37. Forcados to Liverpool

October 16, 2011

Hayes ends the first volume of his Diary Here and There fleeing Africa sick with Malaria, broken in spirit, nearly penniless, back to immigrant infested Liverpool.  Yet the final line of the first volume is wryly upbeat.

Having come to the end of the first volume, I’m going to take a short break from publishing this synopsis of Here and There.  I’ll resume with volume II in a few months.  Thank you for reading along. We’ll be back.

On the map below, you can see Hayes leaving Africa, returning to Liverpool on a long red path.  Click the title if the map doesn’t show in an email.

Click here to download chapters all 37 chapters of Volume I on Google Earth.  

Here and There Synopsis:

37.1 A Fevered Departure.

August 8,1907

The freighter Zaria stops at every small port along the African Coast; now at Salt Pond (sic) where naked children play in the surf beating on white sands while their father’s row to and from the ships anchored off shore ceaselessly chanting. To Hayes, “It is beautiful beyond compare.”

Feverish with malaria Hayes writes, “My head aches constantly, but it does not equal that of my heart. The disappointment, the sense of failure that is so overwhelming beats me down.” Sorting back through his experiences he writes, “I can’t see a loophole whereby I might have succeeded. The missionaries all wink at the booze trade, are even supported by it in a left handed sort of way, they too are equally guilty of the debauchery of the African people.” How can he return from his grand adventure after only a few months? “What to do, what to do. If I return, I will be counted as a failure.”

All the memories stew Hayes’ fevered foul mood: “I can see the villages now clearer than when I have been in them during the past seven months. The women, who do most of the work, tending their tiny babies…. The babies, painted a vivid red with the sap of the root of a certain tree…. The men guzzling gin, drunken, bleary eyed, often fighting. The younger women also drunken…. Children hanging onto the fringe of the crowd in an effort to get at least a swig.” Hayes wonders openly if Africa benefits from its occupation by the Europeans: “The latter has stopped the slave trade and human sacrifice, but he has saddled this debauchery on them, and it is worse.”

37.2 Sekondi

August 10,1907

Sailing westward, Hayes submerges his sense of personal defeat into descriptions of the surrounding terrain and events aboard ship. Characteristically, he likes to know where roads lead: At Sekondi, “A railway runs from here up to Jumasi, (Kumasi) capital of Ashatni”. Only recently conquered, the Ashanti continue to resist the British, but this is a land of gold, so the Europeans persist.

Aboard ship, a Kroo sailor stole a bolt of cloth. “The skipper of the Zaria is a hard boiled seaman. Scotch, he has no nerves, no conscience, no heart. In the place of this latter organ he carries a wet sock that fully answers for such purposes as he lives for.” After a search turned up the cloth, the skipper garnished the man’s wages – a shilling a day. “It all goes into the thrifty captain’s pocket, all but the cloth itself, and he has that back.”

37.3 All Coast Ports are Alike

August 16, 1907

Axim, Half Assinie, Assinie, Grand Bassam, Grand Lahou… “All the coast ports are like each other. No harbor, just the long line of sand that fronts on the sea for a thousand miles, perhaps a lagoon behind and forested hills rising beyond that.”

West African Coast

Cargo and passengers land in open boats tossed by the surf. Mahogany logs are floated out, hoisted up, and dumped into the hold. “A dangerous business but what’s a man now and then?” Hayes’ foul mood persists: “We have lost but one thus far. A Kroo, whose foot was cut off by a sliding log.” The log nearly severed the man’s foot at the instep – the amputation was completed by a drunken European doctor with a pair of scissors.” The Kroo man “has lockjaw now, and is writhing in agony.”

Along with some palm oil, palm nuts, cocoa and copal –

Palm Nuts

Copal Beads

– the Zaria’s crew loads a French officer barely alive with Blackwater Fever. The stewards look on him with disfavor knowing that dead men don’t tip. “If this man lives to France he will do better than I believe.” But Hayes’ confidence in European colonial rule has returned: “When Europeans solve the health question that confronts [the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast, and the Slave Coast] then this land will fill with people even as India has under British Rule.”

