Obrázky na stránke
[ocr errors]

croton oil trees line the winding way, and the whole scene so resembles a big English park that the traveller is in momentary expectation of seeing a keeper's lodge round the corner, or hearing the inevitable black dog strike up a warning note of Who goes there?

[ocr errors]


Mansue is a large clearing, with huts in the centre for a detachment of Houssas stationed there. It was a prominent place during the war, and contains a Fantee king, who paid me the usual complimentary visit, bringing yams and palm wine by way of dash,' for which I gave him, in return, umbrellas, cloth, and gin. He was very anxious to let me see the ancient skull of an Ashantee acquired by some of his people in war-a great achievement, as the Ashantees are essentially warriors, and have rarely been known to let their dead be captured by Fantees.

Topping a picturesque little valley a few miles on, I observed for the first time some flat sandstone rocks, slightly exposed only, apparently part of an inclined stratum; but even here it was impossible. to find a loose stone, the absence of which throughout the forest is remarkable. These rocks were worn almost smooth by continual effusion of rain-water over them, and must have been walked over for many years, to judge by the well-defined footmarks thereon. The natives have a habit of marching along in single file, stepping almost in the same identical spots, so that in time series of ruts are formed and maintained by pedestrians until heavy rains render them impracticable.

Hereabouts and elsewhere in patches grow what the natives call Ton-ton trees, small and of a sort of cactus growth, resembling in shape a large umbrella half shut down. The leaves are long-about six feet-baving sharp-pointed blades, barbed sides, and resupinate bark, that scales readily. From these trees mats of every size, colour, and description are ingeniously made, and taken to the coast for sale.

One of the most extraordinary features of the forest is to see, or, rather, to hear it wake. Till about an hour prior to dawn a most perfect stillness reigns; then Nature's existence is manifested by faint pulsations, which grow in strength until, with a rush, light extinguishes the darkness.

It seemed difficult to credit a sound that came stealing through the bush one early morning, viz., the sound of a saw. With some little difficulty and scrambling I traced the origin, and there found. in all reality two natives plying a double-handed weapon through an immense beam of ironwood, which seemed to defy all their efforts. They had ruled lines to work upon, wedges and grindstone, rough though they were, and were not inclined to hurry themselves; probably a week would see them through it, and six months' indolence. follow the sale of it on the coast. Their wives, who had just brought them some chop,' promptly decamped into the bush, nor could any assurance induce them to leave their hiding places. Possibly they had never seen a white man before. I was anxious to get some wood


specimens, and offered to wait an hour or two if the sawyers would supply me with blocks; but, as with all these tribes, it was the old story-manana (to-morrow), and so on my return homewards.

The discoloured river Akkie-about 50 feet from bank to bankwas much swollen by late rains, and seemed in a great hurry to get down to the sea. A tree that had fallen across in some bygone tornado was too slippery to scale, so there was nothing left but to wade. Hammock men are both excellent fellows and most sure-footed animals, and they are always willing to carry their master aloft through the water; but there is something inglorious in being pitchforked headfirst into it, which the slightest faux pus may cause. A little extra liquid is no great hardship when one is more or less soaked by dewdrippings and wet grass in the morning, thunder-storms in the afternoon, and dew damp at night, added to continual ploughing through swamps and sloughs; the latter infuse a little colour into the picture. Yet, with all this liquid, there is an almost entire lack of decent drinking water, for, after both filtering and boiling, it retains a sediment and has a soapy flavour, which combine to make it unpalatable otherwise than in the dark.

Resting on the banks of the Akkie was a corporal's guard of some native chief carrying, mirabile dictu, a coffin of curious darkey workmanship, studded with brass-headed nails, having a thonghinged cover wrought with various devices and fastened by a thole pin; over all lay an unblemished mat by way of pall. After much palavering, the officer in charge permitted me a view of the interior of this rough-hewn cavern, which contained, to my surprise, monkey skins, plantains, tobacco, and the usual bottle of trade gin. It is the fashion for those potentates who can afford it to be consigned to their rest in such manner, and not unusual to send many leagues in order to obtain the necessary sacred wood.

