1902 Encyclopedia > Niger (River)

Niger (River)

NIGER, one of the most famous of African rivers, has its headwaters on the north side of the mountains (known as Kong Mountains and by various other local names) which run parallel with the coast of Upper Guinea and Sierra Leone at a distance of about 200 miles, flows north-eastward as far as 17° 30' N. lat. and the meridian of Greenwich, and then turning south-eastward reaches the Gulf of Guinea after a total course of about 2600 miles. The main stream bears in different districts a great variety of names—Joliba (Dholiba or Dialiba), Kworra (Quorra), Mayo, Kaki 'n ruwa, &c.; and the same is true of the great eastern confluent the Benue, Shary or Tchadda. (For other synonyms see Baikie, Narr. of an Expl. Voyage, p. 426.) It will be convenient to retain the established European name for the whole river system, and to call the main stream the Kworra and the confluent the Benue.

Of the many headwaters which go to form the upper Kworra, the Tamincono, Falico, and Tembi are the most important; and, as the largest of these, the Tembi, rises in the Loma Mountains in 8° 36' N. lat. and 10° 33' W. long., this may be considered the true position of the long-sought source of the Niger. The Falico rises in 8° 45' N. lat. and 10° 25' W. long.; the Tamincono, of much less significance, about 60 miles farther north. A narrow watershed separates these headstreams from the head-streams of the Eokelle, which flows west through Sierra Leone. At Farannah (now destroyed), in 10° N. lat., the river is about 100 yards wide, and taking its Mandingo name of Joliba (or Great Biver) bends eastwards. From the source of the Tembi to Kuruassa, where Caillie crossed in June 1825, and found it 9 feet deep, the course of the river (nearly 300 miles) has not been followed by any European; but the general character of the next 60 or 70 miles, down to Bora, is known because Caillie's route skirted the eastern bank. Below that point there is another unexplored stretch. At Bammako, after the junc-tion of the Milo, the Bafing or Bafi (Black River), the Fandu.be, &c., the depth is 6 feet, with a breadth of 1300 feet. About 7 or 8 miles farther down the Sotuba rocks mark the end of what may be regarded as the upper Kworra. Even in this section the stream is probably navigable in small boats all the way from the union of the headstreams to Sotuba. From Bammako begins a more rapid deflexion towards the east, and it is not till the Mahel Balevel, a very important tributary, joins in that a more directly northward direction is resumed. For several hundred miles below this confluence the Kworra shows a great tendency to split into different channels, often enclosing extensive tracts of country in their meshes, and turning whole provinces into a perfect labyrinth of creeks, back-waters, and lagoons. Kabara, the port of Timbuktu, is situated on one of the secondary branches ; but the main channel, at no great distance, is about a mile across. At times the river rises so that boats can approach the walls of she city proper; and in 1640 an exceptional inundation turned the central and lowest quarter into a lake. The swamps and side-creeks continue to the east of Timbuktu, and, though at Bamba (130 miles) the river is shut in by steep banks and narrows to 600 or 700 yards, it again spreads out for some distance farther down. At Tahont 'n eggish (Entrance Bock), however, a great change is observed, the banks beginning to be rocky and the channel definite; and at Tosaye the width is reduced to not more than 150 yards, and the depth is enor-mously increased. At Burrum the valley again widens out to about 3 miles, and tracts of level ground, swamps, or sandy downs skirt the river on both sides. A ledge of rocks runs right across the stream at Tazori; about 1500 yards below a passage is forced between two masses 30 or 40 feet high; and at Tiborawen there is a very labyrinth of rapids and divided creeks. In the neighbourhood of Birni the hills close in so as to form a kind of defile, but at Say the Kworra is again a noble stream about 700 yards in breadth, with rocky banks 20 to 30 feet high on the one side and a comparatively flat country on the other. Between Say (Barth's southmost point) and Gompa (Flegel's northmost) the distance of 60 or 70 miles is practically unknown, and forms the only complete break in the delineation of the river from Bammako. At Gompa lies the mouth of the Gubbi 'n Gundi, a left hand tributary which brings down the waters of the Mayo (Mao) Kebbi or river of Sokoto, the Mayo Banco, the Gubbi 'n Bimi, and other streams from the north-east and south. Between Yauri (100 miles farther down) and Bussa or Bussan (60 miles) the Kworra is often interrupted by rocks and islands, and below Bussa, where Park lost his life, these obstructions increase so that a distance of 10 or 12 miles cannot be passed by canoes, at least in November. The islands are occupied by considerable villages. Just where the direction of the course turns eastward, a curious rock, Mount Ketsa (Kesa or Kisey of Lander), rises in mid channel to a height of 300 feet. At Rabba (130 miles below Eussa) the width of the stream is about 2 miles, and opposite the town lies the low and populous island of Zagozhi. About 60 miles farther down is the mouth of the left hand tributary the Kadina, which passes near the important town of Bida (Crowther, 1857).