37.4 White Man’s Grave

August 21, 1907

“The Frenchman died off the Liberian coast, where we tarried for a day or two, doing a little private bootlegging among the natives.” The skipper and purser have a private stock of gin and rum aboard for the many canoes that crowd about the Zaria at every small village. “Sometimes there would be 75 canoes round our ship.” Only a few are permitted aboard at any one time, but after the jockeying for position many canoes left “laden deep with booze.”

Shortly before the Frenchman died, the chief steward grumbled to Hayes, “What bloody good is he to a ship? We have to wyte on the blighter without a chawnce of gittin’ a blommin’ penny, an’ hit’ll be that ye till we git to Sierra Leone.” (Hayes’ quote.) But when the man did die, it silenced the “grasping, insatiate stewards for the moment, for death is never far distant on the West Coast.” Before the skipper could bury the man at sea, some French comrades intervened asking to take the body to Freetown for burial. “He was wrapped in a blanket, tossed into the six inches of water in the bottom of a surf boat and taken shoreward. Life doesn’t mean much after all.”

37.5 Tenerife

August 27, 1907

The Zaria passed Dakar without stopping but called at many other small ports including Konakry before coming on to Santa Cruz De Tenerife. If water can be found on these islands… Tenerife, Las Palmas, Grand Canary… they are unusually fertile growing marvelous oranges and bananas. Some shipmates went ashore to Oratava (sic), but Hayes is both broke and sick with malaria. “The fever never leaves me. I must have a touch of the sun.”

37.6 Madeira

August 30, 1907

“Madiera. This is the finest Island we have seen yet.” The forest remains beautiful despite what Hayes sees as the wasteful, destructive ways of the Portugese. “We are lying in the roadstead at Funchal, so have an excellent view of the island as it lies before us.”

Madeira Island

Funchal Madeira pre-1907

The beauty of the island merits one paragraph; the moral condition of its inhabitants gets three. Thievery, drunkenness, prostitution – Hayes’ typical complaints – overlain with a sharp critique for the Catholic church: “Yet all these people are active Christians.… Wherever one goes here or elsewhere in lands controlled by Portuguese or Spanards he sees priests, nuns, friars, and such, all of whom are supposed to be celibates, too holy to indulge in sex relations with the opposite sex, man or woman. Why is it their laity are so rotten?”

37.7 Liverpool

September 4, 1907

Liverpool isn’t nearly as pretty as Madeira but it’s better for Hayes’ health. Mingling with the filthy crew of the Zaria, “infected me with craw-craw, one of the worst skin diseases West Africa can bestow on the white man.” But in the damp chill sailing up the channel Hayes’ skin already begins to clear and perhaps the malaria as well.

Immigrants from all over Europe, “most of these are the off scourings of Eastern Europe,” crowd Liverpool headed for “the big steel mills and coal mines surrounding Pittsburgh, or else sent to the far northwest of Canada to work on the Grand Trunk Railway building to the Coast.”

Hayes needs a ship to escape this crush of vermin infested humanity. “Lying in the stream is the great new Lusitania, the finest ship I have ever seen. Or any one else as to that, for she is the new queen of the seas just returned from her trial trip.”


How nice to travel on such a pretty new ship, but they laughed at the Cunard office when Hayes inquired about passage. “As she is expected to beat all records across the Atlantic, even millionaires are going steerage on her.”

He didn’t get to board the Lusitania, nevertheless the first volume of Hayes Perkins’ Diary Here and There ends with an upbeat sentence. Hayes stopped by the Miller Brothers’ offices seeking payment. “Cowan was there, and was courteous and kindly. He gave me ten pounds extra, saying the company should share in my expenses to and from the Coast. It does renew one’s faith in human nature to meet an honest man now and then.”

36. Sapoba to Forcados Mouth

October 9, 2011

When I first read Hayes’ diaries in the 1970s this section stuck vividly in my imagination too.  Such bravery – or foolishness – in the name of adventure.

Google maps is back again.  If you are not seeing a map below click the title it will take you to the blog page.  On the map, the previous chapter, 35, shows in pink; the current, 36, shows in yellow; and, 37, the last chapter from volume one of Hayes’ five volume diary shows him leaving Africa broken hearted with a red path.

Click here to download chapters 1-36 on Google Earth.  

