Major A.B. Ellis (1st West India Regiment) - West African Islands (1885)
The materials for this work were notes taken during visits made to the principal islands lying off the West Coast of Africa, in the course of fifteen voyages to and from South and West Africa, between the years 1871 and 1882.
Intelligent Port Officials—A Collision—Porto Grande—A Game of Billiards—A Fandango—A Nice Quiet Night—Reasonable Hotel Charges—Famine—The Cape Verde Islands—Derelicts-
Towards the close of the year of grace 1873, I found myself on board a hired transport, bound, with a liberal cargo of army surgeons, for the Gold Coast. Three days out from Madeira we sighted San Antonio, one of the Cape Verde Islands, and, about four hours later, passing a conical rock, 273 feet high, known as Bird Island, and which at a distance looks exactly like a ship at anchor, we dropped anchor in Porto Grande, the principal port of St. Vincent. While we were looking at the straggling street of low, white houses following the curve of the bay, and the cindery-looking hills and barren mountains behind it, the pratique boat, flying the Portuguese flag, and containing two unclean half-castes, who represented the port-officers, came alongside. They went through the usual performance, pretended to examine the ship's papers, made a few notes, and then, to our intense disgust, told the captain to hoist the yellow flag, and that we were quarantined. Now we were going to coal here, an operation which would occupy at least a couple of days; and, as we did not want to lie at anchor all that time, looking at a barren volcanic island and longing to stretch our legs on shore, without being able to satisfy that longing, we induced the captain to remonstrate with these officials. He stepped on to the ladder, and said :
"Here, I say, you Porty-goos. There ain't no call for you to quarantine this here ship. Them papers show that we come from Madeira, and there's no sickness aboard."
The health officer replied :
"It would appear from ze papers that you are going to ze Gold Coast."
"Yes, that's so."
"Well, ze Gold Coast is a vare unhealthy place."
"What's that got to do with it? We ain't come from there; we're a-going there."
"Senhor, we are well acquaint with our duty; we cannot permit ze contagion to be introduce. Good morning."
As they went away, the captain permanently consigned them to a certain sultry locality; and we all felt how exceedingly satisfactory it was for England to have to depend upon islands in the possession of such idiots as these for coaling stations.
All that afternoon and evening we walked restlessly up and down the deck, looking at the sea, the sky, the inhospitable shore, and the neighbouring island of San Antonio, which quite land-locks the harbour of Porto Grande, and wondering what on earth could have been the matter with Nature, when she designed such an animal as a Portuguese. Next morning we did not feel any more resigned; and we positively hated the luckier people who were going ashore from the whalers lying in the harbour, and whose captains, wiser in their generation than ours, had, as we afterwards learned, primed the health officers with brandy; but our deliverance was close at hand.
An English barque, the Walsgriff, of Scarborough, that was lying between us and the shore, got under weigh, and drifted slowly down towards us on her way out to sea. The current carried her on to us, and we soon saw that a collision was inevitable. As the barque was barely moving through the water, I thought there would not be much damage done, and stood quite close to the bulwark to look on. She glided up quite gently, and then her bow struck us amidships with a shock that caused our vessel to heel over violently. Then she bumped away towards the stern, smashing in the iron plating of the side, opening up a row of cabins, and twisting the solid iron davits like wire; while her bowsprit raked away a deckhouse, and made matchwood of a boat. Then she drifted round our stern, carrying away the taffrail and a few odds and ends, and went off quietly on her voyage.
When the excitement had subsided, and we had satisfied ourselves that none of the jars of sulphuric acid which were on deck had been broken, and there was no immediate danger of a conflagration, we began to realise the full horrors of the situation. What with the repairs, Board of Survey, and one thing and another, we should most probably be detained a week, and, unless prompt measures were taken, we should be kicking our heels all that time on board. Then the army surgeons came to the front, and drew up a lengthy protest, addressed to the long-suffering British consul, who lived in a house on a spur of the mountains, with a charming view of hill-side covered with boulders in front, and more slope dotted with rocks behind. This missive was handed with a pair of tongs to a half-caste who had been keeping his eye on us from a boat lying near the ship, duly fumigated by him and forwarded to its destination, and in an hour we were informed that we were prisoners no longer.
In five minutes the ship was emptied of all but the crew, and we were pulled ashore. We landed amidst a throng of brown and yellow half-caste Portuguese ladies, who greeted us as familiarly and affectionately as if we had been old and valued friends, and wandered about the town, in which there was nothing worth seeing, until we were tired. Besides a wretched church, two so-called hotels, and a few stores, Porto Grande consists of nothing but a couple of hundred negro hovels, built of loose stones. There are, perhaps, six or seven white men in the place, all the remaining inhabitants having more or less negro blood in their veins. The island is wretchedly poor, and the inhabitants live almost entirely upon the profits they make by selling fresh provisions to the whaling ships; which, on account of the safeness of the harbour, and the smallness of the harbour dues, frequent Porto Grande in large numbers. All the provisions thus sold are obtained from San Antonio, for St. Vincent produces nothing but the orchilla weed, a gray lichen-like plant which grows in the crevices of the rocks, and is used for making a purple dye; while the sale of this is monopolised by the Portuguese Government. In addition to a scarcity of food St. Vincent also suffers from a scanty water supply. Behind the town of Porto Grande, a few wells are sunk through a soft volcanic rock, and, the supply being limited, are carefully enclosed with whitewashed stone walls, and locked up. Inside these enclosures the few trees of which the island boasts are to be found.
