Late testimonies

Early 1791 Hugh CrowMemoirs (London, 1830, Cass reprint 1970), p. 34 (1)

After some delay at Annamboe.. we proceeded to a place called Lago, with negroes, and thence to Benin. We traded between both places for several months, so that I acquired a considerable knowledge, as a pilot, of that part of the coast. I was much pleased with the gentle manners of the natives of Benin, who are truly a fine tractable race of people. When they meet an European they fall down on the right knee, clap their hands three times, and exclaim "Doe ba, doe ba;" that is "We reverence you!" They then shake hands, in their way, by giving three fillips with the finger.

c. 1795 John AdamsSketches taken during ten voyages to Africa between the years 1786 and 1800 (London, 1822); also in Remarks on the country extending from Cape Palmas to the River Congo (London, 1823; Cass reprint 1966), pp. 109-8.

The country called BENIN is of considerable extent, and situated principally to the north and west of the river Formosa, from which a wide and deep creek branches, that leads to a town called Gatto, where vessels trading with Benin have their factories. Craft of the burthen of sixty tons can navigate this creek to within four or five miles of the town, which is distant from the Formosas thirty-five miles; and the first dry land which appears after entering that river is near Gatto, the intermediate country being a morass covered with an impenetrable forest.

It is the practice here for masters of vessels to pay the king a visit soon after their arrival; and such a ceremony is seldom allowed to be dispensed with, as on these occasions the black monarch receives a handsome present, consisting of a piece of silk damask, a few yards of scarlet cloth, and some strings of coral. Soon after my arrival, therefore, and while my health yet permitted it, I got into my hammock, and at the end of the second day, I arrived at the capital of Benin.

the course of the road from Gatto to the capital is about NE. by N. and the road passes over a country nearly level, intersected with deep woods and swamps; the distance I estimated to be about forty miles.

The face of the country surrounding Benin bears much of the same character as that of Ardrah and Grewhe, except that it is more thickly wooded. The town is large and populous, and contains probably 15,000 inhabitants; it is built very irregularly, the houses being placed without any regard to order, and detached; consequently occupying a large space of ground.

The king of Benin is fetiche, and the principal object of adoration in his dominions. He occupies a higher post here than the pope does in catholic Europe; for he is no only God's vicegerent upon earth, but a god himself, whose subjects both obey and adore him as such, although I believe their adoration to arise rather from fear than love; as cases of heresy are tried before a much more summary, though a more merciful, tribunal than the inquisition, that abominable engine of catholic despotism. For delinquency, if proved in the former instance, is punished promptly by the delinquent receiving the coup de tete, which terminates instantly both his life and sufferings; whereas the inquisitions of the catholic states of civilised Europe, by a refinement in cruelty, protract the sufferings of the unfortunate victims who may have fallen under their displeasure, by immuring them for years in loathsome dungeons; then applying to their bodies the rack, to extort from them a recantation of their heresies; and afterwards by cutting their throats, as their progenitors, the Spaniards, did the unfortunate natives of Hispaniola and Cuba immediately after baptism, to prevent them from relapsing into apostasy.

King Bowarré, who is now about forty-five years of age, although he is supposed by his poor deluded subjects to have the attributes of a god (it being a very heinous crime for any of them to entertain an opinion that he, like other mortals, requires either food or sleep), knew very well that white men, with all their ingenuity, required both; he therefore ordered his nephew's house to be prepared for my accommodation, and sent me a sheep, some fowls, yams and pumpkins.

The day following my arrival, I had the honour of an interview with him; he received me with much politeness, particularly after the fine flashy piece of red silk damask, which I had brought with me as a present for him, had been unfolded. The conversation was carried on with the aid of the king's trader, who resides at Gatto, and who had accompanied me from thence to act as my linguist. Trade was the principal, indeed the only subject discussed; for king Bowarre, although he is both a god and a king, trades, nevertheless, in slaves and ivory.