Here and There Synopsis:
36.1 Sapoba

March 10,1907

Pajah and the “renegade mission convert” named Comay run the palace at the village of Sapoba where Hayes temporarily quarters. “They are two devils, though perhaps no worse than my own countrymen would be under the same circumstances. Both are brutal, avaricious, lustful to the nth degree.” Comay retains the semblance of Christian worship but also serves as “one of the heads of the Ju-Ju worship, which is in full blast all the time.”

A lengthy passage from Hayes’ diary explains how Comay might reconcile both his religious practices: “Like all Africans I have seen, they apparently have one great-father-god who is the creator of the earth, the universe and all therein. He is well intentioned toward mankind, so there is no need to seek his favor that is unchangeable. It is the thousand and one malign spirits that dwell in trees, in stones, in water, in wild animals, and insects even that must be propitiated.”

A spirit named Gulu worries Pajah and Comay just now. Gulu resides in the river and Hayes can hear him. “It is a trifle uncanny to hear a deep gurgle coming from the depths at any time saying ‘Gulu-gulu-gulu’ for perhaps five minutes on end. A scientist would say it was the gases imprisoned at the bottom of the deep river, but we who live at the village of Sapoba know better.”

If he’s going to cut mahogany, Hayes has to have tools. So he and Comay travel in a canoe paddled by Pajah’s slaves to an old bush camp where a previous timber agent had abandoned some gear that might be salvaged. When Comay lashed the back of a small boy sitting beside Hayes, “I seized the whip and flung it over the side. This brought on a row between Comay and me, while the luckless slave writhed in pain and terror.” Of course Hayes’ impulsive gesture had consequences he could not control:
“I am sorry I intervened now. This morning I saw the slave, his face beaten into a pulp, in a semi-unconscious state.”

Deep in the bush away from Comay, and whips, and slaves, Hayes marks trees “and Pajah weeps because I do not choose more for cutting.” While the old king tries to “inveigle me into an affair with some of his wives,” Hayes escapes into the fascinations of the surrounding forest.

Driver Ants

Driver Ant

Hayes says the driver ants are always on the move busy going nowhere. “When they cross a glade where the sun shines at noon, the carriers seem unable to bear the full rays of the sun. Then the soldiers join their mandibles until they form a living tunnel under which the rank and file of the army passes into shade on the farther side.” No living thing gets in their way: “From the cricket to the elephant every beast respects the driver ant.”

March 22, 1907

In order to appease Gulu, Pajah calls his subjects, his wives and his children nightly to a small shed to worship “two small mud images who are special objects of his devotion.” As the wives kneel in prayer, the children and courtiers dance to the beat of “many drummers who fairly raise the treetops with their clamor; and there are sacrifices, not human, but dogs and goats and many fowls.” The women reach great heights of enthusiasm while “children with bullroarers help to make the night hideous.”

In addition to the mud images, Pajah holds sacred two great rats “almost as large as cats.” The entire court retinue reveres the rats – except Hayes. He killed them both with a deadfall to save his scant store of rice, ham and bacon. “So great was the strength of the last he almost escaped from beneath a box containing more than 100 pounds of goods.” Hayes jumped on the box to finish the job, then threw the evidence of his irreverence to the razorbacks milling beneath the house.

None the wiser abut the fate of his rats, Pajah says he’s building Hayes a house across the river but dawdles on the construction while making sure a wife who speaks a little pidgin remains near the “ibo” (the local name for white men as quoted by Hayes) should the ibo become lonely at night – “but she is out.” The list of fetishes under the head of Hayes’ bed intended to deliver him into Pajah’s power includes: “Gourds containing vile smelling grease, bundles of hair, crocodile teeth, leopard’s claws, and many other charms.”

He writes “It’s a great life if I can stick it. Wish I was across the river.”

April 20, 1907

Back on March 10th Hayes mentioned an agent named Richardson who runs a camp a few miles upstream for a rival company. Herald, Hayes’ boss for Millers, had warned Hayes off Richardson but Hayes, ever his own man, struck up something of a acquaintance with the competing agent whose thievery eventually granted Hayes’ wish to get across the river.

