34. Accra to the Osse River

How do you find work in Africa?  If you are a 28 year-old American with logging experience, you call around to the biggest Mahogany cutters in Lagos and get hired on to oversee a lonely outpost deep in the bush.

Google maps is letting me upload again.  The green path down the west coast of Africa shows the previous chapter.  This chapter shows in orange.  Hayes’ trip into an isolated logging station north of Sapele shows in pink for the next chapter.  The map won’t show in an email; you’ll need to click the title to go to the web page to see it.

Click here to download chapters 1-34 on Google Earth.  

Here and There Synopsis:

34.1 Ashore at Lagos

December 31, 1906

Hayes first set foot on African soil at Lagos, in what is now Nigeria, on the last day of 1906, at first believing the “terrific row” going on was the “usual procedure in Africa” –no, just the celebration of the New Year.

He writes one last epilogue on the “aristocratic prisoner” who Hayes now terms “our swell headed prisoner”: At Lagos Hayes finds him handcuffed to a rail outside a saloon with the old coasters bating him unmercifully. He had stolen 1,500 pounds from his employers “and had been to Sierra Leone having a wonderful time.”

Because his purse is light, Hayes chooses not to put up the best hotel, instead, “I took an inferior one run by Negroes.” A bad choice: the food is not good.

As to the business of landing a job in Lagos? “On the ship coming down was the head forester for Nigeria, and I approached him for an introduction to the mahogany shippers of this province. He was very courteous about it, and promised to do what he could.” All the old coasters on board the Mandingo scoffed at Hayes’ chances of finding employment, but taking encouragement from a Bible verse, “The Lord shall be thy confidence and keep thy foot from being taken,” (Hayes’ quote) he plans to call on all the largest producers the very next day.

January 3,1907

On New Year’s Day, Hayes came to the offices of A. Miller Bro. and Co., one of the largest and best paying traders in Africa, and “Strangely, Miller’s were looking for me.” The head forester, to whom Hayes had spoken on the Mandingo, told Miller’s about a young American with forestry experience, “and they wanted just such a man.” Miller’s hired him on the spot chiding him for not taking a room in the best hotel. “As I will be going up country soon, I can stick my present place until that time.”

With a little time to look around the town while provisioning, Hayes sees that Lagos is a low-lying island, “with so-called creeks a mile or more in width surrounding it on every side.” He predicts that, with a little improvement, Lagos will be one of the great harbors of West Africa. For now, he sees many great canoes hauling palm nuts, oil, coal, and rubber to the trading “factories” for export. He estimates the population of Lagos to be 50,000, “Not more than a few hundred of these are whites, chiefly British, but a sprinkling of French, Germans, and others from Europe.” Also living in Lagos, though of lower status than the Europeans, are Syrian traders who “live with the Negroes and on the same scale,” at least to begin with. The Syrians are sharp traders who have “about ousted the French traders” in French Territory. Hayes cannot help but notice the Syrian women are beautiful, loaded with bangles, and that “no one seems to molest them.”

At Lagos, Hayes meets locals accustomed to Europeans. “The Portuguese were the pioneers, more than 400 years ago. Then the slavers and now the booze merchants, worst of all.” Hard to imagine that trade in alcohol could be worse for Africa than slavery, but Hayes presses his assertion. One has to wonder where he got his statistic, but he claims “spirits form 67% of the imports into West Coast colonies.” He says the Elder-Dempster line brings most of it but also the German Woermann liners, the French Chargeur Reunis and several others – importing booze and exporting chiefly palm products. Elder-Dempster alone has 96 ships (British sailors tell Hayes that a line with 100 ships must build a battleship for the British navy, so Elder-Dempster spun off a subsidiary) whose tonnage ranges from 5,000 to 9,000 tons each with a regular run to the West Coast carrying intoxicants. “It is a bad outlook for the African people, for all drink,” from the oldest men and women to the smallest children.

January 6, 1907

European employees of lesser trading companies envy Hayes’ 100 pound yearly salary. “But Americans get better pay than Europeans.”

On his last day before heading up country, Hayes takes a moment to record his impressions of the missionary work underway at Lagos. “I find most of the missionary work hereabout is financed by the trading companies, for it is the policy of these merchants to keep in the good graces of the dispensers of salvation.” He surmises two reasons for this: “For one thing, the traders want to keep the missionaries silent on the liquor question.” And somewhat more laudably, “most of the societies doing missionary work in West Africa have industrial work, also educate many of their converts, teaching them to read and write and enabling them to become clerks on the beaches where the trade is carried on.” The companies then hire many of the mission-trained clerks whose language skills are invaluable to trade. “As the black can always speak his native tongue and perhaps several other dialects common to West Africa, he can deal with his fellow countrymen more successfully than can a newly arrived white man.”