From Mansue to Prahsu is about twenty-four hours actual going, though with less mud and slush it might be reduced. Prominent in this region are monster trees feathered with fern from base to summit, laced and interlaced with leafless creepers whose adventitious roots, after subterranean wanderings, shoot up again in weird forms and angular lines like the rigging of a full-masted ship. How the ferns attain unassisted to such altitude, though at first a mystery, is soon discovered by watching the forest ants, whose history well deserves the study of some enthusiastic entomologist keen enough to pursue his labours long enough in the midst of a poisonous malaria that pervades the atmosphere and insinuates itself into the human system.

These insects are generally to be seen in regular marshalled armies of two lines going and returning-on paths obscured from view by flanking walls of their own kin; officers, sentries, vedettes, advance and rear guards, columns and corps are visible to the most casual observer, and woe be to the unfortunate traveller whose fate it is to

be invaded at night. Nothing will turn them; you may break but cannot bend them, and lex talionis is their motto. They may constantly be seen on the march with loads from one point to another, often enough their termini being the apex of some lofty bole where, after depositing their cargo, it is welded together in crusted clumps by skilled labourers in waiting. In course of time various seeds and articles of root capable of germination are transported and matured, and then the tree presents more the appearance of a huge overgrown tower. On my drawing with the butt end of a gun a line through the armies, an immediate halt took place, files of skirmishers were sent out, and the casualties carried away as if by organised Ambulance Corps. The lines were then reformed and proceeded as before.

Prahsu, formerly the boundary of the British Protectorate, and memorable in the annals of the war, is now, as it then was, the key to Ashantee.

It may be described as a fine large clearing on the banks of the great river Prah-great, for this part of Africa—which, when full of water, affords an imposing appearance as it rolls muddily along a serpent's course through the forest. On the south bank are a few huts for the Houssa constabulary, and an officer's bungalow vis à vis to a native village. An apology for a punt does duty as ferry in charge of an old Methuselah, who plies a sort of fishing-rod pole in a feeble manner, so that by dint of luck the craft is navigated more perforce of current than of strength or skill. The currents are most irregular and deceptive, due in great measure to the backwaters caused by windings, and in lesser measure to the obstruction offered to natural flow by accumulations around submerged trees that either through tornadoes or shelving banks have fallen across the river. This, of course, renders navigation, especially up stream, a difficult matter. It was only after the greatest labour that in a rough but light canoe paddled by three natives, we were able to head the races that spun out from submerged trees, and then when once above, there was still greater labour to avoid being drawn into the line of draught and locked in the network of exposed branches.


Both up and down stream are innumerable creeks capable of admitting a small craft; but progress is tedious, and the smell from putrid slime water and loathsome swamps intensely disagreeable, though not less so than the continual switching across one's face of what the Dutch Boers in South Africa call Wait-a-bit' brambles. These are the undisturbed haunts of the crocodile and other amphibia which are readily seen when once in motion, but hard to distinguish otherwise by reason of their sympathetic colouring. They are scarcely ever molested by the natives, whose sole ideas seem centred in fishing and growing plantains. Fish, both in the river and creeks, are plentiful-barbel, eels, shrimps, crabs, flat fish, and some species of: the carp family falling freely to the native net and tice-basket.

The Prah is, perhaps, best seen to advantage at sunset, when it is possible to catch a glimpse of glorious mellow tints—a rare sight in this country of perpetual green. As a rule, the banks bear down in gradual slopes that are wooded to the water's edge by large trees whose massive branches cast an everlasting shade, under which a boat might creep unsunned, but for recumbent trees imbedded in the deep. Above the bends are grand sweeping reaches and rich woodland scenery of the finest description, a fine field for the artist.

N.N.W. by compass from Prahsu to Foomusu' is a good hard day's tramp from dawn to dusk, passing Essiaman midway and a few hunting villages here and there. North of the Prah the path deteriorates, becoming overgrown and little less than a quagmire, slippery and treacherous. Trudging carelessly along in front on one occasion, looking for specimens, I had the misfortune to flounce unsuspectedly into a mud hole mantled by a green flowerless plant whose chief functions may have been to delude the unwary traveller with an idea that he was going to get a sure foothold. It was a trivial enough circumstance, only resulting in my gun and self getting well primed with a black turbid mixture, but there was a lesson to be learnt from it. I proceeded to scrape away diligently on the far side until the native carriers came up, in order to watch their discomfiture; to my infinite surprise, however, as each approached, without apparently scanning the foreground even, they were warned by pure instinct, and deviated accordingly amidst much quiet merriment at my plight.