Writing in his diary in April, Hayes describes a precious stone set in fancy beadwork owned by Pajah as, “a gem of purest water, a beautiful object of real value resembling a sapphire.” Hayes’ offer to buy the stone from Pajah elicited, “Wot! Man sell him head!” (Hayes’ quote.) So Richardson showed up while Pajah was away, learned of the existence of the gemstone (presumably from Hayes), stole it, smashed the two mud idols, “and bombarded Pajah’s many screaming wives” with sacred shards. Richardson left with the stone but “dashed me a fine pair of shoes in recompense for the shirts” that had gone missing when Pajah’s wives ransacked Hayes’ belongings looking for the stone.

Hayes’ description of the ensuing scene begins with a laconic, “So things are not so hot.” All logging operations ceased for eight days of Ju-Ju worship. “I am compelled whether I like it or not to be present at the ceremonies, as wild as may be seen on earth.” The “resurrected gods” must be cleansed with the blood of goats, dogs, fowls, and razorbacks in numbers “beyond computation.” Day and night, “All are wrought into a fervor that makes them dangerous. The naked Jekris, topped by fearsome headdresses with bundles of rattles tied round each knee, drive at me with spears, barely grazing my shoulder. I never move, it would be useless.” Sleep? “With fifty drums constantly throbbing, with countless bull roarers screaming, and with yelling natives rushing from one end of the island to another, tearing through walls in search of the offending spirits now loose on the island sleep has been unknown.” Food? “I am starved for Pajah has me helpless.” When Hayes walks away into the bush, Pajah has him returned to the village, “escorted by his big sons,” (ever fair) “one of whom is a decent chap.”

The denouement of this fearsome eight-day ordeal is so unexpectedly foolhardy – or brave – or irreverent – one barely knows how to comprehend its author: “When I appealed to Pajah to cease the row and let my aching head rest just a bit, he gathered the entire village under my window.” Finally at his breaking point, as the whole racket and chaotic threat focused beneath his window, “I tossed a kerosene tin full of water over him.”

One wonders how this man ever lived to 86 years. Withholding the spears, Pajah had Hayes escorted off the island to the nearly completed house across the river. “At last I’m clear of this racket, though the workmen are noisy enough.”

Before the row broke out concerning the gemstone and the broken idols, a few logs had been cut. Despite the inefficient logging methods – “on one log recently I had 120 men hitched for more than two days, dragging it to water” – Hayes had assembled a raft of 100 logs. Now seems like a good time to float them down to Sapele, let Pajah cool down, deliver a few letters, and “try to get rid of my first case of malaria.”

36.2 Logs to Sapele

May 2, 1907

At Miller’s station in Sapele, every agent including Herald, the boss, “Seems to think I am doing well enough despite the difficulties with Pajah and his prime minister. For none of these men know anything about the bush….”

Perhaps three months isolated upriver actually cutting logs with a crew qualifies Hayes to assess other’s knowledge of the bush. At any rate, the agents “are delighted to find all the timber measured, checked and ready to ship without further worry on their part.” Herald continues to warn Hayes to stay clear of Richardson, not because he might be a thief but because other companies’ agents “are rivals in business and will defraud each other in any way they may just so long as they keep clear of jail.”

On the subject of jail, Hayes repeats his observation that local prisoners complain when released from jails established by the Europeans. He quotes two African men protesting to the commissioner: “Why are we being let go, Ibo? Have we not worked well, have given you no trouble; yet others whose conduct has been bad are kept on and we are turned out to starve in the bush?” Hayes summarizes the cultural misunderstanding this way: the Europeans are thinking of shame and punishment; the Africans are thinking of shelter and regular meals.

36.3 Back to Sapoba

May 23, 1907

Returning to Sapoba, Hayes finds a quieter village; Pajah “is in bad condition with syphilis.” Richardson has some Tabasco sauce to treat Pajah – one wonders how.

In the relative quiet, Hayes reflects on local colonial history. Three years before destroying Benin City and exiling Overami, the British had razed Brohomi, the central trading town of Nana Olomu an Itsekiri leader.

Nana Olomu monument

Inside a walled fort armed with “many guns, some of them swivel guns that could have come no way but through the medium of the Germans,” Nana fought until his forces “went down under the guns of the British.”