The Benin people, like those of Ardrah and Lagos, are great consumers of Brazil tobacco, not any vessels loaded with which had for some time arrived from the Brazils. This was a subject of much conversation, and of deep regret on the part of the king.

The audience lasted bout one hour; he then presented me with two or three country cloths, and a small piece of ivory, when I made my bow and took my leave of him.

There are in Benin a number of itinerant dancing-women, who were sent to amuse me, and whose performance before the house constantly attracted a crowd of persons of both sexes, who conducted themselves with great decorum during the exhibition. The ladies danced in the fandango style, perhaps not quite so modestly as our fashionable belles, although more in character, by holding in their hands excellent substitutes for castanets, with which they kept time admirably. These consisted of small hollow gourds, over which are spread nets having small pease strung on the sides of the meshes. Holes at the top received the forefingers of their right hands, with which the gourds were shaken, and occasionally struck against the palms of their left hands, beating responses to the tunes sung by the dancers.

The king and his principal courtiers are ostentatious in their dress, wearing damask, taffity, and cuttanee, after the country fashion. coral is a very favourite ornament in the royal seraglio, which is always well filled; and the women, like those of the Heebo nation, wear a profusion of beads, if they can by any means obtain them.

Human sacrifices are not so frequent here as in some parts of Africa; yet besides those immolated on the death of great men, three or four are annually sacrificed at the mouth of the river, as votive offerings to the sea, to direct vessels to bend their course to this horrid climate.

The number of slaves obtained at Benin was at one period very considerable; but the extreme unhealthiness of the country was, I apprehend, the chief cause why the English trade at this place declined. The medium of exchange is salt, and calculations are made in pawns, one of which is equal to a bar in Bony, or 2s. 6d. sterling.

The land about the town of Benin is fertile, although but little of it is cultivated. Sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, and yams, are plentiful and cheap. There is here also a breed of small cattle.

What country, or of what description, or inhabited by what nation, bounds the north of that inhabited by the Heebos, I could never obtain any satisfactory account; but it is certain, that there are not any slaves sold at Bonny, that pass from the interior through it. The kingdom of Benin may be called its western boundary, although its inhabitants and their language bear a striking affinity to the Heebos. The colour of their skins is somewhat darker; though much lighter than the Jaboos or Hios.

The national mark is W on each temple, and three very extensive scars on the abdomen above the umbilical chord.

The CREEK, or Jo people, are a predatory race, and frequently attack boats bound to Gatto; and when weakly manned, they have been known to murder the crew, plunder their cargoes, and burn the boats. They had once the audacity to attempt to surprise in the night a brig under my command, which I had taken to the mouth of the river, for the purpose of allowing the crew to have the advantage of breathing a better atmosphere, hoping, by that means, to counteract the bad effects of the climate, which had begun to make serious inroads on their health. They had acquired information of the ineffective state of the crew, and meant to hazard the experiment of quietly boarding us in the night with four canoes full of people; but as we thought some attempt of the kind might be made, we were prepared to receive them, and on firing a few shots they retreated. They, however, made a second attempt the following night with an increased force, but when the musket balls began to whiz about their ears, they all laid down on the bottom of their canoes, and allowed themselves to be drifted away in them by the tide; for they had the sagacity to avail themselves of a strong flood, and to pull up against it in the wake of the vessel, in order to elude observation, and to secure a retreat in case of necessity.

On the west head of the river, as well as on the opposite shore, a number of huts have been erected, where salt is made from sea water. At full tide, the sea approaches very near to these huts, at which time the natives fill the vessels (composed chiefly of earthenware of native manufacture) with salt water, and evaporate it by fire. some of the salt made in this way is very good, but a large portion of it is of a bad colour, and sandy.

