We left the river of Nantes on 5 March 1769, heading for the coasts of Africa. On 5 April, after crossed Cape Palmas, the captain put a boat into the sea with five men so as to clear the deck. He put me in command, with an order to follow the ship continually throughout the day. I went plumb in hand the distance of one or two leagues along the Ivory Coast, constantly finding 18, 25 or 30 fathoms depth. At sunset I forced the sail to tie the boat to the prow of the ship. When the nights were dark, full of thunder, and stormy, I guided myself by the lantern that the captain placed there for this purpose. What was remarkable during this time was that every two or three days my five men fell sick and had to be replaced, but I alone enjoyed the best health. The rule was that this boat should be commanded by an officer, but none had the least inclination to take such a role where the hot climate posed, during the day, a real danger, which was less on the ship.
I occupied this post until the river of Benin. The entry into this river is very difficult, because of a barrier of clayish sand found at one league from the coast and which is not less than 2,500 fathoms wide. There is only 7 feet of water at low tide and 14 at high tide, on the days of the new and full moon. The ships, which draw more than 11 feet of water, run the risk of being wrecked. This river, one of the most beautiful on the coasts of Africa, is 5/4 of a league wide at its mouth. Once the opening has been crossed, one can sail up it 8 leagues, towards the northeast. One sees there a beautiful bay, called Regio, which is 8 or 10 fathoms deep; its water is sweet and four large rivers empty into it.
The ships that anchor on this strand have a good exposure, receiving directly winds from the southwest, since these winds draw the fresh air of the neighbouring forests which is so necessary for the health of the crew. When, on the contrary, they go to anchor in the river of Gatto, which flows to the left of this large strand, they infallibly succumb to very dangerous illnesses. It is too bad that, to reach the continent and begin moving up these rivers, one has to re-tack twenty leagues of the sea before reaching the village of Gatto. There is found ivory, cloths made of cotton and straw by the natives of the land, red, blue, violet and yellow wood, copal, much palm oil, as well as a multitude of other things it would be tedious to describe in detail.
After staying three months in these places, where we loaded merchandise and 360 negroes, we went and sold the cargo for a great profit at Cape Français, from which we returned to France. We entered the river of Nates on 28 June 1770. This trip took 15 months and 23 days.
I stayed in this port until 1 July 1771, intending to return under the command of the same captain and on the same ship, which had changed both its name and owner. It was renamed the Deux-Créoles, and was owned by Monsieur Gruel, of Nantes.
While I took rest on land, I did not stay idle, but studied hydrography under Monsieur Lévêque, hydrographer of the king. The lessons of this expert, together with those of Monsieur Giraud, increased still more, if I may say so, my anxiety for distant voyages.
Before giving his ship an overhaul, the captain made me the same offer he did previously with regard to the Africaine, which was to supervise the workers. I agreed with the same pleasure, and performed this duty with the same zeal. After all was completed, the Deux-Créoles was loaded with different merchandise; its crew numbered fifty men, and I took my place as pilot.
We sailed again on 1 July for the coasts of Africa. After a crossing of 52 days, following lower Ivory Coast, we entered the waters of the river Formosa, for Benin. We went up the river at 20 leagues from the sea and four from Gatto. This village, located on a hill about thirty feet above the river level, is inhabited by 3,000 negroes, governed by three chiefs called phidors. The first of these was called Danikan, a very sensible man who had a special regard for the French.
I landed with Desrud, and the captain set up his warehouse there. At this time there was an English ship in the river as well as a Portuguese ship. But, because France had a distinct advantage over the other nations of Europe, Desrud had the right to load our ship before his rival captains. This kept us three months in these waters.
In the meantime, I tried to learn the Benin language. Seeing the good will of the inhabitants for my compatriots, I formed a plan to found later in this country an establishment useful to the French nation. We will soon see the result.
Since Desrud was ready to go, we headed for Principe island, belonging to the Portuguese and located at 1o 30' north latitude; we hoped to find there fresh water and supplies. It is also an excellent port, where ships and rest shielded from all wind. Almost all ships frequenting the African coasts relax there. The island has very clear water, as well as beans, cassava flour, sheep, pigs and every kind of fowl. It was my second time there. I did not mention it when describing my first voyage because nothing noteworthy took place.
While leaving Benin, in order to lighten the ship so as to cross more easily the bars, Desrud put me in charge of a boat with seven men, in which he put 10,000 yams. "When we pass the bar," the captain said, you will return on board, I will unload the boat and break it up for firewood.'
I embarked, armed with my octant so as to measure the height of the meridian and determine the latitude of the mouth of the river. I had gone a considerable distance when I saw the ship on top of the bar. At the same moment a little southeast wind rose and pushed me out to full sea, unable to turn my side against the wind, for fear of being swamped. The ship looked very much like it was going to sinking, with its side, in spite of great efforts, facing the squall. Night came and I lost sight. The ship shot its canon every once in a while to call me back. In vain I tried to obey: the winds had changed direction and opposed my manoeuvres.
The next day at dawn I did not see the ship any more. This put me in a quandary, since I had little provisions and no wood to cook the yams. I decided right away to sail the boat to the island of Principe and explore the little island of Corisco, which also belongs to the Portuguese, being under the government of São Tomé. I reached Corisco the fourth day, coming in under the wind. I came near, wanting to land and cut wood. One of my sailors jumped in to swim with a rope so as to pull the boat to land. He had hardly begun to pull us in when a group of negroes shot a flood of arrows at him, some of which fell on board without wounding us. We rushed to pull the sailor back on board with the rope he was holding.
We raised the sail, with the wind favouring our progress, and we were quickly out of range of the arrows of the islanders. We were still 35 leagues from Principe. The winds and the currants made it very difficult for us to reach the coast; in the meantime we had no wood to cook the yams. This problem made me decide to use the upper rails of the boat as firewood. After cooking the yams, we ate them with a devouring appetite.
The wind became favourable again and on the 8th day of my departure from the river of Benin I entered the port of Principe...
... When you wish to go from this place to the river of Benin, you should not go far from the land. You should sound the depth, especially at night, and follow the places that give a depth of 15 to 20 fathoms, where you will find a very red fine sand. As soon as you detect a muddy bottom, you are not more than 18 or 20 leagues from the river of Benin. The land is so low, from Aunis to the entry of the river, that if you are out at a depth of 30 fathoms you will not see it any more. So if you stay too far from land you strongly risk missing the entrance.
Many times I have seen English ships that had poorly measured their way to enter, and were forced to go back to Ivory Coast so as to return to this place. I must add to what I said about the bar, that it is wise, starting five leagues from there, to keep a depth of about fifteen fathoms, since the bar is far from the coasts of the river and one is always at risk of running aground. One should be careful to sail southeast-south only during the day. This route leads to the river and is very interesting to explore, since its background extends farther than can be seen. When you are very sure that you are in front of the river, you can let down the anchor three or four fathoms to reach the muddy bottom. Then you are still more than three leagues from the entrance, or 2,000 fathoms of [écores??] from the bar. There are seasons when it would be more than imprudent to come any closer, because the waves break on it and no ship or launch would dare risk the crossing, especially from the beginning of June to mid-September.
I made my entry into this river in February 1778, after a rather long crossing lasting around four months, and I had to go all the way back to Regio. I landed at the village of Gatto, where I rented a house so as to set up my business there. The first thing to do was to see the phidors, whom I visited. I alerted Danikan, the first among them, as I have said, that I hoped to found in that place a large establishment, useful to the French, and that to obtain the protection of the king of Benin, I was ready to go and pay him homage in person. Danikan and his two adjutants gave me a very friendly reception, which seemed to me to augur well. They assured me that they would send a special message to the king to let him know of my arrival and of my projects. And so, on the third day two ambassadors, called passadors, came to me, complimenting me for my trip on behalf of the king and announcing that he would be most pleased to receive me.
The town of Benin is ten leagues from Gatto. The passadors asked me how I wanted to make this journey, whether by horse or by hammock. I chose the latter means of transport. The next day, after distributing to the phidors various presents, such as three beautiful hats with golden bands, a role of superb Cholet handkerchief, a role of Persian cloth, three arm loads of tobacco for smoking, with a dozen Holland pipes, I saw thirty-two strong negroes arrive, assigned to the trip. One of my officers accompanied me. Each of us got in a hammock, fit with sides, so that we were seated as if on a couch, with an umbrella in our hand to keep off the extreme heat that prevails in these regions. Thirty men armed with guns escorted us.
During the whole voyage our porters sang as they ran. They made a stop half-way, where we found under the shade of large trees some cooked yams, figs, bananas, coconuts and palm wine, which the king had ordered prepared to show his joy, as we were told, at receiving some Frenchmen. Even with this stop, the trip was made in five hours.
On entering the town, we were taken to the house of the army general, named Jabu, where we were brought into a large and beautiful hall, whose walls were finely decorated with small Indian shells. They brought us two large yellow copper basins full of water, nine feet in circumference, in which some slaves washed our feet, explaining that otherwise we could not see the army general. So we had to submit. General Jabu sent one of his phidors to tell us that he would be glad to receive us. The guide led us into a hall forty feet long, where I noticed many badly carved statues, images of his ancestors who had held the same office as himself. At his orders we were served a big meal of cooked fowl, roasted mutton, soup seasoned with palm oil and much pepper, and excellent yams.
Our porters informed us that the general was the richest man in the whole country, that his power was equal to that of the king, that he owned more than 10,000 slaves which he never sold, (1) and that when he went to war he always had fifty to sixty thousand men under his command. I gave him as a present an embroidered scarlet cape, a hat with a golden band, and a string of corral strung on a pipe tube, worth 500 francs. He seemed very pleased with these things. The interpreter told me, at his command, that all Frenchmen would enjoy the utmost security in the state of Benin, since the least insult any of the blacks made to them would be punished by death.
General Jabu was hardly more than thirty years old; he was about five feet, five inches tall; his face showed a friendliness that is remarkably beautiful among the blacks; the fire of his soul radiated in his eyes: his demeanour, both serious and imposing, and his very noble tone and manners corresponded to the greatness of the offices which he held. When we left, he insisted that I see him again before leaving Benin; with a feeling of tenderness, I promised to do so.
The conductors carried me, at the entrance of the town, to a house built by the king for lodging Europeans who come to this place. As soon as I came down, my escort made a discharge of musket shots. In a minute three or four thousand black men and women ran to the sound, with a great desire to see us. My officer and myself had to show ourselves to this crowd, who never stopped filling the air with acclamations of joy and surprise, in the case of those to whom white people were still unknown.
After being settled in this new dwelling, I had my arrival announced to the king, asking him when he would be pleased to receive me. Two passadors came right back with a message from him that I would be allowed in at 11:00 P.M. He sent me every sort of food on large copper plates which were very clean and covered with an extremely white cloth. There were some cooked fowl and mutton, with a hundred excellent yams, each weighing three pounds. Twelve live chickens and sheep, and four huge bunches of bananas with a good sweet taste completed the consignment. The army general also sent me some cooked food of the same quality as that of his master; he added six live sheep and twelve live chickens. All the cooked food was seasoned with palm oil and a large quantity of pepper. I had the live animals sent directly to my establishment at Gatto.
At the time indicated, two passadors came to lead me to the king's presence. I got dressed and followed them, accompanied by twenty-five blacks armed with spears. Two large lamps, each with four wicks, lighted our way. Arriving inside the palace, we crossed several spacious courtyards, one of which contained the tombs of the kings of Benin. I was not permitted to stop, as I wanted, to admire these monuments. Going on, I was led into a large apartment where an easy-chair had been prepared for me. I stayed alone with the two passadors.
I had taken as an interpreter a young black man whom Captain Desrud had kept, during his voyages, as a warehouse boy. We called him Cupid, because of his intelligence and nice looks. He understood French and spoke it rather well. I took him with me before the king. I knew a little of the Benin language, but I thought it might be a little dangerous for me to express myself in this language before his Majesty. I waited nearly a half hour for the monarch to appear. He came in with completely naked two blacks, about 20 years old, each armed with a Damascus blade. They signalled to the passadors to leave.
The king, wrapped in rich white Indian muslin cloths, sent Cupid to tell me to come near, ordering him to translate for him exactly all that I desired. Cupid then threw himself down, flat on his stomach, at the feet of his master, hardly lifting his head to look at him, and holding his hand horizontally just over his mouth, as if for fear that his breath might touch the royal face. After Cupid told him of his voyages with Desrud and how he knew me, the king expressed to me his satisfaction at seeing Frenchmen in his realms. He said that not only he had the intention of protecting them with all his power, but that he wished to show them even more the preference he wanted to accord them over other nations. When he inquired about the motive of my coming to his kingdom, I said: "My wish is to set up a commercial establishment that will be equally advantageous to France and to Benin. I will build a fort to protect it at the entrance of the river. The kingdom will never be in want of merchandise of every kind. The armed ship which I command belongs to the king of France, one of the greatest potentates of Europe and has been entrusted to me by a rich and powerful company protected by that monarch. But the commerce which I am now cannot be realized until later, because it is feared that a war will break out soon between France and the English."
Hearing the word "English", he told me: "They are very wicked people. Tomorrow I will assemble my council and you will receive my answer. You must now go and rest." I got up. Cupld then informed him that the owners of my ship had instructed me to offer to his Majesty four pieces of Persian cloth, the same number of Indian handkerchiefs, two strings of coral, a robe of white satin decorated with gold and silver, with a pair of sandals of the same material; these two gifts came from the wardrobe of Louis XV. It all was worth 100 louis. When the king saw the robe, he remained in ecstasy for some moments and then exclaimed: "The whites are like gods when it comes to ingenuity and work!" I received many thanks from him and then he had be conducted back to my lodgings. At dawn he sent me enough food to feed over a hundred men.
This monarch, who had a beautiful, composed physique even though 65 years old, had not a single wrinkle on his face. His stature, five feet six inches, was straight and full of dignity. His eyes shone with a lively brilliance; he spoke with fire. His hair, which was beginning to turn grey, was kept in a Greek style. Very white fine cloths were wrapped very elegantly around his waist and went down to his knees. He wore no shirt under this cloth. Besides, this is the general custom of men and women on the African coasts. In Senegal and on the rivers of Whydah they use blue Guinea cloth instead of white muslin.
I spent ten days in the town, and the first three days I went to visit the great lords composing the chamber of commerce. I was in my hammock, always escorted by thirty men who at each visit discharged their guns. The ceremonial and the questions were always the same: I was seated down and asked if I had experience any danger in entering the river when I had to cross the sandbar. I was served yams and chicken. When I had gone back to my lodging, I received from each of these persons two beautiful live sheep and six chickens; that was in return for a hat with a golden band and a piece of Cholet handkerchief which I had left with them.
After all these visits, which strangely tired me, were finished, a passador came to me in the evening, or rather the night, from the king, telling me that tomorrow there would be celebrated a feast in honour of the arrival of the French in his country; I would see his council assembled and would know the result of the deliberation they had made about my establishment. I went to the monarch with my lieutenant, who could not follow me during my visits because of an illness; but, in spite of his fever, he wanted to attend the council and see the feast.
Two passadors accompanied us and led us through three spacious courtyards, surrounded by mud walls about sixteen feet tall. On the inside, parallel to the walls, was a veranda 15 feet wide, with a thatched roof. This cover was held up by huge logs after the manner of pillars. Set up every 18 feet, they supported a large horizontal plank which held the joists coming down from the wall; all this held the roof which was ingeniously made. In this way one could walk around the courtyards without being exposed to the sun or the rain.
After we had passed the three courtyards, we were brought into a large room and sat down. After twenty minutes, four phidors came to lead us into the council chamber, which was not less than sixty feet long. We saw the king at the end, sitting on an armchair three steps above ground level. He was covered with a very beautiful white wrapper. Two blacks, as I have remarked, around 20 years old, without any clothing on their bodies, stood at his sides. They had a Damascus sword in their right hand, pointed upwards. Sixty old men of around 60 to 65 years old, called the great men, wearing magnificent wrappers, surrounded their master. Each one wore two strings of large coral around his neck, as well as on each ankle and wrist. That is the distinctive mark of the highest dignity in the state. The phidors and the passadors may were only a single string around their neck, and this only with the permission of the king, since chieftaincies are not hereditary.
This group of old men comprised three sections: twenty look after the income and expenditure, under the authority of the council of the minister of finance; twenty others, including the council of the minster of war, look after all matters of war and peace; the last twenty are concerned with commerce. The king had called an extraordinary assembly of the three councils because he thought my request was extremely important for the prosperity of his subjects.
The result of the deliberation was that I would be given freely and at my choice as much land as I wanted along the river for constructing a fort in the village of Gatto. This concession could not be extended to the entrance of the Formosa river, since the land on both banks at that point belonged to the sovereign of Warri, who is independent of Benin. The Council said that if I found the offer acceptable, they would send an order to the phidors of Gatto to give me complete liberty to establish what I wanted there. I accepted the proposal with much gratitude.