With Overami and Nana driven from power, “human sacrifice has been driven under cover.” Nevertheless, “it goes on just the same.” Hayes reports that British authorities recently uncovered a Ju-Ju house between Sapoba and Asaba “where the gods were being fed on human flesh.” More disturbingly, according to Hayes, some “Ju-Ju worshipers believe if they eat a bit of any white man, any superior person, the powers of that individual will enter them from that time on.” Hayes describes in graphic detail hearing about the slow death of a European doctor working in Africa killed in this ritual manner.

Whenever Hayes swims in the River at Sapoba, the whole village turns out to gawk at his skin color – especially the women. “A man has to watch his step in Africa, for these young girls are often beautiful and attractive as any European maid.” Hayes abstains of course but “most of the white men take natives as temporary wives.” Attitudes about this practice vary according to nationality: Brits ostracize their countrymen for living openly with an African woman; not ostracization for the Germans, but disgrace; for the French – c’est la vie.

36.4 Parrots at the Ogbesse River

June, 12, 1907

Hayes does not say whether he traveled overland or by river to scout the timber at a station on the Ogbesse River about 50 miles from Sapoba. The site had been worked previously, but some good timber remains. The timber is nice but, “What interested me most was a great parrot roost.”

African Grey Parrot
listed as “near threatened” on the 2007 IUCN red list

“From every quarter just before sundown these birds began to appear. They came in pairs, in flocks, every one of them shrilling his heart out. The noise was deafening, especially about the wide spreading trees where they perch for the night.” People native to the area tell Hayes that such communal roosts are common and that no parrot will rest elsewhere. So vast is the flock that great nighttime commotions follow the collapse of tree limbs under their combined weight. “These are the common African grey parrot, supposed to be the best talkers of all the species of parrots.” (The 2007 up-listing from species of “Least Concern” to “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature results mostly from trapping for the international pet market.)

36.5 Rumblings of Discontent

June 12, 1907

By the last day of July, six weeks hence, Hayes will be sitting at Sapele waiting for a boat out of Africa. Today, on June 12th,he dismisses every reason one might expect to cause his departure. Pajah and Comay don’t force him out: “Ju-Ju ceremonies died a natural death at last, and old Pajah seems somnolent these days. Comay gives trouble, but I keep a jump ahead of him.” Nor does the constant physical threat: “I did get crowned with a club the other night while stopping a gang fight in camp. While dragging two apart another struck me over the head with a club, and for a moment I was staggered. On the whole I get on well enough with the natives, and if left alone could do well.” And the logging work is fine: “Have another raft of timber out and on the way to Sapele, so all is going fairly well.

No, after dreaming of Africa since childhood and finally arriving at age 28, Hayes leaves the continent after six short months because of the booze. “I refuse to have anything to do with gin and rum, so am out of things. Pajah, like all other chiefs, pays his men largely with this sort of trade whether the men like it or not. It is the custom of the country, and unless a man conforms to this he had as well get out.” Precisely what Hayes will do in about six weeks time.

36.6 A Boat at Sapele

July 2, 1907

The figure mentioned earlier – 67% of all imports to Africa are spirits – came to Hayes from Sir Walter Edgerton, governor of Southern Nigeria.

Sir Walter Egerton (far right)
Lagos 1910

Edgerton also said that the morals of the Africans would suffer unless traffic in liquor was in some measure curbed. “So vile is the squareface gin it is forbidden to sell it to an European. I have heard of only two white men drinking it, and these both died in a delirium shortly after. The same applies to the rum, which is a West Indian product.”

Hayes sees few American ships trading along the West African coast – case oil, and sometimes a little Jamaican rum – but much of the timber goes out to the US. “So crude are the processes of extracting this timber from the bush we cannot handle anything worth less than a shilling a board foot. Much of it is above this price, and Miller’s handled one fine figured tree that sold for 2,000 pounds.”

A lucrative business for Miller’s, paid for largely with intoxicants. Hayes won’t continue to participate.

July 24, 1907

Miller’s sent McPherson to replace Hayes at Sapoba. “With all the insouciance of youth he is telling me my mistakes. The only one I can see is I refused to cut timber smaller than the government regulations allows, and McPherson has promptly marked all these trees for cutting.” McPherson will, of course, have to bribe the forester to sign off on the small trees, but such practices make a good company man. “No one is honest, business means nothing else than robbery without going to jail.”

Richardson who came to Sapoba with McPherson diagnoses Hayes with “funkitis.”