Foomusu is pleasantly situated on the banks of the Foom, a rippling stony river born,' as the natives naively express it, in Akim, and draped throughout its course in foliage.


The chief informed me that he was much frightened of the English; that he and his people hid from our army of 1874, and that his son was being educated by the Wesleyan missionaries with a view to being gathered to their flock. Still the old man continued steadfast in the faith of his forefathers, on the subject of which he was good enough to discourse as we sat in dim twilight under the village tree' surrounded by his people. He stated amongst other things that he had only to ask his fetische for good health or gold, and would get it, provided the spirit was not 'vexed.' Upon my asking if the fetische would also supply me with gold, he said Yes, if you give me some more present, and some "chop" for fetische, when you go live for Cape Coast one time more you shall get Queen gold.'


These people have all a great idea of Her Most Gracious Majesty, to whom they assign the powers and position of a supernaturalist. In the same way the Magwamba tribes north of the Drakensburg, in South Africa, entertaining the same views, manufactured a long aristocratic name for Her Majesty, meaning in their figurative language, The woman with the long ears because she hears everything.' 1 'Su' means top, hence Prah-su, top of Prah, top of Foom, &c.

[ocr errors]

I told the chief that it would be impossible for me to wait so long; my anxiety was to make the acquaintance of Monsieur Fetische at once; would he be so good as to relieve me of a wearying attack of neuralgia? If so, my present was ready, together with chop,' for The chief agreed readily to accept the present; and, further, undertook to afford me relief, for which purpose he placed a hen's egg on the far side of the river, in conjunction with a pot of plantain and palm oil. It is needless to say that they remained untouched by the spirit, and so did the neuralgia.


Having been unable to obtain any itineraries beyond Prahsu, it now became a rather difficult matter to gauge the distance of favourable halting places ahead, more especially as one's own servants invariably throw obstacles in the way of moving on, and interpret 'intelligence' replies as best suits their inclinations. I had nevertheless an excellent interpreter, whose intentions, however, were far better than his idea of time or distance; in fact, it seems almost impossible for a native to become a judge of either. For instance, it nearly always happened that his mile and a bit' meant that the ‘bit' was three times as long as the mile; nor shall I forget his memorable answer to me later on approaching Coomassie, that it was about two hours or twenty minutes' walk. So, when they informed me that Fomannah, the capital of Adansi, whose king had sent to say he would be ready to receive at 5 P.M. on November 9, was only just over the hill,' I took a leisurely view of the matter, and jogged quietly along from Foomusu until a sudden view of the mountain dispelled the happy illusion.

It was late in the afternoon when, tired, wet, and hungry, we started to scale the precipitous Moinsi Hill, rising from a picturesque valley coursed by a crystal stream-the first-near which nestled a hunting village built upon the lines of store huts erected there by the army of '74.

On the amphitheatre is another village of larger dimensions-a sort of fashionable suburb, whose aristocracy are said to speak disparagingly of the folks 'over there' (pointing to the hill). From this point to a parallel one of the amphitheatre on the far side it entailed three hours' incessant climbing of an arduous nature, the descent being the most trying ordeal, as the narrow path was thorny, wet, and slippery, and twilight had sped away, leaving us to circle and dip in the dark with Fomannah sighted, lost and resighted, like a 'will-o'-the-wisp' in the distance. The night was well advanced ere I struggled into the town after fourteen hours' tramp, footsore and feverish. Nothing produces fever so much as over-fatigue and wet, both of which had fallen to my lot this day in consequence of wrong information. However, the worst had to come, for the king had issued his At Home,' and there was no alternative but to accept. His Majesty was all courtesy and benignity as he sat by torchlight under mighty umbrellas, profferring the hand of friendship, nor was he

[ocr errors]
« PredošláPokračovať »