Going out of the council chamber, I went straight to my quarters, since the feast was only to begin at 5:00 in the evening. Since my officer's fever began to be severe, this caused me great worry; he could not join me at the ceremony as he had desired; I went alone at the stipulated time. I saw in one huge courtyard at least six thousand blacks of both sexes and every age. In the centre twelve enormous drums, seven feet long, made of hollow bamboo and covered with goat skin at the ends, rumbled under the blows of the men who carried them and struck them with a small stick. These sad sounds accompanied the playing of a dozen other blacks, some of whom blew ferociously into elephant tusks which were pierced at intervals like our church rattles [serpents d'église?], while the others did no better with their blowing into their cowherd's horns. No, let me say, the harmony of such noise could never be described in words; you would have to hear, as I did, all the dissonance that the sharpest sounds can make to understand at depth the prodigious effect of the royal academy of music of Benin.
During this concert the king was seated under a tent, surrounded by his chiefs and a crowd of hangers-on such as one finds anywhere on the globe. I was seated rather near his Majesty, and his eyes turned to me from time to time to observe the pleasure I must have been enjoying from this brilliant spectacle, which included a large number of very lascivious dances. He asked me through Cupid how I found the feast. I answered, without lying, that I had never seen the like of it. "Wait," said Cupid, "you are going to see something very different." Instantly the musicians doubled their energy and speed, beating their drums, blowing their horns, blowing and pounding repeatedly with a superhuman force, in such a way as to reach the level of the most infernal pandemonium.
"Look on this side," continued my young interpreter, "and see the black man they are leading; they are going to cut off his head in your honour." "How!" I exclaimed, "I have not come to this country to be the cause of a murder." "It is the Oba who wishes it." "Go and tell your Oba to spare the life of this man." "Oh no, no. If I went to speak to the Oba, he would have me beheaded."
During this dialogue, the victim came up, gagged and covered at the waist with a fine white wrapper. He was made to stand a hundred feet from the king, while the music turned again to its frightening discord. Two masked men, dressed in robes touching the ground and who seemed nearly seven feet tall, came up to the sovereign to receive his orders. After a few minutes they went to take their places at the side of the victim. One held a large club pierced through on top, where one could notice a small carved figure representing the devil. When he shook it, a noise was heard imitating that of a little bell. He spoke to the black man and told him that Loloku wanted to take him. The other man, likewise armed with a club, stood behind the miserable man, while the first man gave the victim the fetish of the demon to kiss; that was the signal of death. Struck on the head from in front and from behind, the victim tottered, but was held by the executioners who laid him on the ground, his face propped on the edge of a large copper basin. They cut his head off with a single stroke of the sword, and all the blood that flowed into the basin is used to water the tombs of the kings. These sorts of sacrifices take place on all the feasts. I will come back to this subject when I come to the section on the customs of Benin.
I had all the presents by which I was honoured brought to Gatto: twelve large sheep and a very beautiful cow given by the king. The eve of my departure I went, always accompanied by Cupid, to take leave of his Majesty. After the phidors presented me, everyone went out, except one of the young naked blacks, armed with his sword. The king sat me down at his side and commanded me to be served a meal. I was brought birds fried in palm oil with the usual amount of pepper, yams, palm wine, two bottles of red Port and a flask of old rum. His royal hands deigned to pour me some of this liquor into a flashy crystal glass. As I was trying to be polite, he forced me to drink some of it and laughed while informing me that the wine was given to him by a Portuguese captain coming from Brazil, and that the rum, which tasted delicious, was presented to him by an English captain named Chapman, whom I had seen in Benin on my first trip with Desrud. This Englishman then commanded the Benin, a very beautiful ship equipped at Liverpool.
After the meal, the king took me by the hand and led me through a large courtyard where more than three thousand elephant tusks were stored. "Choose whichever one you like," he told me. I took a very white and smooth one weighing fifty pounds and put it by my side. My choice made him smile; he promised to send it to me at Gatto. His generosity was not limited there. Leading me into a room and sitting me down, he wanted to let me see some cloths woven by his Benin women. I was brought some beautiful cotton drapes as well as some very find grass cloths. The drape-work surprised me a lot, both for the beauty of their colours and for the evenness of the weave. They had were made of three eight foot long strips, each a third measure wide. The grass drapes, of a brownish-yellow colour and almost as fine as silk, were each made of four eight or nine foot long strips, each a third measure wide. The monarch demanded that I make my choice among these products. A black came who was told to see that the things I chose were transported to Gatto. I found all these presents much superior to those given to Captain Desrud. The king insisted many times that the black should not lose any of these objects, since he was also to bring the cow and the sheep. Then he turned to me and said, "I will give orders for your departure."
The next morning porters came to carry my hammock and that of my lieutenant, whose high, bad and stinking fever offered then little hope of saving him. The porters were as many as the first time, with a similar escort. I announced to them that I would leave between 9:00 and 10:00. I wanted to pay my host and thank him for the infinite care he had for me and my sick officer. This good black refused the price, telling me that since the king had a building constructed to lodge and feed freely all the whites, French, English and Portuguese, who came to Benin, he, as my host, scrupled to take anything. Nevertheless I finally succeeded in getting him to accept a gift which he so well merited.
At 9:30 we got into our hammocks and moved very earnestly. We stopped half-way to Gatto, in the village of Gaure where nine hundred blacks lived. The phidor who governed it came out to receive me. I entered his house which was large and well laid out. It was a long rectangle divided into several very clean halls which were ingeniously covered with thatch like the veranda I described earlier. This venerable old man had me served a dozen eggs, chicken fried in oil, and palm wine. He received from me a piece of Cholet handkerchief with a banded hat. He expressed his happiness with many thanks. I got back into my hammock and set down at Gatto around 2:30. I was complimented by the three phidors. My escort signalled my arrival with three blasts of musketry. I ordered twenty bottles of brandy to be distributed. In dismissing these men, I invited them to come back the next day. They came to the door of my establishment at 8:00 A.M. and each received, with a glass of brandy, six Flemish knives with a fixed blade, since the blacks don't like at all those that close. They all carry their knives in leather sheaths that they make. They always have them at their side to use as needed. They are very skilled in pulling them against wild animals and snakes which are very common, large and sometimes dangerous.
The day after my arrival at Gatto, two passadors arrived from Benin with the mission of telling me to make a declaration of all the merchandise I had on my ship, and that in two days forty phidors would come from that town to evaluate each piece and each article, and that once the price was fixed I could not raise it, and that this price would serve to calculate the custom duty which goes to the king and the chiefs of his kingdom.
These duties are high: A ship of three masts pays more than 5,000 francs; a two masted ship pays two thirds of that amount, a ship of one mast much less. The following is the tariff for one of three masts, with the status of the persons who receive it either in cloth or two-franc coins:
The king, 900 cloths fr. 1,800 The army general, 300 600 Twenty chiefs, each 100 4,000 Forty phidors, each 20 1,600 Six faladors (interpreters), each 20 240 Forty carcadors (porters), each 10 800 Three phidors of Gatto, each 20 120 Total cost of various presents 6,000 Total fr. 15,160
When the forty phidors arrived they gathered in my establishment and spoke to me in this way: "You must give each of us a glass of brandy, a pipe and a roll of tobacco. While we are smoking you will put in large copper basins all the merchandise that you have brought on la Négresse. We will determine the price at which it will be exchanged for slaves. We declare to you that on your part there will be no raising of the prices set by this gathering, (2) under penalty of voiding the treaty."
After lining up the merchandise item by item in the basins, they asked for:
1 piece of Cholet handkerchief, estimated at cloths numbering 12 1 piece of silk handkerchief from Nîmes 12 ½ piece of indian handkerchief, 7 ells 7 1 piece of Brettany lace, 5 ells 4 1 piece of Rouen cotton, 6 ells 6 1 piece of white bafetas, 5 ells 6 1 piece of half silk, half satin galet of Nîmes, 6 ells 6 1 piece of Persian cloth from India, 5 ells 10 1 role of smoking tobacco from Brazil, weighing 80 pounds 20 ½ role of the same, weighing 40 pounds 10 1 yellow copper basin, 3 feet in diameter 7 1 of the same, 2 feet in diameter 4 1 gun for reformed shot 7 1 dragon bow pistol for reformed shot 4 1 common sword 1 1 barrel of powder, 5 pounds 5 1 sack of hunting led, 1 pound 1 100 gun stones 1 6 Flemish knives, painted on Indian wood 2 1 case containing a pair of scissors and a razor with a little slate stone 1 1 common hat with a red wood band 1 1 barrel of brandy, 20 pints 8 1 case of the same, with 12 flask of a pint an a half each 8 1 iron bar, 7 feet long and 3 inches wide 3 1 string of coral at 40 francs a pound 8 1 of the same, with round rosary-like beads at 60 francs a pound 8 1 of the same, with small coral containing 12 small stones sewn on 5
When they finished estimating the goods, they fired several gunshots at the door of my establishment to announce that the market was open. Then a man and a woman were brought. The phidors set at 120 cloths the value of the man, who was well shaped and without defect, and 100 cloths for the woman. I protested at this evaluation. After a long debate, we agreed that I would pay 100 cloths for a good man, and 90 for a good woman. I bought the first individuals at this price, which was converted into an assortment of different merchandise, according to the estimation that I just set out.
The trade was brisk: Fifteen to eighteen men daily were brought on board of my ship, so that in three months I completed my cargo, which comprised of 410 blacks of both sexes and 6,000 ivory tusks of different sizes and weight. I paid 10 sous for a pound of ivory when the tusks weighed less than 20 pounds, and 15 or 20 sous when they were over this weight. This was, as you can see, an immense gain for the Company.
La Négresse could easily hold five to six hundred blacks, but I was afraid of the sickness that would inevitably result from such a large number of men packed on the decks. I brought back much merchandise which I judged inappropriate to exchange for the reason indicated, and prepared for my departure.
Going down the river, I hoped to get out before the return of the bad season which ordinarily is noticeable at the end of May or the beginning of June. On 15 May I was near the bar; I opened the sail and, against all expectation, saw that the winds on the open sea came from the southwest. I had no other choice but to turn back on the bars. I failed at one of the first. The low water gave me only nine feet of water and the ship drew ten. Fortunately the sea was quiet enough and the ship floated again at high tide. I re-entered the river and anchored at fifteen feet. The next day I tried again to exit with all the sails out. I thought I had safely passed when suddenly the ship again hit the top of the second bar. I saw myself exposed to serious danger, since the ship took such strong knocks that at each one I thought made an opening; thus a shipwreck seemed inevitable.
Once more I had the good fortune to be favoured by the tide which lifted the ship and let it go back into the river. The next day, seeing the winds at sea steady from the south and southwest, I had to settle on going back up the river to the port of Regio to wait there for the return of the good season, which would hardly come before the month of November. I was thrown into the deepest concern, having so many blacks on board, while bad and stinking fevers had taken a third of my officers and seamen from me, as happens when Europeans stay several months in this hot climate.
When the king of Warri learned that I could not cross the bar, he sent his general, named Okro, who came on board to tell me that his master would supply me with all the provisions I needed during my stay. I begged this honest man to accept, as a small sign of my thanks in such a predicament, two pieces of Cholet handkerchief. I also had him bring to the king a scarlet mantel and a hat with a golden band. Hardly five days later two canoes arrived, loaded with ten thousand yams. I eagerly bought them so as to continue to feed the blacks who ate two hundred a day. The sovereign also had the kindness to send me a cow and six sheep. He told me, through the captain who received another gift from me, that I could count on 100,000 yams, besides as many figs, bananas, coconut, chicken, sheep as I wanted, and that if it was a problem for me to pay he would even advance a thousand pieces of different merchandise. Truly I could not get over my astonishment at so generous a procedure from a people so wrongly qualified in Europe as savage. I begged Captain Okro once again to report to his master that I would accept his so magnificent offer if fate carried me into distress.
Before leaving my ship, the captain told me: "To prove to you how much the king of Warri loves the French, he has told me to ask from you a flag, which will be carried by one of his canoes; you will recognize it by this sign and can welcome it as friendship requires." I eagerly subscribed to the royal wish, observing that if my occupations permitted I would go and thank the monarch for all his signs of interest given to my person and to the French nation. But if the present circumstances presented any obstacle to my hopes, nothing in the world would keep me, on my next voyage, from fulfilling so sacred a duty by presenting my homage personally to him, and that I would take advantage of his good dispositions to begin, extend and strengthen a commercial establishment in his kingdom and that of Benin.
Okro renewed his offers with the most sincere friendship. Then he mounted the flag on his canoe, which carried fifty men armed with a gun and a sword; it also had on board twelve swivel-guns mounted on its edge. When it was a little distance from my ship, the canoe stopped to salute the French flag with a musketry blast. Then, with the power of their paddles, the blacks came back to the ship which they circled three times shouting a thousand cries of joy. Since the canons on board my ship were always charged with gunshot for fear of being surprised at night by a hostile wandering nation, living as nomads without recognizing the sovereignty of any king (i.e. the Ijaw), I had the canons immediately emptied of gunshot during the canoe ceremony and had eleven shot fired to reply to the salute with which Captain Okro had honoured the flag of the king of France. The canoe then headed for the Warri river, which it entered.
Six days after the departure of Okro we noted at the point of dawn five large canoes, each carrying different flags, one blue, the other red and another with all colours. They had together more than two hundred men. I never saw in my preceding voyages such a formidable army of canoes. I began to suspect their intentions. Nevertheless, I came to think that if they had hostile plans they would have chosen the night rather than the day to attack me. Wanting to have a positive clarification of their attitude, I had a canon ball shot in front of the canoes. The ball ricocheted into some trees and broke branches. Right away a very large canoe separated from the others; it had, with the flag of all colours, more than one hundred men well armed with swords and guns. Some had pistols. It was also equipped with twenty swivel-guns mounted on the edge, and in front there was a copper organ array (3) of seven little canons in the shape of a blunderbuss, which I saw for the first time.
Its commander approached my ship and got on with one of his officers. I had him told through Cupid that I would not allow him to enter my ship with more than six men. I wanted to know his name; he told me that he was called popularly Bélé-Bélé, which means hunchback in front and behind, but his real name was Weffo. He was chief of a large Ijaw family always armed for war. He learned from some Benin people that I was French and protected by their king. He came with the single design of contracting a friendship with me, assuring me that my boats and launches would suffer no injury in the river, whether from his own people or from any other nation. I thanked Mr. Bélé-Bélé very much. He was a guy forty-five or fifty years old, five feet one or two inches tall, very strong in spite of his slim legs, with shining eyes and a face blacker than the ebony of his country, but not at all disagreeable in its contour. He had the reputation of a great warrior; his bravery had passed every test; his subordinates had such a great respect for his person that they spoke to him only with their knees on the ground and did not get up until he commanded them. Those who accompanied him all had a blue cloth on their body, on their heads a sort of cap made of tiger skin, and a Flemish knife in a sheath on their sides.
I offered Weffo a piece of handkerchief and an Indian cloth with two barrels of brandy. Coming down from the ship, he again assured me that I could rest securely on the faith of his promises and that never any Ijaw would be so bold as to cause me the least fear. I learned later that this commander was a brigand of the river and that he had captured several English ships, one in particular because the captain went so far as to strike him. In his fury Weffo swore on his fetich that one day he would surely take vengeance for this insult. He kept his word; finding a way to incite a revolt among the black slaves on the ship by promising them freedom, he took over the ship, massacred all the crew, stole all its equipment and cargo, burned what he could not carry and, in spite of his promises, sold the blacks at Calabar. I saw the carcass of this vessel sunk in the mud. I shuddered at hearing of the infamous actions and cruelties of which this Ijaw people were guilty of on a thousand occasions. That warned me take the greatest security precautions, especially when sickness was raging among my crew.
Consequently, the blacks of the canoes were warned to keep away from my ship at night by means of a canon that I had shoot every day at sunrise and sunset, thereby warning them that I would be forced by necessity to sink the canoes that plied close to my ship in the dark. This warning produced a good effect, since none came near me during the night as long as I stayed in this harbour.
Provisions came to me in abundance; there were fresh and salted fish, yams, bananas, coconuts, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, smoked chestnuts, antelopes, chickens, pigeons, partridges, wild guinea-fowls, eggs etc. I was no longer afraid of dysentery. I had distributed each day to every seaman three quarters a bottle of Bordeaux wine, with a glass of brandy every morning. Also two or three times a week I was brought a prodigious quantity of oranges, lemons and pineapple. Lemon juice was poured into the jugs of water. It is an excellent preservative in hot climates, especially in these countries were the flat and marshy terrain is covered with thick forests with trees of a prodigious height. The rain falls in torrents in the months of June, July, August and September; it stops only in October or November, when the good season begins, which is also when a large ship can exit from the river. I could truly say that during the rainy third of the year the whole country, for more than 100 leagues, is submerged under water. The currents then become so strong that they go at the speed of three leagues an hour and can be felt, I repeat, ten leagues into the sea.
Throughout the time I spend in these harbours, I wanted to get to know the different rivers which join those of Benin. There is a great number whose names I could not give. All those I have described are very wide and deep and well wooded on the banks. You see no rocks or sand beaches. I could estimate that the depth is not less than fifteen or twenty fathoms. A ship can go up to the edge without risk, since even there the depth is likewise at least six fathoms; the ship only needs to be careful not to let its masts hit the branches of the large trees that adorn both sides. The rivers furnish much excellent fish, but snakes and caimans also feed on them, and this makes bathing in the river very dangerous.