Besides the Governor and two or three white officials, the establishment of the island consists of half-a-dozen black policemen, attired in a grotesque uniform. As for a military force, all the able-bodied men are enrolled in a corps which is denominated the National Guard; and which is evidently intended only for the repression of street riots, since its members are armed with no weapons more formidable than bludgeons. The children run about the streets in a state of nudity, while the adults of both sexes axe only half clad; and this scantiness of clothing must not be attributed to the heat of the climate, for the Portuguese negro is just as fond of fine clothes as is the English, but to the poverty of the inhabitants. Taken as a whole it is, perhaps, the most wretched and immoral town that I have ever seen; but what can be expected of a colony which is rated at such a low value, that the salary of the Governor is only four shillings and sixpence a day?
Having observed all the attractions of this delightful town we went to an hotel, which rejoiced in the, comprehensive title of "Hotel Brasiliero, Inghilterra, Americano, Espanol y Francesca;" while, over the door, a large notice board presented the following polyglot legend to our admiring eyes: Ici on parl Frances. Man spreucht Deutsch. Man spiks Ingleesh. Aqui se habla Español. Sabe American."
Having ordered dinner at this place for the whole party, the captain of our ship persuaded me to go and play billiards with him. The billiard table was in a long, narrow, dilapidated room on the ground floor of a building overlooking the bay; and was called a table by courtesy only, for it was really much more like a military model of broken country for the study of minor tactics. A collection of broom-handles, locally denominated cues, graced a rickety rack at one end of the room; and a strip or two of mahogany, dangling from a nail, with here and there the mangled remains of a figure, denoted what had once been a marking board. The half-caste who introduced us to this miserable wreck, told us to call out if we should want anything, and then disappeared. The balls were about the size of old twenty-four-pound shot, and were anything but spherical, but we mechanically put them on the table, and the game began. With my very first stroke I raked up the bed of a ravine, and destroyed a lake of dried wax at its head; the captain made a bold attempt, and the broom-handle, glancing from the precipitous scarp of a bluff, shot out of his hands. After about ten minutes' play the features of the country were entirely changed, but we had not succeeded in scoring anything. The half-caste looked in, and said :
"You find ze table difficult?"
"It is rather," I replied.
"Ah! zis is not de common table. Even ze best players find zis table not easy." And he went out again.
After about twenty minutes we put on our coats and started to go out. The half-caste immediately skipped out of a passage and demanded payment. We asked how much he charged per game, and he replied that he did not let out the table by the game, but by the hour. I could quite understand that, because no one could ever finish a game on that table, so we paid him and went back to the hotel.
The dinner would have been tolerable had there been more variety in the viands, which consisted of cat-fish and melons, cooked in a number of ways. We got through it without accident—except that a mulatto waiter considered himself grossly insulted by being called Sambo instead of José— and were sitting round the table, smoking rolled cabbage-leaves, which the ingenious Portuguese manufacture into a semblance of tobacco, when the landlord bowed himself into the room, and, with many obeisances, announced that a fandango was about to be held in a room below, to which, if it would be agreeable to any of his honoured guests, he would be happy to escort them.
We were ushered into an apartment so full of smoke that at first we could not see distinctly; but, as our eyes became accustomed to the atmosphere, we discovered a large room with glass doors opening into the street, and a crowd of coloured ladies and gentlemen smoking cigarettes. On one side was a table covered with dirty glasses, and bottles of rum, hollands, and aguardiente; and, next to the table, was the orchestra, which consisted of a guitar, a violin, and a concertina. They were just going to commence, and I turned my attention to the dancers. The ladies were variously attired; some in dresses of gay-coloured cotton print, with bright handkerchiefs tied round their heads; and some in more costly raiment, with long trains. Some wore shoes and stockings, and some did not; of the latter, two or three were attired in the short muslin skirts usually only seen in England in a ballet, and with which their brown legs and arms formed a contrast which I recommend to the notice of any enterprising theatrical manager. With the gentlemen, coats did not appear to be necessary; nor, apparently, was it in accordance with island etiquette to remove the hat.
The opening quadrille was followed by a waltz; and, after a short time, some of the surgeons were sufficiently acclimatised to join in it. As for me, as I do not dance, I entered into conversation with a little black-eyed half-caste, who talked volubly for ten minutes without uttering a single word that I recognised, except caramba. Everything was thus going on very nicely, when a furious and semi-intoxicated man suddenly rushed in at the door, and laid violent hands upon a fascinating creature who was dancing with a little doctor. We did not know what was the matter, but he appeared to want to drag her out of the room, and she appeared bent on remaining, clinging to the doctor, and calling upon him to protect her. A collision between these two doughty heroes seemed unavoidable, and I began to fear we should have some serious trouble, when the obsequious landlord craftily intervened with a tumbler of raw spirit, and led the infuriated half-caste to the table. Harmony was thus restored, and the fandango recommenced. By this time, however, the room was very hot, and the noise tremendous; the stamping and shouts of the dancers, the strumming of the guitar, the shriek of the violin, and the asthmatic wheeze of the concertina, were almost deafening; while the odour of the bad tobacco, and the smell of musk, or some such pungent scent, with which all the senoras and senoritas were perfumed, were overpowering, so I went out into the cooler air of the street. My bed-room being on the ground floor, next to the room in which the dancing was going on, it was useless for me to endeavour to go to sleep, so I went for a stroll along the beach. When I returned, the entertainment was over, and the hotel plunged in darkness.
