1902 Encyclopedia > Africa > States of West Africa

(Part 30)


(b) States of West Africa

Western Africa comprehends the west coast of Africa from the borders of the Sahara, in about lat. 17° N. Nourse River, in about the same latitude south, with a considerable space of inland territory, varying in its extent from the shores, and, in fact, completely undefined in its interior limits.

Senegambia, the country of the Senegal and Gambia, extends from the Sahara in the north to lat. 10° in the south, and may be considered as extending inland to the sources of the waters which flow through it to the Atlantic .

The western portion is very flat, and its contiguity to the great desert is frequently evidence by dry hot winds, an atmosphere loaded with fine sand, and clouds of locusts. The eastern portion is occupied with hills and elevated land. Under the 10th parallel the hills approach quite close to the coast. The country possesses a great number of rivers, among which the Senegal, Gambia, and Rio Grande are the most important. Senegambia ranges, in point of heat, with the Sahara and Nubia. The atmosphere is most oppressive in the rainy season, which lasts from June to November, when an enormous amount of rain drenches the country. The prevailing winds in that period are south-west whereas in the dry season they are from the east. The climate is, upon the whole, most unhealthy, and too generally proves fatal to Europeans.

The vegetation is most luxuriant and vigorous. The baobab (monkey bread-tree), the most enormous tree on the face of the globe, is eminently characteristic of Senegambia. It attains to no great height, but the circumference of the trunk is frequently 60 to 75 feet, and has been found to measure 112 feet; its fruit, the monkey bread, is a principal article of food with the natives. Bombaceae (cotton-trees) are likewise numerous, and they are among the loftiest in the world.

Acacias, which furnish the gum-arabic, are most abundant, while the shores are lined with mangrove trees. The flora and fauna are similar to those of Nubia. Gold and iron are the chief metals.

The inhabitants consists of various Negro nations, the chief of which are the Wolof.

The gum trade is the most important traffic on the Senegal; bees-wax, ivory, bark, and hides, forming the chief exports from the Gambia.

Of European settlements are: The French possessions on the Senegal; the capital of which is St Louis, built about the year 1626, on an island at the mouth of the river. The total population of the settlement amounts to about 210,000.

The British settlement on the Gambia has about 7000 inhabitants. Bathurst is the chief town.

The Portuguese settlement consists of small factories south of the Gambia, at the Bissagos Islands, Bissao, cacheo, and some other points.

The west coast of Africa, from Senegambia to the Nourse River, is commonly comprised by the general denomination Guinea Coast, a term of Portuguese origin.

The coast is generally so very low, as to be visible to navigators only within a very short distance, the trees being their only sailing marks. North of the equator, in the Bight of Benin, the coast forms an exception, being high and blood, with the Cameroon Mountains behind; as also at Sierra Leone, which has received its name (Lion Mountain) in consequence. The coast presents a dead level often for thirty to fifty miles inland. It has numerous rivers, some of which extend to the furthest recesses of Inner Africa.

The climate, notoriously fatal to European life, is rendered, pestilential by the muddy creeks and inlets, the putrid swamps, and the mangrove jungles that cover the banks of the rivers. There are two seasons in the year, the rain and the dry season. The former commences in the southern portion in March, but at Sierra Leone and other northern parts, a month later.

Vegetation is exceedingly luxuriant and varied. One of the most important trees is the Elais guineensis, a species of palm, from the covering of whose seed or nut is extracted the palm-oil, so well known to English commerce and manufacture; several thousand tons are annually brought into the ports of Liverpool, London, and Bristol. The palm-oil tree is indigenous and abundant from the river Gambia to the Congo; but the oil is manufactured in large quantities chiefly in the country of the Gold and Slave Coasts. The former comprises nearly all the more remarkable of African animals: particularly abundant are elephants, hippotami, monkeys, lions, leopards, crocodiles, serpents, parrots. The domestic animals are mostly of an inferior quality. The principal minerals are gold and iron. The population consists, besides a few European colonists, of a vast variety of Negro nations, similar in their physical qualities and prevailing customs, but differing considerably in their dispositions and morals.

