33. London to Accra

No long gaps signifying dull times in Hayes’ diary now:  he’s sailing South bouncing from town to town along the coast of West Africa.  Everything is new, exotic, and exciting.  Along with the tingle of anticipation we get a running firsthand commentary on styles of European Colonialism.

I’m still blocked from uploading maps on mapquest, so no little map again this week.

Click here to download chapters 1-33 on Google Earth.  

Here and There Synopsis:

33.1 Bound for Lagos!

December 5, 1906

People familiar with the African coast told Hayes someone in Lagos would most likely offer work – so at Liverpool he paid second-class passage on the Mandingo to Lagos. “No European is allowed to go third else I would.” After all the hardships he’s experienced to date (perhaps because of them), one reads Hayes’ fear of this gamble to win Africa: “Naturally I am fearful of consequences, for I have not the fare back, and may not get a job. But one must take chances; he may not obtain a place there unless he does.”

Hayes’ companions the Mandingo include missionaries to the dark continent, traders to their stations, miners headed for the Gold Coast, railway builders to Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and sightseers going as far as the Canary Islands. Some are “old coasters who tell horrifying tales of cannibals, the Ju-ju and the boundless bush. From these fables I gather much that is true.”

Nice to read Hayes write his excitement even with its tinge of apprehension: “I am really going to see Africa at last. It thrills me, tho I am in a quandary what to do. Something always turns up, there is no need to worry. Providence takes care of the details, it is up to me to go.”

33.2 Santa Cruz De Tenerife

December 11, 1906

Six days out of Liverpool and still more than one hundred miles from Tenerife, Hayes and the other passengers spot Pico De Teide rising more than 12,000 feet above the warm waters of the Canary Islands.

Pico De Teide, Tenerife

“The island appears to be sun burned, dry and one wonders how the many villages so full of people find a livelihood on the almost barren slopes of the rugged hills.” As the Mandingo drops anchor at Santa Cruz De Tenerife, “multitudes of hawkers” swarm to the ship in “lighters” with fruit, post cards, silken garments, salacious books, and directions to the bordellos for those so inclined. “There are Indian merchants also, these with every intriguing toy and novelty known in the East to temp the passengers to purchase something for the trip. Many do, but wonder after why they bought such foolish things to take to Africa.”

Santa Cruz De Tenerife has “all the gorgeous coloring peculiar to Spanish towns.” Once ashore, “one finds dirty, cobble-paved streets that wind about courts and in unguessed ways,” traversed by barefoot men and women, staring but courteous to the tourists. Hayes sees that concrete dams block several arroyos upcountry; with the volcanic soils here, “Water means everything.” Further evidence of the volcanic history marks the shoreline: “…great cliffs of lava rise perpendicularly from the sea in many places.”

Los Gigantes, Tenerife

33.3 Dakar, West Africa

December 16, 1906

Hayes’ first sighted the African continent on December 15, 1906, “as we approached the barren sandy coast somewhere about the mouth of the Senegal River, which falls into the sea at St. Louis.” Greeting his ship, the Mandingo, were, “myriads of porpoises leaping about the ship and over the sea far and near. I never saw so many before.” The heat has forced the Europeans into white clothing and pith helmets. “The British affect one styled much different to the coal-scuttle French type.”

Arriving at Dakar, Hayes sees French dredging equipment and a former “convict station” at Goree Island at the mouth of the harbor with no mention of the slave trading history there. The native boys who dive for coins tossed from the ship at Dakar are less discriminating than those at Tenerife who would dive only for silver.

Hayes’ diary is something of a first hand analysis of comparative styles of European colonialism. At Dakar, the capital of Senegal, a French colony, he records that many Senegalese hold positions of “authority and responsibility, for there is no color line among the French.” Many “half castes” are sent here to the Catholic schools. “It is nothing for a Frenchman to marry a Negress, and Negroes have access to all public places equally with whites.”

In 1906, peanuts were the main export from Senegal. But Hayes can see that Dakar’s strategic location will soon make it an important coaling stop and trading station for “hides, and minerals, and cotton and many other commodities.”