My bed-room consisted of a vast Sahara of sandy floor, having for oases a four-post bedstead and a chest of drawers. The former was adorned with black leather hangings, which made it look like a funeral-car; and the latter suffered from some malformation, which caused it to hold up one leg spasmodically in mid air. A smell of decay pervaded the atmosphere, so I opened the window to let in the cool sea breeze, put out the lamp, and jumped into bed. I was up again in a second, for the mattress appeared to be full of pins; but, on examination, it proved to be only stuffed with wood shavings, and I
spread all the coverlets over it, and tried to go to sleep. In about five minutes I awoke with a start, dreaming that I was falling over a precipice, and found my feet hanging over the foot of the bed. The bedstead was an inclined plane, and I had slipped down. I rectified this by putting the bolster under the foot of the mattrass, and tried once more to woo slumber.
I was just going off when something tickled my left ankle violently; I reached down my hand, and the irritation seized my calf. I lighted the lamp and found that a detachment of that pet domestic live stock, which most Portuguese carry about with them, was advancing up my leg. An apparently endless column was streaming down a bed-post to hurry to the fray; and I could almost hear the roar of the multitude as they congratulated themselves upon having a full-blooded Englishman for supper. Some light cavalry, who were skipping about in the van, soon carried back the intelligence to the main body that the camping-ground of the enemy, though still warm, was empty; some staff-officers climbed on to the backs of their orderlies to take a good look round, and then clouds of skirmishers were despatched in every direction to get touch of the foe once more. While I was engaged with the first party that had effected a lodgment upon the superior slope of my skin, another division of the army threw themselves upon my right leg, and carried my knee. It was no time for half-measures, so I tore off my sleeping clothes, and a horrible hand-to-hand conflict to the death ensued. While I was thus occupied I heard a crash of glass; and, looking up, observed a half-caste gentleman coming in at my window. Snatching the coverlet from the bed, and enveloping myself in its ample folds, I asked him what he wanted. He replied: "Vare is my vife?" I then saw that it was the same individual who had made a disturbance in the dancing-room, if anything, now more intoxicated than before; and I endeavoured to explain to him that I knew nothing of his wife, and that he must go away. Instead of taking any notice of my explanation, he advanced to my bed, fell on his knees beside it, raised the hangings, and looked underneath. Finding nothing there that he wanted, he got up once more, shook me cordially by the hand, bowed in courteous adieu, and then went out again by the window.
I was thinking what a nice wife this man must have had, when I heard a noise overhead, as of a battering-ram being run against a door; and then a voice, which I recognised as the personal property of a burly doctor, shouting that he would open the door. Then I heard the pit-pat of slippered feet traversing the room, the sound of an opening door, a loud exclamation, and then a prolonged banging and crashing as if all the furniture in the room had suddenly taken to dancing Sir Roger de Coverley. I thought perhaps there might be something the matter, and was going up to inquire, when a dark object shot past my window and fell into the street. I looked out to see what it was, and saw my half-caste friend picking himself up. Then something else flew across the street and jingled on the stones, and a dark object soared up into the air and fell with a dull sound. These were a knife and a hat, which the half-caste had apparently, in the hurry of his departure, left behind. The latter came and stood under the upstairs window, and tenderly caressing with one hand that portion of the body which, in hasty removals from premises, usually comes in contact with the propelling power, he raised his clenched fist, shook it vindictively at some one overhead, and shrieked forth a recitative of high-souled and imaginative blasphemy. This beautiful flow of language was suddenly checked by a volume of cold water which fell upon the poet's head; and, appalled by the new and terrible blood-chilling shock, he uttered a wild scream, and fled up the street, gesticulating like a madman.
During breakfast next morning the burly doctor was full of his combat with the midnight assassin, who, by some strange mistake, perhaps the darkness of the scene of the conflict, had now become doubled; and as he described the sanguinary struggle, the horrified audience hung on his lips with bated breath. I did not take upon myself the duty of correcting his little error as to the number of his assailants, for I did not consider it of sufficient importance.
The breakfast consisted of the fragments of the dinner of the previous evening. Now melons and cat-fish are very nice things indeed, but even the most select dishes pall upon the jaded appetite if repeated too persistently, so I called for some boiled eggs. A messenger was at once despatched to scour the town for these unusual luxuries, and in the course of some twenty minutes the waiter reappeared with two. I removed the top of one, and a young bird looked up at me with an expression of patient suffering. I tried the second, with the same result; so calling the waiter, and pointing out to him that I had asked for eggs and not for chickens, I made a light and airy breakfast upon the rind of a melon, which was all that the hungry surgeons had left.
While the table was being cleared we asked for our bills, and the smiling and obsequious landlord appeared with a little pile of folded papers, one of which he deposited, with a bow and a grimace, before each of us. I did not look at mine at once, but I noticed that a dead silence ensued, and, looking up, saw an array of pale and anxious faces, where but a moment before had been nothing but smiles and contentment, I opened my bill. The sum total was expressed in reis, a small coin of the value of three-fifths of a farthing, and in which these people like to add up their wealth, so as to make the amount seem larger : reduced to dollars it was as follows :
|Attendance and Linen||...||...||...||...||1|
No wonder that misery was depicted upon the faces of the unhappy surgeons, whose bills were facsimiles of mine.
We all declared that we would not submit to such extortion; but the landlord only smiled blandly, and replied that he had merely made his usual charges; and when I ventured to make a remark, he shrugged his shoulders, spread out the palms of his hands, and said that he really had not expected to hear me offer any objection, since I had not even been charged for the fowls which I had had for breakfast, and to which I had called the waiter's attention. There was no help for it, we had fallen into the clutches of this harpy, and it was partly our own fault in not having first asked him what his charges were. So we paid him sorrowfully and left the hotel, vowing that we would never again set foot in it, even if we remained in the island till doomsday. May our fate be a warning to all others!