In 7° 50' N. lat. and 6° 45' E. long., the Kworra is joined by the Benue or Binue ("Mother of Waters" in the Batta tongue). This magnificent confluent rises in Adamaua a little to the north of Ngaundere (Ngamdere of the Houssas), about 7° 10' N. lat. and 13° 20' E. long., at a height of between 3000 and 5000 feet above the sea, and in the early part of its course it is separated by a narrow water-parting from the headstreams of the Logone or Serbewel, which probably flows eastward to Lake Chad. For the first 100 miles of its course it remains a rocky mountain stream, but after the junction (at about 800 feet above the sea) of the Mayo Kebbi (itself probably navigable to Dawa in the Tuburi country, and there possibly forming a bifurcation between the basins of the Niger and Lake Tchad) it takes a western direction and becomes navigable for boats drawing 4 feet of water. For some 40 miles below Ribago (Reborn)—the farthest point reached by exploration upward—the Benue has an average width of 180 to 200 yards, and flows with a strong steady current, although a broad strip of country on each side is swampy or submerged. Below the junction of the Faro the width increases to 1000 or 1500 yards, and, though it narrows at the somewhat dangerous rapids of Rumde Gilla to 150 or 180, it soon expands again. It flows onwards with com-paratively unobstructed current through a beautiful country, its valley marked out for the most part by ranges of hills, and its banks diversified with forests, villages, and cultivated tracts. (See Crowther in Proc. Roy. Geog. Soc., 1877; Hutchinson, Ibid., 1880; Flegel in Petermann's Mitth., 1880.)

At their confluence the Kworra is about _ mile broad and the Benue rather more than a mile. The united stream is like a lake about 2 miles in width, dotted with islands and sandbanks ; and the peninsula at the junction is low, swampy, and intersected by numerous channels. From this point the course of the Niger is well known. As far south as Iddah or Idah, a town on the east bank, it rushes through a deep valley cut between the hills, the sandstone cliffs at some places rising 150 feet high. Between Iddah and Onitsha (destroyed by British gunboats in 1879), 80 miles, the banks are lower and the country flatter, and to the south of Onitsha the whole land is laid under water during the annual floods. From this point, consequently, may be said to begin the great delta of the Niger, which, extending along the coast for about 120 miles, and 140 or 150 miles inland, forms one of the most remarkable of all the swampy regions of Africa. The river soon breaks up into an intricate network of channels, dividing and subdividing, and intercrossing not only with each other but with the branches of other streams that drain the neighbouring coast, so that it is practically impossible to say where the Niger delta ends and another river system begins. West-wards the anastomosis probably extends to the lagoons at Lagos, and eastwards to the Old Calabar or Cross River. Hitherto the channel almost regularly followed is the Rio Nun, a direct continuation of the line of the undivided river. From the sea the only indication of a river mouth is a break in the dark green mangroves which here universally fringe the coast. The crossing of the bar requires considerable care, and at ebb tide the outward current runs 5| knots per hour. For the first 20 miles (or as far as Sunday Island, the limit of the sea tide in the dry season), dense lines of mangroves 40, 50, or 60 feet in height shut in the channel, so that nothing is visible save a narrow strip of sky overhead ; then palm and other trees begin to appear, and the widening river has regular banks ; and before long little villages and plantations of plantains and sugar-cane show that even in this region of miasma and mud human beings find means to exist.

As the Kworra and the Benue have quite different gathering grounds they are not iu flood at the same time. The upper Kworra lises in June as the result of the tropical rains, and decreases in December, its breadth at Turella expanding from between 2000 and 2500 feet to not less than 1J miles. The middle Kworra, how-ever, reaches its maximum near Timbuktu only in January; in February and March it sinks slowly above the narrows of Tinsherifen (Tosaye), and more rapidly below them, the level being kept up by supplies from backwaters and lakes ; and by April there is a decrease of about 5 feet. In August the channel near Timbuktu is again navigable owing to rain in the "Wangara highlands. The Benue reaches its greatest height in August or September, begins to fall in October, falls rapidly in November, and slowly in the next three months, and reaches its lowest in March and April, when it is ford-able in many places, has no perceptible flow, and at the confluence begins to be covered with the water-weed Pistia Stratiotes. The flood rises with great rapidity, and reaches 50, 60, or even 75 feet above the low-water mark. The two confluents being so unlike, the united Niger differs from each under the influence of the other. Here the river is at its lowest in April and May; in June it is sub-ject to great fluctuations; about the middle of August it usually begins to rise; and its maximum is reached in September. In October it sinks, often rapidly. A slight rise in January, known as the yangbe, is occasioned by water from the Kworra. Between high and low water-mark the difference is as much as 35 feet.