33.4 French Influence at Konakry

December 20, 1906

On its way to Freetown, the Mandingo stopped in at Konakry (Conakry on the current map) “where a railway runs up country somewhere into the low ranges that form the sources of the great Niger.” Hayes says that the Iles De Los immediately offshore from Konakry serve as French convict stations like those at New Calcedonia and Cayenne – but this one is to be discontinued. “The French, loving beauty, have planted many palms at Konakry, and the surrounding islands offshore are well clothed with trees and grass.” The rip tides at Konakry prevent the Mandingo from docking; she can only anchor in shallow water nearby.

33.5 British Influence at Freetown

December 20,1906

As at Konakry, Freetown has no pier, so lighters carry both passengers and freight to shore. “A considerable mountain lies behind the town of 35,000 people.” Once ashore Hayes immediately reports on the “super abundance” of luscious fruit: “Mangoes, paipais, bananas, coconuts, oranges, limes, lemons, guavas, breadfruit and many other varieties are exhibited in the open market.” Good-natured women do the trading, calling out to all – especially the Europeans. The African men and women both “seem to thrive under the rule of the Briton and proudly call themselves British if asked their nationality.” All speak English fluently.

Despite the friendly greeting and the abundance of good food Hayes is acutely aware that, “It is not a health resort. Few places on the West African coast are. The sinister name of “White Man’s Grave” (Hayes’ quote) applies to Freetown quite as well as to the places farther down the coast, and many Europeans are buried here.” He knows that Europeans have little resistance to African diseases.

33.6 Monrovia

December 22, 1906

As Hayes travels into Africa, his descriptions employ the racist assumptions and language of his time. It remains my choice to edit around his most overt expressions of those assumptions. Nevertheless, he was traveling in, and commenting on, the European colonial empire. Thus, the content, if not the precise language, of those assumptions unavoidably enter this account in order to remain faithful to his descriptions.

At Monrovia, the “capital of Liberia, Negro republic of West Africa,” no harbor greets the Mandingo, only a shallow river mouth and a whaleboat. “So the passengers bound to that place got a bit of a wetting down.” In addition to the passengers bound for Monrovia, some small amount of cargo went ashore but not before all “was carefully checked, and papers signed with due ceremony,” by “officers of the republic … dressed in all their regalia,” who “took themselves quite seriously.”

Hayes has great respect for the British style of managing an empire: “The British officers are well accustomed to dealing with these people, and know how to act under such circumstances. It is why they have built such a vast empire, for no other people has the patience…”

As the Mandingo sails beyond Monrovia, Hayes hears tales told by “old coasters,” of “cannibals and Ju-Ju men” inhabiting the low hills he sees inland beyond the well-forested shore. He muses that perhaps their stories are true, “but most are given to exaggeration for the benefit of the newcomers to the Coast.“ He sees an occasional village, “with white painted trading stations – factories, they are termed in West Coast English.”

Hayes also hears the voices of Africans as in the following extended reply to the assumptions of European superiority.

“It is interesting to listen to the Kroo boys. The lingua franca of the entire Coaast is pidgin English. Some of the British, teasing a small Kroo, were baffled by his ready return to their quips.

‘What do you black people know?’ [A European] queried. ‘You have no books, no mills to make cloth, no cooking pots other than earthen ware, no houses worth living in and no boats that can go far to sea. Just bushmen, that’s all your are!’

‘Oh, das alri’,’ returned the Kroo easily. ‘S’pose white man want dem ting, wot he do? All time he say wheah book? Wheah book? Black man, he no wantum book, he know all dem ting!’”

33.7 Grand Bassam

December 24, 1906

Before arriving at Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, the Mandingo stops at several places including “Half Jack” and Grand Lahou. “Every stopping place has been like the other, a long sand beach fronting on a low foreshore, with heavy rollers from deep Atlantic beating on the sands.” No place has docking facilities, so passengers and goods are ferried ashore by “naked giants who paddle the whale boats through the raging surf to the side of the ship.” Even when the boats don’t capsize on the way back to shore, all passengers are well drenched before reaching the sand. Passengers in boats that do capsize are pulled from the sea and dragged ashore. “A ceaseless chant can always be heard as these splendid boatmen propel their craft to or from the shore, and this does not cease even when they are overturned.”