There is one little green patch of cultivation in the cindery island of St. "Vincent, situated in a valley a mile or two from Porto Grande, and known as the "Melon Beds." I went out to see it, for visitors are generally taken to look at this "lion," and I saw as many as forty melons growing at once. The guide said that it was not the proper time of year for them, and that in the season there were sometimes as many as two hundred, but that, of course, was only a Portuguese figure of speech. Besides consisting in a great measure of nothing but barren rock, the island, in common with the others of the group, frequently suffers from long-continued drought, so that the little arable land that does exist is so burnt up that nothing will grow. The rainfall is always exceedingly small, and famines are not uncommon. In 1832, the inhabitants of nearly all the islands were reduced to the verge of starvation, through the failure of their crops from drought; and, although cargoes of food were sent gratuitously for months from the United States of America, more than eleven thousand persons died of hunger. Portugal, the parsimonious, did nothing to alleviate the sufferings of the inhabitants of her own colonies, beyond sending two or three ships with cargoes of provisions, to be sold at extravagant prices, cruelly-proportionate to the urgent needs of the people, and utterly out of the reach of the poorer classes. But generosity, or even humanity, is not to be expected from the average Portuguese, with whom the old proverb, "Strip a Spaniard of all his good qualities, and you have a Portuguese," still holds good. In England, this famine did not even appear to be heard of.
The Cape Verde Islands are said to have been known to the ancients under the title of the Gorgades, but they were not discovered in modern times till the year 1446, when Antonio Nolli, a Genoese in the service of Prince Henry of Portugal, chanced upon them. They were then most probably uninhabited; for, though there is a tradition to the effect that negroes were found in Santiago when it was first discovered, the Portuguese discoverers make no mention of any inhabitants. The group is named after Cape Verde, the most westerly promontory of Africa, and from which the islands are about three hundred and twenty miles distant. The cape is said by some authorities to have been so named by the Portuguese explorers, on account of the quantity of sargasso, or gulf-weed, which they there found; and, by others, on account of the verdure of the cape itself. The latter appears the more probable; for, though Cape Verde appears rather brown than green to a person whose last glimpse of land has been the Canary Islands, or the thickly forested shores of Sierra Leone or the Gambia, yet, to the Portuguese discoverers, who had been creeping in their caravels for days along the sandy coasts of Morocco and Senegambia, its parched grass must have been quite a relief; and, after the rainy season, there is a greenish hue about the two hills which are called the "Paps" of the Cape. There are also a few baobab trees there growing, but they cannot boast of much foliage, and only appear brown from the sea.
The principal of the Cape Verde Islands, which lie almost in a semicircle, are St. Vincent, San Antonio, S. Luzia, S. Nicolao, Isle de Sal, Boavista, Mayo, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava; and there are, besides, the small islets of Rombo, Razo, Branco, and S. Vialente. Santiago is the seat of government, but Fogo is, perhaps, the one best known to Europeans, on account of its volcano, 9157 feet above the level of the sea. Mayo used to be much frequented by English shipping for salt, which was obtained from the sea-water by evaporation in a species of salt-pan, formed by a sand-bank which runs along the coast for three or four miles. A hundred years ago, the number of English vessels engaged in gathering the salt was so considerable that a man-of-war usually lay off Mayo for their protection; but, in the present day, few British ships, except whalers, resort to the islands, and they usually go to Porto Grande in St. Vincent, or to Porto Praya in Santiago.
The Cape Verdes are subject to sudden storms, similar to the tornadoes which sweep along the West African coast; and, as all communication between the islands is by open boat, it is not an uncommon occurrence for a boat to be swept away miles out to sea, and perhaps never heard of again. In the spring of 1877, when proceeding from Cape Coast Castle to Sierra Leone in the troopship Simoon, we picked up, about one hundred miles from the latter place, a whale boat, containing two Americans who had been driven out from the Cape Verde Islands, then about seven hundred miles distant, by a storm. These men had, fourteen days before they fell in with us, deserted from the Ellen West, whaler, at Brava, and attempted to run over by night to Fogo, which was some nine miles distant. In the middle of the passage a tornado struck them, carrying them far out into the ocean; and, at daybreak, the island not being in sight, they tried to make for the African coast, it being impossible for them to hit off the islands again without compass or chart. Fortunately, when leaving their ship, they had put four men's dinner meals in their boats, and on this they had subsisted for a few days; but, for the last ten days, they had, with the single exception of a dolphin which they had caught, been altogether without food. They were mere famished skeletons when taken on board, and were so weak that one fell into the sea in trying to climb up our ladder, while the other could only lie still on his back, and point feebly to his mouth. The nights had been rainy, and they had been able to catch water in their clothing, otherwise they must have perished.
Government appointments in the Cape Verde Islands are not in much demand in official circles in Portugal. In fact, if one may believe all one hears, such appointments are reserved for civil and military officers, who have made themselves politically obnoxious to the Government They are given a step in rank, and then sent off in a species of semi-honourable exile to these dreary islands. Few of them are ever permitted to return to their native country; and they live and die in the wretched capitals of these sun-scorched isles, often without having a single European neighbour with whom they can exchange ideas.
The Sail Across—My Fellow Passenger—Strange Fishing—Janella —San Paolo—A Mountain Road—A Timid Bishop—Ribeira Grande —Wine Growers — Motley Troops —The Stick — Mutinies—Santa Cruz—The Biter Bit—Fresh Extortion—A Terra Incognita—Mineral Wealth.