July 30, 1907

At Sapele waiting for a boat out, Hayes talks with others in the timber business. “The fellows are kindly, and in a way understand. Many of them are not keen on this wholesale booze business, but none dare protest. If they do, they go home and don’t return.” One who will not be returning is Bowie, a beach clerk for Miller’s. “The doctor is sending him out, saying he will die unless he leaves at once.” Bowie and Hayes will depart on the freighter Zaria the next day.

36.7 Blackwater Fever in Warri

August 5, 1907

(I am hoping a reader more familiar with the waterways of the Niger Delta can suggest a more plausible route from Sapele to Warri. The two cities connect by river; I made one possible route.)

Four white men died at Warri during Hayes’ four-day layover there, three of them victims of blackwater fever. “It is the most deadly of all tropic diseases known. At least in Africa. The kidneys seem to dissolve, the urine turns to blood until its flow saps a man’s life. Thirty-six hours is about all a man will live when this disease attacks him.”

36.8 Off Burutu

August 5, 1907

A little farther downriver, anchored within sight of Burutu, Hayes knows he could go ashore to speak with Lenthall of Miller’s about the alcohol abuse. “What’s the use? He himself told me there was little else to do but to handle booze.”

36.9  Forcados Mouth of the Niger

August 5, 1907

So, instead Hayes must write: “Leaving the Niger. As I look back on the muddy flow of the great river (for this is the Forcados, the principal mouth) it seems the light will go out of my eyes. I have so longed for Africa, so hoped and desired to do something in this great continent that no other place appeals to me elsewhere.”

35. Osse River to Jameson River

October 2, 2011

Hayes’ account of the battle of Benin in 1897, ten years prior to his visit, is absolutely hair-raising (and I’ve edited much of the diary’s explicit detail for a general audience).  His version of the story credits the British with conquering Benin to halt the long-standing practice of ritual human sacrifice.

You can see from the map that Hayes’ first stay in Africa, though incredibly eventful, was brief.  The blue path shows his voyage along the coast; the pink is the current chapter; the yellow shows his path out of Africa after only seven months. Google Maps is misbehaving again here is the link to the map I describe.

Click here to download chapters 1-35 on Google Earth.  

Here and There Synopsis:

35.1 Up the Osse River

January 27, 1907

J. F. Herald, head of Millers Forestry Department, sent Hayes upriver by canoe to a lonely outpost in the bush “opened by a young Scot named McPherson.” The boatmen wanted to dawdle but Hayes kept them going along a fair flow of water continuously interrupted by sandbars and shallows. “Two crocodiles slipped off into the water as we passed, small ones perhaps five or six feet in length.” In this dry season of the year in Nigeria, the harmattan blows off the Sahara bringing cool nights and rain, “but not in deluges as it does during the long wet season.”

McPherson’s outpost sits in a small spot of light penetrating to a tiny clearing by the Osse River surrounded on all sides by dense forest. McPherson “is very seedy from fever and poor living alone in the bush. He is nervous in the extreme, and unless he gets out of Africa soon he will stay here in the White Man’s Grave.” Hayes takes up residence “in a bush hut thrown together by the listless natives,” with McPherson and “countless ants of several species, jiggers that bore under our toes and crickets that make the night hideous with their shrill noises.”

Outside the hut, “in this forest are not only large animals, but smaller ones that create a tremendous uproar, and above all this noise is the hum of countless insects whose combined voices unite in a tremendous roar in which no individual sound may be distinguished.” Among the insects attracted to their “feeble lamp at night,” Hayes remarks particularly on the rhinoceros beetle as “the most formidable,” and the praying mantis that can reach six inches in length and “have the most uncanny appearance for they can turn their heads on their hinged necks and stare one in the eyes unblinkingly.”

Rhinoceros Beetle

African Praying Mantis

Fishing with McPherson and some of the local residents, Hayes sees animal life in abundance: signs where buffalo have come to the river edge at night, elephant spoor, monkeys in the trees, antelope of several species, small predatory cats, and numerous bats and birds. In the little hut in the clearing, “the alarmingly shrill cry a small tree hyrax gives one the creeps the live long night.”

Tree Hyrax

In addition, “There are leopards but these do not harm the natives.”