But Hayes is to be a timber man not a trader. And he’s already made it clear: no booze, either in trade or as a customer. “It makes me appear a queer one among these coasters, but I should care. I have never handled the stuff and never will.”

Last time Hayes visited his family in Hico, Texas, his parochial “old gang” wouldn’t believe his tales of flying fish – now traipsing around the mangrove swamp he’s come upon thousands of walking fish!

Walking Fish, Mangrove Swamp

“Not more than six or eight inches in length, they run about freely on the mud among the mangroves, using their four under-fins as legs easily. Their eyes are large compared to the size of the fish, and they can turn their heads and stare one in the face.” Hayes is certain the walking fish are evolving to live on land.

January 10,1907

Except for two Englishmen, and now Hayes, a lone American, the hundreds of Europeans working for Miller’s along the African coast are all Scots. “The Englishmen are razzed unmercifully.” On the night of Hayes’ departure to the logging site up country, the Scots held a big party with haggis, oatmeal, Old Scotch whiskies, and, when the party mellowed, maudlin patriotic songs with barbs tossed at the two Englishmen. When pressed by the Scots to name some Scottish hero or battle known in the US, Hayes could only dredge up Flodden and Culloden (both disastrous losses for the Scots to the British). “The Caledonians glared while the two Englishmen went into spasms of mirth, and I innocently remarked that I thought these were Scotch battles too.”

34.2 An Endless Maze of Winding Channels

January 10,1907

The straight-line distance from Lagos to Siluko measures about 120 miles, but Hayes says he’ll travel 250 miles by launch through “such an endless maze of these broad, winding channels I wonder how the black pilot ever finds his way.” At long intervals the launch pulls onto “some bit of firm land,” and the crew unloads cases of booze for the locals.

(When tracing the map, I was happy to see that waterways connect Lagos and Siluko. My path is, of course only a guess, as are my locations for the villages about which Hayes writes.)

The only other white traveler on the launch with Hayes is a “phlegmatic District commissioner” covered in heat rash and pickled in alcohol. “A human tank, one might call him. All the old sourdoughs in Alaska would be abashed in the presence of this connoisseur of booze.” In Alaska, Hayes used to chide Martin for his foolhardy stunts; now in the unfamiliar geography of Africa, it’s Hayes who needs a caution. After Hayes dove into the wide lagoon, the District Commissioner, warned him of crocodiles: “Said he had seen one raise its head as I plunged into the water.”

Every few miles up river a new district begins, and with it a new language. “The Englishman, with that adaptability that has given him his world wide empire, has pieced together a new medium of communication that has spread the length of this coast from Dakar to the mouth of the Congo, perhaps beyond.” Everyone, European or African gets along with about 300 words of English, “with additions of native jabber as needed.” Hayes cites a few examples: “Chop lib!” means ‘food is served’; “Small beef” is any food insect or animal smaller than a squirrel; “Large beef” denotes larger animals. All the business of the coast proceeds in this Pidgin English, “for few white men trouble to learn even the larger languages such as Yoruba, Jekri, Beni, Dahoman, Ashanti, and so on.”

34.3 West African Rain Forest

January 13, 1907

From an unnamed stop deep in the rain forest, Hayes relates a malicious anecdote about pretensions ruptured: At one small riverside villages the District Commissioner receives effusive greetings from, “A native administrator, one ‘Mr. McCoy,”… Clad in immaculate whites, a western hat a la cowboy, puttees and well shined boots with a flowing four-in-hand gracing his neck, he strutted among the naked blacks and aired his English, which was correct.” Mr. McCoy had been rowed out in a small canoe and stood hanging onto the side of the launch while chatting with the District Commissioner. As the two crafts slowly drifted apart, “Mr. McCoy had to either break in two pieces or else let go at one end.” He chose to release the launch and went head first into the muck. It was the first time Hayes heard the District Commissioner laugh, though he tried to hide it by shouting for another drink.

Hayes is of course captivated by the unfamiliar wildlife: Gorgeous butterflies, parrots and one bird specialized with “toes of vast length” to walk on the water lilies “that spread their cupped leaves over large areas.”

African Jacana Actophilornis

“It is a never ending thrill to watch what appears round the next bend, and I enjoy it from morning to night, when we tie up til next day’s journey.”

Quite often evidence of Ju-Ju appears round the next bend. “At intervals we see tied goats and fowls by the waterside, or bolts of cloth and bunches of bananas, or any sort of food or material wealth the simple natives possess. They take their religion seriously.” The British are mostly tolerant of local religious practices, “unless it be some of the more terrifying sacrifices where human life is endangered.”