I had soon exhausted the sights of St. Vincent, and the vulture-like rapacity of the inhabitants of Porto Grande having given me a dislike to that town, I determined, if possible, to run over to the wooded and fertile island of San Antonio, about fifteen miles distant, and pass a day or two there. By consulting a mulatto who was superintending the coaling of our crippled vessel, I learned that a boat, which had brought over provisions from that island, would return thither next morning soon after daybreak; and I at once engaged a passage in it for two dollars, the boatman promising to bring me back whenever I wished for the same sum; which, I may remark, is only about eight times the amount usually charged to islanders.
Next morning, soon after six o'clock, the boat pulled alongside our vessel, for I had given up sleeping on shore after the experience of my first night, and I was preparing to go down to it when I observed a bird of ill-omen sitting in the stern, apparently as a passenger. I had no difficulty in seeing at once that he was a missionary, and my experience of such gentry had been so unfortunate that I half thought of giving up my intended journey; but on second thoughts, thinking he might be better than the representatives of his trade that I had met in West Africa, I decided to go on. I stepped into the boat, and sat down on a piece of sacking near the missionary, whose face somehow seemed to be familiar to me. Our men pushed off, and we dropped down with the tide towards Bird Island, at the entrance of the harbour. Our crew consisted of four half-castes, who, when we were clear of the land, hoisted a kind of lug-sail; and with a fresh breeze behind us, but the current against us, we stood over towards the dark mass of San Antonio.
The sea being rather choppy outside, and our boat taking ,in more water than was pleasant, my fellow-passenger, who till then had sat in solemn silence, asked me rather anxiously if I thought there was any danger. Strange to say, his voice seemed to me as familiar as his face, and, after thinking the matter over for a little time, I was able to remember all about him. The last time that I had seen my gentleman he had been attired in a suit of livery, and he had been in the habit of waiting at table and opening the doors of a relative's house to me in London, from which he disappeared suddenly, in consequence, I was given to understand, of a difficulty not altogether unconnected with silver spoons. Without thinking of what I was about, I at once said:
"I think I have seen you before." Knowing he was recognised, he replied slowly and unctuously:
"In my former carnal state of life, when I was receiving the wages of sin from brands who will not be snatched from the burning, I have often admitted you to scenes of ungodliness and wine-bibbing."
This required thought. Why should a domestic servant's wages be described as "the wages of sin," my respectable, middle-aged female relative as "a brand who would not be snatched from the burning," and a quiet dinner party as "a scene of ungodliness and wine-bibbing"? It was not polite, to say the least of it; but then politeness is not to be expected from this class of missionary. His tongue being now-unloosed he held forth upon the error of his former ways, informed me that he was a naturalised citizen of the United States of America, and that he had a call from on high to open the eyes of Papists to a sense of their horrible sin.
This kind of thing went on till nearly noon, when, being by that time close to San Antonio and the wind having dropped, our crew took to their oars, and our steersman made for a small village, which lay at the entrance of a ravine with steep and rocky sides, and which I learned was named Janella. Our proper destination was San Paolo, a village a little further on, but the crew said they would land at Janella and go on to the former village when the tide turned; for the current between St. Vincent and San Antonio is tidal, a fact which it seems was not generally known to hydrographers until the exploring voyage of H.M.S. Challenger.
As we neared the shore I saw several people, both men and women, floating about on the tops of the waves, and engaged in fishing. Every now and then one or another of them would pull up a fish, which was at once taken off the hook, and secured in a cleft stick, or in a small basket hung between the shoulders. This curious manner of fishing necessitated inquiries, and the spokesman of the crew said that the people who live on the sea-shore in this island are such expert swimmers, that they paddle and float about on the waves thus for hours at a time. Being asked if there were many sharks hereabouts, he replied that there were a few, but that the people cared for them so little that they did not even carry a knife or a sharpened stick for defence; and, if one came near, they simply turned on their backs and splashed and kicked till he was frightened away. This may be so, but I am not personally acquainted with any variety of shark that is so easily alarmed.
Janella was a pretty little place embowered in trees, and was a pleasing change from the barren St Vincent. As the steep sides of the ravine gradually approached each other behind the village, the gorge seemed to be filled up with banana, orange, and cocoa-nut trees; while, where it widened near the sea, rose terrace-garden over terrace-garden of sugarcane. corn, and vines, and in the centre the little Rio Janella rippled and babbled over the shelves of rock on its way to the sea. Fruit and vegetables were here to be had in abundance, and at the house of a venerable negro lady, who had some strapping black-eyed daughters not much burdened with apparel, I managed to secure a luncheon of fresh fish and fried plantains; to which, as he had not made any arrangements for himself, I was obliged to ask the ex-flunkey missionary. Before sitting down he commenced a lengthy exhortation upon the evils of Roman Catholicism, as a grace, but, seeing that I was falling to without any further ceremony, and that the good things were rapidly disappearing, he suddenly cut it short, and handled his knife and fork like a Japanese juggler.
There were no white residents in the village; from their colour the inhabitants did not seem to be much contaminated by any Portuguese strain of blood, and were, consequently, good-humoured, hospitable, and fairly honest people. About five in the afternoon we re-embarked in our boat, carrying with us the good wishes of all the Janellites, who crowded down on the beach to see us depart, and reached Paolo, which was about seven miles distant, shortly before dark. There was no hotel in the place, I was glad to learn, and I engaged a, night's lodging in a decently-built house in the upper part of the town. As for the missionary, he had disappeared directly after landing, and I hoped I had seen the last of him.
