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The New York Times, January 23, 1887, p.5:




    CAPE BLANCO [Ras Nouadhibou, Cap Blanc, Cabo Blanco, Mauritania], Sahara Desert, Sept. 29—Our voyage will soon be over now, for we are just passing that outermost skirt of that mighty desert which I entered from the other side eight years ago, in company with a group of adventurous French officers. This will probably be our last glimpse of Africa for the present, and another day ought to bring us in sight of Grand Canary, where we will go ashore for a holiday upon one of the most beautiful islands in the Atlantic, in which we may all enjoy all the richness and splendor of the tropics without their destroying heat and deadly malaria.

    The coast which we are now skirting is the same where the Spaniards proposed to annex 60 miles of seaboard a few years ago. In this wise undertaking they have certainly little opposition to fear, for no man in his senses would be likely to dispute with them the possession of these barren rocks and lifeless sands which extend their dreary length along the eastern horizon as far as the eye can reach.

    What the interior of this region is like may be gathered from the simple, straightforward narrative of a man of whom America may be justly proud—that stout-hearted New-England Captain who was one of the few men that survived the fearful ordeal of slavery among savages as greedy and ferocious as the vultures who share with them the solitudes of this accursed desert. Wrecked a little to the north of this perilous cape, he was instantly pounced upon by the fierce Arabs that haunt it, plundered, stripped, and dragged away into the depths of the wilderness with the remnant of his ill-fated crew.
    This is how he describes his journey:

    The flints upon which we trod were sharp as knives, laying upon our bare feet at every step, so that the blood dripped from our heels as we struggled on. Meanwhile the Arabs kept goading us forward with the shafts of their spears, or pricking us with their points. The burning sand that entered our wounds caused us intolerable agony, and the sun was now beating down upon us so fiercely that our exposed skins peeled off in long strips as if scalded with boiling water. At length, driven to desperation, I began to look about for a large stone, intending to dash out my brains with it, and so to end my sufferings. But not finding one, I determined to bear up, and not to lose hope while life remained to me.

    This same coast has witnessed another tragedy of European reknown, the mere mention of which, after the lapse of nearly half a century, suffices to thrill with horror all who have heard it. At the end of one of the rooms of the Louvre, in a dim and fitful light that makes its ghastly details doubly terrific, hangs an enormous picture... One glance suffices to tell the most careless observer that it can represent nothing else than the historical raft upon which the doomed survivors of the Medusa lingered out the last days of that long agony whose sickening details are too well known to need repetition.

    Since we lost sight of the coast of Dahomey [now Benin] our chief amusement on board has been to hear the homeward-bound Anglo-African traders who are our fellow-passengers criticising works of African travel. In truth, the best farce ever put on the stage could hardly be more comical than this pretentious condemnation of authors of world-wide celebrity by men of whom not a few can hardly spell their own names...
    The only book which these enlightened censors appear to admire--probably because they do not understand it--is that edifying volume in which Capt. Burton [Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, 1821-1890] has filled 261 pages with a minute account of how he did not shoot a gorilla...

    The great event of the past week has been the final debarkation of the Kroomen [Krumen, Kroumen] who have been on board as part of our ship's company ever since we touched at Cape Palmas two months ago on our way southward to the Congo and Angola. The practice of carrying native boatmen, freight handlers, &c., in order to spare the white crew that constant exposure to the sun which is so fatal in these latitudes, is now universal among the West African steamers, and has undoubtedly saved many lives. It involves, however, the slight inconvenience of having to carry back these sable recruits to the very places from which they were originally taken, which implies a delay of several hours at each four or five small and very inconvenient coast stations many miles apart.