At Freetown a number of educated Africans boarded the Mandingo. “None of the Coasters will have a second look at them.” The Africans sit at separate tables for meals, served by white stewards, bawling at the “humble stewards”: “What sort of ship is this? No serviette, no service, worse than savages!” (Hayes quoting “a bronze negro who seems to be the leader of the African colony.”)

Of course, “the old coasters boil under their collars and with little more provocation would riot.” Hayes reflects on the practice of the “South of my own country [where] the blacks are segregated, the only reasonable way the race question can be intelligently solved.”

Segregated or not, Hayes does admire the locals’ skill with boats. Men and boys from Grand Bassam fish from tiny canoes “as adept on the surface of the water as the fish that swim below. From earliest childhood they are playing in the surf, and before they are grown are perfect boatmen.”

33.8 Sekondi

December 26, 1906

All the miners on board leave the Mandingo at Sekondi headed for the rich gold fields up country – departing the ship still hung over from their Christmas celebration: “Both first and second class vied with one another to see who could put away the most booze, and from a neutral view point I should say it was a draw.”

Local peddlers board the ship hawking “ beautiful objects they have fashioned from pure gold, for many are artisans equal to jewelers in Europe. Butterflies, scarab beetles, fish and wild animals are all imitated and well executed by these gold smiths.”

But forget the gold; of greatest interest to the old coasters remaining on board are the antics and revelations concerning the leader of the Africans who was so offensive to the white stewards. Turns out he is an escaped criminal under escort of “a uniformed soldier (black) on board all the way from Freetown.” At Axim the escapee had bribed a ship’s fireman for a hiding place in the coal bunkers from which he hoped to sneak ashore. The old coasters hooted as he was discovered and “dragged along the decks by the mate.” But the man is undeterred; “he is in the salon again tonight, brazen as ever.”

33.9 Cape Coast Castle

December 29,1906

As the Mandingo dallies down the coast stopping at port after port, no passengers are permitted ashore; so Hayes has yet to set foot on African soil. He speculates that a dense population inland accounts for so many small towns along the seacoast. “Every one of them is a delight to the eye.”

At Cape Coast Castle, the infamous slave fortress, with its door-of-no-return, still stands (as it does to this day).

Cape Coast Castle

Hayes also saw, “the old barracoons where slaves were held until ready to ship to the Americas, perhaps hundreds of years ago.”

Slave Baracoon

Hayes makes two comments about the slave trade. First: “The Negroes themselves sold the slaves, kidnapping their countrymen from the hinterland and selling them to dealers at these coast ports, where they were held until a load was ready.” And second: “If only someone had been thoughtful enough to keep a diary in those days!”

That’s all about the slave trade. Continuing in the same paragraph he notes, “the boatmen seem even larger as we proceed down the coast” and adds his usual lament that “Most of our cargo is spirits. Gin, rum in great hogsheads, case liquor for the whites and for the blacks. Surely there are not enough people to drink it all.”

33.10 Accra

December 29, 1906

While still on board the Mandingo anchored at Accra, Hayes writes the last chapter of the “aristocratic prisoner” who tried to escape at Sekondi. At Accra he tried it again. Just as his soldier/guard and all aboard had given up searching for him, “a whaleboat ranged alongside, occupied by Kroomen only. They had with them the escaped prisoner. Naked as the day he was born, he had slipped out of his clothes and over the side right under the nose of the soldier.” Because the shore was too far, he swam to the boat promising the boatmen any sum they named to row him ashore. “The only fly in the ointment was he had no money, no nothing, with him. So they returned him to the ship where he was gladly received.”

Hayes describes Accra as “one of the oldest towns on the coast. Also the largest and the capital of the Gold Coast colony.” Cocoa, palm oil, palm nuts, mahogany, and other topical products all ship in quantity from Accra. “Surely West Africa is a rich country, but oh so deadly to the European. This largely because of the free use of liquor.”

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