At Paolo a stranger can generally obtain a quadruped of some description, either horse, mule, or ass, to carry him to Ribeira Grande, the capital of the island; a journey which, though tiring and, in a measure, dangerous, is well worth undertaking on account of the beauty of the mountain scenery through which the road passes. I made my arrangements over-night, and, having engaged the services of a guide and a mule, started for Ribeira Grande, which lies on the north-western side of the island, soon after daybreak next morning. San Paolo is the place of residence of the few so-called Portuguese families in the island, and their houses, surrounded by gardens, plantations, and vineyards, covered the nearer slopes of the hills. Before we were clear of the town my guide was overtaken and stopped by a ragged youth with a small donkey; some conversation ensued, and on my inquiring the cause of the delay I learned that another Englishman was going to Ribeira Grande, and that my guide was going to call for him. Know-in that an Englishman, or indeed any European, was an exceedingly vara avis in terris in this island, I wondered what kind of person my companion for the journey would be.
We turned aside, and passing up a narrow lane between vineyards, and enclosed by walls of loose stones, we stopped before a house of rather pretentious appearance, which was surrounded by a luxuriant growth of oranges, bananas, olives, acacias, and laurels. This was the residence of a certain Senhor Manuel, who, I was informed, was one of the leading men of the place; and, while I was looking about, I was surprised to see my acquaintance the missionary, leaving the house and coming towards us. He then was the other "Englishman” who was going to Ribeira Grande. It appeared that he had been enjoying the hospitality of this half-bred Portuguese grandee, with whom he had, somewhat strangely, considering his mission in the island, scraped an acquaintance; and he had disappeared so mysteriously on landing at Paolo, for fear I should want to accompany him, and perhaps spoil his comfortable quarters by revealing something of his antecedents. He got astride of the little donkey, and after settling down in his seat with some difficulty and much adjustment of stirrups, we finally started.
We ascended by a narrow pathway cut out with incredible labour from the precipitous face of a cliff, which in many places overhung the road, so that the latter was cut out like a gallery ten or eleven feet in height. The scenery was wild and barren; immense rocks which had fallen from above were piled up in chaotic confusion, and except where an occasional landslip afforded a roothold to a few shrubs, no vegetation was to be seen but the lichen-like orchilla clinging to the bare rocks, and a few ferns and grasses springing from their interstices and crevice?. Wherever the general elevation of the road was broken by a dip in the ground, in some instances a bold ravine and in others the bed of a mountain torrent, the road was continued across the gap on a causeway built up of loose stones, about four feet broad at the summit, and with nothing on either side to prevent one falling headlong upon the boulders beneath. In this manner also the path was built up along the steeply-sloping sides of the mountain spurs round which we had to wind; and both on these and on the causeways the slipping of a single loose stone might be fatal, and precipitate one down a height which, in one or two places, was at least 2,000 feet.
At the turning-point of the road before the descent commences, the bridle-path is cut midway along the face of a cliff about 1,000 feet high; the wall-like mountain rising abruptly 500 feet above the head on the one hand, and falling perpendicularly the same distance to the beach on the other. This, the most dangerous portion of the road, is protected on the outer edge by a low wall of loose stones; but the protection of this barrier, although it gives confidence to the rider, is more apparent than real; for the stumble of a horse or. the kick of a vicious mule would cause the downfall of several feet of the flimsy structure. Casualties on these mountain roads, even among the sure-footed natives, are not by any means uncommon, as the numerous wooden crosses that we passed on our way testified; and a proverb of the Cape Verde Islands says that, at San Antonio, to be dashed to pieces on the rocks is a natural death. The descent towards Ribeira Grande was very bad, the road being in some places so steep that the animals slid down on their haunches, and I can never forget the agonised expression of the missionary's face as his donkey slid rapidly down on an inclined rock towards a bend in the road which overhung a cliff, and he vainly strove to extricate his feet from the stirrups and throw himself off. At the distance of about a mile from Ribeira Grande the path quits the mountains, and follows the sinuosities of the sandy beach until the town is reached.
The road from San Paolo is said to have been made at the instance of one of the former bishops of Santiago, who, considering it his duty to visit every portion of his see, once came to San Antonio. He landed at Paolo, and, instead of proceeding to Ribeira Grande by sea, he attempted to reach that place by land, although there was then no path even of the rudest description; and the natives, on the few occasions upon which they found it necessary to cross the mountains, were obliged to ascend and descend the cliffs and broken heights by means of ropes. When about half the journey had been accomplished, and the bishop had been hauled up a tremendous cliff, his heart failed him at the sight of an equally stupendous one which he would be compelled to descend if he continued in his determination to proceed, and he decided to return. The precipice which now separated him from San Paolo, however, seemed equally terrifying when viewed from above, and he emphatically declined to dangle in mid-air over it again. Being thus unable to advance or recede without risking his valuable neck, he made up his mind to remain where he was. Nothing could shake this determination when once formed; and the mountaineers who had accompanied him left him what food they had with them and went on to Ribeira Grande. The faithful in San Antonio, on learning the awkward predicament in which their spiritual head now was, sent him supplies, clothing, and a tent, which were dragged over the heights by the less timorous peasants, and the ecclesiastical brethren of the bishop at once collected funds and commenced having a road made for his rescue. This was a work which necessarily occupied some years, and before it was completed the timid bishop died; but the inhabitants of San Antonio, finding the road useful, and more than half of it having already been made, carried on the work on their own account until it was finished.
