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.”

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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.”

Sapele

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.


34. Accra to the Osse River

September 25, 2011

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?”