The chief article of commerce are palm-oil, ivory, gold, wax, various kinds of timber, spices, gums, and rice.

The divisions of Northern or Upper Guinea are mostly founded on the productions characteristics of the different parts, and are still popularly retained.

The British colony of Sierra Leone extends from Rokelle river in the north, to Kater river in the south, and about twenty miles inland. The chief portion of the settlement is a rugged peninsula of mountains with a barren soil, but surrounded by a belt of rich coast-land, with a moist and pestilential climate. The colony was founded in 1787, and has been maintained with a view to the suppression of the West African slave trade. The population, consisting chiefly of liberated slaves, amounted, in 1869, to 55,374, of which number 129 were white men. Freetown, the capital, is, after St Louis, the most considerable European town on the western coast of Africa.

The Malaghetta or Grain Coast extends from Sierra Leone to Cape Palmas. Malaghetta is a species of pepper yielded by a parasiticall plant of this region. It is sometimes styles the Windy or windward Coast, from the frequency of short but furious tornadoes throughout the year. The republic of Liberia, a settlement of the American Colonisation Society, founded in 1822, for the purpose of removing free people of colour from the United States, occupies a considerable extent of the coast, and has for its capital Monrovia, a town named after the president, Mr Monro.

The Ivory Coast extends from Cape Palmas 3° W. long., and obtained its name from the quantity of the article supplied by its numerous elephants. The French settlements of Grand Bassam, Assinie, and Dabou were abandoned in 1871.

The Gold Coast stretches from west of Cape Three Points to the river Volta, and has long been frequented for gold-dust and other products. By a treaty of February 1871, the whole of the Dutch possession on the Fold Coast were made over to Britain, and the Danish settlements of Christiansburg and Friedensburg were ceded to the English in 1849; so that the British coast now extends from the mouth of the Tenda river, in long 2° 40' W., to that of theEwe, in long 1° 10' E. of Greenwich. The protected territory extends inland from this coast strip to an average distance of 50 miles. Cape Coast castle and Fort James, founded by the British, and Elmina (population about 10,000), the most important of the former Dutch stations, with Accra, are the chief settlements.

The Slave Coast extends from the river Volta to the Calabar river, and is, as its name implies, the chief scene of the most disgraceful traffic that blots the history of makind. Eko or Lagos, one of the chief towns of the coast, was destroyed by the British in 1852, and was proclaimed a British possession in 1861. Palma and Badagry are also British settlements.

The kingdoms of Ashantee, Dahomey, Yoruba, and others, occupy the interior country of the Guinea coast. Ashantee, the most powerful Negro state of Upper Guinea, is an exceedingly fertile and productive country. Its inhabitants, though skilled in some manufactures and of a higher intelligence than is usually found in this region, are of an exceedingly sanguinary disposition, and have frequently been involved in war with the British. The capital city, Kumassi, is believed to have a population of about 100,000.

The coast from the Old Calabar river to the Portuguese possession is inhabited by various tribes. Duke Town, on the former river, is a town of 4000 inhabitants, with considerable trade in palm-oil, ivory, and timber.

On the Gaboon river, close to the equator, are a French settlement (in 1871 the French retained only a coaling station), and American missionary stations. At the equator Southern or Lower Guinea begins, where the only European settlements are those of the Portuguese.

Loango is reckeoned from the equator to the Zaire or Congo River. Its chief town is Boally, called Loango by the Europeans.

Congo extends south of the Zaire, comprising a very fertile region, with veins of copper and iron. Banza Congo or St Salvador is the capital.

Angola comprises the districts of Angola proper, Benguela, and Mossamedes. In these regions the Portuguese settlements extend farther inland than the two preceding districts, namely, about 200 miles. The capital, St Paulo de Loando, contains 12,300 inhabitants, and has a fine harbour. St Felipe de Benguela is situated in a picturesque but very marshy and most unhealthy spot.

The coast from Benguela to the Cape Colony may, in a general arrangement like this, he included either within West Africa or south Africa. The whole coast is little visited or known, being of a most barren and desolate description, and possessing few harbours. Ichabo island and Angra Peguena Bay are visited fro their guano deposits, and are claimed as British possessions.

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