The caiman is a species of crocodile or, if you want, an enormous amphibious lizard, covered with such hard scales that gun shots flatten on hitting it. I have seen them in all sizes, from three to twenty-seven feet long; these longest are nine or ten feet in circumference. They are very common in the river of Benin, where we see several every day, sometimes a dozen; the same for the neighbouring rivers, which form a very large archipelago where the inhabited islands which are covered with thick woods serve as a refuge for tigers, leopards, snakes of various sizes and monkeys of every species.
The crocodiles are oviparous and they lay their eggs on the edge of the rivers on the beach, exposed to the hottest heat of the sun, which makes them open. They are ordinarily as big as turkey eggs and as long as six inches, a little grey, and good to eat when fresh; I have tasted some; they are very clear and almost without yellow. I do not know exactly the number of eggs they lay, but I found by observation that they do not lay all their eggs in the same place: They divide them by spaces of about 100 fathoms. What made me discover this was a sort of vulture that came to scratch the sand and pierce the eggs. I shot this bird from close up so as not to miss it but, either because the shot was too small or because it glazed off its feathers, the bird flew away without a wound. When I came to the place where I had aimed, I found a dozen eggs; I took four of them aboard. The blacks were very eager to eat them. I had them cooked in boiling water like eggs in a shell, and they became hard. When the shell was broken the inside appeared all white and was no less hard than a chicken egg. The blacks devoured them; they gave me a part which I swallowed without distaste.
Fifteen days later a canoe came commanded by blacks who offered me a living crocodile with twenty of its eggs. I bought it all for the blacks of my ship, who liked that more than words can describe. I remained quite astonished to see this gagged and bound monster, with its feet fastened on its back. It was eight feet long from the head to the anus and nearly three feet in diameter. The opening of its throat was more than two feet wide. It was armed with an enormous quantity of black, crossed teeth, very sharp and about two inches long. The blacks had caught it in a trap such as they use against other animals, even tigers. This trap is a tree at least three feet around, which they bend to twelve or fifteen inches from the ground. They attach to the end a thong in the form of a circle with a hang knot. The top of the trap is held down by a hook which gives way at the slightest touch. When an animal passes through the circle, the hook gives way and the tree stands up with as much force and speed as you can imagine, and the prey is left hanging in the air, either by the neck or by any other part of the body. It is taken live from the trap any time it is not caught by the neck.
We cooked the crocodile and its eggs. The blacks found it extremely delicious; for us it would be like the best salmon. Its flesh was as white as chicken. I ate several pieces which, apart from the odour of muse, seemed to taste rather good.
The crocodile is the most voracious of all the animals of these rivers; it eats fish as well as human flesh. If a corpse is thrown into the water it grabs it; if another body is buried on the bank of the river it digs it up with its paws and long claws and devours it. To surprise the fish, it pretends to be dead, floating on the surface of the water, and when it sees its prey its large jaw grabs it. When it is on land, hiding in the bush, it watches with unbelievable patience as monkeys, otters, goats etc. pass, and from its position grabs its prey with much skill. If a man is pursued on land by this animal he can easily escape it by running from right to left and left to right, since the crocodile always goes in a straight line; its structure does not allow it to go fast in a circle.
One day my dog barked at a little crocodile that was less than three years old. Since it was very close to me, I had time only to spread my legs and let it pass, since a tree on both sides prevented it from fleeing.
Another time a well-bred dog, that I called Trumpet, ran ahead of me; it had a collar from which long pointed nails were hanging. I came out with the seamen who had gone ashore from la Négresse to show them which wood they should cut. Seeing a large tree fallen on the bank of the river, I had the boatman steer the boat in that direction so as to have an easier landing. I crossed over the tree, and a seaman gave me his hand to help me enter the boat. My dog wanted to follow me, but it was suddenly grabbed by an enormous hidden crocodile that plunged quickly into the river with its prey. The dong only let out a small muted and plaintiff cry, like a faint cookoo cry. The men on the boat as well as myself were so shocked that the strongest laxative would not have such quick an effect. Trupet and his collar were never recuperated.
The blacks often bring me these animals alive, captured by a trap. Several times I have seen two blacks face death pursuing huge crocodiles. When the animal lets itself float on the current, they follow it with a light canoe. One of them, with a gag in his mouth attached to a thong, jumps onto the monster, horse-back fashion; it then repeatedly plunges and carries its assailant under water, but it can stay there only a few moments. The black puts the gag in its jaw and ties it by means of the thong. He then attaches it to the canoe and drags it ashore if it is so large.
My second, Mr. Danikan of Rennes, came one day into my room and, looking out the window, cried: "Captain! Look at a monster at the rudder." I turned and thought I saw a hippopotamus. Danikan grabbed a loaded gun and shot at the crocodile, for that is what it was, and hit it in the eye. Furious at this wound, the monster rose up jumping on the surface of the water. Nine blacks, who were bringing yams to my ship in a canoe, attacked it, shooting arrows at its stomach, which is the most vulnerable part, even though it is covered with scales. After killing it, they brought it aboard the Charmante-Louise which I was then commanding. They used pullies to lift it. We measured it on deck; it was twenty-one feet from head to anus, and its tail was six feet long, giving twenty-seven feet from one end of the body to the other. It was nine feet in circumference. The jaw was as of the same length and width, seven feet each way. I have constantly observed that the length of the head of a crocodile is a third of its body.
The surgeon, along with others including myself, took it upon ourselves to skin it, using hammers and broken swords. We pushed the blades into its scales with great pains, after which we were able to take away all its flesh. I was ecstatic at possessing such a beautiful piece of natural history, which I had already earmarked for the cabinet of the king of France. We used all the drying agents at our disposal to preserve the skin, and spread it carefully over planks. It was suspended between the foremast and the main mast. But eight days after these precautions it was attacked by worms and spread such a smell that, to my great regret, I decided to throw it into the river.
Since I devoted some pages to the crocodile, I will profit from this to add in descriptions of other animals, such as snakes, tigers, monkeys and birds, so that these passages may be more connected and give my work an appearance of method, in spite of the difference of times which occasioned my observations.
In the two countries of Warri and Benin there is an immense quantity of snakes of all sizes and colours. When I founded my establishment at the mouth of the Benin river, the land on which it was to be sited was covered with reptiles; they got into everything, including hammocks and covers of my crew, but without causing any harm. We killed one which was longer than nine feet. Its body contained three or four birds, with the same number of parrots which it had taken from their cages.
With great effort over a long time we were able to destroy this species of reptile. We made them fall one after another from large trees. Three or four days later we put fire and the flame consumed the grass right to the roots, sparing neither the snakes nor their eggs. By this means we converted these snake nests into a vast prairie about three leagues around, where the sheep, goats, cows, bulls, horses etc. then found an abundant pasture.
Not a week would go by without the blacks bringing me at the fort, in exchange for a bottle of brandy, snakes of marvellous and varied colour, as long as twenty, twenty-five or thirty feet, and twenty-four to thirty inches around. I took off their skin, which I sprinkled with alum, and spread and pinned them on the planks of the ship side. When they were perfectly dry, I rolled them up like a ribbon.
Snakes, which lived near my house, loved chicken very much. When they crawled into the poultry we were warned by the continual cries of the cock. Then, armed with a lantern and arrows, we made the round of the place often for a long time without seeing anything, but after much looking we found hidden in the rafters the reptile whose shining eyes betrayed it. A spear blow knocked it down. When it was killed we never found less than two or three birds in its body, and it was always a matter of surprise to see such a little throat putting down so many birds. It would vomit them whole when struck, but they were flattened out as if pressed in a cylinder.
That reminds me of when, bothered by the repeated cries of a cock, I wanted to see the cause. Accompanied by three armed men, I examined the poultry carefully. One of them saw a nine-foot long snake and struck it with a spear near the anus. It fell. Another man struck it on the back with the handle of this arm. I tied a lasso knot around its neck, pulled it away and tied it to a canon barrel with the intention of taking its skin, which seemed very beautiful. It did not move and we thought it was killed and went back to bed.
At sunrise I went straight to the snake, but, having recovered its strength, it had disappeared, leaving at its place three large chickens that came out of its body while it was struggling to get out of the knot. We saw its tracks on the sand; they were eight inches wide.
The blacks have often told me that certain reptiles in the woods cover themselves with large dry leaves so as to be completely hidden while on the watch, and they grab little goats and gazelles that pass by them unsuspectingly. Putting the end of their tail into the anus of the animal, they violently close the throat by wrapping themselves around the neck and then find a way to swallow the animal. Nature has endowed these reptiles with the ability to send back to the ground the bones, hair and skin that they cannot digest. I have seen in the forests these matters expelled from their stomachs and have recognized the skins of monkeys.
One day one of my officers, named Bourgeois, asked me permission to hunt in the woods near Gatto. There he shot and mortally wounded a goat, which was nevertheless strong enough to escape. Bourgeois did not dare chase it, both because the darkness and for fear of fierce animals. Coming to my establishment, he told me that he had killed a goat and wanted to bring it in the next day. He had cut branches so as to tell where the animal should fall. The next morning the returned, came up a hundred feet and found to his inexpressible astonishment the fruit of his hunting in the mouth of an enormous snake more than thirty feet long. Since the reptile could not move while digesting such a large animal, Bourgeois had time enough to come back to the establishment and ask the help of several blacks. Arming themselves with swords and arrows, they killed the unfortunate snake by cutting in pieces. The sections were more than two feet in circumference.
The snakes that surrounded me, at the distance I mentioned, came out of the woods or the tall grass and came to the river bank at low tide to feed on the water birds that are there in large numbers, especially one called "water cutter", because of the shape of its beak which looks like the blades of a scissors. Among all these serpents, there is one that is completely black and as small as a viper. It is much more dangerous than the asp, and is extremely feared by the blacks. During my stay in this area I have only seen one. Pouponneau, the tile maker, left it in my room. It was eighteen inches long and as wide as a goose quill. Pouponneau was in the bush when the reptile jumped from a willow into his shirt. The tile maker wrapped it immediately with cloth and broke it in two without being bitten by it. The blacks who were present when he showed it to me congratulated Pouponneau for having escaped its cruel tooth, for he would not have survived more than a quarter of an hour if he were wounded by it. They spoke the truth. I once witnessed a black woman who put on her head a log on which one of these reptiles had crawled. she was bit on the forehead and died on arriving at her house.
Other dangers threatened us on this coast. There were tigers, many of them of different sizes. It is true that they rarely attack men, but the do not spare goats, sheep, birds, heifers etc. They never leave a place before completely destroying these animals. Hiding in thick bush or mangrove, they catch these animals when they are passing, jumping at their throat and running away with them.
One evening, a little before sunset, I was walking with two of my officers near a thick woods; five or six steps behind followed my well-bred dog, whom I had named Cartouche, and whose neck was defended by a collar with nails like those of Trompette whom the crocodile swallowed. Suddenly, seized with terror, without doubt a seeing or smelling a tiger, he tried to take refuge between our legs. But the tiger did not give it time; it carried it off, throwing us into deep shock. I called the guard of the fort that was near the place. They fired some shots in the air and the tiger fled. With lanterns we followed its tracks through the tall grass. Twenty-five steps away we found poor Cartouche badly treated and almost dead. We brought him home; he had large holes in his throat under his collar and his whole body was covered with claw marks. I nursed him for forty days with another dog that I called Mandrin, but both were eaten by tigers within the year.
Another day, as I was going to the village of Bobi, about a canon's shot away from the fort, and the woods were not yet cut down, I calmly followed a rather wide path. Half way, a tiger suddenly appeared. It stopped and sat on its back, giving out terrible raucous roars. Although I was armed with a two shot gun, I must admit that I was very frightened. Nevertheless I adjusted it without daring to shoot it, certain to be eaten if I missed. I stayed in this position, scowling at it to frighten it and all the while ready to shoot if I saw it move its tail like a cat, a movement which betrays a desire to jump on its prey. My face overawed it, no doubt, because it disappeared in the woods. With the path cleared I moved faster, constantly looking around to avoid a new surprise, and arrived breathless at the house of Animazan, the phidor of the village. I told him of my experience, and right away he sounded the gongon, a sort of drum. In less than a quarter of an hour more than one hundred blacks assembled with their arms. Told why the gongon had sounded, some told me: "Take us to the place where you saw the tiger." We went there and I pointed out the exact place. One of them lay flat on the ground, smelt the grass as animals do and cried out: "Non taifiant," which means, "You did not lie."
The blacks ran instantly into the forest, scattering in every direction, found the wild beast and shot at it. The wounded animal jumped furiously on the one who had shot it, bit him with his cruel teeth and strangled him. A second black succeeded at shooting it in the shoulder; the tiger, more infuriated by this second shot, jumped on this black and gave him such injuries on the neck and the rest of his body that he lost his life. A third, coming to the aid of his companions, got the beast with one arrow on the body and another on the throat, but the fierce claws of the monster ripped his arm from the shoulder to the hand, opening his arteries and causing his death. Finally, when a fourth shot it in the heart, the tiger made a huge jump and expired at the feet of its conqueror, who was more fortunate than the other courageous and dedicated assailants.
The monster was brought to my establishment; it weighed eighty pounds; its skin was riddled with gun and arrow shots. I displayed it at the gate of the fort and all the passers-by left offerings there to reward the valour of the blacks who dared to fight it.
One of these monsters later carried off a two year old calf; I noticed that the next morning. I followed its tracks through the paths where and saw in the dense thicket some tree branches, larger than an arm, bent by its passage. I found the calf bled at the neck, for the biggest treat for tigers is to suck the blood of their prey. A third of its body had been devoured. I had it taken away by the blacks, who ate it after cleaning away all that the tiger had touched.
But the following incident was more astounding. My fort, as I will describe later, was equipped with palisades which served as a protection for my domestic animals returning in the evening from their grazing. It was nine feet high and was capped with pieces of iron in the form of a sword, four inches high and three inches apart. At night the muted cries of the dogs awakened me. I got up, fired a few shots at random and looked for the cause of the dogs' fright. A tiger, which had killed five sheep and sucked their blood, was surprised by the gun shots and had just grabbed a sixth sheep and took it in one jump over the nine feet four inches palisade without touching the points. You can appreciate by this one example the strength of these ferocious beasts.
The blacks think that the liver of the tiger is a very subtle and violent poison; therefore the village chiefs take great precautions to prevent anyone from using it. They gather all the men; eight are chosen by vote, who swear not to touch the liver. They open the tiger, put its heart and liver in a glazed jar with a pile of stones around it. The eight men get into a canoe, take the jar to the middle of the river and throw it in. When they return, they declare to the people by a new oath that they have not removed any of the contents of the vase.
When one or more blacks kill a tiger, the king of Warri sends them a string of coral which is a mark of distinction, as it is in Benin.
Among the different means which the blacks use to overpower tigers, this is one which I learned of. Animazan came one morning to ask me for a six-shot canon so as to catch one of these animals. I lent it to him and his blacks carried it. He had a large hole dug in which he placed a basket with a living goat. Over it they laid a sort of rod without teeth, but with a trigger. The canon, as well as the basket, were firmly fixed by a stake in the ground. That very evening, near 11:00, the goat, which was calling its mother by constant bleating, attracted a tiger, which jumped on the basket. But as he wanted to carry it away, the trigger went off and the rod fell on his body with the canon. The tiger was strong enough to lift it off. It certainly would have escaped from the trap if some blacks who were posted near by had not killed it with arrows.
In this country there are also many monkeys of different species, as well as orangutans. Some of the latter are so big and strong that they sometimes carry off black women into the woods. The monkey called "lion-monkey" is remarkable for its face, its beautiful mane and the length of its tail, decorated like that of a lion; it lifts its tail very high and makes it cove over its head. I had two of these monkeys in my possession, and they are amazingly adroit. Putting them on a twenty-five feet high perch, at the end of which was attached an empty barrel open on one end, I often amused myself and others by throwing dozens of lemons at them. We were never able to hit them, although they grabbed the fruits and threw them back on our heads, making all sorts of very happy looks every time we were hit by the lemons.
Water birds are also very common in the two states, especially in Warri. Flamingos, pelicans, white and ashy-grey herons, egrets, spoon-bills, plovers and water-cutters are the most notable. Besides these, I had tamed a certain number of all these species, just by feeding them with fish. They went out of the fort every morning to go down to the river and came back inside the house in the evening. The herons slept on the top of the large building; they came down sometimes to hunt rats, which they captured with a single blow of their beak. Before eating them they tossed them in the air, grabbing them again whole into their throat, always by the head. I have seen one heron eat up to three rats this way, and the tail of the last rat showed outside the beak. The greedy bird was then in a fix; for several hours it made big efforts with its throat to bring this kind of game into its stomach. The herons sometimes went away from the fort, but never more than three days. On their return we threw them small fish, which they devoured with extreme voraciousness.
The number of parrots is so vast that you can find flocks of several thousands. We saw them leaving every day at 7:00 A.M., crossing the river to the east and coming back at the end of the day to perch in the west on the highest trees, two leagues from my establishment. The blacks told me that these birds have a king that they honour every morning with joyful cries and loud whistling. This monarch is in a nest made like a crib, hanging by strings of bind-weed and swinging in the wind. Nature has adorned it with a magnificent plumage very different from that of its subjects, since half of its feathers are grey and half-rose.
The blacks one day offered to sell me a young parrot coming out of its nest, telling me that it was Oba, or king of these birds. "It is so rare," they added, "that you may never again find its like." Then they told me the history of this king, whose singularity provoked my curiosity so much that I agreed to buy what they offered me if they would lead me to the feet of the throne of this king. They agreed to this condition.
