The New York Times, December 12, 1886, p.6:|
THE CAMEROONS COUNTRYGERMAN THRIFT AND A VISIT TO A DUALLA PRINCE.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE REGION--
TRADERS OF FORMER TIMES--
WHITE AMERICANS--A WARM RECEPTION.
KING BELL'S TOWN [Douala, Dualla, or Duala], CAMEROONS RIVER, WEST AFRICA, Sept. 11--Once more we are to the north of the equator and making our second visit to the celebrated River of Prawns, (Rio dos Camaraos,) which attained so universal though short-lived a reknown two years ago, when "Mr. Bismarck" (as irreverant English seamen out here are wont to call the great political boa constrictor of Berlin) seized it so unceremoniously on that memorable Summer morning in July, 1884.
But in the train of Prussian rapacity follow German industry, thrift and honesty, and here as elsewhere (to quote the rapturous words of a very flowery orator) "the war eagle may yet beat his sword into a plowshare and exchange his trumpet for a sheep bell."
Hitherto, so far as I can learn, the new colony has not done much toward paying its own expenses, the local traffic being almost entirely in the hands of the English, who can count six trading houses to two belonging to the Germans. But even should the relative positions of the two races be reversed hereafter England cannont justly complain. She has lost the Cameroons just as she lost Zanzibar, Little Popo, the Samoa Isles, the seaboard of Zululand, and the finest part of New-Guinea, viz., through the characteristic folly and indolence of a Government which has spent its whole time in pompously doing nothing, and has forgotten, while seeking excuses for neglecting its most pressing duties, that all the statesmen of Europe were not as sluggish and short-sighted as itself.
As early as November, 1882, the question of a British annexation of the district was debated here, and a majority of the most influential chiefs declared themselves in favor of an immediate hoisting of the English flag. Unhappily the resident English Consul--whom I met in the Calabar country a few weeks ago--had no power to take this decisive step, and all that he could do was to refer the matter to that embodiment of blundering routine and procrastination, the British Colonial Office.
As a matter of course this Society for the Prevention of National Progress shilly-shallied over the question until the Summer of 1884, when it was spared the trouble of coming to any decision at all by the prompt action of Dr. Nachtigall, who, carrying out with his usual energy the pressing orders of Prince Bismarck, hoisted the German flag over the three principal villages on the famous 14th of July. Then--the horse being fairly stolen--these worthy official blockheads did their best to shut the stable door by annexing a patch of coast to the west of the river, which could be of no possible use to them.
The first glimpse of the Cameroons River shows one nothing beyond the usual endless line of dark, impenetrable thickets, apparently rising straight out of the thick, beer-colored stream around them, so completely are the mudbanks to which they cling hidden by the gaunt white network of their skeleton roots.
Then the banded flag of the Fatherland is seen fluttering jauntily at the stern of a trim little pilot boat, which comes skimming out toward us from a wooded islet on our right, against the matted boughs of which stands out a low white building used by the German colonists as a sanitarium.
On the bush-clad mainland just beyond this islet are dimly visible the ruins of "Joss Town," laid in ashes by the German bombardment of Dec. 15, 1884, which also destroyed "Hickory Town," a little further up the stream.
As we stream slowly up the broad, muddy river, the rolling clouds which have obscured the sky ever since sunrise are suddenly torn asunder like a veil, disclosing to us, though unhappily only for a few moments, the mighty outlines of the Cameroons Mountains, whose dark and massive pyramids (the highest of which towers 13,760 feet above the sea) are to the explorers of the west coast what the Matterhorn once was to the enterprising climbers of the Alpine Club.
And now we swing suddenly around a wooded point, and the quaint little toy town lies before us in all its picturesqueness.
A few hundred yards out in the stream--with the English union jack hoisted upside down, as if to typify the blundering system which has lost this region to the British Empire--lies a mastless vessel with a roof over it. This is one of the "trading hulks" which have formed a characteristic feature of all West African rivers for nearly 50 years past, but which are now fast disappearing before the altered conditions of African traffic.
In the early part of the century the establishment of any European trader and his goods in a house on shore would have been a direct invitation to the natives to rob and murder him forthwith. Hence the wary dealer preferred to do business aboard his own ship, which, moored in midstream, roofed in from stem to stern, and protected by nettings around her bulwarks, had only to draw up her ladders in order to become a floating fortress completely proof against the rude methods of warfare practiced by the negroes.
But in time the traders grew weary of constantly dismantling and restoring the various equipments necessary to change their vessels into trading stores, and adopted the easier plan of mooring a "hulk" permanently in the channel of each river and keeping it there till it moldered and had to be sunk outright.
Upon these hulks many of the commercial agents lived (or rather managed not to die) for years together, in the days whan life and property were unsafe ashore. But all this is changed now, and the floating factories are being rapidly superseded by more durable ones on land.
The plunge of our anchor into the water is answered by the splash of countless paddles as the Dualla canoes run alongside laden with fruit and vegetables, monkeys, parrots, carved models of native boats, musical instruments like an overgrown comb tied to a slate, and coarse mats of dried grass, all at exorbitant prices, which gradually melt down to about a fifth or a sixth of the first bid. One worthy fellow asks $35 for a pair of ivory armlets, which are really worth about $3.50, and a wood carving of a snake in the jaws of a crocodile is priced at a similar rate.
In one of the foremost canoes is a tall native with a curious wig, or rather hood, of fuzzy black hair (evidently part of a regular fetich dress) fastened around his huge flat head. Seeing Mrs. Ker beginning to sketch him he makes a great outcry: "Me no bad man, me good man; what for you put me for book?" In fact, both pencil and pen arouse in the minds of many negroes a superstitious terror as strong and unreasoning as the superstitious reverence which they excite in those of others.
On the afternoon of our second day in the river we were invited to go a few miles up it in a small sailboat belonging to a veteran English trader, Mr. George Allan, whose 16 years' residence on the Cameroons has made him a first-rate authority upon the Dualla tribes and everything connected with them. Such a chance was not to be lost, and a few minutes more found us skimming over the broad, smooth, lake-like estuary of the famous river, nearly a mile across at its narrowest point, and little short of a mile and a quarter at its widest. We were a party of four, who, with the six negro oarsmen superadded, made a very tolerable boatload.
As we glided along, Mr. Allan, in answer to our questions, told us a good deal about the place and its ways.
"That boycott which was going on here the last time you came up the river," says he, "is quite at an end now. The newspapers at home made a great fuss about it, as if it had been a political affair, a sort of combination of the natives against the Germans; but in reality it was nothing of the sort. The natives undoubtedly prefer the English to the Germans, but this last trouble was simply a question of trade, the chiefs wanting to force up the prices while we tried to keep 'em down.
"Now that palm oil's down to $100 a ton at home, you see--thanks to Russian tallow and other things competing with it--the blacks out here want just as high a price for it as when it fetched $225. Well, of course we couldn't agree to that, so the big chiefs held a palaver, (council) and all agreed to sell no more food to the white men--English or Germans--until the point was yielded.
"But they didn't gain much from that move after all. We just got out preserved meat and canned vegetables from home, and worked along well enough until the natives got tired of it and took off the embargo again. Then, when all was settled, I showed the chiefs what a lot of provisions I had left, and I think it taught 'em a lesson."
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The former French Cameroon and part of British Cameroon merged in 1961 to form the present country.
Cameroon has generally enjoyed stability, which has permitted the development of agriculture, roads, and railways, as well as a petroleum industry.
Despite a slow movement toward democratic reform, political power remains firmly in the hands of President Paul BIYA.
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