard backed by an amphitheatre of high-rolling ground, and the majestic stream approaches it through a gate, whose right staple is the tall Chisalla, and whose left is a rocky islet with outlying needles.