They came the next day telling me to carry swords so as to cut the bush and the bind-weed which stood in the way of the sacred tree. When we came to the place, we observed many large trees on top of which an exceptionable number of parrots were chirping and whistling. The blacks then said, "Look up in the air; do you see this large nest blown by the wind? The king is there at this moment, and all the parrots that you hear are paying him homage." The tree where it sat was one hundred feet tall. My guides assured me that they had climbed up the tree the evening before and cut with their sword the end of the branch which supported the precious nest of the parrot they sold. They advised me to take special care of it, repeating that probably I would never again have the occasion of getting hold of such a magnificent bird. I gave them two bottles of brandy.
I really took very great pains to raise it. It was both beautiful and rare. All its half-rose and half-cinder-grey feathers had a brilliance which I cannot describe. It spoke very distinctly, imitating quite well the whistle-blowing of the ship master. I took it to France, having the intention of offering it to Marie-Antoinette. It was taken ashore at Nantes, and on the way to Paris it excited the admiration of everyone along the way. Mr. Marion Brillantais, to whom I lent it, had it painted. Unfortunately, this ship-owner had just received from New England a didelph, a wild animal that had run to hide in the chimney of the room where my parrot was kept. The next day it was found dead, its head having been cut of by the didelph during the night.
It is time to resume the train of my history. Eight or ten days after the blacks brought me a live crocodile, a canoe containing ten Ijaw men came to offer me a dozen live sheep and goats, as well as three wild pigs, smoked and cut in quarters. I accepted these supplies, paying for them with powder and guns, since these people take only this exchange from Europeans. The men were armed with swords, arrows and pistols; they wore caps made of tiger skin and a blue wrapper like the comrades of Bélé-Bélé.
I stayed four months in the harbour of Regio. Captain Okro often visited me on behalf of his sovereign. The last time that I saw him he informed me that we were now seeing the return of the good season, and that I could leave the river in the middle of October. I went down the river to prepare for crossing the bars, filling only one hundred casks of water, enough for the needs of the ship until the Island of Principe. (I: 94-173)
I continued my voyage towards the coasts of Africa. I entered the river of Benin around the first days of January 1783. I went up as far as Gatto, where I established my factory. My merchandise was sold much quicker than I thought, being replaced by 390 blacks of both sexes. I went down the river at the end of April, knowing that the bad season would hardly begin until three weeks later. Full of confidence, I set sail. Alas! The same thing that happened to me five years ago in this place repeated itself with hardly any difference. At the risk of boring my reader, it is important for me to tell the story; maybe other navigators will be grateful for it.
I had already reached the first bar when the wind, blowing from the southwest and south, went contrary to my direction. The tide rose and I tried to manoeuvre to position myself in the wind, but in vain; the waves were too strong. Suddenly the tide began to go out. I tried to re-enter the river, but it was too late; I failed. Fortunately the sea was not violent. The ship, which drew ten and a half feet of water was in water only nine feet deep; that meant we were stuck as deep as eighteen inches. When the tide returned, I was afloat again and returned into the river.
I was counting on wends from the northeast, but my hope was disappointed; nevertheless I tried to exit once again under full sail. Arriving by tacking at a position in the wind, I thought I was out of danger, when I had the sadness of foundering again on the outermost bar. A rough sea forced me to take in the sails. The waves pushed the ship sideways on the sandbars, resulting in terrible shocks. Since they rolled over the bridge and threatened to overwhelm us, I had iron sheeting nailed over the panels.
I hoped that the current would help us to get back to the river; but this was another mistake! The currents dragged us towards the south. When the wind died down, I did not dare let out the anchor, for fear of seeing the ship sink by the shocks that every wave caused. For three days were in this situation of continual alarms. Finally a storm arose from the southeast and the sea rose, lifting the ship from the sand. I then had the four large sails opened and was fortunate to regain the river, but was very anxious for when I could exit.
With only enough to live on for six weeks, how could I feed four hundred persons up to October? That was one of my sad preoccupations. Maybe some ship will soon arrive bringing me helpthat was another idea where I sought some consolation. Affected by these different thoughts, I went back up the river to the harbour of Regio to find a secure haven against the bad weather.
The next day a canoe appeared carrying a white flag, armed with ten swivel-guns and containing fifty armed men. Their chief, forty-five or fifty years old, came on board my ship and delivered this address: "I learned that you could not cross the bar and that your are resting here until the good season returns. Since King Bernard, to whom this canoe belongs, has heard about your situation, I am engaged to offer in his name all the provisions that you would like to have during your stay." After pouring out with embarrassment my thanks for his offer, I told him that never in my life have I heard of King Bernard, even though this was my fourth trip to these parts. "Very well," he calmly answered my, "the king will supply you with proof that he has greater affection for the French than for any other nation, and it is for that reason that he flies the flag of France on his canoe."
Since this canoe contained a large number of yams, I wanted to have them; he kindly agreed to sell them to me, adding that he brought them with the intention of beginning trade with me. I bought three thousand at a lower price than I had paid for yams before. Then he went, as he said, to tell King Bernard about the excellent reception he had.
Three days after this visit, two other canoes came, one from Gatto, and the other commanded by the war-captain Okro. The first brought two phidors sent by the king of Benin to tell me how sorry he was to learn, when I came back, about all the dangers I had encountered in trying to cross the bars. The second canoe, carrying a white flag, armed with twenty swivel-guns and carrying 106 men, was sent by orders of the king of Warri. Since the phidors were on my ship, I had them go into a room, to avoid having them meet Captain Okro, since I knew of the jealousy that existed between these two peoples, and it was in my interest to keep the protection of the two kings. When Okro entered a room very near to that of the phidors, I warned him to pay attention to the few words that I was going to say to them.
"Sirs, I cannot find words strong enough to express how much I regard the lively interest that the king takes in my situation. Since he so kindly offers to console me in my misfortune, tell him that I am asking him to send me 2,000 pieces of different merchandise, which I need to exchange in order to feed the 400 individuals on my ship." The phidors left right away, telling me that within eight days they would bring me the answer of their master.
Okro had heard what I said; so he told me: "I am going to the king of Warri and will put before him your embarrassing position. Be calm; I will watch and ensure the security of your person, your crew and your ship. I knew that a large canoe, sent by a so-called King Bernard, came on board your ship. Be careful of this rogue king; he is a rebel to my sovereign; we will capture him soon: before a month his head will fall. (4) Be on guard, especially at night: do not let any canoe come on board. In eight days, and maybe sooner, I will return. I want to know the answer that the king of Benin gives you; whatever it is, the king of Warri will not abandon you at all, for he has assigned me to look after you will all my aid."
After a week I saw the phidors arrive from Benin. They told me that the king agreed to advance me 2,000 pieces of merchandise, but on condition that my ship should go back up the river all the way to the Gatto port. This condition was not convenient for me, since the swampy steam that comes out of the immense forest with which it is almost surrounded makes this port deadly for Europeans. I knew only too well its terrible results, having seen on my previous voyages in less than six weeks three quarters of the sailors die from French, English Dutch and Portuguese ships. Nevertheless I expressed to the phidors my great gratitude for the royal proposal and sent them back each with a present.
Okro, who had arrived the evening before, slept on board my ship. I informed him of my response to the two ambassadors; he had overheard, and said: "I have been sent to lead you, if you wish, on the river to Warri. Your ship will be docked before the apartments of the king. There you can provide for your needs; there you will enjoy complete security while waiting for the good season. Tell me your response." I hesitated a minute, and went into conference with my officers concerning these brilliant promises. It might have been imprudent to put oneself into the hands of a people reputed to be savage and known only by name; on the other hand the cruel situation into which we were falling stifled our suspicions, so that we decided to accept the offer of the war-lord.
As soon as he was informed of the result of our deliberation, he went on deck with a white handkerchief that he unfolded; he waved it vigorously in the air. Ten minutes after this signal forty canoes of equal size, each one containing twenty or thirty men, came out of a little river, just a little over a canon shot's length from the Charmante-Louise. They all carried white flags, and came up in three lines with unbelievable speed. When they had surrounded the ship, Okro told me that the canoes and their men were at my disposition; I could lift my anchors and throw out ropes to the blacks so that they could row, pulling my ship so as to reach Warri in three or four days, with no incident to disturb me.
I acceded to the desires of this wonderful man. The blacks formed three rows, just as when they first appeared; they sung, rowing in rhythm, and the ship, carried by them against the current, advanced more than a league and a half an hour.
Okro took two canoes aside in which I placed two officers to lead the way to test the depth of the water and ward against the rocks that could be met along the way. Leaving Regio Bay, we went left into a large river flowing southeast and south-south-east. We found depths of 8, 10 and 12 fathoms; the water was excellent; there were no rocks or sand, and many different kinds of pleasant trees covered its banks. It was essential to steer the ship carefully so as not to allow the main-point to hit the branches of trees that stick out all along these rivers.
From there we turned into the Jabu river, just as wide and deep as the other two. It goes from east-south-east to west-northwest; its current is very fast and does not stop at all when there is tide. After going about eight leagues on this river, we left it to in a direction where it loses its name. Then we followed the Borodo river, which resembles a lake; it is two leagues wide and its depth at the centre is from twenty to twenty-five fathoms.
The canoes found it difficult to go against the current, which was going west; that made me think that the mouth of the river, in the same direction as that of the Formosa river, is at the sea. We did not experience any tide there.
We went on for several hours towards the east; coming out of the Borodo river we turned right up another much less wide, called the little Warri river, with beautiful shade trees on the banks. It flows southeast with a depth of twelve fathoms. After going about ten leagues we went on another very wide river, not less than thirty to forty fathoms deep, with a violent current. I had the impression that the flow, even though not obviously, was causing a rise in the water, in spite of the extreme speed of the current. I examined it at tide time, measured exactly according to the tide measure of the Formosa river, whose current is less fast, and I was convinced that, if no tide could be observed, it had to be attributed to the abundant and continual rains falling for a month. You can judge the power of these currents by the fact that they make ships at ebb-tide move three leagues an hour.
Finally, after navigating two hours towards the southeast, we were brought into a channel before the dwelling of the king of Warri. We anchored at four fathoms of water. All the inhabitants of this town rejoiced to see the great size of la Charmante-Louis and greeted us with songs and musket shots. As soon as the ship was moored, I ordered a twenty-one canon shot salute to the king, who replied by an equal volume of artillery. I was told I could disembark and that the king would receive me without delay. I came down accompanied by Captain Okro.
I was led into an apartment of the palace and was shown a sofa of Portuguese make. Almost immediately I went on to another much larger hall where the sovereign was. He came up to me with an air of satisfaction and said: "Too bad you could not cross the bars; I am very pleased that you have decided to spend the bad season with me; I assure you that you will have nothing to make you regret this decision. I would like to feed all who are on board your ship. Tomorrow the blacks will be brought ashore and the sick treated in a house that I have set aside for the whites; doctors are specially assigned to look after their recovery of health."
The blacks were brought to different villages near the town of Warri and lodged with the inhabitants like prisoners of war. Four to six were taken into each house, and they gave me as many small cowries as the men and women they lodged. I had fifteen whites who were sick, including a midshipman.
The king added: "I have commanded two of my men to go hunting every day and two others to go fishing. They will supply you every morning more fish and bush meat than your men can eat."
The officers and crew could not stop commenting on the character of this black sovereign; they could not get over their surprise at seeing such humanity in a chief so wrongly dubbed a savage.
Our cheer returned, because up to then the sailors were very wary. The hunters and fishermen, faithful to their master's order, brought us every day either deer, ducks, guinea-fowl, wild Indian fowl or wild boar, as well as excellent carp, delicious pike, eel and many other delicious fish whose names I do not know. Besides we were given fifty beautiful yams, bananas, pineapples, coconuts, guavas and thousands of other local fruits, with honey, and above all very fresh oil for frying the fish. This oil was certainly much preferable to the rancid butter on our ship. Chickens, sheep and goats are just as common in this country as in Benin; I was given far more than I needed.
During my stay in this country I went almost every day to see the king, who always received me kindly. During one of our conversations I told him of my project of commerce, which could be of great advantage to his country if he would permit me to construct a fort on his territory, at the mouth of the Formosa river. He answered that he would willingly consent but, since this establishment would be lasting, he would have to consult the governors of the provinces of his kingdom and then call a national assembly; it they accepted the establishment of Europeans on their shores he would immediately give his own vote in favour of my wishes; but the examination of an affair of this importance would need time.
On good days i walked around the town; three or four men designated by the king followed me; he said that this measure was taken for my personal safety against accidents, especially from wild beasts.
One day when I went hunting, I entered a very beautiful forest. I looked at the trees which were immensely high and not less than thirty feet in circumference. The blacks told me that these are the ones they use to construct their canoes. They cut them down by burning the base; they hollow them out by the same method; that is how they give them the shape they have in the water. You can meet canoes up to sixty feet long and ten feet wide. Crossbars every five or six feet, fixed at either end by fibres, held the canoes together; these fibres are stronger than ropes and never come loose. At the two ends of each crossbar a swivel gun is mounted. I have seen canoes with twenty swivel guns, a hundred armed men and forty rowers. They fly over the water by the help of a marvellous skill and make more than three leagues an hour. The blacks call them warships. There is nothing more interesting than to listen to these Africans singing while rowing; the voices match their movements; the oars keep the beat perfectly; a choir of Germans could not do better.
I stayed at Warri until the end of August, the time when the rains begin to diminish. By then all the repairs of the ship were finished and the sick had recovered. Only one black had died; the king had him brought to me for identification.
I made use of my stay to examine well the surroundings of the town. The land is very fertile; bananas grow wild. Oranges, lemons, melons and pumpkins are very plentiful. Purslane grows in the streets. Sorrels, wild spinach and other vegetables are also very common. The seamen made great use of them in their soup; I think that contributed no small amount to their staying in good shape and keeping from scurvy. The forests also supply valuable wood, such as red, blue, yellow and purple wood. Copal is no less abundant than the other kinds of wood.
At the beginning of September the inhabitants of the villages told me that a certain number of them were appointed to lead me all the way to the mouth of the Benin river. I went to the king, who told me to get ready to take back all my blacks. Okro came on board and delivered to me from his master six thousand yams and one hundred stalks of bananas.
When the blacks were put on board, I went to see the king again to express my great gratitude, asking him to set the sum that I owed him for feeding so many individuals, as well as for the other provisions that I had from his goodness. I proposed giving him a statement with the assurance that I would pay on my next voyage. But this was the reply of this worthy monarch: "I am black and you are white; when you arrive in France, tell your owners that men gather all over the world in spite of their colour, and that blacks and whites have no difference in their sentiments of humanity, but that mutual help is a law of nature. You will also tell them that in inviting you to my country I did not have the intention of ruining your people. So keep you statement. Sustaining your men cost me nothing. Their hosts received them with great pleasure and wanted to show their zeal in showing hospitality to strangers who needed their help. The number of your blacks could have been four times as much without having to charge anything for their needs; I must confess to you that the inhabitants have not asked me anything for lodging them, and some asked to lodge some and expressed their great disappointment at not being given any."
I left this generous sovereign with tears in my eyes and full of admiration for his wonderful qualities....
At the end of September the king of Warri sent me forty canoes, as before, to lead la Charmante Louise in tow. It arrived without incident at the mouth of the Formosa river. We saw, to our pleasant surprise, several other canoes bring on board more than twenty thousand yams, more than one hundred stalks of bananas, two thousand coconuts, a dozen sheep and two cows. Okro, who followed with these provisions, came onto my ship and spoke as follows:
"The supplies which I am bringing belong to you; the king gives them to you. He asks you to take on board your ship as a passenger the prince Budakan, the only black who wanted to go to France to learn the language and customs of the French. He is a young man full of sweetness and humanity, who one day may be called to rule over the Warrians. Be careful not to instil in him a taste of luxury; only two servants will accompany him."
"If you come back to this country, be assured that my master will give you all the means at his disposal to let you accomplish your project. The sovereign of this state owns not only both banks of the Benin river but also all the rivers of these parts as far as the tributaries of the Calabar or are near to it. He is not afraid of war with any of his neighbours. His navy is one of the most formidable of the African coast. He never fights on land. Content with disrupting the commerce of his enemies, he breaks their communications when he wants and reduces them to hunger without difficulty."
Having expressed all my gratitude for so many benefactions and for the amazing confidence with which the king honoured me, I told Captain Okro that I would take particular care for the education of the young prince, and that I would later take him back myself or send him on one of the ships of my owners, but that he could not think of returning before twenty-four or thirty moons. At that Okro answered: "We have no worry about him; we strongly desire that you return with many good Frenchmen. But please do not bring any Englishman; they are too wicked. Would you believe that they strike us and often pay back with blows the supplies that we bring them?"
With the prince on board, I decided to set sail during the first five days of October. The land winds rose to the east-northeast with enough power to push back the tide. One morning at 10:00 I crossed the bars without incident or any danger. I anchored at eight fathoms so as to arrange my cargo in better order, since I took the precaution of not letting the back draw more water than the front, should I have the misfortune of failing. At 6:00 P.M. the work was done and I set full sail for the island of Principe, where I had to fill 250 barrels of water which I did not dare take from the river, for fear of over-loading the ship when approaching the bars.