    The programme of the performance is usually somewhat as follows: We heave to off a dreary waste of sandy beach flanked by dark masses of jungle, upon which the keenest sight can discern no token of man's presence. Here we remain for an hour or more, blowing our whistle and firing our signal gun at intervals without any apparent result, like the ill-used traveler who defined the item of "attendence" in a hotel bill as "the privilege of ringing a bell as long as one pleases without anybody coming to object."
    Our Kroomen themselves, however, evidently expect to be "called for," and have already put on their best clothes—if the term can be applied to a covering hardly larger than a pocket handkerchief—in order to go ashore in style. The whole main deck is swarming with dark skins and red, yellow, or blue waistcloths, suggesting the group of "reknowned African savages in their world-famous equestrian performance" so often met with in the bills of a circus.

    One gentleman crowns his black wool with a flaming red nightcap. Another twists turban fashion around a greasy old had of gray felt a handkerchief which was once white, but which now is so dirty as to look very much like a collier's washcloth. A third, who has just allowed himself to be shaved by one of his black brethren, is taking an anxious survey of his own face in a small looking-glass, as if to assure himself that all his features are still where they ought to be. A fourth—one of the few native aristocrats who has attained the dignity of a shirt—is a mark for the admiring glances of his comrades as he swaggers up and down the deck in all the pomp of his blue flannel, with the air of Goliath defing Israel.

    A sudden shout from the motley group draws our attention to three or four Kroomen who are leaning over the side and pointing with gestures of great excitement to a cluster of distant objects, which might at first sight be easily mistaken for a shoal of frolicsome porpoises leaping and splashing in the clear, bright sea. But a second glance shows them to be canoes, plunging and lifting amid the long smooth swells that roll in upon the shore, now completely hidden, and now starting to view once more.
    The boats are coming at last, and most extraordinary objects they are—shells of wattle [Acacia] and bark shaped just like the blade of a knife, 15 or 20 feet long by 2 feet broad, and certainly now 12 inches above water. At a little distance they are quite invisible, and the paddler appears to be sitting upright in the sea. Yet these flimsy little shreds of banana peel, which seem hardly equal to the weight of an able-bodied parrot, will carry safely ashore through the heaviest surf a couple of weighty casks or half a dozen men with all their baggage.

    Nor are the boatmen less remarkable then their boats. The toilet of the majority does not soar beyond the traditional waistcloth, but there are among them a few aboriginal dandies who have supplemented it with a straw hat, a gray wideawake, or even a peaked uniform cap that once belonged to some officer aboard a passing merchant steamer.
    Their paddles—all of the spear-pointed shape, which in these parts replaces the three-pronged paddle of the Gold Coast—are curiously painted, one being adorned with four red crosses, another displaying an excited rooster crowing with might and main, while a third bears the name of "Tom" in quaint, twisted letters.
    One tall, lanky gentleman in the foremost canoe appears to be combining business with pleasure by holding in his mouth one end of the fishing line that trails behind his boat. What would happen to his front teeth were a big fish suddenly to seize the bait and dart away at full speed he does not appear to consider...

    The Kroomanian "properties"—packed for the most part in old gin cases and gun chests—accumulate as rapidly as falling snow. Two men, hurrying up from opposite sides with their boxes in their arms, crash into each other like express trains, and go sprawling on their backs, still clinging to their burdens like an ant to a grain of corn... Several unfortunate Kroomen who have laboriously dragged all their possessions to the wrong side of the deck suddenly discover their mistake, and rush to repair it, producing a battle of conflicting boxes worthy of Homer or Milton, while the laughter of the saloon passengers on the poop deck mingles with the howling and chattering of the motley crowd below, shrilly answered by the screeches of the parrots that hang in their cages along the passageway.

    And now the foremost canoes run alongside, and the clamor of the Kroomen above is supplemented by that of the boatmen beneath. A rope is at once reeved to lower the baggage, but this is far too slow for the impatient natives, who settle the matter by the simple method of pitching boxes and bundles over the side into the water, where the canoemen swim after them and drag them in one by one.
    Some little excitement is created by a gaunt negro who suddenly appears from the passageway with a keg of gunpowder on each shoulder and a short pipe alight in his mouth. But before any one has time to be alarmed the dangerous kegs are splashing in the sea and being scrambled for by three or four rival canoemen.