NEW TOWN is placed about eighteen miles from the mouth of the river, and is in the territory and under the jurisdiction of the king of Warré, and Wacoo the captain of the river derives his power and consequence form being placed there to receive the king's duties, which are very moderate, form vessels visiting the Formosas for the purpose of trade. It being a mere trading station, the population is inconsiderable, and the houses wretched hovels built on the north point of Warré creek, which is so swampy that the inhabitants are under the necessity of placing old canoes with their bottoms upwards, in order to be enabled to pass upon them, form house to house, otherwise they would sink knee deep in mud.

The river, in consequence of its bed and margin being composed of mud, has scarcely any variety of fish in it, and what the natives obtain, are caught in holes amongst the roots of the mangrove trees, and are a kind of small eel seldom exceeding six inches in length and an inch and half in diameter; these with yams form the chief part of their food. The yams are brought from a considerable distance, as there is not any cultivated land within many miles of New Town.

Being desirous of paying the king of WARRÉ a visit, I left my vessel early in the morning, in the month of February, having Wacoo as my guide and protector. As the journey to the capital would occupy two days and one night, we took every thing requisite to render ourselves comfortable during the time we should be in the canoe which conveyed us, and which had over it an awning made of mats, that protected us form the intensity of the rays of the sun, and the heavy dews of the night. Our canoe proceeded at about the rate of four miles an hour, taking an east course along the creeks, some of them both wide and deep, and others barely of sufficient magnitude to allow our small bark to navigate them.

During our passage to Warré, we crossed two rivers, which join the sea to the northward of Cape Formosa; and we only saw two small villages on the whole extent of the road to that town.

We arrived at Warré about five o'clock the following day. This town [Warri] is situated on a beautiful island, about five miles in circumference, and which might have fallen from the clouds in the midst of a desert; for it is a little elevated above the surrounding country before described, is well cultivated, and has the appearance of an extensive park.

The sub-stratum of the island is composed of a tenacious red clay, form which the inhabitants manufacture jars for holding water, and utensils of various forms for domestic purposes. these are baked in ovens, constructed of wood, placed in the open air, and the oven is consumed while the pots are baking. From the great quantity we saw manufactured, earthenware must constitute here a considerable article of trade.

Much trade is carried on here with the natives of Bonny and New Calabar, who come in their canoes for that purpose; and the slaves obtained by them are principally composed of the natives of Allakoo...

The capital of Warré is divided into two towns, distant form each other half a mile. The most populous one is that in which the king resides, and the combined population amounts probably to 5,000 souls.

We had lodgings prepared for us at the house of our guide's father, and soon after our arrival, refreshments were sent us by the king, accompanied by a message, that he would be glad to see us the following day. We accordingly waited on him (our guide acting as linguist), and arrived at his house about mid-day. After passing through five or six apartments of various forms and sizes, we were ushered into the audience chamber, where we found his sable majesty fully prepared for the occasion, and seated on a low stool, placed on a kind of platform, raised about eighteen inches above the floor. a boy was holding a pink silk umbrella over his head, and another was brushing away flies with an elephant's tail. to our extreme surprise, we found the king rigged out in the European style, and wanting nothing to complete the dress but a shirt and a neckcloth.

The King, whose name is Otoo, appeared about sixty years of age, his countenance mild and intelligent, and his person of the middle size, inclined to corpulency. He had on a white satin waistcoat trimmed with silver lace, a silk purple coat much embroidered, black satin small-clothes with knee buckles, coarse thread stockings, shoes and buckles, and a large black hat trimmed round the edge with red feathers; all of which appeared to us of Portuguese fabric, except the coat and waistcoat, which, there is little doubt, had, at a former period, been worn by some noble peer or knight at the court of St. James's.

Our audience continued about an hour, when king Otoo dismissed us with much courtesy, and requested that while we remained at Warré we would visit him daily.

On entering the first apartment of the palace, we were much surprised to see, placed on a rude kind of table, several emblems of the catholic religion, consisting of crucifixes, mutilates saints, and other trumpery. some of these articles were manufactured of brass, and others of wood. On inquiring how they came into their present situation we were informed that several black Portuguese missionaries had been at Warré, many years since, endeavouring to convert the natives into Christians; and the building in which they performed their mysteries, we found still standing.