34.4 Siluko

January 15, 1907

Siluko is a “pretty post” with fertile ground growing an abundance of foodstuffs. A dense population, mainly Jerkis and Yorubas, inhabits the region; “Most are Ju-Ju but there are many Mohammedans.” The latter wear white Jibbehs and turbans and heed the call to prayer five times daily.

Sudanese Jebbeh c. 1909

The European influence at Siluko centers on Miller’s, the Scotch trading station called a “factory,” and a German firm “between whom is the keenest competition.” Agents of the rival companies visit and exchange pleasantries – all the while plotting to swindle the other whenever opportunity affords. “This is called business, anything that can be put over without going to jail.”

For Europeans in Africa, it seems to Hayes that either the hospital or the morgue are more likely destinations than jail. “All the country is unhealthy to the European. The dread blackwater fever, common malaria, dengue fever, guinea worm, jiggers, dysentery, and so many more I have not yet learned the names of are rife. One must be careful of everything.” Boil the drinking water. Watch the sun. Take your quinine. “And always (Hayes’ underscoring) the protective mosquito net that shields … from the tiny insects carrying malaria.”

January 17,1907

While waiting for J.F. Herald, head of forestry for Miller’s, Hayes reports “wandering about in the bush” accompanied by the junior partner at Millers’ Siluko factory named White. Their wandering includes a bit of deplorable disrespect: Hayes writes in light-hearted terms about knowingly defiling a mosque: “White and I have been to church. Not that we are getting especially good, but more from a spirit of curiosity than anything else. It was at the Moslem mosque, where all Unbelievers are forbidden entry. Fortunately none observed us, else the mosque would be defiled and would necessitate endless cleansing to make fit for worship again.”

A commotion at the front of the mosque regarding the discovery of a young convert who “had neglected circumcision,” allowed Hayes and White to sneak in the back door of the mosque. While the Moslem elders out front immediately attended to the young man’s oversight, Hayes and White, “browsed round the place, seeing little except dirt and vessels wherein the faithful bathe five times daily.” The two didn’t stay inside long; “we hurried, trying to make the circumcision as well as investigating the sacred mosque.” They avoided detection inside the mosque and exited in time to witness the circumcision – Hayes gives a full paragraph description of the operation.

Now Herald has arrived breathing fire. “All seem afraid of him, so great is his reputation as a bogey man spread abroad.” Hayes has heard that Herald, an intolerant Catholic, once tangled so forcefully with a muezzin “calling the faithful to prayer” in Benin, local colonial authorities called out the military to save Herald’s life. Hayes and Herald are to depart for the Osse River, “two days short journey,” the next morning.

34.5 Osse River

January 20,1907

On the thirty-mile hike to the Osse River, Herald strikes an easy pace while assessing Hayes’ skills. “He seems satisfied concerning my ability to get about the forest and to handle timber.” The two crossed clear flowing streams in the evergreen forest; where swamps intervened, “the husky blacks carried us over the morass.” Herald is, like all Brits – at least according to Hayes – a stickler for form and caste.

And now follows a passage so contradictory to the entry written just three days previously, that one wonders if Hayes re-reading his diary in old age didn’t laugh aloud at his own self-contradiction.

Hayes describes Herald as having a sense of humor – “though this is somewhat dulled.” Herald tries to persuade Hayes “to raid the Ju-Ju at the waterside.” Quoting Herald: “The crocs will only get those fowls and goats tied there. We can depend on those being the best they have, they always give the best to the bloody Ju-Ju.” Herald brags about eating eggs at the village he previously visited. “An ancient crone brought each evening two eggs as an offering to her Deity, whoever that was. She was flattered on finding her tribute taken each morning, and continued to bring the eggs as before.”

Hayes’ reply? The man who three days previously defiled a mosque writes in his diary: “if I expect another to respect my beliefs I too must respect theirs.”

Catholicism, Ju-Ju, Islam aside, the business at Miller’s camp on the Osse River is cutting mahogany.

African Mahogany

On the one hand, Hayes applauds the conservation methods Miller’s practices: “We are not permitted to cut anything less than twelve feet in circumference ten feet above the ground. This to conserve the forest, a wise provision. Three new mahogany trees must be planted for every one cut.” On the other hand, he deplores the antiquated and wasteful logging practices. “So crude are the handling methods the forest cannot be worked more than two-and-a-half miles from water, the logs being hauled by men [!] “ Herald wants to know all about modern methods of logging in the Northwestern United States. “I advocate crosscut saws, jackscrews, and a wheeled truck to bring logs from greater distances. The men are right enough but need instruction.” Hayes sets about filing saws, “rip saws of all things.” [Rip saws are designed to cut parallel not cross grain.] “Who would have devised such tools in a bush?”

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