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The New York Times, December 12, 1886, p.6:



    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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    "Are the natives as superstitious here as those of the Guinea coast in general?"

    "Well, their contact with white men is gradually wearing away some of their worst superstitions, such as witchcraft, the power of fetichmen, &c.; but they believe firmly in charms that can make a man bullet-proof in battle, and offerings to the dead. For nine days after any one's death they place food on the grave, but after that they stop, thinking that by that time the deceased will have friends in the other world, and can take care of himself.
    "One of their beliefs is rather poetical. Every one who dies is buried beneath the floor of the house in which he lived, that he may not be grieved by feeling himself driven from his home into a strange place.
    "All this region, you know, is still very primitive. You'll find herds of wild elephants 20 miles inland, and not far up the river there's a place where the hippopotami are so thick that it's dangerous to pass in a boat. The Wapaki Mountains, which you see over yonder, have never, so far as I know, been traversed by any white man, and in fact I'm invited to join in exploring them next month."

    By this time we have reached a narrow strip of level beach at the foot of a steep slope. Here, according to local custom, the boat is run aground, and one of our black boatmen, taking Mrs. Ker in her arms like a baby, wades ashore with her through the shallow water, the rest of us following in the same dignified manner.
    The breakneck path, or rather slide, by which we scale the slope (originally formed no doubt by a torrent rushing down the hillside) is anything but an easy climb, the hard red clay being worn so smooth by the daily passage of scores of bare feet that it is indeed "as slippery as a buttered rainbow." However we surmount it at last, and passing through several plantations of bananas and mpong (a kind of yam) enter "Aqua Town" in state, with our six purple-shirted boatmen marching in solemn procession behind us.

    "Who lives here?" ask I. "Doombeloabi or Bukapinda?"
    "Neither," answers our leader. "This is Ekwallapiya's place, and a right good fellow you'll find him. I know him very well, for I've had to doctor several of his people. See, here they come to meet us."

    Our reception is certainly a warm one in every sense of the word. Scarcely have we appeared when the tide of popular enthusiasm bursts upon us in one great wave of black, half-clad, perspiring humanity. Had we three men gone by ourselves our entry would have been sober and commonplace enough, but the apparition of a "white Mamie" among the black citizens of Aqua Town--many of whom have never seen a European lady before--produces as great an excitement as a Lord Mayor's show or a royal procession would create in the streets of London.
    In an instant there begins a regular race for "first up," men, women, and children scampering wildly toward us, trampling recklessly through the yams and breaking the broad leaves of the plantains. Some press close up behind us, while other run on ahead and then turn round to stare at us in front, and in this melodramatic fashion we enter the august presence of the second chief.

    In height this illustrious gentleman is little above the ordinary European stature, but his chest and arms are worthy of a full grown gorilla, while any prizefighter might envy the brawnly limbs which are but slightly hidden by the red and white cloth swathed around his loins. To crown all, the African Falstaff--who is enormously fleshy in addition to his herculean muscle--is seated upon a native stool of carved wood so small as to be quite invisible till he rises, reminding me of the stout lady in the story who "could have taken the drawing room table for a music stool."
    We salute this potentate with all the respect due to the owner of the street in which we stand, consisting as it does of two immensely long one-storied houses about 50 feet apart, built of planks or bamboos and thatched with dry grass, the one being occupied by himself with his wives and children, and the other by his immediate retainers. Along this strange thoroughfare several native women are moving slowly with earthen vessels on their heads, while others ply their simple cookery beneath those open sheds of grass thatch supported on poles wherewith our life on the Grain Coast after our shipwreck familiarized us.

    At the door of Ekwallapiya's house we are politely received by the chief himself--a man of 35 or 40, rather thin for an African grandee, with nothing remarkable about him save his waistcloth of blue silk--and seating ourselves in the canvas deck chairs that he offers us we begin to examine the encircling crowd, which is constantly recruited from the numerous doors that dot the 100 yards of front possessed by this original country house.
    For a moment I wish myself a photographer, the triple wall of black faces and strange ornaments that hems us in presenting a matchless tableau. Most of the men are fine, stalwart fellows of 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 9, with well developed muscles, which their scanty clothing leaves fully displayed. More picturesque still are the children, queer little black images, with nothing on save bracelets and anklets of brass or copper, grinning at the sight of "white man's lady" till their tiny faces seem all eyes and teeth.
    Among the younger women appears more than one pretty face, despite the tattooing which seams their foreheads, cheeks, and bodies with a kind of insane crochet work in black or dark blue. A painter would love to copy their head dress of three circular plaits of hair, one above another, interlined with white or colored beads, strings of which likewise adorn their necks and wrists.

    It is strange to see amid that dusky mass a woman and child as fair skinned as an ordinary mulatto, though with thoroughly negro hair and profile, the former being of a reddish brown color. We at once think ourselves of all that Stanley told us in London last November about the mysterious "White Africans" of Gambaragara, among the great equatorial lakes, "slender and long limbed, with brown curly hair, European features, and complexions no darker than a mulatto in the Southern States."
    But Mr. Allan informs us that in West Africa there is no distinct race of these singular beings, who crop up at long intervals in almost every local tribe, and attract no special attention.
    The woman shrinks behind her companions on seeing us watching her; but her boy (a fine sturdy little fellow with a rather handsome face) plants himself behind us with a sugar cane twice his own height, clinched like a staff in his tiny fist, and keeps off the other youngsters as they crowd to shake hands with us.
    This handshaking, indeed, is quite an epidemic, and we undergo as much of it in the course of our visit as a candidate at an English election.

    But now there rises above the stunning din of shouting, screaming, and laughing the chief's shrill voice commanding a native dance in our honor, while he singles out from the throng a young lady, who is evidently a noted performer. The dusky Taglioni hangs back at first with the real or affected bashfulness of a European belle when invited to "delight the company with a little music." But at length she yields and stands forth in the midst with another girl of her own age, the rest forming a circle around them, shouting and clapping their hands in cadence, while the two performers shuffle around the ring one behind the other, beating their elbows against their sides and making tremulous movements with the whole upper part of the body, every muscle quivering in a way so terribly suggestive of a tortured animal writhing in unbearable agony that it is anything but a pleasant sight.
    Suddenly the whole throng falls into a kind of rude procession, and circles round and round in front of us, amid a burst of howling, chattering, and shrieking, like an army of parrots dispersing a mob of monkeys. But even this Babel is as nothing to the uproar that awaits us a little further on in the slave's quarters, which, according to local custom, are somewhat apart from the rest of the village. On the ground in front of the huts lie several native drums--round logs with the inside scooped out--upon which half a dozen brawny negroes are thundering with heavy wooden clubs, producing a noise which is said to be frequently heard at a distance of two miles, and which, superadded to the howls of the men and boys and the screeching laughter of the women, is absolutely deafening.

    But the demonstration of public feeling does not end even here. When we turn to go down again to the boat the entire village swarms out after us, and follows us not merely down the hillside, but right into the water.
    Twenty Dualla ladies and gentlemen, standing knee-deep in the river alongside of our boat, have a regular battle for one final shake of Mrs. Ker's hand--which half a dozen of them at length seize so firmly as almost to pull her overboard--while the air and our ears are rent simultaneously by a farewell burst of friendly howls which not even an echo could reproduce.

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