A large wooden cross, which had withstood the tooth of time, was remaining in a very perfect state, in one of the angles formed by two roads intersecting each other. We could not learn that the Portuguese had been successful in making proselytes; indeed, King Otoo's subjects appeared to trouble themselves very little about religion of any kind.

The government although monarchical, appeared to us mild; and, from the apparent equality and freedom that existed among the natives generally, to partake more of the republican form than the monarchical. Polygamy is common here, as in other parts of Africa; and the number of wives which the black monarch had exceeded sixty; for such I judged to be the amount, as one day in my rambles, I inadvertently peeped into the royal seraglio. This building is at some distance form the king's residence, and has the form of a quadrangle with a large open area, in the centre; the doors and windows of the various apartments which compose the sides opening into it. The external walls are comparatively high, and have but one opening. Hearing the noise of many voices, and the door standing invitingly open, I walked in, when loud screams from a vast number of women and children assailed my ears. As I perceived that my presence very much alarmed them, I did not advance far beyond the threshold of the door, where I first entered, but remained stationary a few minutes, in order to observe what their various employments were; and here indeed were queens actively engaged in all the duties and embellishments of domestic life, from the toilette to the washing tub. And as we often hear of the king's being called (allegorically) the fathers of their people, the extraordinary fact seemed to be verified in old king Otoo's person; as, from the number of young children in this establishment, it would be no great stretch of the imagination to fancy the population of Warré to have been principally of his own creation.

When I called on the king the day following this adventure, he with much good humour informed me that he had heard of it; but as I was a stranger, and unacquainted with their customs, he would excuse the mistake; but added, by way of warning, perhaps, to some of his courtiers who were present, that had any of his subjects been guilty of such a trespass, the consequences to them would have been much more serious.

The houses are built of clay baked in the sun, and are cemented together by the same material in a liquid state; and there is a degree of neatness and uniformity in their construction, which pleased me. Many of them have projecting roofs in front, which are supported from the ground by wooden pillars, and form piazzas which allow their inhabitants to enjoy the air without being exposed to the sun or rain. The natives are very black, and without any national mark, and resemble the Fantees in their persons and manners.

I observed great quantities of yams brought here in canoes: it is probable, therefore, that the produce of the island is not adequate to the support of its inhabitants.

1801 Captain Hugh CrowOp. cit., p. 218-219

Our author [say his editors] was not perhaps aware that Bonny owes its sovereignty to Benin, otherwise he would naturally have attributed the visit, which he records in the following passage, to that circumstance. "while I lay," he remarks, "at Bonny, on my last voyage, two large canoes arrived from Benin, full of presents, consisting of the manufactures and produce of the country, and with these came two remarkably fine looking men of from thirty to forty years of age, well formed and about six feet high. Their look and manner were of a superior order, and they walked in a majestic style, followed by a retinue of servants. They were robed in a loose flowing dress; I found they spoke pretty good English, and I conversed with them on several occasions, particularly on the subject of the slave trade. They expressed their conviction that so long as there were lands to cultivate and seas for ships to sail on, slavery would continue to exist. These men were near relations of king Pepple, and had been sent to Bonny as ambassadors by the king of Benin. They remained about a month feasting in their way, and then returned with their large canoes laden with presents. I never met with any black princes so sensible and well-informed as these men, or who had so noble and commanding an appearance."

15-5-1807 Governor of São Tomé to King of Warri — AHU, São Tomé, codice 1495, ff. 154v - 155v ENGLISH BELOW

Ao muito excellente, muito nobre, e muito honorado principe o senhor Dom Joaõ, para gracia de Deos Rey do Ere, grande amigo do muito alto, e muito poderoso, muito augusto, e invincivel Principe Senhor Dom Joaõ, para graça de Deos Principe Regente de Portugal e dos Algarves daquem e dalem Mar em Africa, e de Guinê, e da conquista navegaçaõ, e comercio da Ethiopia, Arabia, Percia, e da Judea etc.