The twelfth day after my departure I reached the island of Principe and docked in the port. I stayed there twenty-two days, and bought 100 alquers of cassava flour and 150 birds at a franc each. (5) Having loaded my provisions, I set sail for San Domingos. Two or three days after leaving a little smallpox broke out on the ship; it was so dangerous that it carried away more than 100 blacks of both sexes.
Arriving at Cap-Français, I found it difficult to enter. The royal coastguard ordered me to lower the foreign flag I was flying; they warned me that they would shoot at my ship if I did not obey. I answered the captain, who came up, that I was a French, and my ship likewise, that I used the Austrian flag because of the war, that I was sent to the Messieurs Poupet brothers, and that when I entered the port I would change the flag for a French one. "Do you have a white flag on board?" asked the captain. "Yes, sir." "Then fly it, or you will not pass at all. The governor has forbidden me to receive any foreign ship, except those of the United States." I mounted the French flag and entered, but was unable to get off until there was a sanitation inspection. This took place only the next morning.
The civil doctors and officers in charge of this inspection asked me many questions about the ship: "From what country do you come? What is your name? the name of your ship? the date of your departure? from what port? the name of the ships with which you have had communication on the sea? the disease on board? the number of sick?
After getting satisfactory answers to these questions, they wanted to know if the smallpox had stopped. When they knew that the symptoms of this epidemic had disappeared for twenty days, they decided to go on board and visit every individual; after that they declared me exempt from quarantine and gave me a certificate and permission to go ashore, which I did the very day around noon.
I presented myself before Messieurs Poupet, my destinaries, who, in my presence, broke out in surprise at finding someone they thought was dead. "Welcome!" they cried. We had no more hope for you until your ship returned. For a long time we though it had sunk." I told them the troublesome circumstances to which I had been exposed, and told them that the king of Warri had place Prince Budakan under my charge.
They congratulated me endlessly for triumphing over so many obstacles; I was then given a letter from the pretended Austrian owner who announced to me the sail of la Charmante-Louise to Monsieur Marion Brillantais of Paris, and that this ship with its cargo became French property. He finished by having me abandon the Austrian flag and mount that of France.
Because of this advice, I went to bribe the admiralty; after receiving my declaration, it delivered me a passport and recognized my ship as being under the protection of the government of France.
Messieurs Poupet took care of selling my blacks as well as the purchase of sugar and coffee which I wanted to take to France. During my stay the African prince was presented to Monsieur de Belcombe, governor general of San Domingos. The general received him perfectly and presented him a sword decorated in silver, on which were engraved the words: "Given to Prince Budakan by Monsieur de Belcombe, Governor-General of San Dominigos, in 1784."
In September my cargo was ready and I sailed before the wind to France. I arrived at Nantes in the middle of October 1784, after spending two years of fatigue and worry.
The cargo was unloaded at once. I went right away to Paris with the young prince. We went to lodge together on rue de Berry, at the hotel of the same name, on the first floor, in an apartment for which I payed 150 francs a month, with the two servants accommodated in the same place. To get the instruction of the august voyager started, I gave him teachers of dancing, music, French language and writing. Apart from reading, which seemed very difficult for him, he made quick progress in everything else. He danced gracefully and skilfully; he performed war songs on the clarinet which he loved much; after six months he spoke French correctly enough to be understood in society. Writing had a peculiar attraction for him; his was beautiful. To praise him in a word, I would say that his intelligence and his penetration astounded his teachers more than once.
I stayed in Paris until March 1786. Around that time Monsieur Marion Brillantais and I renewed our old project of an establishment on the African coast. I wrote up the prospectus in which it was stipulated that a ship of three or four tons would go every three months to Benin, loaded with different merchandise with the value of about 200,000 francs. At the first departure I would command a ship carrying a double load, with workmen, carpenters, masons, tile makers, smiths etc. with all their tools.
The execution of our plan began with the creation of a society under the name of the Company of Warri and Benin. Monsieur Marion Brillantais
became its first administrator. The company obtained, by a decision of the King's council, an exclusive privilege for three years as we began in that territory. To favour our first expedition, His Majesty was willing to donate le Pérou, a ship of three tons, of which I took command, and in which I was to bring back to his uncle the prince Budakan. (6) I was appointed director in charge of all the establishments that the company would found.
I added to the ship Pérou two light boats for its daily service, since its depth would prevent it from entering the river. It would have to stay outside the bars, three leagues away from the river. The first of these boats was called l'Afrique; masted as a schooner of 70 tons, it carried 25 men, six four-shot guns, an equal number of mounted swivel guns, while the other was called la Petite-Charlotte, of 40 tons, having a crew of 12 men and armed with twelve mounted swivel guns.
When all the preparation for the enterprise were finished, I left for Rochefort. I was sent to Monsieur François Hèbre, a trader and representative of the owners. He wanted to introduce me to the superintendent of the navy, Monsieur Delagranville, who let me take possession of the Pérou. I saw that this ship was armed with 18 eight-shot guns.
I did not forget to go and greet Monsieur Chevillard, the old builder of la Négresse. I saw him again with real pleasure; it seemed he was no less pleased to see me. I made use of his good will and counsel for a new distribution of the framework in the interior of the vessel. I got all I hoped for from his favour, as well as that of the employees in the administration of the navy, whose zeal I cannot praise to much for giving me useful things for my ship.
At the end of June, Monsieur Brillantais came from Paris with Prince Budakan, whom I had left under his charge when I left the capital. The commissary reviewed the men on board: they were 140, including workers and the sailors for the two boats. Everyone received three months salary in advance...
I spent 48 hours at the Whydah shore. Monsieur Senat, son-in-law of Monsieur Olivier, governor of the French fort, came on board my ship; he gave me the information I reported here. As soon as he left, I set sail for Benin, where I arrived on 21 November 1786. On land I went straight to Bobi to see the chief of this village, Animazan, to whom I announced the return of Prince Budakan. I told him that fifty men would come ashore the next day with some canons, and asked him to send right away a canoe to the king of Warri, to let him know of my arrival and that of the prince.
I cannot express all Animazan's joy at this news; he mounted a white flag on his house, which was greeted by musket shots, both at Bobi and at Salt Town, thus named because a great deal of salt is produced there.
The third day the monarch, on Animazan's information, sent me two phidors to compliment me for my successful arrival. He gave an order to allow me to off-load all my artillery and to choose the site that would be suitable for my establishment. He strongly hoped to see me with the prince. I gave each phidor a beautiful present, without leaving Animazan out.
I went ashore by means of the boat l'Afrique, together with the prince, Monsieur Glais, first engineer of the Lord Count of Artois, who had obtained a three year leave, Monsieur Forestier, second engineer, two lieutenants of the ship, Monsieur Boutan, chief surgeon, thirty seamen, six canons of eight shots with their carriages, 100 planks to make rafts, and many tents to shelter my men.
The engineers selected on the island of Borodo, on the left bank of the Formosa river, the site most suitable and favourable for the execution of my plans. They cleared the wood from the place and the tall grass that covered it. One spot was used to mount the canons; the carpenters made the rafts and forty both strong and intelligent blacks sent by Animazan facilitated the transport better than we could have hoped for. We slept under the tents. I myself, after a supper of excellent bird fried in oil and served by the care of the chief of Bobi, passed the night in a hammock in a room he had designated for me.
On the 23rd I went on board the Pérou. I had the tools and instruments necessary for the works that we were about to begin put on l'Afrique, as well as the presents that I proposed to offer the sovereigns of these two states.
The engineers made some temporary platforms of wood to mount the eight canons so as to shoot over a parapet. Then they drew the lines where they would construct several houses, like local ones, to lodge the crew. They made me a single story wooden house thirty feet square. On the west side they place a thirty foot high flag pole, where the flag of the king of France was mounted and saluted with twenty-one canon shots.
Animazan arranged to build eight single story houses, after the manner of the Warrians, on the sites marked out by the engineers. They were put up in a very short time, and were 25 feet long and 16 wide. Fear of fire demanded a separation of 12 feet between them. My house was at the centre. It was constructed in eight days, covered with matting and occupied. One hundred twenty blacks supplied by Animazan helped with the work.
When this governor saw that I was ready to bring Prince Budakan to his uncle, he equipped a large canoe, defended by ten swivel guns and 50 men armed with a spear and two pistols each. He told me that I would spend only one night on the canoe. I left on 1 December with the prince, Monsieur Palisot de Beauvois, an officer, a surgeon and two sailors with matchets to cut trees if need be.
The canoe flew the French flag on a mast placed at the centre. At the first signal of the master, thirty blacks began to row, singing, always with an astounding unison. We moved very fast. At 2:00 P.M., the time of their dinner, four of them went ashore with guns on their shoulders to look for something in place of the fish that they did not have. The master told me that they would soon bring back a deer or a wild boar.
While these went through the forest, others gathered a large quantity of dead wood. After a half hour we saw the hunters come back with a very strong deer they had killed. The stretched it on a bed of dead wood, covered it with another bed of dead wood and set fire. In twenty minutes it was cooked. The blacks know the exact moment when it is cooked by the smoke of the animal. They scraped the skin, which was very white, with their knives. Opening it up, they threw away the intestines, then cut the animal into pieces and fried it in oil. They ate everything, except the bones and the hoofs, which they carried on a plate of wood on the front of the canoe. I wanted to know the reason; they told me that these remains were destined to the shrine of the devil, so that Loloku would eat them, and because of this would do them no evil.
After the meal, the blacks drank plenty of bourdon. (7) At 8:00 A.M. we arrived at Warri. The inhabitants received us with musket shots. I then went to the king with the prince, Monsieur de Beauvois, the surgeon and the two sailors. I said: "Here is Prince Budakan, whom I bring back in good health. It is for him to tell you how he was received in France and the kind of education he received. I return to your tenderness the precious deposit that you so kindly confided to me."
The good king, shedding tears, embraced the prince with emotion and put on his neck a second string of coral, the mark of a new dignity which made him like the great men of this nation. Right away the prince took off his French dress to put on again his customary clothing.
During the four days I spent in the town I saw only dances, amusements and lights. In the middle of a large square, we observed a cross where about fifty lamps burned; it had been placed there by missionaries coming from Brazil, (8) who baptized the monarch of that time by the name of Manuel Otobia; the last is his family name. The reverend fathers made for him a very beautiful chapel with sculpture representing the crucifixion of the Saviour of the world, along with the holy women.
[More than 1000 blacks received baptism at this time; I was godfather to about sixty of these new converts. At the island of Principe you can see many black priests, occupying the posts of vicar and assistant, while the parish priests are white.] (9)
The king agreed also to accept from the company the gift of a superb set of furniture in red and white satin, of a complete bed with crimson carving, and of three pretty panes of glass, which we place in a room of 18 square feet. The king was enchanted with these presents; he could not stop admiring them, especially the glass. I added a scarlet cape with gold trim, a hat with white plumes on top and a cane with a silver head. "This cane," I observed, "can serve to make your will known, when you wish to ask something from me. You can be assured that I will give you anything at this sign."
His answer showed all his desire to be useful to the French nation for which he professed a particular esteem, that as long as my compatriots remained in his country he would take them under his special protection, that none of his subjects would dare insult them without being exposed to the most sever punishment. I let him know that I hoped to return quickly to my establishment, so as to visit the king of Benin without delay. "When do you with to depart?" "Tomorrow at 8:00 A.M." That is good. The canoe which brought you here will take you back. I have commanded Captain-General Okro to accompany you as far as Gatto. The canoe and the men who are on it are under your orders. Okro himself must obey you in everything. I have particularly ordered him to see that no accident happens to you in your voyages."
Okro did not fail to come to my lodgings at the precise hour. Monsieur de Beauvois and the persons who accompanied me boarded with me. We carried many supplies given by the king, such as yams, eggs, sheep, two dozen birds, chickens and Indian ducks, all alive. The blacks, taking up their rowing and singing, made rapid progress. We spent the night in the canoe. The directed us over rivers that I did not know at all, much narrower than those I passed three other times. I learned from them that they wanted to avoid any meeting with the Ijaw, who are pirates; they sometimes fight them without fear, but they did not want to expose the canoe. "The Ijaw," they said, "have learned of your stay at Warri; it is possible that to get presents they may have armed several canoes to insult you on your return."
We arrived at 4:00 P.M. at the establishment. Two days after this voyage I started that for Benin. Monsieur de Beauvois desired to accompany me. I took him, along with a surgeon and the two sailors. Okro commanded the canoe. When we got to Gatto, Danikan said to me: "You cannot go to the town of Benin without letting the king know. I will send him an express message. Tell me by which means you want to travel, by horse or hammock. They will sent you one or the other without delay." I chose the hammock, as I did on my first voyage; Monsieur de Beauvois and the surgeon followed this example.
We waited two days for the reply of the monarch, who sent us 32 men and 2 phidors. These, after complimenting me on my return, told me that their master had a great desire to see me again and that he had sent me six large sheep with 200 magnificent yams.
Okro and his people stayed at Gatto. We got onto our hammocks; those who carried them sang constantly. Every two leagues provisions had been left for us under the shade of very beautiful trees; mats were spread to shade us from the hot sun; cut trees laid on the ground served as seats for us and the porters. Monsieur de Beauvois and myself could not praise too much the attentions that the king had for us on this trip.
We entered the town at 3:00 P.M. and were brought to the war captain Jabu, who ordered us to be served mutton, bird fried in oil, eggs, fruits, yams and palm wine. The porters signalled how they would like the yams.
After the meal, I offered the captain-general a string of coral worth 300 francs, a blue cloak trimmed with gold, and a hat with a gold band. He expressed his great thanks through my interpreter, assuring me that he would favour with all his power the commerce that the French hoped to undertake in the kingdom of Benin.
Then we were led to the lodgings of the Europeans. Two phidors came to compliment me again, and told me that the king would receive me alone at 11:00 P.M. Once I was introduced into his apartment, he began to laugh. Two blacks with no cloths on were at his sides. One of them spoke a little English, and he served as my interpreter.
The monarch began by applauding my re-appearance in his states; then he added that he had learned that my artillery had been set up at the mouth of the river and I had constructed houses to accommodate a large number of people, that I had gone to the king of Warri before coming to the town of Benin, although I knew well that he, chief of this kingdom, had given me a site at Gatto (10) to construct a fort there as I chose.
I answered that it would be dangerous to build a fort in this place, since all the sailors find their tombs there; I had to choose the entry to river where the air was much less unhealthy, that I would later build an office at Gatto where there would constantly reside an officer in charge of commercial operations, that Benin would never be deprived of merchandise for trade, that at another time the fort of which he spoke could be constructed at the place he had indicated, that I was very jealous at having merited his good will and the friendship of his subjects, that the best testimony he could receive of the sincerity of my sentiments could be found in the presents that the administrators of the company had assigned me to offer him, that this company, whose interest the king of France upheld by giving it a ship, honoured me with its esteem, since I was given its command, and finally that I was told to continue with him connections of interest and friendship that had lasted for several years.
At the same time I spread before his eyes four large and very beautiful pieces of silkwork, four pieces of Persian cloth, two pieces of Indian muslin, six strings of coral, a superb scarlet mantel trimmed with gold, and a fine hat decorated with a white plume. These gifts caused him great pleasure. He ceaselessly repeated his desire to have my office established at Gatto. I promised him that as soon as I arrived at the mouth of the river I would sent an officer with merchandise, who would open commerce at the first place. I begged him to recommend to the Ijaw people not to disturb this traffic, whether on the rivers or elsewhere. "If the chief of this nation had any desire to see me, I would receive him in a way to make him love and respect the French who, far from establishing here to make war, only desired the peace and prosperity of the African nations."
The king declared that I should be fully at ease, that he would send one of the most powerful of the Ijaw chiefs, that my boats would travel with complete security, and that any insult affecting a Frenchman he would know well how to revenge.
This time I stayed only three days in the town of Benin. Since during the nearly six years I spent in Guinea I had made frequent voyages to the towns of Warri and Benin, I must take this opportunity to report the customs of not only their inhabitants, but also those of the villages that make up the two states. In sketching an image of their customs, I may have some claim to the esteem of the reader, since I am the only European who has had a constitution for this climate, never having been down with sickness, and the only one with enough knowledge of the language of these two peoples to be able to make observations, in a word, the only one who had almost daily relations with the two sovereigns of these countries.
The town of Benin is as large as any of the principle towns of France and is populated by around 80,000 souls. A moat more than 20 feet wide and just as deep surrounds it. The earth taken from the moat is used as a mound around the city on which is planted a thorny hedge which is so thick that it blocks all passage, even to animals. This very high mound prevents the houses from being seen from a distance; you can only see them when you enter the town, whose gates are far apart from one another.
Every day a market is held in a square a quarter of a league long and almost as wide. It opens around 11:00 A.M. or noon, so as to allow time for people to come from the countryside. They bring all sorts of things to eat from the surroundings and European goods such as muslin, Indian, Brettany, English and Portuguese cloth, Cholet and silk handkerchiefs, hats, knives etc., as well as a large number of tools made by the Benis who are expert at iron and copper work. These two metals decorate the interiors of the houses.
You hardly see a house without a cotton spinner or a loom for making admirable cotton and grass spreads; it is women's work. Their looms resemble our own, but are perpendicular instead of our horizontal ones. Their cloths are one and a third ells wide; they are died with various indelible colours which are an abundant product of the country. One is stepping all over indigo; the same for pineapples. The melons are so good that without any exaggeration the best of ours is inferior in quality to the worst of theirs.