February 10, 1907

Hayes’ 29th birthday; he marks it with the two words, “My birthday.” Herald has arrived at McPherson’s small outpost together with another man named Cowan, general manager on the coast. “None of these men have any idea of handling timber.”

Hayes’ writes with disdain of the wasteful techniques employed here: First a tree is marked, noting its distance from the river. “Then men with clumsy axes are turned loose on its trunk, and in two or three days it will crash the way it leans. Like a beaver going round a tree do these men cut all this marvelous mahogany, ruining much good wood and often breaking the tree in the fall.” Unbroken trees are then measured (by the European in charge) and marked for length. Then the men with axes go at it again, ruining several more feet cutting the logs to specification. Each log is “laboriously squared” and made ready for shipment by cutting a sloping front so it will ride the skids to the water. “Then this slope has to be cut off, when another three feet is lost.”

More disdain for the tools: “Crude axes, much too heavy, jack screws (if any) also heavy beyond words. Seldom a saw, and then useless because of no one knowing how to file it.”

Jack Scew

And finally, disdain for the labor practices: “The logs are hauled to the water with men. This requires at least a hundred men to drag a log of ordinary size to water. Rolling skids are used instead of ones set in the earth, and when possible whips are used on the men.” So much wrong with the business here! Use of the whip appears as only one in this long list; Hayes will however renounce its use over many years all across Africa – perhaps due to his own experience at the end of a whip. “I try to explain these things to Cowan and Herald, but they seem to be insulted at the counsel of a mere Yank.”

February 18, 1907

As if to underscore that Miller’s is a Scotch company, McPhail has arrived to replace McPherson at this lonely outpost up the Osse River. “A very supercilious young man, he is. Having been in charge of a beach at one of the factories for two years, he despises me as one of no account.”

In his month at McPherson’s station, Hayes has been helping and instructing the working men about more efficient logging techniques: to make a mattress to cushion falling trees, to use a saw (he sharpened the rip saws to a fair crosscut), and other ways of saving timber. “Furthermore, I treat them like human beings.” Newly arrived and insecure, McPhail, “naturally a bully, beats them to make them realize his importance.” McPhail’s methods are note well received: “Consequently we have a strike, the men dancing a war dance in front of our house now. McPhail is badly scared.” When the men regrouped after McPhail beat them off with a club, Hayes went out to the raucous crowd: “We wantum you. No want this other fella. He bad man, we no like um!” (Hayes quote.) Hayes explains his junior status in the company and tells the men of his impending transfer to another station. They all immediately swear they’ll leave with him. “This does not make McPhail any more courteous toward me. I’ll be glad to be away from him and alone.”

35.2 Benin City

March 2, 1907

“The past few days have been among the most interesting of my life. I first journeyed on foot to the famed City of Benin, thirty miles and more from the Osse River.” The way was straight and level for many miles, turning only once. At the turn, “There again we saw the Ju-Ju. I have seen several of these since reaching the bush, gigantic statues hewn from trees.”

Ju-Ju to protect crops

Around the statue, the road forked at right angles making a sharp V. “One may not cross the straight line, but must diverge and make obeisance to the Ju-Ju.” Hayes describes the statue he saw as: “A huge wooden god sat upright and obscenely naked between two female figures as bare as he. The central male figure must have been ten feet in height sitting, the females a little less.” Travelers along this way had left offerings of “cloth, bananas, fruit, fowls and thousands of cowrie shells.”

Money Cowries

Hayes explains that the shells are money left by travelers whose gift, “gave them the privilege of taking food for the journey, which they did, and it has proven a boon to us not only there, but since at other shrines.”

On entering Benin City, Hayes first remarks on the remaining architecture: “First we came to a great wall through which the British had cut a wide road. The level of the wall above the country level must have been thirty feet, but this was greatly increased by the deep moat outside, formed by the excavation of earth to build the wall.” Large trees growing on the wall attest its antiquity. “This wall is circular, and it is six miles from one side to the other.” Inside this first great wall, two others circle the central city.
“So much empty space has been enclosed only to afford the cultivation of the soil during siege.”