Eu Luis Joaquim Lisboa Gouernador das ilhas do Principe e Saõ Thome da domininio do muito alto, muito poderoso, muito augusto Senhor D. Joaõ, Principe Regente de Portogal e dos Algarves {155r} dezejo a vossa Alteza muita honra e acrescentamento.

Por Jozê Francisco Camacho vassalo da Coroa de Portugal que dos Dominios de vossa Alteza se recolheo a este Governo por haver acabado o seu negocio, receby o avizo de vossa Alteza em que me pede que dirigue a Antonio Dias morador da Ilha do Principe a pagar a vossa Alteza o valor de nove ascravos e hum relogio que tinha entregado a hum Ambrozio marinheiro que tudo junto importa no valor de honze escravos; procedendo esta devida o haver vossa Alteza mandado reter prisioneiros os seis marinheiros Portuguezes que naufragarâo na Escuna Voluntaria nas costas dos dominios de vossa Alteza, os quais vossa Alteza nâo quer entregar sem selhe pagar precedentemente os honze escravos que pede; e que huma vez que se fassa este pagamento vossa Alteza entregará os ditos marinheiros a qualquer navio Portugues que fôr a esse Reyno, pois que vossa Alteza nâo dezeja ter dezavença com a naçâo Portugueza antes ao contrario quer com ella fazer grande comercio.

Devo dizer a vossa Alteza que o Mestre da Escuna Pensamento feliz vâo ajustar com vossa Alteza toda a conta, e devida que o sobredito Antonio Dias fez nessa terra, e assim vossa Alteza ficando pago pode largar os seis marinheiros Portuguezes que lá tem prizioneiros, pois espero que os Portuguezes moradores destas Ilhas nâo fiquem devendo couza alguma mais a vossa Alteza, que em contemplaçâo dest aminha boa vontade, e como grande Amigo do serenissimo Principe Regente de Portugal deve franquear e favorecer o negocio dos vassalos Portuguezes, nâo os arregando com muito grandes costumes para si, nem para seu Captâo de Guerra, e menos ainda ajudando o Jô que tanto mal tem feito aos Portuguezes, nem consentindo que os mercadores enganem os mesmos Portuguezes ou lhes tomem os seus generos pr. menos preço do que valem, pois vossa Alteza sabe que a Nasçâo Portugueza fás grande negocio nesse Reyno de que vossa Alteza tera muito grandes costumes, e destas Ilhas estâo continuadamente a hir para esse porto muitos navios dellas, e ainda hirâo mais quando vossa Alteza faça com os Portuguezes hum bom comercio; devendo vossa Alteza atender que agora nâo tornâo a esse Reyno mais navios Inglezes para comprar escravos, e só os Portuguezes ficâo fazendo todo o negocio; pr. cuja razâo he muito útil a vossa Alteza o mandar vir escravos do Calabar, e Bane para vender aos Portuguezes que forem ao Ere. Vossa Alteza tembem deve mandar vender os mantimentos aos navios Portuguezes por preços comodos, e nunca fora do costume para assim atraher mais navios dessa cidade, e nâo os obrigar hir a Benim para comprarem mais barato.

Vossa Alteza com Rey Christâo deve ser amigo dos Christâos, ajudalos, e defendelos dos que o nâo sâo, principalmente do Jô, e nâo lhes levar custumes grandes, nem concentir que o capitâo de Guerra, e os cabeixeiros os terem maiores que os que sempre pagarâo. E quando vossa Alteza favoreça os Portuguezes, eu o faria saber ao muito Alto, e Muito Poderoso Senhor Principe Regente de Portugal para que conheça que vossa Alteza he seu grande Amigo, e de todos os Portuguezes seus vassalos.