The streets are very wide; there is a lawn in the middle where the goats and sheep pass. Thirty feet from the houses is a thoroughfare, covered with sand and serving for the movement of the inhabitants.
When an infant is born in the towns and villages, no ceremony marks the birth. It is not the same for marriage. A young man who wants to marry asks for the girl from her parents, who very rarely refuse. He gives them one or more pieces of cloth and then brings the girl home. If she is still too young, without any sign of puberty, the husband entrusts her to the care of women who tell him when the marriage can be consummated; that is ordinarily at the age of 11 or 12. Polygamy is permitted in all of Africa; a man takes as many women as he can feed; his riches are estimated by their number.
A recognized seducer of a girl is considered married with her. If this act of surprise takes place in the night, by dawn the names of the couple are published in the streets; they are united by this simple formality. If the bride has not yet reached the age when she can become pregnant, the husband must pay a fine, since his action is taken as a grave crime. It is also a crime to exercise the conjugal right at the moment of menstruation and when the woman is pregnant or nursing. In the first case, she retires to a place far from the dwelling of the husband and does not return until after her purification by bathing. A man who touches his wife in such a circumstance is likewise forced to purify himself to avoid a fine.
People brought up in dignity, such as the big men, the phidors and the passadors, receive presents of girls of the age of 4 to 8. These children stay in special rooms under the direction of older women. The monarch sends his daughters to the big men; these send their own to the phidors, who do the same to the passadors. As soon as these girls reach the age of marriage, they are dressed in beautiful clothing and presented to their husbands.
These women are all very vain; they spend six months getting their hair set, but their hairdo lasts for three years; the number of pearl and coral strings woven into their hair and tied with very small knots is infinite.
When a big man or a phidor or a passador dies, he is buried in the apartment he liked most. Before letting the corps into the tomb, it is place on a grill about three feet above ground. A moderate fire is made underneath to melt the fat and dry the corpse. Then it is brought to a sort of alcove where it is set up like a man sitting. Around him is built a three foot high wall of glazed earth which is covered with a platform like an altar. On this are fixed beautiful ivory tusks weighing forty to fifty pounds and finely sculptured with images of lizards and snakes. These tusks are held up by wooden heads of rams or he-goats, roughly carved. I have seen at least twenty tusks on one such tomb.
Only once a year does one enter the room where the deceased rests, and that is to celebrate the anniversary of his death. All his relatives and friends assist at the ceremony. At the feet of the tomb libations of palm wine and brandy are poured into a hole about 6 inches square and 18 inches deep. They place kola nuts there and say an infinite number of prayers which I never understood well.
The coral strings of the deceased are sent back to the king, since such posts are not hereditary; his children can be decorated with them only after the age of 21 if they have done some action useful for the state; besides this favour must be requested by the majority of the inhabitants of their father's area.
A wealthy man who dies is carried on a litter with a white cloth covering him. Mourning women follow him as they go through the village and carry him to the place of burial.
A poor man is almost abandoned. Sometimes the body is thrown outside the town into the ditch where a multitude of vultures devour it. These birds, which are as big as turkeys, walk on the streets; it is expressly forbidden to kill them, since they do no harm to anyone and they destroy lizards and reptiles.
When the king of Benin dies, a hole 4 feet square and 30 deep is dug in one of the large courtyards of the palace; it is very wide at the bottom. The monarch is let down with his living prime ministers. The opening is closed with a large wooden trap door. Every day they bring food and ask if the king is dead. The unfortunate ministers reply that he is very sick. They continue to bring food and ask the same questions until there is silence, and then they need no explanation to know that they are no more.
The first few days the capital is in mourning. Masked men, disguised like giants and armed with swords, run through the streets and cut off the heads of those they meet, collecting their blood in copper basins which they bring to pour on the tomb of the kings.
Some time later the bodies of the monarch and his ministers are taken out of the hold. These victims are given back to their relatives, who are very honoured that the servants of the sovereign accompanied him to the other world, and they bury them inside their homes.
The king is buried in a spacious courtyard under a vast veranda held up by twelve large pillars, each one formed from the trunk of a single tree. These pillars, badly sculptured, represent big men, dressed in ceremonial clothing as at the king's council.
When I examined one of these tombs, I observed many elephant tusks seven feet long and shining white. What caused me real pain was to see the place covered with human blood. I could also see a snake skin 30 feet long and six feet wide at the middle, but made of pieces of ivory artistically attached to one another. Its mouth was open; a copper blade formed its tongue; it seemed to be coming from above and sliding the whole length as if to enter the tomb.
The preceding details concerning the death of kings were furnished to me by the phidors as well as a large number of inhabitants, since no sovereign died all the time I lived in these countries.
When the monarch of the two empires advances in age, he is held to appoint in advance one of his sons as sovereign to occupy the throne at his death; without this formality the crown could fall by election outside the family. He convokes an assembly of all the big men, phidors and passadors of the kingdom who, on a certain day of the moon, must meet in a courtyard of the palace which can accommodate more than 10,000 men, and where women are excluded. The king has his male children who are at least 21 years old called and presents them to the assembly, saying: "Here are my sons; choose among them the one whose qualities are most worthy of the throne, so that after my death you may find in him a pledge of peace and the virtues of a good father, as well as the courage of a warrior when he must fight."
The choice falls rarely on the eldest son. The one recognized as heir to the throne must right away take the title of king of a province. The assembly gets up, salutes him and harangues him through one of their chiefs. He is brought to his father and applauded. Then he goes to his province, which he may not leave except once a year, on the very day of his election, so as to do homage to the author of his existence.
I was present once at the arrival of the young king for this purpose. He was called Chiffau. He had a lovable figure; he was 5 feet 2 inches tall. A corps of 1,000 or 1,200 men armed with spears accompanied him. Thirty young men, some of them with white wrappers, others with red, marched before him. Some danced and beat drums in rhythm. Entering the courtyard where his ancestor rested, the king his father came up with magnificent wrappers, with a multitude of large coral strings around his neck, arms and ankles. This time he wore a chain shirt, each knot of which was decorated with pieces of coral; it weighted more than 20 pounds. (11) After sitting at the foot of the tomb of the last monarch, where one could see at least 60 elephant tusks, he had his son come, embraced him, and both shed tears over each other before the assembly, which seemed to share their emotion.
At the end of this ceremony the young king returned to govern his province accompanied by the armed corps that had followed him. I was astounded that he did not enter the palace itself and asked the phidor Oyfu, one of the first confidants of the old king, why. He answered: "The big men never allow the son of a king who is destined for the throne to speak to his father, for fear that the father may instill in him feelings of hatred or vengeance against his own enemies, and that the son may not receive advice to change the customs and usages which we hold pure of all innovation from the origin of the first dynasty."
Formerly Warri and Benin formed one kingdom. A division broke out between two brothers, one who reigned at Benin while the other declared himself independent, took up arms and established himself at Warri. Twenty years ago the last king was the 61st of Warri; the kings of Benin are lost in the night of time, and their number is not known. The language and customs of the two states are the same. There is only this difference that the king of Warri does not make human sacrifices and that there are three classes of nobles in Benin, but only two in Warri.
These classes are, first, the big men, secondly the phidors, and thirdly the passadors. At Warri there are none of this last class. The big men cannot go out of the capital, and the phidors out of the kingdom, under pain of death. The passadors may leave it only under order; their job is to deliver the messages that the king sends anywhere; they promulgate the ordinances and rules of the police, bring royal messages to foreign nations and receive ambassadors who come to Benin; they also publish declarations of war and treaties of peace. the phidors of Warri, with the permission of the monarch, may go out of the empire; they fulfil the same functions as the passadors of Benin.
The chief of Benin is very powerful; many neighbouring kings are tributaries to him, among them that of Whydah; he can raise 100,000 men in twenty four hours. Although there are horses in his states, only mules are used for war, because they are both untiring and easy to feed. The horsemen are armed with pikes and pistols. When the council decides on war, the king transmits his orders directly to the captain-general. If the commander is unable to win, his head falls to expiate his misfortune or inability.
If a member of the nobility is accused of an offense or a crime, he is brought before the counsel of big men, who judge him unsparingly by majority vote either to pay a fine or to die; in the latter case his head is cut off. The council always gathers at the sound of a drum beaten in all the streets of the town or village where the crime or offense was committed. There is no armed body to arrest criminals of any sort; it is the populace who help one another for this purpose.
People are judged in all inhabited localities. In the middle of a large square there is a large structure open on all sides, which serves as an assembly of the elders responsible for this important ministry. Entry to the hearing is open to all. The deepest silence reigns along with an atmosphere of seriousness. The accused is brought, who has the right to choose an advocate. The accuser brings his complaint; if he does not bring sufficient proof, he must undergo the punishment that the accused would have suffered.
If the sentence is a fine, it must be paid right away; it is always less than the fortune of the accused. A man condemned to death suffers the punishment of talion. The sons of the king are not exempt.
I have seen in the town of Warri one of the sons of the monarch mounted on the front of a canoe; he had a kind of two-pronged hook in his hands. Another canoe came up to him. To stop being boarded, the young prince swung the hook towards a black who, trying to avoid it, was struck in the stomach and died.
The prince went ashore, was arrested by the people, judged and condemned. I ran to the king and explained that the terrible accident was not intentional. He shed many tears and said to me sobbing: "Since the man who was struck is no more, the law must be accomplished." The unfortunate prince was put to death by the blow of a club on his stomach.
I also saw at Benin one of the cruellest punishments that barbarism could invent. I black was hung on the top of one of the high trees planted in the centre of the town and exposed alive to the voracity of the vultures who came to pluck out his eyes and tear off other parts of his body. Revolted at this horrible spectacle, I could not contain myself; the blacks answered back laughing at my questions, saying that he was a traitor to his country, having revealed state secrets, the greatest of crimes. So the blacks are very discrete; they would rather let their tongue be cut off than reveal a secret about something discussed in their council.
A woman accused of adultery is brought before her judges, who make her kneel in a public place. There they draw with chalk two circles where she has placed her thumbs. Two full vases are before her with the names of the good and the evil fetish. She is ordered to confess her crime. In this case she drinks from the evil fetish, which poisons her. In the other case her tongue is rubbed with a herb whose juice makes it suddenly swell up and protrude amazingly from the mouth. A cock feather is put through it. If the accused continues to deny in the face of these threats and there is not sufficient proof to condemn her, the feather is pulled out of the tongue, another herb is rubbed on, making the pain go away and restoring the tongue to its natural state. She then drinks the good fetish and goes away.
The blacks, as you have read, know the elements of an unusual talent; they also have good ideas on the art of curing. One day one of my men told me: "See some men who have large stomachs; if you wish I will cure them within eight days." I consulted the surgeons, and in their opinion all their remedies were finished and I should not fear exposing the lives of these men suffering from dropsy. I entrusted them to the black who, according to his promise, brought them back to health. Three grains of palma christi (12) crushed into powder and soaked in a glass of cold water for 24 hours and swallowed each day after sieving was enough. The swelling disappeared entirely by a violent purgation towards the sixth or seventh day.
It is possible that in France the effect of these grains may be felt less than in a climate where the heat, rising to 50 degrees, leaves the pores open enough for the sick man to sweat a lot, and where the tree that produces the fruit lives long, whereas here it is an annual.
The credulity and superstition of the blacks is known; here is an example. I had lost by theft about 50 strings of coral. I interrogated the boys of my shop; they answered that they knew of no thieves. The day passed in useless inquiries. The next day I assembled them and let them know that my fetish, which is never mistaken, just exposed to my ears that a boy of my shop had put his hand in my coffers to steal my coral strings. According to this supernatural advice, I declared to them that if the guilty person hesitated one moment to bring back what he stole, my fetish would burn the beard of all without exception.
I had in my possession a box of white iron, containing some glass tubes as big as a strong pen. In each tube there was a phosphorous wick. When the end of the tube was broken the wick caught fire. That is how I lighted my candle on board ship. I wanted to use this means to illustrate what I desired. Having commanded the object of my suspicions to come near, I pulled out one of my tubes and shook it at my mouth; suddenly I pulled it back and broke the end. I presented the flaming wick to the presumed thief. Everyone seeing this leapt for surprise and fear and fell at my knees asking me to beg my fetish to spare them; they swore that my corals would be restored and they would never steal anything from me again.
In fact, after this experience, nothing ever disappeared from my goods. I even had the double advantage of inspiring a great fear in these men and making them respect me for this. I did not seek at all to punish the thief; I was satisfied with reproaching them in common with the aim of proving that one should never steal from the whites or cause them any evil.
There is no temple at Warri, as there is at Benin. These buildings are made of wood. They are most clean, both inside and out. Around them, some distance away, are the mats on which the sacrificers march in their processions. These men, at the time of their bloody ceremoniessince it is men whom they slaughterseem disguised by a single piece of gray cloth from their country, which covers their head and the rest of their body to the ground. They are careful to rub chalk on their feet so that when the walk they are not recognized. This sort of cover rises like a sugar loaf two or three feet above the head. Two openings containing pieces of glass are the only places where light can reach the eyes of these priests. Women never enter these temples.
Sometimes I asked the blacks why whey never worshipped God, but adored the devil. These are their reasons: "Our sovereign is very great; we see him rarely and hardly ever speak to him. If we are ever brought into his presence we prostrate, not daring to look at him, and are even obliged to hold one hand over our lips. God, who is infinitely greater, is infinitely good, since he never does evil to us; so we do not need to adore him; besides he thinks of us much less than our king.
"It is not the same with the devil; since he is wicked and causes us as much evil as he can, and since all evils come from him, we pray to him, adore him and give him food to appease him."
I spoke of red, blue, purple and yellow wood. When they are cut they are all white like common wood; only in water is their brilliant and indelible colour determined.
There are gold mines in Benin, but it is forbidden to touch them under pain of death, for fear that the Europeans, drawn by their avarice, may come and make war ad they did in Peru.
Having taken leave of the king, I set out as before, with the same ceremonial. Besides my escort, many blacks followed me; they were assigned to bring to Gatto 18 sheep, 1 cow, and two dozen chicken and Indian ducks which the monarch sent me. Each of these guides received from me a Cholet handkerchief. The phidor of Gaure welcomed me as usual; we exchanged gifts; his were live birds and mine were handkerchiefs.
The porters, who were changing always and running at the highest speed, refused to stop at any resting place, for fear of arriving in the night. Okro came to a half-way point ahead of me. All the presents with which I was honoured were placed in the canoe. I went to sleep with Monsieur de Beauvois and the surgeon at the house of the phidor Danikan; he welcomed us with a lively pleasure, regaled us with a good supper, excellent palm wine and old and delicious brandy. Our porters had no less good a supper of mutton cooked in oil; each received two Flemish knives and returned to Benin the next day.
As I separating from Danikan I offered him a very beautiful present. I then got on Okro's canoe; he took us all back to the establishment. I gave this captain a mantle of blue cloth, several pieces of fine cloth, two strings of coral, a superb cane with a silver knob on which the following words were engraved: "Given by the Company of Warri and Benin to Captain Okro, in testimony of his good services." Each of his blacks received also a hat and six Flemish knives with a sabre. I brought their satisfaction to a climax by the distribution of two barrels of brandy, containing all together forty bottles.
Okro went away full of joy on his canoe to Warri. Flying the French flag, he signalled his departure with a musket salvo. He told me that when he arrived there he would send Prince Budakan to me.
Having finished with my visits and now able to use my time freely, I dreamt of the construction of solid houses and a fort. For that I set my eyes on a site about 640 feet away from where my artillery was already placed. I had the land cleared all around it for a great distance. The king of Warri sent me 800 men to help execute my plans. They cut trees, uprooted tall grass, and destroyed by fire all the reptiles that had so terribly frightened the sailors by crawling into their hammocks. Those that the flames did not reach were beaten to death; after fifteen days they were no longer seen. Moats were dug; wide trenches were made to fill them and give quick drainage.
A building 120 feet long and 30 wide, of one story, was build on the site. An exterior circular veranda was added, 8 feet wide and covered, so that one could walk there out of the rain and the heat of the sun. At the centre was a double staircase. A very wide porch gave entrance to a beautiful 30 feet square hall. From the middle of the hall one could enter four 14 feet square rooms. There were many windows to let air into all the rooms. This building was sited northeast to southwest.
Then I ordered the construction of 8 houses 32 feet long and 16 feet wide, each standing 16 feet apart from one another. In the middle was a 200 feet square, where I set up a pigeon house 24 foot square and just as high, raised 16 feet above ground by 12 wooden pillars, to keep the pigeons away from rats and mice. Under the pigeon house stayed the sheep and goats. The chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks and geese were housed in cages. The cows and horses slept under the platform of the battery.
The fort was constructed with four bastions and armed with 32 pieces of 8 and 6 shot canon. It was surrounded by a moat 20 feet wide and 7 feet deep; it was filled at high tide by a river flowing 1280 feet away in the forest, towards the south of the large building. This work cost infinite trouble. Trees that covered the land had to be cut between the fort and the river. A causeway was made, fortified with felled trees. On both sides the blacks dug a moat 20 feet wide and 10 deep; they were sunk in the mud from the knees to the waist. The earth taken from the two moats gave the causeway its hight. I had two rows of trees planted which within two years gave a delightful shade.