As a highway of commerce the Niger has been little used, trad-ing steamers having mainly confined their operations to the river below the confluence. But since 1857 the area of supply has been considerably extended, the quantity of goods (chiefly oil and shea butter) collected has greatly increased, and steamers five or six times the size of the vessels formerly used have been introduced. The delta region has become more populous, and trading posts more frequent. The Church Missionary Society, which, except the British Government, has done more than any other agency for opening up the lower Niger, has stations at four places on the coast, at Osamare (120 miles inland), Onitsha (20 miles farther), Lokoja (90 miles), Kipo Hill, Egan (90 miles), Shonga (94 miles farther, and only 12 or 15 short of Rabba). Lokoja is near the site of the experimental farm maintained by the Government for some years from 1841.

Pliny mentions a river Nigris of the same nature with the Nile separating Africa and Ethiopia, and forming the boundary of Gtetulia; and it is not improbable that this is, in fact, the same with the modern Niger. In Ptolemy, too, appears along with Gir a certain Nigir (N17510) as one of the largest rivers of the interior ; but so vague is his description that, while D'Anville and Leake strongly maintain that this, also, is the Niger, "Walckenaer and Vivien St Martin insist on the negative view, and Mr Bunbury is almost inclined to follow them. When the Arabian geographers became acquainted with the river near Timbuktu they called it the Nile of the Negroes, and down to the present century European authorities (such as Jackson in his Empire of Morocco, 1800) fought zealously for the identity of this Nile with the river of Egypt.

The following dates show the progressive exploration of the river. 1788. Formation of the African Association in England. 1795. Mungo Park (African Association) saw the Niger near Sego "glittering in the morning sun as broad as the Thames at West-minster, and flowing slowly to the eastward." In this first expedition he went down the river as far as Sella and up as far as Bammako; in his second he sailed down to Bussa, where he was drowned. Park adopted the opinion that the Niger and the Congo were one. Major Peddie's expedition to the Niger, and Tuckey's expedition to the Congo, threw no light on the relation of the rivers. 1802. Reichard, a German, suggested that the Rio Formoso was the mouth of the Niger. 1822. Laing learned that the sources of the Niger lay not far from Sulima. 1826. Caillie sailed down the river from Jenne to the port of Timbuktu. Clapperton and Richard Lander visited Bussa. 1830. Richard and John Lander passed down from Yauri to the mouth of the Rio Nun, thus settling the doubt as to the outlet of the river. 1832. Macgregor Laird established the African Steamship Compairy, and Richard Lander and Oldfield (as members of its first expedition) ascended the Niger to Rabba and the Benue (or, as it was then called, the Shary or Tchadda) as far as Dagbo (80 miles). 1840. Consul Beecroft ascended beyond Rabba in the "Ethiope." 1841. An expedition, consisting of three steamers of the royal navy, under Captain (afterwards Admiral) H. D. Trotter, went up to Egga (Egam), but was forced to return owing to sickness and mortality. 1851. Barth crossed the Benue at the junction of the Faro, and conjectured it to be the upper part of the Tchadda. 1854. Barth sailed down from Saraiyamo to Kabara (port of Timbuktu), and then skirted the left bank to Bornu and the right thence to Say. The "Pleiad" expedition (Baikie, Crowther, D. J. May) advanced up the Benue 400 miles to Dulti or Jin. 1857-59. Expe-dition (Baikie, Glover, &c.) up to Bussa; steamer "Dayspring" wrecked on a rock above Rabba. Mission stations founded at Onitsha, Gbebe, and Rabba. 1864. Crowther made bishop of the Niger. 1877. Rev. Henry Johnson journeyed up the river to Bida. 1879. "Henry Venn," steamer (Ashkroft, Kirk, Flegel), passed up the Benue to Gurua (145 miles beyond Jin), and her boats 8 miles farther to Reborn or Ribago. Zweifel and Moustier, sent out by M. Verminck, a Marseilles merchant, discovered the sources of the Falico, &c. 1880-81. Flegel went up from Rabba to Gompa.

Besides the reports of expeditions published by Laird and Oldfield, Allen, Baikie, Crowther, etc., see Barth's Travels, vols. iv. and v., and his paper in Z. für allg. Erdkunde, Berlin, 1863; Cole, Life on the Niger', Crowther, The Gospel on the Niger; The Church Missionary Intelligencer; Mittheilungen der Afrikan. Ges. in Deutschland, 1882 and 1883; and Hutchinson's paper in Jour, of Soc. of Arts, 1880. (H. A. W.)


These last two names really belong to another river which dis-charges into Lake Chad, Tchad, or Tsad.

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