Eu fico rogando a Deos que livre a vossa Alteza de todos os seus enemigos, e que acrescente o seu reyno, e o fassa o mais poderoso de todos os reys da Africa. Ilha do Principe, 15 de Mayo de 1807.

Luis Juaquim Lisboa.

15-5-1807 Governor of São Tomé to King of Warri

To the most excellent, most noble and most honored Prince, Lord Dom Joaõ, by the grace of God King of Warri, great friend of the very high, very powerful, very august and invincible Prince Lord Dom Joaõ, by the grace of God Prince Regent of Portugal and of the Algarves at home and abroad, in Africa and of Guinea, the sea conquests and the commerce with Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, Judaea etc.

I, Luis Joaquim Lisboa, Governor of the islands of Principe and São Tomé, belonging to the most high, most powerful, most august Lord Dom Joaõ, Prince Regent of Portugal and the Algarves, wish your Highness much honour and increase.

From Jozê Francisco Camacho, vassal of the Crown of Portugal who came from the dominions of your Highness to this government, having finished his trading, I received a notice from your Highness in which you ask me to have Antonio Dias, of the island of Principe, pay your Highness the value of nine slaves and one clock which he had delivered to one Ambrozio, a seaman, all of which together is of the value of eleven slaves. In pursuing this debt, your Highness has commanded to retain as prisoners the six Portuguese seamen who were shipwrecked from the Escuna Voluntaria [name of ship] on the coasts of the dominions of your Highness, whom your Highness does not want to deliver up without being first paid the eleven slaves which you demand. And once this payment is made your Highness will free the said seamen, to whichever Portuguese ship comes to your kingdom, since your Highness does not desire to have any quarrel with the Portuguese nation, but on the contrary he wishes to carry on much commerce with it.

I must say to your Highness that the master of Escuna Pensamento [a ship], Feliz, is going to regulate the whole account with your Highness, along with the debt that the above-mentioned Antonio Dias made in your land, and so your Highness, receiving payment, can release the six Portuguese seamen that you are holding prisoners. Then I hope that the Portuguese inhabitants of these islands will not be owing anything more to your Highness, and that in view of this good will of mine and that your are a great friend of the most serene Prince Regent of Portugal, you must allow and favor the trade of Portuguese vassals, not imposing heavy customs for yourself or for your War Captain, much less by helping the Ijaw, who have done so much evil to the Portuguese, nor allowing the traders to deceive the Portuguese or to take their merchandise for a lower price than they are worth, since your Highness knows that the Portuguese nation has carried on much trade in your kingdom which has given your Highness much custom revenue, and from these islands many ships are continually going to to your port, and even more will go if your Highness carries on a good commerce with the Portuguese. Your Highness must see to it that now no more English ships go to your kingdom to buy slaves and that only the Portuguese carry on all the trade. For this reason it is very fitting for your Highness to have slaves brought from Calabar and Bane to sell to the Portuguese who come to Warri. Your Highness also should have supplies sold to the Portuguese ships at reasonable and never excessive prices, so as to attract in that way more ships from this city, and not to oblige them to go to Benin to buy at cheaper rates.

Your Highness, as a Christian king, must be a friend of the Christians, must help and defend them from those who are not, especially the Ijaw, and not impose heave customs on them, nor consent that the War Captain and the titled chiefs demand more from them than what they have always paid. And when your Highness favors the Portuguese, I will make this known to the most high and must powerful Lord Prince Regent of Portugal, so that he may know that your Highness is his great friend, and a friend of all the Portuguese, his vassals.

I continue praying to God to deliver your Highness from all your enemies, that your kingdom may grow and that he make you more powerful than all the kings of Africa. The island of Principe, 15 May 1807.

Luis Juaquim Lisboa.

1. This posthumously edited work includes an account of several visits to West Africa. The description of Benin and Warri, pp. 189-192 in his editors' supplement, are completely second-hand and confused.