I owe the speed of this work principally to the blacks sent by the king of Warri. Prince Budakan came with Okro and encouraged them by his presence. I would never have seen so many obstacles overcome by the help of Europeans alone, since the extraordinarily fetid vapours exhaled by these swamps would have killed them all.
The abundantly flowing water helped to transport merchandise that arrived at the port of the fort or came out; they were not exposed any more while loading to the dangers of the river that are felt three quarters of the year.
The natives of the country, admiring the fruit of so much effort, expressed their satisfaction at our being able to bring in supplies without fearing the loss of their canoes, a misfortune which often befell them.
I had the interior of the fort, near the moats, surrounded with palisades of 18 inch round stakes fixed two feet into the earth. They were about 10 feet high; the stakes touched each other and were sustained and strengthened by crosses of Saint Andrew. Iron bands fitted with lances and fitted underneath crowned the top. These lances, 4 inches high, were only 3 inches apart.
On the side of the sea, before the large battery of 16 canons, is a beach which is covered with only 6 to 7 feed of water when the sea is full; otherwise it is almost always dry. Since waves come to break on it 8 months of the year, ships dare not risk coming there to land. This natural defence reassured me completely, and was even the motive why I decided to divert the course of the forest river behind the fort.
On this beach a Portuguese captain, Nicolas Olivera, lost his ship, thinking he was entering the Benin river, since the mouth of the Borodo, south of this, looks almost exactly alike. Having failed, his ship broke open. Olivera and 12 men were saved with the help of the blacks of the king. I welcomed the unfortunate men in my fort, where we gave them every sort of care. I proposed that they should enter the service of the company; two accepted this offer, the captain and a coloured sailor named Sainte-Anne.
I came out to see the captain of the boat la Petite-Charlotte die; my disappointment was softened by replacing this officer with an excellent seaman, full of experience and instruction who had voyaged often to India and China. I kept the other sailors, waiting for an occasion to send them to Brazil, to the Bay of All Saints. I had supplies distributed to them. After a month a ship came from the island of Principe commanded by Captain Gregory, a learned black, who had studied at Lisbon and spoke French well. Seeing him, the Portuguese leapt with joy.
I pressed him to spend the night in the fort. That evening we discussed questions of commerce. He desired to by 3 or 4 thousand cotton cloths, as well as ivory. I told him that I would gladly help supply him this merchandise, but we could not agree on the price. After taking on Olivera's men, he went up the river to Gatto.
As I walked along the Borodo river, Captain Olivera who accompanied me said: "See a large and beautiful beach; if you permit I will make here a labyrinth where the fish will come and lose their way. Every day at low tide you will find fish of all sizes and qualities. They will be fished without cost and all you will have to do is let them out of their prison."
I like this project very much. Olivera wanted to execute it right away. He ordered nets to be set up 8 feet high over a space of 960 feet. Animazan was in charge of making and placing these nets with the help of his most clever blacks. Forty men cut mangrove trees from 4 to 5 inches wide, cut in a way that the smallest fish could not penetrate it. Each net was 6 feet wide and strongly attached by both ends from top to bottom.
When it was all ready, the nets were placed straight up on the beach; the piles that held them were driven in, and were well tied with fibre rope. Long poles on top, likewise fixed by stakes, made this enclosure so solid that it could resist the violence of the waves.
At the end of this dike another construction was made which Olivera called a labyrinth; it was 40 feet in circumference. The fish entered from both sides by an opening of two feet and did not come out again. The Portuguese captain made me observe that these animals always swim in a straight line, even when they meet an obstacle. Effectively, during the flow of water up and back against the dike, they were forced to swim forwards and into the labyrinth.
This fish catcher became very useful for me. The tide brought in an immense quantity of angel-fish, sol, carp, mullets, large shell fish etc.; at low tide all these fish remained trapped. Every day we went to pick them up in wheelbarrows. I fed 400 persons with them and had the rest distributed among the inhabitants of Bobi. We rang the bell and the blacks ran with their baskets; they carried the fish to Animazan, who shared in among the families. Never did the slightest debate arise over this distribution.
Among the blacks that the phidor of Bobi gave me one was much like an albino. Born in this village, he was black, but his skin was patched all over with spots of every colour about the size of a lentil. His hair, eyebrows and eyelashes were blond. His eyes were round and saw everything perfectly at night, but could not distinguish them during the day. I employed him as a rower; he was twice as strong as his comrades.
When all the work was completely finished, the land seemed cleared to an extent of three leagues in circumference, which made it look like a vast prairie. Every morning, when the gates were opened, the donkeys, bulls, cows, sheep and pigs left the fort. The went to the prairie to graze and spend the day without a guard. When sun set a box was beaten and they all came back, some neighing, others bellowing, the sheep bleating, the pigs snorting. Nothing was more amusing that to see their pleasure at eating 7 to 8 boxes of maze poured in the courtyard; in a twinkle of an eye all the grain disappeared.
The pigeon house was furnished with pigeons that multiplied prodigiously. Birds were also extremely abundant. All we lacked for a happy life in this climate was the first of all blessings, without which the others are nothing, I mean health.
Before two months of living here, the whites were attacked with a burning fever, bilious or malign, which carried them away in a few days. Men addicted to women and strong liqueur fell without exception. The English lost three quarters of their crew in three months, the French half, the Portuguese a quarter. The sick became yellow all over their body; their eyes, nails, hands and feet had, just like the skin, the colour of saffron.
We used with success, in bilious sicknesses, acidic drinks mixed with lemon or orange juice; but the best remedy was a tamarin drink. Unfortunately I had too little of this fruit, since the tree that produces it does not exist in Warri or Benin; it had to be brought from the kingdom of the Oyo [Ayeaux], more than 300 leagues from the sea.
This kingdom, located in the interior of Africa, is powerful. Some blacks from this country came to see me; they knew how to write and count in Arabic. They showed no surprise at seeing the fort, our canons, guns, pistols and swords. The told me, through their interpreter, that they had foundries for canons and the manufacture of all the arms that I showed them, that ships came to visit their king from far away, but by another sea than that on which my ship came.
Their story interested me much. I presumed that the Oyo might be a colony of Moors expelled by Spain, and that the ships of which they spoke passed through the channel of Mozambique or the Red Sea after rounding the Cape of Good Hope. When they were asked how long it took to come to my establishment, they answered: "Three moons to Benin." Calculating by five leagues march a day, their capital would be 450 leagues from the town of Benin.
The Benis often spoke to me of the Oyo; they said that this people furnished them more beautiful merchandise than we, but that it was also much more expensive. That was no matter of doubt for me; objects brought on animals from so far away must have an increase in cost which we avoid.
When they were asked why they came to my establishment, I learned that they were sent by their king for political business with the king of Benin, and he had spoken to them very highly of my fort and its dependencies; since it was not so far from Benin, they did not want to return to their country without taking advantage of the occasion to see some white people, a king of men, according to them, that was entirely unknown to them up to then.
They spent two days in the fort. I presented each of them a beautiful Cholet handkerchief, together with a paper containing my name, that of my nation, and the words: "French fort and establishment built at the mouth of the Benin or Formosa river, on the coast of Africa".
The stature of these blacks was beautiful; their hair was not crooked like that of the Africans who live on the coasts. An extreme liveliness shines in their eyes; they have a tawny colour, almost like mulattoes. I could say that they are intermediate between these and the blacks. Their language was very pleasant to hear; all their words ended in a vowel.
To have a wide territory around me, I bought from the king of Warri, who got the consent of the national assembly, thirty leagues of territory for the profit of the company. The contract of this acquisition is deposited in the offices of the Ministry of the Navy.
Around this time Bourgeois, who wanted to go hunting with one of my blacks, went into a forest where many wild elephants stay, who are very dangerous if attacked. Both were armed with a gun. The black asked Bourgeois if he would feel at ease seeing these animals. When the officer said yes, the black went forward and found around 20 elephants who were grazing in a plain covered with tall grass. The hunters approached. The black aimed at one which was a bit apart from the troop. The elephant sensed, no doubt, that its life was in danger, since it charged the aggressor with an extraordinary speed, picked him up with his trunk and smashed him with a single blow against a tree. Bourgeois escaped and arrived all trembling with terror as he told me the circumstances of the loss of my unfortunate black.
In 1787 the frigate la Junon of 44, commanded by Monsieur the count de Flotte, and coming from Toulon, arrived on the large shore at the mouth of the river, but five or six leagues from land. I then got on l'Afrique and went on board the frigate to present my homage to the commander. I was very well received. He told me that the minister of the navy had assigned him to visit my establishment, to be assured that the directors of the company fulfilled their engagements with the government. Monsieur De Flotte added that he had the intention of going to the king of Benin, but, being indisposed, he abandoned this voyage. "Two lieutenants of my ship will replace me; you can accompany them; they have all the powers necessary to make a commercial treaty between this country and France."
At that I answered that I considered myself most pleased and honoured with this mission, since I had some reasons to boast of being favourably received by the monarch of Benin, motives already drawn from his preference for the French, who whom, in my person, he gratuitously granted a very large site in Gatto so that I could establish there a fort and houses and cut any trees I judged useful for these constructions.
Monsieur de Flotte showed great satisfaction at these observations which seemed to him to augur well. I got back on l'Afrique, promising this commander to return the next day to pick up the two officers, since I had to leave them time to make certain preparations for the voyage.
I loaded on the same boat 12 large sheep, several birds, 300 yams and some lemons, and put it all on la Junon. The officers and crew were astonished at these supplies. To one officer who asked who they were for, I said: "I don't dare offer them to Monsieur the count, but I beg the officers to please accept them." "How much do you ask for these presents?" "Nothing at all; I would only be very satisfied if you please accept them, and if you find the yams excellent, I will bring more supplies the next time."
The two officers, who were ready to leave, came on board my boat with 25 grenadier sailors from the navy troops. We stopped at my establishment, where they were given a dinner of fresh fish, bush meat and yams. We then left for Gatto, where we arrived in the evening. I went right away to Danikan and told him the reasons for our trip and that the importance of the mission of the officers would not permit any delay. The phidor sent quickly an express message to Benin. While waiting for the superior order, we slept in the house Danikan provided on beautiful rush mats made with remarkable skill.
During the day two ambassadors of the king came, followed by around 100 blacks carrying hammocks; they saluted the officers of the frigate. The next day we left Gatto at 7:00 A.M. After two stops where refreshments had been prepared for us, we entered the capital at 2:00 P.M. and went to the European rest house.
The king sent two phidors who congratulated us on our arrival and told us that their master would give us an audience that very evening. meanwhile he sent us plenty of food. I had brought several flasks of brandy; we drank this liqueur mixed with water instead of the palm wine included in the provisions.
At 10:30 P.M. two phidors led us into the royal apartment with the usual ceremonies. The monarch welcomed us laughing. I had brought a black who spoke French well enough to serve as an interpreter. I could have explained myself without him, but one must remember that such explanations in the language of the country could be dangerous. The king had us sit on folding stools; he asked me the subject of the voyage of the two whites who accompanied me. When he knew it he gave the same answer as I had already received in a similar occasion: that he preferred the French among all Europeans, that he wished to have sincere friendship with them, but that he could not permit the officers of the king of France to construct a fort at Gatto before getting the advice of his council. He promised to assemble it without delay, and that its decision would soon be made known to us.
The two lieutenants offered him on the part of their sovereign a large string of coral worth 1800 francs and several Persian cloths, which gave the Benin monarch great pleasure. The king led us into one the palace courtyards where there were more than 1,000 elephant tusks. Always laughing, he begged the officers to choose two of them, which they did right away. Each one weighed about 50 pounds. The interpreter brought them to our lodgings around 8:00 the next morning.
At midday the council assembled. We were told by two phidors to go there. We were seated at the right and the left of the monarch. The assembly was imposing: 60 big men, venerable with their long white beards and with strings of coral around their necks, on their wrists and ankles. The deliberation concerned an exclusive commercial privilege for the French. The debates were long and animated. The majority decided that no people of Europe should ever enjoy this favour, since the Benis remembered only too well how the Dutch formerly tormented them and they did not want to be exposed to new outrages. The agreed to trade with all the nations of the world, but that France would always have the first place in their affection.
The next day we left the town; 100 men accompanied us, as before, to Gatto. The lieutenants got on my boat and I took them to their frigate, which soon set sail for the island of Principe.
My establishment was then in full activity; it not only fulfilled my desires, but surpassed all my hopes. Unfortunately the troubles that broke out in France in 1789 and the following years prevented any ship from coming to Guinea; so it was impossible for me to replace the individual victims of the hot climate. Each ship promised me should have brought 40 men. The lack of such necessary transport left me in a state of frustration that would soon have finished me if I did not find other ways to use all my resources.
I resolved to receive foreign ships sailing on these shores, such as Portuguese, English and Danish vessels. I bought their cargoes, which were very profitable to me, and agreed to replace their merchandise with another load within a determined time. They were given water, wood and supplies of every sort at a fixed fee. I had their goods brought on board their vessels outside the bars in full sea. This was an inestimable advantage for these captains, since their cargo was replaced promptly and they avoided the dangers of entering the river and the health of their crew was never compromised.
It sometimes happened that I lacked an assortment of objects which I desired; so I sent Captain Olivier, commander of my boat la Petite-Charlotte, to go to Ivory Coast, 120 leagues away. He did some good business on my account with Dutch, Portuguese, Danish and French captains who were anchored there. This intelligent officer always brought me the merchandise I ever happened to need. He was never away for more than 15 days. In this way I was able to fulfil my engagements with the captains who counted on my zeal to supply their cargo. My profit was immense: more than 30,000 francs a day. Without doubt such gain excited envy, but it never occurred to me to think that it would bring on me acts of violence from the English, since I, jealous of no one, took care of them so good heartedly.
These miserable people cooked up a plot with the king of Aunis, a tributary of the king of Benin, to destroy my storehouses. They organized an army of a large number of canoes who would come through interior rivers to my establishment, which was 60 leagues from their capital. This was easy because these rivers communicate with those of Benin.
I slept in complete ignorance of such a wicked project. Okro, very early in the morning, came on a very beautiful and well armed canoe asking me for powder and bullets. "Why?" I asked him. "It is a secret; you only need to know that I will punish as people who dares to fight the king of Warri." I insisted on knowing the name of this bold people; he continued to keep silence on this objective.
I gave him 20 barrels of powder, each one weighing 10 pounds, 1,000 rifle bullets, 100 pounds of lead in rods with a mould to make bullets. He left with the canoe and disappeared.
Animazan, by his order, commanded the night patrols in the bush; they were to arrest all blacks who fled there. The secret was so well guarded that we had no suspicion of what was going on behind our habitation.
Eight days after the departure of Okro, at dawn we saw several canoes arrive with flags. One carried a red flame and flag, which I had never seen in this place. On landing, Okro brought down 4 old blacks whose heads were covered with white hair and their hands died behind their backs; then he said to me: "See the enemies of the king of Warri and of your men; I make you the judge of their fate; you can have their heads cut off; that is the right of war in our country."
Ordering these old men to be untied, I wanted to know the reasons why they wanted to fight the sovereign of Warri and the whites. They confessed without hesitation that the English had given large presents to the king of Aunis to make him decide to help them in their enterprise, that they were to come in the night to burn down the French establishment, and after this destruction all the blacks in the canoes were ordered to take over the surrounding land; they would be supported by the English, who would take over the establishment themselves by right of conquest.
I could not listen to this confession without emotion; nevertheless I contained myself. "Never," I said, "make war against the whites, since they come to your country only to let you enjoy the same advantages that they find there. You see that I am master of your persons and that your life is in my power, since the captain disarmed you and delivered you to my discretion. Listen to the vengeance that I will exact for your crime: Tomorrow you will leave in my boat which will take you directly to your country. You will go there and find your sovereign and try to convince him that his interests would be gravely compromised if he continues to allow himself to be seduced by the English, who are known among civilized states as enemies of the human race."
This speech was accompanied by a Cholet handkerchief for each of the old men and a barrel of brandy equal to 20 bottles. They fell at my knees; large tears flowed from their eyes. I recommended to the captain of the boat to show very great care throughout the voyage for these unfortunate victims of such deep cruelty. Okro and his people watched me with an astonishment that immobilized them.
When the boat came back from Aunis, the captain told me how he handed the four war chiefs over to the king. He was very graciously welcomed. This monarch, begging him to accept an elephant tusk weighing 45 pounds, swore from that moment to be a friend of the French nation and well as to have eternal hatred for the English, since these had led him, by their wicked counsel, into a war whose result cost him the lost of more than 200 men; and what was worse, when the prisoners were enslaved by Captain Okro, they were for some moments under the yoke of the king of Warri who, in his turn, sold them to the European slave-traders in Calabar.
I had spent three years up to then in my habitation without experiencing the least trouble, except for the blows of nature which weighed impitiably on the whites. I forgot the English and their plots; I expanded my resources by wider business, loading different Portuguese ships coming from Brazil and those of other nations; the exchange of cargo through me gave me an ever increasing profit. My warehouses were full of goods: Besides brandy, canon powder, guns, swords etc., I had in my possession more than 2,000 bars of flat iron and other similar objects in great quantity.