We reached Ribeira Grande about 11 a.m., and the missionary and I went to the only hotel which the capital of the island boasts, and where we experienced the combined bad fare, exorbitant charges, and discomfort which are typical of Portuguese hostelries in the Cape Verde Islands. The town of Ribeira Grande, which has a population of some 6,000 souls, is poor and dirty, with insignificant houses, or rather hovels, and narrow and tortuous streets. It is situated in a broad valley, watered by a mountain stream, and the country in the vicinity is richly cultivated. The sugar-cane, from which the coarse sugar of the island is manufactured, is principally grown here, but maize-fields and vineyards are also common enough, and the whole breadth of the valley is like a vast garden, rising on terraces at each side till the height is reached at which the earth becomes too sterile to be cultivated profitably. The softness of this valley, with its cultivated plots of varied hues, its groves of plantains, clumps of orange-trees and guava bushes, bounded by the ranges of mountains, glowing purple-red where near and fading into opal and gray where they recede, is a strange contrast to the savage grandeur of the scenery on the road from San Paolo.
The wine made here, like that of the other islands of the group, is very poor stuff, and vinegary to the taste. It is said that when a wine-grower has a vintage for the first time, it is the custom for him to send invitations to all his acquaintances in the island, asking them to come and taste his wine. They all invariably come, gnawing pieces of salt-fish to create a thirst; and they do this so successfully that, notwithstanding the uninviting character of the beverage, the whole vintage is not unfrequently drunk in the orgie which ensues. When this occurs it must be some consolation to the unfortunate grower to know that his wine was so bad that all his guests must have been very ill after it, and this absurd custom would be quite sufficient to account for a first vintage being always very thin and sour.
Nearly all the inhabitants of Ribeira Grande are people of colour. There are a good many families who like to be considered white, but the "touch of the tar-brush" in them is plain to any one who is accustomed to see people of mixed blood, and almost the only pure whites are some of the Portuguese officials, among them being the Governor and the Military Commandant. There is a small detachment of troops here, consisting of negro soldiers commanded by white officers. Although badly clothed and worse armed and accoutred, the men seemed made of soldier-like material enough, but their weapons were past absurdity, and to call such troops an armed force is the merest farce. Some of the men I saw had old flint-lock muskets without locks; others carried muskets the barrels of which were bound to the stocks with twine, and two proudly shouldered stocks which boasted of no barrels at all. Either the Portuguese Government must be shamefully swindled by its local officials, and all such have a strong tendency to peculation, or the exchequer of the mother country must be in a most consumptive condition.
The part played by the stick in drill instruction seems strange to English eyes. Whenever an evolution is not performed to the satisfaction of the drill instructor, he thinks nothing of rushing forward with a volley of choice Portuguese oaths, dragging in succession the awkward or inattentive men from the ranks, and applying his stick vigorously to their heads and shoulders in the presence of the whole squad. No negro born and bred in a British colony would stand such treatment for a moment, but these men seem to take their chastisement as a matter of course, merely trying to avoid the rapid succession of blows, and then rubbing their heads sheepishly and falling in again in their places.
Tradition says that a soldier of the Cape Verde Islands wears nothing but a cocked hat. I did not myself see any attired in so primitive and inexpensive a uniform; but, though all the soldiers I saw at Ribeira Grande were provided with kepis, some had no coats or shirts, their belts being slung over their naked shoulders, and none had any boots. The missionary said he had seen men on parade without trowsers, and, as usual, attributed this horrible scandal to the incubus of the Papacy, but I saw nothing so shocking myself. The troops are not often paid, but they are patient and long-suffering, and, it is said, eke out an existence by plundering the gardens and plantations at night, and sometimes by combining the profession of housebreaker with that of soldier. After a garrison has been some two or three years without receiving any pay it generally mutinies, considering that it has exhibited sufficient patience; and, if the local Government does not compromise the matter or come to terms, the Governor and his officers, who have probably robbed the men of their pay, have to seek a refuge in another island, till a Portuguese war-vessel comes to their assistance. One or two of the ringleaders are then hanged, the rest of the mutineers are told that through their misconduct they have now forfeited any arrears of pay that might have been due to them, and they return to their duty, and all goes on well till the next military strike takes place. The manner in which Portuguese colonies are managed may well excite the derision of the whole civilised world; but there is a certain method in their madness, and these periodical mutinies in the Cape Verdes, since they furnish the Government with a pretext for withholding the pay of the negro troops, are economical.
At Ribeira Grande I learned that Santa Cruz, the principal seaport of the island, was only three miles distant, and as I should have to return to San Paolo early next morning, and wanted to see as much as possible of this little-known island, I went on to it about four in the afternoon. Directly the valley of Ribeira Grande was lost sight of. all vegetation seemed to come to an end, and the road led over a barren, rocky, and mountainous tract which produced nothing. The village of Santa Cruz is situated on Punto do Sol, or North Point, a low, sandy cape extending from the lofty cliffs which here fringe the shore. With the exception, of a church, a custom-house, and three stores, there are no houses, properly so called, in Santa Cruz, but there are numerous huts, built of stones uncemented together with lime or mud, and thatched with palm-branches. These are inhabited by fishermen, for fishing is the chief industry of this "seaport;" and the sea abounds with fish of all descriptions, while turtle frequent the shores. I doubt if many whalers call in at this port during the course of the year, for water is scarce, and food supplies cannot be obtained at any price, the inhabitants themselves having to obtain everything edible, except fish, from Ribeira Grande, and the post of customs officer here must be almost a sinecure. I was shown at this place a species of pink coral, which I was told was found off the island. It was not of a very good quality, and red coral is much more common. The fishermen find it entangled in their nets, and sell it to the peasant girls to be worn in the shape of ornaments, but beyond this haphazard method of obtaining it there is no coral fishery in these islands.