Benin City 1891
Six Years Prior to the British Invasion

Hayes then recounts the British invasion of Benin City as told to him by “the few whites at the post… and before this, from the natives themselves.” According to this account, “For of all the depravity, brutality and gross superstition that has bound a people’s collective mind this is one of the worst the world has any trustworthy account of.” Descriptions of the scale and manner of human sacrifice practiced at Benin City as recorded in the Hayes’ diary are extensive and detailed. The British “were attracted by the human sacrifices so prevalent at the time of the Long Ju-Ju and were endeavoring to persuade Overami, the king of Benin, to abandon these rites.

Overami/ Ovonramwen Nogbaisi

First a small force of “Nine British officers, followed by more than a hundred soldiers and carriers, landed at the salt water port of Benin, some miles from the city.” Disregarding the advice of “friendly chiefs” who tried to warn them off, this force proceeded into an ambush that only two of the Brits, badly wounded, survived. “The slain were all offered up on the altars of the Ju-Ju … to conciliate the malign spirits of the wood.”

As the troop of “more than 400 white marines and their officers,” on hand because, “fortunately the West African fleet was then carrying out naval maneuvers in the Bight of Benin,” marched forward, they encountered further horrifying evidence of human sacrifice. Upon finally reaching Benin City, “There was considerable resistance to the column, but the bell-muzzled flint-lock guns were no match for the modern weapons of the British.”

According to this account, the victorious British troops were so appalled by the sacrificial rituals underway in Benin City, “doubtless one of the most gruesome spectacles this world has ever seen,” – the details continue for a paragraph – that, “every native, male, female, old or young, was shot out of hand.” Overami was captured and sent into exile to “Old Calabar, some two hundred miles away on the eastern margin of the dleta of Niger.” After this “lesson” taught by the British, the region was quiet for a time; “Most of the inhabitants were glad to be freed from the terror that hung over them like a pall, for no one knew when his or her turn would come.”

(The reader might wish to consult a contemporary account of the events at Benin City in 1897. The Wikipedia article , with references, has a similar outline of events – with the British motivations differently emphasized.)

As Hayes enters Benin City in 1907, he can see that “it is not over yet.” Walking the streets into this fabled place, his small troop hears “snarls and catcalls from every hut” of a city occupied by “two regiments of Hausa soldiers, Moslems from Northern Nigeria, … here to keep order.”

35.3 Sapele

March 2, 1907

Leaving Benin, Hayes, Herald and their small band of porters, hike south to the Millers factory at Sapele: “a place that is pleasing to the eye. As one views it from across the Benin the white factory buildings stand out against the bright verdure of the endless forest. Graceful palms add to the natural beauty of the scene, and great canoes skimming over the quiet waters gives the impression of a moving picture.”


True, a number of prisoners chained at the neck accent the picture, but Hayes describes them as “happy, singing and laughing.” Hayes writes that a native man considers jail a holiday where he eats rice twice a day, clothed for the first time in his life, heedless of the stripes on his clothing intended to denote dishonor.

35.4 Up the Jameson River.

March 2, 1907

Continuing on from Sapele, Herald accompanies Hayes up the Jameson River by canoe. (Current maps name the river “Jamieson.”) After Herald departs, leaving Hayes to establish a new logging station forty miles into the bush from Sapele where the Jameson rises from a “tremendous springs,” Hayes writes in his diary, “Alone at last. At least as far as my own race is concerned, for there are many, many blacks, and I am in the midst of them.

Hayes shortens the name of the “native king,” from “Apajah” to “Paja.” The king lives on a low swampy island in the Jameson built, even at the time Hayes was there, by Paja’s wives who are, “constantly bringing earth by the canoe load from across the river, where they mine the red earth from the high hill, a cut bank of the river. During the years they have formed a considerable mound, and on this the village is built.” The island has no beaches, vegetation growing everywhere the water is less than two feet deep. “The river, a hundred feet in depth, surrounds the island, the water so transparent, so pellucid one may see a bit of broken dish at its bottom anywhere.”

On the island, Paja’s advisor, a “renegade mission convert” with “much learning” built a palace on stilts, perched twelve feet above the ground, of “whipsawn mahogany … worth a fortune if it was in Europe or America for the value of the timber in it.” The palace shelters, razorback hogs, starved dogs, goats, fowl, idlers, and “sometimes the royal court if it rains.” Hayes is shown to a room adjacent to the royal apartments.