About three years passed again and all I received from the administrators of the company was a small ship named l'Okro and le Boudakan, commanded by Captain Destouche, which brought me only one man. Nevertheless, all those that le Pérou contained when we left France no longer existed, except for the two tilers, Jean Pouponneau and Jean Tondu and Monsieur baron de Beauvois, who fell so dangerously ill that I lost all hope of saving him. Since the two surgeons had breathed their last, just as the three crews, I turned to the lessons of my first state and became an instant surgeon, applying blistering plaster to the two legs of this naturalist. I put him straight on le Boudakan, where this remedy and the sea air restored him to health. So I had around me only the tilers, Captain Olivier and Ignace Sainte-Anne. These four persons never wanted to leave me, and they were of the greatest help to me; all my life I will remember them dearly.
Why must I mix such words of gratitude with cries against the long-standing plans of unheard of wickedness? Why should I, who up to then never though I had any personal enemy, be called to reveal a treason which, if I were guilty of it, would have to wash all my blood so as not to carry to the tomb intolerable remorse? But I must speak, and deliver to the execration of all the infamous authors of the action you are about to hear.
In February 1791 an English ship arrived and stopped in the Benin River. The captain landed to see me. He asked me to take 40 to 50 tons of large red Prussian salt in stone, a type of thing for which the inhabitants of Warri and Benin care little. Since he could not get rid of it and it was an obstacle to the balance of his goods in the water, I allowed him to deposit it in a warehouse. He would have liked to sell me his cargo, but just by looking at his bill I could tell that this captain had never come to the Formosa river, since his merchandise was in no way appealing to the natives of this country; so I had to refuse all that he offered me. Going away very unhappy, he sailed and went up the river to Gatto. He stayed there two months and lost three quarters of his sailors. After this disaster the came down the river, tried once again to sell me his salt, which I continued to refuse, even though he would have left it for a low price. He then left me and departed.
On 30 April 1792 at 6:00 A.M. I discovered two large ships of three masts anchored outside the bars; they were placed on either side of the boat l'Amitié, commanded by Captain Belliard de Nantes and flying a simulated Portuguese flag; it was equipped at Bordeaux by Monsieur Sénat. This boat served as a shore boat for the very large ship le Prosper, under Captain Mahé, also equipped by Monsieur Sénat and which had been trading in the Gabon river.
The first two ships were English, under the orders of Captains Gordon and Cokeron. These officers, accompanied by the sub-officer Potter, came down to my establishment around 11:00 A.M. After the usual greetings, they had two large boxes brought from their boats; opening them, they took out six beautiful crystal chandeliers with decorated chains, a very elegant desk of an Indian wood called magnioni, as well as a writing table of the same wood, whose workmanship was of just as good taste as the other piece of furniture.
These precious objects were offered to me from the English owners in recognition of the services I had done for them. I will tell of two of them: One of their ships that came into the river was anchored to close to land, without observing that the tide rises here 6 to 8 feet. At night the sea lowered, while all the crew slept. Fortunately most of them were sleeping on deck under tents. The ship capsized; two men lost their lives. I saved the merchandise and had it dried on the prairie.
Bourgeois, a very intelligent officer, helped me with his lights to raise the ship. We succeeded, with the help of large pullies attached by skilled sailors to the tops of the highest trees.
Captain Chapman of Liverpool, whom I mentioned in one of my voyages to Benin, found his crew in revolt and put up the flag in alarm. Right away I got in a canoe with 25 men and went up to the ship shooting muskets. The mutinous men, numbering eight, fled in a boat. I pursued them, shooting at their mast and sail. My canoe followed their path and overtook them quickly. These rebels fell into my power; I brought them to the fort where they were put in prison. Captain Horsely reclaimed them to sent them to Cape Corse on the Ivory Coast, the headquarters of all the establishments of Great Britain on the coasts of Africa. Monsieur Brillantais kept in reserve several letters that were sent to him by these captains, so that he could recognize one day my services to them.
It therefore would not seem surprising that I accepted these presents, whose offer gave me pleasure. Not wanting to let the attentions of these captains go unrequited, I ordered an excellent dinner for them that an excellent black cook, who was trained on a French ship, went to prepare. I had all sorts of food and fine wines. A ship from Marseille had brought me more than a thousand bottles of different qualities.
The English ate and drank abundantly; they became merry and the joy became very lively. The wine even cause a certain effusion of tenderness that, as it were, bared the heart over the glass. Many toasts were made to the prosperity of commerce, to France, to England etc.
At sunset they left the table; the captains and their entourage got back into their boats and went each to their own ship.
Around 2:00 A.M. repeated cries of two large dogs woke me up. I got up right away, thinking that a tiger had entered the sheep flock, as I had seen before. But who could depict my astonishment at finding a line of armed men on the porch of my house? I shut the door with the greatest earnestness and went back into my apartment. I hardly got there than I met some individuals who had entered by a centre door that communicated with my bedroom. They discharged right away more than 20 pistol shots on me and on my bed. Then they lit a lighter whose brightness showed me one of the brigands shoving the point of his sword into my bed cover, thinking that I was asleep.
Fortunately I was hidden under the desk that these assassins had given me a few hours beforehand, and I had torn up my shirt to avoid being visible in the darkness. They were no doubt very drunk, since they shot in every direction, at each other, and I saw several fall near me, victims of their own ferocity.
I would certainly have perished under the blows of these scoundrels if I did not pick up courage and jump out a window opening on the garden. An Englishman wanted to grab me by the left shoulder; his hand rubbed on my skin, but I accomplished my plan by falling from the hight of 17 feet. I rested immobile. They looked through the trellis and saw me; a gunshot hit me; the bullet crossed my left leg. The chief of this execrable band asked the one who shot this last shot whether Captain Landophe is dead. "Yes, I see him without movement; certainly he is lifeless; it is I who killed him."
This answer obliged me to pretend death to keep them in their mistake. They came again to the window and, not seeing any movement in my person, chopped up my writing table that contained much money and diamonds bought from Portuguese captains coming from Brazil. They also broke open with sledge hammers a strongbox where I kept a large quantity of quadruples and other gold pieces, called Portuguese. All was pillaged in a moment. The wicked men had posted scouts outside the fort to warn them on time if the village of Bobi came to the rescue.
In fact some of my blacks escaped to raise the alarm in the village. The people got up and ran to arms, but the assassins, who were warned of this movement, spread trails of powder in the middle and on the furniture of my room; when fleeing they tossed lighted wicks on it, reducing everything to ashes, all the way to the tapestries.
In spite of unspeakable suffering, I managed to drag myself to one of the moats of the fort, where I was covered with water up to the neck. By the light of the fire I saw the robbers flee with my precious remains. Since the houses were built of wood, they rapidly became prey to the flames. The fear of being shot forced me to come out of my retreat to drag myself right to a fountain surrounded by several large pools, about 768 feet from the fort.
There the wounds of my heart, not less than those of my leg, bled at seeing the fruit of so many pains disappear like a lightning bold by the cruel wickedness of men. The flames were already approaching the powder warehouse when suddenly a terrible explosion assured me that it had blown up. It had contained more than 10,000 [barrels] of powder. The fort, the batteries, the houses, the warehouses were dispersed in the midst of a terrible cloud of smoke that swept through the towers of fire. By a miracle I escaped the immense amount of debris that fell in heavy blows like hail all around me. Several things were projected far. (13) God! what a horrible scene.
After the explosion a crowd of armed blacks, marching carefully in three rows, moved towards the smoking ruins. I recognized that they were from Bobi. I called them in their language; right away they came to me. Seeing me entirely naked, one of these men brought me on his shoulders to Animazan, who took care to cover me with a piece of Brettany cloth and to draw my wound. This honest phidor also hastened to send a canoe to the king of Warri to tell him of the terrible catastrophe, which still held all the blacks frozen with terror.
Captain Laurenti was then present in Gatto; he was about to send the boat l'Amitié to the island of Principe. He sent me twelve new shirts, six trousers and two jackets of white fine cotton. At the same time he wrote to the incendiaries Cokeron, Gordon and Potter a letter in which he poured out bloody reproaches for their horrible conduct; he asked if England and France were at war, so that they could believe themselves authorized to commit so many atrocities, and whether by barbaric actions hardly known among the most cruel savages they repaid my good deeds.
They answered that hostilities had not yet begun between the two peoples, but that the action which brought so much blame on them at this moment was the prelude to a serious war which was about to begin soon; they had the order to take me, dead or alive, since I was too much a nuisance to their commerce.
Maybe they thought themselves justified by this response. They were seen putting up their sails on the spot to go to their destination.
When the king of Warri learned of my disaster, he sent to me 30 armed canoes, one of them commanded by Prince Budakan. This good young man, broken-hearted as well as irritated at such a great misfortune, told me: "I have come to take you to Warri with the whites and the blacks who have remained faithful. Be patient; you will soon be revenged. The English who are on the shore of Regio will pay dearly for the double insult they made to the king as well as to your person."
In fact, that night all the canoes besieged the two English ships anchored on this shore. Boarding them, they overpowered the sailors with their captains and took them all bound to the interior of the land.
When I arrived at Warri, the monarch welcomed me with touching affability. "I have taken," he told me, "the only two English ships that are in my states. You can choose the better, the most beautiful, the richest; it is yours." I thankfully refused, begging him to observe that two very essential things commanded this refusal; the first was that I lacked the seamen to sail it; secondly, because not having the ownership papers, I might one day be accused of stealing it.
"You are right," he answered, "for in accepting it you would be deprived of the legitimate right of bringing your complaints for compensation to the English government. (14) As for me, I will order the two ships to burned to ashes. I consider the people of Great Britain at war with me, since the English, far from respecting the protection that I accorded them, have infamously ruined your hopes. I promise you that they will not tread on my territory any more as long as I live. Let them go, if they want, and trade up the Benin river, but I will not let them sell a single handkerchief to my subjects."
Then he recommended me to take good care of my wound, which constantly gave me terrible pain. The copper bullet that hit me had torn the muscles and serious bleeding began any time I tried to stretch my leg. The wound was wide and gangrene became apparent. Prince Budakan brought me to a black and told me: "Let this man take care of you and you will be cured."
For 25 days I could not move the leg without renewing the haemorrhage; I thought it prudent to follow this advice and let me be treated by this black; the next day he brought some leaves as large as those of nut trees. Cutting them round the size of the wound, he stacked five of them joined by a blade of grass and put them on the wound. The whole night I experienced strong pain. The next day the leaves were removed and the gangrene had disappeared; the wound looked good, red and very live. At this sight, the black encouraged me with the hope of a cure. He then put a white powder on the wound which seemed very burning. I could only compare the feeling to the cut of a razor. The wound was soon cauterized by this violent remedy; but I dared not walk, for fear of interrupting the good progress.
The sovereign of Warri kept me with him 52 days, during which I was flooded with the most loving help. Prince Budakan came to see me almost every day. The king had me brought to him three times a week in a sofa carried by two men; I was wrapped in a silk robe that he gave me when I arrived at the palace.
When Captain Laurenti heard I was better, he offered me passage to the island of Principe on his goat, commanded by Jean Belliard de Nantes, nephew of Captain Le Jeune, who commanded le Royal-Louis, when it shipwrecked at Cap-Français. I accepted the offer with the greatest earnestness. I then told the king about it, and he provided a canoe. I was led to Bobi, to Animazan. The lifeboat of the boat l'Amitié came to get me. Animazan put in it, by the king's order, 4 sheep, a dozen birds and several stalks of figs and bananas.
Three days after getting on l'Amitié and leaving the river, Captain Belliard was struck with a bilious fever which put him in extreme danger. I took command of his ship as far as the island of Principe...
The division, furnished once again with water, set sail for Benin. My plan, in this voyage, was to assure me that no European people had taken over the lands where I had built my establishment. Going along these shores, two English ships and one Portuguese fell into our hands. I armed the latter with canon to enter the river easily and seize the enemy ships that I could meet. I put on this ship four canons of 18; it followed the frigates.
When we arrived at the mouth of the river, the division anchored outside the bars in 5 or 6 fathoms of water. I observed from there the French flag still flying on the very place of my old disaster. I boarded the canon boat with two ship lieutenants and 24 men, the majority of them gunners. When I came near the flag, a canoe carrying the French flag came towards me. It was manned by 9 blacks, formerly my shop boys, who recognized me. I called them one after another by their names and in their language. Bursting with cries of joy, they waved their hats, doubled their speed and circled the canon ship three times, even while it was sailing.
We let down the top-sails; the men of the canoe came on board. When I asked the blacks news of Prince Budakan, Captain Okro and the phidor Animazan, they told me that none of the three existed any more; (15) and that the successor of Animazan, called Mabi, was a nephew of the king of Warri and brother of the late Prince Budakan.
Curious to meet this official, I directed the canon ship to the village of Bobi, where we anchored. I came down with Messieurs Dufour and Baudouin, ship lieutenants. Chief Mabi came up to us full of joy and brought us to his house.
My first care was to find our how many English ships were in the river and what was their strength, both in canon and in men. The Prince told me that he had seen four very large ones with three masts, some having 16 canons, others 12, and that they had a numerous crew when they arrived, but were now reduced to a few men.
I begged him to put an embargo on all the canoes, so as to keep the English captains ignorant of our entry in these parts. "I will give you," said Mabi, "a good pilot who has received some violent blows from one of these captains, and would be very happy to take revenge. He will lead you to the Regio shores where the ships are"
The pilot embarked right away with Monsieur Baudouin, whom I put in charge of the canon ship. They set sail at 4:00 P.M. After going a dozen leagues up the river they arrived at the shore at dawn, surprising the English who, without time to put up their defense, pulled down their flag at the first canon shots of the French.
Captain Baudouin spend part of the day manning his captures. The vanquished officers, overcome by their defeat, begged the victor to land them at the village of New Town, with a certain number of English; this was granted them.
The next day at 8:00 A.M. Monsieur Dufour and I were calmly smoking a cigar on the banks of the river, when we saw the four ships coming with their flags reversed and followed by the canon ship that escorted them. I sent a canoe to Captain Baudouin so that he could anchor the prizes before Bobi.
Monsieur Baudouin came down and told me that on board these ships were about 300 blacks. I ordered them brought to land. One part was given to the king of Warri, another to the boys of the shop that had served me and the rest to various persons whose good offices and friendship were once useful to me. The ships were brought to the sea and fire consumed them.
I proposed to the prisoner captains and their sailors to get on the frigates to be deposited then on the Portuguese islands; they preferred to stay at Bobi, waiting for some English or Portuguese ship that would take them on board.
I remained with Monsieur Dufour 4 days at Bobi. The prince, successor of Animazan, was ever so good to us. He supplied the canon ship with yams, fresh fish, birds and sheep, to which I must add 100 birds, 24 enormous sheep and 2 cows sent by the king of Warri in a very strong canoe as soon as he heard of my arrival and the capture of the English ships. The prisoner captains then decided to get on this canoe to go directly to Warri.
Having had my presents put on the frigates, I left Bobi. The next day the division raised sail. I took the wind direction to get out of the gulf of Benin and cross Cape Formosa. I wanted to explore the rivers of Calabar, where many English trade, especially in the Bani river. I note here that, when one has Cape Formosa in sight, one must count six rivers on this point, and that the seventh is that which leads to Calabar; the entrance to this one presents many dangers, since various sand banks about two leagues from land and from its mouth, over which there is only 10 feet of water. One of the frigates ran against the shore. They promptly put the boats out to sea. A little anchor of 700 to 800 pounds, attached to the end of a cable and anchored from behind, served to pull the ship from the wreck which seemed imminent.
I discovered in the Bani river 8 English ships; the low tide prevented us from entering. I strongly desired to sent the canon ship to seize them, but they were all armed and prepared to resist. After some moments of hesitation I abandoned them to go and beseige the island of Principe.
1. One never sells slaves in the states of Benin and Warri. Those on sale come from neighbouring countries. author's note.
2. I had the same right on the price of the blacks, which I set.
3. Like a pipe organ.
4. His head was in fact cut off shortly afterwards, after becoming a prisoner in a battle.
5. When they are paid for in merchandise they hardly come to eight sous.
6. In Paris he passed for the son of the king, since I thought he had this quality. He was extremely touchy about anything regarding his rank. Whenever he was called "monsieur Budakan" he suddenly replied: "I am Prince Budakan." Apart from that he was very amiable and polite.
I presented him to the king and the dauphin in 1786, a few days before the arrest of the prince of Rohan who was implicated in the famous affair of the chain. Louis XVI gave him a pension of 15 francs a month during his stay in France.
7. I.e. palm wine.
8. Note, II, p. 468: They were black.
9. This paragraph is from the notes, II, p. 468.
10. I had already cleared it. One can still see there the remains of a Dutch fort that the blacks destroyed, after slaughtering all who occupied it.
11. The king let me hold it.
12. About the size of a bean; two of its leaves perfectly blacken shoes; it is the best polish known.
13. An enormous cable stretched its full length was found at the top of the trees 1500 feet from the fort, without it receiving the least damage.
14. Notes, II, p. 462: This act of brigandage, committed in full peace, stirred up great indignation in England; but the affaire was never clarified. The war which broke out six months after this event blocked Monsieur Landolphe's claims for compensation, and the attempts he made after the treaty of Amiens came to no result. He had not obtained justice by 1817. It was the same case in 1823...
15. I was told that Prince Budakan, having brought from France too much knowledge for his country, had drunk the evil fetish; that is, he was poisoned. In this way was reaped in the flower of his youth the most accomplished prince of Africa.