I got back to the hotel at Ribeira Grande just at dusk, and was changing my clothes after my hot ride, when somebody tapped at my door. In a moment of thoughtlessness I said, "Come in," and a good-looking brown girl, with a tray full of strings of coral, sidled into the room. I said:
"What do you want? Go out. Don't you see I'm not dressed?"
She only replied: "You want buy zis?" and then sat down, with a winning smile, which exhibited her white teeth to the best advantage, upon some of my clothes which were lying on a chair. I said:
"Will you go out, please? I don't want to buy any of your rubbish."
"No compran, senhor."
"Will you go out? I want those clothes you are sitting on."
"No compran, senhor."
While I was in this painful dilemma, and did not know how to get "rid of this intrusive person without violence, I heard the voice of the missionary outside in the passage, and knowing that he would put the worst possible construction upon the presence of this female in my room, I pulled her off the chair and ran her towards the door, which she had left open on coming in. It was, however, too late to put her outside without throwing her into the missionary's arms; so I pushed her behind the door, put my finger to my lips, and transfixed her with a hideous grimace to enforce silence.
The missionary came in and looked around suspiciously, for there was a strong smell of the pungent scent, musk or whatever it may be, which the coloured people in these islands habitually use; and I could see that he was prepared to work himself up into a state of moral indignation at the smallest provocation, and read me a homily, which, perhaps, I should not have been able to listen to patiently, knowing what I did about him. He sniffed distrustfully, but seeing nothing which would afford the pretext he was seeking, he came to business, which was to invite me to subscribe towards the good work which he had undertaken, and, indirectly of course, furnish him with the means of purchasing the good things of this life for a few days.
I was in the act of explaining that I had scarcely enough money with me to carry me back to St. Vincent, when the woman behind the door uttered an unmistakable cough. The missionary started and looked at me with a lowering brow, while the absurdity of the situation sent all the colour up into my face. With a countenance expressive of a legion of texts, the missionary sighed, shook his head sorrowfully, and turned his eyes up to the roof, and then walking towards the door, pulled it forward and discovered the woman with the coral, who laughed in my face. I thought to myself, "Now I am in for it," when to my surprise the missionary recoiled, while the woman suddenly exclaimed:
"Ah! my nice little mans—you come back?" and tried to impress an amorous kiss upon his pious cheek.
This was too much for me. I never saw the tables turned more completely, and I burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter, while the missionary, without finding a word to say, hurriedly disappeared.
Leaving Ribeira Grande next morning at daybreak I reached San Paolo before noon, and sent my guide to tell the boatmen that I wanted to start at once. He presently came back with them, and the spokesman of the crew inquired how much I would pay them for the passage. Now, as I have already said, when I had first engaged a passage over to San Antonio it was on the understanding that I should be taken back to St. Vincent for the same sum, two dollars, so I knew at once what this question meant. It meant fresh extortion on the part of these amiable islanders. They knew that it was absolutely necessary for me to return to Porto Grande that day, otherwise my ship would sail without me; and being masters of the situation they were determined to make the most of my necessity. The argument lasted a long time, but after abating their demands from twenty dollars to ten, and then, finding that I appeared obdurate, and indifferent about catching my vessel, to eight, we finally arrived at a compromise of five dollars, and I was glad enough to get off so cheaply. The matter was no sooner settled than the boat was launched and we set sail, reaching the harbour of Porto Grande about eight in the evening. Next morning I bade adieu to the Cape Verde Islands.
Less is known of San Antonio than of, any of the other islands of equal size in the Cape Verde group, and very little is known of them, with the exception of Santiago, which was visited. by Bowdich and by Darwin, both of whom have left a short account of their observations. San Antonio has, as far as I can discover, never been described by any European who may have visited it. The coast-line is of course known to the masters of whaling vessels, and has been surveyed and laid down in Admiralty charts, but the interior of the island is still a terra incognita. It is generally supposed to be densely wooded, but though I saw trees, vegetable productions not to be seen in the other islands, they were not in any great numbers, and there was certainly nothing that could be called a wood in the part of the island I saw. The highest point, the Sugar Loaf, is said to be 8,000 feet high, but this is mere conjecture. The natives say that somewhere in the centre of the island there is the crater of an extinct volcano, of such immense depth that the eye cannot fathom it, and from this sometimes rush out gusts of wind which are so violent as to blow back anything, however heavy, which may be dropped into the abyss. The island is volcanic, and rises generally in basaltic cliffs from the sea without any beach, except where the heights are broken by ravines, valleys, and the beds of mountain torrents.
Lead is said to be found in San Antonio, and other metals are supposed to exist, amongst them gold, though in small quantities only; but the people are too indolent to open up any mining industry, and the easy acquisition of wealth seems to be no incentive to them. The tradition that gold is to be found in the Cape Verde Islands is one of very old date. In Santiago it is said to be found in a bed of clay, and Bowdich, in his short account of that island, published in 1825, says that an American vessel, trading to Santiago, returned home half laden with the clay in which the gold is found, by way of experiment. It yielded so much metal that the vessel, accompanied by two others, returned for a full cargo; but the Portuguese Government, learning from this proceeding that the gold existed in paying quantities, forbade any further exportation, although it seems that they never worked or made any use of the clay themselves.
The climate of the Gape Verde Islands is, not-withstanding the intense heat, wonderfully healthy. The months of August, September, and October are called the wet and unhealthy season, the remainder of the year being the dry season; but, as I have already said, it frequently happens that in some years there is no wet season at all, and consequently no unhealthy one. A peculiarity of these islands is the reddish haze which so often hangs over them, and which has led some observers to suppose that the climate is damp. It is supposed to be due to the Harmattan, or wind from the Sahara, which carries fine particles of sand with it far out into the ocean.