    As boat after boat shoots alongside this scramble deepens into a regular sea fight after the old classic style. Canoes clash together like battering rams... The frail, narrow, knife-shaped barks are speedily loaded to the water's edge, and their owners are kept fully employed in bailing them out, more especially as either by accident or design each man bails the water out of his own boat into those of his neighbors...
    And so for two long hours the scramble and tumult go on... But at length the last two packages, a huge brass plate curiously embossed and a chest with a full-rigged ship painted on its lid, are lowered down the side. Their owners follow, and then (as a sensation novelist would say) "a silence deep and awful as that of the grave falls upon the deserted bark," which the parrots and monkeys on the forecastle kindly do their best to relieve.

    Not the least remarkable feature of this strange African race is the extraordinary jargon [pichinglis] in which they usually communicate with the white men, as interesting a study in its way as the "pigeon English" [pidgin] current in the towns of Eastern China. Some German philologist might make a very instructive book out of the dialect of the Grain Coast [Pepper Coast], which, like the Malay, has the advantage of making one word get through a vast amount of business.

    The verb "to live" is a regular servant of all work. Instead of saying, "There is a man on the shore," the Kroo says, "One boy live for beach." When rheumatism attacks him he tells you that "big pain live for back," and when one of his comrades departs this life he announces "me brother live for die."
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    Independent from France in 1960, Mauritania annexed the southern third of the former Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara) in 1976, but relinquished it after three years of raids by the Polisario guerrilla front seeking independence for the territory.

    Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed TAYA seized power in a coup in 1984 and ruled Mauritania with a heavy hand for more than two decades. A series of presidential elections that he held were widely seen as flawed.

    A bloodless coup in August 2005 deposed President TAYA and ushered in a military council that oversaw a transition to democratic rule. Independent candidate Sidi Ould Cheikh ABDALLAHI was inaugurated in April 2007 as Mauritania's first freely and fairly elected president. His term ended prematurely in August 2008 when a military junta led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel AZIZ deposed him and ushered in a military council government. AZIZ was subsequently elected president in August 2009.

    The country continues to experience ethnic tensions among its black population (Afro-Mauritanians) and White and Black Moor (Arab-Berber) communities, and is having to confront a growing terrorism threat by al-Qa'ida [Al-Qaeda] in the Islamic Mahgreb [Maghreb].
    CIA World Factbook: Mauritania

Area of Mauritania: 1,030,700 sq km
slightly larger than 3x the size of New Mexico

Population of Mauritania: 3,129,486
July 2009 estimate

Languages of Mauritania:
Hassaniya Arabic, Wolof both official
Pulaar, Soninke, French

Mauritania Capital: Nouakchott

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    Almost as miscellaneous are the duties assigned to the word "book," which, according to Kroo ideas, comprises every variety of written or printed paper, from Webster's Unabridged down to an address scribbled on a card. The adjective "fit," too, is put to some curious uses. When a Krooman refuses a job he says: "Me no fit do them thing one time."
    But the most systematically overworked term in the whole dialect is undoubtedly "palaver," which is applied indifferently to a council, a fight, a confidential talk, a feast, a bargain, a political complication, a success, or a misfortune. When a man realizes a large profit upon a shipment he is said to "make a good palaver." When he gets fined or imprisoned, he has "made bad palaver." Among the more civilized Kroomen the ordinary name for Sunday is "God palaver day," just as the Chinamen used to call the poor Bishop of Hong Kong "Joss pigeon man No. 1."

    In fact, the manifold duties discharged by this philological Pooh-Bah may be best summed up in a parody of the well-known nursery rhyme:

There was a "palaver" beloved by the Kroo,
Which had so many meanings it didn't know what to do;
Applied to all objects from battles to bread,
It wore itself threadbare, and then fell down dead.

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